Wednesday Wander – Le Musee De La Mar, Biarritz

It’s Wednesday, and time to wander again. I recently visited the French coastal town of Biarritz, and this week I’m going to wander to Le Musee De La Mer – the Biarritz Aquarium.

Opened to the public in 1933, the building is a stylish example of Art Deco architecture, much like the nearby Casino. However, the origins of the aquarium go back a few decades earlier, when the Marquis de Folin convinced the French authorities to commence scientific studies of the Bay of Biscay. He wanted to create a ‘seat of learning’ where people could come and learn about the oceans, a field of study that was gaining in popularity at the time. The First World War halted development of his idea, and it wasn’t until the 1930s that it came to fruition.

Perched upon cliffs high above the town, the Aquarium looks out onto the sea…

…and also onto some fairly impressive houses. This one would be fairly close to my dream home, I think!

The Aquarium has been extended and renovated since the 1930s, but still retains its original Art Deco interior design. There is something about this style of design that lends itself particularly well to maritime themes, I think.

The aquarium also houses a Scientific Study and Research Centre, which focuses mainly on the nearby Bay of Biscay. There is a museum section which houses sailing and surfing artifacts, and different exhibit areas for each of the world’s oceans.

Like much in central Biarritz, the Aquarium is easy to get to on foot – a short walk along the beach path and through a picturesque old harbour, then up a (not too steep) hill. Once inside, we spent several hours exploring the oceans – we listened to whale songs, examined skeletons and surfboards, watched seals play and found Dory, as well as Nemo.

We also visited the Shark Cave, a massive tank home to several species of sharks, including a rather lonely looking hammerhead. To be honest, I’m not too fond of seeing animals in captivity, even though I’m sure these tanks are top of the line. However, the gorgeous girl is particularly fond of all things aquatic, so an aquarium stop is de rigeur wherever we go on holiday. She thoroughly enjoyed this one, especially the glow-in-the-dark exhibits.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Biarritz, and will definitely wander there again, both on this blog and in real life. Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me, see you next time!


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Wednesday Wander – San Sebastian Old Town

It’s Wednesday again, and this week I’m wandering back to Donostia San Sebastian, the beautiful Spanish coastal town I visited this past summer.

Last time I wandered here, I visited the beaches, golden curves of sand deserving of their own blog post. This time, I’m venturing into the Old Town.

While there is evidence to suggest that San Sebastian was at one time part of a Roman territory, the first recorded history of the place is in 1014, when the monastery of San Sebastian was given to the Abbey of Leire. By 1181, the town was officially chartered, though was mostly destroyed by fire in 1489, then again by Napoleonic troops in 1808.

Therefore, most buildings in the Old Town date from the nineteenth century, including the Constitution Square, built in 1817.

The numbers above the windows are from the time when the square was used as a bullring – the numbers corresponded to private boxes from where bullfights could be watched. When a new bullring was built further out of town, the boxes were converted to housing, the numbers kept as a reminder of its past.

There is also an old harbour section, home to several excellent seafood restaurants (we ate at Igedo), as well as the aquarium. While the buildings here may look old, they were actually built in the early 20th century after a section of the old town wall was demolished. In the evening it’s a wonderful place, local teenagers doing somersaults into the clear green water in a bid to impress their friends, families and couples walking and talking, the restaurants buzzing with conversation and the scent of cooking in the air.

After dinner, we joined the crowds wandering along the harbour, stopping outside the aquarium to watch the sun set, colours changing in water and sky. It was completely beautiful, one of those places I’ll always remember visiting, and somewhere I hope to get back to one day.

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Wednesday Wander – Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

Hello, everyone. I’ve been on a few wanders of late, most recently a trip up to Scotland for a Silent Eye weekend, a trip I’m still processing before writing it up on here. So this week I’ve decided to wander to a place I visited a few weeks earlier – the spectacular Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

The first sight of the Museum is a moment of wonder, the kind you get when seeing iconic structures such as the Eiffel Tower or the Sydney Harbour Bridge for the first time. It is an instant of disconnect, when you wonder whether what you’re seeing is real. Perched on the edge of the river running through Bilbao, the building seems almost to float upon the water, like a magical ship or giant sea creature, metallic scales reflecting the sky.

A museum of modern and contemporary art, the Guggenheim was designed by the architect Frank Gehry, known for his unique vision. When you come into Bilbao from the east, as we did, the Museum is one of the first things you see, a tumbled cluster of gleaming shapes on the curving edge of the river.

The museum was inaugurated almost exactly twenty years ago, on October 18th 1997. Prior to that, the riverbank was an industrial area, home to piles of curving steel and machinery, said to have partly influenced Gehry’s design. The architect said that ‘the randomness of the curves are designed to catch the light’ and they certainly do so, reflecting light and water and shade so that the angles constantly change, each step as you move around the building revealing a different viewpoint.

I particularly liked how the walkway and reflecting pool are positioned to look, from some angles, as though the river runs up to the edge of the building. I also like the red archway that sits astride the road into Bilbao, bringing you immediately into the design.

When we visited, there was a huge dog sculpture covered in real flowers at the front of the building, which we all loved. The spider sculpture, visible at the bottom right of my photo, is permanent and seems to be a popular image associated with the museum, if the tourist trinkets for sale nearby were any indication. Personally, I’m not a fan of spiders, especially huge ones like that!

This is not my first Gehry – I visited the EMP in Seattle a couple of years ago, and also saw El Peix, a fish-shaped canopy on the beachfront in Barcelona. Like most of Gehry’s works, the Guggenheim is impressive, extraordinary in its complexity. We spent ages just walking around the outside, taking in the shapes, wondering at the mind that could create such wonders.

Gehry’s style of architecture has been described as ‘desconstructivism’ though Gehry himself says he does not associate with that movement. Post-modern it certainly is, form without any other function than to catch the light and beguile the eye. Clad in titanium, at times it appears silver, and at others gold. Extraordinarily for a building of this type, the Guggenheim was completed on time and on budget.

Overall, it was a spectacular building to see and experience. I took loads of photos, as you can imagine, and these are some of the ones I liked the most. Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me! See you next time.


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

 

Thursday Doors, Cottages, And A Wednesday Update

I haven’t done a Thursday Doors challenge in ages! I do have a few doors hanging around in my photo collection (which sounds an odd thing to say, I know), but just haven’t got to them each week. However, this week I’ve remembered in time and so, here are two rather lovely doors I found locally.

Both are from cottages, one Victorian, one rather older than that, given the listed building symbol on the side, plus the fact that the entrance is a couple of feet below current street level. For those of you who don’t know, a listed building is one that has been deemed to be of national importance in terms of architectural or historic interest and is included on a special register, called the List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest. To live in a listed building is to live in history – however, it comes with the slight caveat that any change or renovation is done under strict supervision, in order to maintain the original architectural integrity. One example of this would be replacing something like-for-like. If your windows need replacing, you can’t just call your local window person and get them to install a couple of double glazed units. Instead, you would have to get replicas of the original windows made, which is usually quite a bit more expensive. However, it means that we have some wonderful buildings preserved for posterity which, after the smash and burn mentality of the fifties and sixties, is not a bad thing.

One of the things I love about both doors is the flowers outside. The British do colourful floral arrangements like no-where else I’ve seen, and the basket and planter display are prime examples. By contrast, the hollyhocks next to the second door are are wonderfully wild, giving it a fairytale air.

And I have a small update to my Wednesday Wander post last week, about the Belarusian Memorial Chapel. On the day I published the post, I received a tweet from the architects – the building had just been voted as the Londoner’s Favourite in the New London Architecture Awards! So that was a nice bit of serendipity 🙂

This is my response to Norm 2.0’s Thursday Doors Challenge. For more doors, or to add one of your own, head over to Norm’s blog and click the link.


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

 

Wednesday Wander – Belarusian Memorial Chapel

You might think this little wooden church is somewhere in Russia, or Eastern Europe, but in fact it is in London, England. It’s the first wooden church built in the city since the Great Fire of 1666, and also the first memorial in Western Europe dedicated to the Chernobyl Disaster. This is the Church of St Cyril of Turau and All The Patron Saints of the Belarusian People, also known as the Belarusian Memorial Chapel.

My husband is of Belarusian heritage via his mother, and has visited Belarus (where he still has family). He’s always been interested in this side of his heritage and, when we moved here, he was pleased to find a Belarusian society in London. We attended Christmas festivities there one year, which included a traditional puppet show, obviously an anticipated and much-loved part of their Christmas season. And, when the new church was built, we attended the consecration, which took place on December 17, 2016.

We are neither of us particularly religious – spiritual is probably a better term, as we ascribe to no particular faith. Still, we respect the faith of others, and felt it an honour to be there on consecration day. Many important figures from the Belarusian church travelled to attend the event, which was conducted mainly in their native tongue.

The church is built entirely of wood and glass – even the pegs holding it together are timber. It was featured in the 2017 London Festival of Architecture, and received the RIBA London Regional Award of the London Institute of British Architects. The design is based upon traditional rural wooden churches in Belarus, and has a beauty and simplicity which is timeless. As we listened to the voices chanting, smelt the incense, the red and gold and white robes against the pale wood, it felt like a window into history, into an older time.

Later we stood outside in the clear cold air as the clergy walked in procession, blessing the building. Once the service concluded we departed, heading for lunch in a comfortable pub, blankets wrapped around our cold feet as we drank beer and ate pizza. It felt strange, stepping back into the ‘real’ world. A trip in more ways than one.

Thank you for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!


You can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Wednesday Wander – Space Needle, Seattle

This week I’m wandering to the Pacific Northwest, and one of the most recognisable landmarks in that area. This is the Seattle Space Needle.

Built for the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle, the Needle was designed to withstand strong earthquakes and winds of up to 200mph, though I wouldn’t like to be up there during either of those events! The ‘saucer’ portion of the tower is home to an observation deck and the Skycity restaurant, accessed by an elevator, or, if you’re feeling particularly energetic, a staircase with 848 steps. The Needle boasts panoramic views of the beautiful coastline and mountains, as well as being next to the excellent EMP (which I wandered to in another post) – however, I didn’t ascend the Needle when I was there. I’m not a huge fan of heights and have been up the similar CN Tower in Toronto several times. Instead, I was content to admire it from below.

The Seattle Space Needle has of course been featured in many films and TV series, including Frasier, where it was even part of the opening credits, and of course Sleepless in Seattle. It’s also appeared in Grey’s Anatomy, The Simpsons, and the Twilight films, just to name a few – small wonder it was designated an historic landmark in 1999.

I think what I like about the Needle is that it, and the nearby monorail, were built at a time when this sort of architecture was a vision for the future. Space travel was in its infancy, the world still recovering from the horrors of war just a decade or so earlier. This new style represented a shining future, a new way of thinking. And the design still holds up, still looks modern, even next to the extraordinary undulating curves of the nearby EMP.

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!


f you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Wednesday Wander – Singapore

It’s Wednesday, and time for another wander. This week I’ve been inspired by a book I just finished reading, Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians. When I say I read it, I mean I picked it up to read on Sunday and didn’t put it down again until Tuesday, when I’d finished. It was a delicious, decadent, funny read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was also set mostly in Singapore and so, in honour of that, I’ve decided to wander back there again.

Some of the action in the book is set in and around Orchard Road, the famous shopping thoroughfare. Thought to have taken its name from the nutmeg, pepper and fruit orchards the road once led to, Orchard Road is now home to gleaming shopping centres and the finest names in fashion – I did joke to my husband that there must be some sort of law that you have to have a Louis Vuitton store every 500 metres, because there were so many along there (not that I went into any of them). Interestingly, many of these shiny new buildings are built over what used to be burial grounds, with Chinese, Sumatran and Jewish communities all having graveyards along the road during the 19th century.

When we visited Singapore it was just at the turn of the Year of The Dragon, so there were decorations everywhere. We had a few days there, stopping over on our way to live in the UK, so we wandered through the heavy heat and gleaming buildings, eating icecream and marvelling at the variety of architecture. There was a little bit of shopping, of course, and we also visited the famous night zoo, watching elephants sleep under the stars.

Looking back at my photos of this visit made me realise the way I take photos has changed since I started blogging. Most of my older photos have people in them, so I won’t share them – I’ve chosen to mention my family only in passing on the blog, as they prefer it that way, and so do I. So now, whenever I go anywhere, of course I still take lots of photos with people in them, but I also take plenty without, making sure I capture enough images for whatever blog post I have in mind.

Anyway, I digress. This is the famous Marina Bay Sands building, with its rooftop bar and infinity pool complete with palm trees. It’s also where the final scene in Crazy Rich Asians takes place, so it seems appropriate to end this post here. Oh, and you can’t see it, but there’s a Louis Vuitton store in there, too.

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Wednesday Wander – Hampton Court Palace

Okay, so I’ve not wandered too far this week – a train ride, rather than a plane ride, away. Still, it’s to a rather interesting place. London is home to some wonderful palaces – I have another post about the Tower of London still to write – and Hampton Court Palace is one of the finest, a treasure trove of history, design and architecture.

Built by Cardinal Wolsey and taken over several years later by Henry VIII, the palace was constructed between 1515 and 1694. Not much of the original Tudor palace remains in its original state, as successive monarchs each sought to put their stamp on the building.The palace remained a royal residence until Victorian times, though George II was the last monarch to reside there. However, the monarch with whom the palace is most closely associated is Henry VIII. Oranges carved over an internal doorway are symbols of Catherine of Aragon, Henry’s first wife, while the clock above is the Hampton Court astronomical clock, set in the Anne Boleyn gate, named for his second wife. Jane Seymour, his third wife, gave birth to their son Edward, and subsequently died there, two weeks later. It was also at Hampton Court that Henry learned of the infidelity of his fifth wife, Catherine Howard. Imprisoned in her rooms, it is said she escaped and ran the length of the Haunted Gallery, screaming for mercy, but was recaptured and, eventually, executed.

Large landscaped gardens surround the building, running alongside the river Thames. One of the original 16th century tiltyard towers remains, part of Henry VIII’s jousting range, as does his Royal Tennis Court. My friend and I also walked the Hampton Court Maze, planted between 1689 and 1695 for William of Orange, the ancient green hedges taller than we were.

This is the Fountain Court, designed by Sir Christopher Wren during the reign of William and Mary, when a huge program of renovation took place at the palace. William and Mary wanted the design to reflect their status as equal monarchs, so two sets of apartments, equal in size and stature, were designed, as well as two identical interior staircases. However, when Mary passed away, William lost interest in the renovation project and work ceased.With all this history, it’s not surprising that the palace is reputed to be haunted. Several tourists have reported strange occurences, and then there’s ‘Skeletor’, a famous image captured on the CCTV cameras which has not been adequately explained. We didn’t see any ghosts, but we did see a rather dishy fellow, a cross between Damien Lewis and Tom HIddleston, decked out in full Elizabethan regalia, including a single pearl drop earring. Seeing him on the train later in civilian clothes rather spoiled the illusion… 😀

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If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Wednesday Wander – El Peix, Barcelona

I’ve been to Barcelona twice, and both times I visited the beach. Yet, before I visited, I’d never thought of Barcelona as a ‘beach’ city. To me it was a place of dance and food and architecture, home to Gaudi, one of my favourite architects. I knew it was on the coast, but Barceloneta beach was an unexpected delight.

On my second visit we spent half a day or so there, hubby and the gorgeous girl in and out of the water as we looked for shells and soaked up the sunshine, eating fresh paella at one of the many seafront cafes before returning to our hotel sandy and happy. We also took a walk along the wooden boardwalk, heading towards an unusual structure we could see gleaming golden  in the distance.

It turned out to be El Peix, a golden fish sculpture created by renowned Canadian architect Frank O. Gehry for the 1992 Olympics. Built as a canopy to link a hotel, casino and restaurants, it’s now one of Barcelona’s most well-known landmarks.

It’s not the only Gehry we’ve seen – in Seattle we spent a wonderful day at the EMP, marvelling at the colours and curves of the extraordinary building. It seemed fitting to see another piece of his work in Barcelona – Gehry, like Gaudi a century earlier, twists shape and form to challenge what can be done architecturally, creating structures like no other. We’re heading to Bilbao this summer and I’m very much looking forward to seeing the Guggenheim there, another of his famous works.

But for now I’ll leave you with Barcelona beach palms against a brilliant blue sky, a memory of a golden day. Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

 

 

Wednesday Wander – Parc Guell, Barcelona

It’s Wednesday, and time to wander again. This week I’m heading to Barcelona, Spain, and to Antoni Gaudi’s magnificent Parc Guell.

High on a hilltop overlooking the city, the park is accessed via a series of escalators and steps up a narrow and very steep street. There may have been some complaining from certain family members on our way up the hill, but when we got there it was certainly worth it!

Built between 1900 and 1914, the park was the brainchild of Count Eusebi Guell, who wanted to create a luxury housing estate on the site, and worked with Gaudi on the design. However, only two houses were ever built, one of which Gaudi and his family ended up living in for twenty years – it is now a museum.

Designated a World Heritage Site in 1984, the park is full of Gaudi’s signature design style, from undulating dragon-spine rooftops to stylised stalactites and sculpted pillars. The park is laid out across several levels, and can be walked in a circular fashion up to the topmost point (marked by a stone cross) before heading downhill once more.

I’m a huge fan of Gaudi’s design style, so a visit to the park was high on my list of things to do when we visited Barcelona. And I was definitely not disappointed. Although it was a bit crowded at times, the views, the design, the wonderful shapes and whimsy of Gaudi’s unique vision were all there to be seen and enjoyed. There is a freshness and modernity to his work which makes it hard to believe it’s over a century old.

Thank you for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!


If you enjoyed this post and want to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.