Sensational Baby Boomers

Friday, 13 March 2020

A WINTER TRIP TO COPENHAGEN



For my Christmas present last year, I was delighted to receive from my daughter plane tickets and a few days stay in Copenhagen.  However, when she told me we would be staying in a hostel, to say I was a little apprehensive was an understatement!  This from a girl who travelled around South East Asia, through Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Australia - so hostels were no problem for her, but I prefer a little bit of luxury when I'm away from home.

However, I was so pleasantly surprised when we got to The Steelhouse, very close to Tivoli Gardens,  that I would even stay there again.  I pictured steel bunk beds and having to trot down the corridor to the loo in the middle of the night, so I was even thinking I would take a quick look then find a proper hotel!



The Steelhouse was far from that.  She had booked a private en suite room for two, although actually there were six beds (four unused of course), but instead of bunk beds, there were cosy pods which were actually bigger than a single bed.  Some of the rooms even have a balcony! There was even a hairdryer and shower gel provided.

The decor was distinctly urban chic - bare concrete walls and rustic tables and benches, but since we didn't eat there, it wasn't a problem, and the comfy chairs in the lounge were perfect for a delicious hot chocolate at the end of the evening.

Food was available - breakfast "bags" of sandwiches, and there were pastries and yummy yoghurts with compote and granola, but as my daughter is gluten intolerant (more of that later) we ate out every night.  There is a kitchen for those who want to cook, and even a swimming pool - but of course these cost extra. While it wasn't exactly luxury, it was adequate and certainly wasn't "roughing in" while the guests included people of all ages and young families. There are walking tours and there is entertainment provided too - perfect if you're on your own or just want to join in!

My tick list for Copenhagen was Tivoli Gardens, Nyhavn Harbour with the multi-coloured buildings and the Little Mermaid statue.  Tick, tick, tick.

Our first day saw us wander around the city centre to get our bearings and work out what we wanted to see.  First stop was the food hall attached to Tivoli Gardens, where there was every kind of food from salads to street food to sushi or burgers.  It was a perfect choice for my gluten free daughter, and the salads were delicious.

I had googled "gluten free restaurants" before we went and saw that there were around 170 offering gluten free food, however, most offered only one dish on their menus, so we did struggle.  Since I am ok with gluten, it was such a shame as there was an abundance of beautiful fresh vegetarian and vegan sandwiches - but my daughter couldn't eat any of the bread.  Fortunately we stumbled on Joe and the Juice, which became our go-to eatery for much of the holiday, as they served gluten free flatbreads, juices and salads.  I was even heartened to see that they have premises in the UK, though unfortunately not near us!

We had quite a walk to the Nyhavn Port, but it was so pretty, with traditional Danish houses painted in different colours, and boats moored along the water.  It is here that you can take a tourist boat along the river, though as it was freezing cold, we gave that a miss, but it must be very pleasant in the summer months.



This is a very touristy area and I can imagine that in summer it is very busy with pavements full of tables and chairs for the restaurants and bars spaced every few yards. Famous author Hans Christian Anderson lived at No 67, which now bears a plaque commemorating where he wrote many of this fairy tales, although actually, he wrote many more books which were not for children.

After a gluten-free dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe (we always have to go in every city we see, since my daughter has to have "verified visits" (!).  I love the decor but the menu is not my personal favourite) we visited the Victorian fairground at Tivoli Gardens after dark.  Built in 1843, it is the second largest amusement park in the world, with the fairground featuring traditional rides, while the site was beautifully lit with vibrant colours.  Unfortunately since this was a cold, damp night in February, it was rather too chilly to take advantage of the rides, many of which were not running, though the ice skating rink was open for business. However, if you are planning a winter trip - check that it is open as it closed shortly after our visit and doesn't re-open until April!




We returned the following day to see the fairground in daylight, and it was a little busier, particularly with families, and there were more rides open. There are various ticket prices, meaning you can get a 24 hour pass, group or child discounts, or one with unlimited rides.

However, the weather took a turn for the worst, so as always we jumped onto a hop-on, hop-off red bus to see the city from the top deck.  To note there is more than one company, and for a few krona extra, you can include a boat trip with your ticket price.

One thing Denmark is also famous for - more for the residents than the tourists, is cycling!  Every road has a cycle track with its own traffic lights, and motorists don't view them as a nuisance as they do in the UK.  Having said that, the cyclists tend to be on traditional bikes, ridden sedately rather than the lycra-clad,helmeted cyclists on sports bikes we see on our roads.  The first cycle lane in Denmark was opened in the early 1900s and there are five bicycles to every four people! Many tourists take to cycles too, which is probably quite sensible as the city is very spread-out, and you can hire a bike or electric scooter almost on every street corner.  Just pick up a discarded bike, log in and leave your credit card details, and then log out when you get to your destination and leave the bike for the next person.

Finally we made it to the Little Mermaid statue - featured in Hans Christian Anderson's iconic tale.  The bronze statue is quite tiny, and was modelled on ballerina Ellen Price, though she did not pose in the nude - the body was actually based on Eline Erikson, wife of the scultor Edvard Erikson.  In her 100+ years, the mermaid has been decapitated twice although her head was returned both times.  She has also had her arm sawn off, she has been blown off her rock with explosives and doused in various paints as protesters made various political statements. 

Our red bus dropped us off while we took photographs, and waited until everyone was back on board to set off - for which I was eternally grateful since it was quite a schlep from the centre.


Having been fans of the Danish thriller "The Bridge" we were keen to see the fabulous Oresund Bridge which we had spied from the plane as we landed. Jumping on a train to Malmo, Sweden took us onto the bridge, although the rail track runs beneath the road surface.  Incidentally, the helpful staff at Copenhagen station told us to buy a family return ticket, which worked out cheaper than single tickets for the two of us. The bridge is partly underground as it departs Copenhagen, built so that it would not cause issues for planes landing at the Danish airport.  Once clear, the bridge travels across the water for five miles and is the longest combined rail/road bridge in Europe.



To be completely honest, Malmo was a bit of a disappointment.  We found the most unattractive castle which looked more like a prison, so wandered round the grounds and found a delightful old windmill and a park which is probably very pretty once the flowers bloom.


Back in Copenhagen, we got back back on the red bus since we had bought a 24 hour ticket, which was still valid. Tours are always helpful in relating the history of the city and some of the buildings which one would never know about.  The yellow Nyboder buildings had fascinated us the first time we saw them, so it was interesting to learn that they were built by King Christian IV in 1631 to house naval personnel.  The rows and rows of terraces housed families who had access to their own medical care, police and guardhouse, but in exchange, all boys born into those families had to complete military service.



We decided on our last afternoon, to wander around the shops "downtown".  There are a number of independent boutiques and bookshops, cafes, bars and restaurants. There are also some great tourist spots, including Amalienborg Palace, home of Denmark's Queen Margrethe II and her son Crown Prince Frederik, where you can watch the changing of the guard at 12 noon daily.  Tourists also make their way after dark to the Ice Bar.  Visitors can play games or quizzes or enjoy a cocktail or two if you can stand the cold!  This is a real bar with ice hewn and imported from Northern Sweden and kept at a frosty -5 degrees.  It was cold enough outside and we preferred a hot drink, thank you!


Nearby is Rosenburg Castle, now a museum housing the crown jewels and art treasures, the lovely King's Gardens and the imposing Gefion fountain

The Gefion is dedicated to the Norse Goddess Gefion, who plouged the island of Zealand from Sweden.  The story goes that Swedish King Gylfe offered her as much land as she could plough in a day and a night - so she changed her four sons into oxen and they ploughed so well that they pulled the land into the sea and created an island. So much for legends!





We found three days to be long enough if I'm honest, but maybe the inclement weather didn't help.  I would suggest if you are going to visit, then go when the weather is a bit warmer.  Everyone tells me there is a great atmosphere in the bars and restaurants during the warmer months, so it strikes me it would be quite a lively place to go.  There are also a number of museums and notable art galleries in Copenhagen, but these are scattered throughout the city and suburbs.

Worth visiting - yes, but go when it's a bit warmer!
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Friday, 21 February 2020

ROME - THE ETERNAL CITY



Rome became known as the Eternal City because is of its fierce history of achievements and conquering lands far and wide, so it is easy to see that Romans felt themselves invincible.  Their belief was such was that if Rome fell - then so would the rest of the world - hence it became known as The Eternal City!

And the saying that Rome wasn't built in a day? Well that's easy to see where that came from - during the great days of the Roman empire, their fabulous buildings were both architecturally beautiful and also built to last - with many still standing several centuries later.

This is Anne C and while my colleague Anne H has been to Rome many times (and wrote about it a couple of years ago here and here),  but this was my first visit. I have tried to approach it slightly differently to her blog, so I hope you're not bored!

My daughter and I flew to Rome in January to celebrate her birthday - and we both fell in love with the city! It is everything you read about, see in photos and watch in the movies - and much more.  

It is a vibrant, happy, beautiful, stunning and historic city with plenty to do and see.  Turn any street corner and you find remains of the magnificent buildings which once formed one of the most powerful civilisations in the world at the time.


Our hotel


We booked into a small Bed & Breakfast, the Domus Libera, in the centre of the city and obviously had no idea what it would actually be like.  My daughter made the arrangements, and when I saw the address, l was disappointed to see that it was in a back alley and we had a code to enter the door as there was no reception between 7pm and 7am. However, we did actually get in without any problem as the code worked perfectly.  The lift was so tiny that the two of us and two cases didn't fit it, so she gamely walked up the three flights to our room - which was opened with said code!




But what a surprise! The room was just lovely - a large king sized bed, huge bathroom with double sinks, loo and bidet and lovely toiletries. (See my daughter's Tripadvisor review here  for more information about the hotel). 


The Trevi Fountain


We ventured out to get something to eat, and just a few minutes later found ourselves next to the Trevi Fountain.  Tick one off the bucket list! Despite the fact that it was January, the fountain area was very very busy, so I dread to think what it is like in high season.  We visited both during the day and on our first evening, and I think it is probably my favourite place in Rome - it did not fail to inspire with its beauty and stunning turquoise waters.






After a good night's sleep, we went down to reception, which doubled as the breakfast area.  Again, we had a fabulous surprise.  Although small, there was plenty of continental fayre to eat, and they had catered especially for my daughter who is gluten intolerant.  The two reception staff, friendly Speranza and handsome Lorenzo, were absolutely lovely and totally made our stay enjoyable with their help, constant smiles and helpful suggestions.


The Colosseum and Roman Forum


A short 15 minute stroll took us straight to the Colosseum, which of course is stunning.  We had booked a full tour which wasn't cheap (there are several from which to choose), but our tour guide, Tiziana, spoke excellent English and had the most wonderful sense of humour (apparently ancient Romans were short and women were not allowed in the Colosseum, she told us - so imagine 6,000 Hobbit men in here....)

You will notice that only part of the Colosseum outer walls exist due to the great earthquake of 1349 - half of the structure was built on sandy terrain and the rest on more stable ground.  The damaged stones were later used to build palaces and churches throughout Rome - hence why there are many holes in the walls where the metal rods holding the stones were also removed.




Unfortunately because it was January, we were not able to go underneath the ground floor during winter months, but we could see into the Hypogeum (the underground), which was a disappointment. Currently the area is a building site, undergoing a $20million renovation to construct a new arena on the site, which will eventually be used to hold events and re-enactments.

The tour also included the adjoining Roman Forum - known as the heartbeat of ancient Rome and its Empire.  Historians believe the first meeting there was 500BC.  We saw where the funeral pyre of Julius Caesar took place, and the following day just happened along the Largo di Torre Argentina in the middle of a shopping district, which was where Brutus inflicted the fatal wound that killed him.  




This area was close to shops and our favourite gluten free restaurant, and was actually in part a cat sanctuary where you could "adopt" a kitty.  (It's a wonder we didn't come home with another one since we wanted to smuggle one home, they were so cute). We had found the restaurant, incidentally, when Lorenzo rang round on our behalf to local establishments near to the hotel to find one which served gluten free food.  Obviously when you're in Italy, you have to eat the most delicious pizza and pasta!


Vatican City


Our next tour was of the Vatican City, again, one which we pre-booked.  Our guide was an art historian so we certainly got chapter and verse about every painting, fresco and map,  since she was extremely knowledgeable about all the famous artists and sculptors.  

MichaelAngelo, famous for painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling was in fact a celebrated sculptor before he began one of the most famous tasks in the Western world!  Of course all were completely awe-inspiring and such stunningly beautiful works of art from the ceiling to even the floors - one of which was decorated in the luminous blue, ground from lapiz lazuli stone and which was used by many of the Renaissance artists - often for the Virgin's Mary's startling blue robes.




The Vatican is the smallest country in the world, and the Pope is the King.  It is easy to be confused by the number of popes and kings unless you have studied them, but each has left something of themselves behind in the Vatican, even including the scandalous Borgia family (Pope Alexander V1 was born Rodrigo de Borja and fathered several children by his mistresses).






Photographs are not allowed to be taken in the Sistine Chapel (so I've used this photo below which I found online), and in certain parts of the Chapel and St Peter's Basilica, there are signs requesting silence.  I was horrified, particularly at the gate of St Peter's tomb to hear a family loudly shouting and laughing at their young children who were running riot at the tomb.  While I am not particularly religious, it is a holy place and not an amusement park.  The kids were obviously bored - maybe they should have taken them to a playground.



St Peter's Basilica


Staying with the Basilica, we saw the world-famous statue, Pieta by Michaelangelo, depicting Mary holding the body of Jesus after his Crucifixion.  This sits behind gates and bullet-proof glass, since a  vandal attacked the priceless artifact, chopping off Mary's nose, arm and fingers with an axe.  He was never charged with an offence, but spent two years in an Italian sanatorium and then deported. The statue is one of the few ever to be repaired, since this can negate its authenticity, but it was felt this piece was too important to leave so severely damaged.

You can climb to the top of the dome, but there are more than 400 steps, and a lift which only goes part-way, so I knew I would never make it to the top.  Besides, I hate heights, and this is one scary drop!



If you do every venture to Rome, visit the Vatican on Wednesdays.  Unfortunately we did not know when we booked that Wednesday is the day the Pope appears on the balcony when he is in residence.  We went on Tuesday!


Rome by Night



We later returned to the Colliseum that evening to see the fabulous building at night - and it is just as stunning as during the daytime, although we couldn't actually go inside the walls.



In fact Rome is just as stunning at night as it is during the day.  Many of the old ancient stones are lit up and are even more impressive by moonlight.








Hop-on, Hop-off Bus


As always when we do a city tour, we do the hop-on hop-off bus tour.  However, because the streets are so narrow, the bus cannot drive through the centre - so it did a loop around the city, pointing out yet more fountain monuments (250 of them) and water drinking fountains (several hundred) but you couldn't actually see the main attractions because many are down side alleys and in pedestrian areas.


The Pantheon



We had seen the Pantheon on the first day - the circular church in the  Piazza della Rotunda (where we had the most delicious pasta lunch, though also the most expensive!) Originally a Roman Temple, it is now a Roman Catholic Church ( the Basilica de Santa Maria ad Martyres, or Church of St Mary and the Martyrs).  Despite its age - it was dedicated around 126 AD, it is still the world's largest unenforced concrete dome, despite being in constant use.






Our final day there was spent revisiting those places we loved the most - including the Trevi Fountain by day, which is stunning - and eating the most delicious ice creams.  The gelato shops sell so many delicious flavours that you just have to try as many as you can while you're there! We also paid a second visit to the Spanish Steps - again another place which was very busy so it was difficult to get good shot without hordes of tourists in the picture. It's also very close to all the designer shops -  a good place to go window shopping only!


The Spanish Steps






I hope I haven't bored you with the history - there is so much of it and so many churches. ruins, museums and fabulous buildings of such historic significance, that it was impossible to see in just a few days.

I have to admit there was a lot of walking - something which I find difficult after a while since a bad accident a couple of years ago fractured my spine.  I had to have frequent stops with either cappuccino or gelato to fortify me, but a tip for those not used to walking is to wear very thick rubber soled shoes, trainers or boots - there are lots of cobbled streets and after a while I could feel every piece of grit in my normal-soled patent leather boots!

It is one of the few places to which I hope to return - we had such a magical time.  The weather was kind to us, the people were friendly, the food was incredible and the place is just stunning.  It is also hard to imagine how far advanced a civilisation Rome was more than 2000 years ago, and how well it has stood the test of time.

Caio Rome - I'll be back!
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Friday, 31 January 2020

MARRAKESH

Anne H here. I was lucky enough to spend a week over New Year in Morocco visiting Marrakesh with some friends and being joined by my daughter for a few days.

THE MEDINA 

We were based in the Medina (the old town with its distinctive high walls) for the duration of our stay, which was the most amazing experience. This is a particularly busy time of year as not only foreign tourists visit, but there is a massive migration of Moroccans to Marrakesh as well.  This sometimes made navigating the streets quite an arduous task, but once you were off the main routes getting about was relatively easy, especially with the help of Google maps!

There are plenty of restaurants in the main square that overlook the market on the outer edge of the Medina, and many an hour can be spent there over a mint tea just watching the world go by.  One thing to note is that many of the restaurants within the confines of the Medina are "dry" and if you want alcohol you need to venture to the outer edges or into the larger Hotels more appropriate for tourists.


Shopping is an absolute dream, I could have filled a container with amazing handcrafted items but managed to contain myself. Rugs are something for which Morocco is world famous and we saw some absolutely beautiful examples. Bartering is the norm in Marrakesh and takes some getting used to. If you can't cope with the slight aggressiveness of the bartering system there is a shop called Establishment Bouchaib  that has lots of examples of  gorgeous jewellery, artefacts, rugs and furniture where the prices are fixed and where we spent many happy hours.






The hustle and bustle of the place is amazing and the colours are dazzling.  But there are opportunities to escape down quiet alleyways if you crave some peace and quiet.





One thing to be aware of is being pointed to the direction of somewhere and then being picked up by people who will show you the way and then demand payment.  We made this mistake on the first day when being pointed to the Leather area, being told that it was only open that day as the Berbers were going back to the mountains for the holiday.  It wasn't the worse experience in the world but did involve paying our guide who was waiting for us when we came out of the final stop which, of course, was a shop!


Our impromptu tour involved visiting the leather tanning area which actually turned out to be very interesting.  On entering we were handed a spring of mint to help mask the smell of urine which is used in the process. The shop we were then taken to included leather, carpets, lamps and furniture and there were some lovely examples of all.  I succumbed to a suede jacket and my friends bought a carpet .... pretty much guaranteed one of us had to leave with one, though how they managed to get it home is still a mystery!

WHERE WE STAYED 

RUE JEMAA DABACHI 

We booked accommodation in a Riad via Booking.com  ( A riad is a type of traditional Moroccan house of palace with an interior garden or courtyard. Nowadays the term is used to refer to a hotel or guest-house style accommodation with shared common areas and private rooms), and stayed at the Riad El Bellar which was in the centre of the Medina down a quiet alleyway (above). They organised a pick up at the airport and met us at the big square to guide us through the Medina to their location, which we certainly would not have found without their help.  But thereafter we managed fine by getting a SIM card that allowed us to access Google maps on one of our phones.  Data charges otherwise are prohibitive and you go through your capped limit in the first day very easily.


RIAD EL BELLAR 

The Riad El Bellar was clean and comfortable and included a lovely terrace where you could sit out and get the afternoon sun.  Breakfast was served in the courtyard area above and we were looked after really well.


PLACES TO EAT 


We had one local restaurant which we frequented a lot called the Chez Brahim on the Derb Dabachi which served amazing Tagines and was incredibly reasonably priced. 

TERRASSE DE LA FONTAINE 
We enjoyed a lovely lunch at the Terrasse De La Fontaine and loved its decor as well. We also enjoyed a marvellous meal on the roof terrace at Nomad admiring the views of the medina and the Atlas mountains.  Nomad is part of a chain which includes Le Jardin which we also visited and highly rated. Although more expensive than the Brahim they were both very affordable and the surroundings were beautiful.

NOMAD ROOF TERRACE 

GARDENS

JARDIN MAJORELLE

A short cab ride from the Medina (and cabs are not expensive)  is the Jardin Majorelle which was stunning. As one of the most visited sites in Morocco it is worth getting there early so that you can wander the gardens and enjoy the peace and tranquility.



Created by French painter Jacques Majorelle over a forty year period the use of plants and colour is inspiring and just made me want to get back to my own garden, though the weather is not very inspiring for English gardens at this time of year.


Interestingly, the garden was falling into disrepair after the death of Majorells in the 60s and was bought by Yves St Laurent and Pierre Berge in 1980 who saved by them from being turned into a hotel complex.


The site also includes the Berger Museum and the gardens of the Villa Oasis.





LE JARDIN SECRET


A true oasis of calm in the hustle and bustle of the Medina is the Le Jardin Secret. Set in a traditional Riad, the garden is housed in the centre and is protected by high walls. Comprising of two gardens - The Exotic and The Islamic Garden, both have water features fed from underground channels via a hydraulic system, and there is a cafe and plenty of areas to sit.


We had also ventured into the newer commercial area of Marrakesh but really it was totally overshadowed by the wonders of the Medina.  I think if I ever returned I would make a point of taking excursions to the coast and the Atlas mountains to experience the variety that this beautiful country has to offer.
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