Bath, Bristol and Birthdays

I am a huge fan of the art trails (if that is the correct name for them) that pop up in our cities in the Summer. When I spotted that both Bath and Bristol had them going on this year (as well as a number of other cities), I knew the destination of a little adventure.

Bath – The Owl Trail

The joy of Bath is that it is so close to Bristol so both cities can be visited easily. After a good night’s sleep at the IBIS Hotel at Temple Meads we set off early to beat some of the tourist crowd.

Immediately on leaving the station you can spot owls. So, of course, the photos started straight away. We began our tour just randomly spotting owls and owlets as we found them. There were two reasons for this: one, it was early and we like a stroll and, two, we wanted to find breakfast. (Cafe Rouge became the destination of choice.)

Once we had refueled, we grabbed ourselves a map (you offer a donation) and carried on. Mr Bookwormandtheatremouse took control of the route we took. The best thing about these events is you see so much of the city without realising. It also introduces you to parts of the city that you would not normally visit. Bath is so beautiful that there is always something to catch your eye.

We also took the chance to visit Bath Abbey, as we have never been before. You do have to pay an entry fee, which I know divides opinion – some say a donation would be better. But the important thing is that it supports the upkeep of important cultural sites. Bath Abbey is a beauty and oozes history, which is where my interest in such buildings lie.

This was a brilliant day; my only disappointment was that you would have had to enter the Roman Baths to spot all the city centre owls. However, we managed over 50 of the city centre owls. A great day!

Bristol – Gromit Unleashed 2

Day two was all about Bristol and my birthday (woohoo!).

Aardman Studios has its home in Bristol, so therefore it is also home to Wallace and Gromit. This is the second ‘Gromit Unleashed’ and it is in aid of Bristol Children’s Hospital.

Our first stop was an amazing bakery, ‘Hart’s Bakery’, which is among the arches at Temple Meads Station. I do not think I have ever seen such a huge Almond Croissant. A croissant connoisseur Mr Bookwormandtheatremouse was in his element. Coffee was amazing too.

Energised and ready to go, we started off on the harbourside trail, taking in the sites such as the SS Great Britain. What was lovely about this is not only were there statues to spot, but you have Wallace, Gromit and Feathers McGraw to look out for. Wallace is also always on a bench, which is great for photos and avoids the temptation for some to climb.

Lunch break was a delicious birthday meal at Loch Fyne. The fish your way on the menu is perfect: pick your fish, sauce and sides – yummy!

In the afternoon, we focused on the city trail. Again, you see parts of the city you would normally miss.

By the end of the day, we had found all the Gromit Unleashed 2 statues in Bristol itself (minus the one in the M Shed exhibition hall).

These trails were both brilliant fun and we can’t wait to see what next year brings.

Have you completed any of the city trails this year?

Adventures in Antwerp

When Miss W suggested we had a girly city break to Antwerp I jumped at the chance. I absolutely love adventures with friends, and with Mr Bookwormandtheatremouse at work he was not going to miss me. Hehe!

So, at the end of July we jumped on the ever so speedy Eurostar to Brussels, then changed onto a local train to Antwerp so our adventure could begin.

We arrived on a beautiful sunny Tuesday afternoon to be greeted by the amazing Antwerp central station. It is absolutely stunning, fabulous architecture and a truly amazing atmosphere. The camera was straight out to try and snap the magnificence of the building. As you leave the station you realise how much it dominates the skyline and oozes stories of arrivals and departures.

Miss W had found a great hotel, Hotel Rubens – Grote Markt, it was central but slightly off the tourist trail (only by metres) so was peaceful. It was gorgeous and we were lucky enough to have a courtyard view. At the corner of the courtyard was the oldest tower in Antwerp, which had carefully been incorporated into the architecture of the hotel.

Afternoon one was all about taking in the beauty of the city and adopting the continental culture of eating and drinking al fresco. We enjoyed delicious open sandwiches (once we deciphered the menu), pizza and wine (not all at the same time I hasten to add). The simple joy of socialising in Antwerp was lovely to see and the slower pace of life was perfect for a chilled out city break.

Wednesday

The real adventure began. After a delicious breakfast we walked to the Antwerp Zoo. This was a trip we thought would just fill a few hours but instead lasted all day.

The zoo is set in wonderful gardens (which means you can’t walk on the grass) with benches placed all around to allow you to take in the views. The zoo is also bordered by Central Station which means you can appreciate it from another angle to the one you see on arrival.

There is a great collections of animals and we enjoyed seeing them all, especially the rather elegant flamingos who greet you as you enter the zoo.

We took a break for lunch at the zoo’s cafe. We each had a great Salmon and Courgette Quiche, made using puff pastry. It was packed full of flavour (and really put the British tourist food to shame).

There were talks and so much great information signs – not in English – but we liked picking out the words we could understand and having a good guess at others (the pictures helped).

Our evening consisted of amazing Belgian Waffles and crisp cold white wine at a fabulous Belgian bar with tables in the shadow of the Cathedral (all after a bit of a cultural stroll of the city).

Thursday

After a second epic breakfast (I promise that Miss W and I do not totally judge our trips on food) we decided to explore the city.

Miss W took the lead and guided us, after a walk along the river, to the most stunning museum. ‘MAS’ is a beautiful, modern museum which tells the story of Antwerp but from the point of view of all the diverse cultures which make the city what it is. It shows how the rich tapestry of Antwerp has been and continues to be formed.

The current promoted exhibition is ‘Celebration! Colourful rituals’ a wonderful guide to celebrations and festivals that mark life’s moments, not just in Antwerp but around the world. It is fascinating and you will come away having learnt something and realising how small the world is as we embrace all the different celebrations from the diverse cultures of all our countries.

When you reach the top there are the most stunning views of the city and the surronding area. You can really appreciate what makes Antwerp what it is.

After a delightful al fresco lunch of burgers, fries and pancakes (again – not all at the same time) we walked the zig-zag narrow streets back to the centre and visited the Cathedral. It makes a statement as all such buildings do. Towering over the two main squares, you can not avoid all its majestic glory. Inside it is beautiful, with stained glass windows and brilliant stone and wood work. There are currently some pieces of art on loan, with a religious theme, but they can be appreciated on all sorts of levels (the History Teacher in me was fascinated by the social commentary the paintings offered).

After out very cultural and educational day, we spent our final evening very much like the one before: waffles and wine (although ice cream and wine for Miss W).

So, if you fancy a great city break, Antwerp is a wonderful place to visit. We didn’t even cover all that the city had to offer and would happily go back.

This summer, have you been on any adventures?

 

Glorious Guernsey

So, we have returned to the routine like we never left it. After 6 wonderful weeks off, week one of the day job has been completed. This has left me reflecting on the adventures of the summer. Our big adventure was 5 days in Guernsey. The reason we went to Guernsey was simply because I had read ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society’ and I wanted to see if was as wonderful as the novel made it seem.

Destination: St Peter Port

This is the capital of Guernsey, a port town. It is a charming, historical town. So beautiful with wonderful architecture and cobbled streets. The views out over the harbour are stunning. For a capital is has a very relaxed vibe (although it is slightly hectic if the cruise ships come in). You easily find yourself wandering round, not noticing the time pass. Only a few paces up the hill you easily leave the hustle and bustle of St Peter Port and it is still all so beautiful. As you walk behind the city in a north east direction you find a part of the town with a very French style and atmosphere, to the north west you come across glorious gardens that could be in the English countryside. As capitals go – it is an adventure.

Day One: Castle Cornet

I LOVE castles; a sniff of history and I am in my element (another reason Guernsey is glorious) and Cornet Castle oozes it! You can do all the attractions at the castle in any order you like but we started with the story if the castle, short, sharp facts of its colourful history. Perfect to ensure we were out in time to see the firing of the Noonday gun. This was very History geeks dream, the men come out in period army uniforms, check and fire the gun. OH MY WORD, does it make you jump (I doubt anyone has a successful photo of the event), even though you know it is coming it always seems worse but it is worth it for the electric atmosphere of feeling like they are experiencing a historic tradition.

We then made our way round the other museums housed in the castle and explore the grounds. The views of Guernsey you can get from different parts of the castle are stunning. You spend hours exploring and learning so much history about the colourful castle. This is certainly one of the gems in the Guernsey crown.

Day Two: The Underground Hospital and The Little Chapel

A huge part of the charm of Guernsey is that you can so easily get round the island on the bus. So, we caught the bus a little further inland to allow us to explore the German underground hospital from the occupation during World War Two and follow that with a gentle stroll to the Little Chapel (in the rain).

The underground hospital is simply a route of tunnels but the atmosphere in unbelievable (especially on a very rainy day). As soon as you hear one echoing sound it sets your imagination firing about what it would have been when it was in full use. The two gentlemen who work there (and count you in and count you out again) are very knowledgeable and willing to share their vast knowledge of the occupation with the visitors.

The Little Chapel is a short walk from the underground hospital. It is stunning! Inspired by the grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes at Massabielle (a small market town in the foothills of the Pyrenees). The chapel has been rebuilt on a number of occasions, always by Brother Deodat (although he never saw the final version), and the chapel as it stands today was started in 1923 and decorated with pebbles and pieces of broken china as other materials were scarce. In 2016 The Little Chapel Foundation was established to work to preserve the chapel as little had been done for it several years. You can not visit Guernsey without visiting this chapel.

Day Three: Victor Hugo’s House

Guernsey is an island that is perfect for a book and theatre lover because this is the island that Victor Hugo spent his exile AND finished ‘Les Miserables’.

Nestled to the north east of St Peter Port is a rather imposing white house that flies French flag – Hauteville, the home of Victor Hugo and owned by France. You do have to book onto a tour in the language of your choice so you need to be flexible (we went for another beautiful walk while we waited for our tour).

The gardens are open to the public to stroll around at your own pace at any time Hauteville is open. The views are stunning out to sea. The garden is beautifully laid out with a great Oak in the centre planted by the great man himself. (LOVE!)

I can not out into words the interior of Hugo’s house ¬†you would have to see it for yourself (in some sense to believe it). However, the tour of the house is fascinating, the snippets the guides share are fascinating and I think you will leave with a desire to read Hugo’s books. (Especially when you see the EXACT spot he finished Les Miserables).

So, Guernsey is glorious. The food is fantastic. The views are stunning. The walks are wonderful. The people are friendly. You really need to visit!

Have you ever visited the Channel Islands? What did you think?