A weekend in Gdansk – a photo tour

I was going through some old travel photo albums from my student years in Stockholm and came across the Gdansk weekend trip photos. So, I thought of sharing them this weekend, as a photo tour.

Given that the cruise lines going past Stockholm used to attract me, I used to watch out for cruise deals and finally came across one, that was too good to miss. So, during the Easter break of 2002, a friend and I decided to go for a weekend cruise to Gdansk. The cruise package was ideal for the budget traveler as it included accommodation in a large, en-suite cabin for the entire weekend on half-board basis so we did not have to find other accommodation while exploring the city.

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Gdansk old city was the highlight of our trip. We took the tram from the port to the old city area each morning and walked about. On our first day, we made our way over to ulika Duliga. The main street was a lovely street with an old fountain in the middle and interesting building architecture lining both sides of the street.

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While walking around, we came across another lovely street, which looked more of a quiet back street when compared to the flamboyant main street. ul Mariacka was crammed with hand carts selling art crafts and jewellery.

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As I had wanted to visit Oliwa cathedral, we took the bus to the cathedral rebuilt in 16th century, after it had been burnt to the ground during the 1577 rebellion of the city of Gdansk. Adjacent to the cathedral was a lovely park area, which we enjoyed wandering around.

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A third highlight of our weekend trip was the visit to another coastal city, Sopot, named for its springs, thought to be beneficial to one’s health. After Gdansk, Sopot seemed a much more relaxed place and people seemed more friendlier and prone to ask about us. I enjoyed the fresh sea breeze while walking along the pier.

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While I had enjoyed my visit, I really had no plans to revisit until I saw Eff it… I’m on holiday’s recent pictures of Gdansk. Vlad’s beautiful photos made me think that I should revisit the city to see the lovely changes that have occurred over the last 15 years.

[Linking this post to Weekend Travel Inspiration and The Weekly Postcard]

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Travel Notes & Beyond

Photo tour of a morning walk around Oxford

Last December, during my visit to England, my best friend and I decided to celebrate her daughter’s birthday by taking her on a weekend trip to Blenheim palace. To maximize our time at the palace, we decided to leave London on friday evening and spend the night in Oxford, before traveling onto Woodstock early the next morning. Though we hardly had much time to explore the city, we did manage to go on a couple of walks on saturday morning. The skies were cloudy that day and it felt like it was going to rain any minute so the city looked quite gloomy. However, I am glad my friend’s daughter did not seem put off by the weather, and the walk seemed to reinforce her fascination with Oxford university, where she wants to study when she eventually finishes secondary school in a few years.

This post is a photo tour of some of the highlights we passed by during our walk.

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Ashmolean museum

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The Martyrs’ memorial and St. Giles

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The church of St Mary Magdalen

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Faculty of History

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The back of Oxford Castle

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Nuffield College

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Start of Broad Street

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Anna’s hand carved wooden spoons stall at the corner of Broad street

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Arts and Crafts market

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Radcliffe Camera

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Old Bodleian library quadrangle

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Another view of the Bodleian library

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Radcliffe square

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Hertford bridge, also referred to as the bridge of sighs

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Weston library

What was the highlight of your visit to Oxford? What would you like to explore on your first/ next visit to the city?

[Linking this post to The Weekly Postcard, Weekend Travel Inspiration and City Tripping #72]

Travel Notes & Beyond
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MummyTravels

Special Six: Colombo Cafes

I am more of a fan of cosy cafes, than fine dining restaurants, especially if they are independent ones and not part of a chain. In Colombo, there is a tendency for cafes and restaurants to mushroom and then close after a couple of years of poor business choices or tough regulations. However, there are some that have established themselves firmly over time. Here are my favourite six in Colombo, some of which I have been a regular customer for over a decade, and others which I like from the newly opened offerings around the city.

  1. Barefoot Garden Cafe

Ever since I first stepped into Barefoot Garden back in 2003, it has been my favourite cafe in Colombo. Aesthetically pleasing, the outdoor cafe adjacent to Barefoot gallery, which hosts art exhibitions and music performances among others, serves great food, has a good tea menu and a better wine selection. The customer service can vary but I usually go to Barefoot when I plan to spend a couple of hours there catching up with friends so I don’t mind the sometimes long waits for food to arrive. It also used to be my preferred place of work, during my consultant years, as the atmosphere on weekdays prior to the lunch hour is conducive for working on a report.

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Broccoli and mushroom quiche with salad

Barefoot cafe is at the back of Barefoot, the shopping outlet of the cotton handloom company started by Barbara Sansoni in 1964. The company engages rural handweavers and has continued to be the best in the Sri Lankan handloom industry over the years, yet to be matched by other handloom companies for its vibrant colours, quality and choice of products.

While I enjoy the ambience of Barefoot, I prefer to go to Barefoot during weekdays than weekends, despite its live jazz on sundays, as it is too crowded then for my liking and you are conscious of people waiting for tables to leisurely enjoy your own meal.

2. Commons Coffee House

Commons, the first of Harpo Gooneratne’s ventures, was opened in 2004. From his DJing career, Harpo shifted to the hospitality industry and worked as an entertainment manager at 5 star hotels. With the start of his own Harpo Productions company, he has launched a series of cafes and restaurants with different concepts. While I like several of his cafe/ restaurant ventures, I like his first the most.

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Stringhoppers with fish curry, kiri hodhi and sambol

Commons at Flower Road, Colombo 3 has continued to be a place I have enjoyed meeting up with friends. It has a relaxed atmosphere, friendly service, good food, particularly their Sri Lankan menu – my particular favourite is the rotti cart, with the selection of rotti with fillings.

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Rotti with tandoori chicken filling

3. Heladiv Tea Club

Heladiv Tea Club is an initiative of one of Sri Lanka’s largest tea exporting companies. They started the Tea Club at the old Dutch hospital precincts at Colombo Fort in 2011, after the site went through a massive renovation and restoration project. While I enjoy their tea offerings and their limited food selection is good, my particular favourite here is the soursop iced tea soda.

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Soursop iced tea and peach iced tea

4. Whight & Co

While Sri Lanka is well-known for its tea, it’s coffee is hardly known. It is surprising therefore that for a few decades in mid 19th century, Sri Lanka was one of the top global producers of coffee. In fact, according to the website of Whight and Co, one of my favourite coffee places in Colombo, the Dutch introduced coffee beans from Mocha in Yemen to Sri Lanka in early 17th century and the British subsequently expanded coffee cultivation. It was the coffee blight of 1869 that resulted in the switch to tea plantations.

James Whight, the owner, had tested coffee plants in regions where they had once grown coffee and found that the sample from Mathurata region in Uva province were from the descendants from an Ethiopian coffee bean mother plant. This coffee is now available as the Ruby Harvest coffee and is served at Whight and Co on Marine Drive, Colombo 3.

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Cold brewing in progress

I have tried a few of their coffees and my favourite is their cold brew, which is only sold in two coffee shops in Colombo that I know of. The upstairs space is lovely, if you need to work on your laptop for a couple of hours, read or simply enjoy the view of the Indian ocean while you appreciate your coffee.

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Cold brew coffee

5. Cafe Kumbuk 

A cafe that opened up a year or so ago, I like the way they have decorated their space at the Prana Lounge premises at 60, Horton Place, Colombo 7. It is an inviting, cosy cafe serving delicious meals. I love their french toast specials, which they seem to change seasonally. The couple, who run the cafe, have lived in London for several years and had been inspired by the food scene in East London and opened up this organic cafe. They have opened up another outlet, called Kumbuk kitchen, next to Good market on Reid avenue.

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Pistachio French toast

6. Kopi Kade

I visited this newly opened coffee shop on Stratford avenue, Colombo 6, last month and I immediately added it to one of my favourite coffee places in Colombo.

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Nimesh Namasivayam, the owner and barista of the coffee shop, has come up with a lovely menu of small plates and bites of Sri Lankan food with a twist.

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Roti crisps with a choice of accompaniments

My favourite part of the coffee place was of course the coffee, which Nimesh sources directly from organic coffee producers around the world. The delicious cup of coffee that I tried out recently was a blend of Ethiopian and Indonesian coffee beans.

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Have you visited any of these six special places during your visit to Colombo? Which ones would you be interested in trying out?

[Linking this post to City Tripping #71 and Faraway Files]

Wander Mum

Special Six: National Museum Gallery Highlights

The national museum of Colombo is the largest in the country and its founder, Sir William Henry Gregory, who was the British governor at that time declared it open on January 1st, 1877. When I visited the museum a dozen or so years ago, I was not impressed with the quite dilapidated building and presentation of exhibits, especially the lack of information about exhibits. Having learnt that the national museum had reopened after major renovations, I decided that it was time for me to revisit the museum this week and hoped that this visit would be more interesting. I was not disappointed as the building itself seems to have undergone a face lift and looked beautiful.

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In this post, I would like to share the six galleries that interested me the most of the different galleries at the museum.

  • Prehistoric gallery

The earliest evidence of the pre-historic period in Sri Lanka is 250,000 years ago in Minihagalkanda, Hambantota and the latest around 2,800 BC in Manthai, Mannar.

This gallery’s focus was primarily on burial techniques. I came across two different burial methods. One was an urn burial that was excavated from Pomparippu from around 800 – 700 BC. The pot was used to place human ash and offerings and covered with the circular stone slab, similar to the stone enclosure on display, which had been found near Galewela.

The other form of burial on display was the earthen canoe burial, where a pit built with clay was used for burning the corpse together with offerings and then filled and covered with a layer of burnt clay lumps. The one on display had been found in Kegalle district and was dated to 360 BC.

  • Anuradhapura period gallery

The museum has missed out on the period between prehistoric and Anuradhapura period, where there was an influx of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent, which contributed to the decimation of the indigenous population and establishment of the Sinhalese and Tamil settlements in the country. The information plaque at the entrance of the gallery mentions that Anuradhagama was founded in 5 BC by Anuradha, a minister of the legendary ruler Vijaya. The city of Anuradhapura was then established in 4 BC by King Pandukabhaya, and became the first capital of Sri Lanka.

Two images under this period caught my attention. One was the 8th century image of Buddha found in Toluvila, which actually is displayed at the entrance of the museum and not within the Anuradhapura gallery. Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka in 3 BC, through the missionary activities of Emperor Asoka of India.

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The other image that fascinated me was that of Goddess Durga from 9 – 10th century, found in Mihintale. The image had no similarity to contemporary images of the Goddess in the country. The information board in the gallery mentions that “the presence of Tamil rulers in Sri Lanka from pre-Christian times indicates the practice of Brahminical or Hindu faith” and it mentions the 7th century poetry of Tirujnanasambandar, praising the Hindu shrine at Tiruketisvaram in Mantai.

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I was also intrigued by the surgical instruments found from this period. On display was a scalpel and a scissor from the 8th century, as well as a grinding stone for herbal medicine.

  • Polonnaruwa period gallery

During the heydays of Anuradhapura, Kandavurunuwara, which was considered to be the legendary ancient city of Pulastipura from Ravana’s time, became a strategic city midway between the Anuradhapura kingdom and the southern kingdom of Mahagama. It was this city that became the capital of the Chola empire of India when they re-conquered Anuradhapura in the 10th century. The city was renamed Janathamangalam and became the second capital of the country. It was when Vijayabahu I defeated the Cholas and took over the city that it was named Polonnaruwa. Irrigation tanks was a major contribution of the Polonnaruwa reign and the major ones are still in use.

In this section of the gallery, what attracted my attention immediately was the images of the Hindu gods, Siva  (12 – 13th century) and Ganesha (12th century). These images looked more like contemporary images, than the ones from the Anuradhapura period.

Of interest again was the medical instruments of the time, which was similar to the ones found in Anuradhapura.

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Another object that fascinated me was the time and day calculator. While the water ladle in the center of this glass display is beautiful, the time calculator was the polished coconut bowl with holes in it through which water seeped into another bowl. When the bowl was filled, it indicated that an hour had passed.

  • Transitional Period Gallery

With the decline of Polonnaruwa in early 13th century, there was a transitional period across the country where there were frequent struggles for power between kingdoms and one kingdom would emerge powerful within a region (s) for a few decades. This transition period was till the end of the 16th century, when Kandy emerged as the capital of the country. It was towards the end of this period that the Portuguese arrived in Sri Lanka and took over the coastal areas.

I would have liked to see more local artefacts from this period, especially details from the Kingdoms of Dambadeniya, Gampola, Jaffna and Kotte. From the exhibits in this gallery, the one that fascinated me most was the trilingual inscription, carved in Nanjing, and brought to the country by the Chinese navigator Zheng He in 14th century. The stone was installed in Galle. The Chinese writing on the stone invokes Buddha and offers alms to the Buddhist shrine at Samanalakanda, alternatively known as Sivanoli Pada malai and Adam’s peak, the Tamil writing invokes blessings of Hindu gods and particularly of God Vishnu, the Persian writing invokes the ‘light of Islam’. The placement of the inscription in the gallery was poorly done as it has been placed by a glass door, so the strong light at the back of the stone reduces the visibility of the inscription in addition to not allowing a good photograph to be taken.

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  • Kandyan Period Gallery

By the end of the 15th century, the Kandyan kingdom emerged as a powerful force, despite the turbulence experienced in the rest of the country due to the inter-Kingdom wars, the Portuguese colonization of the coastal areas followed by the Dutch colonization efforts. The capital finally fell to the British in 1815, due to internal power struggles between the King and his Prime Minister, which divided the people.

Occupying the pride of place in the Kandyan gallery was the throne, crown and scepter of the King of Kandy.

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The best display in this gallery was the writing instruments though. The stylus pens used to write on palm leaves or gold and brass plates.

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The ground floor of the museum was the most interesting part of the museum for me. I didn’t find the upper floor as fascinating, despite some interesting galleries focusing on art, woodwork and even agriculture.

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I was delighted to know that the cost of the museum ticket for residents and non-residents, while still different, was not too much as in other sights in Sri Lanka. I used to be embarrassed when accompanying visiting friends to places in the Cultural triangle, where they would be forking out a 1000 or 2000 for a entry ticket, while I only had to pay a 100. The national museum ticket on the other hand is LKR 35 for locals and LKR 300 for non-residents, and the photography permit of LKR 250 is the same for both.

The museum has been better organized and presented in the form of different galleries and now conforms to the trilingual policy, that was initiated in 2012. This enhanced the experience of my visit, as each exhibit now had information boards in English, Sinhala and Tamil. I also noticed there were tags on several of the exhibits and asked the museum staff, if there was an audio guide. It seemed most of the current staff in the galleries were newly recruited and were not aware of the guide. It was towards the end of my visit that I met a staff, who was able to explain to me that the audio guide was in the form of a downloadable mobile app and that once downloaded, I could scan the tag of an exhibit and listen to the corresponding audio recording.

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Hope you enjoyed the brief tour of the museum of Colombo! Would you include it in your list of places to visit in Sri Lanka?

[Linking this post to Wanderful Wednesday and Faraway Files #25]
Wanderful Wednesday

Suitcases and Sandcastles

A photo tour of Glastonbury Abbey

Glastonbury Abbey was founded in the 7th century and expanded by St. Dunstan, the Abbot of Glastonbury in the 10th century and by 1086, it was the richest monastery in England. Of special interest is the legend connecting the site of the abbey to the burial place of King Arthur as well as Joseph of Arimathea. As I had been fascinated by the legend, my sister decided to make a stop at the abbey on our way back from Wells.

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According to the exhibition at the abbey museum, there was an old church made of mud and wood on the site, the origin of which is not clear but there are various legends surrounding it. However, the fire of 1184 destroyed any traces of this old church and the Lady chapel was consecrated on its site in 1186.

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When the medieval St. Joseph’s crypt was constructed under the Lady chapel, it became a popular destination for pilgrims. The crypt was rededicated in 2015 by the Bishop of Bath and Wells.

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On the side of Lady chapel is a marker of a grave. While there are many stories connected to this grave, a popular story that is mentioned on the abbey’s website is that monks needing to raise funds to rebuild the abbey after the fire, dug up this grave in 1191 searching for the bones of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere.

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They were then re-buried in a black marble tomb in the then newly constructed abbey church in 1278.

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The ruins of the Great church, though not having survived to the extent of Lady chapel, are also quite majestic.

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The best preserved section of the abbey is the Abbot’s kitchen, which was built in the 1300s, and was used to provide meals for the abbot and his guests.

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Facing the kitchen was the ruins of the refectory, marked as the monastic ruins on the abbey map.

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The abbey grounds cover 36 acres of parkland. I was not up to walking around the entire parkland but I did stop and pause by some lovely benches to rest and observe the ruins.

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Another site of interest to the visitor to Glastonbury would be the Glastonbury Tor. Having walked a lot that day, my sister was concerned that I would find it too much to climb and with the clouds opening up as I finished my visit to the abbey, we decided to turn away with a brief glimpse of the Tor, from a distance.

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Disclaimer: The Bath Tourism Office kindly gave me a complimentary media pass to Bath and regional attractions, during my November 2016 visit to south west England, for the purpose of this post. This pass allowed me free entry to Glastonbury Abbey. All opinions are my own and I only recommend experiences I have enjoyed.

[Linked this post to The Weekly Postcard and Weekend Travel Inspiration]

Travel Notes & Beyond
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Highlights of Bishop’s Palace

Bishop’s Palace dates back to early 13th century, when the first Bishop of Bath and Wells – Bishop Jocelin Trotman – received permission to build a residence near the cathedral. I decided to visit the palace, after attending the morning service at Wells cathedral and exploring the area around the cathedral.

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Since there was some time before the palace opened for visitors, I decided to walk around the moat area. What caught my attention first was the sleeping pigeons on the branches of a tree. IMG_1104.JPG

As I walked further along the moat, I came upon the famous swans of the palace. Since a Bishop’s daughter had taught the swans to ring the bell for food in 1870, a tradition of training the resident swans to ring the bell has been followed. I came upon this little herd gliding by. They didn’t ring the bell during my walk though. Visitors interested in feeding the swans, or other birds, can purchase bird food from the palace shop.

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The view of the cathedral and the palace from a garden near the moat was lovely, despite the heavy clouds in the sky.

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I was back at the gatehouse at 10am and was the first visitor of the day. From one end of the croquet lawn, there was a lovely view of the main entrance of the palace as well as the entrance to the chapel.

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I decided to leave the interior of the palace for last and turned towards the ruins of the Great Hall, through which I stepped into the south lawn.

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Walking through the lawn, I reached the ramparts and climbed up the steps. I had read that the Glastonbury Tor could be seen from the ramparts. Perhaps because it was a cloudy day, I could not see the Tor, though I thought I had spotted the hill in the distance. The land behind the palace had been the Bishop’s deer park in the past.

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I walked across the length of the rampart and climbed down to the formal gardens behind the palace.

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Walking past the gardens, I came to a little wooden bridge that crossed the moat and led to the most important part of the city.

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I took one of the paths curving around the well pool, which gave the city its name, and whose water fed the moat around the palace.

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After walking around the garden of reflection, I decided to explore the interior of the palace. I first visited the lovely little chapel.

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After spending some time in the quiet chapel, I made my way to the entrance porch of the palace and entered the entrance hall. One of the Bishops had a habit of dining with 12 poor men and women at the table at the centre. While the entrance hall is part of the original 13th century construction, the fireplace near the table is a later addition.

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Through a door at the end of the hall, I entered the Undercroft, which had also been part of the original medieval palace.  It is now available for hire for events.

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Climbing up the Jacobean stairs, I came upon the long gallery which had the portraits of the different Bishops of Wells. The long gallery led to the drawing room, where there were some objects on exhibit. I found the Abbots chair and the Glastonbury chair of interest. According to the information sheet by the oak chair, the Glastonbury chair was a term used to refer to wooden chairs in the 19th century. However, this particular Glastonbury chair was made for John Thorne, who was a monk and a treasurer at Glastonbury abbey during the dissolution and who was subsequently executed at Glastonbury Tor in 1539.

The room next to the drawing room is currently used as a conference room and during my visit, had an art exhibition going on. Both rooms together used to be the great hall.

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The last room open for visitors on this floor was the solar, which had an art installation of an angel during my visit.

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I walked back down the steps and lingered by the croquet lawn, for my last snaps of the palace, before I left Wells.

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What feature of the Wells Bishop’s palace fascinates you the most?

[Linking this post to City Tripping #68 and Wanderful Wednesday]

MummyTravels

Wanderful Wednesday

Special Six: Morning at Wells Cathedral

Wells, the second smallest city of England in terms of its population size and geographical area, has been a city since medieval times due to the cathedral. I had been fascinated by Clare’s (Suitcases and Sandcastles) mention of the oldest complete medieval street left in England on her post on Wells city. So, I asked my sister, during my weekend stay with her, whether we could visit Wells. She decided that we would go for the Sunday Holy Communion service at Wells Cathedral.

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When we arrived at the cathedral around 7.30am, the entrance was closed. Someone pointed out a door on its West Front that had been left open for those coming for the service.

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At the end of the hour long service, my sister and I decided that we would meet up on the cathedral green near the entrance in a few hours as I had wanted to wander around. Since it was a Sunday, the daily cathedral tours by volunteers was not available. I asked permission to take a few photos of the Quire area from a church staff preparing for the next service. While I would have loved to explore the rest of the cathedral, especially its chained library, I did appreciate having been part of the morning service which I would not have been able to had I visited on a weekday.

What catches one’s attention as you walk into the cathedral through the west front are the Scissor arches which, according to the cathedral website, had been added in 1338, when a new spire added to the top of the tower threatened to collapse the whole structure.

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The 14th century stained glass windows of the Jesse window was impressive. While the windows narrowly escaped destruction during the English civil war and was protected during the second world war, the windows have been deteriorating over time. A protective glazing has been added to the exterior of the window and conservation work undertaken to preserve the beautiful window.

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The Quire area, where the morning service had been held, is one of the oldest part of the cathedral and is beautiful.

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The present organ was rebuilt in the 1970s, with the original instrument having been built in mid 19th century, with pipework from late 18th century.

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While I had been eager to see the famous 14th century astronomical clock at the cathedral, considered the second oldest clock mechanism in Britain, and its two famous jousting knights and Quarter Jack, I could not see it within the cathedral as I could not wander around. However, there was a clock on the exterior face of the wall, facing the Vicar’s Hall, that was connected to the same mechanism as that of the clock inside.

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I walked further and came upon the Vicar’s close, the medieval street that had intrigued me.

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Built to house the Vicar’s Choral, which is an all male group, it still continues to be inhabited by successive choral groups.

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At the end of the close is the Vicar’s chapel and library.

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Returning to the Cathedral green, I sat on one of the benches overlooking the west front and admired the cathedral while taking a break.

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Have you visited Wells Cathedral? What aspect of the cathedral intrigues you?

[Linking this post to City Tripping #67 and Faraway Files #22]

Wander Mum
Suitcases and Sandcastles