Summer Solstice at the Stonehenge

Recently it was the time of the summer solstice and it brought back a personal memory from quite a few years ago.

In my native Estonia, the lightest night of the year is celebrated with large bonfires all over the country. In the UK there is not such a custom. However, some people celebrate the Summer Solstice at an ancient place, thought to be highly energetic – the Stonehenge. The prehistoric monument of Wiltshire dates back 4000-5000 years and is referred to as one of the wonders of the world and the best-known prehistoric monument in Europe.

During normal visiting hours, the stones can only be observed from afar. However, once a year (and perhaps on some other special occasions) the access is open for the public to practically climb on to the stones while waiting for the sunrise.

Nine years ago I had the chance to visit the location and celebrate the summer solstice in the manner of old Celtic Pagans –  a “time of plenty and celebration”.
It was a rather cold and rainy evening when we got there. Nevertheless, it seemed like thousands of people were making their way across the field towards the ancient statues. For the protection of the monument, visitors were prohibited from making loud sounds (no roaring music allowed), bringing along their pets, sleeping bags or duvets, barbeques and camping equipment, or alcohol, for that matter. People were left to take care of their own entertainment on how to spend the cold and wet night – some broke into song and there were a few groups making quiet sounds – all kinds of music style were accepted, from drum circles and beatboxing to improvised poetry and chanting.

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The rather annoying phenomenon of that night was the ongoing showering rain, which lasted all night long from dusk till dawn. There weren´t any tents to cover from the rain so the poor visitors had to wrap up in plastic bags, dance around with chanting Hare Krishnas to get warm or stands next to a tiny fireplace surrounded by a metal grid for safety.

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Six hours of dark and wet time had to be passed somehow – there was no escape if you didn´t have a car. The only way out would have been in an ambulance, which there were a few of. Nevertheless, the whole event was in good spirits and it was kinda cool to jam with thousands of hippies among the old ruins, despite the cold and rain.

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Just after the expected sunshine, around quarter to five (which was just formal, as no sun could be seen through the clouds) the majority of people were ready to rush off. The first bus set off at five to take the brave revellers back to town.

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A quick search shows that the summer solstice celebrations were carried on this year as well, according to the BBC News, on 21st of June. This year being blessed with a heatwave, I bet it was far more enjoyable to celebrate the Midsummer Night.

Image by BBC News
Image by BBC News

Surprise trip to Rochester

A great destination for a day trip getaway from London is Rochester –
a small picturesque town on the river Medway, just 50km from London.
I was taken there for my surprise birthday trip this year.

My favourite birthday present is an experience of some kind – better even an exploration trip to somewhere new. So, already for a few years, I have been getting little hedonistic adventures as birthday presents. Last year ending up in the lovely seaside town of Whitstable and this year, the surprise destination turned out to be Rochester!

The excitement was high, as I got taken on the train at the busy Victoria train station, desperately trying to ignore any kind of hints and announcements as of where the train would be heading, not to spoil the surprise for myself. An hour or so of secretly guessing, it was time to get off the train, discovering ourselves in the marvel of Kent.
Being blessed with the first Summery weather of the year, the sun was shining brightly, making everything look even better, as it does.

RochesterThe high street of this cute little town is something to see – lined with small boutiques and cafés with the abundance of antique and charity shops. Wish we had time to search for the hidden treasures!

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Our first stop happened to be at Fieldstaff Antiques – the lovely little boutique filled with wonders of the bygone days, which I left with a few pairs of beautiful vintage gloves.

The historic town has over time been occupied by Celts, Romans, Jutes and Saxons, bearing quite an important role from early times.

As the main points of interest, I would name the gorgeous architectural masterpiece of Rochester Cathedral and the ruins of Rochester Castle.

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The Cathedral originates from AD 604, the current architectural shape was finished in 1343. The gorgeous Cathedral is a masterpiece from inside and out.

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Rochester Castle, with the 12th-century keep, served as a strategically important royal castle in the medieval times. It saw action in the siege in 1264 and has been in ruins ever since. Currently, the castle grounds are open to the public as a park and it is possible to climb up the ruins for a great view of the Cathedral and the riverside. Just remember to wear comfy shoes!

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For the dinner we were recommended to check out Topes restaurant, just next to the castle – the atmosphere looked lovely and relaxed, but unfortunately, many people thought the same – if you want to get a place there, have to book a few weeks in advance!
Instead, we ended up at Elizabeth´s Restaurant at the other end of the High Street.  Although a bit too fancy at the first glimpse with its pristine white tablecloth, the fresh seafood menu, accompanied by the crisp white wine, really indulged our taste buds.

Rochester is especially known for the historic May Day dancing chimney sweeps tradition with the famous parade going down the High Street. Should remember to check it out next year!

Wellcome Collection

One of my favourite places in London is the Wellcome Collection with its curiosity cabinets.

Located at 183 Euston Road, London, it explores the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future. The venue hosts a museum with permanent and temporary exhibitions, the world-renowned Wellcome Library, the conference centre, a café with some great food and a very cool shop where it is possible to find many unusual gifts.

The Wellcome collection space was opened in 2007, but its story goes a lot further back to its founder Sir Henry Wellcome (1853-1936). Pharmacist, entrepreneur, philanthropist and collector, he made his fame and fortune by his extensive work in the pharmaceutical business. Being one of the first ones to introduce the medicine in the form of a tablet, Wellcome-funded scientists developed medicines to cure a number of important diseases, from tetanus to diphtheria.
In addition to the pharmaceuticals, Henry Wellcome had a passion for collecting unusual items and curiosities from around the world. His personal collection ranged to over a million of items, stacked away at the warehouse in Willesden. After his death, the Wellcome Foundation was established, which lead to the opening of the Collection over 70 years later.

I would like to specifically concentrate on the “Medicine Man” permanent exhibition, presenting the outright weird items from around the world. The extraordinary objects range from Victorian-era diagnostic dolls to Japanese sex aids, from the samples of tattooed human skin to antique artificial arms and legs.

This is quite a different exhibition to discover in London.

All images by Wellcome Collection / Rama Knight.

I have always been attracted to the mysterious wonders of the world, being captivated rather by the unusual than the well known regular things around us. One of my personal early childhood memories includes the blowfish carcass, from my father´s trips to Africa, displayed in the hallway cabinet. Even now our home is filled with the curiosities from around the world, brought back from my extensive travels. Often these are just random remarkable pieces of nature, such as a piece of bark from an exotic tree, a shell of a specific-looking nut or something more mysterious. If the space allowed, the collection would be a lot wider.
Inspired by the Wellcome collection (and other curiosity cabinets of this kind) I am looking to take this passion of mine further, continuing to collect the unusual items along the way and perhaps sharing the most remarkable finds online.

Winter Cocktails at Texture – 7SL

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The icy winter months make many of us crave warm, spice-infused drinks and tasty comfort food. We yearn for dining experiences that fill our tummies with hearty dishes and flush our cheeks with warming cocktails. Icelandic folk are experts on wintery fayre, hence why we decided to nip into the Michelin starred, award-winning Icelandic restaurant and bar, Texture in Marylebone.

Source: Winter Cocktails at Texture – 7SL

Shun the detox and eat cake at the Barbican Conservatory – 7 Star Life

There is a hidden marvel nestled in the middle of London, surrounded by an erratic maze of concrete walls. During the winter months when the sky resembles a dreary grey blanket of clouds, we crave escapism somewhere wild and green – almost jungle like…

Source: Shun the detox and eat cake at the Barbican Conservatory – 7SL

My newest contribution to 7 Star Life magazine

Medieval towns of Pals and Peratallada

Having the scooter allowed us to discover Llafranc neighborhood even further, so we headed inland from Aiguablava beach, to see the medieval towns.
First view spot was outside the little town of Begur, with its 16th century castle. This time we just had a look at the town´s scenery from afar.

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While the road along the coast, travelling from one beach to another was rather hilly, but quiet, then going slightly inland it turned rather highway-like and less scooter-friendly. Away from the coast the typical Spanish dryness had settled in, turning most of the nature desertly yellow.

Our first destination was Pals. Its medievalness dates back quite a few centuries, namely to 11th century, with its town walls and four square towers dating back even further, to the 4th century. During our visit on the Sunday morning, the town seemed to be abandoned ghost town. Everything was well in tact, but very few people were wandering along the cobbled streets of the medieval quarters.
My favourite spot in town was a small boutique/café Bazara, that combined casual boho clothing and accessories shop with stylish coffee corner. Just for this shop I´d like to live there, or maybe rather “transport” the same kind of boutique to my neighborhood. 🙂

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About 10km from Pals there is another medieval town, Peratallada – famous for its Medieval festival in October. Most of the buildings in Peratallada are built from stone carved from the moat which still encircles parts of the small fortified medieval town. The castle from 11th century, in the middle of the town has been turned into luxury hotel. Its beautiful stone buildings, narrow passages and cobbled streets were very charming indeed.

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Spanish nature is just so unbelievable and totally different from the rest of Europe! The air changes as soon as you cross the border at the Pyrenees. The ground is desert-like yellowish, rather than black, the plants are different, with large selection of cacti, and of course the heat. I just love it!