Visit Clerkenwell, London’s vibrant urban village

Clerkenwell is London’s hub for creativity with a strong sense of community thanks to the many creative businesses that settled here .

A 10-minute walk due north separates St. Paul’s Cathedral from the urban village of Clerkenwell. Once the headquarters of the Knights Hospitaller, Clerkenwell is now home to a community of creative young professionals.

Who were the Knights Hospitaller?

The very name evokes romantic notions of chivalrous knights. The Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, more commonly known as the Knights Hospitaller and later the Order of Malta, was a religious military order founded in Jerusalem in the 11th century.

The order’s original mission was to care for the sick and poor pilgrims in their hospital in Jerusalem, that is why they were called Knights Hospitaller. They combined that humanitarian task with defending the Holy Land during the Crusades.

Clerkenwell is London’s hub for creativity with a strong sense of community thanks to the many creative businesses that settled here .
Priory church

From Jerusalem, the order spread throughout Europe. In Clerkenwell, a Norman baron and his wife founded the Benedictine nunnery of St. Mary’s and the Priory of St. John of Jerusalem in the 12th century. Thus it became their European headquarters.

Why is the area called Clerkenwell?

The area that developed around the nunnery and priory received its name from the Clerks’ Well located next to the nunnery. Clerks -inferior clergy- used to perform miracle plays around the well in the presence of the king and queen and their court. By the 13th century, the plays had lost their ecclesiastical spirit.

Clerks’ Well was the most famous among the many freshwater wells in the area. Some were said to have healing properties and attracted people searching for cures for their ailments.

If you walk around the area, you will not be transported back in time to the Middle Ages. There’s precious little medieval architecture left.

Clerkenwell is London’s hub for creativity with a strong sense of community thanks to the many creative businesses that settled here .

Would you believe that the original well was rediscovered by accident in 1924? It was covered by new buildings after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The well is now inside the basement of the office building located at 14-16 Farringdon Road.   

The evolution of Clerkenwell

Clerkenwell experienced a population growth after the reign on Elizabeth I. By 1619, noblemen and gentlemen had moved to the area, and it became a fashionable place to live.

The medicinal properties of the many wells attracted the public, so a number of houses of entertainment sprung up around the wells.

The rural setting was gradually overtaken by the urban growth brought about by the construction of the Regent’s Canal to the north (1812), the New North Road and the North London Railway in the 1850s.

Clerkenwell was traditionally associated with breweries, distilleries, clock making and printing, mainly during the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century.

Clerkenwell is London’s hub for creativity with a strong sense of community thanks to the many creative businesses that settled here .
Playful architecture

The area was badly hit by bombing during World War II. As a result, people moved to other neighbourhoods, away from destruction.  Neglect was inevitable, as was the construction of housing estates and buildings for light industries in the 1950s and 60s.

Clerkenwell’s urban regeneration began when Clerkenwell Green was declared a conservation area in 1969. Slum clearing took place well into the 1970s.

By the late 1980s and early 1990s, craftspeople took over the warehouses. Later, these premises were converted to hostels, offices, apartments and hotels. The loft-living trend came here to stay.

Today, Clerkenwell is London’s hub for creativity thanks to the many creative businesses that settled here. And it has a strong sense of community as well.

What to see in Clerkenwell

The Museum of the Order of St. John and St. John’s Gate is where you should start your exploration. The crypt of the original church consecrated in 1185 can be see only with a guided visit.

Clerkenwell is London’s hub for creativity with a strong sense of community thanks to the many creative businesses that settled here .
The medieval crypt

St. James Church on Clerkenwell Close. This church was built in 1792 on the site of the 11th century nunnery. It sustained bomb damage during the war but was restored.

There isn’t a patch of green on Clerkenwell Green, but still, go see it.

Fans of Zaha Hadid’s work can see the office of her architectural firm. Obviously not open to the public, but at least you can see the front door! (10 Bowling Green Farringdon)

Jerusalem Tavern (55 Britton St.) There have been several taverns on this spot. This one dates form 1720.

Take a moment to breathe deeply at the Cloister Garden.   

Clerkenwell is London’s hub for creativity with a strong sense of community thanks to the many creative businesses that settled here .
Cloister garden

The hustle and bustle of Smithfield Market is a stone’s throw away.

Any of the pubs, gastropubs and restaurants. Clerkenwell has earned a reputation as the gastronomic hub of London.

An urban village

It’s hard to believe that Clerkenwell is an urban village in the heart of London. Unlike other boroughs, there are no big monuments, palaces or popular attractions. It’s where history coexists in harmony with the pace of modern life. It’s a place of old stones and young spirits.

Sulphur Springs: giant cows and glass bathrooms

Sulphur Springs, Texas, lies roughly an hour’s drive northeast of Dallas. It has a charming downtown area and several attractions.

We needed to get out after a stay-at-home order followed by a self-imposed semi-isolation due to COVID. Like most of our road trips and day trips, this one started with a very mature decision. I decided I couldn’t live without seeing the cow sculptures outside the Southwest Dairy Museum in Sulphur Springs, Texas, which I had seen online. I like cows a lot.

Off to Sulphur Springs, Texas

We set off due northeast. Sulphur Springs lies between Dallas and Texarkana, on the border with Arkansas. It’s about an hour-and-a-half’s drive from home, give or take, along Interstate 30.

Sulphur Springs, Texas, lies roughly an hour's drive northeast of Dallas. It has a charming downtown area and several attractions. #SulphurSprings #Texas #travel #mainstreetUSA

The Southwest Dairy Museum is very easy to spot, just look out for a giant Jersey cow and a giant Holstein cow. You can’t miss them. What I did miss was the planning stage. It occurred to me to check the museum’s opening times as we were approaching it. It’s closed on Saturdays and Sundays. I don’t know what’s the logic behind it, but there you have it.

How we happened upon a horse show

We noticed that the car park of the civic centre adjacent to the museum was busy. We moseyed over there. No need to hurry, it’s Saturday noon in the countryside.

A gentleman told us that there was a horse show and a cattle show going on. Could we go in and watch? Go right in, he said with the elongated vowels of the Texas drawl.  

And we did. We put on our face masks as we entered the arena. Practically no one else was wearing one. I felt like we stood out as city folk, although that’s what we are. There were very few spectators. At times it was just the tow of us. I couldn’t work out whether it was because it was a small event or because of the pandemic.

Sulphur Springs, Texas, lies roughly an hour's drive northeast of Dallas. It has a charming downtown area and several attractions. #SulphurSprings #Texas #travel #mainstreetUSA

I know nothing about horses, but I appreciate their beauty. And there was beauty galore in that arena. Most of the handlers were female. I say handlers and not riders because it wasn’t a riding event but a halter class. On the half of the arena closest to us, handlers and horses were practicing their gaits while waiting to be judged.

It was quite warm inside the pavilion. But the handlers stoically looked the part: boots, black pants, white button-down shirts, and rhinestone-studded jackets. And hats, of course.

And a cattle show

After a while, we moved on to the cattle show next door. It was a much bigger pavilion and had air conditioning. There was a larger crowd this time with plenty of space for social distancing, though. Award ribbons were given out among much mooing and bellowing. Here, studded Western belt buckles, jeans, and boots were the norm.

Sulphur Springs, Texas, lies roughly an hour's drive northeast of Dallas. It has a charming downtown area and several attractions. #SulphurSprings #Texas #travel #mainstreetUSA

Downtown Sulphur Springs

After lunch, we went in search of the glass bathrooms in the main square. They are two standalone bathroom stalls made of plate glass and blend with their surroundings. No one can see you’re in there, but you can see through the glass from the inside.

Sulphur Springs, Texas, lies roughly an hour's drive northeast of Dallas. It has a charming downtown area and several attractions. #SulphurSprings #Texas #travel #mainstreetUSA

The veterans’ memorial is quite big and sobering. It calls for reflection, no doubt about that. But what really stroke a chord was the bronze statue of a wounded veteran with his dog. It’s incredibly moving, and it conveys feeling very effectively.

Sulphur Springs, Texas, lies roughly an hour's drive northeast of Dallas. It has a charming downtown area and several attractions. #SulphurSprings #Texas #travel #mainstreetUSA

I didn’t know what to expect, but Sulphur Springs was a lovely surprise. The downtown area is very clean and tidy, well-kept and very charming. I would go back, but I would plan our day trip more carefully. Although, sometimes, lack of planning may lead to great unexpected experiences.  

Sulphur Springs, Texas, lies roughly an hour's drive northeast of Dallas. It has a charming downtown area and several attractions. #SulphurSprings #Texas #travel #mainstreetUSA
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Henry Moore’s sculptures in Dallas

Henry Moore’s sculptures in Dallas: a brief description of the artist’s works in the city of Dallas displayed in museums and the City Hall.

I’m drawn to the soft curves of Henry Moore’s sculptures. To me, they seem to shift shape. What one day I see as a bull, the next can be a vertebrae. Moore’s works can be found in museums, art galleries and collections from around the world. Let’s have a look at Henry Moore’s sculptures in Dallas.

Henry Moore's sculptures in Dallas: a brief description of the artist's works in the city of Dallas displayed in museums and the City Hall.

Who was Henry Moore?

Henry Spencer Moore (1898-1986) was a British artist famous for his semi-abstract bronze sculptures. Many of these are on a monumental scale and are displayed around the world as public art.

Moore was born in a small Yorkshire mining town. He wanted to become a sculptor, but his parents were opposed to the idea. So he trained as a teacher.

However, after serving in the Army during World War I, Moore got a scholarship which he used to study art at Leeds School of Art and the Royal College of Art.

Henry Moore's sculptures in Dallas: a brief description of the artist's works in the city of Dallas displayed in museums and the City Hall.
Working model for a public sculpture, of which there are three full-scale versions in Seattle, Jerusalem and Dusseldorf – at the Tate Britain

Moore’s influences

His experiences in the war, for sure. Moore became the symbol of post-war modernism. According to Tate Britain, “Moore’s art engages with key artistic, intellectual and political issues of his time: the trauma of war – seen in his response to both World Wars, as well as the 1930s descent into war and later Cold War anxieties – together with new ideas of sexuality and the body, and the influence of non-western art, psychoanalysis and Surrealism.”

Henry Moore also found inspiration in natural objects like rocks, bones or shells.

Primitive art played a big role in Moore’s art in the 1920s and 1930s. He would sketch sculptures and artefacts he saw at the British Museum, like prehistoric fertility goddesses or Inuit artefacts.

Henry Moore’s sculptures in Dallas

The Nasher Sculpture Center has quite a collection of Henry Moore’s sculptures, maquettes and working models.

Working Model for Three Piece No. 3: Vertebrae (1968) is displayed in the beautiful Nasher sculpture garden, one of my favourite places in Dallas.

The inspiration for this work came from three interlocking stones that reminded him of bones. It also suggests a reclining figure.

Henry Moore used this piece as the basis for another piece that is displayed outside the Dallas City Hall.

Henry Moore's sculptures in Dallas: a brief description of the artist's works in the city of Dallas displayed in museums and the City Hall.
Working Model for Three Piece no. 3: Vertebrae, Nasher Sculpture Center

The Dallas Museum of Art has about 24 pieces by Henry Moore in its collection.

One piece, however, has pride of place outside the main entrance: Two Piece Reclining Figure No. 3 (1961).

This piece, according to Moore, is a metaphor for the human relationship with the earth.” Breaking down the figure allows the landscape to penetrate the sculpture both visually and physically.

Henry Moore's sculptures in Dallas: a brief description of the artist's works in the city of Dallas displayed in museums and the City Hall.
Two Piece Reclining Figure No. 3 (1961). Dallas Museum of Art

In 1976, the City of Dallas commissioned a sculpture for the plaza in front of the new City Hall. Moore had been recommended by I.M Pei, the architect who designed the building.

Moore felt that the piece needed to be on massive scale to complement the City Hall large structure. The sculpture’s lines are organic and curved in opposition to the geometric lines of the City Hall.

Henry Moore's sculptures in Dallas: a brief description of the artist's works in the city of Dallas displayed in museums and the City Hall.
Seen from the City Hall

Guide of things to do in Canterbury, England

Guide to things to do in Canterbury, from its wonderful cathedral to a pedestrian-friendly town centre and medieval battlements.

Canterbury has it all: a wonderful cathedral that is a UNESCO site, a pedestrian-friendly town centre, roots that go back to pre-Roman times and loads to see and do. It is also the principal ecclesiastical centre of England. This guide to Canterbury will come in handy to plan your visit.

Guide to things to do in Canterbury, from its wonderful cathedral to a pedestrian-friendly town centre and medieval battlements. #Canterbury #England
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Things to do in Canterbury

A potted history

Canterbury is located in Kent, in the south east of England. After the invasion of 43 AD, the Romans founded the town of Durovernum Cantiacorum on the site of an earlier settlement. The Roman wall, some of which still stands, was erected in 200 AD and rebuilt in the Middle Ages.

In the late 6th century, Canterbury was the capital of the kingdom of Kent under King Ethelbert I. He welcomed St. Augustine of Canterbury’s Christianising mission, probably under the influence of his queen, who was a Christian.

The cathedral, originally established by St. Augustine, attracted many pilgrims in the Middle Ages, who came to see St. Thomas Beckett’s shrine. Thus, catering to the needs of pilgrims became Canterbury’s main source of income.

Guide to things to do in Canterbury, from its wonderful cathedral to a pedestrian-friendly town centre and medieval battlements. #Canterbury #England

With the 16th-century Reformation, the cult of Beckett was suppressed. The town’s economy languished until Huguenot and Walloon refugees revived Canterbury’s economy thanks to the weaving trade.

During the Second World War, Canterbury sustained extensive damage from air raids. However, the cathedral suffered little in comparison. Canterbury became a college town with the creation of the University of Kent at Canterbury and Canterbury Christ Church College.

The Canterbury Tales

The town of Canterbury is immortalised in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. It’s a long poem written in Middle English in the 14th century. The poem follows the journey of 31 pilgrims and Chaucer from Southwark to Beckett’s shrine in Canterbury.

Each pilgrim tells a tale to entertain everyone during the long walk. The characters in the stories represent a cross-section of medieval society, from knights to carpenters. The Canterbury Tales provide a fascinating insight into the life of 14th-century England.

The work is said to have popularised the use of the vernacular English as opposed to the Norman French spoken by the elites. It has become one of the major literary works in English.

Canterbury Cathedral, UNESCO World Heritage Site

In 1988, the UNESCO declared Canterbury Cathedral, St. Martin’s Church and St. Augustine’s Abbey as World Heritage Sites. Together, these buildings “reflect milestones in the history of Christianity in Britain,” according to the UNESCO website.

They also reflect Canterbury’s role as the seat of the Church of England, “the development of Anglo-Saxon building in mortared brick and stone, and the flowering of the Romanesque and Gothic styles.”

Guide to things to do in Canterbury, from its wonderful cathedral to a pedestrian-friendly town centre and medieval battlements. #Canterbury #England

Cathedral’s timeline

Pope Gregory the Great sent St. Augustine as a missionary to England in 597 AD. King Ethelbert gave him the church of St. Martin’s.

Augustine, consecrated bishop in France, built a cathedral, which he called Christ Church.

In 1070-77, the Norman bishop Lanfranc rebuilt the cathedral, which the Saxons had enlarged and rebuilt, due a to a big fire. Each century brought changes and additions to the cathedral. However, parts of the Quire and some stained glass windows are from the 12th century. Also, a staircase and parts of the North Wall date from 1070.

Thomas Beckett was King Henry II’s chancellor between 1154 and 1162. The quarrel between the king and Beckett begun when the latter was elected Archbishop of Canterbury. The king wanted to control the church and Beckett refused to obey.

Guide to things to do in Canterbury, from its wonderful cathedral to a pedestrian-friendly town centre and medieval battlements. #Canterbury #England
Area in the north transept where Beckett was slain

Beckett’s attitude exasperated the king. He is said to have uttered a fatal phrase that resulted in Beckett’s bloody murder at the cathedral. Incidentally, a play by T.S. Elliott, Murder in the Cathedral, reconstructs Beckett’s martyrdom.

As miracles were believed to have taken place, Canterbury became one of the most important centres of pilgrimage in medieval Europe. People came to see the shrine of Thomas Beckett in Trinity Chapel, who had been canonised. The influx of pilgrims brought wealth to the town.

By 1498, the Cathedral, with the addition of the cloister vaulting, the Pulpitum Screen and the Bell Harry tower, was largely completed as we see it today. However, Beckett’s shrine was destroyed in 1538 by the order of King Henry VIII.

Canterbury Cathedral suffered extensive damage, and was successively restored, after two major historical events: under Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan Commonwealth of England (17th century) and the bombings during World War II.

Cathedral’s highlights

The Martyrdom: the place where Beckett was slain is marked with the Altar of the Sword’s Point.

Tomb of Edward, the Black Prince: the eldest son of King Edward III was one of England’s best military leaders, known for the victory at the battle of Crécy. He died in 1376.

Guide to things to do in Canterbury, from its wonderful cathedral to a pedestrian-friendly town centre and medieval battlements. #Canterbury #England

St. Augustine’s Chair: it dates back to the 13th century and is the ceremonial enthronement chair of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Quire: rebuilt after 1174, the Quire is England’s first Gothic building.

The Tomb of King Henry IV and Joan of Navarre: Henry came to the throne in 1399 and reigned until 1413. Joan was his second wife.

The 12th- and 13th-century stained glass windows known as the Miracle Windows.

The Norman Crypt, the oldest part of the cathedral.

Things to do in Canterbury

The Eastbridge

Guide to things to do in Canterbury, from its wonderful cathedral to a pedestrian-friendly town centre and medieval battlements. #Canterbury #England

The Hospital of St. Thomas the Martyr, or Eastbridge for short, was founded in the 12th century to cater to the pilgrims. It isn’t a hospital in the modern sense, but, rather, a place of hospitality.

Nowadays, a part of it is still an almshouse. The oldest bits (Undecroft, the Greyfriars chapel and Franciscan garden) are open to the public. ****due to the COVID pandemic, they will remain closed until Easter 2021. Click here for updates.****

St. Augustine’s Abbey

St. Augustine’s Abbey is part of the Canterbury World Heritage Site. The remains of the abbey are outside the walls of the city, of which the Great Abbey Gate still stands.

A museum displays Roman and Saxon objects excavated from the site. St. Augustine’s Abbey was the place of burial for Anglo-Saxon kings, as well as the site of the rebirth of Christianity in the south of England after the departure of the Romans.

The Buttermarket

The Buttermarket is an area right outside the cathedral and the Christ Church Gate. In the past, bulls were tied to a stake here overnight, as it was close to the shambles (slaughter area of the city). By 1664, there was a market hall here called Buttermarket. The decayed structure was demolished in 1888.

Buttermaket is mainly a pedestrian area dotted with monuments, like the Christopher Marlowe’s memorial and the war memorial.

Christchurch Gate

Guide to things to do in Canterbury, from its wonderful cathedral to a pedestrian-friendly town centre and medieval battlements. #Canterbury #England

Christchurch Gate is the main entrance to the cathedral and dates from the early 16th century. It’s thought that the gate was built in honour of Prince Arthur, Henry VIII’s elder brother. Restoration of the gate took place after the damage inflicted by Puritans in 1643.

Westgate Towers

The Westgate Towers date from 1380, built as part of England’s defences against a French invasion during the Hundred Years’ War. When the threat of invasion disappeared, Westgate functioned as the city jail until the late 19th century. After a brief stint as an archive, it became a museum. However, it also played an important defensive role during both world wars.

The Kent Museum of Freemasonry

If you’re into freemasonry and secret societies, you may want to give this museum a whirl (when it reopens after Covid). The Kent Museum of Freemasonry’s collection includes regalia, objects and books about all Masonic orders.

Canterbury Festival – Kent’s International Arts Festival

This annual arts festival takes place in October and is the biggest festival in the region. See here for more info.

The Goods Shed Farmers’ Market, Food Hall and Restaurant

The restaurant serves a seasonal menu with local ingredients sourced from the market. In the market, you’ll find fresh fruit and veg, local meats and fish, as well as artisan cheeses. Fine wines, charcuterie, coffee and pastries and cocktails are also on offer at The Good Shed.

Mont-Saint-Michel, a marvellous monastery built on a tidal island

Mont-Saint-Michel is a spectacular medieval abbey and village perched on a rocky tidal island off the coast on Normandy, France.

I’ve always thought that Mont-Saint-Michel looks like the prow of an ocean liner. It rises proud and majestic in the midst the large sandbanks situated between Normandy and Brittany in France. 

So, what is Mont-Saint-Michel? It’s a medieval abbey surrounded by a fortified town built on a small island. Not only that, Mont-Saint-Michel has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Let’s have a look at this amazing ancient site.

Mont-Saint-Michel is a spectacular medieval abbey and village perched on a rocky tidal island off the coast on Normandy, France.

Mont-Saint-Michel: medieval centre of learning and pilgrimage

Legend has it that the Archangel Michael pressured Aubert, bishop of Avranches, to build a small church dedicated to him, the archangel. The chosen location? The top of a rocky island just off the coast. Bishop Aubert did as he was told and had the church built in the early 8th century (708).

Later, in 966, a group of Benedictine monks  settled on the island with the support of the Duke of Normandy. They built an abbey, also consecrated to St. Michael, in the Romanesque style. The oldest part of the abbey, the small church of Notre-Dame-Sous-Terre, can still be seen and dates back to the 10th century.  Also from the Romanesque period is the nave of the abbey church.

During the Gothic period, the builders made the most of the restricted space available. They built the conventual buildings known as the elegant “Marveille” (the Marvel) above the chaplaincy. The Marveille comprises the Hotes and the Chevaliers rooms, the refectory and the cloisters, which is open to the sea. The views from up there are wonderful.

Mont-Saint-Michel attracted some the greatest minds and illuminators  in Europe. Thus, it became one of the most important centres of learning and pilgrimage of the Middle Ages.

Mont-Saint-Michel is a spectacular medieval abbey and village perched on a rocky tidal island off the coast on Normandy, France.

The  abbey wasn’t impervious to the outside world.The Hundred Years War against England in the 14th century made it necessary to fortify the islands with ramparts in case of an invasion. And the abbey was used as a prison during the French Revolution and the Empire.

Fortunately for us, restoration work began in the late 19th century.

the medieval town

As mentioned before, Mont-Saint-Michel was a popular pilgrimage centre. It was only natural that a village grew at the base of the abbey to cater for the needs of the pilgrims. The town flourished on the south-east side behind the defensive walls from the Hundred Year War.

Nowadays, the medieval village is the first place you see on arriving. Bring your best walking shoes because the narrow cobbled streets wind up to the abbey. All kinds of shops cater for the tourist, you’ll lots of tat for sale. Move on. However, it’s a pretty place for photographs (if you can get away from the crowds).

Mont-Saint-Michel is a spectacular medieval abbey and village perched on a rocky tidal island off the coast on Normandy, France.

There are lodgings, bars and restaurants as well. One of the most famous one is La Mère Poulard, famous for its omelettes. Don’t bother trying to eat there without a reservation. And prepare to be fleeced, things are more expensive on the island.

UNESCO World Heritage Site

The UNESCO declared Mont-Saint-Michel a world heritage site in 1979. They used the following criteria:

Criterion (i): Through the unique combination of the natural site and the architecture, the Mont-Saint-Michel constitutes a unique aesthetic success.

Criterion (iii): Mont-Saint-Michel is an unequalled ensemble, as much because of the co-existence of the abbey and its fortified village within the confined limits of a small island, as for the originality of the placement of the buildings which accord with its unforgettable silhouette.

Criterion (vi): Mont Saint-Michel is one of the most important sites of medieval Christian civilisation.

Can’t really argue with that!

Mont-Saint-Michel is a spectacular medieval abbey and village perched on a rocky tidal island off the coast on Normandy, France.

Visiting Mont-Saint-Michel

Back in the day, you could drive to the island and park very close to the base of the abbey. You had to be mindful of the rides, according to the signs posted everywhere. In spring, the bay is subject to the largest tidal range in continental Europe (almost 25 kilometres from the shore).

But there is a new access now. The visitors car park is approximately 3 kilometres away from the island. Modern shuttle buses and horse-drawn carriages take you from the Visitors Centre at the Place des Navettes to the mount.

Experts suggest staying in a hotel on the  mainland. This is what we did and didn’t regret the decision. It’s easy to drive to and from the Mount and there are more accommodation options.

Early morning or late afternoon are the best times to arrive and walk around the village, especially during peak tourist season. As I mentioned before, be prepared to face large crowds.

Here are the prices to park your car/camper van/coach/motorbike and the price of the shuttle. There’s also a kennel for your dog.

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The May Revolution, Argentina’s first giant step towards independence

An abridged history of the May Revolution, the fledgling nation of Argentina’s giant first step towards full independence from Spain.

In today’s world, events that take place in one continent have an immediate ripple effect across the globe. It is usually about the economy, like the price of crude oil. Sometimes, it is political events that cause upheavals, like revolutions.

Now, imagine a time when news took weeks or even months to spread. Letter and newspapers were shipped across the ocean. By the time they reached their destination, the news was already old.

That is what happened in the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata in 1810. Events across the world and old news impacted the destiny of a fledgling nation.

The Cabildo of Buenos Aires, where these historic events took place.

The Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata

Located in the southern tip of South America, the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata was one of the many Spanish colonies in the New World. King Carlos III had issued orders to create a buffer viceroyalty in 1776 to decentralise the rule of his large empire and to beef up military defences to stop the Portuguese from encroaching on the king’s lands. The viceroyalty comprised what is now Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, and Paraguay.

Napoleon Bonaparte

It is hard to imagine nowadays how two seemingly unconnected events across the ocean trigger the independence process in Argentina. And it all comes down to one man: Napoleon Bonaparte.

Part of the strategy of Napoleon’s war against Britain was to blockade trade and thus destroy British commerce. Neutral nations and French allies were not permitted to trade with Great Britain. Thus, the Brits set out to find new, albeit captive, markets for their products.

On the other hand, French forces had invaded Spain and Bonaparte placed his brother Joseph on the throne. Spanish loyalists created juntas that ruled in the named of the exiled king Ferdinand VII.

The BRITISH INVASIONS

British forces attempted to invade Buenos Aires twice, in 1806 and 1807. Local militia repelled them both times. This stirred rumblings of independence from Spain. The criollos (Argentine-born Europeans) figured that if they could defend the city without support from the Motherland, they could well rule themselves.

ON THE ROAD TO SELF-RULE: the may revolution

Now, the criollos believed that the dominions had the right to govern themselves in the absence of the lawful king. However, the viceroyalty was under the aegis of the Junta Nacional de Sevilla. The junta fell in January, but the news reached these shores on May 14, 1810. This definitely set the independence movement in motion.

An abridged history of the May Revolution, the fledgling nation of Argentina's giant first step towards full independence from Spain.
The room where most of the decisions were made.

While Viceroy Cisneros tried to placate the population, a group of prominent citizens met in secret to plot against the Crown. They decided to ask Cornelio Saavedra, who played a key role in the defense of Buenos Aires against the British, to ask the viceroy for a cabildo abierto (an open council meeting). Cisneros ignored the petition.

By May 21, tempers ran high. A crowd gathered outside the Cabildo demanding the viceroy’s resignation.

Viceroy Cisneros authorised an open meeting on May 22. Criollos and royalists discussed what to do. The royalists were obviously loyal to the Crown. The criollo faction wanted a new government. They eventually voted the viceroy out.

On May 24, a new junta was created, headed by none other that the deposed Viceroy Cisneros. It didn’t sit well with the criollos.

The following day, tempers ran even higher. After many rows and much shouting from the crowd outside, the Cabildo accepted the viceroy’s resignation as head of the junta.

the may revolution in full swing

By 3 pm, a new government led by criollos was put in place: the Primera Junta de Gobierno. The people gathered outside celebrated the first giant step towards sovereignty. Argentina gained full independence from Spain in 1816.

Another view of the Cabildo in central Buenos Aires

We celebrate the May Revolution (la Revolución de Mayo)  with traditional foods like hot chocolate and pastelitos (fried pastries filled with quince or sweet potato jam) in the afternoon and locro for lunch.

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An abridged history of the May Revolution, the fledgling nation of Argentina's giant first step towards full independence from Spain.

A virtual tour of 7 amazing medieval castles

I present you a virtual tour of seven castles. The castles I chose are mainly medieval, or of medieval origins, except one.

Following the 6 cathedrals in 6 days series, I present you a virtual tour of seven castles.

The castles I chose are mainly medieval, or of medieval origins, except one. Some were converted to museums, some are just ruins and one is a private residence as well as tourist attraction.

All of my castles have fascinating stories. Let’s visit them (virtually, of course)

Arundel Castle, West Sussex, England

Built in the late 11th century, Arundel has been the seat of the dukes of Norfolk for over 850 years. The oldest bit is the gatehouse, built in 1070.  Read more about my visit here.

Guildford Castle, Surrey, England

There’s little left of Guildford Castle: the Great Tower, sections of wall, the moat. However, it’s one of my favourite places to visit in Guildford. This castle dates back to the Norman Conquest, its has seen a lot!

Mont Orgueil (Gorey Castle), Gorey, Jersey, Channel Islands

I absolutely loved the views from the castle and of the castle. I used to take long walks here when we lived in JerseyGorey Castle, also called Mont Orgueil, is located on the cliffs above the fishing village of Gorey. The castle was built from 1204 onward, when King John of England lost his lands in Normandy.

Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, Turkey

Not a castle, but a palace. I really enjoy the visit.It opened my eyes to a different culture and a different way of life, albeit one that is no more. Topkapi (1459) was the sultans’ residence until the late 1600s, when they favoured their palaces along the Bosphorus.

Castle of the Moors, Sintra, Portugal

The Castelo dos Mouros is a witness to the conquest of the Iberian Peninsula at the hands of the Muslims in the 8th century. The castle is from the 8th and 9th centuries and is strategically located on top of a hill. So much fascinating history between the walls here!

Leeds Castle, Kent, England

Leeds was the first castle I visited with Sean. It was in 2002. We were on our way back from Dover and the castle happened to be on the way, near the M20. Leeds Castle was built on two islands on the River Len. It went from being the wooden structure of a Saxon leader to being a Norman stone fortress in the XII century.

Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh Castle’s history as a fortification begins in the Iron Age. It was the scene of the Scottish independence struggle in the 13th and 14th centuries. Edinburgh Castle was also a royal residence. It commands incredible views from the top of hill. Absolutely breathtaking.

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The Rideau Canal UNESCO World Heritage Site in Ottawa

The Rideau Canal UNESCO Heritage Site runs from Kingston to Ottawa in Ontario, Canada. It’s a well-preserved historic site that people can enjoy year round.

Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, is full of surprises. It’s compact and easy to visit, and crammed with Instagrammable sights. The Rideau Canal UNESCO Heritage Site is one of them. It is a perfect example of a well-preserved historic site that people can enjoy year round.

What is the Rideau Canal UNESCO Heritage Site?

The Rideau Canal is a 202 km (126 mi) long waterway that runs between Ottawa and Kingston in Ontario. It joins Lake Ontario with the Ottawa River. The Rideau Waterway, as it’s also known, is a series of natural rivers, lakes and connecting locks and canals, of which 19 km (12 mi) are man-made.

The Plaza and the Chateau Laurier

Built between 1826 and 1832, Rideau is the oldest canal in North America to remain in operation. The locks are hand-operated the way it was it was back then. Locks 1-8 are located between the Parliament Buildings and the Hotel Fairmont Chateau Laurier in the heart of Ottawa.

I didn’t get the chance to see the locks in action because the water was frozen, which makes navigation impossible. However, if you’re interested in seeing how locks work, may I suggest you read this post about British canals and locks. 

Why was the Rideau Canal built?

As they say, war is the mother of invention. In this case, it was the War of 1812 that sowed the seed of the canal. After their independence from the United Kingdom, the United States had become a threat to the British possessions in Canada. So much so that both countries went to war in 1812. The British Canadians needed to find a safer  and more easily defensible route to the Great Lakes.

After conducting surveys and much toing and froing, actual work began in 1827. Colonel By and some Royal Engineer officers supervised hundreds and hundreds of labourers. It took them until the summer of 1832 to finish the canal. It became a busy trade route until the advent of the railway. Nowadays, it’s used for recreational purposes.

Why is the Rideau Canal a UNESCO Heritage Site?

From the UNESCO website: “The site, one of the first canals to be designed specifically for steam-powered vessels, also features an ensemble of fortifications. It is the best-preserved example of a slackwater canal in North America, demonstrating the use of this European technology on a large scale. It is the only canal dating from the great North American canal-building era of the early 19th century to remain operational along its original line with most of its structures intact.”

How can I enjoy the canal?

Navigation

As mentioned above, nowadays the canal is used for recreational rather than commercial navigation. Gone are the days of the steam-powered vessels carrying goods. The navigation season, which is when the locks operate,  runs from mid-May to mid-October. 

Boats, canoes and kayaks are welcome on the canal. While there is no minimum size required, there maximum size for boats is 27.4 m (90 ft.) long, 7.9 m (26 ft). wide, 6.7 m (22 ft) high. If you’re wondering how long it takes to boat the length of the Rideau, plan for six days at the very least, unless you’re on a speedboat.It’s advisable to plan for 30 minutes per lock and an average speed of 10 kph. Lock fees are based on the length of the boat.

Skating

Although the most popular time to visit the Rideau is spring to fall, people can enjoy it year round. When it freezes in winter and the locks are closed, Canadians go skating, ice-fishing, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. 

Every winter, the Rideau Canal becomes the largest skating rink in the world: the  7.8 kilometre long Rideau Canal Skateway. It winds its way through downtown Ottawa and it’s a beautiful sight. The sake season, of which 2020 was its 50th, runs from January to late February. Skaters are advised to check for ice conditions, though.

Walking trails

The Rideau Trail network has 387 km of walking trails between Kingston and Ottawa. Learn more here.

The Rideau Canal UNESCO Heritage Site runs from Kingston to Ottawa in Ontario, Canada. It's a  well-preserved historic site that people can enjoy year round. #RideauCanal #UNESCOsite #CAnada #Ottawa

From my travel diary

Monday, 10 January

We arrived via Chicago. The cold air hit me like a wall. We drove along the Rideau Canal to our hotel. It’s now frozen and it’s like a huge open-air skating rink.

Tuesday, 11 January

 I walked around the Byward Market, and up the York steps to a park behind the Chateau Laurier hotel. Wonderful views of the Ottawa River and the park. I chatted briefly with a lady walking her dog and kept walking along the canal.

I remember it was all white with snow, and very cold. Cold finger and cold toes were rather painful. But what spectacular views!

6 cathedrals in 6 days, a virtual tour

Let’s go on a virtual tour of 6 of the most amazing cathedrals around the world: Reims, Durham, Córdoba, New Orleans, Siena and Santa Maria del Mar

No, I’m not suggesting that you physically visit six cathedrals in six days, although that would be lovely. As we all must stay home in an effort to fight this horrible pandemic, what I suggest is the we travel virtually.

So, I started a series on my social media channels. The first series was on cathedrals. I love cathedrals, I love their history and art.  Most posts are bilingual English-Spanish.

Let’s go! The cathedrals are in no particular order, just whichever one I wanted to share at the time.

  1. Reims Cathedral, REIMS, France

https://www.instagram.com/p/B-8JW01J1b-/

 

2. Durham Cathedral, DURHAM, England

https://www.instagram.com/p/B–csaBpFMU/

 

3. Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción de Córdoba, Córdoba, Argentina

https://www.instagram.com/p/B_BQb5-p64V/

 

4. Santa María del Mar, Barcelona, Spain

https://www.instagram.com/p/B_D76ldJcdK/

 

5. Duomo di Siena, Siena, Italy

https://www.instagram.com/p/B_H_leDpSy0/

 

6. ST. LOUIS CATHEDRAL, New Orleans, USA

https://www.instagram.com/p/B_IuXU4FX7s/

 

Which is your favourite or favourites?  Pin this post for future reference

Let's go on a virtual tour of 6 of the most amazing cathedrals around the world: Reims, Durham, Córdoba, New Orleans, Siena and Santa Maria del Mar

The history of the Six Flags Over Texas

You probably heard about the Stars and Stripes and the Lone Star Flag, the official flag of the State of Texas. But did you know that six different national flags flew over Texas throughout its history? They were the flags of  Spain, France, the United States of Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederate States of America and the United Stated of America.

The six flags appear on the reverse of the Seal of Texas. Furthermore, the slogan is used in a number of businesses, for example as the name of a theme park. The six flags fly in front of welcome centres and in the Bullock Museum in Austin. The six coats of arms, rather than the actual flags, are depicted on the Texas State Capitol’s northern facade.

Let’s go over each one.

Did you know the history behind the six flags over Texas? Read more to find out.
Texas State Capitol rotunda

The Six Flags Over Texas history

Throughout the history of Texas, the following nations have claimed sovereignty over its territory.

The Kingdom of Spain (1519-1685 and 1690-1821)

The Spaniards occupied what is now Texas in 1519. It was added to the colonial Viceroyalty of New Spain when it was created in 1690. The Crown largely ignored these lands until France became a threat. Then, the Spanish authorities sent expeditions and decided to establish missions from 1716 onward. The ones that remain are on the San Antonio Mission Trail and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Did you know the history behind the six flags over Texas?
The lion from the Kingdom of Castile and Leon

The Kingdom of France (1685-1690)

King Louis XV of France sent and expedition to establish a colony at the mouth of the Mississippi River. The French already had Louisiana and wanted to push west. After five years, the colony failed. The threat spurred the Spanish to secure Texas, and the built missions and colonies all over.

United States of Mexico (1821-1836)

When Mexico gained independence of Spain in 1821. Texas became a part of the fledgling republic. However, there was conflict. American Indians claimed their ancestral lands and the United States were expand south and west. The arrangements with new settlers were fraught with conflict as well. In 1836, Anglo-American and Tejano settlers fought against Mexican rule.

Republic of Texas (1836-1845)

Texas was its own republic between 1836 and 1845. However, a failing economy, political turmoil and conflict with Mexico and American Indians led to Texas joining the United States on December 29, 1845.

The Lone Star and the Star and Stripes fly outside Dallas City Hall

Confederate States of America (1861-1865)

In 1861, Texas joined 11 southern slave states to declare secession from the United States. This led to the Civil War of 1861-1865, which the South lost.

United States of America (1845-1861 and 1865-present)

After the South surrendered in 1865, Union troops occupied the territory during Reconstruction. Texas had to meet certain criteria in order to be readmitted into the Union, like a new constitution and equal rights to its citizens.  Readmission took place on March 30, 1870

 

Did you know the history behind the six flags over Texas and why those countries claimed sovereignty? Read more to find out.