Category Archives: Places

Hunting Game of Thrones filming locations in Mdina, Malta

I’ve just returned from Malta where I took a (very hot) trip to Mdina, a walled city which was the capital in ancient times. It’s a pretty amazing place to visit anyway for the gorgeous architecture and narrow winding streets – locals call it The Silent City which is incredibly suggestive of mystery and drama, but I was doubly excited because it was the film location for King’s Landing in season 1 of HBO’s Game of Thrones. As you can see from the pictures below, I managed to find the filming location of the main gate to King’s Landing (easy) and Petyr Baelish AKA Littlefinger’s brothel (trickier, you need to look for Piazza Mesquita which isn’t shown on the tourist maps).

Game of Thrones location Mdina

Screenshots from Game of Thrones are the property of HBO

Visiting the real life locations of the filming was incredible, and I think that the screenshots next to my photographs in the collage above really show the artistry of the set designers and artists who work on the production to adapt George R.R. Martin’s books for the screen. The changes they’ve made to the landscape are fairly minimal – the ground has been reddened and made to look dirtier and earthier, awnings of rustic fabrics have been draped over doorways and obvious modern features removed, but these subtle changes have such a profound effect when coupled with the presence of actors in costume on horseback. It really becomes a fantasy world. Not only is it a testament to the skills of everyone who worked on the production, but it speaks volumes about the beauty of Mdina. If you’re ever in Malta, I highly recommend a visit.

A Day at Oxford Literary Festival… complete with thunder

I love Oxford in the rain. Even a little drizzle seems to clear the streets, and if you head off into the city’s many alleyways during a decent downpour it can feel as though you have the whole place to yourself. I got caught out in a thunderstorm while walking between talks at the literary festival today, and had a great time taking touristy pictures in the moody, semi-empty streets. I was pleased to warm up in front of the open fire in Christ Church College’s Great Hall after a little too long taking pictures in the hail and the rain- I was soaked through!

radcliffe camera oxford 2

The Radcliffe Camera in a thunderstorm

oxford martin school

The Oxford Martin School which hosted “Is the planet too full?”
norrington room blackwells oxford

The Norrington Room at Blackwells Oxford- effectively the world’s best book cave

great hall fireplace

Drying off from the thunderstorm in front of the fire in Christ Church College’s Great Hall

great hall christ church college oxford harry potter hogwarts

A full shot of the Great Hall, which Potter fans might recognise as Hogwarts Hall from the films

bridge of sighs oxford

Tourists sheltering from the thunderstorm under the Bridge of Sighs

broad street oxford

Broad Street

christ church college oxford

Christ Church College Quad

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Christ Church College Quad in the thunderstorm

bodleian library oxford

The Bodleian Library luring in unsuspecting passers by…

blackwell literary festival marquee

School children enjoying a talk about the most deadly inventions in the Blackwells festival marquee

vaults cafe oxford

The Vaults Cafe looking inviting…

stairs to great hall christ church college harry potter

Entrance to the Great Hall at Christ Church with vaulted ceiling and Narnian style lamposts

sheldonian theatre oxford

The Sheldonian Theatre

Alice in Wonderland Statue in Central Park

Central Park Alice in Wonderland Statue with ChildrenI love that the Alice in Wonderland Memorial Statue for Margarita Delacorte in Central Park is intended for children to play on, it’s incredibly charming, having been polished smooth by children’s hands since it arrived in the park in 1959, and you can understand why it’s such a popular landmark to photograph.

 

However, something that you never seem to see is the beautiful quotations around the base of the statue, which were perhaps my favourite thing about it:

Alice Twinkle twinkle Little Bat Alice Speak Roughly to your little boy Alice Twas Brillig Alice Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee Battle

I found the last one really moving, it’s the dedication from the husband of the woman who the statue is dedicated to. I wish I could find out a bit more about her, this is just so beautiful. The kind of memorial you’d want if you could choose.

Alice in Wonderland Central Park Dedication

 

Literature Spotting in Central Park

If you ever drop in on my Twitter account, you’ll know that I was in New York for work last week. Working with jet lag was… interesting, fun but very hard work concentrating. The upshot was that my hotel was very close to Central Park so I went wandering there in the afternoons after work and spent most of Saturday marching around from landmark to landmark, from The Mall to The Conservatory Water (via the zoo…). I loved Central Park and could wax lyrical about how amazing I thought it was for hours (pops up in so many books as well) but I won’t instead I will share with you some of the literary statues I managed to track down using a Central Park Map I printed before I went.

Central Park Alice in Wonderland Statue with Children

Alice in Wonderland Statue- Memorial to Margarita Delacorte

Central Park Hans Christian Andersen Statue

Hans Christian Andersen Statue

Central Park The Mall Burns

Robert Burns Statue on The Mall

Central Park The Mall Halleck

Fitz-Greene Halleck Statue on The Mall

Central Park The Mall Shakespeare

William Shakespeare Statue on The Mall

Central Park The Mall Scott

Walter Scott Statue on The Mall

I tried getting to The Shakespeare Garden and hunting down the Romeo and Juliet statue on the Saturday but unfortunately that whole area was fenced off for an Alicia Keys/Stevie Wonder concert that I didn’t have a ticket for… did I miss anything else?

Visit to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

Ann Hathaway's Cottage

Ann Hathaway’s Cottage

My boyfriend and I took a detour past Anne Hathaway’s Cottage on the way home from a family event today. Run by The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, it’s the childhood home of Shakespeare’s wife and young William would have gone there when he went a wooing.

If you haven’t been, it’s definitely worth a visit. Your ticket allows you entry to the house and gardens for the year, and if you lived locally then it would be worth going back frequently for the gardens alone, we arrived in the middle of the Sweet Pea Festival, which was beautiful but they have seasonal events throughout the year. There’s currently an exhibition of the language of flowers which talks about how Shakespeare used the hidden meaning of flowers in the play, though this seemed to be very much aimed at a school age audience (eg. when they talked about Ophelia handing out flowers to King Claudius’ court they didn’t mention that the rue Ophelia keeps for herself may be as an abortifacient as she is pregnant with Hamlet’s child).

I was especially excited to see the bed which may or may not be the second best bed that Shakespeare left to his wife in his will (as re-imagined in one of my favourite poems by Carol Ann Duffy) though apparently the teasel heads are used to discourage visitors from sitting on the bed rather than for any symbolic meaning, as related in this amusing video.

Shakespeare's Second Best Bed?

Shakespeare’s Second Best Bed?

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Penny ground with first half of sonnet 116...

Penny ground with first half of sonnet 116…

... and the second half of sonnet 116

… and the second half of sonnet 116

 

Story Spotting Weekend in Cornwall

Fowey Hall Hotel image from Tripadvisor

My boyfriend and I have just returned from a long weekend in Cornwall staying at Fowey Hall Hotel which Toad Hall in Wind in The Willows is said to be based on. The hotel is really pretty and a great place to stay, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It doesn’t overtly show off its Wind in The Willows connection, but there are subtle touches if you keep an eye out (room names, toads in the drawing-room, breakfast menus decorated with motor cars filled with woodland creatures…) I was delighted that our room was called Ratty.

Ratty

Jamaica Inn

Jamaica Inn Courtyard

On our way home today we went past The Jamaica Inn of Daphne Du Maurier fame. I am a massive fan of Daphne Du Maurier, and kind of see her books as the natural progression for any Bronte fan, so it was really interesting interesting to see the Inn that inspired the novel, but the inside was really disappointing. As most of the trade is probably going to be from tourists who want to see the Inn made famous by the book, I guess you don’t have to do very much to keep them coming, though the website is really slick and it runs as a hotel so I had quite high hopes for the Inn itself. The food was school canteen horrible and the lack of atmosphere was made worse by some cartoonish waxworks in the smugglers’ bar, a noisy fridge, fruit machines, radio 1 blaring and bored teenage staff loudly gossiping about their Saturday nights while ignoring the customers. A bit of a let down, which was so disappointing considering how brilliant it could be with just a little bit of effort.

Daphne Du Maurier Desk

Daphne Du Maurier’s Writing Desk

Fortunately, the Smuggler’s Museum at The Jamaica Inn was quite interesting and the lady working on the entrance desk was lovely. I got to see Daphne Du Maurier’s desk which was a bonus, but if you go, I would almost be tempted to skip the inn itself until they can do proper catering and just take a picnic to eat outside. Though if you want to be authentic, you should skip food altogether and wander around the moors in driving winter rain.

Edinburgh Book List

Yes, I know, this list should really have something by Walter Scott.

This evening finds me sat in a hotel room in the beautiful and atmospheric city of Edinburgh. I’m here for work, so no sightseeing for me(boo!) though it is difficult to avoid the stunning sights of Prince’s Street and The Royal Mile as you walk from Waverly Station. Having finished work for the evening, I wished I’d brought some reading with an Edinburgh inspired flavour. Maybe the next time I visit I will have put together a more comprehensive list of books to read in Edinburgh. In the meantime, here’s an off the top of my head list of books I’ve enjoyed which have an Edinburgh setting:

 After You’d Gone– Maggie O’Farrell

The best of all Maggie O’Farrell’s novels, After You’d Gone explores what Alice, languishing in a coma, saw at Edinburgh Waverly Station that was so terrible it made her get straight back on a train to London and walk out in front of a car. I read this in my second year of university before making my housemates read it. For about a month solid we spent every evening crying… in a good way… I think.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie– Muriel Spark

The novel about an Edinburgh school teacher and the unique education she gives her charges, a select clique who become known as the Brodie set. It’s been a very long time (over ten years) since I read this book, but still the immortal understatement that “Hitler was rather naughty” stands out in the memory. I understand it was made into a film starring Maggie Smith who I love, so I need to watch that.

One Day– David Nicholls

You probably need no introduction to the hit novel One Day which follows friends and sometimes star-crossed lovers Emma and Dexter from their graduation in Edinburgh on St Swithin’s Day 1988, and returns to their lives on the same day for the next 20 years before returning to Edinburgh in 1988. Another tear jerker, I’ve met quite a few men who’ve said it made them cry like babies.

The Inspector Rebus Series- Ian Rankin

Again, this series needs very little introduction, but if you’re looking for a starting point into what has been called “Tartan Noir”, then look no further than Knots and Crosses which sees the eponymous Rebus struggling to solve the abduction and strangling of young girls, while receiving strange missives which suggest the murderer maybe someone closer to him than he realises…

 

I’m planning to drag my boyfriend North of the Wall for a visit next year, so was really pleased to come across this helpful link for more Edinburgh inspired reading, but I’m sure there’s more out there. What books with an Edinburgh connection would you recommend? I’m keen to expand my reading list!

Books, Baguettes & Bedbugs by Jeremy Mercer

A colleague in work had to go to Paris for a conference recently and was asking for suggestions of things to do in her free time. I mentioned that she should visit Shakespeare & Co. which is across the river from Notre Dame Cathedral.

I visited Paris a few times on school trips, and remember seeing the books lined up on tables outside the shop. But being on a school trip, we were quickly bustled to the Cathedral and I never had a chance to go inside. I’ve been planning to save up for a weekend trip to Paris, to visit the store and see the sights, for a long time now.

Overhearing this, another colleague offered to lend me her copy of Books, Baguettes & Bedbugs by Jeremy Mercer, a Canadian writer who fled to Paris after receiving a death threat from a thief he’d upset by revealing his name in a true crime novel. Almost penniless he took refuge at Shakespeare & Company, then run by the remarkable George Whitman, who allowed writers, poets and artists to stay in his shop free of charge while they worked on their projects and got back on their feet. In a world obsessed with money, George managed to distance himself from the drive to acquire, using his cash to feed and home relative strangers. The maxim of his store being, “Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise

The book is a portrait of a remarkable bookshop, its remarkable inhabitants, but most of all of the remarkable man who ran it. A great read which really does make you think. I read sections of it aloud to my boyfriend (who hates being read to) and even he was interested in the philosophy of the shop. My favourite quote from the book (except the one that compares self publishing to using prostitutes in unfavourable terms):

From wikipedia- sadly I can’t properly reference the Flickr account it came from as the wiki link is dead. Let me know if this is your image!

“’People all tell me that they work too much, that they need to make more money,’ George told me. ‘What’s the point? Why not live on as little as possible and then spend your time with your family or reading Tolstoy or running a bookstore? It doesn’t make any sense.’” Books, Baguettes and Bedbugs Jeremy Mercer

Mrs Harris Goes to Moscow- Paul Gallico

What happens when Ada Harris, an interfering cockney char lady with a heart of gold, finds out that her employer is hopelessly in love with a Russian girl he has been parted from? An adventure of course! When the old lady heads to Moscow on a package tour with her trusty friend Mrs Butterfield there are run ins with the KGB, meetings with ambassadors from both nations and a cameo appearance from Prince Philip. But can Mrs Harris save the day and make sure that love conquers all?

I really enjoyed this short-but-sweet, old-fashioned romp of a novel from Paul Gallico, acclaimed author of The Snow Goose. I hadn’t realised that I’d heard of his Mrs Harris series (of which this is the fourth and final book) before buying this book which I picked up as pot luck because I loved the cover of the re-editioned Bloomsbury copy. It was only upon reading the book I realised that I had actually seen a ballet adaptation of the first novel, Mrs Harris Goes to Paris, on television years and years ago. Weird, huh?

If you’re going on holiday to Moscow, and want a holiday read set in Russia but can’t face the length of any of the Russian classics, I think this would make a great light read.

Holiday Reading, Ericeira, Portugal

I was lucky to have a long weekend in Portugal for my friends’ wedding recently. Reading on holidays is simple- slather on a high factor suncream (and if you have a free tissue flap on your foot, whack on a sock to prevent scars burning…), some sunglasses and a hat. Find a suitable spot and a cold drink and proceed with reading. If you fancy making blog readers jealous, take photos of your scenic location.

Reading at the Villa

Boyfriend hiding from camera

Taken while lying on beach reading.