Winter Weekend in London: Overview and Thursday

In November we found an outstanding deal for the direct flight from RDU to London, so we booked a long weekend trip for February. London is a favorite city to visit (2016201520142013, 2012…) so we knew it wouldn’t be hard to fill our time! For this trip we based ourselves near the Earl’s Court tube stop and focused on culture (museums and theater) and exploring a few new-to-us neighborhoods (Little Venice and Angel/Islington).

Where We Stayed

This was our third stay at the Hotel Indigo and it was fraught with issues. Our room was ready at 8:30am which was a huge bonus. However, we were located in the basement through a series of fire doors and uneven steps; our location also meant that the window was below ground and next to the sidewalk, so we had the curtains drawn the whole time. The air vent in the room rattled on and off consistently for our entire four-night stay (even after complaining to the front deck twice), and the internet was spotty at best (with multiple trips to the front desk for fixes – they said they were getting a new provider soon).  On the upside, the bed was comfortable, and as usual, the location works well for us.

our bedroom @ Hotel Indigo London - Kensington  our personalized message
our room; even the TV’s personalized room message was broken

Thursday

Our flight across the pond was uneventful and after checking in we headed out into the brisk morning to Borough Market for cheese, bread and snacks. But first! The iconic views of London — Big Ben and the London Eye.

Big Ben and Westminsterthe Eye (sponsored by Coca Cola) 

We also wanted to check out the Leake Street graffiti tunnel. There were a few choice murals and paste-ups but mostly basic tagging.

gas mask  El Trumpo

make my day  he's mine at least 

A few stops later on the Jubilee line and we arrived at Borough Market just as things were opening to pick up a second breakfast. We found fresh raspberries, British cheese and a baguette, plus a Venison meat stick for Leandra, which she snacked on for the remainder of the trip.

tasty cheese @ Borough Market cheese @ Borough Market

We stopped in briefly to the Southwark Cathedral to see if we could eat our lunch in the courtyard but no food was allowed. Instead we admired the architecture and the sleepy resident cat curled up on a comfy chair near the altar.

Wooden Effigy of a Knight @ Southwark Cathedral

Another few stops on the Jubilee line took us to Canary Wharf and the Museum of London Docklands. Free, as most museums are in London, this museum explained the interesting history of London along the Thames – development, labor strikes, WWII, etc, with lots of displays and artifacts across the centuries. We enjoyed our visit to this quirky museum, and would definitely recommend it for history buffs.

It was terribly windy in London on Thursday but nowhere more so than the docklands around the museum. Crossing the North Dock footbridge to the museum and waiting for the West India Quay Overground train left us completely wind-blown.

Dragging after the long overnight flight, we headed back to the room for a quick nap, then beers at our old favorite, Cask Pub & Kitchen. We arrived just in time to grab a table and the place filled up quickly as people got off from work. Leandra choose small pours of the Atom Neutron Star, an imperial stout, and the Tiny Rebel Dirty Stop Out, a smoked oat stout. I was very happy that one of my favorite beers was on tap, Cantillon Rosé De Gambrinus, so that was a definite first for me. For my second, I tried the Wyper & True Mimosa, a Berliner Weisse that was a bit too light after my delicious lambic.

dressed up for beers @ Cask Pub & Kitchen  red, blonde and dark beers
Leandra in a dress (!) drinking beer; a red, a blonde and a brunette

Finally, we met Kim and Jules for late dinner at Boisdale of Belgravia, a boisterous restaurant with live jazz and a Scottish menu. Pricey but classy and tasty.

jazz @ Boisdale of Belgravia

After a long day we slept very well that evening!

Malaysia: Georgetown street art

Georgetown has a lot of well documented and popular street art, so we spent a solid hour or two per day (before the temperature became oppressive) exploring the streets and enjoying the sites.

All around town you see 2D iron art, part of a commissioned project completed by SCULPTUREATWORK displaying historical caricatures of life in Penang.

SCULPTUREATWORK street art

SCULPTUREATWORK street art

Another unique feature of the street art here are murals that use a real item (motobike, swing, chair, etc) as part of the art.

Boy on Streetbike

street art  Brother & Sister on a Swing

Reaching for Basket

The last car that parked here...  street art doorway

Boy with Pet Monster

Eric w/ graffiti  Less than five feet!

Of course there are also the standard murals, stickers and silly sayings. We love street art and found Georgetown to be a good destination for this (plus, the food is awesome). You can see all of our street art photos from around the world on Flickr.

Netherlands 2015: Amsterdam flowers and art

We spent most of Saturday with our friends, so our touring of Amsterdam was primarily on Sunday. In the morning we went to the Bloemenmarkt, something we had inexplicably missed on our first trip. While touristy, it was still quite beautiful, with lots of cool bulbs, resurrection plants, succulents, and other plant-related things. Some of the stalls felt like a living bulb catalog.

bulbs

Continuing with our botanical theme we took the tram a few stops to Hortus Botanicus, one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world. The nearly 400-year old garden is small and a bit pricey at 8 Euros, but features an extensive collection including a tropical house, cacti and pond plants, plus the weather was perfect for strolling.

botanical nijntje  Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam

Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam  Hortus Botanicus AmsterdamHortus Botanicus Amsterdam

As a bonus there was live jazz in the outdoor cafe that could be heard throughout most of the garden.

Following a beer break we next headed toward Spuistraat and Wijdesteeg, a street art section on the east side of the main canal ring.

einstein  street artkennedy & rabbit  street art

We managed to find a few things to photograph but it was generally underwhelming compared to so many other cities we’ve visited.

UK 2015: London – Day 2

Friday morning we awoke to a beautiful morning of blue skies, so we decided to explore Notting Hill. We started along the famous Portobello Road, and quickly found several interesting shops and road stalls, bringing home several origami butterflies from one store, and a sketch of St. Pauls Directly from an artist with a stall on the street. Part way up the road we took a detour to explore some of the beautiful homes nearby (!) then met up with our crew by the Tube station.

Notting Hill  Notting Hill

St John's Church  flowery stairs in Notting Hill

Everyone was hungry so we decided to go to First Floor Restaurant for lunch. I ordered the chicken caesar salad (Leandra had my anchovies – she said yum) and a half-pint of cider, while Leandra had the mussels (yet again) and a glass of rose. The food was tasty, but service was a little slow and we may have been better off with street food or one of the other cafes.

Down the street there were some great dessert stalls, so we got a florentine (almonds, cherries and chocolate cookie) and a chocolate pecan tart. Leandra searched for the blue door of the eponymous ‘Notting Hill’ movie and eventually found it.

Notting Hill Market  the blue door in Notting Hill
Notting Hill market on a Friday; the blue door from the movie ‘Notting Hill’

From here we decided to give our friends a taste of east London, so we took the tube to Shoreditch and walked over to the Old Spitalfields market. It was a little after 4p when we arrived, so parts of the market were packing up, but we managed to find some fun t-shirts and a good deal on four decorative dessert plates. As we learned on our last trip, this area has some great street art, so we spent about an hour exploring the side streets off Brick Lane; finding some old faves and quite a few new ones too.

Otto Schade  rude kids

street art  hug

birds

pumpkin face  secret society

After a quick change of clothes at the we headed back out for dinner. We were a little early for our reservation so we stopped off for a quick cider (me) and Cottage Brewing street porter (Leandra) at the Fitzrovia pub.

Dinner was at Da Paolo with our group and Leandra’s Aunt Kim and Jules, then drinks afterwards in the bustling and expensive Charlotte Street Hotel’s Oscar Bar. The big hit of the night was discovering a new (to us) drink called “Scottish Lover” that we need to recreate at home!

dinnerphoto
photo courtesy of our waiter via Jules’ phone

posing @ the Charlotte Hotel
We didn’t leave till they were shutting the bar down at 1am!

By the time we left the tube was closed, so we had ~1 mile walk back to hotel – as usual, we had a memorably fun evening in London!

One day in Sydney!

Since we had never visited Sydney on our previous Australia trip, we took this opportunity to see as much as we could in our two nights and one very full day.

We arrived late Sunday evening, taking a taxi from the airport to our apartment. This evening was the Cricket World Cup Final between Australia and New Zealand, and we had hoped to watch some of the game in a local pub… unfortunately (for us), Australia had already won the match just as we got into our room. Undeterred we went out for a beer at Royal Albert Hotel which did have a few people celebrating the win. They had an interesting range of beer, and Eric went for the Black Dog Brewery Farm Dog saison while Leandra choose the ‘The Dopey One’ from Modus Operandi Brewing.

coaster drawings @ Royal Albert Hotel  coaster drawings @ Royal Albert Hotel
fantastic illustrations on coasters covered one of the walls @ Royal Albert Hotel

The Monday forecast called for midday rain, so we were up early for breakfast pastries at De La France with a ham and cheese croissant for Eric, and a bacon and cheese for Leandra. Good way to start the day! From there we walked to Hyde Park, then on to views of St. Marys and St. James churches.

St. Marys Church
St. Mary’s Church

stained glass at St. Peters
stained glass room in St. Peter’s Church

Next we went down Macquarie St. past the library, then to the botanical garden, enjoying the various plantings. The ibis and cockatoos were also fun to watch, with a large gathering inexplicably under one tree.

cockatoos and ibis

From the northern tip of the botanical gardens we had our first view of the famous opera house.

Sydney Opera House

Note the looming clouds? Yeah, we did too. So under threatening skies we hustled around the quay for more views, took one last panorama, then ducked under an awning just as the rain came down. Looking at the radar we saw that it wasn’t going to stop quickly, so we changed our plans to head indoors. 

Sydney Harbour
just before the downpour!

The Museum of Contemporary Art was closest, so we went there first, ducking under as many awnings and bridges as possible. As a bonus, entry and wifi were both free! We especially enjoyed several of the light installations.

naa (to see or look ) by Jonathan Jones

Automated Color Field by Rebcca Baumann  colored room

Earlier we had noticed signs for an exhibition on Australian pulp fiction at the NSW Library so we headed there next. While interesting, even more entertaining was a set of portraits of shopkeepers in the Newtown suburb and the impressive reading room.

NSW Library
And now it’s sunny! Welcome to weather in Sydney.

The rain had tapered off a bit, but it was still drizzling, so we ducked into the Rabbit Hole for a quick snack of chips and a cider for Eric, with the house white rabbit ale for Leandra. Inspired by the photos in the library we took the opportunity to research Newtown as our next destination. By the time we left the sun was back out so we headed north through a different part of the botanical gardens, then to Cahill walk across bridge for more photos.

view of the CBD from the Royal Botanic Gardens

the famous opera house!

Sydney Opera House from the Harbor Bridge

At Circular Quay we purchased train tickets to Newtown, which was a bit confusing, including a transfer at Central station for $8 roundtrip. The video screen didn’t list the train we needed, so we had to deduce the track from the regular static listing next to the maps. The train in Sydney reminded us of Barcelona, where they seem to be more efficient for suburb connections then for getting around the CBD.

Once in Newtown it was a short walk to Young Henrys brewery, where Eric ordered the Newtowner (ale) which had a nice fruitiness to it, and is only distributed in the neighborhood area. Leandra got the darker specialty beer, a chocolate raspberry stout (Edna ale) – brewed by one of their female bartenders. The bartender was helpful with suggestions on what to try, and the overall space was fun with many interesting art pieces on the wall.

beers @ Young Henry's

Next up was exploring some of the local street art in the area around the brewery.

street art in Newtown

street art in Newtown

street art in Newtown (and Eric)

street art in Newtown

As you know we LOVE street art and this area did not disappoint. There was a good variety of styles, paste-ups and sculptures.

dessert-1Working up an appetite, we made it in the door just as Gigi’s Pizzeria opened for the evening. Drinks were served with a pile of roasted in-shell peanuts to munch on. We were surprised at how good our orders were – a really good thin crust pizza, along with a reasonably priced carafe of rose. Since we split the pizza we had room for dessert and went with the special, a mille feuille with figs. Everything was quite tasty.

Fairly tired we decided to head back our apartment to rest our feet and charge our phones. As one last hurrah, and since it was only two blocks away, we went out for pork dumplings from Din Tai Fung later that night. As usual, they were awesome!

New Zealand – Christchurch

Christchurch was our entry and departure point for the South Island, so we spent one night on each end in the city.

First night: Sudima Hotel Christchurch Airport

We arrived near midnight and after two nights on planes were quite glad we had booked the airport hotel as all we wanted was a real bed. The Sudima Hotel was clearly used to late arrivals as we simply walked up and they already had our keys waiting for a quick check in. All told we were in our room 35 minutes after landing, including picking up our checked bag, and were asleep before 1am. The beds were quite springy but we didn’t care after two nights on plane, though we might have on a second evening. Also, the motel is rather noisy, so earplugs are recommended. They also had good local honey amenities. Check out was very efficient, which was appreciated.

Last night: Lorenzo Motor Lodge

The hotel was a small, two-level motel-style building. Our room had an inexplicable amount of windows facing the parking lot including a sliding glass door. Fine for one night, but it would have been a bit too open for a longer stay. Thankfully we have eye masks and earplugs. The room itself was rather large with a small kitchenette and seating area on one side, a comfortable bed and separate bathroom. We were provided a small milk for coffee in the morning, a nice touch.

lorenzolodge

On our last night we had ~18 hours to explore the city. Christchurch was not as pretty as expected, more industrial, which may be partially due to the rebuilding following the earthquakes several years ago. The botanical gardens were near our hotel so it was nice to take a quick walk through and generally not be in the car!

Eric with a giant ficus tree  balancing act!

dahlia  pink rose

Roses were especially beautiful in the gardens, and they also had some amazing specimen trees. Surrounding the gardens was a larger park filled with people jogging, walking dogs, and playing rugby, and given the wonderful weather that evening it was no surprise at the amount of people out and about.

We looked at dinner places within walking distance, but decided to try Burgers and Beer – an eight minute drive away. Eric ordered the pulp fiction with fries and an amber beer from Stoke, while Leandra tried the portobello and blue cheese with the dark beer. Quite good, but way too many chips! We also enjoyed their overall design.

burgersnbeer  beers

After dinner we drove to the edge of downtown to Pomeroy’s, which was noted for their selection of craft beers. Eric tried the pump cask spiced ale, hyperlocal since it was brewed out back! It was quite autumnal, perfect for the cooler weather we’d been experiencing. Leandra ordered the Yeastie Boys Pot Kettle Black, a dark IPA that she definitely enjoyed. As with most people there, we were sucked into the cricket semifinal between NZ and South Africa.

Pomeroy's

Since we were close to the CBD we wandered toward Cathedral Square, which was eerily quiet on Tues night. It was quite sobering to still see the ruins of the Cathedral several years after the earthquake.

Cardboard Cathedral  street art mural
Cardboard Cathedral and a beautiful mural

Then it was back to our room to pack and watch the end of the cricket match, which had a thrilling finale when NZ won on the second-to-last ball of the final over!

The next morning we crossed the street (eventually, traffic is pretty thick) for breakfast at Cafe Sismo. Eric ordered the ubiquitous eggs on toast, while Leandra ordered a beef and cheese pie with salad. Convenient and decent, but not memorable.

cafesismo

Overall, our impressions of Christchurch were pretty neutral. We would strongly consider flying in and out of Queenstown on a future visit as that would put us much closer to the main sites we wanted to see.

France Nov 2014: Bordeaux sights

While we only had one night in Bordeaux, we found it to be a beautiful city with cozy side lanes, large boulevards, parks, and lots of shopping. As in Toulouse, there are a number of beautiful churches – Eglise Notre Dame, Cathédrale Saint-André de Bordeaux, Sainte Croix St Michel St Pierre, and Basilica of St. Michael. Each had free entry and there was quite a variety of styles and suburb stained glass.

Cathédrale Saint-André de Bordeaux  Paroisse Sainte Croix St Michel St Pierre interior

Paroisse Sainte Croix St Michel St Pierre

Paroisse Sainte Croix St Michel St Pierre  Eglise Notre Dame

Cathédrale Saint-André de Bordeaux

Cathédrale Saint-André de Bordeaux

Eglise St Louis des Chartrons teased us for some time, as we could see it from the river and the park, but couldn’t pinpoint it’s location north of town. We did eventually track it down too.

Eglise St Louis des Chartrons

Eglise St Louis des Chartrons  Eglise St Louis des Chartrons

In between Bordeaux’s cathedrals are many other interesting sights, including the Bourse, the old city walls, clock towers, etc.

Place de la Bourse panorama
Place de la Bourse with a shallow reflecting pond in the foreground

blue door   street scene

Porte Cailhau   street scene

Saint-Eloi gate and the Grosse Cloche   Saint-Eloi gate at night

And perhaps the oldest of all, the ruins of a Roman amphitheater…

Palais Gallien

Saturday shopping was very crowded. We hit several our favorite European stores including Zara, Pull&Bear, C&A, etc but by 2pm we couldn’t take the crowds anymore.

Rue Sainte-Catherine

In the alleys around the pedestrian zone we found a few cool pieces of street art too.

street art mural

Bla Bla Bla   street art

We really enjoyed our time in Bordeaux and hope to make a future return visit.