Word a Week Challenge – Castle

Oooh, this week’s Word a Week Challenge is Castle!  Castles are one of my favourite things to visit, whether still intact or whether there are just ruins left to ramble through.  Many castles started off as pure fortifications but turned into more of a palace, a residence as the need for defence died down. Since palaces are not the traditional “castle”, for this post, I’ll just show photos of the more “industrial” versions with one or two exceptions.

Most of my castle experiences have been in the U.K. where castles are littered all over the countries that make up the United Kingdom. Welsh castles built by Edward I are huge and looming and forbidding. Often these and other castles were attached to walls that would surround a town/city to keep it safe from invasion. These castles were built to intimidate and you can see that they certainly would be.

Inside Beaumaris Castle, Isle of Anglesey, Wales

Conwy Castle, North Wales

There are still a few examples of even older castles. This one, Restormel in Cornwall, dates to the Norman period though became disused and fell into ruins after the English Civil War in the 17th century.

Restormel Castle, Lostwithiel, Cornwall

Edinburgh Castle is perched on top of volcanic cliffs. The old city ran from it’s gates down to the Royal palace of Holyrood. The newer part of the city lies across a loch which was drained and is now the park you see in this photo.

Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

Irish Castles seem to mainly be boxy looking, one large squared tower.  Blarney Castle is fairly typical.

Blarney Castle, Ireland

Leeds Castle was defensive but remained a residential home through the centuries, into the 20th century. It’s surrounded by a moat which was a fairly common means of defense for castles.

Leeds Castle, Kent

Outside of the U.K., there are also many castles. The Rhine is a popular river for castle spotting from a riverboat. This castle, in the middle of the city of Rome, was the Pope’s stronghold for both security for himself and as a prison.

Castel Sant'Angelo, Rome

Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome

The Tower of London is arguably one of the most famous castles in the world. It started as a Normal fortification built by William the Conqueror after the 1066 invasion. It’s grown quite a lot since the erection of the square middle “White” Tower. It’s been a royal palace, a zoo and a prison.

The Tower of London, contrasting with the new London City Hall across the Thames

This one, in Copenhagen, was more of a palace though is still called a castle.

Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen, Denmark

Weekly Photo Challenge – Masterpiece

This week’s WordPress Challenge is Masterpiece.

I’ve been to a few of the most reknowned museums in the world. Just a few, but I’m working on it. I’ve seen some wonderful pieces of art, classics, masterpieces. I’ve also been in some cathedrals and churches with exquisite stained glass, artwork, sculpture and architecture. I’ve see the Sistine Chapel and though I do have some “stealth” photos, I thought the better of posting them here. Instead, from the Vatican City, there’s this masterpiece by Michaelangelo Buonarotti.

La Pietà, Michaelangelo Buonarotti

This is the Pieta. It’s one of the only pieces he ever signed and he created it when he was in his early 20s. It currently resides in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City.  It was created for the funeral of a cardinal and was moved to the Basilica in the 18th century. It’s sustained damage several times, most recently in the 1970s when a maniac took a sledgehammer to it. Mary’s nose had to be recreated from a piece of the marble taken from her back. It’s behind bulletproof glass now, sadly.

The first time I saw it, I was 18, it was 1977 and probably had only been back on display a short time after that damage was repaired.  It overwhelmed me. I don’t think I had ever seen anything so beautiful in my short life to date. Why did it strike such a chord with me? I don’t really know for certain as it wasn’t the religious aspect.  Was it the touching, emotional expressions? Was it the folds of fabric? Was it the muscles and bones? Was it because all this was carved out of hard mable? All of the above, probably. I couldn’t get over that you wouldn’t touch the skirt and feel real fabric or stroke her face and feel warm skin. How could it be possible to bring that much life out of stone?

I bought a little white replica of it as a reminder, which I still have. My photo that day did not really turn out very well but I got a copy of one a friend took. This photo was taken when I was in Rome during a tour of Italy in 1996. With a careful angling so that there was no reflection on the glass, and a steady hand, I got a pretty good shot. On this most recent visit, I only took a photo from further away though did go up close to have another look. It still fills a little spot in my heart just like it did in 1977.

Do you “Do” it when you travel?

Sarastro, Covent Garden. A very theatrical restaurant

Sarastro, Covent Garden. A very theatrical restaurant

The title relates to a blog post I read earlier today on National Geographic Traveler about tourists “doing” a destination, i.e. “We’ve done Paris”. It’s a pet peeve of the author of that blog, hearing tourists talking about “doing” a location because he feels you’re never done, especially if it’s a place you enjoy. You will want to return more than once to see it, to be there, to experience it again.

You can’t do everything there is to do in one visit or even many because there is always something different to see, do or experience. It’s true that you probably won’t go back and see the same major tourist attractions over and over but you might if it’s been awhile or if it’s something you really enjoyed. For instance, the big museums have permanent collections but unless you’ve seen every piece, there’s always a reason to go back. In addition, there are usually temporary exhibits that might be interesting too. Every time you go back to somewhere, there are new people to encounter, a different shop or two to find, a quiet corner of tranquility to discover or a surprise around the corner.

London is one of my favourite cities and I’ve been there over a dozen times for mostly short visits but a couple of times for stretches up to a week. I go back because I really don’t feel like I have “done” London. There are still neighbourhoods and attractions that I’ve not had the chance to visit, still lots of shopping and restaurants, and, in my case, there are friends with whom I like to catch up and touch base. I like the vibe of the city, the architecture and the history. London with my Mom was different than London with my partner or London on my own.

I sometimes do go back to some of the major attractions in London to refresh my memories and find new things to appreciate. Next time I get to London, there’s a visit to the Tower in store and maybe Hampton Court. I’ve been to both places but not for some time and my partner hasn’t been to either. I haven’t seen all of either place because they are both so vast that my feet give out before my curiosity does.

There are lots of places I want to go back to but there are also so many places I haven’t been that might become new favourites if only I could get there! To quote Andrew Evans of National Geographic Traveler in that blog post, ” When it comes to travel, the world is infinite and exciting, but I want to go back and continue the story in so many of the places I have already traveled to.”  Ain’t that the truth!!

Are there locations that you love? Places that you go back to? What draws you back?


A Word a Week Challenge – Unexpected

This week’s Challenge word from A Word in your Ear  is Unexpected.

When traveling, I try to discover if there are any unusual museums at my destination. When walking about a city, village or town or driving the country roads, we always expect to see unusual or unique architecture, and there’s always local colour in the form of street performers or fun shops. What is really cool, though, is finding something in a shop window, or entering a restaurant or pub and finding the decor to be something really different, or looking up and seeing a wonderful detail on a window or building. Sometimes you get entertained when you least expect it.

Here’s a small number of my Unexpected odds and ends from my travels:

Paris Metro entertainment

We were in Paris during a transport strike. Busses and the metro didn’t charge but you might have to wait a long time for one to come, if it showed up at all. Busses were a bit easier to come by but one evening we waited for a Metro train that was apparently going to show up but there was only one running the line so the wait was longer than usual. We didn’t walk because our feet were so sore. Meanwhile, on the platform, these two guys were playing Beatles tunes while we all waited. They weren’t very good and they were more than a little drunk but they were belting out the songs and everyone smiled and even joined in at times!

Skull Chalice, Danish crown jewels, Copenhagen

While in Rosenborg castle in Copenhagen, we descended into the “dungeons” to view the crown jewels and state treasures. The last thing I expected to see was a skull decorating a golden chalice! According to the official website for the Danish Royal Collections: “The engravings on the the chalice depicts the suffering of Christ, as well as symbols for the evangelists and christian passion. Many of the motifes can be found in the illustrations of the Lutheran Strasbourg translation of the bible in 1630. The skull was a commemoration of the events at Golgatha, alledgedly the place where the cross was standing directly on top of the grave of Adam, thus symbolizing eternity for all of mankind.”

Looking towards Mull from the Isle of Iona, Scotland

Scotland is known for it’s many “Isles”, the Inner and Outer Hebrides and others. On the northwest coast facing the Atlantic ocean, the last thing I expected to see was a white, sandy beach and water the colour of the Meditteranean.

Manchester city centre

Manchester’s city centre has a pedestrian shopping zone around the Arndale Centre and Market Street. There are several of these antique tram cars done over as little fast food booths selling sausages, baked (jacket) potatoes and coffee.

And a couple of shop details that caught our eye and made us laugh.

In an Amsterdam shop window. But then, maybe that’s not so strange in Amsterdam!

Warner Brothers shop in Glasgow. Wile E. Coyote and the Tasmanian Devil in kilts? This was taken in October 2000. When I next visited it in 2003 the shop was gone.


A Word a Week Challenge – Distant

This week’s challenge from A Word in your Ear is Distant. While I do tend to take lots of closeup shots of things, it’s always good to get a more distant overview. I also like to go up high in observation wheels or towers and see the view from up in the clouds. You can often see a great distance if the weather is good and even if it isn’t, it’s still a blast!

Here’s a few shots from the archives:

The ultimate view from the top of the Empire State Building. You can just see the Statue of Liberty on her island.

The Champs Elysee, Paris, from the observation wheel at Place de la Concorde on a rainy day

Bassenthwaite, the Lake District, England

Highland walkers, near Glencoe, Scotland

Martinique Beach, Nova Scotia

Big Wheel Keep on Turnin’

The Paris to Normandy river cruise

We’re always looking and planning beyond the next vacation destination. I”m over to the UK in October where we’re planning a road trip around Scotland but then I’m going over again in April because he needs to come here in August for my niece’s wedding so we’re reversing our directions next year. So where to go? What to do?

I have a friend who has taken a couple of river cruises and really enjoyed them. I suggested this to him and found this short cruise that would fit in with our vacation window. April in Paris! We thought the itinerary (click on the map for the itinerary) sounded good. The nice thing about a river cruise is that you don’t spent a lot of time on the ship like you often do on sea cruises because the destination distances are short.  It’s not the Proud Mary and it isn’t a paddlewheel Mississippi steamer, but the boats and state rooms are quite nice. The state rooms will be tiny but who cares! They have en suite, a bed, and wifi. That pretty much covers all needs doesn’t it?

We had decided on  the Viking River cruise company as they do 2 for 1 deals if you book really early and pay for it by July 31. It seemed like a very good deal and the travel agent also has good things to say about the company. I do realize that you add on tips for the crew and various guides at the end of the week and though all meals and wine/beer are covered, chances are you’d be out and about at lunchtime so probably would eat in the towns then.

But like all good things that seem too good to be true, this one turned out to be as well. The Travel Agent called Viking last week and quoted me a price of about 2550 for a total for two people. So today, I went in and said ok, we’ll go for it. She called them again to set it up but emailed me back and said that the cheaper state rooms are sold out and the higher class of state room that was left was about 2700 PER PERSON. So much for the 2 for 1 deal advertised! It looked to me as if all the room prices were not per person, they were 2 for 1, for all classes of room. It shouldn’t make a difference whether they’re nearly sold out or not.

Sadly, I declined. nearly $5500 for an 8 day 7 night river cruise is far richer than my budget. I’m not being sold down the river, thank you very much.

Hotel Ratings and a Grain of Salt

Smallest hotel room yet (Amsterdam). Barely enough room on either side of the bed, TV on the wall. But it was clean and comfortable. Breakfast was not included.

I have been in the process of researching a hotel for a weekend in London in October. Like most people these days, I check the prices on various hotel websites and compare to the many booking sites to get the best price. I don’t decide until I have nearly driven myself mad with indecision. If it were solely based on price, it wouldn’t be so difficult. The confusion arrives when you add the user ratings and reviews into the mix.

Some people tend to prefer the name brand chains and you are fairly sure of what you are going to get with these guys. Most of us have a budget so we try very hard to get the best deal for it and hope for some where nice. User reviews do help. If a hotel gets overwhelmingly negative feedback you know to stay clear. If it is at the top of the heap of excellence, it’s probably too expensive (for my budget, anyway).

There has been a fair bit of negative publicity in recent years suggesting that hotels get allies to post  excellent reviews and enemies are known to try to sabotage a business with savagely bad ones. The truth is somewhere in the middle and they are all very subjective. What one person finds acceptable in a hotel room or in the demeanor of a staff member, someone else will be highly offended. And some people just like to complain.

A normally good hotel can still provide an occasional bad experience so deciphering the reviews can be a minefield. You have to remember the deal breakers on your list and be willing to compromise. Decide if the complaints are something that would bother you. Try to judge if the reviewer sounds like they are someone who is never satisfied. Try to read between the lines, in other words.

So, for London, I am not tied to any particular hotel. I look at where we want to be with regards to what we want to do and how easy it will be to get to train stations for arrival or departure. This time, we will be arriving at Euston. I will be flying home and he will be taking the train back to Manchester from the same place. Do we get a hotel near there or near Paddington Station where I can easily get the train to the airport? In the end, I decided on Euston area because it’s a short cab ride to Paddington and easy for my fella to get to the train for his return journey. I found a pretty good deal on booking.com, a site I haven’t used before but which seems to be reliable.

The deal I got includes breakfast and free wifi with a laptop sized safe in the room.  I prefer to have a room with free wifi these days but in this instance, as I would be on the way home, it wasn’t a deal breaker but the hotel had it anyway. Breakfast, too, isn’t always a deal breaker because in London there’s usually somewhere cheap to buy it but again, it had it anyway. The rooms appear to be small but that doesn’t really matter to me. It’s good for transportation links with several Underground stations within a few minutes’ walk as well as the big bus terminal at Euston station should we want a bus.

Reading the reviews, the small room size keeps coming up but as I said, I don’t really mind. I do find it stressful trying to decide, because I don’t want it to turn out to be awful. London hotels aren’t as hard to choose because I know the city well enough to know the various areas and am comfortable with the transportation system. In a new city, like when we went to Rome or Copenhagen, I found it very difficult. If I asked someone that had been there, their choices were either not in an area I wanted or they were more expensive than my budget. You see the problem with word of mouth!

For this one, overall, the reviews seem good. I guess we’ll find out! I won’t say what it is until I’ve been there and done that and decided on the t-shirt!

A Word a Week Challenge – Boat

This week’s challenge is “boat”. Oh, where do I start? I live in Halifax, the city that hosts the Canadian East Coast Navy. There are boats and sailors everywhere. Living on a large natural harbour, there are also marinas all over the place and there are many lakes as well with people kayaking and canoeing, fishing and rafting.  And because it’s a large harbour, there are huge container ships and cruise ships and the harbour ferries and, oh, well you get the picture.

But my very favourite thing of all is the Tall Ships Festival that comes to Halifax every 2 or 3 years. I love walking along the waterfront looking at all the ships, large and small, docked there and even better, whenever possible, I find a spot on the waterfront and watch the Parade of Sail as the ships leave Halifax. I could post many, many photos of those. Here’s my Flickr set of Tall Ships from the various visits.

Nova Scotia’s own Bluenose II. The first Bluenose is on the Canadian 10 cent coin.

The USCG Eagle, a Coast Guard training ship

The Pride of Baltimore, the Halifax Ferry and a speedboat in front of the Halifax Waterfront

The Sagres

There are too many more and I can’t post them all!