West Coast and Hawaii Itinerary building

Vancouver skyline (April 2000) from North Vancouver

As previously blogged, we have Hawaii booked and I am glad to say we now have the hotel in Vancouver booked as well. It’s a suite hotel called Rosedale on Robson and is not far from Chinatown and the Vancouver central library, a short walk from the old historic Gastown which is the original part of the city. I’m glad to have that sorted out. Now we get to figure out what we’ll do and where we’ll go.

Vancouver has lots of attractions and as we always do, we’ll make a list and end up doing some of it and finding things that aren’t on it at all. For transportation around Vancouver, they have a smart card called Compass. A lot of the larger cities have that these days and they’re really convenient. It can be used on the busses, seabus and the skytrain. You can pre-load it with day, month passes and with cash. Tap in, maybe tap out (don’t need to do that on busses). Simple. We’ve used the Oyster card many times in London. Love it.

We like to take a hop on hop off bus or trolley tour in a new city. You get the lay of the land and you get a decent historical background as well. We’ll probably do that. They aren’t usually particularly cheap and a lot of people think they’re a tourist rip off but we enjoy them. I’ve been to Vancouver before but not seen all the sights and I don’t expect to “do” all of them but the views from the busses will give me a perspective on a lot of areas I’ve only touched on, Stanley Park and the Lion’s Gate bridge with the view over to the city in particular. The view from the seabus to North Vancouver is great, too! It’ll be interesting to compare my  14 and 17 year old photos with the new ones. I really like the city. It’s modern, it’s on the sea coast yet you can walk and turn a corner and see a majestic mountain!

Me at Lynn Canyon, circa April 2000

Museums, art galleries, Haida art, maybe the view from the Lookout tower. I’d like to go up in the mountains, maybe to Squamish or Whistler. Perhaps we can do that with my cousins. I remember that we drove part way up a mountain the very first time I visited in 2000. I then tried to stand on the edge of a snowbank and sunk into it up to my hip! Unfortunately, I was wearing light coloured trousers and had dirty, muddy stains all the rest of the day! The snow in early May was softer than I realized. Oops! Also that day we went to the suspension bridge in Lynn Canyon and had lunch in a pretty town called Deep Cove on the inlet. It really is a picturesque area.

Hawaii:

We have most of four days on Oahu. My husband has a long time internet friend that we will be meeting up with. He and his family live outside of Honolulu. I’d like to take in a museum or two or a gallery and have seen a few, including the Iolani Palace and Shangri-La. The Bishop Museum also looks interesting but we don’t want to spend all our time in museums. There’s an International market and a night market. We will definitely be taking in Pearl Harbour and the historic sights there and really want to drive around the island. I yearn to see the surfers on the North Shore. I’ve been fascinated watching the surfers on television since  I was young.

Maybe we’ll get a chance to attend a hula. There are a few around the city that the big hotels put on. Rest assured that I will definitely enjoy having a feast of pineapple in the place where it’s grown! We aren’t really beach types, but I’m going to dip my toes in the Pacific and walk the beach. We may also look into whale watching or try a submarine tour. It’ll be a busy few days!

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Throwback Thursday Classic Shots

It looks like it might actually be spring here in Nova Scotia. Mind you, this time last year we had just come out of another snowfall so it “ain’t over til it’s over” when you live here.

Being optimistic, I’m pulling out some floral photos from my distant past travels. I’ve probably blogged about it way back when I first started this travel blog, but my first major trip once I could afford to go was on a bus tour around the UK in 1993. There were many stops along the way and I had a fabulous time. This photo is of Anne Hathaway’s cottage near Stratford-on-Avon. It was the end of August/early September 1993 and the garden was still lovely. We posed for our group photo here, but not in front of the garden  as you might assume. No, it was in the parking lot. Never mind. I know where we were!

Anne Hathaway's Cottage, Stratford-on-Avon

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Stratford-on-Avon, 1993

Let’s jump forward a few years to October 1996 and a bus tour around Italy with a friend. We stayed in London for a few days, first and met up with a friend who lived in Essex near Southend. We drove out into Kent and visits Leeds Castle. This is on the castle grounds and the garden is called Culpepper Garden. It might be mid October but there are still a few wildflowers hanging on!

Culpepper Garden in Leeds Castle, Kent

Culpepper Garden in Leeds Castle, Kent, 1996

I did some minor travel in 1998 relating to training at work (Boston, New York, Toronto, Ottawa) and in 1999 there was a weekend in Toronto, but in 2000, things were looking up.  I had two major trips, one to British Columbia in the spring and one to the UK again, in September, incorporating stays in London, Manchester, Stoke and Scotland with a short bus tour in Scotland. One of our stops there was at Inverewe Gardens overlooking Loch Ewe in the northwest of Scotland.

Inverewe Gardens

Inverewe Gardens, Scotland. 2000

Finally, in 2003 I made a solo visit to the UK to visit friends in various places, Worcester, Manchester, Cardiff, Glasgow and London. These were the spring blooms in Cardif by the War Memorial. Blossoms on the trees, tulips blazing across the ground. Gorgeous! (too bad I was on my way to a nasty flu which hit me hard in Bath and London!)

War memorial, Cardiff

War memorial, Cardiff, 2003

Postcard love

It was about 1995 that I first touched base with the internet. It was only via work and all we had was the ability to email and we had usenet, aka “newsgroups”.  I became a fan of newsgroups, connecting with people that had similar interests, mainly American soap operas and Coronation Street. I made some very good friends through my Corrie connections over the years and it’s given me opportunities to travel. Also, when I have traveled, I’ve often had someone living in the area that I could hang out with for a meal and a drink at the very least.

But there was another interest I discovered. Postcards. I don’t remember now how I found the newsgroup for postcard trading, whether I specifically searched for it or whether I heard mention of it elsewhere. This particular newsgroup was monitored and moderated once you joined. They also had a trading aspect. They amassed a list of names and addresses and the types of postcards you were interested in. Everyone on the list got a copy, were mandated to keep it private, and you could then send postcards to anyone on the list if you had one that matched their interest. They were not obligated to send you one in return but most people did if they could.

I have always liked postcards. Any time someone traveled somewhere, I asked them to send me one or bring me back one. It felt like armchair traveling and I could live vicariously through the pictures of far off places. I think even as a teenager, I was collecting them though the collection didn’t get very large. I do recall sending cards home when I went on a school trip to Italy and France in my last year of high school. My mother kept the cards and I re-discovered them some years later. It was very interesting to read my tiny cramped handwriting, so anxious to fit in all that I was seeing and doing on that one small card!

I always bought postcards when I traveled to new places. They make a great souvenir and are a good complement to all the photos I take, as well. You can’t get an overview of a large building or area on the ground with your camera but a postcard can give you that perspective. Often you aren’t allowed to take photos inside a church or cathedral or other place and a postcard or two is the only way to bring back a visual memory. I would file them in the album with my trip pictures plus a few extra for the postcard collection.

I always sent a lot of postcards to friends and family, too. Often I’d arrive home before the card did but it didn’t matter. I was seeing new things and new places and wanted to pass on my impressions. In this day and age of emails and blog posts and social media, it’s not something I do much anymore and that’s a pity, really.  Everyone loves to find mail in their mailbox that isn’t a bill or an advertising flyer.

Prince's Lodge, Bedford, Nova Scotia

Prince’s Lodge, Bedford, Nova Scotia

Now I began trading cards and looking for them. I would find some antique cards of the city where I live to send to people that like that sort of thing and I began to find them very interesting as well. Messages written on the back so long ago could sometimes be fascinating. People used to send postcards frequently if they didn’t have time to write a whole letter. They’d send a quick card to let a loved one know what day they’d arrive by train, or that someone was recovering well from an illness, everyday living, not just travel related. It’s a slice of real life.

Trading postcards was a lot of fun and there was almost always one or two pieces of mail in my box a few times a week. Sometimes single cards, sometimes envelopes with several. I remember taking a bus tour around the UK and we tourists on the bus, the ones that became friends and hung out together promised to keep in touch. As you do. I suggested we all send each other postcards instead of Christmas cards that year of where we all lived. It was deemed a great idea.  Most everyone that agreed to do it did it and I received cards from New Zealand, Israel, Australia, Malaysia as well as various places in Canada and the U.S. We never really kept in touch after that, though. Our group holiday romance faded away as they usually do.

My favourite kinds featured the beautiful architectural buildings found all over the world. Castles,  churches, cathedrals and other buildings of religious significance, cottages,  town halls and squares, mansions, etc. I traded postcards from that list for several years in the 90s and into the early 2000s but as the price of stamps went up and up and up, it became quite expensive and people seemed to be trading less and less so it went by the wayside. I still have two good sized shoe boxes with my postcards stored though I haven’t looked through them in some time.

I keep thinking I will weed through and save my favourites and do something with the rest, perhaps find a second hand shop that will take them off my hands. There used to be a shop locally that sold stamps and they had postcards as well but I don’t think they’re in business anymore.  Yes, I suppose I could put them on eBay if  some are collectible, that’s an option. I wouldn’t likely get a lot for most of them and it might cost more to post them so would someone want to buy them only to add on 5 or 10 dollars postage for something they might only have paid less than $5.00? I don’t know how successful it would be but I could try.

Meanwhile, I see racks of postcards and they still make me feel nostalgic for my own heyday of collecting.

The Magical History Tour – UK 2003

Ailsa’s weekly travel theme this week is History. Pretty much every trip I take will have some element of history to it, whether it’s a visit to a cathedral or museum or historic site. I went to the UK in 2003, planning to travel around and see various friends. Included was a concert in Manchester to see Paul McCartney. (You can read about the concert in more detail here on my website) Because of the number of historical things I saw and did and in honour of the Beatles, I named this trip the Magical History Tour. It didn’t end very well, however. I started to get sick in Cardiff, felt worse in Bath and by the time I got to London I needed a doctor and a place to stay for an extra week because I was in no shape to fly out when I was supposed to. Thanks to a good Samaritan, I had somewhere to lay my fevered head.

But, in honour of the weekly theme, here are some photos from that trip. The full detailed travelogue is here but I’ll write an abbreviated version here as well.

We start the tour in Worcester, on the River Severn, where I stayed with a good pal for a couple of days. Worcester is quite an old city (well, most of the cities in the UK are old) and there’s a strong connection here to the English Civil War. It was near the site of the final battle when Oliver Cromwell’s troops defeated Charles I. They have a Commandery, a military museum here along the canal and a grand old cathedral. There’s also the Royal Worcester china factory and  very old streets in the city center that are still lined with some buildings that date back to Tudor times. We had lunch in the Cardinal’s Hat, a very old pub and visited the cathedral, the seconds shop for the china place, looked into a flea market in the old Guildhall and generally walked and walked. King John I is buried in the cathedral as is Arthur Tudor, the man that would have been king but who died not long after marrying Katherine of Aragon, leaving his younger brother Henry to be crowned Eighth of his name and the rest, as they say, is history.

My pal and I drove from Worcester to Glasgow (in a Smart car!) for a couple of days. Glasgow is a great city, and I prefer it to Edinburgh. While we were there, we went to the cathedral, St. Mungo’s, which is one of my all time favourites. It’s not a huge and spectactular as some, like Worcester’s or Canterbury’s but it’s peaceful and dark and there’s just something about it that I really like. Up a hill behind it is the Necropolis, Glasgow’s Victorian cemetery that has some wonderful old mausoleums. (mausolea?)

We also met up with another friend who lived nearby and he drove us to the Isle of Iona, which is a little speck off the western coast that you get to via another island, Mull (near Oban). Iona is very small and is mainly pedestrian only unless you live there or are coming in a service vehicle. There’s a ferry from Fionnport that will take you across. There’s a small village and a sandy beach with waters as blue as you’d see in the Mediterranean which surprised me. The main attraction here is the old abbey.

St. Columba founded the Abbey on Iona in 563 and it turned into the cradle of Craigtianity in Europe. Over 3 dozen ancient kings of Scotland are said to be buried in the old cemetery, some graves little more than a rise in the ground with a small stone the size of a man’s hand wedged into the ground at one end. There are also some modern graves here including that of political former UK Labour Party leader, John Smith. It’s a quiet place and wasn’t very busy when we were there, early April. It almost feels like time stands still. The abbey is partially restored inside and there are also ruins of a nunnery nearby.

We headed to Manchester to meet up with a few more friends to see the Paul McCartney concert. That’s historic in its own way. The Beatles were probably the first super group of the modern age and each of the band members are and were legendary. Manchester was a few days of hanging out with friends, including a trip to the Lowry Gallery to see the paintings of L.S. Lowry whose pictures of near-stick figure people and the working class of Victorian Manchester bring that period of Manchester’s history to life. A few more friends converged on the city over the next few days and we happily spent time with each other, shopping, eating and having a drink or two.

I left Manchester in the company of a friend who lives in Cardiff. We took the train back to her home and I spent a lovely few days exploring that city. I had a look in the big civic museum, saw a gorgeous war memorial surrounded by spring flowers and trees in bloom, had a walk in Bute Park that abuts Cardiff Castle where I had visited once before so I didn’t pay the admission to go in again. Kind of wish I had now, though. Cardiff is a nice place and has a lot to offer. It’s grown and modernized, especially along the Cardiff Bay development but the city center has galleries, theatre, pubs and shops including an indoor covered market that was fun to browse. We also went a bit out of the way to see Llandaff Cathedral but this turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. I was not impressed at the modern concrete arch across the middle interior topped with an art deco style statue of Jesus. It really didn’t fit in, I thought.

I continued my onward journey on my own after leaving Cardiff but was most definitely starting to feel ill with some sort of flu. I got to a hotel in Bath, a World Heritage Site, and probably should have found a walk in clinic but I was determined not to spend the next couple of days in my hotel room. I carried on. I went to see the old Roman baths, the pump room, the beautiful Georgian streets where Jane Austen walked. I loved the architecture and I visited the old Assembly rooms which includes the Museum of Costume. Superb stuff! I even walked through the old Pulteney bridge across the Avon, an 18th century bridge with shops lining it on both sides.

Bath Abbey is like a cathedral here and is very old. The current one replaces several editions of churches and religious buildings back to the 8th century and King Edgar was crowned King of the English herer in the late 10th century. The city itself was little more than a village in the late 18th century when the rediscovery of the mineral baths promped a flurry of development by Georgian architects John Wood, the Elder and his son and Bath became the Society’s “In” place, the place to see and be seen for the next 40 or 50 years. It’s a very interesting city and well worth braving the crowds.

I managed to get myself on the bus to London because the trains were not going to be running in to London on the day I was planning to travel. I forget why, now. By the time I got to London, I needed a doctor and arranged one through the hotel. My sister had a friend that lived locally and I ended up staying with him for almost a week until I was able to travel home. So the Magical History Tour had a bit of an ignomanious ending but I won’t forget it!

 

Throwback Thursday: New York City 1998

NYC Metropolitan Museum

Metropolitan Museum, August 1998

In the summer of 1998, I had been sent away several times for training courses. One of the destinations was just outside of Boston so I had the opportunity to spend a little time there. The next course was in Parisppany, New Jersey which isn’t all that inspiring but it was possible to catch a bus into New York. It was a journey of about an hour to Port Authority bus terminal. One evening, three or four of us made the trip in and went up the Empire State Building to see the lights of the city come on at twilight. We walked back to Times Square and were wowed by the lights!

At the end of the week, my flight home was not leaving until Sunday so I had all day Saturday to spend. It was early August and stinking hot and humid. I took the bus into the city again and rather than taking a tour or something, my plan of attack was to see several exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum. As you can see from the photo, one of them was about Tiffany and another about the pre-Raphaelites. I also had the chance to see the Unicorn Tapestries that were on show while the uptown branch of the Met, The Cloisters was being renovated.

The thing that really stands out in my memory about the museum, however, was getting to see Monets and Renoirs that they had.  I’m trying to remember if the National Gallery in London had any when I was there in 1993. I do remember seeing Turners and Canalettos there. In my memory, it was the first time I’d seen something by Monet and Renoir, though, so I’ll stick with that. They were stunning, as you might expect!

The Met is enormous, though, and you won’t see it all in one go. I saw what I went to see, the Impressionist galleries and the special exhibits and then took a cab down Fifth Ave. where I was meeting an internet pal that I traded postcards with. He and his wife and I had a quick lunch and when she went back to work (Sak’s Fifth Avenue!), he and I walked around that area, from Fifth Ave. over to Times Square. I picked up some souvenirs, took some photos and just soaked in the atmosphere of Summer in the City.

Eventually, he had to leave and I was hot, sweaty and very footsore. The heat and humidity were really dragging me down by this time so I completely failed to stay in the city and have my evening meal there, I took the bus back to the hotel where I had room service after soaking my feet in the hot tub! You’ve got to know your limitations!

That was my first nibble at the Big Apple. Graham and I went there for a few days in 2013 and did all of the touristy things and saw a show. We’d love to go back again and take our time, walk, go to museums and galleries, take in a show or two, eat fabulous food and shop until we drop!

May Memories

Boscastle, Cornwall

Boscastle, Cornwall

Facebook has a “memories” thing where it shows you a photo of something you posted x number of years ago. You can then share it if you think others will be interested. If the photo or status involves other people, they may very well enjoy the memory! I don’t repost/share these too often but I do enjoy seeing the ones that pop up in May because a lot of my travels over the past 10 years have been in the month of May. I prefer to travel in the spring and the fall/autumn because the air fares can be a bit cheaper than high summer tourist season. That also goes for hotel prices and if visiting tourist hot spots, spring and fall crowds are a bit lighter (but avoid Easter holidays!)

My husband and I met online and carried on a long distance relationship for 11 years before we married last year and then one more before he moved here this year. We generally tried to visit twice a year, one trip each, and would try to do some traveling on each of those visits, or at least fit in some day trips/road trips. Many of the visits I made to the UK involved a stopover of a day or two in London and we always do a few day trips out of Manchester, Wales, the Lake District, the Peak District, Yorkshire, all are destinations that are easy to visit for a day out.

One year in May, we did a 5 night road trip down to Cornwall with a stop over in the cities of Wells and Bath on either end. Probably the most jam-packed May holiday was the year we flew to Amsterdam, did a day trip from there to Arnhem, visited Brussels and took a day trip from there to Bruges and stopped overnight in London on the way back. I think that was a bit too rushed because we really didn’t get a chance to really see Brussels aside from an abbreviated bus tour and a look around the city centre. It’s a bit of a blur, really, though Bruges was lovely.

New York buildings have ads painted right on the brick.

New York buildings have ads painted right on the brick.

Other memorable trips in the spring were to Copenhagen, New York City and Quebec City. Below are links to various travelogues. I must write up my Quebec City journey as well. North American May holidays included a few days in New York and another journey to Quebec City by train. I would definitely go to Quebec again but I think we’ll get there by some other means than by train or we’ll avoid the rock hard bunks in the sleeper. (Oh my aching back!)

Travelogues:
Copenhagen, Day 1 and 2
Copenhagen, Day 3 and 4
Copenhagen, Day 5 and 6
New York City Impressions
New York City Days 1 – 3
New York City Day 4
Leaving New York City
Cornwall Part 1
Cornwall Part 2
Amsterdam
Brussels/Bruges

The First Time I Saw Paris

Under the Eiffel Tower, 1977

Under the Eiffel Tower, 1977

One of the blogs I follow is Janaline’s world journey, and in her blog today was a posting about the first time she visited Paris. It has inspired me to write about my first visit to Paris which was much less traumatic than the first time I saw London.

In our high school, every year there was a tour offered by the French department that students could go on over the March break week. It always included time in Paris and sometimes other parts of France. The year before I went, it included Paris, plus some parts of Germany and I think also Vienna. (We’re going back to the mid 1970s, so you’ll have to forgive my memory!) Since anyone that went had to pay for it themselves (there were no such things as school fund raisers then at our school) the year I was able to go was during my last year in high school, in March 1977. I had a part time job and I saved up for it. My parents donated some spending money and I was ready to go.

That year the tour included arriving and departing from Rome, with a day in Rome for a quick tour around, then an overnight train to Paris for three days and another overnight train to Nice where we were based for another four days. I don’t think the last train ride to Rome was overnight which was a blessing! The “couchette” cars were not very comfortable.

The train to Paris was crazy. We had compartments which converted to sleeper cars for six people, three on a side. Crazy! I forget if it was the train to Paris or the one to Nice where one of the bunks wouldn’t fit into place and one of our group had to sleep on the floor between the two sides of bunks. Needless to say, a group of over exited 16 to 18 year olds didn’t get much sleep on that leg of the trip!

We arrived in Paris on a Sunday, under grey skies though it wasn’t very cold. By the time we got checked into our hotel on Rue LaFayette, it was early afternoon and we had the rest of the afternoon to ourselves before an organized meal in the evening. Being the sophisticated children that we were, our first destination was to find some food for lunch and though I shudder at the thought now, we thought it was a very good idea to find the nearest McDonald’s. Yes. I know. But it was familiar, and it was Sunday and we were in a strange and foreign city. I recall that it was really awful, a very different taste than we were used to in Canada. Serves us right.

Our evening meal and where we would eat for the three nights we were in Paris was in a very nice restaurant. Except it was a German restaurant. In Paris. That’s right. You’d think the tour company might realize that you’d want a French restaurant in France wouldn’t you? I think we did manage to have a boeuf Bourguignon on our last night after much complaining.

Notre Dame, 1977

Notre Dame, 1977

Our Monday was taken up with a bus tour around the city and we hit all the hot spots…the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame, Les Invalides, Place de la Concorde and a drive down the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe. It was a chilly, windy day and I didn’t care to go up the Eiffel Tower so I sat below with two or three others that didn’t want to go up for various reasons. I can’t remember if we had to pay our own way up or if it was included. One of the things that made an impression that day was the Winged Victory in the Louvre. It fascinated me. I was also shocked that the Mona Lisa was so small compared to what I had imagined. (Google says it’s 2.5 feet (75 cm) high by 1.75 feet (53 cm) wide) In those days, it was on the wall of a larger room and wasn’t roped off or covered in bullet proof glass like it is now.

I found cashed traveler’s cheque receipts some years ago from that trip and I used $170 for spending money for lunches and souvenirs for the 9 or 10 day trip. Breakfast and the evening meal was always included. The exchange rate was about 5 Francs to the dollar, obviously long before the Euro was installed as common currency. The cost of the airfare and tour together was just under $500 though I may be wrong. If I am, it wasn’t a lot more, maybe another $100. You can’t get a flight to Paris for that these days, or if you do, they add on almost as much for fees and taxes! I think the airfare total was about $300.

Our Tuesday in Paris was a free day. A group of us decided to brave the Metro and go to Montmartre. I seem to recall we lost one fellow on the way, he didn’t make the change in trains in time. We poked our heads in some of the shops. One of the girls bought a long rabbit fur coat and I discovered that the European sizing was very different from North American. We climbed up the steps to Sacre Coeur, passing an older man feeding a flock of pigeons along the way. I couldn’t take as many photos as I would have liked, being a budding photographer even back then, because I still had to pay to get film developed and had only my part time job for resources. The photos were taken with a small pocket camera and haven’t proven up to the test of time though I salvaged some of them.

Hideous Parisian hotel wallpaper from the 1970s

Hideous Parisian hotel wallpaper from the 1970s

Other memories I have of those few days in Paris include the hideous brown and white patterned wallpaper in our hotel rooms and the surprise of a bidet, the first most of us had ever seen, heathens that we were! Our hotel was across the street from a little corner shop where you could buy beer. That was a surprise to us since you couldn’t do that back home (and still can’t in our province! No alcohol in corner shops or grocery stores for us!) Since the legal drinking age in France was much lower than it was at home, it was inevitable that most of us took full advantage of it. I think we cleaned out that shop in the three days we were there and had parties in the hotel rooms every night. Our chaperons, one of whom was a nun, looked the other way as long as we were not too loud and boisterous and were all accounted for when they came around to do a head count before bed. They even shared a glass of wine with us at dinner and one at least one of the train journeys as I recall.

My first trip to Paris didn’t make a lot of long lasting impressions aside from what I’ve described but I always hoped I’d go back. I did, finally, in November 2007, over 30 years later, when my partner and I went for his 50th birthday. That was also just a few days but the memories are clearer and I have loads more photos to remind me. We also planned to go in April of 2014 but that was cancelled due to family illness. I hope we get to go again but there are so many other places we also want to see, both new and repeat visits that Paris is now further down the priority list. I am glad I’ve had the chance to see it and renew those original memories on a second visit.

Throwback Thursday – The Netherlands

Windmill and us

It’s 2009 and we’re in Amsterdam for a few days then off to Brussels for a quick visit to the city and a side trip to Bruges. In this photo we are visiting an Open Air Museum in Arnhem, a short train ride from Amsterdam. They have buildings, windmills and items from The Netherlands from various points in history, set up to show how people lived. There’s an old 1950s tram circling the park to take you around, too. Here’s a link to my travelogue about Amsterdam and the visit to this park.

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Visiting Alnwick Castle and Gardens

Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Castle has been the home of the Percy family for 700 years. When the line descended to a female, the man she married took on the Percy name so that it wouldn’t die out. The Percy family themselves have been in England since just after the Norman Invasion so they’ve been around a very long time. They were the Earls of Northumberland until the end of the 17th century and after the male line died out there, married into the Dukes of Somerset, and after a couple of generations, the Earldom was restored/created by George III in 1766 and the numbering system restarted. They were the couple that returned to Alnwick which had fallen into disuse. Sir Hugh and Lady Elizabeth Percy restored, revamped, landscaped and rebuilt Alnwick into a luxurious palace. The castle has been further renovated and restored in the Victoria era to the Italianate decor we see in many of the State rooms now. The current Duke is the 12th.

The castle has been open to the public since 1950 and is currently open to the public during the spring, summer and early fall months. The family still lives there in the winter and you can see lots of evidence of this as you tour the State rooms, where there are family photos, beanbags for the dogs to lie on and a large flat screen television in the library. The castle sees 800,000 visitors a year. I would expect some of that stems from the use of the castle for some exterior shots in the first few Harry Potter movies. There are many types of souvenirs related to the movies in the gift shop, including wands, costumes, sorting hats, “house” scarves, etc. The castle was more recently used for a Downton Abbey episode in 2014 and will be used again in the final season of the series for an episode. Those scenes included inside shots in the State Rooms. I always enjoy seeing places on television and in movies where I’ve visited!

Alnwick Castle Gardens

Alnwick Castle Gardens

Also on the estate is the Alnwick Garden, a garden with many different areas in it. Some of the sections will be nicer during different times of the year than others. For instance, there’s a large cherry tree orchard. We visited in September but in the spring, with the cherry blossoms in bloom, it would be really beautiful. Otherwise, they’re just trees so we didn’t bother.

The gardens were designed by two Belgians, Jacques and Peter Wirtz. The Duchess of Northumberland was instrumental in spearheading the project and the result is a very interesting place to wander and explore.

We checked out of our hotel after breakfast and drove the half hour or so south along the coast to Alnwick. We found a parking lot in the town centre next to the gardens and surprisingly enough, it was free! It was also nearly full so we were lucky to find a spot. The official castle/gardens parking area wasn’t too far from there, I discovered after coming home, and it doesn’t cost very much to park all day. Free is better. Since the sun was out but the overall forecast was dubious, we decided to do the garden first, just in case. The whole main garden with all the smaller sub-gardens is walled in, with an atrium style cafe at the entrance. We didn’t go through the whole thing for two reasons, one being the weather, two being that there were parts of it we didn’t think would be worth it (see comments about the cherry orchard). We were also driving back across to Manchester and we wanted to fit in the castle before heading on the road and we didn’t want to be driving at all hours.

Alnwick Castle Gardens, the "tree tunnels"

Alnwick Castle Gardens, the “tree tunnels”

So the garden, first. The main central feature is a large cascading fountain with the jets shooting from either side in timed fashion. Along the sides and top of it are what looks like tunnels made of trees which, upon closer inspection, are shrubberies or something like it, growing over a metal frame. You can walk through these tunnels and there are some benches in there as well for a place to sit. Near the entrance there’s a labyrinth made of bamboo trees and branches. We had a scoot through that and managed not to get lost in it. We passed through the rose garden but those blooms were pretty much passed their prime.

One garden we did quite enjoy was called a serpent garden. It was filled with S-shaped topiaries made of holly that curved and circled around a series of water sculptures each with frameworks of highly polished stainless steel. It’s a bit hard to explain but they were all really interesting. One of them used gravity from a pond further up a hill which fed the fountain as it filled up and poured out. Another had water flowing over the edge of a circular frame and it was as clear as glass. It was all about how water moves, relying on various aspects of physics. It was really interesting.

Alnwick Castle Gardens, the Ornamental Garden

Alnwick Castle Gardens, the Ornamental Garden

The only other part we took in was an ornamental, more formal garden at the top end of the fountain. G. and M. wanted to rest their feet for a bit and weren’t as interested in looking at flowers and plants and sculpture so they sat on the garden benches while I had a lovely look around, taking photos and looking at everything. There was still a lot in bloom but it must have been spectacular in July.

Alnwick Castle Courtyard

Alnwick Castle Courtyard

We decided that was enough and headed down to the castle. The castle walls are high but instead of a moat, there are now sheep grazing in the fields and low hills surrounding. As impressive as the castle is as you approach it from across the park, it’s even more so when you go through the gates and enter a courtyard with the cobbled stones under foot and the high, imposing walls of the keep and the inner castle walls surrounding you. You look up. Your jaw drops down. It’s not majestic as such, and not impossibly high, it just takes you by surprise.

When you enter, you’re in a room that has pretty much every inch of the walls covered in arms, armaments, guns, swords, and the like. You cannot take photos inside the castle and there are security cameras everywhere so I didn’t even risk a “Hail Mary” shot from the waist! There are guides in all the rooms, both to watch for cameras and to answer questions. They all know the history of the castle and the Percy family really well. You can ask them pretty much anything and they’re happy, and enthusiastic to talk about it all.

There’s a grand staircase to climb, with fancy plaster work, paintings and gorgeous antiques and artifacts all around you. At the top, you can look over a viewpoint into the chapel which is lovely. You then traverse through all the State Rooms including a gorgeous library that is filled with groupings of comfortable chairs and sofas, two storey high walls lined with books, walls and tables containing family photos and pictures. It looks very much like it’s still lived in and enjoyed by the family. There are drawing rooms, reception rooms, and an extravagant dining room. The paintings are priceless as is some of the furniture and we were told later by the woman in a small shop there that one pair of cabinets is the most expensive set of furniture in the world. French, one of the Louis kings, I forget if it was XIV, XV or XVI. I spied at least one Canaletto on the walls, a painter whose work I do like.

As the castle was used for Downton Abbey last year, there are poster boards through some of the rooms with photos from scenes that were filmed there, with background information and displays of some of the props and costumes, as well. You will also see some exhibits on various members of the family that served in World War I, II, and even as far back as the Napoleonic wars. There’s a small gift shop in this area but a larger one over by another courtyard where there are a couple of restaurants as well. In that area there was also a video presentation on the filming of Downton Abbey and over in an alcove is the magnificent Percy family State Carraige which was recently restored to be used for the wedding of the daughter of the current Duke and Duchess a couple of years ago.

Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Castle

Even though it was a bit chilly, we sat and had a cup of tea/coffee and a piece of cake out in the courtyard. We had a mooch through the gift shop and decided, since the clouds were descending and the rain was imminent, we would not take the extra time to see some of the smaller museums in the gates around the castle walls. They have a lot to see, including activities put on for kids (broom flying lessons!) and for families through the summer. You could spend all day there even without going through the gardens.

Another really neat place to eat, though we didn’t do it, is a tree house restaurant just outside the walls of the gardens. You can also walk through the treetops on ramps and rope bridges. We thought we better hit the road, since we still had a few hours’ drive ahead of us. All in all, though, it was a lovely day, surrounded by history and beautiful things.

Friends, Romans, Countrymen

Housesteads Roman Fort from above. Photo from the English Heritage website

Housesteads Roman Fort from above. Photo from the English Heritage website

While I was in the UK recently, my husband and I and his best friend went on a three day road trip to the northeast area of Northumberland. Our friend, Mal, had been there before but neither of us had been and there are quite a lot of interesting historical things to see. It was Mal’s suggestion and we thought it was a fine one. I knew, after doing some high level research, that we’d only make a bare glimpse at what the area has to offer but a little taste is better than nothing. Now, what can we put on the “To Do” list?

One place I’d always wanted to see was Hadrian’s Wall. The Roman occupying forces built it, all 73 miles of it, just below what is now the border between England and Scotland, a narrow “neck” of the island of Great Britain. It stretches from present day Carlisle in the northwest to Corbridge in the northeast, which is not far from the city of Newcastle. Emperor Hadrian came to Britian in 122 A.D. and the construction began shortly after. The plans were to build a guarded gate, or Milecastle, at every mile with observation towers between. In all 14 forts were built. There were large ditches on the sides of the walls, which were built of stone and sometimes turf. The plans changed with the addition of a handful of forts for extra protection and it took about 6 years to complete. There’s a pretty good overall history of the wall On the English Heritage website.

The wall was manned and staffed for the next few hundred years until the Roman Empire started to fall. Mainly, the wall and forts were abandoned, with the stone removed for local building over the centuries. What was left was the subject of a campaign of protection by historians and archeologists from the Victorian era forward. There are a number of sites remaining, some of which have been restored and preserved. We looked at the guide books and websites and decided on the Housesteads Fort as the one we wanted to visit. A number of them are situated off the road and a bit of a hike into the hills. In many areas, you can see the turf rising. There isn’t a lot of actual stone wall left but there are sites where you can see it and Housesteads is one of those, having quite a lot of the foundations of the fort and settlement along with a good stretch of the actual wall. Chesters Roman Fort is another very good site as is Birdoswald.

Housesteads it is, then. It was a few hours’ drive from Manchester after picking up Mal. We arrived around lunchtime on a cool day. It had been raining a bit all morning but had stopped just before we got there. We had brought a picnic though it wasn’t a great day for it. Never mind. We had our sandwiches and bought our entry tickets for the site. Remember I said a lot of the sites are a hike up into the hills? This is one of them. We went round the back of the visitor centre to face a path that climbed up for what we were told was a half mile uphill all the way. It might not have been a half mile (just under 1 KM) but it was bloody close. I’m definitely not one of the agile, and most definitely not fit but I was determined. I made the men go on ahead without me and took my time walking up the hill, 50 steps at a time, stop, rest the legs, take a few pictures, continue, 50 steps, repeat. Finally, I got to the top!

There are plenty of information boards around to tell you what you’re looking at and there’s a small interpretive museum and a gift shop just outside the ruins as well. The fort sits on the top of a hill with a ditch plummeting down behind the back wall. The views over the rolling hills are amazing, even under dark and threatening skies. The sheep certainly don’t mind. The wall appears to have been built to keep the incoming “barbarians” from what is now Scotland out, traditionally because they couldn’t be conquered. That probably isn’t exactly the case. They probably just decided that was the far border of the empire as they saw it.

To the left inside the garrison walls are the barracks. There’s the remains of the commander’s quarters, the headquarters building, what is probably a hospital and a granary, with the foundations of what would have been a raised floor to keep the damp from the grain. On the front left corner there is what they say is the remains of a latrine, too. We had a walk through the site and stood looking out north over the beautiful landscape, imagining the hordes of angry Scots/Pictish warrior storming the ramparts. My husband quipped that the Romans were probably standing there in their leather skirts, knees knocking in fear and in the cold north winds. He commented that the Scots were way “harder” than the Italians, after all. A nearby couple overheard him and chuckled to themselves.

We spent some time there then looked into the museum but really didn’t get a good look. It was crowded with a group of school kids and was too small for that many people. We left them to it. I had a quick browse through the gift shop and I wished I had bought a fridge magnet there because the visitor centre back down at the parking area didn’t have any nice ones. We partook of the facilities and headed back on the road, northeast to the little town of Seahouses on the coast, our base for the next two nights.

More about Hadrian’s Wall here.

More of my photos here.