Old Royal Naval College, London / JessOnThames

Old Royal Naval College, London / JessOnThames

Old Royal Naval College, London / JessOnThames

Old Royal Naval College / JessOnThames

Arriving in Royal Greenwich feels a little bit like a mini-break. Part quaint village, part vestige of a strong seafaring past, I’ve already ventured down a few times (I suggest arriving by boat) and know it will not be my last.

On my last trip, after a little side trip into Greenwich Market for a sneaky Italian pastry or two, I ventured inside the Old Royal Naval College – built by Wren (of St Paul’s fame) as a retirement home for veterans at the suggestion of Queen Mary II. Wren’s original architectural plans for the college saw one giant dome, much like the Cathedral, however Queen Mary complained it would block her view from Queen’s House and so we see the two smaller domes still present today. And it is straight to those two domes you should head when you visit.

Royal Naval Chapel, Greenwich / JessOnThames

With the Thames behind you, the dome on the left houses the Chapel of St Peter and St Paul. The original interior of the chapel was much plainer, and injured sailors had to stand during services. However a fire devastated the building in 1779, and prompted the way for a baroque overhaul. It is a beautiful calm oasis from the crowds of the parks outside and free to visit. Keep an eye out for the anchor and ropes on the floor, which are said to be the same size as on a first class ship.

Painted Hall, Greenwich / JessOnThames

Painted Hall, Greenwich / JessOnThames

Cross the courtyard and under the opposite dome, you will find the Painted Hall – otherwise known as the “finest dining room in Europe.” When you enter, find a place to stand off to the side and just look up… the height is dizzying and its hard to think about how it was all painted back in its day. It was originally planned to be the dining hall for the retired sailors, but by the time James Thornhill was done decorating the interior, it was deemed to be too grand for its original purpose. Today, it serves as a function room and can be rented when not open to the public. Every square inch of the hall is painted and it was where Horatio Nelson was laid in state after the Battle of Trafalgar. (You can read more about it here.)

Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich / JessOnThames

It is one of those places in London where you cannot help but be swept up by a grand history. Where you expect to see a uniformed gentleman peak out from around a column with a powdered wig. Or perhaps just get swept away by a sailor.

The Old Royal Naval College grounds are open every day from 8-18:00 with the halls open from 10-17:00. All entry is spectacularly free of charge. 

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Longleat House / JessOnThames

2.5 hours west of London, a famous English site is suffering from something of an identity crisis. But that might also be just the thing that makes it fascinating.

Longleat House, in 1949, became the first stately home in England to open commercially to the public and this fact still looms strongly over the house today. But don’t let that distract you from visiting. The estate covers an astounding 9,800 acres and this strikes you from the moment you enter. You drive slowly for a good 10 minutes down wide, perfectly manicured lanes, through forests and around curves until you finally see the spectacular site above.

What I loved about entering the Longleat estate was that, once you passed the huge SAFARI PARK signs at the entrance (yup… there’s that identity crisis I was talking about), the first view of the house was blissfully noncommercial. It is one of the most beautiful and classically Elizabethan views in the UK.

That feeling slips away a tiny bit once you see the size of the car park and the Costa coffee shop before you enter the house. Just behind the house is an adventure theme park, which as an adult might make you wince the tiniest bit but as a kid must be coolest thing you’ve ever seen. The whole thing feels like a mash up of so many English things rolled into one: history, landscaping, interest in nature, a good healthy dose of child-friendly activities and your typical family theme park gaudiness. It was raining heavily when I visited so I didn’t see any of the animals in the park but chose to run into the house for a quick tour.

Longleat House / JessOnThames

Longleat House / JessOnThames

Longleat House / JessOnThames

Longleat House / JessOnThames

Longleat House / JessOnThames

The first 20 minutes is a guided visit of the present Marquess of Bath’s somewhat eclectic apartments. No photography is allowed in this section, but let’s just say it is mixture of traditional furnishings with very modern, very bright wall and ceiling paintings. After the private apartments, you are free to wander the rest of the house – from its Tudor beginnings to a selection of more modern exhibits (when I was there, a recent celebrity’s wedding festivities were on show).

It is a fascinating, immense and almost overwhelming building. Sometimes it feels like you’ve been tossed back to the 16th century (the land for the house was purchased after a priory fell to ruin during the time of Henry VIII for only £53). At other times, you feel as if the current family is waiting just behind the next closed door. No matter how you see it, the house is an adventure in itself.

I will be the first to admit I’m a history snob and that I’d rather a Stately Home be left in its original state. But Longleat, for all of the noble heritage and grandeur pictured above, also has a real air of accessibility about it outside on its grounds. It certainly feels commercial, but it also feels fun, youthful, welcoming and a bit like it could all tip over the edge to totally tacky at any minute. And I found myself nearly as excited as the kids running around grounds.

Question is – do I dare go back for the Safari Park?

Longleat is open from roughly the end of March to the beginning of November but check their site here before visiting. I get the impression summers and school holidays are particularly busy!

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Coffee from WestBerlin

Where on earth has Jessica been?

Very. valid. question.

Truth be told, I’ve been jumping around four countries in under three weeks. And its an adventure I learned my lesson from because I have fallen down with a stubborn ear & sinus infection which refuses to leave.

It all started in Venice as we already know. I took a little trip down to beautiful & spirited Brighton for a weekend. Then it was off to Berlin for The Hive Conference – a wonderful gathering of fun and inspirational bloggers I loved talking to. You’ll find a great recap from Mondomulia here. I’ll be writing a bit about our whirlwind tour of the city later this week, but you can also get a really fun preview by watching Jacintha’s fantastic video!

Work picked up again in a big way before I’d even landed from Berlin, and continued for two days in London before it was off to Brussels for 36 hours for more work. By the time I’d stumbled back on the Eurostar last Friday evening, the sniffles had returned. Big time. And I knew I was doomed. I know I shouldn’t complain because just listening to myself talk about all that travel, I feel spoiled. But the truth of the matter is, I was doing it all and not changing the way I took care of myself. As in… sleeping. So lesson learned.

Perhaps the only good thing about being house bound is that you get to catch up on your internet, so I hope you enjoy the links below. (But watch out London, when I feel better again… so many posts building up!)

Super

The @wearefromearth Instragram feed.

We met the lovely founder of Best Wishes Magazine, Jessica Jungbauer, in Berlin. Lovely portraits from cities across the world.

I LOVED this book and it just won the Pulitzer.

An ode to getting lost.

Smart, Moleskin… very smart.

Pretty

Just about every scene in Poldark. Watch it.

36 hours in Paris by The New York Times.

Funny

Jennifer Hudson carpool karaoke

How much does it cost to swing a cat in London?

BT and Ewan McGregor making fun of creative people.

Some zebras ran around Brussels for awhile last week.

Photo of a particularly delicious cup of coffee at westberlin by JessOnThames

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Venetian doorway / JessOnThames
If I had to give you one recommendation about Venice, it would be not to judge it too quickly. Especially if you’ve only been with the summer crowds over a long weekend.

I visited once previously a few years ago and fell in love with the city, but I can see how some people might get overwhelmed. Gorgeous but popular spots such as St Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge will take your breathe away, but this recent stay taught me that there is so much more to Venice than its well known postcards.

We recently spent 6 days in Venice for my Mom’s birthday and honestly speaking, I felt like I was really only getting to know the place. Granted, I had a wicked cold at the time. I can only imagine the exploring we’d been able to do if I was up to full capacity. But not to be daunted by a few germs, explore we did. And all of the below places were ones we would return to and recommend without hesitation.

Museums and restaurants, bookstores and art shops, glass stores on Murano Island. My favorite neighborhood in town: Canareggio. And a bakery with the best cookies in Italy. Who knew gelato would be given a run for its money?

Zoom in & out of the map below to explore and click on any of the markers for more detail.

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Bridge of Sighs

I know what you are thinking. I don’t need any reasons, Jessica, because its Venice.

But you do. You still do. Because there is so much more to see in Venice than you can take in over a weekend. Here’s a short list of things we found ourselves doing last week that did not come from a guidebook.

1. Feel small wandering amongst countless churches.

Top of St Mark

2. Pretend you are a Doge for a day.
OK, the guidebooks did recommend this one, but we were suprised how many people we knew who hadn’t gone inside.

Doge

3. Be stunned by the detail in everything.
The street lamps on the Palazzo S. Marco are pink.

Detail in Venice / JessOnThames

4. Notice how laundry looks like art in Italy.

Clothes drying in Venice / JessOnThames

5. Find the world’s craziest bookstore, where there are boats instead of bookshelves.

Acqua Alta Bookstore, Venice / JessOnThames

6. Pause and listen to street music.
He was playing one of my favorite Spanish guitar songs: “Granada”.

Street music in Venice / JessOnThames

7. Take awkward pictures of strangers. This city is made for it.

Strangers in Venice / JessOnThames

8.Go off the beaten path.
We stayed in Cannaregio, which had an entirely different feel to the rest of Venice and killer restaurants.

Cannaregio, Venice / JessOnThames

9. Imagine conversations between gondoliers.
Honestly, what does their office gossip look like?

Gondoliers in Venice / JessOnThames

10.Become a pigeon whisperer.
This child was beyond happy and never even noticed the crowd that had gathered around him.

The Pigeon whisperer, Venice / JessOnThames

 

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