Friday, October 9, 2015

Our England Journey: Last Stop, Edinburgh

I had a cousin who lived in Edinburgh for a year while we've been in the Netherlands, and we never managed to visit while she was there.  Once we arrived, we quickly realized that our not visiting sooner was probably a big mistake, because Edinburgh seems like one of those cities that would be a very different experience with a local guide.  Full of tourists, it's also full of little alleyways and little shops and cafes.  And there was definitely too much to see for our brief 2 days.

For much of our first day we simply wandered the streets of Old Town and the 'Royal Mile', the name given to the main stretch of the city.

St. Giles Cathedral:

 And a random parade:

We didn't go in to Edinburgh Castle, but it's not hard to find as it's built on a really big hill.  Below it's framed by two of Edinburgh's art museums.

On the second day, Dan and I split up.  I visited Holyrood Palace, where Mary Queen of Scots resided after returning from France.  No photos of the inside, but you can enjoy the outside.

The Palace is adjacent to Holyrood Abbey, which was initially built in the 12th century, partially destroyed during the Reformation, rebuilt but poorly, and is now really beautiful ruins. Yep, that's definitely the short version.

While I was exploring the Palace and Abbey, Dan was off hiking Arthur's Seat, which is the large hill at the other end of town from the one Edinburgh Castle sits on.  You can see part of it in the background of the photo below.

And a full view of it in this photo, which was taken from the top of another hill (which I did manage to climb!)

Each city we visited on our trip was amazing.  Almost three months later I still can't decide which I liked best.  But I know I want to return to, and explore a lot more of, Scotland.  Bath was iconic, Canterbury absolutely stunning, but the vibe in Edinburgh (and even Fort William) felt like 'us' somehow and I really want to return someday.  I guess I had better start planning Our Scotland Journey.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Our England Journey: Fort William

Fort William is well in to the Highlands of Scotland, about four hours by train north of Glasgow.  We were only there two nights, but it was possibly the most amazing place we went.  Fort William itself is what I'd call a large town of about 10,000 people and is the second largest in the Highlands, after Inverness.  It's definitely friendly to tourists, without feeling touristy, and we saw a lot of backpackers and hikers either starting or ending one of two LONG Scottish walks that have an end point in the town.

Mostly what I loved about Scotland was the green-ness of it.  So many shades, that I was never going to be able to capture on film.  Also, the wetness.  It did rain for much of our time there, and everything sparkled with it.  Nothing was dried out, there were tons of little waterfalls cascading down the hills and mountains nearby.

We didn't take advantage of the hiking trails on the surrounding hills as much as I would have liked, mostly because I had enough stamina to hike for about 5 minutes before I needed to rest for 10.  Silly pregnancy. But we did do some walks around the town that were mercifully (mostly) flat.

We walked over to Old Inverlochy Castle, which had some sheep penned in to keep the grass short (at least I think that was their purpose). It's mostly in ruins now, but being 800 years old, one can forgive that.

We did manage to hike up part of Cow Hill, and the views from nowhere-near the top were quite lovely.

If you're ever debating a trip to the Scottish Highlands, I can give an extremely hearty endorsement. It's an absolutely amazing region (I say with confidence after having visited only one town (and riding the train to get there)).

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Our England Journey: Bath

When I first started thinking about where to go on our England Journey, Bath was at the top of the list. After seeing it so often in period films, and hearing about others' experiences there, I absolutely had to go. So we went.  And it didn't disappoint, but it was smaller than I was expecting.  You read about all these places in Austen's novels, and add in the museums that the city is known for, and you think you could spend days and days there and not see everything.  Turns out the sites are quite close to one another, so we were also able to walk along the river that surrounds much of the city and spend some time relaxing in the beautiful gardens.  Honestly, I don't have many photographs of Bath.  It seems like we were too busy enjoying ourselves to get out the camera.

Our first stop was the Royal Crescent, a row of houses that was built in a crescent shape.  While it seems novel now, turns out this was a major innovation in architecture at the time.

And then Bath Abbey.  We weren't able to go in, as this was graduation weekend, and there were ceremonies the whole time. But the facade featured something I hadn't seen before, angels climbing up and down ladders.  It was a bit funny looking, especially the angels climbing down, which were depicted as head down to help you interpret their direction.

Bath was a Roman city a long time ago, and there are still some remnants of the original city walls--this one just across from a Lululemon.

The Bath Assembly Rooms were beautiful, though they would have been much more interesting if a ball had actually been taking place. As it was, we couldn't see all the rooms, as there were people setting up for some sort of event.

Underneath the Assembly Rooms is the Bath Fashion Museum, which I spent many hours in.  I purposefully didn't take any photos, deciding to simply enjoy the visual splendor.  The main exhibition was on the Georgians, who ruled England for much of the 18th and very early 19th century.  I'm normally not very inspired by 18th century fashion, but the museum had some simpler pieces on display that I found rather intriguing, so I may just break into the 18th century yet.

I especially liked the brocades--their bright colors and lack of fru-fru. (this image is from the Fashion Museum website)

The other museum we spent a lot of time in was the Roman Baths museum.  Bath sits on top of several natural hot springs, and the Romans took advantage.  The water is now green as it's not flushed through as much and algae has been allowed to grow, but there are still in-use baths in the town that you can pay a bunch to visit.  This place was really impressive, with extensive exhibitions on the Roman era in Bath, though it was also ridiculously crowded.

Lastly I'll leave you with a shot of the river that surrounds much of the town.  We spent some time wandering along here, and it was a good way to avoid some of the crowds.

Next step, up to Scotland!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Our England Journey: London

You can't do a whirlwind tour of England without visiting London.

And indeed, on our first day, we whirlwind-ed it up.  This was our main tourist day, and we walked down the river to Tower Bridge (which everyone knows as London Bridge, even though that's the name of another bridge), around the Tower of London (we didn't actually go in), up the river to Big Ben/Parliament and over to Buckingham Palace.  It was a pretty exhausting day, though it was made better by the company of a dear friend who also let us crash at her place. Cheap home cooked meals for the win!

Slooowly getting closer.

Made it!

It turns out the part of the Tower of London that is shown in all the photos isn't the whole thing.  The tall square part is surrounded by several layers of walls outside of that, and it's sort of hard to actually see the square part unless you pay to go in (or ride in a helicopter).

I liked this shot with Tower Bridge in the background of the Tower of London.

The second day was a museum day.  Dan and I managed to see much of the British Museum as well as ALL of the National Gallery (I'm still proud of the ALL part, though my feet really hated me for it.)

I did take photos in the British Museum, but you all probably know what the Elgin Marbles and the Rosetta Stone look like (or how to use Google), so I'll skip those and just share these two paintings that I adored in the National Gallery.

Portrait of a Lady by Alesso Baldovinetti (1465)
Her dress (or at least the sleeve embroidery)
 may now be on my wish list.
Saint Peter Martyr by Carlo Crivelli (1476)
He was, of course, murdered by both a sword and a

I don't seem to have any photos of our third day.  We spent the morning attending mass at St. Paul's (an excellent way to get in free to churches) and the afternoon visiting the Museum of London.  This was a recommended museum from two different colleagues of mine, both saying it was their favorite London museum, and it didn't disappoint.  Much less crowded than any of the others, it was a really well done history museum--and it was free (though so are most major London Museums).

After our three days tramping around London, it was on to Bath, because how could I not?

Don't miss Eastbourne and Canterbury, the earlier posts in this series.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Our England Journey: Canterbury

After Eastbourne, we headed to Canterbury.

And our first stop was, of course, the cathedral.  We ended up spending a whole afternoon here, because as it turns out, there's a lot to see.  The grounds are fairly extensive and contain, among other things, Roman ruins and a boys boarding school.  Canterbury Cathedral is more than just the cathedral.  Who knew?

While we were visiting, an organist was practicing and I got to sit and listen to the most beautiful music reverberate through me and everything else.  It was a really lovely afternoon.

Of course, we took a lot of photos, because it's STUNNING.

Funny faces on the ceiling of the courtyard.

A side chapel

Looking up into the tower.

The next day we explored St. Augustine's Abbey, which served as a Catholic monastery for almost 1000 years until King Henry VIII came along and got rid of most of the abbey's in England, seizing the property for the crown.  An aspect of the English Reformation I hadn't previously considered. After it was dissolved, part of the abbey became a manor house for awhile while much of the rest was torn down and sold off. Now, there are only ruins; but if you do visit Canterbury, the audio guide makes a visit to the Abbey well worth it.

You could just see the tower of Canterbury Cathedral.
That was pretty much it for Canterbury, as we only stayed one night.  Next up, London!

If you haven't yet, feel free to check out the first post in this series on Eastbourne.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Our England Journey: Eastbourne

Ever since we moved to the Netherlands three years ago, I've wanted to do a proper holiday in England. Last year I went to London for a day and a half, and we spent a week in Manchester where Dan had a conference, but I wanted MORE.  And in July, it finally happened.

We started our trip in Eastbourne, along the southern coast (think white cliffs of Dover, but West of Dover). And technically we started our trip at Gatwick Airport, south of London, but were soon in Eastbourne.

Here we spent two days. On the first day, we traveled to Pevensey Castle--which is where William the Conqueror landed, sheltered, and prepared for the battle of Hastings in 1066. What you see there now wasn't actually what William saw (there were still Roman ruins on the site at the time), but it was interesting nonetheless.

And then we tromped through the countryside back to the adjoining town.  This is something so completely English that it seems really weird to Americans.  If you entered someone's paddock in, say, Montana with the intention of 'cutting through' to get where you're going, someone may either call the police or shoot you. But in England, you simply close the gate behind you and try to avoid the cow pies (and the very nearby cows (or sheep or whatever)).  It's really fantastic, once you get used to it.

Our second day was spent hiking along the coast, seeing some really beautiful limestone cliffs as we went, and getting pelted by rain.

In the next photo you can see the cafe where we sheltered for lunch.  We came in sopping wet (I had never stuck my face under a bathroom hand blow dryer before that day.  Oh the warmth was beautiful.) and demanding soup.  We chatted to the locals behind the counter about the weather and they assured us that this was a pretty normal day, that it wasn't bad weather until the sand on the beach (a good few stories below) started blowing up and hitting the windows.  Our soaked selves suddenly appreciated not being there on a 'bad' day.

A good view of some of the Seven Sisters, seven hills just west of where we ate lunch.

And I'm going to leave you with one last photo.  I don't normally take photos of my hotel room, but this one had a most interesting curtain.  I'm pretty sure Sully (the big blue one) from Monsters Inc. got into some shady business dealings with a mobster in Eastbourne and got skinned for his troubles. Not sure how he ended up a curtain though...maybe the mobster owned the hotel and other rooms had curtain-skins of other Monsters?