London Shoreditch Street Art Tour with a Tween

Last summer in London, my niece will tell you I tortured her with art.  If I tell the story, while I’m sure I should say it was an educational experience (which it was), it was actually a bit of revenge for her shopping torture I endured in Paris. At eleven, she wasn’t quite so keen on the hip, edgy and temporary displays of art in Shoreditch and Brick Lane.

Tween bored in London

Body language of a tween says it all! She really wanted to go shopping instead of learning about Street Art

I thought rather than explore the standard museums – British and Tate Modern, I would introduce her to the world of street art.  I’m sure I should have cared about her feelings but frankly, Aunt Sue wanted to do just one thing in the ten days and that was the Shoreditch Street Art tour.

Banksy London Street Art

Famous Banksy street art in London – behind a cafe, they added plexiglass and a bench

Shoreditch Street Art Tour

Love this Jimmy C Street Art in Shoreditch London

Having seen the street art of Melbourne, Paris and Santiago during my travels, London was next on my list.  The more I learned about street art, the more fascinating it became even more so after viewing the documentary “Exit from the Gift Shop” (which is brilliant).   If nothing else, street art allows you a bespoke adventure as the art on the walls today will be gone tomorrow.  Just like life, the art is fleeting….

Yarn bombing street art London

Yarn bombing street art in London

Street Art London

Street Art London – the shortened names make a statement

My niece and I journeyed over to Spitalfields Market, which in itself is a destination of market stalls and shops.  It was a warm, sunny, blue skied June day and perfect for a walking tour.  Despite visiting London many times over the years, I hadn’t been to Shoreditch (very trendy now) or Brick Lane area so in addition to the art, I would explore the neighborhoods too.  Our guide met the small group of ten (we paid in cash £15 for me and £10 for my niece) and he began showing us small street art in the form of stickers along the street post.

Street Art London

This is not the bird of happiness – the street art in London

And thus our exploration began as every surface became a canvas for artistic expression in the form of stickers, paint, yarn, large scale pieces and small modifications.  Street Art becomes a game when you start trying to find it mixed into the everyday minutae of life.

Street Art London

Street Art “I’m Not a Machine” in London – great reminder to stop and smell the roses

London Street Art

This was located in a back alley and a week later gone

For the next three hours we would turn down streets and alleys, told to look up, over and down to see the art that was hidden in plain site.  For some of the art, there is no way that I would have found it without a guide or had the background to know more about the work and the artist so the guided tour was invaluable.

Street Art London Thought Control

Street Art London Thought Control

Just like the other street art tours in Paris and Melburne, I took hundreds of photos, unlike those tours this time I had a tween asking me “are we done yet?  when can we go shopping” while I was pointing out a Banksy and trying to explain it to her.  Let’s hope when she gets older it all clicks (one can hope).

Shoreditch Street Art in London Stix Otto Schade

Street Art by Stix (left) and Otto Schade (right)

I’m back in London on the way home from my European sabbatical soon and look forward to wandering the streets of London in search of more fantastic works of street art. That’s the fun of street art, it’s never the same thing twice.  If you are planning a visit to London do add the Shoreditch Street Art tour to your MUST list but leave the tween at TopShop (with supervision of course)!

London Street Art r-o-n-e

The realistic street art in London by r-o-n-e

TopShop Happy Tween London

TopShop is all it takes to make a tween happy in London

Categories: Art, London, London Sightseeing, Look Up and See, Travel, Travel with Niece(s) | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Naples, Italy: Gritty, Chaotic and Beautiful (Just Like Life)

Naples waterfront Excelsior hotel

The view of Naples waterfront from Excelsior hotel

I never planned to visit Naples, Italy but was convinced by a business colleague who had been stationed there during his time in the Navy. He loved it and to hear him talk of Naples well I wanted to love it too. He warned me that the people can be “gruff at first but if you can get in through the shell, they’re family”

After a flight from Barcelona with the couple from hell (who waited to board last) – the woman in front of me not only put her seat back into my knees pinning me in, but she was bouncing in her seat too (no idea why or how) while her husband across the aisle threw his Louis Vuitton bag in the aisle when no overhead space was available causing the flight attendant to pick it up and find it a home somewhere. These two were my introduction to Naples and they were foreshadowing to my time – while it looked glamorous and shiny, underneath it was gritty.

Welcome to Naples

Arriving the airport was the easy part as was retrieving my luggage from the small baggage area. When I exited into the bright sun, I followed the easily marked signs to the “taxi” line. I said “buon giorno” and my bags and I were quickly in a cab and on the road. During the long drive, we passed all the evidence of a city – the high rises, the graffiti, the trash, the traffic and eventually the highway over the water. It wasn’t much different from my Philadelphia or New York City – people live here versus the tourist enclave that now exist in Venice.

Castel Nuovo Naples

A short ten minute walk on the pedestrian waterfront is Castel Nuovo

The streets were crowded with traffic but in this case it was pure chaos! There were no marked lanes just a free for all – bikes, Vespa’s, cars, taxis, trucks, busses, etc. I’m pretty hardened to the ways of the city and have survived the craziness of Lima, the NYC taxis and my daily highway commute in Philly but this was something entirely different – this was art and it wasn’t friendly like “sure you can go ahead of me” this was winner take all in the quest to get ahead. Along the way, the graffiti tagging was everywhere and it made me sad because with it came the inevitable piles of trash.

Naples train cars graffiti

This took me back to my childhood in the 70s/80s with the graffiti – surprised to see it in 2015 in Naples

 

My first impressions of Naples was “yuck” but then we arrived at my hotel on the waterfront, Partenope Relais and I saw the beauty of the bay. Thankfully the taxi had a flat rate of €23 for my adventurous ride. At one point, his Italian and my English both said “crazy” during the traffic.

The Beauty

You can’t deny that the Bay of Naples is quite the beauty. With views of Mount Vesuvius, Sorrento and the Isle of Capri as well as boats in the harbor it is gorgeous. I quickly forgot about the graffiti, the traffic, the yuck and settled into my little world of pedestrian only waterfront enjoyment. My other brush with beauty would come with my last minute decision to Bike Napoli (because I needed a bit more excitement to my life in the chaotic city that my friend said “don’t drive there, it’s crazy and chaotic”).

 

View from Naples

View from Naples

The Chaotic

My colleague gave me a list to do in Naples and one involved going to the Old Town and walking along Toledo to stop at the Piazza Plebicito, Galleria Umberto and small cafes along the way. Rather than take the bus or metro to Toledo, I walked from the hotel and while they said it would take forty five minutes to an hour, I easily strolled the early morning Saturday as shops were setting up in about 20 minutes or so (note that the laneways quickly filled with people so the time estimate of one hour could be accurate). This was after figuring out how to cross the street (no traffic lights) – the drivers don’t quite know that the zebra stripes on the ground in the crosswalk mean to stop for people.

Dog Walker Naples

As if the streets weren’t crowded enough a dog walker gets into the fray on Saturday afternoon

Welcome to Times Square on a Friday Night – Napoli Style

When I turned onto Toledo there were people – just hordes of people everywhere that the sidewalks couldn’t contain them and they spilled into the streets. While normally cars drive on the street, for a portion of my walk in the street, it seemed to be a pedestrian zone today interrupted only by the police vehicles. I saw so many police walking together on the streets and sidewalks, riding bikes and driving cars all throughout the day – I’m not sure if I felt safer or if this was a police state.

Naples Police Foot Patrol

Walking in pairs these police officers are part of a ground team of cars, bikes and foot patrols

So in the masses of people there were the normal types – slow walkers, strollers, couples holding hands across the sidewalk so you can’t pass, street artists and the Vespa’s attempting to cut through the crowds. How they made it across was just a dance of people and machine. I wasn’t in tune with it yet (I would be by the end of the trip) so it all seemed insane, claustrophobic and reminded me of Times Square in New York, of which I’m not a fan.

Street Art Naples

Street Art Naples – lets hope the city can breakthrough to a new image

Naples odd street artist

This street artist cried like a baby, rocked in his cradle and played with the little kids who stopped – I thought he was creepy, others didn’t think so in Naples

Then I turned right in search of the Underground tour. With the address in hand and a map (yes, a real tourist map), I traversed the zigs and the zags of the road passing the churches, the book sellers, the cafes, the snack shops and looking up at the lines of laundry (Italian’s don’t have dryers). This was real life stuff, while it looks romantic in the photos, it’s just life in Naples courtesy of knickers, jeans and socks.

Underground Naples

Leaving the basement of the theatre found under the house and now apartments

I wouldn’t find the tour location on the first try because I didn’t realize the Italian logic of walking straight on a road and the name of the road changing five times! Once I embraced this crazy logic, the puzzle of Naples started to piece together.

Did I Love It Too?

I can honestly say that while “Naples is Like a Movie Set” as my bike guide told me and we experienced, I wasn’t a fan initially, it took a while for me to get into the groove and see the potential (long term) but that said, I won’t be back anytime soon. Changes are slowly being made but my Italy has always been this glamorous country full of Tuscan farmhouses, vineyards, historic churches, the Amalfi Coast and rides on gondolas. Naples paints a real picture of Italian life, the side you often don’t see as you follow the tourist path in the popular Italian cities. Maybe that was it, it felt too real, too much like home and I was trying to escape home, trying to escape into the fantasy world that is Italy – La Dolce Vita.

Naples Bay Friends on the Waterfront

Friends enjoying the relaxing view of Bay of Naples

 

 

Categories: Italy, My Thoughts and Musings, Naples, Travel | Tags: | Leave a comment

A Suite Surprise at the Excelsior Naples

One of the best benefits of the Starwood SPG program is using points to redeem for hotels that you’d rarely ever stay in due to the cost or type.  The Excelsior in Naples was one such hotel – it is a historic hotel located at the end of the Partenope with views of the Castel du Novo, Naples Bay, Mount Vesuvius, Capri and Sorrento.  As I was initially staying at the contemporary, movie themed boutique hotel, Partenope Renais, I thought to save money, I would redeem 10,000 points to try the Luxury Collection property.

Naples waterfront hotel Excelsior

Luxury hotel on the Naples waterfront

Location

At one end of the pedestrian only road  via Partenope and across from Castel Novo with amazing views from the rooms. From the airport it is a fixed (flat) rate of €23 to the hotel.  There are a myriad of restaurants along the waterfront and a supermarket a short walk away (about 5 minutes/two blocks).

Naples waterfront Excelsior hotel

The view of Naples waterfront from Excelsior hotel

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Underground Naples – Discover the History

Hidden within the lanes of the Old Town is the Underground Naples Tour. As you descend the stairs to another world entirely, you quickly forget the chaos of the city above, the heat of the day and are taken back in time.

Underground Naples tunnel

Despite many tunnels there is only a small portion of the underground escavated

 

I had no clue about this tour. I made an offhanded comment at an Italian restaurant in Barcelona that “I was preparing my stomach for Naples” and the waiter said “the owner is from Naples”. The owner greeted me and took me behind the bar to show me on the computer where to go, what to eat and what to do for my visit (he also offered me a shot of Limoncello). On his computer after the L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele recommendation and the Herculaneum site at Ercolano he pointed to the Underground Naples tour of the city so I thanked him and added it to my list.

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Skipping the Pizza Line in Naples at L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele

Two people, my colleague and the Napoli owner of the Italian restaurant in Barcelona, said you MUST eat pizza at the oldest pizza shop in Naples, L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele. I had to go to experience a real Napoli pizza in all its glory.   With the assistance of Google Maps, I eventually found the pizza shop after two prior failed attempts.  The shop is somewhat hidden on the street save for the groups of people standing outside waiting for their number to be called.  The masses are what made me look and see the small shop sign.

L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele Naples

After my Bike Napoli tour, I earned the pizza! I was hungry and tired and this was my last day in Naples so I had to have this pizza (you see the buildup don’t you, the anticipation and the expectation). The pizza shop’s website says that “the historic pizzeria has often been described by experts and journalists as “the Sacred Temple of Pizza””.   Hmmm…

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5 Travel Planning Tips – Deciding Where To Go?

“Where do you want to go”?  is a question I have a hard time answering.  “I want to go everywhere” doesn’t quite satisfy the person who asked the question.  When I do decide on a destination, the follow up question is then “Why Go There?” which is often times even harder to explain.  Many times, the “Why” is because I had points and this was the best redemption.  So if you need a bit of destination inspiration to find somewhere new to go – here are my 5 Travel Planning Tips on Deciding Where to Go.

Gondolas in Venice

Venice is known for gondola rides but how many learn to row the boat?

 

1. Ancestral Travel

Where is your family from?  Do you still have family there?  Often times, ancestral travel is the spark that people need to plan a trip.  “We want to see where grandma was born, visit her village, etc.”.  Ancestral travel provides a connection to a family narrative and can tangibly provide the sights, sounds and tastes of history for you. My mom wants to visit Ireland (it’s on the list Mom, don’t worry) to see where her grandparents were born.  I have friends with relatives in Italy, Greece and Portugal who grew up hearing about cousins, aunts and uncles only to visit when they were older.

The Ha'Penny bridge in Dublin at night

The Ha’Penny bridge in Dublin at night

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The View from the Boat as I learn to Row Venice

How on earth did I end up here in the middle of the Venice lagoon? The last few minutes were a blank as I remember being at the end of the calm canal told that I needed to row past the two pole markers in the lagoon. In the middle of those poles was what was essentially the high speed highway of boats and taxis making the rounds from the airport, train station and elsewhere going to Venice. I was basically playing frogger as I’ve done on many bike tours but this time on a large row boat in the open water. What had I signed up for?

Venice Lagoon private water taxi

The fast lanes of traffic on the lagoon but our boat and gondolas get priority which was nice to hear

Ok, so it wasn’t as dramatic as that (in my mind it was though as I was a bit scared leaving the calm canal). I signed up for a rowing lesson from Row Venice thinking it was a basic paddling in the canals but they go all out to give you the experience and now that I’m back on land, I can say it was pretty awesome. It’s the feeling of being scared in line for the roller coaster only to get off and scream “I want to do that again!”. The most important thing was I didn’t fall into the water (don’t laugh, I was really concerned by this given that I fall just walking most days so I checked out the FAQ and to date no one has fallen into the water).

Gondolas in Venice

Venice is known for gondola rides but how many learn to row the boat?

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Categories: Activities/Experiences, Italy, Travel, Venice | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

Waking Up to Fresh Bread at Praktik Bakery Hotel Barcelona

When I was younger, my father would go to the pretzel bakery on Saturdays. The smell of warm Philly soft pretzels would make its way up to my bedroom and become my alarm clock. Pretzels for breakfast is definitely a Philly thing but at the core, it’s just another type of bread and I do love bread. So when the owner of Devour Barcelona recommended the Praktik Bakery Hotel in Barcelona I was instantly hooked on the concept – a hotel with a bakery in the lobby or is it a bakery with a hotel on top? Either way, I was an elevator ride away from pure happiness in the morning (and afternoon and evening!).

Praktik Bakery Hotel bread

The first thing you see as you enter the front door at Praktik Bakery Hotel

Praktik Bakery Hotel lobby

The elevator opens to reveal the busy bakery

Note: If you are gluten free (i.e. – my sister) sorry to torture you with the bread photos below (you may enjoy Praktik Vinoteca Hotel instead as it’s all about the wine)

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