A Self-Guided Tour of the Pocket Parks of Shrewsbury

I don’t know if it’s because my time here has come to an end, but getting up this morning was just about impossible. I am absolutely exhausted and looking forward to a very long lie-in my first morning in Brighton. It’s a good thing my last day in Shrewsbury was sunny, otherwise I would have been tempted to not do my final walking tour and instead just spend the afternoon on the couch cuddling Puppy while watching movies!

But it was a beautiful day, so I set off late morning to do the Pocket Parks of Shrewsbury walking tour. We’ve been to most of these stops before and this is the first tour where I wish I’d followed my instincts and done it in my own order since I ended up walking all over town, sometimes for almost nothing, and having to backtrack to get home. The exercise was good, of course, but things were getting rather repetitive. Still, there were a few stops on this tour that were unique and I caught new things even at places where I’ve been.

Here’s a map of the tour (click to embiggen).

“There are several small green havens of peace in Shrewsbury town centre, quiet places to sit, rest, or have a sandwich. … Most are tended by the Town Council gardeners who call them pocket parks.”

So the tour starts at St Alkmund’s Churchyard, where we’ve been countless times. I made it a point to walk around and catch different perspectives.

“St Alkmund’s Church stands on the flattened top of one of the two hills within the river loop, looking as if perched on a pedestal. A Saxon church was once on the site, but the current building dates from the 1790s, except for the tower, which is late 15th century. From Saxon times until 1261, the King’s Market was held here in the space around and between this church and its neighbour, St. Julian’s.”

Note “the unusual 18th century cast iron windows…”

I loved the pretty turquoise front door.

The pub is called The Three Fishes.

Notice a discrepancy between the church and street signs?

Both spellings appear to be used interchangeably.

From St Alkmund’s, I moved to St Julian’s Detached Churchyard, which I was curious about and would be a favourite spot for me to sneak to on a lunch break if I worked in the area.

“This was founded in the early 1800s when John Oakley, a local grocer, sold part of his garden to St Julian’s Church as an extra burial ground. There was a great shortage of burial space in town centre graveyards at this time. He and his wife were buried here; the last burial, in 1881, was of his daughter at age 81. A century later, the Town Council took over the care of this graveyard and it has become a quiet secluded pocket park minutes from the bustle of Wyle Cop. The tombstones seem to form a paved area…”

I occasionally see signs like these in England, making it easier to navigate towns with no street pattern.

Next stop was Old St Chad’s Churchyard, where I spent so much time on the tour of the Shuts that I did not go back in as I did not learn anything new.

The leaflet did make me notice this building across from the chapel. This house “illustrates a fashion that was common in the town in the 18th century. At this time, houses were sometimes modernised by brick skins and plaster to cover the ‘old-fashioned’ Tudor timberwork.”

It was then quite a long stroll to my next destination, about a block from the abbey. On the way there, I discovered that the route to my next destination was blocked.

The reason why became apparent very quickly. I didn’t realise it had rained so much in the last few days!

The tow path is fully immersed.

I crossed English Bridge and immediately turned left into the Abbey Gardens.

“These once belonged to the builder John Carline. He and his business partner John Tilley were responsible for building the Welsh Bridge. Carline and his family had a house at the side of the plot away from the river. In his riverside yard, he kept materials, pieces of fallen masonry, and his models of the lions for the base of Lord Hill’s Column; they are still here. At one time, this park was also known as Mr Palin’s Pleasure Gardens; residents came here to walk and admire abandoned pieces of sculpture, which were on display. Many of them are still here. The park is now known for its rhododendrons and azaleas in the spring. From this park, there are excellent views of the 18th century English Bridge, the river itself with its old towing path, and above it a silhouette of the town centre, including the old Royal Salop Infirmary, founded in the 18th century and now converted into flats and shops.”

I love that detailing on the stone columns. Can you see how twisted they are?

I couldn’t get over how lush and bright green everything was!

Daffodils!

A crocus, in early March!

A large part of the garden was under water!

I had to make my own way to my next stop, easily done as I now know my way around the downtown core. I followed the route along the water on the medieval tour, so I didn’t miss anything.

I thought this building had a rather lovely curve.

I was feeling peckish and decided to get a snack to tide me over to lunch. Café on the Cop looked inviting and had a cream tea for just £4 (for which you could have tea or a pot of coffee!). That was exactly what I wanted. I came in and took a seat and was immediately taken in by the unusual slate place mats.

The very sweet proprietor came over right away for my order. I decided on tea rather than coffee as the latter just didn’t feel right with this snack.  I was not offered a choice for the type of tea and whatever it was that came was very lovely. But now, check out my scone!

It was huge! It was equivalent to two scones anywhere else I’ve had a cream team. Needless to say, this became an early lunch! The preserves weren’t the best I’ve had (a jelly rather than a jam), but the scone was the best ever and the clotted cream hit the spot. I did not have the butter. This was definitely my favourite cream tea of the four I’ve enjoyed since discovering this treat at the British Museum.

My next stop was the castle! En route, I got very close to the yellow house we saw on the Tudor tour.

I got a good view of the library across the way.

What an impressive flower arrangement! Can you see the Union Jack?

The castle is now the Regimental Museum, for which you have to pay. But it’s free to walk around the grounds.

“This pocket park is part of the Norman castle built in the narrow neck of the meander by Roger of Montgomery, a relative of William the Conqueror.”  The castle was once connected to the town walls by a sandstone wall.

“Edward I added to the castle, building the great hall in the 1280s, when it was a link in the chain of castles guarding the Welsh border. … In the 18th century, the castle was remodelled by Thomas Telford for Sir William Pulteney, the wealthy owner. He also built, on the old motte, a summerhouse-folly named after Laura, Sir William’s daughter.”

That was my next stop, Laura’s Tower. Up I went!

I love how that stone has been worn from so many centuries of folks treading on it.

Laura’s Tower.

Unfortunately, you can’t go in, but you do get an incredible view of Shrewsbury.

The abbey.

I headed back down to walk the grounds a little.

More daffodils!

The next stop was the library garden and I wasn’t going to bother since there was no new information, but then I saw an interesting tidbit. So off I went to look at the turnable, “which was installed in 1983 to rotate library vans.”

I did pop into the garden to admire the flowers that were blooming. The garden was “planted to give all-year-round foliage colour with minimum maintenance.”

It was another long way to my next park, which we’d been to on my first day out and about in town. Spoiler: both were closed. 🙁 I would have been better off coming straight to the last one from the Abbey Gardens and finishing at the castle. But anyway… I love this shot of Castle Street. It just looks so… old!

Shrewsbury bus station.

St Chad Church in the background.

Welsh Bridge.

I came to find a locked gate the Quantum/Mardol Quay Garden. But I could at least see things from the street.

“This pocket park is located on the site of the Mardol Quay, built in 1607. Some of the original cobbles can be seen and here river boats loaded and unloaded — old accounts show that ‘for every barge load of wood or coal 12d; for a ton of other goods — from a burgess 2d and from a foreigner 4d.” Later, the warehouses were converted into a car repair shop, which eventually was cleared for road widening in 1958/60. A public garden was established on the riverside, which was redesigned in 2009 for the bicentenary of the birth, in Shrewsbury, of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of the The Origin of Species.”

Remember this odd thing?

“A sculpture, designed by Pearce and Lal and called Quantum Leap, has been likened to a shell, human vertebrae, DNA, and many other things and is locally known as The Slinky because of its similarity to the coiled-wire toy. The garden celebrates Shropshire’s geological history….”

I passed the Rowley House yet again on my way to my last stop, capturing it from a new angle.

Narrow driveway entrance.

Getting closer!

St Chad’s Church “with its adjoining graveyard was built in 1792 to replace the one that fell down. From the churchyard, you can see the unusual circular shape of the church, the largest of its kind in England. In the middle of the 19th century, as a result of the crowded and very unsanitary conditions in town centre graveyards, a Burial Act was passed closing urban burial grounds. As a result, in 1856, the General Cemetery was opened on the outskirts of the town with cooperation from all six parishes. The churchyard is now maintained, as a semi-natural woodland. In the centre, look for Scrooge’s gravestone, placed here for the filming of Dickens’ Christmas Carol in 1984.”

Well, the churchyard was closed. 🙁 A very kind worker came over and said to me, “Sorry, lovie, they’re doing works inside.” Lovie? I love British endearments!

So this is all I saw of the churchyard.

The church itself is large and impressive.

Its vicar is well-named.

Main entrance.

Across the street, balustrade paid for by the Horticultural Society.

Across the street is the unassuming final stop, The Dingle.

I really love this church!

Another vantage point of the hospital.

I headed home after, going all the way back up Pride Hill and down Castle Gates, which I’d done twice before already today. In desperate need of a haircut, I popped into a salon with a sign that said walk-ins welcome. I found that £15 was very expensive for the little work they had to do (I just shear the hair very short), but needs must and I felt much lighter when I got out.

I took the route by the train station to go home from there and it was after I did the turn at Morrison’s Lubricants that I noticed this door for the first time. Very curious.

Well, thus ends my lovely stay in Shrewsbury! I adored this town! Hebden Bridge was cute, not somewhere I would have wanted to be for long. I could certainly see myself in Shrewsbury.

The puppy sitting was restrictive, but it was a blessing in a way in that it forced me to stick close and really get to know the centre of town. There is so much of Shrewsbury that I did not see as I did not venture much on the other side of the river, but I definitely covered the touristy part of town and then some!

I’d consider the puppy minding part of the exercise a success. I know I did a very good job of it and I’m very proud that. It was very challenging, exhausting, and sometimes tedious, but it was also immeasurably rewarding and I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much with such joy on a daily basis.

So I’m heading out tomorrow at about 1PM and as long as I make my super tight connections (not counting on it), I’ll be in Brighton by 6PM. If I do make my connections, I’ll be pulling out of London Bridge in exactly 24 hours and 10 minutes for the final leg of my journey across this country.

My route ahead isn’t nearly this directly, but is well represented here.

The Victorians in Shrewsbury, a Self-Guided Walking Tour

Having completed the Tudor tour of Shrewsbury, I headed back to the Music Hall to commence the Victorians in Shrewsbury self-guided walking tour.

“Queen Victoria reigned from 1837 to 1901. These were years of peace, prosperity, population growth, invention, and expansion. Shrewsbury was not one of the boom towns and, although some working class estates and substantial middle class villas were erected in the suburbs,” the tour was limited to the town centre and its then new public and commercial buildings. “Many were built of high quality materials and were very varied in style because, of course, architectural styles did not change with the new monarch. Queen Victoria’s reign was also a time of greater regulation, moral certainty, growth of religious non-conformity, and considerable philanthropy.”

So the first stop was the Music Hall itself, where we finally get some information about it. It was “built in 1838-40. It looks classical and Greek and was known at first as Shrewsbury Public Rooms. It was built around a shut that led to a yard where engines of the Salop Fire Office were kept; this is now the entrance to the museum. The Music hall, with a choir and orchestra gallery, was to the left. The hall could seat nearly 800 and was also used for balls, banquets, lectures, meetings, and bazaars. … To the right of the shut, now the Visitor Information Centre, was the rebuilt Salop Fire Office; while a News Room occupied the elegant room on the first floor overlooking The Square, and a billiard room the floor above.”

It was this tour that finally gave me information on the unmarked statute at the front of The Square. Sorry for the wonky angle; there was a display in front of it.

So that’s Clive of India. “The Victorians decided to commemorate him, although his influence had been 100 years earlier in Georgian times. The sum of 2,000 guineas was raised by public subscription and Carlo Marochetti sculpted the figure, copying the likeness from a painting by Nathaniel Dance. In addition to his exploits in India, Clive was mayor in 1762 and M.P. for Shrewsbury three times. The statue dates from 1860.”

Across from Clive is a building in what I’ve learned is the Flemish style and which was built in 1892 from high quality materials for the Alliance Assurance Company, which is now the Halifax Building Society. “The carvings commemorate the companies that were incorporated into the Alliance at its creation.”

Next stop was the Victorian post box in front of Gullet Passage. It is late Victorian, hexagonal, and made of cast iron. It is called a Penfold box, after the designer. It would have originally been green since the boxes were only painted red starting in 1874. “Pre-charged mail, based on weight, was introduced at the very beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign and the volume grew dramatically from 76 million letters in 1839 to 350 million in 1850!”

On the way to the next stop, I was told to look at Claremont News, which has a typical Victorian small shop façade.

Next up is the Baptist Church, “which has recently been repaired and cleaned.” It “is very classical and less ornate than was usual for its date. The hard red bricks came from Ruabon in North Wales and were very popular at this time. … Here, they are paired with Grinshill stone, a local grey sandstone, to pick out the round-headed windows and Corinthian pilasters. This church cost £2,500 to build in 1878.

There is a lot of walking between stops on this store, so I had time to notice other things.

I have one of those…

These steps look very precarious.

Next up was The Quarry and the entrance to Wonderland…

AKA The Dingle.

St Chad’s Church

Entrance to Wonderland/the Dingle. As you can imagine, my expectations were low.

First glimpses of this faery tale world before the bla bla bla.

Looking back to the entrance from which I came.

“This is the Dingle, created from a quarry, which produced building stone for the early town. Long abandoned, a pool had formed in the lowest part and was used for watering cattle; one old photo shows children skating here during a cold spell. The quarry was landscaped in 1879, with a path and shrubs around the lake and a more formal area of flower beds that are replanted seasonally.”

The Dingle is the last stop on my next tour, so here is more information from that guide: “Although the rest of the Quarry was laid out as a park with an avenue of lime trees by the Corporation in 1719, an early photograph shows the Dingle as a ‘wild’ area, with a natural-looking pool; Charles Darwin is said to have fished there for newts. … The fountain in the centre of the formal flower beds was given to the town in 1889 by the Independent Order of Oddfellows. The gardens are a Percy Thrower legacy … He was park superintendent from 1946 to 1974 and became known nationally as the TV gardener. The Dingle is the jewel in the crown of the Parks Department, … each year it is brought to perfection for the Flower Show in August. Trees in the Dingle include Maidenhair Tree, Sweet Gum, Ginko, Tulip Tree, Swamp Cyprus, and an enormous mature Beech.”

Back to the Victorian guide, “At the far end of the lake is the statue of Sabrina, Goddess of the River Severn, now reclining in her own grotto…. The Earl of Bradford presented her to the town in 1879.”

I had fun watching the ducks for a bit.

Interesting artwork in a tree.

What an amazing spot, like a miniature Buchart Gardens.

I reluctantly left The Dingle and found the cast iron bandstand that dates from 1879 and which in recent years has been revived every odd Sunday afternoon

Across the river is the Pengwern Boathouse, with its typical Victorian architectural style.

“The Boat Club was founded in 1871 when rowing was very popular and it had racing boats as well as a number of pleasure boats. It moved to these premises in 1881 and still flourishes, holding a popular regatta in May.”

Very near the stop where I took the boathouse pictures, I came across this stout post just before the Kingsland Bridge, which you can see in blue in this picture. “This is an old ferry post, the windlass can be seen set back above some steps on the other bank. There were several of these pedestrian ferries in central Shrewsbury, which saved people a long walk to either the Welsh or English Bridge. This one was superseded by the Kingsland Bridge in 1882, which gave access to the fine Victorian suburb of Kingsland and the new Shrewsbury School. … The bridge, known locally as The Penny Bridge, as it charges tolls, has always been privately owned and operated. The ferry remained for some years and the boys from Shrewsbury School used it to avoid paying the toll to cross the river.

I now had a very long stroll ahead along the water, so I took the time to enjoy the surroundings.

Back of a structure we will see from the front…

Kingsland Bridge.

Looking to the centre of town. Notice the cathedral. That’s my second to next stop!

The Greyfriars pedestrian bridge, where I turned left to begin a surprisingly gentle climb back to town.

But first, this obelisk, “in memory of Dr W J Clement, a skilled and innovative surgeon, philanthropist, a long-serving local councillor, mayor, and for a while M.P. for Shrewsbury. He demanded reform of rotten boroughs, thus antagonising the Tories who dominated the Corporation. In return, they refused him a post at the hospital. … The memorial was erected in 1873 and was originally outside the railway station, but has been moved several times.”

Off I want to the cathedral, marvelling that I was all the way down there just moments before.

“The steep-gabled, neo-Gothic church is, in fact, the Roman Catholic Cathedral. It was started in 1853, only 20 years after the Catholic Emancipation Act and soon after the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy in Britain. … The limitations of the site led to some alterations to the original plan; the tall spire was replaced by a bell-cote and the chancel is very shallow.”

Looking back along Town Walls. If you keep going, you can turn left to take Wyle Cop to go back to the centre.

Looking ahead. I found it interesting how the sidewalk was so far up the road as to need a railing.

This is a water pump. There are several in Shrewsbury and they are all listed by English heritage. “They day from 1870 and the inscription encourages the careful use of water; the basin at the base catches any waste, which can be used for animals.”

Door to the watchtower. There is no information about this building on this tour, just its name.

The watchtower.

Looking towards my next two stops.

First is the girls’ high school.

Can you read the sign?

The high school was built in 1897-98. “This independent school is part of the Girls’ Day School Trust set up in 1864 following a National Enquiry, which concluded that there was ‘a general deficiency’ in the provision of secondary education for girls. The aim was to provide a high standard of academic, moral, and religious education for all social classes.”

Next is the magnificent neo-Gothic building we saw the back of down by the river, the former Eye, Ear, and Throat Hospital, opened in 1881, and now converted into flats.” I know where I’m moving to… 😀

“Its construction was a great example of Victorian philanthropy, ‘upwards of £12,,000 being raised largely through public subscriptions. … The cantilevered operating theatre windows on the second floor were originally glazed with single sheets of plate glass to provide maximum northern light for operations.”

I then turned up Swan Hill to get to my last destination.

This wasn’t on the tour, but was pretty.

The final stop is the Italianate former Police Station/Weights and Measures Office, built in 1893 “to house two important new services that were to be carried out by the local authority. The provision of a police service was made compulsory in 1856, though Shrewsbury was ahead of the game, having appointed 13 constables 20 years earlier.”

“In relation to the weights and measures, there were many attempts throughout the Victorian period to standardise weights and improve the standards of retail transactions. Between 1878 and 1893, new mechanisms for inspection and enforcement were established.

Thus ended the delightful Victorian tour. I think this was my favourite!

Heading home up Pride Hill, I was shocked to find that the McDonald’s had closed permanently. Am I glad I was able to visit its basement before that happened! I hope that Shrewsbury will not permanently lose that important landmark.

Het Scheepvaartmuseum (Museum of Maritime History) and NEMO Science Centre

Well, I’m all museumed out. 😀 I have two days left here and two more museums on my list, but I’m ready to let them go. I have work to do tomorrow and Wednesday, I want to give the house a good polish as I’ll be leaving early on Thursday.

I definitely won’t be getting to Haarlem to visit the Ten Boom house because… I had a bad fall today and I’m not as ambulatory as I’d like. 🙁 I slipped on a slick surface while trying to avoid some of the billion out of control brats at the Museum of Maritime History and went down really hard. If it had been my bad knee, I know it would have dislocated. I just know that if I had let my health insurance lapse, it would have been worse, because that’s how things tend to go. As it is, I don’t think I need X-rays or medical treatment, but I may reassess in the morning. I’m RICEing (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) tonight. It was only about 4KM to get home from the museums and I ended up getting on a tram, which was a good move. I really banged it hard. 🙁

At any rate, off to the Het Scheepvaartmuseum! I can’t believe I almost skipped this one!

To get there, I decided to cut through the park near my flat, but did so on a different path and found an information placard about it. As it turns out, it is Vondelpark and basically Amsterdam’s answer to Central Park! It was created in 1834 as a place for riding and strolling. It is in an English landscape garden style meant to mimic natural landscape. The Vondelpark was designated a national monument in 1996.

I went down the street with the posh shops and noticed this shop name Stone Island that sells cold weather gear. LOL

I found myself at the front of the Rijksmuseum.

There was a magnificent house across the canal. I want to live in a house with a tower! 🙂

Here’s another interesting house I passed on my walk. I was going to do the museum of architecture, but, really, I’m museumed out. 🙂

So Anne Frank does have her own street!

I got to the Maritime History Museum with only a few wrong turns and barely any extra mileage, much better than when I was using Google Maps to navigate. It helps that Amsterdam does technically have a grid pattern and that street names are continuous rather than changing every few blocks.

I liked the tile and brick on this one.

I really looked forward to visiting the replica of an old ship!

The Maritime History Museum appears to be floating. The main entrance is around the side to the right, facing the picture. It is built over hundreds of Norwegian piles.

There’s the NEMO Science Centre nearby. I knew its shape was impressive, but not that impressive! More on NEMO later.

You enter the Maritime History Museum into a magnificent courtyard that is covered with a glass roof. There’s a desk for folks with a Museumkaart to sign in and get an admission bracelet, map, and instructions. Bit of a queue today, but better than at the ticket desk!

I went into the basement to stow my things in a locker. Loved the contrast of the teal with the red brick.

The basement was a bit of a maze.

The barcode on the bracelet is scanned at the entrance of the locker room and you are assigned a locker, which is locked and unlocked electronically.

To my surprise, I was really hungry by this point, so I checked out the café prices. They were better than at most museums I’d been to, so I scrapped my plans to have a late lunch after my tour and ordered food. My coffee came with a meringue that I will confess I ate. My problem is really more with the yolk of the egg than the white. To the left of the coffee is “coffee milk,” which is beige. I’ve since learned that it is evaporated milk, which is not sweet the way condensed milk is. I was grateful to see it as all the coffee drinks with milk were significantly marked up, but I got charged for a black coffee, and the portion was about four times as generous as expected. I went with the cheapest thing on the menu, a grilled cheese with ham, that had this really good melty white cheese and a side of ketchup. It was a lovely lunch in a beautiful café on a gorgeous day.:D

This museum has an audio tour, which I didn’t find as polished as at other museums. For one thing, the player never stopped nattering and would just repeat itself ad nauseum. The stops were also not well marked and it was rather a treasure hunt to find them. But I would never have gotten as much out of the museum as I did without it.

From the courtyard, you can go to the east, north, or west, with south being the exit. I started in the east, which has the actual exhibits.

I was inordinately amused that emergency in Dutch looks like calamity.

There was a big window on the first floor landing with a great view.

I started with the yacht models as I was still looking for stop number one of the audio tours.

Still looking for stop one, I moved to the next room, in which I spent the most time of my entire visit: the atlas room. It was pretty much my idea of heaven. Here is one of the nine volumes of the Atlas Mayor, which started in 1662, and was available in Dutch, French, German, Spanish, and Latin. Here, it is open to a city map of Amsterdam, dated 1649.

Someone told me the first stop for the audio tour was all the way back downstairs at the entrance to the East Wing, so down I went and then I had be directed to a rather well hidden audio point….

As it turned out, the atlases were the first room I was meant to visit. I learned that the Atlas Mayor is the pinnacle of Dutch cartography of the Golden Age and the result of two centuries of map-making and compiling atlases.

Some of the atlases on display are ancient. This map dates back to 1482. What was most fascinating was seeing the maps become more and more accurate, and especially seeing North America take shape.

The atlas above was scanned and I could flip through it. Entirely coincidental that I photographed a scan of the map above!

Just like with the iBooks app, you can literally flip pages. I spent a lot of time on this display. You could even email yourself your favourite maps.

England and Scotland, as understood in the late 1400s.

All the exhibits are dim and you have to press this little lightbulb to get enough light to read the text.

More volumes of the Atlas Mayor.

I then went back to the exhibit of yacht models. Notice that this one is on skates, for sailing on ice.

This is considered one of the finest in the collection for its craftsmanship and mahogany. I find it rather looks like a violin.

There is a third room that is not part of the official tour. It has a table set with china and the walls are lined with rows of cupboards. Curious, I opened one of the cupboards.

Ooh! Each cubby had a silver item.

I headed up to the second floor, admiring the construction of the building.

Next up was a maritime art gallery. To be honest, it started off as a lot of the same to me and I wasn’t really that keen to learn about the various battles, like the Battle of Gibraltar depicted in the scene below. I really was museumed out. 🙂

This one was stylistically interesting to me. Notice the sea monster?

Now, this was interesting because I’d never seen a pen painting before. It’s all done in pen and ink with perhaps a few brush strokes for sky and shadows.

Here’s another one, with a closeup on a whale:

Seascapes like these were in demand around 1650, when the Netherlands became a maritime superpower.

Notice how shiny this one is. That’s achieved with linseed oil. 🙂

I loved the design of the gallery. The paintings appeared to be floating over empty space, but it was just black mirrored flooring.

This was the first exhibit I’ve been to that explicitly talked about how the grey climate here contributed to the dark and subdued colours of classical Dutch painting. Let me tell you, two weeks in Amsterdam in winter and Rembrandt makes a lot more sense to me!

This one rather reminded me of my favourite Monet, with that little burst of light in the centre.

A very calm day with no wind. Can you find at least two clues that tell us that?

Hint:

We then got to more modern paintings and my interest was piqued as there was more colour.

Next stop, navigational instruments, another spectacular room.

I learned all about astrolabes. I had no idea that they are so rare, that most were melted down, and that the ones still in existence were usually found in shipwrecks.

I learned that depth finders had a bit of wax at the end of them to collect sediment from the ocean floor to give further navigational information.

Next up, the naval decorations.

All the figureheads pointed towards this display, which was of rushing water, complete with sound. Standing in front of the display case, I really felt like I was on the prow of a ship cutting through the ocean.

I loved the variety of figureheads and their expressions.

Gritted teeth and scared eyes.

And just… LOL!

Like downstairs, there was a room off the official tour, this one with squashy armchairs and photo albums. I picked a chair at random and found that my photo album was about the Arctic in Norway.

The third floor is not on the floor plan, but there was nothing telling me not to go up, so I did. 🙂

I got a good view of the roof from above.

Now, it was time to head out to the ship!

This ship was overrun by disorderly brats who were shrieking. Mexican, Balkan, and Spanish children are so well behaved and orderly that this was a shock. I explored as best I could, but it really wasn’t as much fun as it should have been.

This is the orlop deck, which accommodated 200 sailors and soldiers crammed in around personal effects.

I headed up to the first level of the exterior deck and the captain’s quarters.

Guest quarters were a tad cramped.

Compared to the captain’s quarters. I could not stand up in this part of the ship, however.

I went down into the hold, where the shrieking of the demon spawn was echoing, so I hurried back up.

This ship dates back to 1900 and was an icebreaker.

I was able to view the Royal Barge in its own boathouse. It was built for King William I of the Netherlands between 1816 and 1818. He didn’t use it, but his successors did. It was last used at the silver wedding anniversary of Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard in 1962.

Coming out of this exhibit is when I fell. 🙁

I went back in to visit the West Wing.

Even if I hadn’t been sore, my brain was about to explode, so I went very quickly through an exhibit about the Golden Age of the Netherlands and one about whaling.

We were able to go into this giant whale.

The final exhibit was a game that looked like a lot of fun and had a grown-up version, but it was overrun with kiddos, so I didn’t even try. I went all the way back to the basement to fetch my coat. Green dots are free lockers, red dots are occupied, flashing green dots have been opened by the scanner at the entrance. Neat system.

I was really sore, but still wanted to go check out NEMO.

I made it most of the way up this staircase, but took the elevator back down.

Amsterdam looked like a painting…

The lineup into the science centre was absurd. I’d done my research and knew that I would not spend much time there, so I decided to see if I could jump the queue with my Museumkaart. Yes!

The NEMO Science Centre is a giant interactive playground meant to teach kids about science. If you plan to visit Amsterdam with children, put this one on your list!

I didn’t bother going near any of the interactive stuff since it was all too busy, but I did catch a few interesting static exhibits. These wooden figures were meant to illustrate the structure of different crystals.

These are primitive batteries, but work more like capacitors.

There was a neat display of old technology, like this 1980s model of CD player.

There was a very graphic multi part sex exhibit. I love how Europeans are not prudes.

I liked the models demonstrating creative sexual positions.

And this exhibit where young and old could practice French kissing.

In an exhibit on more futuristic tech, I found this hat with solar panels woven into it. Can you imagine something like this in Mexico? I’d never have to worry about charging my phone!

There was an exhibit about how solar cars are becoming the norm in the Netherlands and there is an increasing number of charging stations.

I only stayed about 40minutes, longer than I expected I would! I was ready to get off my leg by this point, but I still took the time to capture a few more images of the building’s incredible exterior.

I walked along the water a bit towards Centraal Station, where I could get a tram straight home. I knew I wasn’t up to walking 4KM on that knee. 🙁

This friendly guy (gal?) came to say hello.

How did it get up there?! And why is it not strapped down better?!

I found a whole neighourhood of folks living on the water. By the way, I learned that some canal dwellings are houses on piles while others are boats. The boats are more expensive to live in because they have to be periodically hauled out of the water and their hauls scraped and repainted.

People have real addresses with post boxes.

I bet this person doesn’t come home drunk…

Interesting floating pagoda.

This is a hotel right near Centraal Station.

Back at Amsterdam Centraal.

I got in and got my knee on ice. I researched places nearby to go have dinner, but ultimately decided to just pick up a frozen pizza at the supermarket as well as a few other sundries. I’m glad I didn’t try to go any further than that. I was annoyed that they don’t accept credit cards and I had to give all my remaining cash, which was supposed to get me through to Thursday. So now, I have to make another withdrawal, which will cost me 5CAD. Should have gone out for dinner after all. *wry grin*

Accident notwithstanding, this was another great day of Amsterdam museums! I ended up viewing 257.04CAD worth of museums for just 87CAD. So I think I got my money’s worth out of the Museumkaart! 🙂 I do wish I had gone out of Amsterdam one day, but it just didn’t make sense to do so when I had so much here to keep me occupied. The Museumkaart really was a smart purchase as I’m not sure what I would have done with myself otherwise since work was so slow and I’m on a tight budget. I’m also glad I didn’t get a transportation card and so was motivated to walk as much as I did. I got to know my part of Amsterdam very well and saw things I wouldn’t have noticed from a tram. I have two days left and if my knee cooperates, I want to go explore a bit more of West Amsterdam, where I’m living, since it shouldn’t be too cold…

Prohodna (Eyes of God Cave)

A big shoutout to my high school friend Barbara for today’s amazing excursion!

I slept like the dead last night and was still exhausted when I woke up, even after nine solid hours of sleep! It was sheer will power that got me up and on the trail with the dogs. I didn’t want to over do it today since I do have another couple of full days of travel ahead of me. I had originally thought that today would just be an errands day, but Barbara posted a picture to my Facebook wall last week that blew me away after I confirmed it was not Photoshopped and meant a half day excursion!

The Eyes of God. I have not been able to determine ownership of this picture and it is all over the web. If it is yours, just drop me a comment and I will remove it or give you credit. Thank you.

The Eyes of God. I have not been able to determine ownership of this picture and it is all over the web. If it is yours, please drop me a comment and I will remove it or give you credit.

Barbara posted this picture because it was taken in Bulgaria, so she immediately thought of me. I did some research and discovered this amazing geographical formation is in a karst cave known as Prohodna, very easily accessible, and… 30 minutes from Malak Izvor.

I did my work for the day and set off around 10:30 or so. I turned on Google Maps once I got to Yablanitsa and they directed me without any wrong turns to the cave site just north of Yablanitsa. I passed one sign in Cyrillic only just past the town of Karlukovo indicating I was on the right road.

map

Just as Google Maps insisted I had arrived when I was in the middle of nowhere like I didn’t know existed in Europe, I saw a second sign for the cave. Woohoo!

IMG_1614

I still cannot get over how much Bulgaria reminds me of southern SK or maybe the Okanagan.

IMG_1615

I parked right near the sign, not realising that I could go straight down to the cave opening. But the road down was just a teeny bit rough and I wouldn’t have wanted to do it in a rental vehicle anyway.

IMG_1616

Getting into the cave isn’t very difficult. I think anyone who can walk could get to the formation, especially if they have someone to hang onto.

IMG_1617

IMG_1618

IMG_1619

IMG_1620

IMG_1621

IMG_1622

Standing in the cave looking out towards the parking lot:

IMG_1623

This cave system is popular with rock climbers and spelunkers.

IMG_1624

And tah dah!!!

IMG_1626

I couldn’t believe that the formation was right there and that I could easily take a good shot of the “eyes” without special equipment or having to climb or whatever. Even in daylight, the effect was profound and unmistakable.

IMG_1628

You can really see the “nose” as you move towards the back of the cave:

IMG_1630

IMG_1631

IMG_1633

IMG_1634

IMG_1635

IMG_1637

IMG_1638

IMG_1639

IMG_1640

IMG_1641

IMG_1642

IMG_1643

The complex is truly massive and there are hiking trails throughout it.

IMG_1644

IMG_1646

IMG_1647

IMG_1648

IMG_1649

IMG_1650

IMG_1651

IMG_1652

IMG_1653

The hiking terrain wasn’t that different from what I get in Malak Izvor, so I didn’t go far. I did climb up this mini cliff to explore a large cave opening.

IMG_1654

Amazing view from up there!

IMG_1655

IMG_1656

IMG_1657

What goes up must come down… Some scrambling on my butt was required!

IMG_1658

IMG_1659

IMG_1660

IMG_1661

IMG_1662

When I’d had my fill, I went back up to my car and then decided to check out that little building.

IMG_1663

Okay. Possibly my dream house. SO CUTE! 🙂

IMG_1665

IMG_1666

There’s a monastery to the left.

IMG_1667

IMG_1668

I then retraced my steps to Yablanista and headed west towards Sofia to get groceries at the Kaufland in Botevgrad. I drove around town a bit, but there wasn’t anything that would have made it worth paying to park so I could walk around. So I just went to get my groceries. First, though, I wanted a bit of lunch and I knew that there was a grill right outside Kaufland where I could grab a quick bite.

I could understand the menu well enough, but was glad that it had pictures confirming exactly what you were getting for your 1.70BGN. I picked a kufte plate, three meatballs with a bun and sauce. The transaction went smoothly. I ordered and she told me the price. Once I paid, she put my kufte in the container and said, “Sauce?” I saw I had a choice of ketchup, mustard, or lutenitsa, the wonderful Bulgarian answer to ketchup, a pepper and tomato based sauce that can be mild or spicy. I’ve had spicy homemade lutenitsa in Yablanitsa, so I decided to see what the commercial stuff is like and replied, “Lutenitsa, please.” She had her hand on the ketchup pump and appeared surprised by my choice, but made the switch. Finally, she rattled off something I didn’t understand. Instead of rolling her eyes or making assumptions, she tried again, more simply, and said just one word as a question, “Here?” Ah, takeaway or eat in? I said “Here, please,” and she smiled before adding the bun to my container and telling me to enjoy my meal.

IMG_1669

I was hungry. 🙂

I enjoyed my quick lunch. The commercial lutenitsa is very different from the homemade, being completely smooth and mild. There’s just something about red peppers that elevate the most boring dish. I really liked this version of the sauce and could see myself eating it more regularly than the spicy homemade stuff I had that made me sneeze!

After that, I did my shopping. This will likely be my last big shop before I leave. I think the thing I was most excited to come home with was a broccoli! I know I’m already at the point where I have to start eating down some things, like the rice and pasta.

One of my favourite things at these bigger grocery stores is the better cheese selection. Bulgaria has two cheeses — sirene, a crumbly feta-like cheese, and kashkaval a mild white or yellow cheese that you can slice and melt. I’ve found some good uses for the sirene, but all the kashkaval I’ve had has been a disappointment. I’m glad to get to a bigger grocery store for some rich Red Leicester from England (which has displaced sharp Cheddar in my cheese hierarchy) and some Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano, whichever is on sale. Kaufland has the best sour cream I’ve found yet in Bulgaria, so I made sure to grab some.

I headed home after that and it wasn’t until I got to the exit for Yablanisa and Teteven that I realised that the signage was only in Cyrillic. When I research driving in Bulgaria, I read that you can count on road signage to be in both Cyrillic and Latin letters, which is complete horse hockey. Even on main highways (like the one between Sofia and Varna that leads to Yablanitsa), you often only get Cyrillic right until the exit, where the Latin letter sign will be posted just after the exit. Unless you have eagle eyes, you will miss it! I met an American in Plovdiv who is living in Germany and is in Bulgaria for two weeks. She figured it would be a waste of brain space to learn Cyrillic for that short amount of time (same thinking I had about learning more than absolute barebones Bulgarian), but she said she regretted it as soon as she started driving here. Driving here is almost as stressful as in Mexico and I know I eliminated a huge chunk of that stress when I made the decision to learn to read Cyrillic.

I know I mention this quite a bit, but the more travelers (and even expats!) I meet who cannot read Bulgarian, the more I understand just how different my experience has been from most Western tourists because I can read the language. I chatted extensively with the hotel clerk in Veliko Tarnovo and she had me reading all sorts of stuff because she couldn’t believe that I could. In just two months here, I can get through a basic menu, recognise some stores (pharmacy, bookstore, supermarket, butcher shop, etc.), recognise some buildings (police station, town hall, library, museum (and of what), match the street names from my English tourist map to the Cyrillic characters on a street sign, and more. The American living in Germany said she tried to memorise what some words and names look like, rather like trying to memorise Japanese or Chinese characters. Not particularly efficient!

So it’s been a pretty low-key day. I’m debating attempting a long road trip tomorrow, but am cognisant of the fact that I’ll be away Friday and most of Saturday and may not want to spend another three solid days on the go. I just need to come up with a backup plan that needs the car and that is a little closer. Off to walk the dogs and then do some research while I enjoy a beer!