Fort York, Toronto’s birthplace

Did you know that American troops invaded Canada once?

Yes – well done, you history buff you!
No – don’t feel bad, I didn’t know it either.

In 1812, the United States and Great Britain went to war. In April 1813, the US Army and Navy attacked York, as Toronto was called then. The outnumbered defenders retreated to Fort York from the beachhead on Lake Ontario. The Battle of York lasted six hours. The Americans occupied the town of York for six days, looting homes, destroying supplies and burning public buildings.

The Canadians retaliated in 1814 by burning the Capitol and the White House, among other buildings, in Washington.

War ended in December 1814 but news reached the Dominion in February 1815. Both sides claim victory to this day.

Fort York’s history

Fort York started as a garrison built by Lieutenant-Governor John S. Simcoe in 1793 to enable the British to control Lake Ontario.

As is usually the case, civilians settled nearby and gave the community the name of York. Years later, in 1834, the town was renamed Toronto.

The original log buildings deteriorated and were replaced by new barracks by Simcoe’s successors. The British Army continued to sue the fort until 1870, when the Canadian government took on the responsibility for the country’s defense. The army used Fort York until the 1930s.

The city of Toronto restores the fort in the early 1930s and opened it as a museum.

Fort York today –  a visit in pictures

Fort York is located near downtown Toronto on 100 Garrison Road. I took the Red Rocket (TTC’s trolley) to the fort. I had to leg it for a bit to the entrance.

The Red Rocket
The Red Rocket
Fort York has a fantastic view of Toronto's skyline
Fort York has a fantastic view of Toronto’s skyline. What would the soldiers say about the view and the city today?
Welcome. Come in and make yourselves at home
Welcome. Come in and make yourselves at home
First, I visited the 1815 Brick Barracks, which originally housed 100 people each. The soldiers’ wives and children lived here too.
First, I visited the 1815 Brick Barracks, which originally housed 100 people each. The soldiers’ wives and children lived here too.
The 1815 stone magazine stored 900 barrels of gunpowder. Its walls are 2 metre (6 feet) thick. The adjacent well provided clean water. This one is a reconstruction based on old army plans.
The 1815 stone magazine stored 900 barrels of gunpowder. Its walls are 2 metre (6 feet) thick. The adjacent well provided clean water. This one is a reconstruction based on old army plans.
I came across a handful of groups of students. These ones seem to be enjoying the guided visit.
I came across a handful of groups of schoolchildren. These ones seem to be enjoying the guided visit.
Officer's uniform and stove.
Officer’s bedroom.
Officers' mess. Nice and cozy.
Officers’ mess. Nice and cozy.
The 1815 Officers' brick barracks and mess
The 1815 Officers’ brick barracks and mess
Another view of the fort and Toronto in the background that emphasizes  the contrast between historic and modern.
Another view of the fort and Toronto in the background that emphasizes the contrast between historic and modern.

Lake Buchanan and a submerged town – Texas

If you don’t want to get funny looks from people, you’ll say /buhk hăn uhn/ when in Texas.

Lake Buchanan is located in the Hill Country of Central Texas. Like most lakes in the state, it was artificially created as a water and hydroelectric power supply for the region. We visited Lake Buchanan during one of our road trips around Texas.

We stayed at the Canyon of the Eagles Resort, located on the mouth of Lake Buchanan and the Colorado River. It’s about a four-hour drive south of Dallas. The views of the lake down below were beautiful. Bald eagles nest in the area during the winter. Unfortunately, we did not see any but we enjoyed the magnificence of the flight of other big birds of prey.

View of Lake Buchanan from the Canyon of the Eagles resort
View of Lake Buchanan from the Canyon of the Eagles resort

We took a cruise around the lake. Our guide, a retired schoolteacher, told us the story of the lake and the dam, completed in 1939. She even taught us the correct pronunciation of Burnet, a nearby town, with a rhyme that went like this: It’s Burnet, durn it, can’t you learn it?” Really easy to remember. She also pointed out the local birds like egrets and herons.

An egret
An egret

The cruise included a tour of the remains of the town of Bluffton. In 1931, when the authorities started to plan the construction of the dam, the town was moved a few miles away and the site flooded. A severe drought exposed the ruins in 2011, which have become a tourist attraction ever since.

There isn't much left of Bluffton. It's exactly Atlantis.
There isn’t much left of Bluffton. It’s not  exactly Atlantis.

Lake Buchanan, Texas3



Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar

“How do I find this place again?”

“Take a photo with your phone, that way you can ask for directions back here”

Carsikapi Gate (Beyazit tram stop)
Carsikapi Gate (Beyazit tram stop)

My husband was sitting at a café inside the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul with a steaming cup of tea. I was going to explore the bazaar but was worried I’d never be able to find the right café in that maze-like market. As it turned out, his advice was very helpful. When I had to ask someone for direction back to the café, I simply showed him the photo.

The jewelers’ corridor literally glittered. Each window was dripping with gold bracelets, chains, earrings, cuffs, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, pearls and other precious stones in all shapes and sizes. The reflection of the light on so much gold made taking good photos impossible and made my eyes hurt.

One of the arched halls
One of the  halls

The displays were so beautiful: silk scarves, hand-painted isnik ceramics, pashminas, spices, handbags, silverware, and table linen. Even the trinkets and miscellaneous tourist tat looked pretty and enticing. The kilims, rugs and rug salesmen deserve a special note. These men are very insistent, they won’t take no for an answer. They will follow you and talk to you in different languages so pretending you don’t understand doesn’t work. We were polite but firm. No, thank you, we’re not interested in buying a rug.

Typical Turkish tea and coffee sets
Typical Turkish tea and coffee sets

I did, however, buy a leather handbag. I was coveting a gorgeous one embroidered with silk thread. I asked the price, TL (Turkish Lira) 500, more money than I had in my pocket. The young salesman then showed me cheaper ones embroidered in wool, very pretty too but not quite the same. These cost TL 380.

“I don’t have that kind of money right now, sorry.”

“How much do you have?”

“250 lira” I thought this might have been a mistake. No one needs to know how much I have. He said he was just an employee and was going to fetch the owner. I felt a bit uneasy; I do not like haggling at all. I was about to leave, anyway, because not having enough money felt embarrassing to me.

“Don’t be sorry,” he said. “This is just business. It’s not personal.”

Rugs and cushion covers
Rugs and cushion covers

The owner came in and asked if I had dollars? No. Euro? No. He smiled and let me have the handbag for the money I had. It felt like a bargain but it was definitely not at about US$ 120. “It’s made in Turkey, not China” said the owner. “Nothing from China.” A sign of the times, I thought. The young attendant wanted to give me a coin as a good luck token because I had no money left, which, apparently, is bad luck in Turkey. “It’s all right, thanks. I have some loose change.” This seemed good enough for him.



Grand Bazaar

 Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

To get here, take the tram and get off at either Beyazit or Çemberlitaş.

The bazaar was established by Mehmet II in 1453 in what is now known as the Bazaar Quarter. This labyrinthine indoor market has cafes, restaurants, a mosque, a police station, offices, public restrooms (tuvalet) and banks. The Grand Bazaar extends to the adjacent streets.

What to buy: anything you want! I bought gorgeous pashminas, an iznik ceramic bowl, silk scarves and, of course, a suede and embroidered fabric handbag. Spices and tea are a good option too.

A historic pizzeria experience in Buenos Aires

Melted cheese, baked dough, cardboard boxes, and the vapors from the espresso machine. Any old, traditional pizzeria in Buenos Aires smells like that.

El Cuartito is one of those pizzerias, founded in 1934. It is a no-frills, paper tablecloth on Formica table kind of place. Years ago, a former boyfriend of mine took me there for dinner and I felt slightly offended. Don’t I deserve linen and a candle on the table? I clearly did not appreciate the cultural value of a historic pizzeria. I do now.

In the background, the bar where people can eat "de parado"
In the background, the bar where people can eat “de parado”

Cut to the present. Since El Cuartito is within walking distance from the Colón Opera House, I decided to treat my nieces and my mother to a different culinary experience before taking the guided visit. We got there fifteen minutes before opening time at 12:30. A group of people was already waiting outside El Cuartito: tourists, office workers, old-timers, a motorcycle courier or two.

The doors opened and we all quickly found a place to sit. Or stand, as the case may be. People can order pizza by the slice or empanadas and eat standing at a special wooden counter. That’s what we call comer de parado. Service is really fast, ideal for people on the go like the motorcycle courier.

We ordered a pizza de musarela (Argentinean Spanish for mozzarella) and a pizza napolitana (with slices of tomato and tons of fresh garlic). The strings of melted cheese stretched for ever, which made it fun to serve and eat each slice. The base was neither too thin nor too thick, the traditional media masa, crispy and chewy at the same time. Our waiter acted in a very professional, brisk and efficient manner. Definitely a career waiter, as opposed to a student holding a summer job.

Our "pizza de musarela'
Our “pizza de musarela’

Old posters and prints cover every inch of the walls, mainly sports memorabilia. Autographed photos of local football teams; posters announcing boxing fights or car races. It reads like a Who’s Who of Argentinean sports history since the 1940s. It goes without saying that only my mum and I knew most of these sporting stars; my nieces, aged 10, 13 and 17, had no clue! However, they enjoyed the experience, as did we.

We felt too full for dessert. This kind of pizzeria serves traditional, old-fashioned desserts like sopa inglesa (vanilla cake, dulce de leche, whipped cream and port), rice pudding, tarantela (crème caramel with apple slices), flan casero mixto (homemade crème caramel topped with whipped cream and dulce de leche.)

I put the leftover napolitana in my spacious handbag. The smell of garlic dogged us for the rest of afternoon but it made for a wonderful dinner snack that night.

Sports memorabilia very which way.


* Address: Talcahuano 937. Open every day from 12:30 to 1 am except Mondays.

Córdoba’s Natural History Museum

As my young nephews and I walked down Poeta Lugones Avenue, skirting the lush Sarmiento Park, their excitement mounted. The boys, aged 5 and 7, live in a medium-sized town, so taking the bus sans parents to the big city to see a glyptodon for the first time was a great adventure.

The entrance. The museums is located in the north section of the beautiful Parque Sarmiento
The entrance. The museums is located in the north section of the beautiful Parque Sarmiento

Our final destination was the Natural Science Museum of Córdoba (Argentina.) The current building was opened in 2007 and is located in the tony neighbourhood of Nueva Córdoba. The circular interior was designed in the shape of a spiral in which three levels are joined by a continuous ramp. The handrail is quite wide and even has backlit displays along the top.

The interior
The interior

The collections include rocks and minerals from around the world, which alas failed to create excitement among our party. However, the local flora and fauna displays did. The absolute stars were the fossil reproductions of local Pleistocene megafauna: sabre tooth tigers, smilodons, mastodons, glyptodonts, and the like. Actually, one glyptodon shell is the real McCoy and was discovered during the construction of a dam.

Hello Mr Glyptodon!
Hello Mr Glyptodon!

On the third floor is the newest exhibition, called ‘The Rebirth of the Giants” (El renacer de los gigantes). It consists of displays of fossils found in the area and studied by the Museum’s paleontologists, as well as photos and videos of the paleontological site and the scientists’ field work. The boys and I watched the videos; then they asked questions which I tried to answer to the best of my scant knowledge and made comments about what they saw. It was lovely to see them engaged.

I love taking my nieces and nephews to museums. My mother says it is my signature outing! I firmly believe that it is never too early to acquire all kinds of knowledge. Beside, creating lasting memories is so much fun.


Mr Glyptodon and friends
Mr Glyptodon and friends

Museo Provincial de Ciencias Naturales Dr. Arturo Umberto Illia

Av. Poeta Lugones 395, Barrio Nueva Córdoba, Argentina

Tuesdays through Sundays 10:oo to 5;30. Summer opening hours vary

Admission $15. Free for pensioners, students and children under 18. 

Walking tour of Old Montreal

Vieux Montreal is a safe and lively neighbourhood tucked away between the St. Lawrence River and the center of town. It dates back more than 350 years and is the city’s birthplace. The area has a long and interesting history and it helped shape the Montreal of today.

Since the best way to know a place is on foot, here is a walking tour that will take you along quaint streets and show the highlights of Old Montreal.

One of the many gorgeous streets
One of the many gorgeous streets

What better than a hearty breakfast to start the day? Head to Olive + Gourmando (351 Rue Saint-Paul Ouest) It opens at 8 and by 11 it’s already jam-packed. It’s closed on Sundays and Mondays, so plan accordingly. Their delicious cafe au lait and moist chocolate and banana brioche will fortify you for this walk and leave you begging for more. If you must inevitably take this tour on a Monday, start at the museum and then have your cafe au lait at Creme de la Creme (21 rue de la Commune, it has another entrance on the corner of Rue St-Paul and Rue Saint-Jean-Baptiste), a more traditional local cafe.

As you leave the cafe, walk down Rue St-Paul to your left as far as Place Royal. Turn right and head towards Pointe-à-Callière, Montreal’s Museum of Archaeology and History. The museum was built on the very site where Mass was held on May 17, 1642 to celebrate the funding of Montreal. Its underground archaeological exhibition covers six centuries of history: from the time the First Nations lived there to the present. You can also see the first man-made structure associated with the founding of Montreal: the city’s first Catholic cemetery discovered as recently as 1989. In the archaeological crypt you’ll find an interactive installation that showcases scenes of daily life in 1750.  There are free guided tours every Saturday, both in French and in English.

The cupola of Bonsecours towers over the street
The cupola of Bonsecours towers over the street

Walk back to Rue Saint-Paul. Amble past overpriced souvenir shops, cafes, restaurants and boutiques. Soak up the European atmosphere. As you approach Rue Dizier, look out for Les Chuchoteuses, a bronze sculpture of three chubby town gossips by Quebecois artist Rose-Aimee Belanger placed right on the corner.

A few blocks further up Rue Saint-Paul you’ll see the Bonsecours Market on your right. It was built in 1847 and went through many reincarnations until the present one as headquarters of the Conseil des metiers d’art du Quebec (Quebec Crafts Council). The market houses art shops, boutiques and cafes, as well as free exhibitions of arts and crafts. Its building is considered one of Canada’s ten finest heritage buildings.


Across Rue Bonsecours is the church of Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours. It was built in 1771 over the ruins of an earlier stone chapel. It is also known as the Sailors’ Church. Sailors have left carved wood replicas of sailing ships as tokens of thanks. Take time to visit the Marguerite Bourgeoys Museum next door (closed on Mondays, opening times vary throughout the year, adult admission fee $12) dedicated to the founder of the  Congregation of Notre Dame of Montreal and pioneer of Montreal. Through the crypt you enter an archaeological site where you can see remains of the foundations of the first stone chapel, traces of the First Nations people’s everyday life 2400 years ago, as well as artifacts that trace the history of this site. Climb to the top of the tower, the highest point on Montreal, for fantastic views of Old Montreal, the river, the Old Port and beyond.

Chateau Ramezay
Chateau Ramezay

Now walk up Rue Bonsecours as far as Rue Notre-Dame and turn left. One block over, on your left, is the Chateau Ramezay Museum (280 Rue Notre-Dame Est). A former governor’s residence built in 1706 in the French Regime style; its displays show economic and social life in the 18th and 19th century Quebec.

As you leave the museum, walk along Rue Notre-Dame to your left. You’ll see the Hotel Ville (City Hall, 1872-1878) on your right and next to it, the Vieux Palais de Justice (Old Courthouse, 1856). Almost across from the City Hall is the Place Jacques-Cartier, a pedestrian street that slopes towards the waterfront. It is lined with cafes and restaurants, park benches, artists selling sketches and paintings, and lots of flowers in the warmer months.

The amazing altar of Notre-Dame basilica
The amazing altar of Notre-Dame basilica

Return to Rue Notre-Dame. A few blocks further south west is the Notre-Dame Basilica. It was built in 1824-1829 and its interior design was inspired by the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. The nave is kept relatively dark so that the brightly lit altar stands out in all its grandeur. There is a $5 admission fee. It was built by an Irish Protestant architect who converted to Catholicism before the church was finished, undoubtedly moved by this powerful work of art.

Across the street from the basilica is the Place d’Armes. At its center is a monument to the founder or Montreal, Paul de Chomedey, Sieur de Maisonneuve (1612-1676). Old Montreal is a real gem well worth a visit.

Place Jean Cartier
Place Jacques-Cartier
Marguerite Bourgeoys Museum 
Chateau Ramezay
Notre-Dame Basilica
Frommer’s Montreal & Quebec City 2009

5 day trips from Buenos Aires

Visiting a big city like Buenos Aires can be overwhelming at times: chaotic traffic, noise levels through the roof, swarms of people wherever you go. This didn’t use to bother me when I lived there; on the contrary, I rather enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the big city. I found it exhilarating. It made me feel alive.

Nowadays, however, it’s exactly the opposite. I live in a quiet suburb of Dallas, where life goes by at a more sedate pace and birdsong has replaced car horns. So when I visit my family in Buenos Aires, I need to get away from it all, even a few hours will do nicely. My parents enjoy exploring the countryside and we used to go on day trips as a family. Now, they take my husband and me to visit old haunts and new places for a fun and relaxing day out.

The Basilica's nave - Luján
The Basilica’s nave – Luján

About an hour’s drive away is the town of Luján, Argentina’s biggest pilgrimage center. Its basilica attracts thousands of pilgrims every year, both people on foot and gauchos on horseback. I visited the basilica many times; I still remember how scared I was as a child of the bayonets and crutches that lined the walls, donated by long-ago dead soldiers as tokens of thanks. Fortunately, they were removed when the neogothic basilica was restored and tarted up. Interestingly, the bells were fashioned from melted World War I cannons.

I get my history fix at the Enrique Udaondo museum complex, across the square from the basilica. The old cabildo, where much of the country’s early history took place, houses a fantastic collection of historical objects. The country’s first steam locomotive, the first plane to fly between Spain and Argentina in 1926, and Mancha and Gato, the first horses to join Buenos Aires and New York in 1933 are on display at the Transport Museum, among other historic types of transport.

View of the basilica's towers in the twilight
View of the basilica’s towers in the twilight

Not far from Luján is the pretty little town of Carlos Keen. Carlos Keen is a railway town created in 1881 as a water stop for the steam engines. The disused station houses a cultural center now. Every weekend, there’s an arts and crafts fair on the station grounds. I love to browse the stalls and chat with the vendors. The station depot went to wrack and ruin through the decades but it has been restored and is used for art exhibitions and classes.

A leisurely stroll is much needed after a copious lunch. We have been to many of the restaurants in Carlos Keen and could not pick a favourite. However, in the colder months, I would rather eat at any of the restaurants in the town centre. In warm weather, I love the rural establishments where we can sit outside, eat fabulous food surrounded by nature and a flock of ducks or a cow or two. The menu is more or less the same everywhere: a picada de campo, Argentinean-style tapas with locally sourced cold cuts and cheeses and crusty bread, followed by either homemade pasta or asado (meats grilled gaucho-style).

The disused train station now houses an arts and crafts market every weekend
The disused train station now houses an arts and crafts market every weekend –  Carlos Keen

Cheese lovers will love Suipacha and its Ruta del Queso (cheese trail). It is as delicious as it sounds. Although I adore cheese, my favorite place was probably the antiques store located at the town’s entrance, where I bought an English china tea set from the 1940s. Once we got antiquing out of the way, we visited the local boar farm, called La Escuadra. The owner explained everything there is to know about rearing boars and took us on a tour of the premises. We decided to stay for lunch. The star ingredient was boar, of course and they served dishes like boar ravioli or boar stew, using family recipes handed down the generations.

The cheese trail consists of a guided or self-guided visit to local cheese factories. Some charge a small fee and provide a tour of the facilities but some don’t. It’s not all about cheese however; there is a blueberry farm as well as the boar farm. They all sell their products there and then. My dad’s car was considerably heavier on the two-hour drive back home.

Uribelarrea, 80 kilometers southwest of Buenos Aires, is another railway town. Sadly, the town suffered greatly when some of the railway lines were closed. The disused station, red brick and dark green trimmings in the best English fashion, now houses the police station. Tourism has helped revive the town’s economy. Uribelarrea is probably my favorite rural town. Nothing beats the picada and the craft beer from the local microbrewery La Uribeña. The old pulpería, a typical bar and general store from the pampas, is also popular.

Microbrewery La Uribeña  -Uribelarrea
Microbrewery La Uribeña -Uribelarrea

On one of our visits, we went to the Escuela Agrotécnia Salesiana Don Bosco, an agricultural school founded in 1894 and run by Salesian priests. Thanks to their hands-on approach, students learn by doing, and then sell their products to the public. We bought the most delicious dulce de leche, which they are famous for, and mandarin marmalade.

On another occasion, we took our young nephews to the local goat farm, called Valle de Goñi. The boys had lots of fun trying to get into the corrals to play with the goats while we had coffee and cake in the garden.

Incidentally, some scenes of the film Evita by Alan Parker were shot inside the church built in 1890.

Capilla del Señor was the first rural town to be declared Town of Historic Interest by Congress. Its Museum of Journalism displays the printing press used to print the first newspaper of the province of Buenos Aires, El Monitor de la Campaña (The Rural Monitor) and is located in the home of the newspaper founder.

Serene countryside
Serene countryside

The local cemetery, opened in 1838, bears witness to a cholera epidemic unknowingly started by a traveling fruit seller. Visiting a cemetery may sound creepy, but this one is interesting in that some of the older headstones are written in English and in French, not something I would expect to see in the Argentinean pampas. I later learned that the Irish and French communities were very influential here in the 19th century.

The origin of Capilla del Señor goes back to the mid-18th century, when local landowner Casco de Mendoza started selling plots of his land around the church, following the traditional Spanish grid layout. The main buildings (church, town hall, school, and museum) are located around the main square, or plaza. We parked the car on one of its sides and took a stroll around, enjoying the peace and quiet while planning our visit with the help of the brochures form the Tourist Office. We then bought delicious pastries from a bakery and took a leisurely stroll along the river.

These towns are accessible by train and bus from Buenos Aires.

London: from Trafalgar Square to Covent Garden

Hi there! Let me be your guide today. Come with me on a pleasant walk from Trafalgar Square to Covent Garden in the wonderful city of London.

The starting point is Charing Cross underground station, not to be confused with the Charing Cross railway station.

Once above ground, we cross the street towards Trafalgar Square. We can walk around and admire its monuments. Nelson’s Column, the most important one, was finished in 1843. It commemorates Admiral Horatio Nelson, the naval hero who defeated the Napoleonic navy at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and died after sustaining wounds during that battle.

Trafalgar Square. The National Gallery in the background. The current sculpture on the Fourth Plinth to the left. You can't miss the blue rooster!
Trafalgar Square. The National Gallery in the background. The current sculpture on the Fourth Plinth to the left. You can’t miss the blue rooster!

Trafalgar Square presents an oddity: the Fourth Plinth. This plinth was originally designed for a statue of King William IV but it was never carried out due to shortage of funds. It stood empty until 1999, when it was decided that modern sculptures would be put in place and rotate every year or so.

If we have the time and energy, we could visit the National Gallery and admire famous works of art of all times. If not, we carry on down The Strand, which starts at the roundabout outside Charing Cross station.

The Strand follows a route used since Roman times. Yep, they were in the British Isles too, which they called Britannia. The aristocracy moved to The Strand area at around the 12th century and built palaces and mansions, most of which were demolished along the centuries.

The Strand
The Strand

On the right hand side, we can see Charing Cross railway station next to the Charing Cross Hotel. In the courtyard outside, an apparently medieval monument attracts our attention. It is Eleanor’s Cross. This is a Victorian loose interpretation of the 1294 original, built by King Edward I in memory of his wife, Queen Eleanor of Castile. The Parliament had it destroyed in 1647 during the Civil War. It is very sad to think that there was a civil war in every country on this planet. Eleanor’s Cross is also used to measure distances within the City of London.

Charing Cross and Eleanor's Cross
Charing Cross and Eleanor’s Cross

The Strand is a busy thoroughfare, with many shops, pubs, restaurants, hotels and offices. I like to take in the atmosphere, watch people come and go and guess who’s a visitor and who’s a local, as well as admire the stately buildings.

One of these grand buildings is the Savoy Hotel, built in 1889. It was built where the Savoy Palace used to be. This palace, owned by John of Gaunt, a medieval smooth political operator known as the King Maker, was destroyed during the Peasants Revolt of 1381. The Savoy Hotel was the first hotel in London to have electric light and elevators as well as private bathrooms.

Now we turn left and walk up Southampton Street as far as Covent Garden. It’s a couple of blocks, if that.

Covent Garden
Covent Garden

There has been a market here since the 17th century. In the late 1960s, traffic was so intense that the authorities decided to relocate the market to Southwest London. After years of neglect, Covent Garden reopened as a shopping center in 1980. In the main hall, we can find anything from jewellery and clothes to antiques and crafts. There are also bars and restaurants.

The first time I visited Covent Garden was a few years ago during the month of August, when half of Europe goes on holiday. It seemed that they all came to London! It was rather uncomfortable to walk and enjoy the market. If you can, avoid August but bear in mind there’s always a crowd.

Delicious pastries at Laduree
Delicious pastries at Laduree

I like to get a box of macaroons from Laduree, a French pastry shop outside the market, overlooking the Piazza. Street performers attract crowds at the piazza. Let’s go see who is performing today. Keep an eye on your belongings, though.

We can finish out walk here, savouring those delightful macarons. Alternatively, we can visit the London Transport Museum or St. Paul’s church, built by Inigo Jones in 1633.

Covent Garden


You may have heard the name Covent Garden in reference to ballet and opera. The Royal Opera House is located here and it’s commonly referred to as Covent Garden too. My mother-in-law is a ballet enthusiast and she used to drag my father-in-law to watch her favourite dancers here.

Me, I’m going home. I hope you enjoyed this walk. See you around!

Mazamorra, Argentinean white hominy pudding

¡Mazamorra caliente para las viejas sin dientes!

“Hot mazamorra for toothless ladies” was how freedwomen and  slaves advertised their dessert for sale in the street at the top of their voices. Or, at any rate, this is the romanticized image we had at school of how these women in wide skirts and a white kerchief covering their hair tried to attract customers.

This was part of almost every pageant we did at school to mark Independence Day or any other national holiday.  The scene was more or less the same: a reenactment of the country’s emancipation from Spain in 1810 or that of the declaration of Independence in 1816.

Every social sector was represented: from the rich gentry and merchants to street vendors and soon-to-be-freed slaves. The street vendors were, traditionally, the mazamorra and empanada sellers and chandlers. As a child, mazamorra always intrigued me as we never ate it at home. As children do, I created my own, albeit vague, idea of what it was. I knew it was something sweet and made with white corn and that was that.

My mazamorra, thick and creamy and filling.
My mazamorra, thick and creamy and filling.

Cut to the present. I was recently trying to clean out the pantry before a longish trip when I came across a bag of white hominy, some of which I had used to make locro. There was a recipe on the back: white hominy pudding. It was none other than the mysterious mazamorra of school pageants and history books. I decided to make it so I could finally taste it.

Mazamorra is  quite popular in Latin America and its ingredients vary from one country to the other. In Argentina, we make it with white corn, milk, sugar and maybe a cinnamon stick or lemon rind. A very simple yet somewhat labour-intensive dessert. It is very filling and warming, ideal for a winter’s evening.


1/2 pound dry white corn (hominy)

2 litres milk

Lemon rind

Be patient!
Be patient! It’s worth the effort.

Soak the corn overnight. Drain and rinse. Place in a large pot and cover with water. Boil until the water starts to evaporate and add the milk, sugar and lemon or cinnamon. Bring to a boil and simmer until the corn is soft and the mixture thickens. If liquid evaporates quickly, add boiling milk. Remove the rind or stick and serve warm.

¡Buen provecho!


Ride the historic M-Line trolley in Dallas

Are you in Dallas and at a loss what to do next?

You have already been to the 6th Floor Museum and stood on the Grassy Knoll looking towards the spot where JFK was shot. You have been to as many steakhouses and eaten as much BBQ as you possibly can. You have hit swanky bars on McKinney Avenue. You have shopped till you dropped.

Now it’s the time to ride the vintage M-Line trolley.

The Green Dragon lumbering down McKinney Avenue
The Green Dragon lumbering down McKinney Avenue

Head to the Arts District, allegedly the biggest in the country, and wait at the St. Paul & Ross stop, near the Dallas Museum of Art, until you spot a trolley trundling down the street. It could be Rosie (1909) or the Green Dragon (1913), Matilda (1925), Petunia (1920) or Betty (1926.) Watch out for cars when you step off the curb-some drivers are either careless or naughty. An attendant will help you, anyway. The ride is free of charge but a donation is appreciated because the McKinney Avenue Transit Authority is a nonprofit organization.

The motorman will greet you warmly. If there are small children with you or if you are a child at heart, he will let you step on the horn pedal. What fun! You sit on a hard-backed wooden bench and away you go, clickety-clack, clickety-clack.

Motorman and attendant
Motorman and attendant

You ride along McKinney Avenue, past bars and restaurants and chic boutiques, all the way to the M-line Uptown Station, where the trolley is turned around on the turntable. You have enough time to stretch your legs and snap photos of your trolley. Some passengers alight, some board and the trolley starts again. You might decide to get off at the West Village and take a stroll, do a little window-shopping, or actual shopping, soak up the ritzy atmosphere, and maybe have a cocktail. You hop onto the next trolley back to where you started.

Turning round at Uptown Station
Turning round at Uptown Station

You can hop on and off at any of the stops, should you decide to do a little exploring. Do you feel like an elegant French meal? Step off at stop 9 and walk a few yards to the Saint-Germain Hotel. Are you in the mood for art and culture? The St. Paul & Ross stop is right next to the Dallas Museum of Art and round the corner from the Nasher Sculpture Center. The gardens at the Nasher are, in my opinion, the most beautiful in Dallas. Would you like to enjoy some peace and quiet? Head to Klyde Warren Park, an oasis in the middle of a busy city. If you are into local history, go to Greenwood Cemetery, where prominent citizens and veterans are buried.

Klyde Warren Park on a sunny day
Klyde Warren Park on a sunny day



Hours of operation
Monday: Thursday 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Friday: 7a.m. to midnight
Saturday: 10 a.m. to midnight
Sunday and holidays: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Go to for information about stops

Off-the-beaten path day trip from Buenos Aires: Capilla del Señor

Every now and then, it is refreshing to get away from the hectic life of a big city and find that inner peace that keeps you going. Lately, I find myself more attracted to rural settings rather than busy urban areas. So when my parents suggested we visit the town of Capilla de Señor during one of my visits to Argentina, I leapt at the chance of spending quality time with them and escaping the madness of Buenos Aires.

Capilla de Señor is a quiet rural town located about 50 miles from the capital city of Argentina. It was the first town to be declared “Bien de Interés Histórico Nacional,” a protected historic town of national interest.

A typical rural construction
A typical rural construction

In the 1720s, Francisco Casco de Mendoza owned vast tracts of land in this area. He built a small chapel for his family in 1727. His son, Mayoriano Casco, built a bigger church to serve the people who lived in neighboring estancias. He also divided the surrounding land into plots and sold them. He followed the traditional Spanish grid layout.

The town grew organically around the church. As it was never officially founded, it is difficult to pinpoint the exact date. It is believed the origins of the town date back to between 1755 and 1758. Interestingly, although it was still a hamlet in 1768, it already had three pulperías, a cross between bar and general store. The 1869 census shows a population of 1116.

As evidence to the town’s importance, Mr. Manuel Cruz founded the first newspaper of the province of Buenos Aires, El Monitor de la Campaña (The Rural Monitor,) in 1871.

We parked the car on one of the sides of the town square, plaza San Martin, and headed to the Tourist Office, where we got some brochures. The plaza is a lovely place for a leisurely stroll along its many paths. Or sit under the shade of its many trees and plan your visit, maybe even watch a gaucho on horseback trot by. Or bicker, like my parents did until they agreed on a course of action.

I wasn't kidding about the gauchos
I wasn’t kidding about the gauchos

We started with the church. The architects Hunt and Sherarder designed and built the current building in 1866. Eclectic in style, the church has one nave, vaulted ceilings and a beautiful gold leaf altar with a colonial altarpiece. There are tons of natural light that bounces off the white walls and highlights the gold leaf. Two Irish priests are interred in the church. It speaks volumes of how influential the Irish community was in the area in the 19th century.

The house where Mr. Manuel Cruz lived now houses the Museo del Periodismo Bonaerense, the Buenos Aires Journalism Museum. The house is a typical adobe construction with a traditional zaguán (hallway), four rooms, a kitchen, an inner veranda and a colonial water well. The highlights of the collection are the original French printing press used to print El Monitor de la Campaña newspaper, various typewriters, and original documents.

The kitchen has a brick bread oven and a British washing machine from 1857. That, I must admit, was fun to look at and try to work out how to operate. It was used at the local hotel in the 19th century and was donated to the museum.

The museum's courtyard
The museum’s courtyard

A very short drive away is the municipal cemetery. My dad took a lot of persuading; he does not believe in visiting cemeteries for fun. The Cementerio Municipal opened in 1838. Some of the mausoleums are works of funerary art. A series of vaults line two of the original walls. What’s remarkable about them is that the headstones are written in French and in English, another indication of how influential the Irish community was here. I found them puzzling at first, since I assumed they’d be written in Spanish. Then I remembered the Irish connection.

A cholera outbreak ravaged Capilla del Señor in 1868. It is believed an itinerant fruit seller unwittingly introduced the cholera. He sold out his infected produce during the day and died that night. The cholera spread quickly around town. The death rate was so high and fast that there wasn’t enough time to dig individual graves, so the victims were buried in a mass grave in the middle of the cemetery. Actually, not everybody. The more affluent used their family vaults. One was particularly heartbreaking: it listed the names of family members, especially children, who succumbed to cholera on the same week.

The lush vegetation of the main square
The lush vegetation of the main square

It’s not all gloom and doom in Capilla del Señor. We went down to the river, which had burst its banks because of heavy rains, and enjoyed even more peace and quiet. We munched on the terrific facturas we bought from a pastry shop located inside a house’s garage. The riverside is an ideal place to bring a picnic and spend the day, or even pitch a tent and stay overnight. Personally, I’d rather stay at one of the many estancias, cattle ranches, which provide room and board. The homemade food and a soft bed beat the heck out of a sleeping bag and coffee burnt over the campfire.

How to get there from Buenos Aires

By car: take RN 8 (route 8) and then route 39.

By bus: take the 57 bus from Palermo. There’s a direct service (one and a half hours), and one via Pilar which takes considerably longer.

By train: take the Mitre line in Retiro to Victoria. From there, take the train to Capilla del Señor.

Oficina de Turismo (Tourist Office): Rivadavia 506 – Tel.: (02323)-491347. Open Mon. to Fri. 8 AM to 8 PM. Sat., Sun., and holidays: 10 AM to 6 PM.


Aahhh the food – Córdoba series 3

You know when you hear people mention something, say a kind of fruit, that you had no idea existed? That’s what happened to me with cuaresmillos, the Shangri-La of candied fruit for me. I had heard family members praise these little peaches but never seen or eaten them until recently. I was visiting historic buildings in the city of Córdoba by myself. At lunchtime I chose a restaurant that looked inviting and served traditional dishes.

I read the menu and did a double take. They served cuaresmillos for dessert! I ate a delicious empanada and some locro, a hearty white corn, pumpkin, white bean and meats stew. To cap a very tasty lunch off, I had these sweet little candied peaches with quesillo, a traditional homemade cow’s milk cheese, the perfect accompaniment because it cuts the fruit’s sweetness. They were delicious.

I wanted to buy some to bring back with me because they are not available in many places. I had to hunt high and low for a couple of jars. Not many locals knew what they were, which shocked me. I thought they were popular in Córdoba!

Cuaresmillos and quesillo
Cuaresmillos and quesillo. Their name comes from Cuaresma, Spanish for Lent, because this is when they are ready for picking.

A traditional cuisine that is famous in Córdoba, other than traditional Argentinean, is German cuisine. Many German, Swiss and Austrian immigrants settled in the hills and their descendants keep their traditions alive. Villa General Belgrano and La Cumbrecita are two picture-perfect villages where one can eat sauerkraut, wursts, strudel and drink beer to one’s heart’s content all year round. I was there twice, in winter and in summer and I enjoyed both visits very much. The food is generally locally sourced and made on the premises and it’s good. Very good.

An assortment of German-style meats and sauerkraut (called chucrut here)
An assortment of German-style meats and sauerkraut (called chucrut here)

We Argentineans have a sweet tooth, no doubt about it. Córdoba is known for its sweets too. One  delicious treat is the colación, a crispy pastry filled with dulce de leche and topped with lemon glaze. I never leave Córdoba without a box of alfajores. They are similar to sandwich cookies or whoopie pies but the pastry is more firm. They can be filled with dulce de leche or fruit preserves and are covered in glaze. Delicious with a cup of coffee or mate.

Colaciones and mate, a match made in heaven
Colaciones and mate, a match made in heaven

Photo courtesy of Diana. P. Gemelli from Je cuisine donc je suis. Gracias!


Read previous posts about Cordoba

Church and convent of San Francisco – Córdoba series 1

Bread-making lesson with my grandmother – Córdoba series 2

Self-guided walk of Old Portsmouth

I have been to Portsmouth before, on a previous visit to my in-laws. They live half-way between London and the south coast, so it’s easy for me to jump on the train and head south to Portsmouth for a day out. I’ve been to the Historic Dockyards but this time round, I visited the old town and saw a different aspect of this interesting city by the sea.

The main attraction of the city of Portsmouth is the Historic Dockyards, where visitors can see such iconic ships as Nelson’s HMS Victory or the remains of the Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s ship. However, there is more to Portsmouth than the Dockyards and the Spinnaker Tower.

I’m going to share what I saw and learned on my walk from the Portsmouth & Southsea railway station (1) to the seafront.

Portsmouth & Southsea station opened on 14 June 1847
Portsmouth & Southsea station opened on 14 June 1847

As I left the station, I turned left and walked under the railway bridge towards the Guildhall. The imposing building is now used as an entertainment and conference venue. Across the plaza from the Guildhall is the City Council, a concrete eyesore in my opinion.

The interior and roof of the Guildhall were destroyed in the 1941 air raid. The walls and tower suffered great damage. It was rebuilt and reopened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1959.
The interior and roof of the Guildhall were destroyed in the 1941 air raid. The walls and tower suffered great damage. It was rebuilt and reopened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1959.

Farther on, the conspicuous Isambard Kingdom Brunel pub marks the start of the Guildhall Walk. Along the street, shops, more pubs, people going about their business, a vampire or two. Wait! What? It was Halloween and some people wore costumes all day. The New Theatre Royal, a pretty Victorian construction, is located at the opposite end of Guildhall Walk.

The start of Guildhall Walk. The Isambard Kingdom Brunel in on the right hand corner.
The start of Guildhall Walk. The Isambard Kingdom Brunel in on the right hand corner.

I didn’t have a map with me but, as it turned out, I didn’t need it. There are very helpful and easy to follow maps of the area in important intersections. I walked down Cambridge Road/A3. There are many University of Portsmouth buildings here. The atmosphere in the street was a lively one with students milling around. I continued past the University Library to the next roundabout and turned left onto Museum Road.

University Library

The building of the City of Portsmouth Museum (2) is a Victorian beauty, especially the back. Here, I learned that Arthur Conan Doyle worked as a doctor in Portsmouth for many years and this is where he started his writing career. However, the Scottish author wasn’t the only famous writer with a local connection: Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth. There’s a Charles Dickens’ Trail on Old Portsmouth. I picked up a leaflet and tried to follow it.

The back facade of the museum
The back facade of the museum

I walked back to the roundabout and down High Street in Old Portsmouth. The street is lined with low buildings, many Victorian but many look more recent. I later learned that Portsmouth was attacked with incendiary bombs in 1941 during World War II. Many buildings were destroyed, 930 civilians died and about 3,000 were wounded in the blitz. So were many of the buildings on the Dickens’ trail.

High Street - Old Portsmouth
High Street – Old Portsmouth

I stopped at the John Pounds Memorial Unitarian Church. Charles Dickens is said to have befriended and admired John Pounds. Pounds (1766-1839, voted Portsmouth Man of the Millennium), was a crippled cobbled who taught destitute children to read and write and also fed and clothed them. He is acknowledged to have set in motion the movement towards universal free education in England.

Replica of John Pounds workshop
Replica of John Pounds workshop

Pounds’ legacy continued in the Ragged Schools movement in the United Kingdom and the US. The chapel where he worshipped was destroyed in the 1941 blitz and was rebuilt in 1956. A very kind member of the congregation showed me the replica of Pound’s workshop, told me the whole story and asked me to spread the word.

I stopped at a Co-op to buy something to eat. I took mi picnic across the street to the cathedral green and sat in the golden light of autumn to enjoy my sandwich.

The cathedral
The cathedral

Portsmouth Cathedral has a long history. The building developed from a medieval chapel built in 1185, which is now the quire. A very knowledgeable and enthusiastic volunteer took around and explained everything there is to know about the cathedral.

The medieval nave
The medieval nave

I went on to the end of the streets and the seawalls. Portsmouth was a walled garrison town until the 1870s under constant threat of invasion. The Square Tower, right at the end of High Street, is among the oldest fortifications and it dates to 1494. The sun was setting and its golden light bathed the stone walls. A fisherman was packing up at the end of the pier, a couple of lovers whispering sweet nothings on each other’s ears. Time to turn round and go back home.


I continued on Battery Row, where people were taking a quiet dusk stroll, enjoying the salty air. I had a look at the Royal Garrison Church (3), built in 1212. The nave lost the roof in the air raid of 1941.

Royal Garrison Church
Royal Garrison Church

Back to High Street, then on to Guildhall Walk and the station.

Battery Row
Battery Row
(1) Those interested in visiting the Dockyards should take the train to Portsmouth Harbour station.
These lines connect Portsmouth with other English cities: the First Great Western from Cardiff Central, the South West Trains from London Waterloo and Southampton Central and the Southern from London Victoria, Littlehampton and Brighton.
(2) Opening Times: April – September: 10.00am – 5.30pm. October – March: 10.00am – 5.00pm. Open Tuesday-Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays. Closed on Mondays (except Bank Holidays). Admission is free of charge.
(3) Open from April to September from 11am to 4pm.

Ely, a lovely medieval town in Cambridgeshire

As we were getting closer, a few stragglers were scurrying towards the cathedral in the light fall rain. We made it just in time for the 10.30 sung Eucharist at Ely Cathedral. We didn’t plan on it but went with the flow and thought it would be something different to experience.

The magnificence of the nave, with its forest of Gothic columns that rise to the painted ceiling, took our breath away. A lady volunteer handed us a service book. It was Sunday, November 2, All Saints’ Day, according to the church liturgy.

Ely Cathedral, Ely, cambridgeshire
The amazing nave and painted ceiling.

The service was a sung Eucharist. The voices of the cathedral choir and the organ music reverberated in the nave and rose up the columns towards the ceiling and beyond. It brought home to me the notion of elevating a prayer. I understood what medieval architects were trying to achieve with their tall buildings and spires ascending to the heavens. I understood it with my head and not with my heart. I can only imagine how much more effective it must have been in an age when people were more vulnerable.

The lantern
The lantern

During the service, the sun came out briefly and shone through the stained glass windows. Its fleeting magic filled the interior with colour. A religious person might think it was a miracle. I took it as a gift from nature.

There were christenings immediately after the High Church service, so the apse and the crypt were closed to the public. We still were able to see the aisles and the Norman transept from the 11th century (the transverse part across the nave that forms the shape of a Latin cross so typical of medieval churches.) It took such a long time to build a cathedral in the Middle Ages that some parts date from different times and are built in different styles even. Ely is no exception.

Altar and choir
Altar and choir

We stopped to light a candle at the St. George chapel in memory of my husband’s father and grandfathers, who all served in the military. Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day were a few days away, so the chapel was flooded in candlelight and poppy wreaths.

In memory of family members
In memory of family members

Across the street, on the cathedral green, a flock of ducks was eating lunch under a tree. There is a cannon from the Crimea war on the green as well. A plaque remembers some local protestant martyrs who were burned on that same green during Mary Tudor’s reign. It is hard to picture such violent scenes in this tranquil place.

View from the top of the green
View from the top of the green

At the other end of the cathedral green is the Tourist Information Office, which doubles as Oliver Cromwell’s Museum. This house is his only residence, apart from Hampton Court Palace, still extant. I’m not too keen on Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England in the 17th century, because I do not like people who impose their beliefs with violence. And I did not like his museum either. There is not much to see and the admission costs 4 pounds. There are life size figures representing Cromwell and his family in different rooms. One of them is sitting at his desk in his study. It looked up when I came in. I nearly jumped out of my skin, I did not expect that!


We ended our visit to Ely with a delicious cream tea at The Almonry, a 13th century building along the High Street that belonged to the cathedral at one time. Nowadays, it houses offices, a restaurant and flats. The patio looks onto the cathedral gardens. The back of the cathedral is even more imposing than the front.

My cream tea
My cream tea


The back of Ely cathedral
The back of Ely cathedral
A lovely 16th century Tudor cottage
A lovely 16th century Tudor cottage


If you want to know more about Ely Cathedral, click here.
How to get there:
By train from London King’s Cross, Norwich, Cambridge, Midlands and Stansted airport. The station is a ten minute walk from the cathedral.
By car, 20 minutes from Cambridge and 2 hours from London.

Istanbul street scenes

Allow me show you what I saw through my lens around Istanbul.

A simit vendor mingling with fishermen on Galata Bridge
A simit vendor mingling with fishermen on Galata Bridge
A leisurely stroll around Sultanahmet Square in the late afternoon.
A leisurely stroll around Sultanahmet Square in the late afternoon.
Street food
Even busy people have time to sit down and eat some street food
Spices at the Spice Market. Their colours and smells pervaded the whole place.
Spices at the Spice Market. Their colours and smells pervaded the whole place.
A shoeshiner with his traditional tackle.
A shoeshiner with his traditional tackle.
Taksim Square area. I was surprised by how Eropean these streets looks. It could anywhere, Madrid, Paris or Lisbon.
Taksim Square area. I was surprised by how Eropean these streets looks. It could anywhere, Madrid, Paris or Lisbon.
The streets around the Grand Bazaar are eerily quiet in the early evening.
The streets around the Grand Bazaar are eerily quiet in the early evening.








An afternoon in Siena

The brightly coloured prints lure me into the shop. The handmade postcards, cards and scrolls hark back to a past era. The artisan kindly allows me to have a peek in his studio, where I see how he works. He carries on the age-old tradition of illumination, which originated in medieval monasteries where monks copied and illustrated books by hand. I buy a few cards to keep as mementos.

The illuminator's studio
The illuminator’s studio

Walking along narrow winding streets, we finally manage to find the Duomo –cathedral-, not an easy feat when following unreliable street signs.

I look at the lines at the ticket kiosks. Is there a time of the year when there are not any crowds in Italy, I wonder? Four euros grant us access to the cathedral only, not including the museums. Fine by me, my brain is unable to absorb any more information and visual stimuli.

The magnificent cathedral of Siena
The magnificent cathedral of Siena

The interior of the cathedral is awesome in the true sense of the word. The black and white columns seem to soar towards heaven. Actually, it’s the ceiling, and a magnificent one at that. The mosaic floor deserves special attention too: scenes of the Bible, allegories and the like are represented using the graffito technique and marble intarsia (inlaid pieces of marble that make a figure).  Many mosaics are covered for most of the year and a few are on display, cordoned off to prevent wear.

Unlike the floor, we are worn out already with looking up at the ceilings, the works of art on the walls and the mosaics on the floor. We stop for lunch at the Taverna del Capitano (Via del Capitano 6/8). It’s housed in an ancient building and its stone vaulted ceilings, however pretty, do nothing to dampen the din. The pasta was very good, though.

The cathedral's main nave
The cathedral’s main nave

The backdrop of many a film scene, the Piazza del Campo is where the annual Palio is held, in July and in August. It is a horse race and festival that dates back to at least the 13th century. Each jockey represents one of the seventeen contrade (districts). We saw a small group of young men practicing their flag-throwing skills in the street. They seem to be very serious about the festival.


There are quite a few people at the Piazza del Campo snapping pictures, eating ice-cream, even napping on the cobbled semicircular piazza. The piazza is surrounded by elegant buildings which saw their prime before the Black Death descended upon the city. I wonder what the city’s elders would think if they saw tourists strewn about the place. Would these inert bodies remind them of the times of the plague? Who knows. The city’s elders are long gone but their legacy is still here for us to enjoy.

Piazza del Campo (English) from Ana Astri-O’Reilly on Vimeo.

Genoa, our gateway to Italy

My impressions of Genoa in pictures

My most vivid memory of Genoa is the mopeds. They are everywhere: in front of your car, behind your car, around your car. They are like swarms of bees on steroids.
My most vivid memory of Genoa is the mopeds. They are everywhere: in front of your car, behind your car, around your car. They are like swarms of bees on steroids.
Our GPS had a hiccup and sent us straight into a traffic jam created by a broken-down bus. The temperature of the engine kept going up and we had no choice but to pop the bonnet open and wait for it to col down. Passers-by stopped to snap photos or ask about the car’s make and model and many did a double-take, like “What’s that yellow thing over there?”
I tried to communicate with a traffic warden in a mixture of Italian, English and hand gestures. We managed to convey our message: me, how long it would take for this mes to clear up, him, to wait. OK!
calle angosta
We drove round and round trying to find our hotel, located in the historic centre. The worst bit was getting caught in the hellish one-way system a few times. We missed our turning (OK, my fault) because it didn’t look so much like a street you could drive in but a space between buildings. And once we turned into that street, Via al Ponte Calvi, we had to negotiate our way round restaurant tables and pedestrian, who scowled at us. What were we supposed to do???
calle angosta genova
Most streets in the ancient quarter were narrow (and some, even narrower) and the buildings seemed to close in on us.
We had an excellent dinner at this trattoria called Le Maschere: melt-in-your-mouth prosciutto, delicious salami, a simple but wonderful dish of spaghetti in tomato sauce and vitello tonnato (veal in tuna sauce). Via al Ponte Calvi, 2
via lomellini
Via Lomellini was declared UNESCO’s World Heritage for its 16th and 17th century palazzi
ss annunziata
The gold leaf and frescoed ceiling of the basilica of Santa Annunziata del Vastato made a huge impression on me, it was magnificent.
Some parts were painted white and I though it was unfinished. As it turns out, the church sustained heavy damage during WW II air raids and those bits had been restored.
Some buildings were very beautiful. However, most were in need of a lick of paint or were so grimy that sandblasting was the only option. There was graffiti everywhere. Such a pity.

Casa Loma, a medieval castle in… Toronto!

“What do you mean a medieval castle in Toronto?”- You’re entitled to think someone’s pulling your leg. But no, they are not. In fact, there is such a thing in the Annex North neighbourhood: Casa Loma, a medieval inspired castle built in 1911.

9 Casa Loma

The owner, industrialist and financier Sir Henry Pellatt, had his dream home built on a hill overlooking Toronto. It took 300 men almost three years to complete. The house has fantastic views of Toronto skyline. If you go down Spadina (which I recommend so you can enjoy the peace and quiet of the Annex North), you’ll walk into the Baldwin steps surrounded by a beautiful garden. Go up to find Casa Loma.

Toronto skyline
Toronto skyline

I loved the idea of visiting such a lovely house; however, it didn’t feel like a home. To make matters worse, it was rather warm that day and there were lots of school children visiting. As there is no air conditioning, they placed huge fans everywhere, which recirculated the warm air. Despite all that, I did enjoy the visit.

3 Casa Loma

Sir Henry and Lady Mary, his wife, lived in Casa Loma for about ten years until financial troubles caused by ill-advised investments and the First World War caused them to give it up and move to their farm. The City of Toronto owns the property.

Lady Mary's suite
Lady Mary’s suite

The main floor comprises the medieval-looking Great Hall, the library, the dining room, the conservatory, Sir Henry’s study and the billiards and smoking rooms. The second floor contains guest rooms; and Sir Henry’s and Lady Mary’s suites (hers was my favourite). The servants’ quarters (for 40 people!) are on the third floor.

Lovely sitting room
Lovely sitting room
Garden feature
Garden feature


Address: One Austin Terrace, Toronto M5R 1X8

Directions (from Casa Loma website)

Go to Dupont station (located two stops north of St. George station on the Spadina- University line) and walk north two blocks on Spadina Ave. At this point, visitors have the option of climbing the Baldwin Steps (110 steps) at Spadina Ave. and Davenport Road or walking up the hill on the west side of the castle.

Go to Spadina station and take the Davenport 127 bus to Davenport & Spadina. Get off the bus and climb the Baldwin steps (110 steps ), or take the bus one stop further to Davenport and Walmer and walk up the hill on the west side of the castle.

Go to St. Clair West station on the Spadina-University line, walk east on St. Clair to Spadina, turn right (south) and keep walking (approximately 15 minutes) to the castle.

Go to St. Clair station on the Yonge line. Take the St. Clair streetcar (going West) to Spadina Road, get off and walk south on Spadina Road (approximate 10 minute walk) to Casa Loma.

I visited Casa Loma when we were still living in Toronto back in 20101 (when I had short hair!). I didn’t have a blog then so I’m making up for it now!

I love these powder blue sofas
I love these powder blue sofas