Tag Archives: museum
March 8, 2017

Celebrating the life and tragic times of Branwell Brontë

Celebrating the life and tragic times of Branwell Brontë
The Bronte Parsonage Haworth Yorkshire - by zoe dawes

Brontë Parsonage Museum

The ‘Pillar Portrait’, half way up the stairs of the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, says it all. The most famous sisters in the world gaze enigmatically into the distance, dressed in simple Victorian dresses, drab colours reflecting what might be perceived as their drab lives. They were ‘stuck’ in some remote Yorkshire village on wind-swept, rain-drenched moors, spending their days writing or travelling away to teach children in other people’s homes. In the painting, between two of the sisters is a paler, blurry column which, on closer inspection, shows the outline of a male figure. That ‘pillar’ is actually the artist Branwell Brontë, who painted himself and his sisters around 1833. For some reason, possibly composition, he then painted himself out of the portrait and, until recently, he’s been painted out of history too.

The Bronte Sisters - Pillar Portrait at Bronte Parsonage

The Brontë Sisters ‘Pillar Portrait’

The lives of these creative siblings were, in fact, highly creative; Charlotte, Emily and, to a lesser extent, Anne Brontë, are known to readers around the world today for the dramatic novels they wrote in their father’s parsonage in Haworth. The lowly governess got a make-over as a romantic heroine when troubled employer Rochester fell for his daughter’s teacher in Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë). The Yorkshire moors will forever be associated with moody Heathcliff and his doomed love in turbulent Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë). The trials of the abused wife of an alcoholic husband were tackled for the very first time in harrowing detail in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Anne Brontë). However, brother Branwell Brontë is notorious as the drunken, layabout brother who came to nothing and died an alcoholic’s death in his late-twenties. But there are many more layers to their story and the place to learn all about it is the Bronte Parsonage Museum.

Bronte Parsonage Dining Room Haworth Yorkshire - image zoe dawes

The Dining Room; costume from ‘To Walk Invisible’, Charlotte’s portrait and head of Branwell Brontë

I’ve been here many times over the years and each time am struck anew at the inspiring yet tragic story of this curious family who produced such creative talent and died such sad deaths. Last month I returned, this time to see a new exhibition which throws light on Branwell Brontë and adds a poetic note to his helter-skelter life.

Branwell Brontë

Born in June 1817, the fourth of six children, Branwell’s mother died when he was only four years old. He had five sisters, two of whom died within weeks of each other, aged 11 and 12 years. He showed some talent in literature and art and his adoring father, Patrick Bronte, had high expectations of his only son. Branwell’s self-destructive tendencies appeared relatively early; maybe paternal pressure and creative sisters contributed to this. Drug and alcohol addiction plus a possible affair with a married women were elements of his rackety adult life. He died on 24 September, 1848 at the parsonage, ‘… most likely due to tuberculosis aggravated by delirium tremens, alcoholism, and laudanum and opium addiction, despite the fact that his death certificate notes “chronic bronchitis-marasmus” as the cause.’ [Wikipedia]

Branwell's Room curated by Simon Armitage at the Bronte Parsonage Museum Haworth - image zoe dawes

Branwell’s Room

The Brontë Parsonage Museum celebrates his bicentenary with two significant works, Branwell’s Room and Mansions in the Sky, both curated by renowned Yorkshireman, Simon Armitage. “As a poet of this landscape and region I recognise Branwell’s creative impulse and inspirations. I also sympathise with his desire to have his voice heard by the wider world …” Branwell’s Room is a collaboration between Armitage and Grant Montgomery, production designer for the excellent BBC production To Walk Invisible which focuses on the last three years of Branwell’s life and his challenging relationship with his sisters and father. (Costumes from the TV programme are on display throughout the parsonage.) The room is an evocative representation of what it could have looked like at that time, with rumpled bedclothes, unfinished poems, a discarded laudanum bottle plus writing desk and sketches. It’s as if he’s just popped out the Black Bull pub and will be rolling drunkenly back up the hill at any minute.

The Black Bull, Branwell Bronte's local pub in Haworth Yorkshire - photo zoe dawes

The Black Bull

In the Bonnell Room is an exhibition entitled Mansions in the Sky. 11 objects relating to Branwell are on display, including his letter to William Wordsworth when he was 19 years old, from which the exhibition gets its title. There is also the macabre sketch A Parody showing death leaning over a bed and Branwell’s wallet. Lying alongside are poems by Armitage giving a personal response to each item. In an interview in the Huddersfield Daily Examiner he explained he was trying to imagine what Branwell would have been like today. “One of the objects in the exhibition is his wallet and I wanted to think about what it meant to him – it was always empty. In the poem it becomes a contemporary object; there’s a condom in there, his dealer’s phone number, a credit card with cocaine on the end of it.”

'Mansions in the Sky' Branwell Bronte exhibition Haworth - photo zoe dawes

‘Mansions in the Sky’ exhibition

The Brontë story unfolds throughout the Haworth parsonage via the rooms which hold many original items of furniture, clothing, footwear, art works, writing paraphernalia, first editions and much more. Fans of the sisters’ books and poetry come from all over the world to see the home where they produced such enduring works of literature. Their brother Branwell now gets the attention he deserves, in a unique and moving tribute to this sad figure who longed for recognition and is finally getting it in a little village on the edge of the Yorkshire moors.

Mr Bronte's Bedroom with Branwell and Emily Bronte costumes - Haworth Parsonage

Mr Brontë’s bedroom with Branwell and Emily Brontë costumes from BBC ‘To Walk Invisible’

The Rise and Fall of Branwell Bronte exhibition is on display until 1st of January 2018. Wordsworth’s letter is on loan from the Wordsworth Trust until August 2017. For more information contact the Bronte Parsonage Museum.

If you enjoyed this, you will probably like David Hockney at Saltaire, Yorkshire


November 16, 2016

A dash of history & culture in the Rocky Mountains

A dash of history & culture in the Rocky Mountains
Tete Jaune - logo for Jasper Yellowhead Museum and Archives Museum

Tete Jaune

History in the Rocky Mountains


A hiker strides out into the wilderness of one of North America’s most renowned regions. He is Tête Jaune, the legendary pathfinder of the Yellowhead Pass through the Rocky Mountains in Canada. Part Iroquois and part European, (Métis) Pierre Bostonnais was a fur trader and worked with the Hudson Bay Trading company in the Rockies. He is now the logo for the Jasper Yellowhead Museum and Archives, an excellent little museum in Jasper, Alberta, showcasing the fascinating history and culture of the area.

Jasper Museum exhibition in the Rocky Mountains

Jasper Museum exhibition

Explorers and traders forged a way through the Rocky Mountains, in the pioneering days of the early 1800s. Trading with the local First Nation people, they were intrepid adventurers whose everyday life is recreated in tableaux throughout the museum. When Jasper Haws took command of a small provisions depot in 1815 it became known as Jasper’s House and became the centre for a small community responsible for meeting transportation and supply needs, caring for horses grazing in the valley, and trading goods for meat and furs with Aboriginal groups, including Iroquois and Métis peoples. Grainy black and white photos show earnest men wielding guns and tools, digging, fishing, building and relaxing, in what must have been extremely inhospitable conditions. Even today, Jasper has a ‘wild-west’ feel to it, enclosed by the mighty Rockies and prey to every kind of weather, often in one day.

Jasper Trading Post

Jasper Trading Post

The railway brought huge changes to Jasper and surrounding area, connecting it to the outside world so much easier. As the population of the town grew, the good times rolled and prosperity boomed. The opening of W.S. Jeffery department store meant locals did not have to wait months for basics and luxuries. More women came, bringing style and elegance and music and dancing became popular. The first tourists began to arrive, eager to see experience the ‘wilderness’ for themselves.

Stylish Jasper history in Museum - Rocky Mountains

Stylish Jasper

There’s a fairly lengthy but highly informative film ‘Jasper – Just Passing Through’ which tells the story of Jasper from the very early days of civilization, to the arrival of surveyor David Thompson and the Hudson Bay Company, up to the present day. Equally important is the life of the First Nation peoples, who first traversed the Athabasca Valley through the Rocky Mountains, using the land that is now Jasper National Park, as seasonal hunting and gathering grounds. There are some lovely objects on display, including moccasins and beautifully embroidered bags.

First Nation objects in Jasper Museum Alberta - image zoedawes

First Nation objects

Visitors who arrive by rail or vehicle will invariably find themselves at the Jasper Park Information Centre. The oldest building in the town, it’s officially designated as a Canadian National Historic Site. Built in 1913-1914 as Jasper National Park administration building, it became the visitor contact centre in 1972. It was one of the first rustic style buildings to be built in a Canadian national park. The staff there are extremely helpful and if you are stuck for accommodation (book ahead if you can) or want to know what to do and where to go, this is the place.

Jasper National Park Centre Rocky Mountains

Jasper National Park Centre

Opposite is one of the most famous landmarks in the town; the Two Brothers Totem Pole. Erected in 2011 to replace the original one, it was made by the Haida people, it is 13.7 metres tall and painted in traditional Haida colours of red, black and blue. Splendid carvings include a grizzly bear, a frog and a raven, topped by a Brother gazing out over the Rockies, ‘ … represents the timeless values that will help present and future generations of Canadians to connect with national parks, national historic sites and national marine conservation areas.’

Jasper Totem Pole - Rocky Mountains - photo zoedawes

Jasper Totem Pole


At the opposite end of one of the world’s top roads, the Icefield Parkway, is Banff, a more genteel mountain town than Jasper, and the home of Canada’s first National Park. When the Canadian Pacific Railway was being built, railway workers discovered hot springs in 1883, though known by local First Nation peoples for thousands of years. Realising they would become a visitor attraction, the president of CPR built the Scottish baronial style Banff Springs Hotel and the rest is tourism history. To protect the springs from over-commercialisation, the area was declared a National Park and the Cave and Basin National Historic Site is hugely popular with tourists today.

The Rocky Mountains from the Cave and Basin National Historic Site Banff Canada- photo zoedawes

Cave and Basin National Historic Site

To get an insight into the First Nation culture and pioneer history of the Rockies, there’s not better place than Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. It’s an accessible size with interesting objects well-displayed. The original collection was started by locals Peter and Catharine Whyte and includes, ‘artifacts that help tell the stories of Aboriginal people, artists, immigrants, guides and outfitters, climbers, surveyors, hikers, explorers, adventurers, skiers and residents of the town and area. Artifacts pertaining to the development of Banff National Park are also included.’

Rocky Mountains Park - Whyte Museum Banff

Rocky Mountains Park Exhibitions

There are a couple of art galleries with changing exhibitions; they showcase local and national artists with a very eclectic and often thought-provoking slant. This very attractive and seemingly innocuous sculpture of the Rocky Mountains, a road and some mountain sheep appears very innocuous until you see the blurb. It’s actually a protest by Denise Smith against the controversial Glacier ‘Skywalk’ the Icefields Parkway.

'Skywalk' by Denise Smith Whyte Museum Banff

‘Skywalk’ by Denise Smith

There are plenty of other places to get a feel for the history and culture of the Rocky Mountains in Banff, including the taxidermy heaven of Banff Park Museum. Dating to 1903, the timber-framed building was designed to house a unique collection of all the animals found the National Park. Along Banff Avenue are a number of historic buildings from the early days of rail travel, which add to the town’s heritage charm. For a glimpse into its luxurious past and present, take the Historical Tour at the imposing and stylish Fairmont Banff Springs.

Sir William van Horne and Banff Springs Hotel

Sir William van Horne and Banff Springs Hotel

A knowledgeable guide explains how the hotel came into being, takes you through various majestic halls, ballrooms, corridors, restaurants and bars, telling amusing anecdotes about the hotel’s founder, staff, visitors and ghosts! Thanks to my charming guide Tom.) Have a cocktail on the terrace overlooking the sinuous Bow River and mighty Rocky Mountains and feel a part of the unique fabric of this towering region of Canada. Unforgettable …

Cocktail on Banff Springs Hotel terrace Rocky Mountains Canada - zoedawes

Cheers from Banff Springs

I visited British Columbia as a guest of Explore Canada as part of a Travelator Media campaign. Many thanks to Alison Bailey for her unfailing good humour, practical advice and excellent driving. Much gratitude to all the people we met along the way who made it such a memorable trip.

More on our Travelator Media #explorecanada RV trip from Vancouver to Montreal:

The Quirky Traveller: 24 hours in Calgary

Travel with Kat: The Wildlife of Canada’s Clayoquot Sound

On the Luce: Exploring Ontario’s Provincial Parks

Heather on Her Travels: A Perfect Day in Montreal

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Rocky Mountains Canada - History and Culture

September 20, 2016

Enjoy 24 hours in Calgary, Alberta

Enjoy 24 hours in Calgary, Alberta
Calgary Stampede Sign - image zoe dawes

Calgary Stampede Sign

The large red sign on the highway summed it all up; ‘Horses always have Right of Way. It’s a Stampede Thing’. The Calgary Stampede is Calgary’s USP. Billed as the Largest Outdoor Show on Earth, it attracts over 2.5 million visitors every July (plus lots of horses) and brings a wild-west tang to the city. Originally a small agricultural fair started in 1886 to promote Calgary and lure farmers to move from west to east, it quickly grew in popularity. The exhilarating covered-wagon races were a huge draw in the 1920s and still attract big crowds today.

Covered Wagon exhibit in BMO Centre Calgary Stampede Park - image zoe dawes

Covered Wagon exhibit – BMO Centre

I was in Calgary just a week before this epic festival kicked off and the whole city was ablaze with all things Stampede-related. It was the final day of our Canadian RV Road Trip through British Columbia and Alberta from Vancouver via the Rocky Mountains. We’d left the iconic mountains to cross the ‘endless’ prairies, so very flat after the spectacular ups and downs of the majestic Rockies. The sun shone and the heat increased as we reached Calgary, the sunniest city in Canada.

Cruise Canada RV Calgary

Cruise Canada Calgary

My fellow traveller, photographer Alison Bailey, and I had driven our Cruise Canada RV (Recreational Vehicle = motor-home), nicknamed Rocky in honour of our route, over 3,000km and were very pleased to have arrived in Calgary, not only unscathed, but having had an absolutely wonderful trip. We dropped Rocky off at the Cruise Canada RV depot on the outskirts of the city and had 24 hours to explore Calgary before we returned home to the UK.

Calgary City Centre Alberta - photo zoe dawes

Calgary City Centre

We stayed overnight at the Lakeview Signature Inn, close to the airport. Our comfortable suite of rooms seemed very luxurious after 2 weeks in our RV (though I am a total convert to motorhome travel now). The helpful receptionist gave us a map and suggested we got the C-Train (Light Railway) into the city centre, where we could see all the main sites within a fairly small area. Skyscrapers soared above the Alberta prairies as we got nearer, crossing the Bow River, which we’d last seen winding sinuously through Banff in the heart of the Rockies. We got off the train near the Town Hall and headed to the Calgary Tower, which my guide book said was home to the Tourist Information Centre.

Calgary Tower - image zoe dawes

 Not any more. It’s a dedicated tourist attraction, selling tickets to whiz you up 190m, 62 floors, in just over minute, but no sign of the Tourism Office. Never mind; Calgary city centre is built on the classic North American grid system so it’s very easy to get around. Everyone seems to gravitate towards Stephen Avenue, a pleasant walkway, lined with cafes, bars and restaurants and some attractive older buildings.

Stephen Avenue Calgary Albert - photo zoe dawes

Stephen Avenue

 The Tourist Information Office is now situated on Macleod Trail and they suggested visiting the Glenbow Museum, on the corner of Stephen Avenue. It’s one of Canada’s largest museums and hosts a number major temporary exhibitions as well as having over 20 permanent galleries. They chart the history of Canadian West with First Nation exhibits, with a special section on the Blackfoot people and displays from the 19thC pioneering era. It’s also home to contemporary art and militaria from around the world. Or so the marketing blurb says; unfortunately it was closed the day we visited …

Glenbow Museum Calgary - Alberta - photo zoe dawes

You might imagine, in a place famous for its ‘frontier’town’ atmosphere, there would be ‘cowboys’ sporting stetsons all over the city. No. There were plenty of people dressed for work in shirt sleeves, dresses, suits and more casual tourists, but hardly a stetson in sight. I saw one guy on the train; that was it. However, we were told that as soon as the Calgary Stampede started, “everyone thinks they’re a cowboy” and everyone dresses up. But fear not, you can buy the iconic headgear on street stalls and shops all over Calgary, with prices varying from a few dollars to much more, depending on the quality of the hat.

Stetson stall Calgary - photo zoe dawes

Stetsons for sale

As the sun sank down behind the skyscrapers, we decided to have a meal in town before returning to our hotel. We chose Milestones on Stephen Avenue, as it was Happy Hour and their cocktails looked great. I can highly recommend their Original Bellini; very colourful and moreish. We had a selection of small bites including crisply perfect Asian Chicken Bites, followed by Steak Frites; melt-in-the-mouth fillet steak, golden Parmesan fries, delicate buttermilk onion rings and truffle aioli. Perfect meal for our last night in Canada.

Meal at Milestones Calgary - photo zoe dawes

Milestones meal

The next morning we checked out of our hotel, leaving our luggage to be collected after lunch. We got the C-Train back into Calgary, where we split up. I wanted to visit two major sights, whilst Ali wanted to do some photography. I got another train to Stampede Park, home to the famous festival, which was gearing up for opening the following week. I wandered into the BMO Centre (Bank of Montreal) where I found a perfect little gem of a museum; the Grain Academy. Volunteer and enthusiastic raconteur Gordon showed me round the quaint exhibition which tells the history and importance of grain to Canada and the rest of the world. There’s a very big model railway showing the journey of grain from the Alberta prairies through the Rockies to Vancouver. (If you travel through this part of Canada you can’t miss the VERY long trains transporting this valuable commodity for global distribution.)

Grain Academy Painting - Calgary

Grain Academy Mural

On the main corridor outside the Grain Academy is the wonderful Calgary Stampede ‘Parade of Posters‘. There is one poster from almost every year since 1912 to the present day. Not only does it give a fascinating summary of the way the show has grown over the decades, but it also illustrates the history of art and poster making.

Historic Calgary Stampede Posters - photo zoe dawes

The most famous is the 1923 poster. The sketch of a cowboy on a bucking bronc by Edward Borein, called I See U was designed vertically so the poster would fit on a telephone pole. This image has been immortalised in an electrifying bronze sculpture at the entrance to the Park.

I See You - bronze sculpture Calgary Stampede Park - photo zoedawes

‘I See You’ sculpture

There’s a really excellent Art Trail which takes you round all the Public Art works on display here. They illustrate the history of Alberta and reflect an aspect of Canada’s heritage in an original and entertaining way. ‘By the Banks of the Bow’ is one of the biggest sculptures in North America.

There are a number of stadiums which host events and entertainment. You can visit the Stampede Ground any time of the year.

By the Banks of the Bow sculpture - Stampede Park Calgary - photo zoe dawes

‘By the Banks of the Bow’ sculpture and Saddledome

The last place I went to was Fort Calgary, It was built by the North West Mounted Police in 1875 due to its strategic position where the Bow and Elbow Rivers meet. Reconstructed in modern times, Fort Calgary now houses an award-winning interpretative centre telling the story of Calgary and its pioneering past. There are some interesting recreations including a carpenter’s workshop. I didn’t have time to walk beside the river, but it looks like a nice way to end your day.

Fort Calgary and Colonel McLeod statue - photo zoe dawes

Fort Calgary and Colonel McLeod statue

Ali and I met up for a quick bite to eat; we only had time to grab a sandwich from a street cafe, before we got the C-Train back to the hotel, picked up our luggage and headed off to the airport. Even though we’d only had 24 hours in Calgary, we’d managed to get a really good feel for this vibrant, historic city of contrasts.

Cocktails at Milestones Calgary - zoe dawes

Cheers from Ali and Zoe

I travelled to Calgary as a guest of Destination Canada on the Travelator Media RV Road Trip from Vancouver to Montreal. More articles about our trip:

The Quirky TravellerTop 10 Memorable Moments from a Canada Road Trip

Travel with Kat – The Sunshine Coast

On the LuceWaterfront Toronto

Heather on her TravelsA perfect day in Montreal

Watch out for more articles on this amazing adventure across Canada.

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Calgary in 24 hours - zoe dawes


December 7, 2015

5 must-see historic sights in Jordan

5 must-see historic sights in Jordan

The most famous site in Jordan is undoubtedly the breath-takingly lovely ancient city of Petra, magnet for visitors from around the globe, but on a recent visit to this wonderfully diverse country, I discovered many other world-class sights. Here are 5 places that will appeal to any lovers of history, art and beauty.

Amman – Ancient Philadelphia

Amman Roman Theatre Jordan - zoedawes

Roman Theatre

The capital of Jordan, Amman is a beige mish-mash of busy highways, modern skyscrapers, ugly office blocks and higgledy-piggledy housing, where charm needs to be searched out. The jewel in its historical crown is the Lower City, where picturesque streets and old markets can still be seen. However, it’s the ruins of venerable Roman Philadelphia that attracted us. The huge Theatre, built in the 2nd c AD, seating 6,000 spectactors, is still used for public performances and from the top there’s a great view of Amman. Bedside the main amphitheatre is the intimate Odeum, a well-preserved structure that seats an audience of up to 500. Our guide, Burhan, made sure we visited the Museum of Folk Tradition, housed in the original entrance to the theatre.

Museum of Costume and Jewellery Amman Jordan - zoedawes

Museum of Folk Tradition

It has a delightful collection local costumes, attractive jewellery and artworks from around Jordan. I particularly liked the silver necklaces and face masks, embroidered dresses and mosaic fragments from Madaba, dating back to the 5th c AD. Towering over the Theatre is the Citadel, originally the acropolis of the city.

Amman Roman Citadel Jordan - photo zoedawes

Temple of Hercules

It has the remains of the Temple of Hercules and a huge hand from a massive statue. There’s also an excellent Archaeological Museum, with some of the oldest ‘human’ statues ever found.

Madaba – City of Mosaics

Madaba Church of St George Jordan - photo zoedawes

Church of St George

Known as Medba in the Bible, Madaba is renowned for its many churches, the floors, walls and ceilings of which are decorated with intricate mosaics. The first to be discovered in recent times is on the floor of the Greek-Orthodox Church of St George. ‘The mosaic panel enclosing the Map was originally around 15.6 x 6m, 94 sq.m., only about a quarter of which is preserved.’  It’s a map of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, dating back to the time of Emperor Justinian (527 – 56 AD) and is belived to be the oldest map in the world.

Madaba Map of the Holy Land Jordan - photo zoedawes

Map of the Holy Land

It was probably designed for the benefit of pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land; surviving fragments include Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jericho, the River Jordan and the Dead Sea. What amazed us most was how close you can get to it; there is just a little rope surrounding it, over which you can lean to take photos!

Jerash – Roman Gerasa

The Roman Arch of Triumph Jerash Jordan - zoedawes

The Arch of Triumph

I’m ashamed to say that I had never heard of Jerash (ancient Gerasa), yet it is acknowledged as one of the most impressive Roman ‘provincial towns’ in the world. It’s easy to see why. The enormous Arch of Triumph, erected in AD 129 in honour of Emperor Hadrian’s visit, sets the tone for this trip back in time to Rome’s heyday in Jordan. Wandering past the Hippodrome you can almost hear the chariots racing round the track to the cheering crowds. Through the South Gate, you pass the Temple of Zeus and onwards to the large, elegant colonnaded horse-shoe of The Forum. With few tourists around during our visit, it was easy to get a feel for the splendour of this site.

Jerash Forum and modern city Jordan - photo zoedawes

Jerash Forum and Cardo Maximus

The main artery of Jerash is the Cardo Maximus, a paved road flanked by mighty columns decorated with agapanthus leaves. Some lie toppled where they fell hundreds of years ago, adding to the sense of history and myth. I loved the Nymphaeum, which must have looked wonderful when the fountains were in full spate. Hiking up to the South Theatre we were intrigued to hear the incongrous sound of bagpipes drifting across the ruins. Inside the Orchestra area were two guys in Jordanian army uniform, playing their hearts out in the midday sun.

Musicians Jerash Theatre Jordan - zoedawes

Theatre musicians

We chatted to them; it turns out they are retired soldiers who do this all summer to entertain the tourists. They’ve even performed at the Edinburgh Tatoo! Very quirky and unexpected …

Salt – Abu Jabber House Museum

Abu Jabber House - Salt Museum - Jordan - photo zoedawes

Salt Museum of Archaeology and Folklore, opposite the town centre Mosque, is a little gem. Opened in 2010, Abu Jabber House is a traditional Jordanian dwelling where the first King of Jordan stayed. Salt (Al Salt) is thought to have been built during the reign of Alexander the Great and has a strong historical past. Salt’s heyday was in the late 19th century when traders arrived from Nablus to expand their trading network eastwards beyond the Jordan River. As a result of the influx of newcomers this period saw the rapid expansion of Salt from a simple peasant village into a town with many architecturally elegant buildings, many built in the Nablusi style from the attractive honey-coloured local stone. A large number of buildings from this era survive. Wikipedia

Salt street market jordan - zoedawes

Salt street scene

The museum is home to a number of old artefacts, a recreation of a school-room, traditional Bedouin costumes and a model of the town as it used to be. The curator is very enthusiastic about Salt’s latest attraction and spent a great deal of time explaining its history. On a wall in one of the elegant upper rooms is a series of photos of the Kings of Jordan. This country is very proud of its Heshemite ruling family; there are pictures of King Abdullah II and his wife, Queen Rania in public places all over the country.

Salt Museum Kings of Jordan - zoedawes

Kings of Jordan

River Jordan – Baptism Site

Last but most definitely not least, the Baptism Site (Bethabara – Place of Passage) at the River Jordan. This is by far and away the most significant religious site in this part of the Middle East. There was some dispute over which side of the River Jordan was the ‘genuine’ site, but in 2015 ‘UNESCO weighed in on the rivalry, designating Jordan’s baptismal area on the eastern bank a World Heritage site. The UN cultural agency declared this month that the site “is believed to be” the location of Jesus’ baptism, based on what it said is a view shared by most Christian churches.’ 

Baptism mosaic River Jordan - zoedawes

Baptism mosaic

En route to the site itself is a newly created path that leads to the Chapels that have been built over the centuries and to the impressive (newly erected) Church of St John the Baptist with some interesting icons and murals plus some fairly tacky souvenirs and vials of ‘Holy Water’ taken from the rivulet nearby that is all that is left of the original River Jordan.

Church of St John the Baptist

Church of St John the Baptist

The river is a narrow muddy place with a covered pavilion on the site of an ancient chapel. On the opposite side (Palestine) is a much more elaborate complex with many pilgrims immersing themselves totally into the water. You can almost touch those on the other side and there is a feeling of great harmony as people of all races and creeds smile over the water and take photos of each other. Whilst we were there, a group of British visitors were celebrating the Baptism Service in the most appropriate place on earth.

Baptism site at the River Jordan zoedawes

The Baptism Site at the River Jordan

At the time of publication Jordan has the same safety rating as Canada, United States, China and Germany and has fewer tourists at present so it’s a great time to go. Many thanks to our knowledgeable guide Burhan and Visit Jordan for inviting us to experience Jordan, a country beyond expectations. Check out their website for more information on what to see, where to stay and when to go.

November 1, 2015

Shopping with a dash of history in charming Chester

Shopping with a dash of history in charming Chester

Chester shops

On a shop-til-you-drop day out in Chester with a friend we combined an exploration of the streets, lanes and byways with an in-depth trawl through its department stores, boutiques and quirky independent shops.

Chester Roman soldier

This Roman soldier seemed oblivious to the light rain dripping down his steel helmet as he chatted to two people holding aloft signs encouraging passers-by to try the ‘All-You-Can-Eat-Buffet’ at the nearby restaurant on one of the main shopping streets in the walled city of Chester.  It summed up the universal appeal of one of England’s most attractive towns – ancient history, intriguing architecture, excellent shops and a multitude of great venues to eat and drink.

According to the handy ‘Walkabout Easy Map and Guide to Chester’ we picked up in the Tourist Information Centre next to the splendid Victorian Town Hall, “Nearly 2000 years ago, the Romans marched onto a sandstone ridge, built Deva (or Dewa),  largest fortress in Britain prepared to do battle with the wild, fierce Britons of Wales and the North.  Two millenniums later, the drama and passions of Chester’s history have left their mark in some of the most spectacular buildings in Britain.”

Diorama of the Roman Legionary fortress Deva Victrix in Grosvenor Museum, Chester. - image Łukasz Nurczyński

Diorama of the Roman Legionary fortress Deva Victrix – Grosvenor Museum – image Łukasz Nurczyński

We didn’t have time to visit the Roman ruins outside the city but the The Dewa Roman Experience, on Pierpoint Lane took us back to that feisty era with the sights, sounds and smells of Roman Chester with a look round a Roman galley and the excavated remains of a fortress in the heart of the city.

Figures on the Rows Chester - zoedawes

Figures on the Rows Chester

One of the most appealing aspects of this town is The Rows, covered walkways above street level, dating back to the 13th century.  The names of these Rows often reflect the original trades of the rich merchants who built their townhouses here ie Ironmongers, Shoemakers or more prosaically Northgate Row.  Nowadays they are a treasure trove of shops, cafes and bars and great for escaping the occasional rain shower.

Eastgate Chester - zoedawes

Our leaflet informed us a Town Crier dressed in 18th century finery proclaims the news daily at 12 noon in the summer months.  We didn’t see him but we were entertained by the numerous street performers playing funky music, standing still as statues til a coin was dropped in front of them, doing magic tricks and singing songs, some even in tune.  We spent ages wandering in and out of the shops, especially relishing the scented charms of the perfume counters in Browns Of Chester Department Store. Nearby is ‘The Olde Boot’ a 17th century pub with original seating and good food.

Olde Boot Inn Chester - photo zoedawes

Olde Boot Inn Chester

After a rather exhausting trawl through the myriad shops in the Grosvenor Shopping Centre it was time for lunch.  We decided to go next door and treat ourselves to a light bite in 5-star luxury in La Brasserie at the illustrious Grosvenor Hotel.  I can highly recommend their smoked salmon sandwiches!

The rain cleared in the afternoon so to walk off our meal we had an airy stroll around the City Walls. “The best ornament of the city is, that the streets are very broad, the walls in good repair, and it is a very pleasant walk around the city upon the walls, and within the battlements, from whence you may see the county around.”  Daniel Defoe wrote this in 1724 and the walls are still much the same today.  After walking part of the way round we dove back into the city streets for another quick shop then it was time for one last sight to see – Chester Cathedral.  Built on the site of an Anglo-Saxon church, it became the city’s cathedral in 1541.  There’s a guided tour every afternoon but if you’re in a rush, do take time just to enjoy its splendid majesty for a little while.

Chester Cathedral Cheshire - photo zoedawes

On our way back to the car park, swinging our fancy shopping bags like Carrie and Samantha along a Manhatten sidewalk, we passed under the ornate Eastgate Clock, installed to commemorate Queen Victoria’s 1897 Diamond Jubilee. Its delicate red, blue, gold and black filigree decoration seems to sum up Chester – a colourful journey through time and history.

Eastgate and clock Chester zoedawes

September 4, 2015

Bradford: giant naans, media marvels, ornate graves and Victorian splendour

Bradford: giant naans, media marvels, ornate graves and Victorian splendour

Giant naan bread Lala's Restaurant Bradford Yorkshire - photo zoedawesHeld aloft like some Roman Regimental banner, the enormous naan made its way through the restaurant to be placed with due reverence on the table behind us. Before it could be ripped apart, the youngest member of the group took a phone snap to commemorate its arrival. I quickly leapt up and asked if I could do the same; I’d never seen naan bread on this scale. I was in Lala’s Restaurant in the heart of Bradford‘s ‘Curry Capital’ with a group of friends. Every year we go away somewhere in the north west for a weekend break, combining a bit of sight-seeing and culture, some eating and drinking and a lot of laughter. Lala’s serves superb authentic Kashmiri food amidst an elegant setting with attentive, friendly service. We indulged in a lot of tasty dishes including fish pakora, lamb rogan josh, achari chicken, karahi fish, biryani and jugs of ice-cold mango lassi. All around us, smartly dressed families enjoyed their Saturday out, all without a drop of alcohol and a great deal of lively chatter.

Bradford Wool Exchange - photo zoedawes

Bradford Wool Exchange

We’d arrived in the Yorkshire city of Bradford mid-morning after a scenic journey from Carnforth Station in Lancashire, via cloud-shrouded Ingleborough and Keighley. Having dropped off our bags at the newly refurbished Midland Hotel, we got a taxi for our first stop, Undercliffe Cemetery.

Bradford Undercliffe cemetery Yorkshire - zoedawes

Bradford Undercliffe cemetery

Chris, who has lived in the area for many years and had organised this trip, gave us a tour of its rather macabre delights. Spread across 25 acres, the Victorian great, the good and the probably-not-so-good-but-could-afford it, were buried here, vying with each other to erect the most impressive funerary monuments. Undercliffe contains over 23,000 graves and many are extremely ornate and some very poignant. The Illingworth Mausoleum is in the form of an Egyptian temple, guarded by two sphinxes, an exotic choice for one of Bradford’s leading politicians.

Illingworth Mausoleum Undercliffe Bradford - photo zoedawes

Illingworth Mausoleum Undercliffe Bradford

From the end of the main avenue, ‘lined with every variety of Victorian funery art from broken columns, obelisks and draped urns to Celtic and Roman crosses’ (Undercliffe Cemetery leaflet), there’s a great view down onto Bradford. Clearly those wealthy industrialists were more than happy to ‘lord it’ over their city even in death … Our favourite was a beautiful sculpture in memory of Miles Moulson, a monumental mason, carved in loving detail by John Thorp.

Miles Moulson memorial Undercliffe Bradford - photo zoedawes

Miles Moulson memorial

We had lunch at The Turls Green, one of the outdoor bars and restaurants that surround Centenary Square, heart of Bradford’s city, with a giant pool, City Park, spouting fountains around which children and adults splashed in the summer sunshine. The Italianate clock tower, inspired by the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, chimed at regular intervals and a video of Bradford’s cultural highlights was projected on the wall of a modern building nearby.

Bradford Centenary Square Yorkshire - photo zoedawes

Bradford Centenary Square

Having fueled up with chilli con carne, salad and some very weak cocktails (probably no bad thing at this time of day …), we hopped onto the free local bus for a quick whizz round the streets before getting off at the National Media Museum. Bradford is the world’s first UNESCO City of Film, recognising, ‘the city’s rich film heritage, diverse movie locations and its many celebrations of the moving image through the city’s annual film festivals’ (Discover Bradford leaflet). Appropriately, one of the very first cinema shows outside London took place on the site of the National Media Museum.

Bradford National Media Museum Yorkshire - photo zoedawes

National Media Museum

Part of the Science Museum Group, there is a huge amount to see and do in this attraction and children especially love it. It’s a winning combination of exhibitions and interactive displays covering all aspects of media including photography, film, TV, video games and animation. The photography exhibition is fascinating with cameras through the ages, the world’s first negative and some evocative images from the Kodak era. Kiddies giggled their way through the Magic Factory and we reminisced at the old TV ads. It’s got Yorkshire’s only IMAX cinema and a media-themed cafe. There are temporary displays; I loved the ‘Light Fantastic’ room with its kaleidoscopic neon strips creating a rainbow of light.

Bradford Light Fantastic National Media Museum Yorkshire - photo zoedawes

Light Fantastic – National Media Museum

After a busy day travelling both literally and metaphorically through Bradford’s diverse history we returned to the Midland Hotel to get ready to go out for dinner. Its elegant interior reflects the industrial wealth that was generated by the cotton and wool barons of over a hundred years ago. Eating at Lala’s, it’s easy to see why Bradford has won ‘Curry Capital of Britain’ for three years running. Make sure you book a table when you visit Bradford – and order one of those enormous naans; symbol of this impressive city’s great big heart.

Bradford from National Media Museum - photo zoedawes

Bradford from National Media Museum

The next day we went to Saltaire, a UNESCO World Heritage village. Visit Salts Mill with the world’s biggest permanent collection of David Hockney artworks.

Salts Mill - Saltaire village Yorkshire - painting by David Hockney

Salts Mill – David Hockney

August 25, 2015

Enjoy 24 hours in Vancouver, Canada

Enjoy 24 hours in Vancouver, Canada
Art Deco Marine Building Vancouver - photo zoedawes

Art Deco Marine Building Vancouver

Quite possibly the most beautiful Art Deco building in the world is in Vancouver. The Marine Building was opened in 1930 and bought by the Guinness family. The walls are engraved with murals depicting sea travel through the ages and quirky ocean creatures. Above the revolving doors enormous Great Blue Herons (or Canada Geese?) fly off in opposite directions. At one time the tallest building not just in Canada, but the British Empire, it’s now, literally overshadowed by the many newer skycrapers that adorn the city.

Downtown Vancouver and Marine Building - photo zoedawes

Downtown Vancouver and Marine Building

I recently spent 24 hours in Vancouver, the urban heart of British Columbia; it could easily have been a week. Here are 10 things to do in Vancouver, especially if you enjoy getting a real feel for the place you stay in.

24 hours in Vancouver

 1. Hop on a Hop-Off Tour bus

View of Vancouver Public Library from Tour Bus - photo zoedawes

View of Vancouver Public Library from Tour Bus

One of best ways to see any city is to take a tour bus. There’s usually a good commentary giving a potted history of the place and you can orientate yourself easily before setting off on foot. With stops all over Vancouver you can spend as much or as little time as you want in each place. I got the  West Coast Sightseeing Hop On, Hop Off Bus and, as I had limited time, stayed on it for the whole ride – about 2 hours. I picked it up near my hotel, The Burrard, in downtown Vancouver and it trundled all round the city, including Yaletown, Gastown, Chinatown, Coal Harbour, Granville Island and Stanley Park. I fell in love with vibrant Vancouver from my seat on the bus …

2. Stroll around round Stanley Park

Stanley Park Rose Garden Vancouver - photo zoedawes

Stanley Park Rose Garden

Rhododendrons flower in spring and in summer the sensuous scent of thousands of roses wafts through the air. Surrounded by water on almost all sides, Stanley Park is a 1000 acre delight. There’s a 9km Sea Wall path which attracts joggers, cyclists and walkers as well as many trails through the ancient rainforest. A group of enormous Totem Poles proclaim the city’s First Nation heritage and at nearby Hallelujah Point, the Nine O’Clock Gun has boomed out every evening since 1894. The most popular family attraction is the Vancouver Marine Science Centre, with over 70,000 sea creatures from the Amazon to the Arctic, including beluga whales, dolphins, sea otters, turtles, sealions and crocodiles. There are stupendous views from Prospect Point and beaches all round.

Inukshuk sculpture by Alvin Kanak Vancouver - photo zoedawes

Inukshuk sculpture by Alvin Kanak

3. Explore the origins of industrial Vancouver in Gas Town

GastownSteamClock Vancouver LeonardG

Photo LeonardG

Ever seen a steam clock? No. neither had I until I came to Vancouver. Well, in Gas Town, you can see one. It looks Victorian but was actually put up in the 1970s. Every hour it tootles out the Westminster chimes and sends up jets of steam. Gas Town was the site of the original industrial development in the 1800s; timber and the ease of access to the waterways of Canada ensured its success. There are plenty of older buildings which contrast to the glassy skyscrapers, some great bars and cool restaurants plus lots of independent shops to browse around.

4. Get a flavour of Vancouver on a foodie tour

Fancy a huge plate of burritos and banana bread for breakfast? Or maybe a smoothie made from freshly-cropped microgreens? The best chocolate chip cookies in Canada (allegedly!)? Vancouver is a city that loves its food. I don’t mean likes its food, I mean LOVES its food. From exquisite Chinese dim sum via fresh local seafood, Italian pizzas to hearty steaks, food is the tasty key to Vancouver living.

Fresh oysters and seafood at Boulevard Oyster Bar Vancouv

Fresh oysters and seafood at Boulevard Oyster Bar

I can highly recommend taking a food tour with Jenn from Tours by Locals. She took us on a two-hour romp from breakfast to lunch across downtown Vancouver. We filled up on a huge selection of Mexican-inspired dishes served by delightfully camp Patrice at the wonderfully OTT diner Elbow Room Cafe. This was followed by a tasting of organic fruit and vegetable juices at achingly cool Krokodile Pear. Most bizarre yet compellingly modern was the scifi looking Urban Cultivator where rows of fridges produce ‘microgreens’ which are made into a huge variety of smoothies including Garden of Eden and Morning Sun. We ended up in at the Musette Cycle Caffe which serves excellent light lunches and snacks, including these scrumptious chocolate chip cookies.

Vancouver Musette Cycle Cafe chocolate chip cookies - photo zoedawes

Musette Cycle Cafe chocolate chip cookies

5. Get on your bike

Cycle City Tours Vancouver - photo zoedawes

Cycle City Tours

Well, maybe not yours but there are plenty of cycle hire shops around the city and it’s very easy to get about. If you have a guide book and a map, just take off and peddle, secure in the knowledge that is probably the most bike-friendly city in Canada. There are many bike lanes and everyone seems generally courteous. I went on a Cycle City Tours bike ride with fellow travel blogger Lucy Dodsworth (read her account of Vancouver food and art here) and Sarah Sheehan from Destination BC.

City Cycle Tour Vancouver - photo zoedawes

City Cycle Tour Zoe, Lucy and Sarah

Our guide, co-owner Josh took us on a fascinating journey past the verdant Law Courts, Marine Building, via Canada Place and along the Waterfront. We stopped off a various places to admire the intriguing public art and take in the ever-changing harbour landscape. We passed the enormous Totems in Stanley Park and Josh showed us the Stanley Great Blue Heronry next to the tennis courts. Cycling beside English Beach we saw many people sunbathing and a few swimming and paddling. You can choose more strenuous routes or a gentle ride enjoying the ever-changing scenery.

Cyclist at English Bay Vancouver - photo zoedawes

Cyclist at English Bay

6. Look down on Vancouver

Seaplane tours Vancouver - photo zoedawes

Seaplanes in Vancouver Harbour

Seaplanes, or floatplanes, take commuters, business people and sightseers up, up and away at regular intervals. You can book a short flight by plane or helicopter above the bay or go much further. (I fulfilled a lifelong ambition when I took a return flight in a seaplane from Campbell River to Knight Inlet in the Great Bear Rainforest; stunning scenery en route and great fun taking off and landing on water.) If you’d rather keep your feet on the ground then you can get an overview, not just of Vancouver, but the whole country with a virtual aerial tour from coast to coast with FlyOver Canada.

7. Take a ferry, boat, zodiac or kayak round Vancouver Harbour

False Creek from Granville island Vancouver - photo zoedawes

False Creek and Aqua Bus

Vancouver Harbour is one of the loveliest in the world and the best way to see it is from the water. It’s a working waterway but has plenty of pleasurable ways to view it. I got the colourful little Aqua Bus over to Granville Island. Even on this very brief trip I saw a huge number of craft from speed boats departing to find somewhere to waterski, bigger ferries heading off around the coast, smaller ferries carrying passengers around False Creek, tour boats full of tourists hoping to see whales, yachts setting sail in the brisk breeze and plucky kayaks weaving in and out of all this traffic.  The biggest attraction is being able to see Vancouver’s impressive architecture from the water; gazing up at those fabulous sky-scrapers is a truly awe-inspiring experience. Join Kathryn Burrington to see even more of Vancouver.

8. Mooch about a Museum

Museum of Vancouver and Space museum - photo Bobanny

Museum of Vancouver – photo Bobanny

There’s a museum to suit every interest and all ages in Vancouver, from the world-renowned Museum of Anthropology, with its enormous collection of aboriginal artefacts housed within a sensational building, via the Police Museum, Koerner Ceramics, Bill Reid Rotunda, Neon Vancouver, Vancouver Art Gallery and Maritime Museum to the quirky Museum of Vancouver, with its iconic metal crab sculpture outside and superb collection tracing the history and culture of this part of British Columbia through thousands of objects and into the future with the HR MacMillan Space Centre next door.

9. Find a café and watch the world go by

Caffé Artigiano barrista Josh

Caffé Artigiano barrista Josh making perfect coffee

After all this sightseeing and culture, it’s good to relax. Vancouver loves its coffee and the cafes are more than a ‘culture’; they’re a way of life. This is no 9-5 city; it buzzes all day and night and the cafes are used to meet friends, have business meetings, as informal offices or somewhere to catch up on news. In the uber-cool Caffé Atrigiano, top barrista Josh (yes, popular name) creates a great cup of coffee (top quality fresh Arabica beans) whilst the beautiful people sip and chat.

10. Get a Vancouver City Passport

Vancouver Trolley Bus company - photo zoedawes

Vancouver Trolley Bus company

The Vancouver City Passport gives great discounts and free entry to many of the attractions, museums, galleries, eateries and tours mentioned here, as well as dozens of others. The guidebook has some useful info and background details on the experiences. It’s valid for 2 adults, cost $20 (at time of visit) and can save you loads of money and time.

Explore Canada media group Sandbar Restaurant Vancouver

Explore Canada media group Sandbar Restaurant Vancouver

I ended my 24 hours in Vancouver having a superb seafood meal with my fellow travellers at Sandbar Seafood Restaurant on quirky Granville Island. Not only is the food delicous and the staff friendly, the view from False Creek is an ever-changing portrait of this fun, funky, fantastic city which managed to steal my heart in just one day in late spring.

Vancouver Harbour British Columbia Canada - photo zoedawes

Vancouver Harbour BC Canada

Gary Bembridge shares more top tips for Vancouver here.  I was on a Travelator Media trip, staying at the quirkiliciously hip Burrard Hotel in downtown Vancouver as a guest of Destination Canada. Find out more about awesome British Columbia here.

Burrard Hotel garden Vancouver - photo zoedawes

Burrard Hotel garden

Add this exciting city to your bucket list NOW – you’ll love it.

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Top 10 Things to Do in Vancouver BC - photo zoedawes

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