London notes (with porn)

the Olympics countdown clock in Trafalgar Square

I was all set to settle in to my summer travel hiatus when an invitation arrived for an interesting-sounding press event in London. I did a quick check of ticket prices (totally affordable, thanks to EasyJet), sent out a couple emails to see if friends would be in town (they would!), and decided to go. I think I’d jump on almost any excuse to go to London these days. I have a huge crush on this city. Continue reading

A stroll through Halle

Markt in Halle an der Saale

Halle an der Saale might be one of the largest German cities you’ve never heard of. In the little-visited eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, Halle was my home for three years during the 1990s. I was thrilled when I managed to talk my friend Kim into stopping by on our way back to Munich from Leipzig a few weeks ago. Continue reading

Edinburgh: sightseeing for free

Edinburgh: view from the World of Illusions

As I mentioned in the comments of my castle post, tourist attractions in Edinburgh tend to fall into one of two categories: free, and rather overpriced. Travelers on a budget can focus in on the free sights, as there are plenty. I chose to do a lot of both, because I was in Edinburgh for a long time, and because the average price per attraction is still pretty low if you average the free stuff with the expensive stuff. This post covers my favorites of the free sights. Continue reading

London keeps calling

Let’s see, where was I? From Italy I’ll skip ahead a few months to March, when I went back to London for another week of BritFun. This was the trip where a charming old chap tried to pick up my friend Em and I. Naturally, there are other trip highlights to report, too, so let me get on that.

The timing of this trip was designed to coincide with a David Sedaris* reading. Did you know he recently moved to London? Not that I’m stalking him or anything. It was fun to finally learn what Hugh looks like, though. Dapper.

That wasn’t even our only trip to the theater district; we also took in a (very affordable) matinee showing of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof starring James Earl Jones. Oh, that voice. TKTS won’t tell you this, but some theaters release some half-price tickets at the box office shortly before a performance.

We visited a couple of London’s amazing museums, including the National Portrait Gallery (which I love so much I want to marry it – Judi Dench and the Tudors all under one roof); the Tate Britain (where we intended to see a special exhibit involving elephant dung but we got lost in the joys of the permanent collection instead – especially the John Singer Sargent and Francis Bacon rooms); and the Victoria & Albert (for a small but interesting exhibit on high-tech art). We also did plenty of gallery hopping. London oozes art.

And of course we ate some delicious things, including giant thalis at Masala Zone and sushi at about a dozen places. Alas, my note-taking was a little lax when it came to all the great restaurants and pubs. There was also tea at Sketch, whose waitresses were decidedly unfriendly but I am going to go back soon anyway because 1) they have a staircase covered in blood and 2) I didn’t get to use the pod toilets yet. Plus I am hoping their macaroni and cheese is good.

Besides all that, we took some wonderful walks. Em has a deck of cards, each one featuring a different fun walk through London, and they came in quite handy for coaxing us into new, different neighborhoods. One walk was through the hipster and sex shop district; another was through the judicial area, where the barristers buy their wigs. Alas, we didn’t see anyone wearing one. There’s a goal for my next trip.

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* If you are unfamiliar with David Sedaris, go get yourself one of his books right now. Preferably an audiobook. Me Talk Pretty One Day is a good one to start with. You will pee your pants.

Christmas in Rome, part 1

I’m a bit behind on my travel blogging. I’ll skip over a couple trips all together, but our winter adventures in Italy deserve a little more attention than they have received so far.

We arrived in Rome on Christmas Day to find the metro closed. No signs, no information, just a big metal gate closing off the entrance. Luckily our hotel was within easy walking distance of the train station.

Speaking of our accommodations, Albergo Ottocento is a nice, well-located boutique hotel within walking distance of many places of interest in Rome. And walk we did. The Christmas tree on the Spanish steps was a bit of a disappointment, but the sunset view from the top wasn’t.

The next day we headed over to the Vatican to see their tree and giant nativity scene*, and happened to catch a glimpse of the pope speaking to the crowd from a comically far-off window. I think he was discussing his new plan to get child molestation down to acceptable levels.

We saw a lovely art exhibit at the Chiostro del Bramante and then did some more wandering, including through the Christmas market at Piazza Navona. It was giant and loud and bright and tacky; nothing at all like a German Christmas market but fun anyway. A passing tourist’s remark about the “Panthanon” sent me into a giggling fit that could only be cured by a Campari-laden cocktail at the oh-so-charming Caffè della Pace.

More art at the Villa Borghese, which is a nightmare of rules (reservations required, you get kicked out after two hours, the required bag check refuses to take coats) but they get away with it since their art collection is so wonderful. Bernini statues, I will never get tired of looking at you. There was a special Carravagio Bacon exhibit going on; while I enjoyed the paintings I came out still having no clue what the justification was for putting those two artists together.

I get to the important stuff in part 2 of this post – coming soon.

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* My husband was surprised to see that one of the wise men was black. Guess it’s not like that in Montana.

Museum Brandhorst: Munich’s newest stop for contemporary art

I still live in Munich, I swear. Never mind the fact that I’ve neglected to write a single post about this city in the last two months.

This weekend we decided to check out Munich’s new museum, the Museum Brandhorst. I’ve been marveling over the building’s stripey exterior for months now. The colorful ceramic bars are certainly… different. The interior is quite lovely and houses the collection well.

Cy Twombly is the star of the Brandhorst collection. I’ve never been a particular fan of his paintings, but I really liked the Lepanto series (which ocupies the museum’s central gallery). Plus it reminded me of my favorite iphone game, Trace.

My personal favorites in the exhibit were the large figurative paintings by Eric Fischl. I’ve always had a preference for paintings, but the museum has plenty of art made out of giant cardboard boxes, neon lights, and human hair, if that’s your thing.

Museum Brandhorst is in the same area as Munich’s three Pinakotheken, and can be visited along with them on a €12 day pass. Like the Pinakotheken, Museum Branhorst only costs €1 on Sundays, but that price attracts a lot of folks. If you like to get audioguides, the total price difference (a couple euros) isn’t worth the Sunday crowd.

Tallinn: worth a visit

As I mentioned in my first post about Estonia, we absolutely loved Tallinn. The old medieval city couldn’t have been cuter, and learning about the history of Estonia was quite fascinating. Estonia has been independent for very little of its history, which makes this particular period seem quite cherished and celebrated. Perhaps it’s this new-found pride in their country that allows the Estonians to smile politely at the herds of tourists tromping through their historical city center.

The old town is full of restaurants and bars, almost all sporting English menus to lure in tourists. There are also plenty of craft shops and galleries, most selling very nice things. We enjoyed spending a couple hours in the Linnamuuseum learning about the history of Estonia, but I preferred the personal perspective of the guide on the tour we took.

One could easily be forgiven for never leaving the old town at all, charming as it is, but we found some interesting destinations outside the city, as well. We took a combo bus/walking tour which brought us along the coast and out to the bizarre architectural structure which is the Lauluvaljak, an outdoor theater where a big folk song festival takes place every so many years. But the real excitement of the theater is the singing revolution that took place here, which helped lead Estonia to independence from the USSR in 1991.

Another favorite bit of our trip was the KUMU art museum, housed in a gorgeous new building and easy to reach by tram from the old town. Despite the museum’s oppressive rules for visitors, I was highly impressed with the quality of the collection. Lunch at the cafe was pretty good, too.

Most restaurants in Tallinn seemed a bit overpriced, but one of my favorite meals was super cheap and delicious – a garlic-and-cheese-stuffed Estonian pancake at Kompressor, which had a very student-hangout vibe (and good beer on tap).

One afternoon (or was it evening? Hard to tell when the sky gets dark at midnight.) we grabbed a beer on the terrace at Beer House, Tallinn’s only microbrewery.

I liked the juxtaposition (found on many doors) of the English “Open” with the days of the week starting with P, N, R, and L. Punday? Lorsdag?

Tallinn was a great place to spend a few days, and it inspired me to visit the other Baltic capitals someday soon. If you have less time, Tallinn can be done as a day trip from Helsinki, as the boat takes only 2 hours.

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