Dear friends,

Lucky me to spend 6 weeks in Europe from mid-June to early August, visiting friends in the UK, Spain, Switzerland, Italy, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. Everywhere the weather was beautiful, the friends welcoming and the weeks passed so quickly in a whirl of delightful meetings, delicious dinners, gorgeous scenery and a few special treats as well.

I was also experimenting with my new little camera – a Canon G1X Mark III which has replaced my ailing but beloved G16, and am happy with the results especially the panoramas of which I took quite a few. I have whittled down my photos from this trip but will split the holiday into two blogs. This one will cover my visits to London, Barcelona, Geneva and Florence, and the next we will head north to the Nordic countries.

In London, I got to see two great shows – “42nd Street”, full of song and dance and ‘The King and I” as a nod to my adopted home for the time being. I spent a day at Kew Gardens which I had never visited before, had the obligatory pub lunch of fish and chips, dined out with friends, visited the wonderful Ightham Mote, a magical 14th century moated manor house, surrounded by beautiful gardens, lakes and woodland walks. Built nearly 700 years ago, the house has been owned by medieval knights, courtiers to Henry VIII and high-society Victorians.

First off, some of the pix from the beautiful Kew Gardens. They are so huge, we only managed a small corner before we retired for lunch. I will definitely visit again.

Lotus flowers in one of the greenhouses.

What are these – like matchsticks, but so far unidentified.

Beautiful curl to this lily’s petals.

Scarlet poppies are always a wonderful ‘pop’ of colour in the garden.

In one of the shaded walks at Kew Gardens. Felt that I was suitably colourfully dressed to visit the gardens.

The visit to the National Trust’s wonderful Ightham Mote (pronounced item moat) in Kent was a highlight. It has been described as “the most complete small medieval manor house in the county.” And it didn’t disappoint.

Approaching the manor house with the stables beyond.

The stables and staff houses.

One aspect of the manor house and the moat.

The gardens were extensive with fruit and vegetables as well as flowers and shrubs. Loved this light through the grasses.

Such a very English tradition – the pub – this one in Essex where we feasted on fish and chips washed down with a pint. A trip to the UK without enjoying a pub meal is just not possible.

We ate outside in the warm summer day, but sitting by the fire in the winter must be lovely.

I made a quick two-day trip down to Devon to stay with friends who live deep in a beautiful part of the country. The views from their house and over their fields are stunning.

Evening coloured over the mown fields and haybales.

A panorama from the top of their property.

Sunlight through the leaves in their small forest.

Next stop was Barcelona, just for a weekend, but managed to enjoy tapas and cocktails with my friends and a walk through the city. On my last visit I marvelled at the famous La Sagrada Familia, but this time I also enjoyed a tour of the Barcelona Cathedral and the Park Güell where there is a small house in which Gaudí lived in at one stage. The house has now been converted into a museum and contains interesting furniture also designed by Gaudí.

Covered walkway in the old town of Barcelona

Barcelona Cathedral, the main entrance.

Detail of the carved stonework over the doorway of Barcelona Cathedral.

Looking up, the magnificent ceiling of the cathedral.

Beautiful colours of one of the stained glass windows.

The glowing gold of a side chapel with admiring tourists.

Gorgeous blues of the pillars reaching up to the gold of the ceiling.

Wandering and salivating in the deli section of the central market.

The view over the city from the park Gruel, designed by Gaudi.

A flamenco dancer entertains the visitors to the park.

Can’t have photos of a park without flowers, so here is a trio of lovely blue agapanthus.

The house once designed and lived in by Gaudi.

Another fanciful design in the park, no mistaking Gaudi’s hand in this.

A street artist sits half way down a staircase, preparing another painting for sale.

A colourful Gaudi style minaret reaches for the sky. 

The next point of call on the travels – always have to go back to Geneva where I lived and worked on and off for some 28 years. So many friends to visit and a little shopping never goes amiss, and it’s summer – filets de perches is a must. I was lucky enough to stay with a friend whose 12th floor apartment looks right over the old town and lake and is just a few minutes walk from the park and the lake itself.

I arrived in through stormclouds, but they cleared and made way for a beautiful sunset.

Probably the most widely known symbol of the city, the Jet d’eau is impressive day and night.

Saturday afternoon is a time for strolling along the lakeside and relaxing with friends.

Always something special for the kids, and why wouldn’t Minnie Mouse be visiting Geneva.

One of the graceful old ladies of the lake. 

Walking back up through the Parc le Grange past the shuttered mansion.

Sunday regatta on the lake, rather becalmed it seems. 

From there, flying south to Florence – such a beautiful city where I am welcomed by friends almost every year. Lunch at the Four Seasons, dinner in a ‘hole in the wall’ restaurant to sample fried rabbit, a lunch in the country and delicious home-cooked food most evenings. But a special treat to end the visit was an afternoon in the Etruscan town of Volterra and then on to the open-air theatre – Teatro del Silencio – where we saw the opera ‘Andrea Chenier’ with the magnificent Andrea Bocelli in the lead role.  And to cap it off, a full moon rose above the stage – wow !

Tiny road side restaurant with bags of character and delicious food.

A shady place to chat beside the wall of the town hall in the Etruscan town of Volterra.

A narrow street of Volterra with a tower beyond.

The steep, cobbled street rising up to the old fortress and park above the town.

The fortified palace above the town of Volterra, now surrounded by a park.

Afternoon sunlight casting a bright shadow of a lamp and dragon against the stone wall.

Driving onwards from Volterra past farmhouses in the countryside of the region of Pisa.

Such a typically Italian landscape as we neared the town of Lajatica where the open-air theatre is situated.

The Teatro del Silencio with the Opera ‘Andrea Chenier’ being presented under a full moon.

Andrea Bocelli as Andrea Chenier and his Maddalena sing their farewells before they are led to the guillotene.  

A view over the Duomo of Florence taken from the Bardini Gardens.

A lovely panorama of the city along the banks of the Arno River.

A sweet little balcony high among the rooftops of the old city.

Lucky enough to catch an exhibition of Steve McCurry portraits in the museum at the Bardini Garden.
The girl with the green eyes, for which he is most famous, was featured, but so many other stunning photos on display.

Two others of the many portraits taken from across the globe.

Full moon over the splendid buildings along the Arno.

No prizes for guessing this one. The Ponte Vecchio at night reflected in the calm waters of the Arno.

And so endeth part one of my summer in Europe blog. Thank you to my wonderful friends in all these places who provided the bases for these adventures and who wined and dined me in style – you know who you are. xx

Next blog will wing me up to Sweden, Finland and Denmark, but not Norway this time.

Until then, all the best to my followers and friends.