You cannot leave the UK without visiting the historical city of York. The city is only 2 hours by train from London and is largely traffic free so if you are driving be sure to use a park and ride. You can walk around the medieval walls of the city and through its beautifully preserved cobbled stone streets, while peeking in through old shop windows. We enjoyed walking through ‘The Shambles‘, an ancient butchers’ street mentioned in the Domesday Book of William the Conqueror in 1086. This is the oldest shopping street in Europe and leads right to York Minster.
York Minster is an outstanding preserved building with the largest and most diverse collection of medieval stained glass in Britain. The great east window took three years to complete starting in 1405 and depicts the beginning and the end, from Genesis to Revelation. We had great weather when we visited and could climb up the winding staircase of the central tower. We got up close and personal with the gargoyles and overlooked the city from the top before heading over to the National Railway Museum, the largest railway museum in the world.
We could have easily spent the day at the National Railway Museum. Trains are just one of those things that are always going to be fun to go see. The museum features some of the Royal carriages including one that was used by Queen Victoria in 1869. Queen Adelaide’s saloon is the world’s oldest surviving railway carriage and is in the station hall. Station hall was built in the 1870s and today is used to provide visitors with an experience of being in a station from the past. You can even climb into one of the carriages. The museum is also the home to the famous locomotive, the Flying Scotsman.
We definitely could have used more time in York, however we only had the afternoon to explore. Some other highlights worth checking out in the city are JORVIK viking center and Clifford’s Tower.
Today we set out on our final road trip around the UK before heading back to Canada. Our first stop along the way was Oxford, the world’s most famous university town. You can park just outside the city for free and a local bus will take you into the city center for only £2.25 return. Plenty of cities in the UK have these, taking away the stress of parking downtown and eliminating some of the congestion.
The oldest college in Oxford was established in 1249! Many famous authors studied at Oxford including Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland), C.S. Lewis (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), and JRR Tolkien (The Lord of the Rings). Lewis Carroll was actually enrolled as Charles Dodgson in 1851 at Christ Church College for mathematics. During his time he wrote a story for Alice Liddell, the daughter of the Dean and her many adventures around the college grounds and Oxford. The shop in ‘Through the Looking Glass’ was modeled off of a small grocery shop in Oxford (only with details reversed) and today is known as Alice’s Shop. This is the only tangible link to the stories in Oxford however it becomes easy to imagine the many places in the tales after walking around the town.
The Bodleian Library, also known as the bod, is part of the University of Oxford and is worth checking out. The library was opened in 1602 and today carries 9 million items on 176km of shelving. Two sections are open to the public including The Divinity School that was built in 1427. Close to Bodleian Library is Hertford Bridge, completed in 1914 connecting two parts of Hertford College. The bridge is photographed by many visitors as it resembles the Rialto Bridge in Venice. I personally think there should be no comparison after seeing both.
The University Church of St Mary the Virgin can not be missed when visiting Oxford and if you have time, climb up the tower. Back in medieval times when Oxford was a walled city, the church stood in the center. During this time scholars lived in the same house as their teachers meaning there was no need for university buildings, however they used St. Mary’s as their hub. As centuries passed universities started to expand and all business was removed from the church by the middle of the 17th century.
Antoni Gaudí, Puig i Cadaflach and Domènech i Montaner are some of the famous modernisme architects whose works sit in Eixample, Barcelona. This architecture style flourished in Barcelona when the medieval walls of the city were torn down for expansion (eixample) in 1854. Although it was built on a grid system there are two diagonal avenues and architect Domènech i Montaner, out of spite (he detested the grid system) angled the hospital looking down one of these streets towards Sagrada Familia to disrupt the pattern.
Starting from Passeig de Gràcia you are immediately confronted with the bold and convention-defying designs of Gaudí. Casa Batlló was completed in 1906 but still remains just as much of a statement today. The stunning dragon back roof top is a mosaic containing pieces of glass and ceramic discs. Casa Milà (also known as La Pedrera), a rippled apartment building further up the street was built around two circular courtyards. Like many of Gaudí’s designs, the rooftop is a highlight with sculpted chimneys. Some have been described as having a threatening appearance and are known as witch-scarers. The Casa Milà was Gaudí’s last completed work in the city before devoting himself to the Sagrada Família, Europe’s most unconventional church. Gaudí began work on the church in 1883 and devoted his life to it from 1914 – 1926, the year he died. At the time of his death only one tower had been completed however work resumed after the civil war and continues today to complete his original design. When it is finished 12 towers will stand, one for each apostle. The church can be seen from the city’s surrounding hills for a greater understanding on just how large this project is.
After, we walked up to Park Güell where you imagine yourself being in a fairytale as you walk through the entrance pavilions, they look like gingerbread houses. The mosaics and serpentine bench collage are some of the most captivating features of the park and the works of Josep Maria Jujol. The paths lead you up to the Hill of the Crosses where there are panoramic views over the city. As you walk towards the top, the path is to project spiritual elevation. The carved-out pathways with angled pillars made out of stone are incredible to walk through.
Today my husband and I climbed up the 213 meter hill of Montjuïc to an 18th century fortress, Castell de Montjuïc. There is an option to take a cable car to the top however you will miss out on the great scenic stops along the way so if you are fit, or want to be, take the trails. As a bonus, on the way down there is a slide to take as an alternative route to one of the large set of stairs. The fortress was originally built for the defense of Barcelona.
On the north side of the hill, in 1929 the Palau Nacional (National Palace) was built for the International Exhibition. After visiting this building, it is unbelievable to imagine that it was intended to be demolished soon after the exhibition! Fortunately it was preserved and today is home to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. Looking down from the Palau Nacional is Placa d’Espanya, where two 47 meter brick venetian towers mark the entry for the exhibition. The fountain in the middle of what is now a round about was once the site of the public gallows until they were moved in 1715.
The third must see area on Montjuïc Hill is the Anella Olímpica (Olympic Ring), where the 1992 Olympics took place. Estadi Lluis Company’s building, where the opening and closing ceremonies were held, was originally built for the 1929 exhibition, over 60 years before the Olympics. Of course the interior of the stadium was completely rebuilt and expanded, and now contains 65,000 seats.
Bath is the perfect location for a relaxing weekend getaway! There is no need to purchase transit tickets as you can see all the sights easily by foot. UNESCO added the entire city as a cultural site to its World Heritage List in 1987 so everywhere you walk there is something that will catch your eye.
My two favourite parks and gardens are located in the Royal Victoria Park and behind the Holburne Museum. Royal Victoria Park is 57 acres of land below the Royal Crescent, pictured above. This park was the first ever to be named after Princess Victoria when she was just 11 years old. The park officially opened in 1830. The Holburne Museum gardens features beautiful trees, bridges, and maps out the location of where castle ruins were found as well as a labyrinth garden. The museum is also free entry.
The most shocking part of our trip to Bath was when we ate out at the Garrick’s Head, located near the theatre. We found out, after we ate there, that we were in one of the many haunted buildings of Bath. The lady ghost had been sighted both in the boxed seats in the theatre and in the pub. On a less haunted note, we also enjoyed a lovely lunch at the Pump Room with live music, you could easily sit in there for hours. Beside the pump room is the old roman baths museum, visible from the windows inside the pump room. In the same square is the Abbey, one of the last medieval churches of England. You are welcome to visit inside, however it is closed on a Sunday for services. Pulteney Bridge is worth walking through with shops inside it however it is best viewed from Parade Gardens park below.
In 1815 Verona became part of the Austrian empire. The city had a strategic advantage as a fortress town providing a strong defence system throughout the Veneto region, making it the capital of Austrian territory in Italy. During their occupancy, Vienna architects were inspired by the various styles of buildings in Verona. They used local materials to blend their works among other buildings in the city. Despite the fact that they were there only for its strategic military position, the Austrians built beautiful and elegant buildings which are pictured and described throughout this post.
The Ex Arsenale, a beautiful building near the river, was used for weapons and ammunition during their period of takeover. At first glance, it looks as if it were an old school building that had been closed down. The building has not been well conserved but is worth checking out! Apparently there are occasional exhibits and events held there so look it up to see if anything is going on during your stay first.
If you continue to walk along the riverbank you can see San Pietro Castle in the distance, at the top of the hill of Verona. This is where rulers built fortresses and the Austrians decided to build their castle. It is difficult to see from some angles as large cypress trees were planted after Verona became part of the Italian Kingdom in 1866. These trees were to cover up and hide any sign of Austrian domination.
Palazzo Barbieri, today the city hall or Gran Guardia Nuova, also used to be an Austrian headquarters in Verona. It is located in Piazza Bra, the arena square. The building is massive and with its huge Corinthian columns, seems almost similar to a greek temple.
These three buildings were our favourites, but there were many others built during this period. They include: the Military Hospital, the University of Economics Verona (used to be Santa Marta, an old bakery for the soldiers), the NATO headquarters (used to be Carli Palace where Austrian field marshal lived) and many fortresses throughout the city.
With every building and bridge lit up, Budapest is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve seen at night. My husband and I went on a boat tour, admiring everything from the water with a glass of wine (and Sprite for me). While on the Danube river you feel tiny and in awe of the buildings that surround you on each side. One of my favourite buildings on the Pest side was the parliament buildings, the third largest in the world. On the Buda side, the Royal Palace lights up the sky with Matthias church and Fisherman’s Bastion peeking through the hills as seen in the above cover photo.
There are many bars and clubs in Budapest all located within the Jewish Quarter. The ruin bars are truly unique and tricky to find sometimes if you haven’t looked them up before hand. We were shown one by our tour guide where locals like to hang out no matter what your age. It was such a creative use of space and every country with buildings no longer is use should be taken over by artists and turned into a bar like this one. Even the bathroom was awesome, they redid some of the plumbing, so to flush the toilet you use a bike break on the side of the wall! The space is also used to feature different artists’ exhibits and bands play there in the evenings.
Budapest is also freezing in March, so we decided to check out the famous baths in the evening to warm up a little. If you go after 7 it’s cheaper as well, however you have limited access. We went to Széchenyi Baths, the first thermal baths on the Pest side with 15 units. These baths are easy to get to as they are right on the subway line. After walking all day long, relaxing at the baths was the perfect end to the day.