The stories of my life on a little island in the middle of the Mediterranean sea ... and my occasional adventures beyond these shores.

Monday, September 8, 2014

London Moments

I’ve been trying for days to define London, struggling to find just one word to describe it. Then, it dawned on me that I can’t. So I won’t. But I will share the moments that made me think ‘this is London’. It might not be your London or the guidebooks’ London. But this is my London. And these are my moments:

~ Most moving moment: Attending Sunday service at Westminster Abbey. We didn’t plan it, we just wanted to visit and forgot that it might not be open on a Sunday. But we were invited to attend the service and I am overjoyed that we did. The singing was sublime and the towering Gothic architecture made it even more so. We were not allowed to take any photos, but perhaps it was just as well, because I paid more attention to what was around me and I left the place in awe.

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~ Laziest moment: sitting in the shade of a sprawling tree in Kensington Gardens and contemplating the fountains in the Italian Garden.

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~ Best shop-window display: Selfridges of Oxford Street. Each window display was part of their Meet the Makers campaign which gave shoppers a chance to meet the  people behind some of the items for sale in their food court.

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~Favourite historical building: I would have to confess that it’s the Tower of London. This brooding fortress on the edge of the Thames has a dark and bloody history which has fascinated me for years. I am still trying to decide whether that is a good or a bad thing.

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~ Favourite historical artifact: London museums are replete with important historical finds but, for me, the absolute star was the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum. The discovery of this stone was instrumental in helping scholars decipher hieroglyphics. I remember discussing its importance many years ago during history lessons at school. Incidentally, I did not realise that the Rosetta Stone was this big.

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~ Best fast-food:  it definitely had to be the sandwiches at Pret-a-Manger. There’s a wide variety to choose from and they are a healthier choice than burger and fries.

~ Most beautiful building:  in a city that is almost over-crowded with architectural gems, it’s really hard to pinpoint just one. The Royal Albert Hall, St Paul’s Cathedral and the iconic Tower Bridge all come to mind, but as we walked along Westminster Bridge and the sun started to set, it cast a golden hue on Westminster Palace (better known as the Houses of Parliament) and Big Ben and my heart just  missed a beat. I knew that this image of London would stay with me for months to come.

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~ Most interesting restoration: the Covent Garden covered market. It made me think what, with some imagination, our own covered market in Valletta could be turned into. The Covent Garden market used to be a vegetable and flower market. When it was moved elsewhere because of traffic congestion, the market was restored and re-opened as a shopping centre with small boutiques, specialty stores, restaurants, cafes and a craft market.

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~ Favourite neighbourhood:  Notting Hill. This pretty district with its colourful houses and vintage stores feels very different from the rest of London. What once used to be a very run-down neighbourhood is now one of the most desirable residential areas of the city. The popular Portobello street market takes place in Notting Hill every weekend. Pity we missed it.

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~ Most not-sure-whether-to-scream-or-laugh moment: as we walked along a lonely garden path in Kensington Gardens, a huge rat ran out right in front of us. I doubt I would have felt so relaxed under the tree if I had known these creatures were lurking in the bushes.

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Since I don’t want to bore your collective socks off, this will be my last post about London – at least for a while. Now that summer is winding down and I get back into some sort of routine, I hope to write more regularly and be able to comment a bit more. Hope you’re all enjoying the last days of the season.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Time Out in Trafalgar Square

As I wrote in my last post, London was hectic, and I am thankful for that because we got to see a lot. But there comes a time in every vacation when you just need to stop, step back and look, take a real good look, at what is around you; touch base with yourself, if you will, and with the city you are in. It was a Monday afternoon and after watching the Changing of the Guard and walking along The Mall to Trafalgar Square, my husband proposed a visit to the National Gallery. London 600

Although we would normally have joined him, the Mischief Maker and I had other ideas. While my art-loving husband hurried through the vast spaces of the National Gallery and admired paintings created by some of the greatest masters, the Mischief Maker and I hoisted ourselves up on the pedestal of Nelson’s column and ate our freshly-prepared sandwiches from Pret-a-Manger: egg salad and water-cress for him and smoked salmon and cream cheese for me. London 601

It was time for us to relax and watch the micro-world of Trafalgar Square go by. And what better place to do it than perched on the pedestal of one of England’s greatest heroes? Some 50 metres above us, the admiral continued to survey the pulsating rhythm of London and we too were able to ‘kick off our shoes’ and take it all in. London 602

There’s a little bit of everything here: kings, generals and admirals, frozen in time; unexpected works of art; amazing architecture; fountains; and people of all ages, colours and nationalities. London 603

Around the square, taxis and buses, cars and bicycles, whizzed by incessantly. Trafalgar Square is at the heart of this city. It is a place where Londoners gather to celebrate and to protest. They come here in droves to ring in the New Year and whenever an English team wins an important sporting event. And they come here to vociferously make their concerns heard.London 604

But, up there on the plinth, we had our moment of peace and a perfect spot for people watching. I could have spent more time on my perch, enjoying the sound of the water splashing into the fountain basins, the constantly changing scene and the babble of different languages. London_Phone 106

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I was in my own reverie, dreaming of London, or my version of London, but suddenly, the strains of Hallelujah brought me back to earth. I landed into reality with a very gentle bump and threw some coins into the busker’s guitar case. I was thankful that he had unknowingly turned my moment of peace into one of those moments that will forever remain etched in my memory.

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Trafalgar Square – make of it what you will but I made it into my moment of peace and reflection. I’ve always had a hard time deciding which spot in London is my favourite but I think that, on this visit, I can safely say that this was mine.

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Trafalgar Square, Westminster, London WC2N 5DN, United Kingdom

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

London Love

I was eight the first time I visited London. It was my first experience of a big city and, I admit, I was scared. The Underground, the endless screeching of police and ambulance sirens, the punk rockers with their crazy hairstyles (it was the late 70s, after all), the hectic pace, the crowds – it was a bit too much. London 184

But there is something about  London that I have loved for as far back as I can remember and that is its history and its memorable, albeit sometimes roguish, characters. The story of London is the story of England. From its Roman  beginnings to the present day, this city  has withstood plague, fire, civil war and the Blitz and each time it has come back more defiant than ever. London 355

There is much to discover in London – so much that it leaves me breathless – because a week is not enough to explore all the places that I want to see, but a week is all I have. So there I am, with all the other tourists, “seeing the sights” and despising myself just a little bit, because I know there is more to London than that. London 361

But, at the same time, I am drawn to the sights, I have to see them all again, because the last time I was there was in 1997 and that was too long ago. So I revisited them, pointing them out eagerly to my Mischief Maker, hoping to plant in him a seed of love for this great city. But in spite of the lack of time, I was lucky enough to have enough of it to discover new places, new things.

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So between spending time at the British  Museum and Trafalgar Square; the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace, we discovered Covent Garden and Notting Hill. We saw London from the Thames, we saw it from The Eye and we saw it from the top of double-decker buses. London 534

Despite the fact that I am not much of a city girl, this is one metropolis that never ceases to pique my curiosity. I have spent the last few weeks since returning home  trying desperately to understand its vibe. Because it has one,as all cities do, but it is not easy to define. London is traditional but occasionally outrageous; regal but ever so insouciant; irreverent, unabashed, diverse…London 390

Even its architecture is so varied that I am at a loss as to how to describe it best. Victorian with occasional medieval gems? Modern but interspersed with neo-classical beauties? It is constantly changing yet some things have remained the same. London 636

You can read about London in a hundred guide-books yet it is still able to shroud itself in mystery. Perhaps that is what makes it so attractive. Perhaps that is why it keeps luring me back.London 399

You may read about London’s history here or here.London 477

And if you’re in London and are at a loss what to do, here are some suggestions from the Telegraph: 100 of the best things to do in London.

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Until next time, ma belle …

Locations from top to bottom: the White Tower (Tower of London); Big Ben; Westminster Abbey; supporting columns of the old Blackfriar’s Bridge; the Houses of Parliament (Westminster Palace); the London Eye; Covent Garden market; the Shard and the Millennium Bridge; the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral; the London Aquarium; the Royal Albert Hall.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

London Is …

Leafy, green parks

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Famous landmarks

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Red, double-decker buses

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The Tube

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Pomp and pageantry

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Forgotten cemeteries

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Quaint pubs

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Famous department stores

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The Thames

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Quirky

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Artsy

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A little bit country

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A little bit rock ‘n roll

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A place I fell in love with then I was eight years old and that I don’t get to visit often enough.

A city you will be hearing more about in the coming weeks …

Photographed in various locations in London, July 2014

Monday, June 30, 2014

Simply Loving

It is summer and it is as hard to sit down and write as it is to sit still and read. So, from time to time, I will just share the things that make my heart beat just a little bit faster. And I will try to keep it short. Try is the key word here because I do tend to ramble sometimes.

This month’s favourites:-

~ My hydrangea. When I bought the plant in May of last year, I was not sure it would survive our harsh summer. But I watered it. Everyday. And I kept it in a shady corner of our garden. It lived. Then winter came and it was reduced to a few leafless branches. I was ready to throw it away. Then March rolled around and the days got warmer. It grew a few leaves, then more and more. It had survived and this month, it flowered once more. The blooms are gorgeous but that is not the only reason why I love them. One day, I’ll tell you more.

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~ Instagram. What’s not to love? It’s the perfect way of keeping up with friends (both the real and the virtual ones) and family and it only takes an instant. Or maybe a little bit more. I’ve found out that it can get addictive. You can find me here if you’re interested.

~ Cool sea breezes – until they last.

~ Lazy weekend afternoons spent reading or browsing through my stack of Pottery Barn books and magazines. I admit, I am a a bit of a Pottery Barn addict.

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~ Longer daylight hours.

~ Streets lined with oleanders bushes in full bloom. While every other plant that is not watered regularly has long given up the fight, these hardened veterans flower in full drought and provide some welcome colour to our otherwise rather drab landscape.

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~ A new blog I’ve discovered via Jeanne called Close Ups And Wide Angles. The photos are just divine.

~ The poems of Pablo Neruda. You may read some here.

~ Swimming in water that is still so cool that it literally takes your breath away.

~ The music of Melody Gardot – perfect for balmy summer evenings under the stars.

Wishing you all many happy summer memories. Until next time …

Monday, June 16, 2014

Stories In The Stones

The year is hurtling towards midsummer and I am being dragged along – reluctantly – like an obstinate mule, digging my heels into the earth and uselessly hoping that it will grind to a halt. Slow down, slow down, I whisper to no one in particular, this ride is way too fast. The coachman does not heed my fretful call. I am not in command. I feel giddy, unsafe, trapped in a vortex that is madly spiralling out of control. But through the chaos, a voice bids me to calm down. There is time, it says, time to breathe, time to learn, time to write about the permanence of this transient life. But surely, I thought, that is an oxymoron. Then I reflected; and finally, I understood - that we are all invited to leave an indelible mark. We can write our stories in sand and let the tide wash them away or we can carve them painfully, but permanently, in stone.

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And I looked around me and saw an island whose history is etched in the limestone blocks of our buildings. The stories of our fathers are intricately bound to the stone walls that surround us. Almost reverently, I reach out to touch their golden faces, gently caressing the marks left by the winds; left by time. I lean forward, let my forehead rest on their pock-marked surface and shut out the world.

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Then I hear it, the hum as of a thousand muffled voices, telling me their stories, their triumphs, their tragedies. There were tales of love and despair; of hatred and death; war and disease; of pirate raids and a fervent Faith. It seemed that I had finally understood. This, then, was my calling, to give a voice to the voiceless and a history to the nameless. It was up to me to discover the patina of ages; to unravel the mystery of doors that led nowhere and to tell a tale that would have been lost in the mists of time – were it not for the stones.

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I smiled. The spinning had stopped. The coachman had finally come to a halt.

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Location: Mdina - April 2013

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