Winter Weekend in London: Saturday

We were hoping to see another show on our trip and checking the usual discount ticket sites wasn’t getting us the results we wanted for Saturday evening. The Gielgud Theatre offers £15 same day tickets for the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, so we made the trek to stand in line before the 10am ticket office opening. We were the tenth or so group in line but there were only restricted view seats left for the 7th group onward, so we decided to skip it. We probably needed to be there ~30 minutes earlier to get the better offers.

There was a Whole Foods nearby so I used that opportunity to pick up a large box of my favorite tea — Teapigs peppermint — and we stopped by Simit Sarayi for breakfast, a chocolate simit (Eric) and meat pie (me).

When we sat down in Piccadilly Circus to eat our snacks, we noticed a play called “The Comedy About A Bank Robbery” at the The Criterion Theatre. Curious, we stopped inside to view ticket prices and decided to try our luck online for the following evening. Back in our room we searched for tickets and thought we had found a good option when I noticed a discount code for half-off tickets on “Band A” seats for Sunday performances. Luckily, we managed to snag two excellent seats for about £25 each, half the price we had expected to pay!

Feeling a bit giddy, we hopped on the Tube to Paddington station to meet Eric’s UK co-workers for lunch.

me with Paddington Bear!
I could not pass up the opportunity to pose with Paddington!

From Paddington Station, we walked up to Little Venice for lunch and drinks at The Bridge House. This area of London was previously unexplored by us and we found the old canals with lots of small gardens quiet and quaint.

a moody day for walking around Little Venice

Just a few minutes walk away has created a very modern steel and glass corridor as well.

Paddington Basin

The weather was definitely not in our favor, so after wandering around looking for the ‘snail’ bridge (hard to find due to construction and then it was locked down. Disappointing) we took shelter at The Mad Bishop & Bear pub inside Paddington Station for more conversation before they headed back toward Reading.

We relaxed in the room for a while before deciding to visit the Tate Modern Museum since it was open until 11pm and we weren’t quite ready for dinner at 7pm. While the Tate Modern is not our favorite museum, as quite a few pieces induce eye-rolling for their ‘artfulness,’ several sections were still enjoyable.

Tate Museum artwork

Plus, the views of London at night are always good.

London at night

London at night

Working up an appetite, we walked to dinner at Est. India. My house lamb curry was very good, with a nice bit of spice. The tikka masala that Eric ordered was OK, a little sweet and underspiced, but with a generous amount of chicken. Eric found that mixing in a bit of my spicier sauce helped his dish considerably. My rose was a good choice with the heavier curry and Eric’s Hitachino Nest White Ale was also good. The restaurant itself was very loud due to a few boisterous tables around us so I wouldn’t recommend this place for a romantic dinner date, but it worked for a quick dinner.

Winter Weekend in London: Friday

Friday was definitely a day of culture! First up was the famous Natural History Museum, with all manner of mineral, animals, and lots of other science. I spent a half day here a couple years back when I had the day to myself waiting for Eric to fly in from France, so I wanted to show him around. Unsurprisingly, there were a LOT of school groups in attendance, so we tried to choose rooms they weren’t in…

what do scientists do?
hard to tell, really

A few hours later we got hungry so we walked a few blocks to the nearby Gloucester Arms for lunch, where we split a meat and ale pie.

Next up was a quick visit to the V&A Museum, specifically to see the small Beatrix Potter illustrations exhibit. I had no idea she was such an accomplished illustrator at such a young age!

Beatrix Potter @ V&A Museum 

After this we split up for a few hours… Eric walked through Green Park, then ducked into National Gallery to hang out with a few masterpieces by Monet, Van Gogh, etc. Cagnacci’s Repentant Magdalene, a special exhibit, was quite impressive.

London  Memorial

Meanwhile, I met my Aunt Kim at London Fashion Week for some ‘window’ shopping and the Mother of Pearl catwalk show. We had far less time than my experience three years ago at the Somerset House location, but I still enjoyed hanging out with my aunt and admiring the clothes and bags. Next time we need the full day to experience the champagne bar and complimentary manicures! :)

London Fashion Week

We had regular tickets for the catwalk show but a nice lady in front of us had two extra front row seats and gave them to us. We thanked her and hurried across the aisle just before the show started.

selfie w/ my aunt  London Fashion Week - Mother of Pearl catwalk
my aunt Kim and I; women who are way taller than me wearing expensive clothes

After the show, I texted Eric and he sent me his location (a wine bar) via Google Maps – love it! I covered the half-mile walk through crowds in about ten minutes, picked up the hubby and headed over to The Duke of York’s Theatre to see The Glass Menagerie, a Tennessee Williams play. The acting was mostly good (the brother was the weakest part, IMHO) but I really love the play so I was probably more into it than Eric was. For the price, I still think it was a good way to spend a few hours. We had third row seats in the first balcony and could really appreciate the staging from up there.

The Glass Managerie

Unfortunately, we didn’t make post-dinner reservations, and several places we tried were either full or had hour-long waits… thankfully, Les Deux Salons (the wine bar I met Eric in earlier) had some open tables in the informal bar area and we were seated just before the kitchen closed. We split a carafe of white wine and ordered a light dinner – Croque Monsieur for Eric and steak tartare & delicious crispy fries for me.

Bilbao: sights & museums

We spent a considerable amount of time walking around Bilbao. We only bought one 24-hour metro pass during our three day stay so most of our exploring was done on foot.

Our room wasn’t ready when we arrived so after grabbing a bite to eat at a nearby pintxo bar, we discovered the Arkeologi Museoa was free on Thursdays. We spied some giant puppets in the large open courtyard and decided to have a closer look.

posing w/ giant puppets   posing w/ giant puppets

Many Spanish festivals feature these puppets. One person controls the giant structure with a wooden frame and can see through a translucent veil stitched into the long fabric skirt. Slightly creepy and totally fascinating.

While we stayed in the Old Town, we walked across the Areatzako Zubia bridge daily to get to shopping and bars.

view from Areatzako Zubia bridge

One of the most famous sites in Bilbao, the Guggenheim Museum boasts a shiny undulating exterior and a giant puppy covered in flowers!

puppy!

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

spain-31

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

We opted not to go inside but enjoyed exploring the grounds and seeing how the shape of the building changed depending on where you stood and time of day.

There was a special exhibit going on at the Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao of life-like sculptures, so we decided to make that our museum visit choice. The materials varied but these sculptures were absolutely fascinating and incredible life-like!

Escultura hiperrealista 1973-2016 @ Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao  Escultura hiperrealista 1973-2016 @ Museo de Bellas Artes de BilbaoEscultura hiperrealista 1973-2016 @ Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao  Escultura hiperrealista 1973-2016 @ Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao

Right by our hotel, there was a set of stairs that disappeared uphill. We decided to follow them and do some exploring…

Mallona Steps

scene on the Mallona Steps

The Mallona Stairs led us up past a large soccer pitch and an amusement park to a beautiful church.

Basílica de Begoña

We both preferred the Moyua area to Old Town as there was lots of shopping, bars, and beautiful squares to explore.

Moyua Plaza

Iglesia San José

On Sunday mornings, the El Arenal flower market appears with many locals picking up plants and bouquets for the week.

flower market @ El Arenal

Our last stop before heading to San Sebastian was Azkuna Zentroa. Boasting a movie theatre and swimming pool on the upper floors with a wide open gallery space below, it was a nice spot to rest our feet for a while and admire the unusual columns.

column @ Azkuna Zentroa

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!

Thanksgiving in Europe 2013: Vienna sights II

Wednesday

The morning was fairly cold so we decided to start at the Leopold Museum. We were pleasantly surprised by the collection, especially the impressive Schiele floor, as well as some other interesting pieces. The top floor has nice views over the Museum Quartier and an unexpected bonus- our Austrian Airlines boarding pass = half off the entrance price!

#instagram Leopold Museum

Your Space Has Been Invaded

After a few hours we had to get our blood flowing, so we headed to the Am Hof Advent Market market for lunch. Leandra had a brat, Eric an open face ham and cheese… the peppers were a nice touch.

meat stall!

not for vegetarians!

After exploring the market a bit we made our way to St.Peters Church for the 3pm organ concert. The church is rather compact but quite ornate. We sat in the pews for about 30 minutes enjoying the organ concert and letting our eyes soak in the details.

St. Peter's Church

St. Peter's Church

From the church we walked through the palace back to the ring, enjoying the sunset light even with our cold hands.

carriages and old buildings

Rathaus at sunset

At the ring road we hopped on the D tram to Belvedere to catch a quick look at the palace and Christmas market, beautiful in the waning light.

Belvedere Palace market

Thursday

After breakfast we made a quick trip to the Schottering metro stop to check out the grafitti walls near the canal and bridges.

street art

street art

On the way we saw ticket checkers for the first time ever in Vienna, then headed back to collect E’s parents and get to the bus station for our trip to Prague.

Texas! exploring Austin, pt I

We started our Saturday morning with a trip to Zilker Gardens.  The signs are a bit disingenuous with a notice in small print that they charge extra if you are not a resident. We started by going left from visitor center, enjoying the different sections of the park.

pink roses (with visitor)

froggy  I have wings!

pagoda and pond  old school

star lily

The Japanese water gardens were especially memorable with some beautiful koi and mature bamboo.

From the garden we drove in downtown Austin, stopping first at The Contemporary which was underwhelming as museum. With only two installations, there wasn’t a lot to keep our attention for more than twenty minutes. However, we were pleased to find the nearby Capital building open for exploration and unexpectedly fascinating.

carved door hinges

door hinge

intricate doorknobs  dome

stars everywhere you look

Texas Senate floor

Texas House of Representatives

a discussion

downtown

After lunch we headed to the second location of The Contemporary Museum – a little better, but still not very interesting overall.

art installation

See our further adventures in Austin in our next post…

Summer Euro 2013: Berlin

It felt a bit strange to return to a foreign city just one month later, but also comforting to already know my way around parts of the city.

Leandra’s primary mission on this trip to Berlin was to visit the Pergamon Museum, home to the Ishtar Gate and the Pergamon Altar, so we headed there on rainy Monday morning.

Roman city gate

just a Roman city gate… inside the museum

Pergamon details   Pergamon details

Pergamon detail

Ishtar Gate

the fantastic gate of Ishtar

highly detailed wooden ceiling

temple ceiling carved out of wood

parrot mosaic

parrot mosaic

ancient door

an impressive door

We enjoyed the antiquities, but the busy-ness of the packed museum made it harder to enjoy the place, plus some parts were closed for renovation. From here we walked over to the Radisson Blu, to quickly check out the world’s largest cylindrical aquarium.

walkway on museum island   Han Solo?

sights along the way

Radisson BLU - world's largest cylindrical aquarium

And the Three Girls and a Boy statues along the Spree river.

children by the river

Just a few blocks away is the large Weihenstephaner beer garden; given the damp weather, we enjoyed our beer and pretzels inside.

Leandra’s foot was feeling ok, so I took her to the street art area near Warschauer Street U-Bahn stop. Unlike my trip in July, this time I had more time to explore, and saw quite a few new murals.

huge wall mural

war tools  street art

sleeping

ants  what's wrong?

see more photos on Flickr

Later that evening we re-visited the Brandenburg Gate and the Holocaust Memorial.

about to get run over by a pack of cylists at the Brandenburg Gate

From there the metro took us to the Gendarmenmarkt, where we enjoyed the Deutscher Dom and Französische Friedrichstadtkirche as the lights came on in the twilight.

Deutscher Dom

Deutscher Dom

Französische Friedrichstadtkirche

Friedrichstadtkirche

Konzerthaus Berlin

Konzerthaus Berlin

We finished our Berlin adventure with dinner at Das Meisterstück, then back to our hotel to pack up for our return to the US the next morning.