Easter Sunday at Reims Cathedral

There are surely many reasons for a visit to Reims. Not least amongst them is the superb gothic Cathedral of Our Lady, which is arguably finer than its more famous cousin in Paris. The ancient kings of France certainly thought so, as they were crowned here between 1364 and 1825.

Reims today is a modern city with an ancient heart, mixing the tram with the bicycle and making way for the walker in its expansive and pedestrianised boulevards. The cathedral almost hides away in the centre, its towering Gothic presence taking you by surprise as you turn into Rue Libergier.

We chose a Sunday to visit. In fact, we chose Easter Sunday. We both wanted to enjoy and take part in the festivities for probably the most important Christian festival of the year. I had already tried to find out if visitors were welcome on such a special occasion but had not been able to get a definitive answer. In fact, I had not found any answers at all.

So we just turned up.

And joined around a thousand other people enjoying the marvelous acoustics and calm grandeur of this beautiful cathedral.

Now call me old fashioned if you like, but if I visit any sort of ‘sacred’ site or building, I’m always keen to keep as low a profile as possible. While this may not be appropriate for the Hindu festival of Holi or the fireworks of the Festa del Rentore in Venice, it is certainly a polite move on Easter Sunday in a cathedral during the service.

It was, therefore, a shame and a distraction that the cathedral authorities needed to deploy volunteers to politely request a stop to filming and photography and to gently impose a little decorum on the not so small number of tourists who insisted that their visit to the cathedral was not to be interrupted by anything as inconvenient as the 45 minutes it was being used for the purpose for which it was designed.

A beautiful, majestic building which is a must see if you are anywhere near the city of Reims or travelling in the Champagne area. Extra special on Easter Sunday.

Details: Reims Cathedral

Reims Cathedral exterior

Where to stay in Venice

An article that starts with the words ‘Where to stay in’ is usually a sales pitch of some kind. I’m afraid I start looking for the vested interest.

So the title for this piece should really have been…

‘Here’s a nice hotel we found when we stayed in Venice recently.’

But that would be to obscure my intention to sing the praises of an entire island.

Cruise ship in the Venice Lido dwarfing the city behind.

I’m sure you have heard the many horror stories about how busy the city of Venice gets, how overcrowded it is in summer and how it has almost turned into a Disney parody of itself. Indeed, just this week, local residents have taken to the streets or rather the waterways to protest at the enormous cruise ships that dwarf the city and disgorge thousands of passengers at a time, all seemingly hell bent on heading for Piazza St Marco for a selfie or two.

And Venice can be like that. Pick the wrong day or the wrong place and your visit will be overwhelmed by tourist hordes. But Venice has plenty of places more civilised than San Marco or the Rialto Bridge.

One of those peaceful havens is the island of Giudecca. The island is large, being narrow and approximately two kilometres in length.

A short vaporetto ride is rewarded with stunning views back across to the main island. A long, wide and largely uncluttered promenade leads from the patrol ships of the Guardia Finanzia to the Hilton Hotel with it’s open air, rooftop pool and eighth floor Skyline Bar. The island is a haven of peace and tranquility.

On the promenade and in the many backstreets you will find peaceful bars and small restaurants that cater to a more relaxed clientele.

We stayed in the Bauer Palladio which was entirely wonderful. The food was excellent, the rooms were first rate and you may breakfast in the lovely and rather extensive gardens. Add on a private shuttle boat to the main island and you have a peaceful and relaxing stay a ten minute boat ride away from the hustle and bustle of St Marks Square.



Venice – things to do

Bauer Palladio Hotel and Spa

The other changing of the guard

One of London’s favourite tourist attractions is the Changing of the Guard. It was even famous enough to be the subject of a poem by A A Milne.

Not everyone realises that there are actually two ceremonies. One, the best known, takes place at Buckingham Palace. The ‘Guard’, in this case, consists of foot soldiers and a marching band.

The Palace ceremony starts just after 11:00 with the arrival of the old guard from St James Palace with musical accompaniment. Between April and July, the guard change takes place daily. The rest of the year, the ceremony is held every two days.

At the same time as the Buckingham Palace guard change, the mounted guard, down the road at Horse Guards Parade, is also changing. Mounted troopers, usually from the Household Cavalry, travel down the Mall and assemble on the Horse Guards parade ground.

During this second parade, there are very few barriers between the audience and the participants. And if you like horses, you can get up close and personal with the Police horses of the escort while waiting for things to happen.

Details: Changing the guard at Horse Guards Parade

Always look up

Many people these days seem to spend a lot of time staring at a small screen. A good proportion of the rest never look above street level. If you do take the time to look above street level, above the anodyne, corporate shopfronts you will often be surprised by what you find.

Modern streets at eye level become Victorian or Georgian terraces above eye level. Glass shop fronts give way to clues about the real history of the neighbourhood at higher levels.

If you look up you will see stuff that most other people miss.

This is particularly true in Piccadilly Circus. Most people who have visited, will have seen the Horses of Helios charging out of the fountain on the corner of Haymarket. Few will have looked up to see the Daughters of Helios flying from the roof above. Known as the Three Graces, they are by the same sculptor as the horses below.

So looking up rather than down can certainly pay dividends. Just be careful you don’t walk into anything…

Details: Piccadilly Circus

The ghost line

I suppose it is a bit cruel to describe the Emirates Airline, the only urban cable car in the UK, as a ghost line. Unfortunately, I’m not the first person to point out that it is severely underused.

So why is the cable car so empty?

If you are a tourist wishing to ride for fun, it’s a reasonable trek out to the O2 / Excel area to take the ride.

If you want to use the cable car as a transport option to cross the Thames, it’s that bit more expensive than using the rail connection and certainly not the fastest way to travel.

But that would be entirely missing the point. If you fancy a cheap adventure ride with spectacular views of the O2, the Isle of Dogs and London City Airport, the effort and the cost are extremely well worth it. And there probably won’t be any queues…

Details: Emirates Air Line

Visit the Reichstag

Driven by recent political history, a key tenet of modern German democracy is openness. Indeed. the design of the refurbishment of the Reichstag building allows for views down into the debating chamber of the Bundestag.

Originally built in 1894 the Reichstag was burnt down in 1933 and remained largely a ruin until German reunification in the 1990s. A free visit to the dome can be arranged by booking online in advance.

If you don’t manage to book before you arrive in Berlin, there is a kiosk on the south side of Scheidemannstraße which may have tickets available.

Full details: Visit the Reichstag building


America’s Dead Sea

If you fancy a swim in the Dead Sea without the travel or the expense and you live in the USA, you could always try the California equivalent.

No water flows out of Mono Lake so, over the years, the basin has become extremely rich in salts and minerals scoured from the surrounding hills. This high concentration of minerals is responsible for the simultaneously weird and wonderfully beautiful structures that are found in and around the lake.

Those found above water were actually created underwater, before the levels fell due to water extraction in recent years.

Rich in all sorts of essential minerals, a swim is bracing in winter months, refreshing in the summer and must surely be healthy at whatever time of year you visit.

We were there in the summer and swam from the South car park. Bring appropriate footwear as the shore and lake bottom is rocky. Swimming goggles will prevent your eyes being stung by the high salt content of the water and fresh water for a post swim rinse is also a must.

One thing that might put you off partaking of the waters are the clouds of small flies that hover perpetually over the water at the edge of the lake. Remarkably, they completely avoid people. When we swam from the Navy Beach area, we were not bothered by them at all.

A number of activities are organised by the Mono Lake Committee

Details: Mono Lake

Mono Lake, California
Mono Lake, California


Views of St Paul’s

Probably the most iconic photograph of St Paul’s Cathedral was taken by Herbert Mason on the night of 29 December 1940.

The image shows the dome of St Paul’s amongst the devastation of a bombing raid in the early hours of the morning. Surrounded by search light beams, fire and thick black smoke the image of the dome became a symbol of survival and suffering.

Original photograph: Daily Mail anniversary report

The image above shows the same dome in a much more modern context, reflected in the windows of the shopping centre at One New Change. One New Change has another claim to fame. Take the lift to the top floor of a building so ultra modern, it upset Prince Charles and you will be rewarded with a view over the rooftops to St Paul’s and the River Thames.

More information: Roof Terrace at One New Change

St Paul’s is a particularly striking building, situated on a slight hill and thankfully protected from many of the excessively high buildings that have come to dominate the London skyline in recent years. It is one of those buildings that is ever changing while still remaining the same.

It changes to suit the season and the light and the weather. It is a joy up close and beautiful from afar. The most famous of Wren’s designs it is always worth the time spent.

Details: St Paul’s Cathedral

Gaping Gill – the winch meet

The tallest unbroken waterfall in England is actually underground.

Fell Beck, a stream that flows down the slopes of Ingleborough in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, eventually plunges 98 metres down the main shaft of Gaping Ghyll. If you do decide to visit, please make sure you take care not to follow it by accident.

If you would like to safely explore what happens to the water as it disappears into the main chamber of Gaping Gill, plan your visit around the May or August Bank Holiday. Around the May Bank Holiday, Bradford Pothole Club set up a winch above the shaft, divert the flow of the stream and provide a thrill seekers ride into the bowels of the earth.

A similar arrangement is offered by the Craven Pothole Club around the August Bank Holiday.

The main chamber of Gaping Gill, at nearly 100 metres high, is the biggest underground cavern in the UK. A laser survey has shown that it is indeed capable of living up to the reputation it has to be big enough to contain York Minster. It might, however, be quite a squeeze getting it in down the main shaft.

There are other routes into the main chamber all of which require a reasonable level of skill, stamina and fitness. These routes should never be attempted without proper training and supervision.

The winch route, however, is suitable for anyone from 7 years upwards.

More details on citybreakinfo.com: Gaping Gill

The Wall Street Bull

You might expect that the Charging Bull statue in New York, recognised worldwide as a symbol of Wall Street, was a specially commissioned piece of sculpture. I always thought it was funded by the New York Stock Exchange or the City of New York.