Luxurious Glamour at The Wallace Collection

A friend and I recently took a visit to the very beautiful Wallace Collection, which is a museum in the middle of London, in a luxurious town-house, displaying hundreds of French 18th-century painting, furniture and porcelain, as well as armoury and older paintings.

While it might make bring to mind  the slightly more touristy National Portrait Gallery, this Collection is a lot more visually appealing – the rooms are each beautifully displayed with grandeur aplenty, and there’s plenty of things to see.

I loved how all the rooms have their own character, with a separate vivid colour theme for each room so that the furniture, artwork and small trinkets all went together well. Each painting had something to look at, and the beautifully ornate furniture looked amazing – like something from of a historical period-film!

One of the things I also enjoyed was that the museum is relatively quiet – there’s plenty of time to walk around at your own pace, you get to explore the house (although you still can’t touch!), and best of all, you’re allowed to take photos (which a lot of other places don’t allow) – and entry is free too.

At the end of the tour, when you’re done, there’s a charming little restaurant outside to have some tea and relax. I didn’t manage to get a chance to visit the restaurant this time, but I will do the next time I come here to browse (and daydream about being a princess in 17th Century France).

If you’re around central London, I’d recommend a visit, whether it’s just ten minutes or a couple of hours, it’s a visual delight for anyone : )

The Beautiful Colours of Istanbul

Hubby and I have been reminiscing over the beautiful things we saw in Istanbul (a sign that we need a new holiday), and it made me think that there’s so much of the countries and cities I have been to which have so many hidden, beautiful parts. There’s a lot of iconic landmarks like the Haga Sofia and Blue Mosque, the Basicilica Cisterns and Topkapi Palace which are of course, a must-visit. But there’s hundreds of other things you can find when you take yourself off the beaten tourist track. One of my favourite memories is walking through winding alleys, past blocks of flats with clothes-lines stretched across the street above us, and bridges and stairs until we found some beautiful rainbow stairs. It was the fact that along the way we saw a lot of beautiful places, which felt so much more real than the tourist spots – grafitti supporting Palestine, the ordinary public on their way to the markets, street-sellers selling cheap handbag replicas and lots of beautiful flowers, buildings and decor.

So here are my top 9 favourite, most colourful photos, each with an accompanying colourful memory. There’s a story behind each photo so make sure you hover over each square to read it!

 

Norway’s Beautiful Doorways

One of the things I really loved about Norway when travelling to the different towns was how beautiful the architecture was, particularly the doorways in the buildings. I managed to snap a few pictures of each doorway which stood out to me, and there were plenty! Each door had it’s own memorable decor and embellishment which looked gorgeous, and each seemed to have a story of it’s own : )

 

Mohammad Ali: A Great Man

“He took a few cups of love, He took one tablespoon of patience, One teaspoon of generosity, One pint of kindness. He took one quart of laughter, One pinch of concern, and then, He mixed willingness with happiness. He added lots of faith, and He stirred it up well then He spread it over a span of a lifetime, and He served it to each and every deserving person He met” – Mohammed Ali

Today I awoke to the sad news that the great Mohammad Ali, boxer, philanthropist and brother in Islam passed away during the night, sparking a wave of mourning which I’ve been reading all mourning – from fellow Americans, fellow Muslims, fellow Asians and African-Americans and sports enthusiasts.

“I am America. I am the part you won’t recognise. But get used to me – black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own. Get used to me.”

The Mountains of Bergen: Mount Fløyen & Mount Ulriken

One of the main reasons my husband and I went to Norway a few weeks ago (apart from the beautiful views!) was the fact that it’s a great place for hiking and climbing mountains. Bergen has seven mountains surrounding the city, so there were ample opportunities to explore the mountains and do some hiking. My husband is pretty passionate about walking around natural spaces and has always loved climbing mountains and through peaceful woods, so we were both pretty excited to try something different on holiday and explore Bergen’s two most popular mountains – Mount Fløyen and Mount Ulriken.

Mount Fløyen

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Due to Mount Floyen being quite a popular mountain, the roads up to Mount Floyen always have tourists and residents strolling up or down the mountain, and there were also trams travelling to and from the mountains for those who wanted the stress-free rides. We decided to take the tram or the Floibanen up to the mountains to explore, and then take the scenic route and walk back down again to the city later.

Once we arrived at the top of the mountain, we were able to see an extraordinary view of the city, which was pretty breathtaking, where we sat and enjoyed the view for a little while. There was also a lovely little coffee top for tea and cake in this area, where a lot of families gathered outside to enjoy the food and breathe in the fresh, cool air.

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Although this view was pretty amazing, we were able to keep walking from this area further upwards towards the top of the mountain, where we walked though beautiful paths and plenty of woodland areas. My husband and I had a lot of fun walking through the woods and being silly, although admittedly we were both pretty out of breath from climbing uphill after a while and needed to rest – pretty embarrassing after seeing a lot of people stroll past easily, clearly used to climbing the mountain every day!

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One of my favourite parts of this mountain is this man-made trail that we found in the middle of nowhere, which we followed to a small clearing with seating to rest and little notes with a game. I forgot to take pictures of the signs here, but it was a nice little find for us in the middle of a huge forest. There’s something a little haunting and eerie about the picture below (maybe I’ve seen too many horror films in the woods!), but really this was a really peaceful, fun place and we managed to run around the trees and explore a little before moving on.

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We carried on walking and followed a path to find a big beautiful lake, which was pretty empty, apart from a family of ducks which didn’t take any notice of us! We sat here for a little while to rest, and enjoyed the peaceful view before walking around a little more, and even found a small cabin on the side of the lake (we didn’t go in though because it was private. And locked.)

We weren’t able to to get to the top of the mountain but we were pretty happy with what we had seen, and were also a little tired, so after this we headed back down towards the city, and made plans for the next mountain hike!

Mount Ulriken

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After climbing down from Mount Floyen and taking a short break in city (and having something to eat!), hubster and I decided to tackle the much larger Mount Ulriken which involves more hilly areas, steep roads and and higher peaks which we wanted to explore.

We took a tour bus to the entrance of the mountain (I say entrance, it’s more like the roads which lead into the mountain) which we later regretted because the tour bus journey was pretty short and very expensive!

Unfortunately we weren’t able to take the cable cars (called Ulriken Express) across to the peaks of the mountain, which I was really looking forward to, due to the high winds and the cold weather. We did managed to walk around for a little while though and spot some memorable sights including this beautiful waterfall below. I really wanted to try some of the water from this waterfall but it was at an awkward location which seemed a little dangerous, so we stopped to take pictures and ooh-and-ahh at the fresh, cool air instead.

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We also did a little more hiking through this mountain, although we weren’t able to access a lot of it without the cable-cars taking us to the top. We also found this mountain a lot less busier than Mount Floyen which had more families and tourists, while this mountain was for the more serious hikers and explorers.

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We had a really fun (and tiring!) day exploring mountains in Bergen, which we found very refreshing. I have mentioned before how wonderful it is to find a place like Norway which has so many natural landscape scenes – mountains, forest, lakes and snowy peaks, and we certainly found all of these in Floyen and Ulriken. I think in future I’d love to be more adventurous and try some rock-climbing or scaling, although I think I’d need to be a little fitter to try these!

I’ll leave you with a funny sign-post we found in Mount Floyen (there’s lots all over) which made me laugh, Norwegians love their trolls and monsters and this was just one more on the list!

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Beautiful Bergen – Part 2

While staying in Bergen we managed to see quite a lot of sites in the few days that we stayed there, and tried to make the most of the long days and various attractions. One of the things which really struck my husband and myself was how well-spoken the Norwegian citizens are, and also how healthy and fit they seem – we spoke to several inhabitants who told us about regular walks up and down the mountain, the beautiful fresh air and various fresh fish they had for meals which was caught by the wharf.

There’s quite a few things which stood out for me in Bergen, so I’ll list some of my favourite below – let me know what you think of these!

Bergenhus Fortress, Rosenkrantz Tower & Haakon’s Hall
One of the things I was looking forward to seeing in Bergen was the historical sites, which were medieval buildings which go back as far as the 13th century. Begenhus Fortress is mainly the hall (Haakon’s Hall) and the Rosenkrant Tower (which is an old keep which used to have dungeons), which ares apparently a throwback to the Viking days, although the Hall was properly used for weddings and feasts from the 13th century. We didn’t get to see inside the Hall because we arrived too late, but we did get to wander around the grounds which we loved (and you can see the inside of the Hall here), where there were plenty of old structures, statues and large walkways to explore.

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Statues
There are several statues around the city of Bergen, which can be found in various spots, some of which are a commentary on society, with a certain message from the artist. The most memorable one was this hidden away, nameless statue of a homeless person below, which is apparently the most photographed statue in the city – it is meant to make the viewer think about why it is there and what it means. There are also several statue tributes to Norwegian historical figures – generals, presidents and well-loved figures whose images are around the city with plaques and scripts. There was one which always made me jump every time I saw it, because I kept thinking it was a real person – it was a statue of a young girl (below) at the corner of a doorway to a McDonalds restaurant – it catches your attention from the corner of your eye and makes you think there is someone standing there waiting for a friend!

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The Bookcafe
If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll know how much I love quirky libraries and bookshops – I make it a point to look out for beautiful bookstores while abroad and haven’t been disappointed yet! It took me a while to find a pretty bookstore like this one, as I saw a few scattered in different areas but some were shut, and the others were not very memorable. I found this one the day before we left Bergen, with beautiful decoration, hanging books, scripts on walls and seating inside which showed it was a cafe for people to read and relax.

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Town square
I’ve already written about the town square, which is surrounded by colourful hotels and restaurants, and further along the high street you come to the more modern part of the street, which is a street lined with designer shops, and has a giant water-feature with a sort of stone obelisk in the middle, with carvings and statues on it. I loved the carvings along the stone faces of this landmark, it seems to show the story of settlers and Viking boats travelling to new places, as well as various religious pictures which seem to be a big feature with Norwegian history. Similarly, the statues were all dressed in different eras to reflect the different centuries, which looked great.

Anne Madam
One of the biggest problems my husband and I found was the expense of the food – a lot of the normal restaurants ended up costing around £30-40 per person for a normal meal, and even the usual burger-chains like Burger King and McDonalds were pricier than we expected – more than they cost in the UK! Luckily, we managed to find a new restaurant which had opened a few days after our arrival, and which was offering traditional Norwegian food at a discounted price. The traditional food in Bergen is mainly various types of fish, since it is a fishing town, so naturally we wanted to try some, and managed to get some at Anne Madame, which is in the heart of the city opposite the wharf. This plate is a traditional hake and potato pieces which were given with a light tartar sauce and coleslaw, and which was delicious – we loved it enough to come back here again before we left!

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Things to look out for
We went to Bergen in the first week of May, which is  one of the warmest months to visit, and the start of the tourist season – so there is plenty of things happening for tourists to see. We were lucky enough to see a drummer’s parade going through the town (I love the sound of loud drums, it always makes me want to dance!), and found plenty of quirky shops like a moose shop (below), a troll shop (the trolls are not the cute 90s kind but uglier ones!) and shops with beautiful hand-crafted goods and clothes. We also saw a lot of beautiful buildings, mixed against a backdrop of green mountains and beautiful lakes, which made it a really peaceful place to spend the day.

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All in all, my husband and I loved the beauty of Bergen – it is one of those places where you feel like there is every natural beautiful landscape to be found. A friend of mine visited Oslo recently, and complained that it was less beautiful than Bergen – there are most commercial buildings, more lights and less colour, and I certainly agree – there is a lot of beautiful colour and nature to be found in this city.

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Beautiful Bergen – Part 1

Bergen, Norway is one of those places which seems to have everything – beautiful architecture, the sea, mountains, forests and plenty of history. We landed (after a quick 1.5 hour flight!) in Bergen and took a bus to the city centre, where there was plenty of hustle and bustle, among colourful houses, a beautiful harbour and plenty of street art everywhere.

Below are just a few memorable places in the city, we had a few days to explore and pretty much did everything on my itinery (and more!), and loved how colourful everything look.

Bryggen
‘Bryggen’ litterally means ‘wharf’ in Norwegian, and is one of the most iconic places in Bergen – a row of colourful houses along the harbour where plenty of boats and ships dock. Most of these buildings along here are museums and shops, but they are a great place to sit and relax, and look amazing at night. I didn’t manage to get a decent picture of the lights in Bryggen at night because the first few nights we stayed they weren’t switched on (and it poured with rain all night) and the next few nights we didn’t go out late enough – sunsets were around 10.30pm and it wasn’t properly dark until after 11pm!

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You can walk around inside the harbour as well – there’s plenty of old buildings and staircases to explore, with shops, restaurants and museums hidden away. We had great fun exploring these, it was nice to see such old buildings still being maintained – Bergen itself is nearly a millenium in age, and the buildings have been there for about four centuries and more.

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And there’s also a wishing well to look out for, although this is mainly gated off (probably a good thing too, I remember the well in my grandparent’s house in Pakistan having to be barricaded off after a few people fell in the dark without looking where they were going!)

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The Town Square
The town square is a busy meeting place, often filled with market stalls, stops for buses and coaches and surrounded by colourful buildings and restaurants. While staying here we often came to this point to get to other parts of the city, meeting plenty of other tourists, as well as stopping for lunch, dinner or a quick cup of coffee (the Starbucks is in a huge Gothic-style building). This is also at the foot of one mountain (there’s seven mountains in the city altogether) as well at the edge of the high street, which felt like a fun mix of history versus modern, old city and the new.

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Fishmarket
Pretty much self-explanatory, this was a market to buy fresh fish and also get it cooked to eat if you wished to sit down and enjoy a meal. Bergen being a fishing-town, there’s a big demand for fish and a big range of sea-food, as well as tanks of live lobsters, crabs and fish to boggle at!

St Marys Church
I was pretty keen to visit this place, as it is Bergen’s oldest building. We didn’t get a chance to catch a service inside as we arrived too late, but I was amazed at how well-maintained this building is for a building which was built around 1130s. Of course it has been renovated a few times since then, but it’s still a very striking looking building which looks very impressive.

Things to look out for
There’s a lot to see in this city, and a lot of it can be found simply by wandering around Bergen and exploring. I loved this pavilion below, situated opposite an old government building which both looked very striking. We also saw plenty of beautiful flower shops which made me want to buy some to take home (I didn’t because they’d probably be shrivelled by the time I got on our plane!) and also quirky junk shops which were worth exploring. I also loved the fact that from wherever you stand you can see the beautiful houses on the hill, the huge mountains and plenty of art and decor everywhere.

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There’s so many memorable things about this country (apart from the gorgeous colourful houses!) – one things which really struck me was how fresh and clean the air felt – you don’t appreciate it until you get away from a smog-polluted city like London, away from congestion and busy skyscrapers and go to a beautiful place like Bergen. There’s an abundance of greenery, the water feels unbelievably clean, and there’s beauty in almost building, from beautiful arches and doors to the street art lining the street.

More to come, but one of my favourite lines from my husband about this holiday was “the WiFi here is amazing!” – and it really is!

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Giant Monopoly in the Square

Last weekend my sister and I took the chance to go to Trafalgar Square to play Monopoly – a giant version of the game, that is. The Giant board was installed for a short-term by the London Games Festival team to promote the festival over the week, and also get some of the public to join in with the fun.

Although the board wasn’t as huge as I expected (I expected it to be literally the same size as the square!) it was still a fun idea and people could still play the game by downloading the game app on their phone or with the game organisers. There also weren’t many pieces (just the cat and the racing car, no top hat which is always my piece!) they made nice pieces for display.

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We were able to have a quick round on the board before it got really busy – there were a lot of tourists who loved the idea! I also liked that fact that the colours and the ‘properties’ were put together pretty well, but as a game version rather than road names.

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It was a pretty sunny day out so perfect for some gaming, and afterwards my sister and I climbed up the lions next to Nelson’s Column (which was scary because my shoes were not climbing shoes!) and took in the view of the Square.

You can see more pictures here on my sister’s blog as well – let me know what you think : )

A Fragmented Mind – Following Mystery and Memory Loss

But I believe above all that I wanted to build the palace of my memory, because my memory is my only homeland.
Anselm Keifer

It’s not often that I find a book which strikes a chord with me, even if it’s not a topic I don’t know much about or can relate to as well as others. It brings me to mind similar novels, simple yet amazingly written stories like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime’ and ‘Room’, both which handle sensitive issues well yet still engages the reader to a level which makes us think about the book long after we have finished reading.

EIM-pb-jacketElizabeth is Missing follows the narrative of 80-something-year-old Maud, who has been forgetting things more often lately, suffering from a growing but unnamed problem (which could be dementia, Alzheimer’s or just elderly senility), that makes her forget where she puts things, how many tins of peaches to buy (even though the cupboard is already full of them) and at times, who her daughter and granddaughter are. But Maud has her good moments too, gossiping with her friend Elizabeth, her love for her daughters and her granddaughter Katy, and the fact that she still has her own house that she can walk to the local shop from.
Lately Maud has been concerned with her friend Elizabeth, who has gone missing and which no one is telling her about, which causes ripples further than the questions she asks. Despite being told not to worry by her daughters, Elizabeth’s son, her caretakers and even the police, she becomes more and more convinced that Elizabeth is in danger.

As we follow Maud’s investigation into this disappearance, we see that she is hampered by her inability to remember things which happened just a few seconds ago. Yet there are some things from her past which come much more vividly to her, most importantly the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of her older, newly-married sister Sukey when Maud was a teenager 70 years earlier, and the subsequent incidents following her disappearance and the fact that she was never found. Remembering back to her sister’s life following up to the time she went missing, Maud also examines the strange behaviour of the people who knew her, such as her husband, her parents, their lodger and even the crazy lady who lives up the road.

As we follow both of these mysteries, we see how Maud’s obsession with Elizabeth’s disappearance parallels her memories of her sister, interconnecting past with the present so that her quest to find Elizabeth begins to overlap with Sukey in her mind and her memories as the book goes on. While we may not necessarily be able to understand how dementia feels, it’s beautifully written so we are able to sympathise with Maud’s fragmented mind, drawing us into the story even when the scenes feel so every day.

I read this at the same time as The Girl on the Train, and although both feature mystery, missing memories and a feeling of disorientation, the results are a lot more striking in difference. While in The Girl on the Train can made me feel a little lost and even disappointing at times, Elizabeth is Missing successfully lets us see the effects of old age and dementia even while we are lost with Maud. Throughout the novel, whether it is the elderly Maud we see or her 15-year-old version, her character is unforgettable – funny, warm and even at times unexpectedly impressive even when her frustrating memory loss lets her down.

This sounds like a depressing novel, but it’s not – there are comical moments in the mundane, ordinary events of Maud’s life, beautiful moments in the midst of heartbreak, and her character is one we embrace, rather than be embarrassed of. Not only does it address everyday routines we take for granted, it unwaveringly presents the embarrassments, the small frights, the patronising attitudes and remarks, and the simple limitations that comes with old age. And whether it is funny at times, embarrassing or even moving, these little stories all ring true to life. It’s worth a read to see another view of everyday life, even if it’s to answer that age-old question “Where is the best place to grow marrows?”

An Evening Walk

Every now and then, I’ll find something unexpected when walking around, even if it’s just in the local neighbourhood around where I live. During an evening walk with my husband recently, we found this beautiful mansion nearby, which I’ve been meaning to visit – the Eastbury Manor House. This is a beautiful large house which was apparently built in Elizabethan (the First!) times, although I’ll admit, as an avid watcher of Downton Abbey it reminded me of the TV show first!

I loved the beautiful, peaceful feel to the house, and the ethereal surroundings of trees and quiet roads, with the glowing lights – so naturally I couldn’t resist from stopping to take a few pictures.

I mean to visit Eastbury Manor House again soon (in the daytime this time), hopefully for tea and a tour, so hopefully will post pictures of the actual grounds, which is meant to be lovely as well!

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