Exploring Belfast

Belfast City Hall

Photo collage of suburban street and pub in Belfast

Other than going to a gig and staying in a plush hotel, we didn’t really have any plans for our Belfast stay. I’m always happiest wandering about cities, lingering at local coffee stops and hunting down independent bookshops. It’s lovely to have a weekend without a to do list.

Belfast feels just the right size to be able to get a feel for the place after a morning of ambling. We visited the cathedral (stained glass, and mosaics well worth a peek) and the oldest library in Belfast, complete with wonky wooden stairs and grumpy men peering disdainfully at us from ancient leather armchairs.

This city is full of varied architecture: tall old brick, curved arches, ornate cornices, and square stocky buildings that gave some corners an air of Boston, MA about them.

Belfast Palm House and bench from outside

Inside Belfast Palm House, roof and wall photo collage

In our limited flight carry-on allowance, Tom chose running shoes over camera. So we traded in photography for street-pounding, and discovered the botanical gardens. A cold, clear, easy Sunday morning is perfect for a wander round a park, and the place was buzzing with other people who had the same idea.

The palm house was a strange pocket of tropical warmth in the middle of a chilly November day. It felt delicious to have aimless time to wander, smell the damp earthy greeness, look up at these old paned frames and imagine people doing the same almost 200 years ago.

Belfast Palm House behind autumn trees

So, thank you The National, for making your only UK weekend gig in a city that I’ve never been to, and giving me the excuse for a weekend of wandering!

Day Tripping

London's Southbank

Pop up herb garden and hanging window frames photo collage

Whilst we were planning to spend the weekend in London, it was too hot to be far from the beach.  So, it’s been a weekend of contrasts.  We spent Saturday up in London, and Sunday by the sea.  With tickets to see Tom’s mum sing with 16,000 other Rock Choir singers at the Millenium Dome, we took the Thames clipper out to Greenwich.  A hot day spent in London, without taking the tube, is the best sort of day.

Fountains at London's Southbank

Looking down at skateboards, Hungerford Bridge London

We wandered through the Southbank centre and soaked up the herb gardens, food stalls, live music, and fountains.  It was heartbreaking to see the once-lively skateboard ground boarded up.  Though I’d heard rumours, I had no idea it was actually at an end, and the vibrancy of the Southbank was all the poorer for it.

Looking up at the London Eye

View of Tate Modern from the Millennium Bridge, London

View of Winchester Wharves, London from the water

Catching the Thames Clipper was worth the wait, as we saw London from a rare angle, out East along the wharves.  Then, picnic in the park, followed by singing in the arena.

London Shard and Cutty Sark photo collage

Rock choir singing at the O2 Arena July 2013

Rock choir singing at the O2 Arena July 2013

It was quite an incredible thing to see so many singers all doing their thing all at the same time.  These guys are coordinated!  Of course, we couldn’t spot Suzie in the crowd, but we could easily spot the Welsh contingent, who wore giant daffodils, and the group waving neon electric guitars.  Everyone was clearly having a great time, and I loved the celebration of how fun it is to sing in a group.  I defy anyone to not feel good after a little singing, and even  better after singing with others.  You can find a local choir near you at Making Music. Or you could buy this beautiful book and sing along at home!

Singing Big

View of Royal Albert Hall stage

Close-up of Royal Albert Hall stage

So this was my Sunday. After months of rehearsals, our little chamber choir got to sing big, with two other choruses and a full orchestra, at the Royal Albert Hall. Being directed by a famous composer to a sold-out venue on this scale feels kind of a big deal looking at these pictures. At the time, I was focused on where to stand, watching for the alto entries, and soaking up the sound of so many skilled musicians. But my goodness, that hall looks big doesn’t it? I’ve sung here once before as part of 1300 voices. This time we were a smaller bunch, invited by the composer, and it felt even more of a privilege to be part of. It’s amazing the places music takes you. (Photos thanks to Edward Radcliffe)

A Paris reunion

St Germain coffee photo

Last Thursday I took an early Eurostar, headed for Paris and a girls’ family reunion with my mum and grama. We celebrated our triple birthdays, spanning the summer months, and stretched out our long weekend with plenty of coffee, art and wandering.

Photo collage of Hotel Chopin

Photo collage of Jardin des Plantes

Paris collage of d'orsay tea and lauduree macarons

New discoveries included beautiful gardens at the Jardin des Plantes, tea at the grand old Cafe du Lion of the Musee d’Orsay, and sweet things on the streets of St Germain. We walked our feet off and, when they would take us no further, hitched a ride on a rickshaw.

Paris rickshaw taxi and Wendy walking collage

Paris always offers new delights; an old city that never gets old. We stayed at the Hotel Chopin, which I would recommend to anyone. It has a lovely old shabby feel, with immaculate rooms, and friendly staff.  I hope I’ll be returning some day soon!

Meanwhile, my mum and grama have headed South, to the Loire, while Tom and I head up North, to catch up with friends and explore the Lake District for the first time.  Boots and bikes are packed.  Can’t wait!