Tag Archives: London

Cross That Bridge: Ten Favorites

Golden Gate, San Francisco (photo by Sally Reeder)

Because people need to live near a water supply, we also tend to live near bridges.  Chances are you’re within a few kilometers of a bridge right now, unless you are currently trekking in the Gobi Desert and have paused to surf the Web.

Most bridges go unnoticed because they merely do their job of conveying traffic over water, but there are some that do catch our eye; some are even tourist attractions in their own right.  What follows is a list of ten of my favorites.  These are not chosen for the feats of engineering that brought them into existence, but mainly because I find them aesthetically pleasing.

10.  Nanpu Bridge, Shanghai — The distinctive feature of this bridge is its spiral approach, which corkscrews up to great views along the Huangpu River, especially at night.

9.  Seven Mile Bridge, Florida — This ribbon of concrete and steel connects some of the Florida Keys as part of the so-called Overseas Highway.  As the name suggests, one’s car travels quite a distance over water.

8.  Old Bridge, Heidelberg, Germany — A low stone bridge that spans the Neckar River (a tributary of the Rhine), it affords views of Heidelberg Castle and the picturesque Old Town.  Although there have been bridges on this site since the 13th century, the current Old Bridge isn’t very old; it was restored following World War II.

7.  Brooklyn Bridge, New York — The familiar gothic arches span the East River, connecting lower Manhattan and the borough of Brooklyn.  It is counter to the George Washington Bridge across the Hudson on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.  The GW has its admirers, but I prefer the comfortable-old-boots look of the Brooklyn.

6.  Charles Bridge (Karluv Most), Prague — This pedestrian bridge is adorned with statues of saints, some dating back to the 17th century.  During the day, Charles Bridge is lively with street musicians and artisans selling their stuff; at night lovers stroll the bridge holding hands (and bottles).

5.  Ponte Vecchio, Florence — When it was built in the 1300s, shops and houses were incorporated into the structure.  Once these were butcher shops; the bridge is now basically a mall of jewelry stores.  Personally, I prefer seeing the beautiful Ponte Vecchio from the banks of the Arno River rather than walking on the bridge itself.

4.  Harbor Bridge, Sydney — The entire harbor has great views in every direction; it’s worth a walk out onto the bridge to take in the nearby Opera House and surroundings.

3.  Tower Bridge, London — Some people mistakenly think this distinctive bridge is London Bridge.  It’s called Tower Bridge because of its proximity to the Tower of London.  This bridge is a landmark; London Bridge, just up the Thames, is relatively forgettable.

2.  Pont Alexandre III, Paris — Decorated with bronze lamps and statuary from La Belle Époque, this bridge is a great vantage point from which to marvel at the Eiffel Tower and all of central Paris.

1.  Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco — It’s painted that distinctive orange color partly to keep ships from slamming into it on foggy days.  When the visibility is good, however, the bridge and the bay and the hilly landscape are components of the most gorgeous urban setting in the United States.

There are lots of other great bridges, of course, like Lion’s Gate in Vancouver and the Rialto in Venice, but these are my favorites (as of today).   What else belongs on the list?  What would be your top pick?

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Street Scenes

Uh, guys, you’re missing the Eiffel Tower. No, really, you’re practically in its shadow.

Across Paternoster Square from St. Paul’s Cathedral in London is a public “lav”.  That’s where I happened to be when an elegantly dressed British businessman bustled in and approached the restroom attendant.  “Could you clean me off, mate?  A pigeon has gone and mucked all over me.”

Apparently pigeon droppings on men’s suits were not an uncommon occurrence here; the attendant responded, “Twenty pence.”  The businessman impatiently agreed to the price for emergency cleaning, saying “Yeah, yeah.  Filthy beasts.”

One can plan a visit to a major attraction like St. Paul’s, or the Tower of Pisa, or Zion National Park, but you can’t make advance arrangements for moments like that.  They just happen, and those chance encounters are bonuses that enrich the fund of memories, as in “We’ll always have Paris — and that funny waiter.”  Here’s that story…

Our friend Chris Plutte was living in Paris; he took Sally and me to a restaurant called Le Gamin.  The waiter had a dry sense of humor; he enjoyed acting the part of a stereotypically rude Parisian.  We’d ask for something, like more water, and he’d huff “non”… and then would smile and get it for us. 

After the meal, Chris wanted coffee, and told the waiter to bring the “special coffee” for madame.  He returned a couple of minutes later with a cup and saucer; as the waiter started to place it in front of Sally, he pretended to stumble.  The cup and saucer clattered, and for a split second it looked like she would get showered with hot coffee… but the cup was empty.  We all laughed, and the waiter was pleased that his little joke had worked again, for what must have been the thousandth time he had pulled it on someone.

Here’s another travel experience that had nothing to do with the scenery:  While waiting for a ferry boat on Ambergris Caye in Belize, a guy in a ragged T-shirt and swimming trunks struck up a conversation.  Well, it was more of a monologue, really — he went on at length about how great it was to live in Belize with its natural beauty, fantastic dive spots, friendly people, etc.

He told us that he had sold all his belongings back in the States but had no regrets, because he was loving the life he’d made here in Belize.  I asked him how long he’d been living here.  “A week,” he said.

Several hours later we were in the vicinity of that same ferry dock in San Pedro Town again.  As we were wandering by a beach bar ironically called Amigos del Mar, we heard two guys snarling at each other:  “Go away.”  “No, you go away.”  “Yeah?  Let’s see you make me.”  It went on in that vein; as we passed, we noticed that one of the combatants was the guy who had moved here from the U.S. a week ago.

Every trip seems to have memorable street scenes like that, but for now I’ll conclude with an experience in New York City that had figurative and literal resonance for me.

In the massive subway station under Times Square I heard what was, for me, an unmistakable sound:  A guy was playing a saw with a violin bow.  My dad had played the saw, although not nearly as well as this old black man in the subway.  I put some cash in the street musician’s tip container, partly in appreciation for bringing back a memory of my childhood, even though I was many miles (and many years) away from home.

Pub Grub

Travelers have always seemed to come home from France or Italy raving about the wonderful meals they had there.  People returning from England, though, rarely mentioned the food.  If they did, it was lumped in with other trip misfortunes, like lost luggage or a nosebleed.  British food may have gotten its bad reputation back when restaurants there had relatively few choices on their menus.  Those tended to be organ meats, and the method of preparation was either boiled or burned.

In the last decade or so, however, the quality has improved greatly; I’ve had excellent meals in London at places like J. Sheekey and Le Caprice.  I also have to confess that I’ve enjoyed the food in places with names like Bag O’ Nails, Lamb and Flag, Museum Tavern, and The Prospect of Whitby.  It may not be fashionable to admit, but… I like pub grub.

A few pubs offer little more than peanuts and pickled eggs; others serve burgers, lasagna, and so help me, even Thai cuisine.  I like those things too, but they aren’t really what I think of as classic pub food.  Among my favorites in that category are:

•  Ploughman’s Lunch   This is served with various components, but is always a cold meal.  It usually consists of cheese and bread, complemented with a salad or half an apple or occasionally a hard-boiled egg.  The cheese is the attraction for me.  As you probably know, the Brits make some good ones.

•  Jacket Potato  In the U.S., this is known as a baked potato, but the pub version is frequently served with jazzier toppings, such as peppercorn sauce, bacon bits and/or cheese.  Jacket potatoes can also be “twice-baked”; that is, the baked innards are scooped out, mixed with other good stuff and put back into the oven — basically it’s seasoned mashed potatoes in a crispy potato skin.

•  Shepherd’s Pie  This dish has mashed potatoes as the “pie crust” that encases ground meat, vegetables, and gravy.  Shepherd’s pie is often made with lamb mince; when ground beef is used, it is sometimes called Cottage Pie.  Either way, it’s delicious.

•  Fish and Chips  are a mainstay on pub menus; you probably don’t need a description, do you?  A couple of items that may need some explanation are…

•  Bangers and Mash  This is a dish made of sausage (“bangers”) and mashed potatoes, often accompanied by fried onions.  It’s a little too greasy for my taste, but some patrons find that a generous application of ale helps it go down more easily.

•  Bubble and Squeak  is something like hash browns; it’s made from leftover vegetables, primarily potatoes and cabbage, which are fried.  The name supposedly derives from the sound it makes while cooking, and it may also apply to the sound it makes when it reaches your stomach.  For some reason the Brits tend to think of Bubble and Squeak as a breakfast food, but it shows up on pub menus, too.

Pub food isn’t elegant (or healthy), but it tastes pretty darn good.  The bonhomie or fellowship or whatever you want to call it is nice, too — eating in a pub is sort of like a church social, only with lots of beer.

From This Point, Your Wait Will Be…

An April morning in the Louvre

An April morning in the Louvre

A British publication called the Art Newspaper annually publishes rankings of the world’s most visited museums, based on attendance figures.  Publicizing the throngs of visitors is a little like someone telling a first date that he’s broke and has a violent temper.  Why publicize your least attractive trait?  I seriously doubt that anyone chooses to go to an art museum based on the likelihood of getting jostled by German tourists.

The figures are also a little misleading because the list only includes art museums; attractions like the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., with its five million annual visitors, are excluded.  For what it’s worth, here are the world’s most visited (art) museums for 2008, with a few comments of my own…

1) The Louvre, Paris     8.5 million visitors

Once the palace of Louis XIV, it became a museum in 1793.  This massive building displays over 35,000 works of art and houses many, many more.  In addition to European paintings, there are Near Eastern antiquities, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman antiquities — well, a lot of just about anything that is considered art.  It is not only the most visited, it is arguably the most famous museum in the world — if not necessarily the best.

Visitor Info:  Closed Tuesdays.  Admission is €9 for the permanent collections; €13 for permanent collections and temporary exhibitions.  In the past, admission has been free on Bastille Day (July 14), but I’m not sure that’s still the case.

Star Attractions:  Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Winged Victory of Samothrace, Michelangelo’s Slaves.

2) The British Museum, London     5.93 million

Masterpieces of painting are on display elsewhere in London, so this is not what we often think of as an art museum, with gallery after gallery of canvas in ornate gilt frames.  The museum opened in 1759 when the British Empire sprawled across the globe, so loot from around the world was brought here.  Some countries are trying to get their treasures back, but in the meantime — they’re in the British Museum.

Visitor Info:  Open every day.  Admission is free, except for some special exhibitions.

Star Attractions:  The Rosetta Stone, the Elgin Marbles (sculptures from the Parthenon), the Magna Carta.

3) National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.     4.96 million

A relative newcomer among the world’s great museums, it opened in the early 1940s, thanks to the donated collection of financier Andrew Mellon and others.  The National Gallery is located on the Mall, at 4th and Constitution.  A second wing, the East Building, opened in 1978.

Visitor Info:  Open daily; admission is free.

Star Attractions:  Ginevra de Benci (Leonardo da Vinci), Woman Holding a Balance (Vermeer), Self-Portrait (Vincent Van Gogh).

4) Tate Modern, London     4.95 million

This branch of the Tate was created in 2000, residing in what was an abandoned power station on the Southwark side of the Thames.  The original Tate, now called Tate Britain, was named for its principal benefactor, Sir Henry Tate.  (He got stinking rich by patenting a method to make sugar into cubes.)  The collection outgrew the building, so Tate Britain now has only British art; Tate Modern exhibits international modern art.

Visitor Info:  Open daily; admission is free except for major exhibitions.  A ferry runs between the Tate Modern and Tate Britain — cost for the boat ride is £5.

Star Attractions:  Water-Lilies (Claude Monet), The Three Dancers (Pablo Picasso), The Kiss (Rodin).

5) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City     4.82 million

American tycoons got a relatively late start in acquiring art — Europeans had been at it for hundreds of years before Americans jumped into the market.  The Yanks were able to make some fine purchases, though, and a lot of them eventually wound up here.  The museum opened in 1872, but moved to its current Central Park location in 1880.

Visitor Info:  Closed Mondays, except holiday Mondays.  Admission:  $20 for adults; children under 12 free.

Star Attractions:  Aristotle With A Bust of Homer (Rembrandt), The Musicians (Caravaggio), Washington Crossing The Delaware (Emanuel Leutze), Juan de Pareja (Velázquez).

In spite of my earlier grumbles about the crowds, I encourage you to visit an art museum soon.  With luck, maybe you’ll be there on a slow day.