London: Old and New

We lived near London for three years a very long time ago (think “the nineties”) and we haven’t really been back since, so a lot has changed. But even then, the London Underground map was iconic. It has only grown.

Holy Moly

One of our enduring memories is how wonderful spring was in England, with flowers from February till May. Although it’s late in the season here, when we left home last week, the tulips were just about to bloom and the leaves were just beginning to come out. But in London…

And of course, St. Paul’s Cathedral is still here. We didn’t go inside today – though we have been up in the dome in the past – but we did have a lovely lunch with a perfect seat to look at St. Paul’s and to watch the people on the street.

And of course, Tower Bridge…

But there are also a lot of new buildings since the last time we were here. The Gherkin, the London Eye, and something that looks like it should be in Shanghai.

One of the many things that fascinate me is watching professional photographers at work … and taking pictures of them, taking pictures of their models. As I was crossing the Millennium Bridge I spotted this scene. I assume they had carefully selected the angle to provide the perfect backdrop for the photograph, but I was more interest in this perspective. But of course, I’m not getting paid.

And finally, I’ll leave you with a little story about my visits to the British Museum a very long time ago. The Rosetta Stone has been in the British Museum since the defeat of Napoleon. When we visited in the 90’s the Rosetta Stone was an important exhibit, but it was openly displayed, without a protective covering or even a sign saying “do not touch”. On my first visit I gently touched the edge (not where there is any writing, just to be clear) and no one said anything. A year later when I visited with my son, I told him to touch it, which he did with some hesitation. This time the security guard said “don’t touch”. (There still wasn’t a sign.) The next time we visited there was a rope around the stone, a plexiglass shield over the writing, and a “do not touch sign”. (I really can’t believe we were personally responsible for this, but who knows.) Anyway, when I visited the British Museum today, this is what I saw.

Oh my…

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London

We took the train back to London, and by now there was no doubt that the English are done with COVID. This picture was taken in Euston train station. Can you spot the masks? (Hint: there are three, if you look very closely.)

Where’s Waldo?

One of our favourite activities is to just walk around cities, and London is perfect for this. We walked down Oxford street where preparations are underway for the Queen’s Platinum jubilee with UK flags everywhere. There were also people everywhere.

We are staying near Hyde Park, so I had to enjoy the warm spring day.

I also visited the Marble Arch and Speaker’s Corner, though no one was speaking there today.

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Manchester

To be honest, Manchester wasn’t at the top of our list of places to visit in the UK. The only reason we we came here was because I had a business meeting in the city. But I’m glad we did. There has been a lot of building in recent years, and various quirky art installations. We loved these lamps near the train station. Note the person by one of the lamps for scale.

But Manchester has also managed to incorporate aspects of the city’s history into the downtown scene. We were near a canal that once served the industry in the city. The canal and locks are still there and appear to be in working order. These look a lot like the locks on the Rideau canal in Ottawa.

The street beside the old canal is called … wait for it … “Canal Street”… and local businesses take advantage of it and set up tables all along the canal.

We stayed in one of the old mills that had been converted into a hotel. They took advantage of the high ceilings and created one of the nicest and most interesting hotels we have ever stayed in.

We will be back.

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Travelling Again

My last post was in November from Quebec City where I wrote that it was beginning to feel like the “before times”. Within 24 hours I saw the first mention of something called Omicron. I had no idea what they were talking about. I was about to find out soon enough.

In April we tentatively decided to try travel again with a visit to friends in Atlanta. When we left home there was still snow on the ground, but in Atlanta everything was in bloom.

The trip was a success. We had a wonderful visit and decided that we were reasonably comfortable with travelling again. So when a potential business trip to Europe came up, we decided to go for it. And that’s how we found ourselves on the London underground yesterday at the height of rush hour. Apparently COVID is finished in the UK. Or at least the English are finished with COVID. The underground was packed but you could count the masks on one hand. In our jet-lagged state we made our way by train to Manchester.

We are in a lovely hotel in the center of the the city in an converted textile mill. So far we are impressed with the city and are enjoying just walking around and taking it easy. It is a pleasant mix of old and new.

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Marché de Noël allemand

The Christmas market opened today so we had to check it out. The vendors were thrilled to be there – last year the market was closed because … well, you know why. But this year everyone was out in force, including Père Noël.

Père Noël

It was the first day the market was open, and it was a Thursday night at that, so it was relatively quiet, but it was still fun to wander around and take in the sights.

And even outside the market, Christmas themes and lights were everywhere.

Tomorrow we take the train home, but we will be back.

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Almost Like the Before Times

We ate dinner tonight in a wonderful Italian restaurant a short walk from our hotel. It was packed with a familiar mix of tourists and business people enjoying a night out on the company’s dime. It felt like 2019. At least after we sat down and took off our face masks. Of course, before we were even shown to our seats we had to show proof of vaccination and our ID. Everywhere around us we see a disorienting mix of the familiar and the utterly strange these days. Imagine, if you will, walking into a bank two years ago wearing a mask. Now imagine the reaction if you walked into a bank today without one. On the streets masks are relatively rare, though you are not surprised when you do see one. It almost feels like being in Asia five years ago. You’d almost think that they had experience with pandemics. Oh wait…

A few random photos from our day in Quebec city (a destination that I recommend without reservation).

The Funicular

We had not anticipated just how non-flat Quebec city was. Our legs are paying the price, so we opted for the funicular when we visited the Plains of Abraham today. The wonderful views were included in the very reasonable price.

Chateau Frontenac

Another photo of the Chateau Frontenac – one of the most photographed hotels in the world. Of course, that is what they would say. But based on this blog, they are probably right.

Christmas Market

I mentioned the “Quebec German Christmas Market” yesterday. Here is proof. It opens tomorrow, so expect more pictures…

UNESCO World Heritage Site

Another world heritage sight added to our list. Only another 1100 and so to go.

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Christmas Lights

Day two in Quebec City and we are in love with the city. The old city is … well … old. In a very good way. So there are lots of narrow streets and alleys loaded with character. And the food. Oh my! The food is simply amazing. It feels just like going to Europe, but without the jet lag.

We spent today wandering around the old city enjoying the ambience and looking for places to eat dinner. It’s what we usually do when we travel. One of the interesting things we saw was this building mural, which was amazingly lifelike. The characters in the mural are key characters from the last 400+ years of Quebec history.

Here is another smaller mural.

There isn’t any snow on the ground yet, but it is getting cold. In fact it was cold enough that we had to visit Simon’s, the local department store, to buy a warmer coat. It wasn’t just the temperature – the stiff wind was funnelling through that narrow streets and making it feel even colder. These pictures give you some idea of just how windy it was.

The Christmas markets open later this week, and we plan to check them out. The interesting thing is that these are billed as “German Christmas markets”. Not French markets, or European markets, but German markets. There is probably a story there, but I have no idea what it is. In preparation, the Christmas lights are everywhere.

One final thought. With all the talk about supply crunches we’ve been hearing there will even be a shortage of Christmas trees. I think we may have figured out the reason for the shortage…

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Quebec City

I haven’t posted in quite a while. I usually post when I have the opportunity to take pictures of new and interesting places. Like when I travel. And you know … there has been this pandemic thing that has thrown a wrench in the works for travel. But things are slowly returning to normal so we decided to take a train trip to Quebec city. We are staying in the old city, which is a wonderful place. And it is getting ready for Christmas, so lots of lights at night. Here are a few to give you an idea.

Chateau Frontenac from below
The old city – almost like being in Europe
Lights, lights, and more lights
Another view of Chateau Frontenac

And finally, the lovely little restaurant where we ate dinner.

Bistro Sous Le Fort
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Autumn

It’s October and the leaves are near the peak of their colour.

No need to say anything more.

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Flowers Within Fowers

It is strange the details that you can completely miss, until someone points them out to you.  We planted flowers in the pots on our patio this year, just as we do every year. They add a splash of colour to summer.

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We really didn’t notice anything unusual until someone told us to look closer…

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Do you see it?

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The flowers come in clusters of individual flowers that form a tight circle.  Some of the petals are red, and some are pink, but it isn’t random. In each individual flower, the petal that points toward the center of the circle is red, while the rest are pink. And if you step back, the overall effect looks like a much larger flower.  I have no idea what the purpose is, but it is fascinating.  And to think that I could have gone the whole summer without even realizing it was there.

Go back and look at the first picture again.  Do you see it now?

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