Welcome to the British Museum

by Andrada Costoiu

If you are in London and a history lover, this is a place that you must visit. I went in a summer afternoon and I wish I took the whole day, because the museum is so large and so interesting. I think it’s one of the greatest museums in the world!


Do not expect the museum to be on a big street, it isn’t! Its location is not on a little street either (as it’s Picasso’s museum in Barcelona), but it’s not placed on a big avenue. I used my Google maps to find it.

The address is Great Russell St, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 3DG, United Kingdom.

When you get there, there will be a line. They, of course, do security screenings and your belongings will be scanned as well as you. But the line goes fast, you wont be there for an hour; the wait is nothing like the wait for some Disney rides :).

The museum is open daily 10.00-17.30. Open late on Fridays until 20.30.

The museum is free, but there are some collections that you have to pay for (if you would like to see them!). I suggest purchasing an audio guide (there is a place to rent these, as you get in the big hall).

This picture show part of the big hall, after the entrance

The guide is very useful if you don’t have anybody else to explain the different exhibitions and to give you a tour. I used it not only to learn about the exhibitions, but also to learn about particular objects that interested me. You see, each display case has a number. If you click on your audio guide on that number, it will tell you a lot more than the written explanations on the displays (if any).

A bit of history

The British Museum was established in 1753. It first opened to the public in 1759 on the site of the current building. So yes, it’s that old! In fact, the British Museum is the oldest museum in the world!

The museum started with the collections of the Irish physician and scientist Sir Hans Sloane.   He was a London-based doctor and scientist who married the widow of a wealthy Jamaican planter. He did not wish to see his collection broken up after death, so he bequeathed it to King George II. At that time, Sloane’s collection consisted of around 71,000 objects of all kinds. But since 1753 the collection grew to 8 million objects.

One of the funny facts about the British Museum is that it has been home a lot of cats over the centuries. They say that the most famous guard at the British Museum was a cat :). The cat name was Mike and he patrolled the gate from 1909-1929. When he died, the museum staff mourned him and his obituary was featured in TIME magazine.

The British Museum is popular in the entertainment industry. You might not know but many movie scenes were filmed here. The first movie scene ever shot in the Museum was for The Wakefield Cause, in 1921. Blackmail, by Alfred Hitchcock was also shot here and so were scenes from the Hollywood masterpiece, Day of the Jackal. Most recently, the museum was featured in the movie Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (2014).

Three of the most popular exhibits at the British Museum are the Oxus Treasure, the Rosetta Stone, and the Elgin Marbles.

What I liked

HM!!! I am going to talk about only what I have seen, because I didn’t get a chance to visit all! 

Rosetta Stone

I stopped in front of the Rosetta Stone for a while and I imagined all these people making the inscriptions. What was it like then? Who were these people? They sure left us something so we can understand them.

The Rosetta Stone has ancient hieroglyphs carved onto it and its discovery was instrumental to the translation of Ancient Egyptian writing. The stone is dating from 196 B.C. .

The Egyptian Galleries, Room 4

This room houses sculptures and artifacts from about 3,000 years of ancient Egyptian civilization. The exhibition is magnificent.  The gallery is located next to the museum’s main entrance.

Room 4 is one of the largest exhibition space and it display only 4% of its Egyptian holdings. That is because it is the place for monumental sculptures…and when I say monumental I really mean it. Everything is gigantic…

This is the colossal statue of Amenhotep III also known as Amenhotep the Magnificent, was the ninth pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty. Look at how small people look in comparison to it…

And this is the head of the same Pharaoh Amenhotep III. This statue is dating from around 1370 BC…

This is a giant bust of Rameses II, also known as Rameses the Great. He is often regarded as the greatest, most celebrated, and most powerful pharaoh of the New Kingdom. This is why his successors called him the “Great Ancestor”.

Standing in front of these statues made me think about these people in real life like. What was it like to be a Pharaoh? What is amazing? : ).

And there are so many other great things in this room…….but I should’t put up more pictures. You just go and see : ).

The Elgin Marbles, the department of Greece and Rome

The Parthenon Marbles, the Elgin Marbles are a collection of medieval, marble Greek Sculptures. These sculptures were brought to Great Britain in the early 1800s by the Earl of Elgin, who acquired them from the Parthenon Temple in Athens. 

These sculptures were part of the Parthenon on the Acropolis of Athens, built between 447 and 438 B.C.

The mummies

This exhibition is extraordinary …..large, many mummies. It is situated on the 4th floor.

I was looking at these mummies and I was thinking what life would have been like along the River Nile several thousand years ago. It does not take an effort of imagination to conjure back the ancient times. People, like today, believed in afterlife and the mummification was an extraordinary funerary tradition of preparing the body for the afterlife. 

They also have the pictures of the CT scans of the inside the mummies’ coffins. 

I was humbled while reaching the mummy of the Gabelein man.  Humbled by being a human, in front of another person that exited so long ago and that now is on display in a museum….

They named this mummy “Ginger”. They said he is called this way because of his….red hair?  He is placed in the fetal position which was the most common form for Egyptian burials of the time. 

What I would do when I will go again

I would map the exhibitions, because I went in blind and not knowing even the floors where certain exhibitions were. This place is massive and it helps knowing where what you’re interested in is located.

I would go there earlier, not late afternoon. You can spend so many hours in the museum…

I would read more in advance about certain pieces. The mummies, the Elgin marbles and the Egypt exhibitions I have seen are so amazing and I would want to know more before I stand in front of these pieces.

And I will go again…..I hope that you will too!


© Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2019 . Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

St Paul’s Cathedral

by Andrada Costoiu

I am reading a book, it’s called “Letters to the lost” by Iona Grey. It’s a beautiful love story, set in London during WW2. As I was reading it, I came across this passage that’s happening in St. Paul’s Cathedral. This sent me back to the time when I was inside it.

I didn’t know about the Whispering Gallery. I wish I knew; I would have climbed up there.

Brief history

St. Paul’s Cathedral is a magic place that goes back in time. I thought this building was the start, but no!! The cathedral building has been destroyed several times and there is so much history behind it! The first on this site was a Roman temple to Diana, but the first Christian cathedral there was dedicated to St. Paul in AD 604. That cathedral burned and its replacement (built 675–685) was destroyed by Viking raiders in 962. 

In 1087 a third cathedral erected on the site also burned! 

The fourth one, now known as Old St. Paul’s, was constructed in the late 11th century. Its spire stood higher than the dome of the present cathedral. In 1561 the spire was destroyed by lightning (and a resulting fire) and never replaced.  Then this building was destroyed in the Great Fire of London (1666), when it was caught in the flames. The lead on the roof melted and poured down on to the street like a river, or so they say. The building collapsed. 

The present cathedral, dating from the late 17th century, was designed by Sir Christopher Wren. It was the first Cathedral to be built after the English Reformation in the sixteenth-century, when Henry VIII removed the Church of England from the jurisdiction of the Pope! 
It has survived the WW2 Blitz as it is (with repairs) .  What was the Blitz? It was the German bombing campaign against the UK, in 1940 and 1941. Not only London, but also provincial UK was bombed.  Much of London was lost, including many iconic buildings. St. Paul’s survived probably through a miracle (or maybe because it was protected somehow). Below it’s a picture after the bombings, with St. Paul’s towering over the ruble of London.  Since then, this building had become associated with the British resilience.

Who was Christopher Wren and how did he came to build St. Paul’s

After the year of the Great Plague in 1665, The Great Fire of London came! The fire happened in 1666 destroyed many of the city’s public buildings, including 88 of its churches. 

Christopher Wren was commissioned to build 51 replacement churches, and that included St Paul’s cathedral. Although Wren was personally responsible for all these, probably not all of them represent his own fully developed design.  Only a few are in Wren’s hand, including St. Paul’s. 

Wren was many things, not only an architect.  He was a scientist and he was one of the founders of the Royal Society (president 1680–82), the oldest scientific society in the world! His work was highly regarded by Isaac Newton and Blaise Pascal.

The architecture 

The cathedralis heavily influenced by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The construction of the cathedral took more than 40 years. In 1708, Wren’s son, Christopher Wren Jr, placed the final stone on the lantern, watched by his father below.

I think the most notable feature is the dome. The dome framed by the spires of Wren’s City churches, has dominated London’s skyline for over 300 years. It is still among the highest in the world.

Internally, the church is beautiful ,with impressive arches and naves.

There are famous people buried here.  

The first person to be buried in St. Paul’s Cathedralwas its creator. Christopher Wren died in 1723. His tomb is on the south aisle in the east of the crypt.

The crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral is the largest in Europe. The largest memorial on the cathedral floor belongs to the Duke of Wellington. His memorial took longer to build than the whole cathedral!!! 

Here you will also find the tombs of Lord Nelson, Florence Nightingale, William Blake, Lawrence of Arabia and many others.

Sunday mass, under the Dome

Picture snapped by my friend while going to the mass

I went to St. Paul’s Cathedral on a Sunday morning, with my friends. We were there for the mass, and it was wonderful.

I don’t like sermons that much, I don’t like when people tell other people what to do or not do. But I like when people learn from each other and I also like when people stand together, united in good thoughts.

Probably that’s why I felt overwhelmed, when the chorus and then everybody started to sing. Under the dome, our voices together sounded powerful, uplifting and hopeful. I think that is the definition of being human.

Together we stand, together we can do great things, each of us doing our own bit.


© Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2019 . Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

United Kingdom’s Supreme Court, London

by Andrada Costoiu

Across the street from Westminster Abbey is the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. I wouldn’t have known, if I had not been attracted by the beautiful façade.

This building has a symbolic location, chosen to represent the separation of powers in the UK.  It is located in the Parliament Square, on the south-west corner. On one side there is the Parliament and the judiciary (this building) and on the other side there is the executive (the Treasury) and the church (Westminster Abbey).  This building was built between 1912 and 1913.  

The court is open to the public, so you can visit anytime Monday-Friday, between 9.30- 16.30. If the court is in session, you could also observe cases!  

Pleasantly surprised, I enjoyed this visit very much. It was especially educative, as I wasn’t familiar with the court system in the UK! I found out that it is very different from the one we have in the USA. 

USA and UK Supreme Courts compared

The longevity

I was surprised to find out how young the UK Supreme Court was! 

The US Supreme Court was established in 1790, its existence provided for the founding documents of the United States. Its presence is firmly established in the consciousness of the American public….which prompts my surprise to find out that the UK Supreme Court had only arrived in the UK judicial scene in 2009! This was almost baffling! But I guess it was only then that the judiciary separated from the Parliament. Up until then, the Law Lords, that played the key role in developing the common law in the UK, was not totally separated from the government. 

Cases they handle 

Both courts are the highest appellate courts in their jurisdiction of domestic law. They hear cases of great importance and only a limited number of cases each year.

The Constitution and the absence of a written Constitution 

The US Supreme Court enjoys a higher domestic profile than does the UK Supreme Court. That is because the US Supreme Court is a fully fledged constitutional court.  However, Britain does not have a codified constitution but an unwritten one formed of Acts of Parliament.  In the absence of a written constitution that sets out clear constraints on the role of the UK Parliament, the UK Supreme Court is limited in comparison with its American counterpart. 

The Judges election

In the United States all federal judges must be nominated for appointment by the President.  They are appointed for life and there is no retirement age. 

In the UK they are elected by a committee and then they are recommended to the monarch for the appointment. They are required to retire at the  age of 70, although they may continue to serve until they are 75.

The number of judges appointed to the US Supreme Court varies over time. Currently there are nine Justices: the Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices. In the United Kingdom there are 12 judges.

UK Supreme Court judges

The building is beautiful inside.  The courtrooms are adorned with beautiful paintings and art work.

At the lower floor there is an exhibition that details the history of the court and that presents artifacts.

This visit enhanced my understanding of the UK’s judiciary system and it enabled me to compare the way it operates with our own judicial system.  I am grateful for this visit and I think if you’re in town you should go too!


© Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2019 . Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Tower of London

by Andrada Costoiu

By Thames River, very close to the London Bridge, lies The Tower of London. This is a place where about 1000 years of history have been written, a place where medieval kings and queens have lived and a place where many people have found their death.

 I went to see it in an August summer day. I was lucky; the weather was just beautiful!!! But what do you know! The occasional London showers didn’t spare me! While I was waiting to see the Crown Jewels the rain was pouring down like crazy. I was lucky a man next to me came more prepared and offered to shelter me under his umbrella. Thank you!

The Tower is a big place and you should take your time visiting. You will need at least several hours. If you don’t plan to take a guided tour, you should get an audio guide, it’s really useful and gives you a lot of information as you move through the different buildings and exhibitions. 

The Tower! I was fascinated …….and then horrified as I discovered the place of burial for Anne Boleyn! I’ve seen the Tudors series, and this movie gave flight to my imagination about the love story between Anne and Henry VIII…. He was so in love with her and then….he ordered her decapitation.

A fortress and a palace

The construction of what is now the Tower of London started in 1070s, when William the Conqueror wanted to build a mighty castle to defend and proclaim his royal power. The Tower took around 20 years to build.

Then Henry III (1216-72) and Edward I (1272-1307) expanded William’s fortress, adding defensive walls with a series of smaller towers.

The Tower was a fortress, e medieval palace and a prison. It also controlled the supply of the nation’s money.  All coins of the realm were made at the Tower Mint until 1810. Kings and queens also locked away their jewels here and even today, the Crown Jewels are here, at the Tower.

The Crown Jewels

The jewels are displayed in the Jewel House. Waiting to see the Crown Jewels can feel like waiting in a cue for a Disney ride. It can be crowed and it can take some time to get inside, so be prepared. Also, you cannot take pictures inside; you can’t take pictures of the jewels.

This is the Jewel House, at the Tower of London, where the Crown Jewels are sheltered

The Crown Jewels have been stored and displayed at the Tower of London since 1661! They are under guard and still in use…..

A royal guard by the Jewel House, Tower of London

I’m not sure what to say about the crowns and everything that it is found inside the exhibition. They are beautiful, of course! Especially the ones with the cullinan diamonds, which are the largest diamonds ever found.  Cullinan I is the largest diamond in the world and is mounted in the head of the Sovereign’s Scepter with Cross and Cullinan II, the second largest, is mounted in the Imperial State Crown.

These diamonds were discovered in Culling, South Africa in 1905 and they were named after Thomas Culling, the mine’s chairman.

To me, the jewels were not as important as the history behind them. The stories of all these people that have worn them, their lives and what happened in England during their reign. Out of all the royals that have worn these jewels, I couldn’t stop thinking about the Tudors, and about their most famous king, Henry VIII.

The White Tower and Henry the VIII

The White Tower is the main building of the fortress and it is the very first building that was built for this place.

The White Tower has four floors. The entrance to the White Tower is made on the first floor by a door accessible only by a wooden staircase.  They say that at the time of construction instead of the wooden staircase it was probably a ladder….

The wooden staircase that leads to the entrance of the White Tower

“The Royal Armories” is located on the lower floor of the White Tower.The present collection took shape in the Reign of Henry VIII (1509-47).

It features many royal weapons and armor, real-size wooden horses and depictions of the different kings, set in a situation. There are few armors of King Henry VIII and also the armor of King Charles I and James II. 

I cannot imagine how it must have been to be under this mountain of iron, how could you more….how could you fight!!!

The Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula

In front of the chapel is the place where scaffolds were built. Statistics say than more than 400 people were executed here.

The Chapel is perhaps best known as being the burial place of some of the most famous Tower prisoners. This includes three queens of England: Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Jane Grey, all of whom were executed within the Tower in the 16th century.

Anne, was Henry VIII greatest love, or at least one of them… She was accused of adultery and treason and she was decapitated at the tower. The place where you see the green book, it is thought to be the place where Anne is buried. 

The Tower Ravens

A group of at least six captive ravens are resident at the Tower of London. These days I think there are seven. They are tended by a Yeoman Warder Ravenmaster, who is clipping their wings and feathers in order not to allow them to fly off the grounds. The Ravenmaster releases the birds from their cages and prepares breakfast for them at dawn each day.

The legend has it that should the ravens leave the Tower, both it and the kingdom will fall.

There is so much more to see at the Tower: the Tower of Torture, the Yeoman Wardens and more. You got to visit! If you like history, this is truly a wonderful place!


© Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2019 . Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Picasso Museum – Barcelona

by Andrada Costoiu

Walking the streets of Barcelona with my mom and my kids, I wanted to visit Picasso Museum. The museum is hard to find, I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s on a little street, almost in hiding : – ). 

The street where you will find it is called  Moncada Street and it has many beautiful buildings. This was the main street of medieval Barcelona which was home to the city’s nobles. On this street there are few medieval palaces, such as the Palau Aguilar, Palau Meca and Palau Baró de Castellet, which houses the Museu Picasso of Barcelona, Renaissance palaces, including the Palau de Cervelló and the amazing baroque Palau Dalmases ( here they have flamenco shows where you can enjoy the best flamenco artists in the country).

To get in the museum you have to buy tickets. But, you can also visit for free if you go in first Monday of the month. 

This is a picture I took at the entrance

I liked the museum very much. The main reason why I liked it is because it showed me more of Picasso other than his cubist works that are so famous. I have heard that this is museum has one of the most complete permanent collections of Picasso’s works. To be more specific, there are 4,251 items.

It felt as the museum was an unwritten biography of the painter. Each time of his life had a different style, a different vibe, a different feel. I could tell when he was romantic, when he was mad at women….

 Here are few pictures I took ….

First communion,1896. This is one of his early works. I think he was only 14 when he painted this. His sister Lola appears in this painting. 

This one is a self portrait (1896). He was just a child when he painted this! Isn’t it very different than the other Picasso paintings that we are used to?  

I find his early work incredibly beautiful, and I think it reveals a different side of Picasso.

Then came his blue period, then the rose period and then the African period. I’m not going to put pictures for these time periods as this post would become too long.

Then came cubism: Picasso and Georges Braque pioneered this new way of representing reality. The idea behind it was to bring different views of subjects together in the same picture( objects or figures), resulting in paintings that appear fragmented and abstracted.

Flowers in a Grey Jug and Wine-Glass with Spoon, 1908

After the war, some of his work has been influenced by the painter Henri Matisse, who had been both a friend and a rival for Picasso for more than half a century.  

My workshop Pigeons (III) 1957

This one is one of his later works,  the Dwarf Dancer 1966. I love the colors and the expression on her face; she looks mischievous. 

This is a charming museum includes also some of Picasso’s lesser known works of ceramics and sculpture. 

I have always had mixed feelings about Picasso. I have a deep sense of reverence for his work but at the same time I don’t like the way he has treated his women.  I don’t know how much of the stories about him are true, I guess to really know you have had to live with him.

He said to Françoise Gilot, one of this mistresses that “women are machines for suffering,” and also that “for me there are only two kinds of women: goddesses and doormats.”

When they meet she was 21 and he was 61. She was his lover from1943 to 1953 and they had 2 children together. She left him and after 11 years from their separation, she wrote a memoir about her life with the painter. The name of the book is “Life with Picasso”. I read it;  it is good. In the book she said that Picasso physically abused her and when she left, the infuriated genius told her that she is going to be a nobody and that she was “headed straight for the desert”. Hm, she then became a great artist, so bravo Françoise!

Françoise is just one example. Besides her, others have expressed dismal at the way he was treating his lovers. Marina, his grand daughter, saw Picasso’s treatment of women as a vital part of his creative process. She said:

“He submitted them to his animal sexuality, tamed them, bewitched them, ingested them, and crushed them onto his canvas. After he had spent many nights extracting their essence, once they were bled dry, he would dispose of them.”

–Marina Picasso

I came across many misogynistic characterizations of Picasso and across fewer that present Picasso’s treatment of women in a relatively positive light. Such is his friendship with Gertrude Stein, the American novelist and poet. Hm, Mr. Picasso, I do love your work but you must have been …..a complicated man!

I am painting myself; I’m an amateur. I am closer to the impressionists and never really got into the style of cubism. After Barcelona I painted a flamenco dancer…I copied from a picture. I also bought myself a fan….

This is my flamenco dancer.

The journey through the different times of Picasso’s creation was amazing. He was truly a genius. While writing this, I’m thinking that if I would ever find myself in Barcelona, I would like to go visit the museum again.

He was such a genius and I truly enjoyed being immersed in his work.


© Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2019 . Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Park Guell

by Andrada Costoiu

Another Antonio Gaudi masterpiece, Park Guell is a nice place to visit if the weather is beautiful. The park was created in 1900, when Count Eusebi Güell bought a hillside and hired Gaudí to create a miniature city of houses for the wealthy. The project was abandoned, though not before Gaudi created a plaza and few other constructions in his inimitable manner. The park was inaugurated in 1926 as a public park.

To get in the central area you will need to get tickets, the rest of the park is free. The access to the central area is limited to a certain number of people every half-hour.

Just at the entrance is a former porter house, you know, the gatekeeper, the one that was supposed to screen the guests and visitors that would enter the property. The house hosts a display on Gaudí’s building methods and documents about the history of the park. It is a beautiful building, especially on the outside.  It has fantastically shaped roofs with unusual pinnacles, to me it looked like a fairytale building, built out of gingerbread….with white frosting : -).

The porter house

The inside is interesting, this is a picture I took for a set a stairs that was leading to the upper level, notice the beautiful blue color of the walls….

After the porter house there is a set of steps that are guarded by a mosaic dragon/lizard (a copy of which you can buy in the souvenir shops, there are many around this area and also downtown).

These lead to a hall and then to the main terrace, which are the focal point of the park. The hall is called the Sala Hipóstila (aka the Doric Temple) and it is breathtaking. The structure is  supported by a forest of 86 stone columns. The ceiling is decorated with beautiful mosaic. I liked it, but when I went it was under restoration and I am not sure if you should pay the money to visit it….

This is the ceiling part of the hall, with the mosaic decorations

The terrace has beautiful views of Barcelona. The views extend all the way to sea. Here you will find the Banc de Trencadís, a tiled bench curving sinuously around the perimeter of the terrace.  The bench structure was designed by one of Gaudí’s closest colleagues, architect Josep Maria Jujol (1879–1949).

The bench is decorated using broken shards of tiles and pottery to make a colorful mosaic. This decorating technique is called “trencadís”, meaning ‘chopped’ in Catalan.  Park Guell is where Gaudí pioneered this technique.

There are other interesting places to see here, such as the colonnaded footpath under the roadway viaduct. I thought this place was enchanting, the columns look so unusual……they are unusual ! 

It looks like these columns are inspired  by the shape of the trees and it does make sense, because Gaudi  was inspired and liked to imitate the natural world. He did the same in his design of the Sagrada Familia.

There is also a house called la Torre Rosa that was built as a model home in 1904. This was not built by Gaudi, but by a friend of his, Francesc Berenguer.  Gaudí lived here with his father and niece from 1906 until 1925. His father died in 1906 and his niece died in 1912
At the very end of his life Gaudí moved into his studio at the Sagrada Familia which he designed and was building on until his death in 1926. Today this house is the Gaudí house-museum where you can see Gaudi’s bedroom and pieces of furniture designed by Gaudí (including items that were once in La Pedrera, Casa Batlló and Casa Calvet- these are other buildings designed by Gaudi).

There is also the Larrard House, which is now a public school. I wondered how it looks inside, but you cannot enter, obviously, since it is school’s property.

The park is just really nice to walk through, it’s peaceful and it’s a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the city below.

If you are in town, it’s worth visiting.


© Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2019 . Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Gordon’s Wine Bar – London’s oldest wine bar

By Andrada Costoiu

Where to find it: 47 Villiers Street, London WC2N 6NE, England

On a Sunday during my stay in London, my good friends took me to a bar: Gordon’s Wine Bar.I really liked it so I’m sharing it with you, in case you’re in town and would like the experience….

This is an underground bar that it was opened in 1890. It’s the oldest wine bar in London and they sell only wine. They also have a food bar, where you can choose from different cheeses, homemade pies, meats and other cold eats.

These eggs have a name…..I forgot what they’re called!

The selection of wine is awesome, but what I liked the most it is the bar itself, the way it looks, the way it feels being in there. The owners have maintained the original décor! You will go in by descending some stairs; the bar is underground (there is also outside seating during the summer). Once you get in you will feel like you’re going back in time, the walls are all wood and brick and they’re covered in old historical newspaper cuttings and memorabilia. It is dark and there are candles on the tables….

Old “news” about the royal family, pictures of young Queen Elizabeth and many stories cover the walls. And all the war décor has faded with time…

The bar started in 1890, but the building where the bar is situated is a lot older and it has a history!  The building was known by various names: the York House, 14 Buckingham Street, 19 Villiers Street and then Louis Gordon.

Many personalities dwelled here at different times! Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex was one of them. He was a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I; they actually had a love affair while Elizabeth was 53 and he was still in his teens! Unfortunately his life ended too early, he was decapitated at the Tower of London when we was only 35 because he lead a coup d’etat against the government. 

The house was burnt down and rebuilt in mid 1680s. If you’re interested in the timeline of this house here is a link where you can find out more : History of Gordon Bar house.

And you know who else lived here? Rudyard Kipling!!! The author of Jungle Book! He lived in this building in the 1890’s as a tenant. I didn’t see anything about him in the bar, no dancing bear….no Bare necessities song :-).

Anyway, if you’re in London, this is a nice place and is worth checking it out!


© Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2019 . Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


By Andrada Costoiu

If you love mountains and scenic drives, this is a place where you should go: Transfagarasan, Romania. This road is not fully open all year long! The whole road is open only from June to late October, the rest of the year a portion of about 27 km is closed because of snow and avalanches. 

Also called the “the Road to the Sky”, the Transfagarasan stretches for 71 miles (114km) and it links the highest peaks in Fagaras Monutains in Romania. It also connects two of Romania’s historic provinces Transylvania (the Center) and Walachia (the South).

This is a dynamite-forged road and it was built for military purposes, during the communist time. The views are breathtaking and it’s also nice because you will go through a series of tunnels (5), you will cross viaducts(27) and small bridges( there are 831 small bridges!!). You might not even notice all these, because your eyes would be captured by the mountain passes and peaks and by the beautiful views all over. If you are the driver though, keep your eyes on the road!! The road is relatively easy to climb but it can get very curvy.

Poenari Castle- Vlad the impaler’s home

If you enter Transfagarasan from Curtea de Arges, the first touristic objective in your way is Poenari Castle. This castle was the home of Vlad the Impaler, which was built around the beginning of the 13th century by Wallachians.

The castle is now abandoned and left in ruins. You can visit it, if the climbing path is open!!! To get up there you have to climb no less than 1.480 steps.

When we went, the climbing path was closed for safety, as bears might cross paths with the ones who would venture the way up. At least that was the explanation we got and at first I thought they just closed it because they didn’t want people to man up the castle for tourists….

But then…..as we were peacefully driving along Transfagarasan…..we saw something right by the edge of the road….right by the edge!! It was a bear!!! He  was eating berries……We rolled down the window and he gave us a look!

The highest point – Balea Lake

The highest point is 6.699 ft (2042 m) – Lake Balea. Here you will feel like you’re touching the clouds, because you literally are. The cloud ceiling can go much lower than Balea Lake and if that happens, you’ll feel as you’re at the top of the world.

Balea Lake is a glacier lake. So, even if it’s hot when you start your ride at the bottom, bring warms clothes because by the time you reach the lake, you will for sure need a jacket. If you want to walk by the lake, you will need some good shoes, as there is snow. 

When you get to the lake, there are many local shops and food. The shops sell all kinds of manufactured Romanian products and crystals (I am not sure if these are found on these mountains). The food is good, they sell Bluz ( a Romanian traditional dish of friend polenta with cheese in the middle), fresh grilled fish, steak with vegetables, corn….and other things. Do not expect fancy seating, as everything is set up in tents or buildings with just the roof:). 

In winter time they build here an Ice Hotel, which is made by blocks of ice all collected from the lake! Each year the hotel has a new theme. Here are some pictures from the previous years.

Vidraru Dam and Lake

Vidraru is an artificial lake, created in 1965. The only way it’s accessible is through Transfagarasan. The construction of the Vidraru dam took five and a half years starting in 1960. The lake is gigantic. To make it, it took 42 km long underground galleries, the excavation one million cubic meters of underground rock and nearly one million cubic meters of poured concrete. The dam is around 160 meters high and to get to the dam you will go through a tunnel. The views are breathtaking…

Plenty of waterfalls

Along the way you will encounter a lot of beautiful waterfalls. They take their water from the lakes in the mountains and they almost never get dry or frozen. I don’t know their names but here are a few pictures I took while we were driving.

This drive is amazing and I would do it again! If you’re planning to go there and have any questions, let me know!


© Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2019 . Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


by Andrada Costoiu

Sighisoara is an old medieval town in Transylvania, Romania. Perhaps not so well known as other older places in Romania, but equally beautiful and worth visiting…..not only for its history, but also for its beautiful surroundings. It is not big in size but it is one of the most beautiful well-preserved citadel-city in Europe.

Getting there

From Bucharest, you can take the train or you can rent a car. The train ride is really cheap, about 10-15$ and it would take about 5 hours. By car, it’s about the same amount of time, about 5 hours on 300 km, but you get to see beautiful scenery and also stop wherever you want.


The city was built around 1280 and it played an important strategic and commercial role in Europe. It was a place of resistance against Ottoman invasions, which is why the city is so fortified. The city is surrounded by walls and there are 14 towers and 5 artillery bastions. Vlad Dracul (the father of Vlad the Impaler-Dracula) has lived here in exile. They also say that Vlad the Impaler was born here, but there is no actual proof of the house where he was born.

Prince Charles has visited the town; he owns a beautiful 18thcentury cluster of houses in the village of Viscri, which is about 45 km away from Sighisoara. You can rent rooms and spend time there.

What you must see

The Clock Tower

This is the symbol of Sighisoara. It began being built at the end of 13thcentury, but it was destroyed by a fire. The construction of the tower as it is today dates back to 1676. There are many things that make this tower special, but the main attraction is the clock with the puppets inside.

There are seven puppets that represent each day of the week, but they also represent seven ancient gods, seven planets and seven metals. This one in the picture is Friday: a female character representing Aphrodite or Venus, goddess of beauty and love. She is admiring her beauty in a mirror held by a little person. She carries on her head the symbol of copper, a metal that is associated with passion and beauty.

There is a window glass through which you can see the mechanism that is moving the clock.

The tower is also the place for the History Museum of Sighisoara.  To visit, you will have to climb some steep set of stairs and it is very narrow. Watch out your steps! Traffic up and down can get awkward. 

The museum has interesting pieces; there are cases that display layouts of the city and different things that people living in the city owned and some archaeological discoveries. I saw this doctor’s kit and I was so happy that I didn’t have to live during those times!!!!

The balcony of the tower clock has panoramic views. From every corner and place the views are breathtaking.  

The Church on the Hill

This was a crazy ride! I started counting the stairs then I gave up!! So many steps! I searched on google after and they say you’re actually climbing 300 steps to get there!  I was impressed, because at the top there is also a school, and kids have to climb these stairs everyday to get up. Imagine how fit they are! Besides the school there is the Ghotic church( The Church on the Hill), which is quite beautiful. Inside you can find the only ancient crypt in Transylvania. 

The colorful streets

Sighisoara has beautiful , colorful streets. The citadel is quite small so not a lot of walking, but the streets are paved with stones; you will need good walking shoes. By no means DO not wear high heels! 

The medieval festival

If you visit this place during the month of July, you can be part of the Medieval festival. People dress up in medieval costumes, there are concerts of flute, mandolin, tambourine, games of jousting. You can assist public trials, convictions …In all, you will experience the fascinating atmosphere of medieval times.

Where to stay

We stayed at a Domain called Dracula Danes, that is only 6 km away from Sighisoara. From the accommodations, to the food and horses, this was one of the most wonderful experiences we had in the area. The rooms are beautiful, clean. Our room had a fireplace, so if you’re going with family or for a romantic trip, that might be a nice touch. 

If you feel like walking, the domain has a beautiful park. There is also a small zoo that kids might enjoy and a pool. 

This place is wonderful. Here the love of nature and animals comes together.  These people love their horses and you can tell! Their stables, the manege and everything about their horses is well kept and very professional.

Here you can take horseback riding lessons, you can go riding alone or you can simply rent a horse drawn carriage to enjoy the landscapes together with your family or friends.  We did both, horse back riding ……

And the carriage! I have learned how to steer the horse and….this was a fancy carriage! It had breaks! The horse was one of those that they use in October fest to drag the carts full with beer barrels ! I forgot my horse’s name, but I started riding with a stranger and we came back friends…

At the restaurant, the food is yummy. You can try some authentic Romanian food; this in the picture is called bulz, a dish with polenta, cheese and sausage. Or….you can try more common dishes, made with a special touch, such as burgers. Your choice! 

All that being said, I hope you do go visit Sighisoara and you do go by Dracula Danes. You’ll have a wonderful experience. And if you have questions while you’re planning your trip, I’m here. Ask!


© Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2019 . Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Bran Castle, Dracula

by Andrada Costoiu

Bran Castle, Romania has probably gained his fame because of the legend of Dracula, a fictional character created by Bram Stoker. 

Stoker’s Dracula was a Transylvanian Count, a centuries- old vampire that inhabited a castle in the Carpathian Mountains.  His book was published in England in 1897 and there were many, many movies made after this legend! I have seen a few myself and my favorites are Bram Stoker’s Dracula, ( 1992, cast: Monica Bellucci, Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder) and Dracula: Prince of Darkness(1966; cast: Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Andrew Keir).

Getting there

The easiest ways to get there are by train or by car. I got there by car, driving from Bucharest to Bran (Bucharest-Poliesti-Sinaia-Bran). The distance is about 190 km and in good days it would take about 2.30-3 hours, but there is often traffic (especially in the week-ends) and it could take significantly more. The drive is beautiful as you would pass though some amazing scenery. 


What is the history of Dracula? Did Dracula as is presented in the movies and stories really exist?

Romanian mythology is rich in stories about troubled spirits that rise from the dead that can transform into animals and suck the blood of their victims. In Romanian mythology these are called strigoi and here you can read more about this. In Bran Castle you can find an exhibition of spells against strigoi.  

This is a poster with spells for strigoi that hangs inside the Castle’s walls

I felt chills reading this poster; I’d really like to ask Psykhe, the Greek goddess of the soul, what actually happens to the soul!  But Psyke is also a myth…..

If anything that the myths say is true, you should eat a lot of garlic! Romanians eat garlic, because this is supposed to repel the strigoi and prevent them of getting close to people….haha.

Who was in fact Dracula?

If you think about Dracula as vampire count, then you’re probably a bit far from reality. Dracula, the character from Bram’s book is associated with a Walachian Prince, also known as Vlad Tepes or Vlad Dracul. He was the ruler of Walachia and his favorite method of execution was to impale his enemies. It was a slow and painful death. This is one of the reasons why Vlad was also called Dracul, which in Romanian language means “the devil”.   Dracula, Bram’s character is fiction, while Vlad Dracul is the Walachian ruler that actually existed.

Vlad Tepes, Vlad Dracul

I read that Vlad Dracul si related with the Queen of England, or at least that’s what Prince Charles said. Really!!!!

“”The link, it appears, is his great-grandmother, Mary of Teck, who was grandmother to Britain’s current ruler, Queen Elizabeth II, and was queen during the reign of King George V. A Wurttemberg princess, Mary – the woman for whom the liner Queen Mary was named – was believed descended from two of Vlad’s sons””

CBS News, October 28,2011” Vlad the Impaler: How is Prince Charles, Queen Elizabeth related to him?”

The Castle

The Castle is at the top of a steep hill, looks like is coming out of the mountain stone! I wonder how they built it like that….

The entrance door has an exquisite door knob; I’m imagining people pounding the door in old times, to get the door open : )

The castle was a royal residence for Queen Marie, also known as Marie of Edinburgh. She was the wife of King Ferdinand 1. Their daughter Ileana ran a hospital here in World War II.

The rooms are not gigantic, not like in Buckingham palace, but they’re large and with beautiful sculpted furniture.

There are also displays of armor and posters that explain different parts of the history of the castle.

Romanian’s state emblem

Time Tunnel 

Queen Mary ordered the building of a tunnel, through which she could go down to the garden undisturbed. The tunnel remained forgotten after the royal family was forced to leave in 1948. In recent days the tunnel has been renovated and you will get down to it through a specially designed elevator(the elevator is built into a former water shaft that was built more than 600 years ago, in 1377!!). The ride is 31 meters down and during this time the elevator displays special media shows; there are some hologram vampires that are creating the feeling that you’re going down to the underworld. It’s an interesting experience! 

At the bottom there is a horizontal gallery and as you move through it you are part of an interactive media exhibition that explains parts of the history of Transylvania and the royal family. 

Down at the bottom, it’s the the tunnel’s exit

The garden and the restaurant

Casa de Ceai is a cute little restaurant in the Castle’s garden. They have fresh , tasty food! 

For Halloween they have a party. The party costs few hundred euro but you can go for free if:
”You don’t have a reflection in the mirror,
You decompose when sun light strikes you,
You’re over 200 years old, 
Can use your wings to fly to Transylvania”

At least that’s what one of the organizers, Dracula Tours say . Try to see if you qualify for free…..haha.

Bran Castle is the most visited attraction in Romania. If you go you would enjoy not only the castle but also the mysterious and beautiful land of Transylvania. But that’s another story…….one I will write about another day….

In the meantime, let me know if you’re planning to visit Bran Castle and if you have any travel related questions.


© Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2019 . Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.