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Archive for the ‘Architecture’ Category

Looking up in Tanjong Pagar

Looking up in Tanjong Pagar

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Sun. Paella at La Pepica. Roman architecture in the city centre. Spontaneous street parades. Independent designer street vendors. Reflexology from my beach chair. 14 girl hen / bachelorette party. Sangria. Cava.

A great weekend in a beautiful city with a wicked group of ladies. I really do love Spain. Although Seville is so far my favorite Spanish city, it does lack a beach, a quality Valencia delivers highly on. Unfortunately my fancy pants camera is in the shop. Again. Well, technically it’s not in the shop anymore. It’s being held ransom in UK customs. Here are a few shots I took with my extremely vintage iPhone. Let me know what you think.

We were greeted at the airport by these lovely gluten free, vegan hen cupcakes. What a great way to start our journey.

Valencia has a thriving night life and the old city at night is absolutely breathtaking.

The silly sunglasses man made out like a bandit on us. Here is the normally gorgeous Anna giving the rest of us a fair shot at looking beautiful too.

Valencia Beach. If you get a reflexology on the beach, pick the lady with the Dora the Explorer bag and flowered hat. The rest pale in comparison. Kind of like standing next to Anna when she's not wearing those ugly glasses.

After some partying and beach time with the ladies, I took a later flight so that I could explore the old city myself. I am so glad I did as I ran across many spectacular moments in the short span of a Sunday afternoon.

The Cathedral.

The Cathedral.

The Cathedral.

Torre del Micalet.

Couple at Torre del Micalet.

City view from Torre del Micalet..

Fountain in Plaza de la Virgin

Child vs. pigeon standoff in Plaza de la Virgin.

A bit of modern architecture mixed in.

Valencia street view.

Random street performance. These ladies were amazing.

Clarinet player in the street performance band.

Costumed men joining the street performance.

And now I’m finding it difficult to get back to the mundane tasks that life is requiring. I guess that’s what Monday is all about. What do you think the people of Valencia are doing right now? With a current 24% unemployment in Spain, perhaps I should stop day dreaming and get back to work…. for now.

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Arthaus, East London

A view from the top floor of Arthaus, a mixed-use development in the east end near Hackney and London Fields. The development houses several business including fashion designers, Garnish School of Sound and Galerie8, where Jarek Piotrowski exhibition of hand-cut PVC mats titled The Soft Machine is currently on display.

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If you’ve been around London and paying any vague amount of attention, you’ve probably heard something about the Designs of the Year exhibit at the London Design Museum. What? You’ve never heard of the London Design Museum? Well I guess neither had Justine when I suggested we go one afternoon, so scratch that first sentence.

It’s in a slightly undesign-y looking building near Tower Bridge on the Thames. In fact, it is housed in a former 1940’s banana warehouse, but this all to change with a slated 2014 move to the former Commonwealth Institute building in west London. The museum covers product, industrial, graphic, fashion and architectural design and was a brainchild of Terence Conran, who coincidentally has an exhibit dedicated to him on the entire first floor. The museum costs £10 for adults to enter, which feels a bit expensive in a city full of free museums, but is totally worth it if you are a design geek. Being slightly artsy with a background in product design, I felt like I fell well into this category. As for Justine, she had an upcoming date with a design and art book publisher, so naturally this would aid in the development of dinner conversation material.

Along the River Thames near the Design Museum

The current museum consists of only two floors, but to be honest this was perfect for my museum attention span. When I find myself at places like the Victoria and Albert or the British Museum, I try to see to too much and end up heady and overwhelmed. The Design Museum with a cup of coffee in the cafe and a peruse in the gift shop can easily be done in 2 hours.

As I mentioned before, the entire first floor was dedicated to Terence Conran. At the time, I had no idea who this bloke was, but turns out that’s because his contributions are so woven in to the London experience that I had been influenced by him without even knowing it. The  designer, restaurateur and retailer promoted a whole new style of interior design simplicity that reverberates today across the globe. Looking at his designs, I started wondering what things had looked like prior to this ubiquitous genre. “Like an old Granny’s house,” Justine had to remind me. In my head I tried to contrast clunky wooden furniture with heavily upholstered thick florals next to sleek clean lines and curves. Obviously I’ve spent too much time in London and not enough time at my Granny’s.

Clean Lines at the Design Museum

Teapots

In 1964 Conran opened the first Habitat and later went on to develop Heal’s. He was revolutionary in his displays as they were set up like actual living rooms, which not only taught people how designs could be arranged, but also allowed them to wander in and out of possibilities imagining them as part of their everyday life. I’m reminded of this scene from the movie 500 days of Summer.

And while we are here, shouldn’t we mention Ikea? Being founded in 1943, I can’t say that they’ve necessarily taken from Conran’s concepts, but clearly they must have influenced each other. Ikea, however, being more disposable and therefore a further step away from Granny’s living room.

Justine and I compared back and forth which Terence Conran restaurants we had been too. Most were a bit too expensive and highly appealing to the West London set. Nice area, but not quite what I consider innovative. But then again, there was a day when the King’s Road was full of Mary Quant innovation and Vivienne Westwood appeal. Funny how things evolve.

We next headed upstairs to view the 2012 Designs of the Year where my definition of design continued to expand and expand until I wasn’t quite sure what a designer is or does anymore. There was everything from a bicycle helmet that activates and extends only upon impact to a computer software program that mutates an image of your face into a creepy facsimile. Also included were an electric car, DIY design jelly shoes and elements from Kate Middleton’s wedding dress. In April, judges will chose seven winners from Architecture, Digital, Fashion, Furniture, Graphics, Product and Transport categories and one overall category winner.  I couldn’t even begin to guess who the winner would be. I left with my head spinning from so many ideas.

The Design Museum is located at 28 Shad Thames, London SE1 2YD and is open daily from 10am – 5.45pm. Last admission is at 5.15pm.

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When your living abroad, traveling back to your home country for Christmas can seem like a whole lot of work. It’s not just the trans-Atlantic flight or the juggling of  family and family politics when you get there, it’s also that you are trying to do it at the most hectic time of year when expectations are really high. Sometimes it seems like a better return on your investment (price of tickets, time off work, etc) to see your family when things are less busy and there’s less pressure to squeeze so much in. Although, I’m sure my mother disagrees.

That’s why this year Husband and I opted out. Instead of heading to the States, we headed to Normandy to stay with Suse in her picturesque converted barn in the countryside. Since we were already going through the trouble of crossing the channel to France, I figured we might as well throw in some time in the Champagne region.

Visions of hopping from winery to winery tasting champagne replaced sugarplum fairies in my head. Unfortunately, since it was winter, bicycling the Champagne Route and ending up in Epernay turned out to be a damp, cold and unpleasant option. So instead of hopping on a bicycle, we parked ourselves in Reims to check out a few of the wineries there.

While in Reims, we toured the Taittinger and Pommery caves, two Champagne houses with two completely different approaches to their tours. Both included tastings at the end, but Taittinger took a grown up, classy and clear approach to explaining their process while Pommery made an odd attempt at turning their cellars into an art gallery. The Pommery tour came off a bit Disney-fied and frankly, weird. But there was still Champagne at the end so I can’t say it was bad.

Champagne fermenting in bottles at Taittinger.

I'll take them all, thanks.

I'll take these too, thanks.

The entire experience was very interesting historically. The caves of Reims, many of which have been there since they were carved out of the chalk subsoil by Roman slaves, have housed everything from monks, to refugees of World War II. You can even glimpse ancient carvings that have been made into the walls.

Wall carvings in Taittinger caves.

Wall carvings in Taittinger caves.

The tasting.

Other highlights in Reims include the Brasserie du Boulingrin, a traditional brasserie opened in 1925, and the Cathédrale Notre Dame, a beautiful gothic piece of architecture whose history goes back to either 400 AD or 1211 AD, depending on how you look at it, and includes Joan of Arc and the decapitation of Saint Nicaise. I have no photographic evidence of the hedonism we experienced at the Brasserie du Boulingrin, however, I can tell you that the highlight of the meal was the chocolate souffle dessert paired with a lovely serving of Calvados. Just thinking about it makes me melt into my chair. As far as the Cathedral goes, I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

Notre-Dame de Reims

Notre-Dame de Reims

Notre-Dame de Reims

Notre-Dame de Reims

Depiction of the decapitation of Saint Nicaise

Rose Window, Notre-Dame de Reims

Rose Window, Notre-Dame de Reims

Post WWII stained glass windows.

A return to the Champagne region is certainly on my list. However, next time there will be sunshine. And bicycles.

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The British Museum sat on my London bucket list for a long time. Luckily, it was on Sarah and Temi’s list too when they came to visit from Texas.

Walking up to the front doors I felt a tingle of excitement. Once inside I was blown away by the Great Court.

The Great Court

Other highlights included the section on ancient Greece, complete with opulent drinking cups depicting engagement in naughty lustful activities, Hokusai’s colour woodblock print, The Great Wave, which is on display until 8 January, and the Rosetta Stone.

The Rosetta Stone

This is one tourist attraction I won’t mind returning to, unlike the Changing of the Guard which I refuse to accompany any more visitors too. I’ll give you guys a map to that one and you can go on your own. 😉

The British Museum

The British Museum is free and open daily 10.00–17.30, Friday until 20.30.

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Josh was in town for a few days on his way to Germany and was planning a day trip to Bath. I needed a break from dealing with the damage the movers inflicted on our possessions, so a trip to Bath sounded perfect. Plus, I was in the midst of reading Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and becoming increasingly curious about what exactly a Pump Room is.

We took the train in from London. We walked the short distance from the train station to the center of town and I was pleased to see that Bath was a very pretty place.

Beautiful Bath

The city hosts free walking tours daily and Josh wanted to catch one. I was along for the ride so I agreed. We purchased some snacks from one of the covered market stands and ate them in the courtyard while we waited the 30 minutes we had before the tour started. I chose a Jamaican style empanada treat that was not good at all. I immediately scolded myself for not knowing better.

The courtyards around Bath Abbey have a rotating team of street performers. They were mostly musicians, but I did see an acrobat as well. The performances and rotation schedule were extremely organized, which makes me think that the town holds some sort of audition and regulation for their street art.

Courtyard with Street Musician

The tour began in the area around the Roman Baths and courtyard. The tour guide took us to the Abbey with its flying buttresses and pinacles and went into a short description of its history. One interesting item he pointed out was the creepy looking angels climbing ladders to and from heaven. Why would angels need a ladder? Isn’t that why they have wings? Major fail.

Creepy Crawlers on Bath Abbey

Bath has several natural spring bathing centers. The oldest are the Roman baths. They fell into disrepair and were eventually lost due to silting up. The Georgian’s had their baths as well. It was believed at the time that a quick dip in the water would cure you of what ails you. At first the baths were only used by the poor. They would hang onto the edges while people would walk by and throw trash at them. Later the aristocracy caught on. New and more private baths were built and it became a social thing to hang out in the waters. This is how Bath became a playground for the rich.

Today there is a new and modern spa you can visit if you feel left out of the Georgian times. It’s very sleek and owned by the local government.

Roman Baths - Sorry, not very appealing for a swim

Finally, someone was going to explain to me what a Pump Room is. The characters in Northanger Abbey are forever parading around it flirting and gossiping and it’s hard to visualize all the galavanting when you are lost for the reference.

Basically it’s a room with a pump in it. You can drink from the warm spring that fills the Roman baths. I’ve been told the water tastes disgusting. Today you can also eat in their snazzy restaurant.

Pump Room

Bath owes a lot to Jane Austen for publicizing its history and atmosphere. As we walked along and through the streets, she was constantly being referenced and her house was pointed out to us. Another thing that was pointed out was the oddness of the windows around town. Very often the window frames existed without actually windows in them or the windows were placed suspiciously close to one another. This is because in Georgian times windows carried a special tax. The citizens of the day found every loop hole they could to not pay the tax. The consequences of these loop holes are still visible today.

Window Taxes are for Suckers!

We cut through a walkway that was used by the Georgians to avoid peasants and horses. I could envision walking through here in a large hoop dress speaking very politely yet long-winded  to the lords and generals about the latest betrothing.

Taking a stroll away from the horses and peasants

We were led to the Royal Crescent where local kids were playing soccer and lounging in the sun. The unique and interesting architecture makes me want to dance along the roof from chimney to chimney Mary Poppins style.

 

Royal Crescent

We were then taken into a building and shown this spectacular ballroom. Once again being in the midst of Northanger Abbey put everything in perspective. I imagined Catherine Morland twirling about in dance while trying her best to avoid John Thorpe.

The Ballroom

The tour concluded so Josh and I made a quick viewing of the Fashion museum on our own. They were showcasing Princess Diana’s gowns and the evolution of her style. Although it wasn’t as extensive, this exhibit was the perfect compliment to the Grace Kelly Fashion Icon exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

We were then off to explore some more of the Roman baths. When we arrived at the entrance, there was a swarm of grade schoolers there for the tour as well. We took one look at the chaos in front of us and decided to save it for the next time we were in Bath. We poked our head into Bath Abbey instead and then headed off to dinner.

Inside Bath Abbey

Post dinner Josh wanted to check out the Bizarre Bath comedy walk. I was skeptical, but game. My skepticism was warranted as the £8 walk turned out to be comparable to an hour and a half long street comic you might see in any touristy town center. Good on them for being organized. I doubt most street performers are that lucrative and the people around me seemed to be enjoy themselves.

I did enjoy views of the River Avon as the comic performed a stunt involving a locked up stuffed rabbit toy being thrown into the water. Bath really is picturesque.

Along the River Avon

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