Back to back in time

traditional sweet shop

This weekend I was transported back to yesteryear (my favourite of all the years) when I visited the Birmingham Back to Backs.

If you’re not already aware, back to backs are terraced houses which were literally built back to back around a communal courtyard. Working class families flocked to the cities during the Industrial Revolution and this was a cheap way of sheltering large numbers of people in a relatively small area.

The houses have been restored to demonstrate different time periods and tell the stories of the people who once lived there. I’d wanted to go for a while, so when my friend Ellie announced she’d be coming to visit, the perfect opportunity arose to book a tour.

victorian cash till

old sweet shopWonka Bar

We met Harry, our lovely tour guide, outside the traditional Victorian sweet shop. We were a little early so there was time to buy some Turkish delight and liquorice wheels – but we had to leave behind the pear drops, rhubarb and custards, cola cubes, banana and custards, giant gobstoppers…

1850s house

1850s mantel

1850s dressing table

At each house, we learnt about the residents and their day to day life. In one house, there was 11 children, and at another six boys shared a bedroom with two lodgers! As you can imagine, the houses were dark, dingy and residents could expect a much lower quality of life than we’re accustomed to now – no electricity or running water. That said, I got the impression there was sense of community which most of us probably don’t experience in our modern lives.

1850s front room

bread and jam

19th Century dinner table

Rather than a pristine museum with artifacts behind class, ‘do not touch’ signs and velvet rope ensuring you stay out of reach at all times, the houses are restored with of the era furniture and some props which you can inspect close up. I especially enjoyed the dinner table laid out with real food including bread, flour and freshly patted butter. (I doubt it was actually that fresh, but brownie points to the National Trust anyway!)

The atmosphere is cranked up again with real candles burning and clothes soaking in the wash house. It’s almost as though you’re sneaking around whilst the residents have all nipped out.

1930s decor

After housing provisions improved and people left the poor conditions of back to backs, some of the buildings began to be used by traders. Part of the museum is a time capsule of George Saunders’ tailor shop with original fixtures and fittings from the workshop which opened in 1977.

70s tailors

Amazing wallpaper! Seems kind of familiar though, doesn’t it? This 70s wallpaper is the inspiration behind the Cath Kidston Cowboy range. You can even pick up a mug in the gift shop as you leave.

vintage wallpaper

From memory, I always felt a little unsatisfied from history lessons at school. It was a kind of abstract concept, where kings and queens whose lives bore no resemblance to my own fought wars for reasons I couldn’t understand. The stories of everyday individuals help me to put history into context, and if you can experience something as close to first hand as possible then all the better I think.


back to backs courtyard


Travel Journal: Play it again, Sam.

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The nitty gritty of booking a holiday, quite frankly, bores me. I hate comparing hotels, finding cheap flights and working out how to get from one to the other when your plane lands at 3am. Once all that’s done, however, I love researching things to do, places to eat and sights to see.

Apparently, open air cinemas are quintessentially Greek. I’m no film buff, but I do love a trip to the cinema so a visit to an open air theatre was a must. Before the trip I’d seen that Casablanca was listed as ‘Coming Soon’, so I was pleased to find out it was showing a couple of days before we were due to leave.

I’ve only recently (within the last six months) watched Casablanca for the first time. Despite it being a classic film, I’d never got round to seeing it but I wish I’d watched it sooner! I know the blog title is a misquote but it’s still iconic.

Athens Open Air Cinema

Watching for the second time in an open air theatre with a couple of hundred Athenian locals was an unusual experience. It was in English with Greek subtitles so everyone could follow along together, but interestingly, the locals reacted differently to parts of the film than I did. They laughed at different parts and there were a lot more gasps and boos than an English girl could politely make in the company of others.

I knew I’d be watching with a Greek audience but I was more looking forward to an outside viewing on a warm night than considering how another culture watched the same film. It was a pleasant surprise, and by the end there were plenty of people holding back the tears, me included. (Oh Rick, we knew you were a good guy all along!)

After mixing with the locals at the pictures we had one full day in Athens left (doesn’t time fly?!) In a week, we’d ticked off most of the main sights and tourist attractions, leaving only the Ancient Agora to visit.

An agora is basically a meeting place, used as somewhere to buy, sell, or trade, or as a place for public speaking and meetings – think of a Roman forum. It’s also where we get the word agoraphobia; a fear of open spaces.

With so many different things happening in an agora, there was lots of different types of building and styles of architecture. A good place to start is the Stoa of Attalos; the Oxford Street of it’s day, it was once full of shops only affordable to the wealthy Athenian.

Ancient AgoraNow, it’s home to a museum which showcases these lovely models of the Acropolis and surrounding area throughout different time periods.

Pantheon ModelJust hanging out at the Parthenon, I love the little fella leaning on a collumn!

There’s something about minatures which is so likeable. It must be the quaintness of an imaginary mini world, either that or the sense of power I get from feeling so tall!

Back to normal scale, we carried on exploring the rest of the Agora.

And that’s it for the Travel Journal series! We’ve reached the end of the holiday, ate all the Greek salad we can, and put the sunglasses away.

Travel Journal: Little Miracles

Athens ThriftLook how beautiful this Greek antique/vintage/junk shop is! I spotted the shop front down a side street whilst we were strolling along eating frozen yoghurt. The  little wooden sign informed me it was called ‘Little Miracles’, and knowing  it wasn’t to be missed I went for a poke around.

Vintage Horn

Vintage Umbrella Stand

Vintage Grammaphone

Spilling out onto the street were; pots and pans; candlesticks; vases; an umbrella stand; a tricycle, bed warmers; and numerous brass instruments.

Inside was just as chaotic, with items pinned from wall to wall and trinkets crammed into every nook and cranny.

vintage cameras

Vintage Perfume

Perfume bottles are always so pretty, and make such a pleasing dressing table. I love vintage bottles, particularly those with atomisers, instant glamour.

I’d never heard of ‘Crepe De Chine’ before but I’ve found a lovely review online:

“Crepe de Chine is a stunning, world class perfume. The scent has a clean, fresh entry with a gorgeous full bodied greenfloral accord at its heart, all over creamy, dreamy exotic woods. Crepe de Chine envelopes you with beauty beyond compare.” [1] 

One look at that Art Deco bottle and I’m picturing flapper dresses, classic cars, and cigarettes in long thin holders being smoked by ladies with red lipstick.

Vintage TeacupsI was brought crashing back to reality when the shop owner told me these china teacups were €27! Maybe she knows something I don’t about the floral motif, but you could thrift something similar much closer to home. Our charity shops are always full of tiny treasures at bargain prices.

Little Miracles antiques was a detour on the way to the Acropolis museum which was our main plan for the day. However, no photographs are allowed in the museum. This doesn’t make for a very fun blog post so instead I’ll show you our quick visit to the Panathenaic stadium later that day.

We’d spotted the stadium from our open top bus tour on the first day and thought it looked quite impressive. Although marble is everywhere in Athens, the stadium really stands out from its’ surroundings due to the solid shape forming a huge block of colour. Panathenaic Stadium

That tiny figure on the steps is me, I’ve gone trundling down the steps because I’ve spotted something worth investigating.

These are the throne’s where the Greek King and Queen sat during the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. These days the stadium is used for Olympic events and other concerts and festivals.Close up: lion paws hold up either end of the throne’s.Ready, set, go! It wouldn’t be right to leave without a quick once around the track. Enough fun and games for one post, I’ll leave you with a selection of my favourite details from Olympic posters around the stadium.Vintage Olympic Posters

L-R: St Louis 1904; London 1908; Paris 1924; Paris 1924; Berlin 1936; London 1948; Rome 1960; Mexico 1968; Athens 1896.

Travel Journal: You know, they say of the Acropolis where the Parthenon is…

Greece Flag

So, on the next day of our holiday we climbed a hill! Unfortunately, the Greeks had already planted their flag at the top, having got there a few millennia before us.

‘Acropolis’ roughly translates to high city, and the Parthenon which sits on top is the tourist attraction in Athens. It’s visible from all round Athens and I found myself scanning the skyline for just one more sight of it throughout the trip. On day two of our holiday, we strapped on our sensible shoes and went for a climb.

At the bottom of the slope is the Theatre of Dionysus, festivals were held  in the name of Dionysus on this site since the 6th century BC. Dionysus was the god of wine so I guess his theatre held some rowdy parties in its’ time. In a story you might be more familiar with, he was also the god who gave Midas his golden touch (which became a curse when he realised he couldn’t eat or drink and his daughter turned to solid gold.)

Rich looking somewhat un-rowdy considering the surroundings.

Carved with intricate designs, marble thrones were made for festival officials and top priests. Women sat on the back rows, no carvings there.

Part way up our days climb: an overall view of the Theatre of Dionysus.

On the way to the top, you also pass another theatre, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Impressively, it’s been completely restored and hosts concerts again. However, it’s only open for performances so you can’t get in during normal times.

The Parthenon was originally built as a treasury and to house the statue of Athena, from whom the city takes its’ name.  She was gold plated, with ivory hands, feet and face and jewels for eyes. She stood 40 feet tall but was lost or destroyed in the 5th century AD. How does something so opulent go missing?

Admiring the view after a sweaty clamber to the top.

Seeing the Parthenon close up for the first time is a special experience, it’s just so iconic.  We’ve all seen it on TV and in books, and it’s must be on everyone’s list of places to visit. The photo above, however, wasn’t our first glance. I thought I’d save showing you the scaffolding propping up the entrance.  Above is the other end of the Parthenon, equally impressive I think.
greek columns

Is it any wonder it needs scaffolding with columns like this? Over time, it’s been damaged by earthquakes, attacked by invaders and set on fire by a gunpowder explosion.

The Acropolis entry ticket is €14 and gives you access to a number of ancient sites around the city, including the Temple of Zeus…

Building work on the Temple of Zeus began in the 6th century BC, and amazingly it wasn’t completed until Hadrian (of Hadrian’s Wall fame ) came along 700 years later.  Not satisfied with finishing someone else’s temple, he commissioned another monument for himself;  the Arch of Hadrian.

The arch is a crossroads separating the ancient and Roman parts of the city. We sat in some shade nearby, taking in the view and thinking about our own crossroads: Where should we go for dinner?

olive branch

No, I didn’t resort to eating olives from the trees, but I did pick one as a new accessory like in my last post.

I’m going to try and make my holiday blogging a bit more frequent as there’s a lot to get through, so more of the same in the next few days. Hello and thank you to my new followers as a result of my last post, it would be great to hear your comments!

So, what do they say of the Acropolis where the Parthenon is?

Travel Journal: All aboard the Athens tour bus!

I just can’t stop going through my holiday photos! We’ve barely been back home a week and yet as we get back into our daily routines, our trip already feels like a distant memory. I’m glad I can share the holiday moments all over again on this blog.

On our first full day in Athens we decided to take an open top bus tour to get an overall sense of the city and also, roughly work out where everything is – it’s one thing looking in the guide book, but just who knows how long it will take to walk across two map squares?

I thought the bus commentary was pretty uninformative, but there was some ‘interesting’ Greek music to keep us entertained. We also got our first peek at the Acropolis and Pantheon, so it wasn’t a complete loss.

After the tour we found ourselves nearby the Greek Parliament. The building attracts a lot of tourists, and whilst you can’t get inside to see the real goings on, it’s worth dropping by if you’re near Syntagma Square.

Soldiers are on guard outside the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Not a job I’d fancy to be honest. Although they do get to perform changing of the guard ceremonies every hour. I saw this particular soldier impressively (but accidentally) boot the top of the hut whilst doing his ceremonial stomp.



Some detailing on one of the crests/shields decorating Parliament. Don’t you think the Phoenix’s shadow looks like a face in profile?

Not yet used to the heat we had a quick pit stop, which I spent examining some heat rash appearing on my arm. Once Rich reassured me that I wasn’t going to die, we sought some shade in the National Gardens nearby.

And look what we found, some stone columns just waiting for two eager tourists to pose with them!

National Garden

A sprig of stolen Rosemary which I tucked under the buckle of my bag so I could sniff it as I pleased.

And because I can’t resist a food photo, here’s what we had for dinner that evening:

Greek meal

We went ‘To Kafeneio‘ which is in Plaka but just on the edge of the main tourist area where you can avoid the waiters trying to drag you into their restaurant – all with the same promise of  “the best food in Athens!”

We ordered fried pork & peppers, potato fritters, a trusty greek salad and some tzatziki. We ate late in the evening (Greek style) so once we’d finished it was time to wander to the Metro and speed our way back to the hotel.