Meandering About the Cotswolds

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Blenheim Palace and Chipping Campden

Born at a high society party, 2 months premature in the cloak room of his ancestor’s palace, Winston Churchill entered the world at Blenheim Palace as an infant much talked about. He spent much of his childhood there, raised by his grandmother on generous affection and a family history of military success stories. Even at a young age his oratory skills, love of words and art hinted at intelligence, much to the delight of his doting Grannie.

Blenheim Palace in the beautiful Cotswolds rivals Vienna’s Schoenberg Palace and Paris’s Versailles for its royal grandeur and extensive gardens.  We popped in for a thorough visit on our way through, arriving at our Cotswold B&B just in time for a quick shower before dining on local lamb at the famous 400 year old Ebrington Pub. Temperatures climb with the sunshine and the air feels like May ought to. And English hospitality is at its best.

Just for fun, I’ve included a couple of creative alternatives for those iconic (but obsolete) red telephone booths London is famous for.

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Bath

First that photo from St. James Park in London. Remember? The commanding views of Buckingham Palace?

Monday morning, we left Paddington Station by train and 90 minutes later, disembarked in Bath. Today we’ve explored the city (about the size of Nanaimo) and hit the major tourist attractions: Roman Baths, Bath Abbey and the Royal Crescent Apartments on the Circus.

The weather is changeable — about 15 degrees C but the people are warm, the food delicious and the gardens tidy, awaiting their annual planting. Everything is lovely and we’re enjoying ourselves immensely.

The photo below displays a butterfly exhibit symbolizing the swarms of beautiful immigrants landing on British soil and bringing with them the distinctive uniqueness inherent in diversity. The sign reads, “Don’t be pro-Palestinian, don’t be pro-Israeli, be pro-justice.”

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London, at Last

We left under sunny skies by ferry (and spotted a breaching orca on the way) to Vancouver, then hopped on the 9 hour flight to Gatwick, found our way by train into Victoria Station and walked 6 minutes to the Luna Simone Hotel in the City of Westminister. All in a day’s travel.

After dropping our carry-on at the hotel, we rounded the corner of Belgrave Street for a hearty English Sunday dinner at Grumbles. Then napped for a couple of hours, walked St. James Park with its commanding views of Buckingham Palace (where the Queen is in residence) and then retired for the evening back at the hotel. The temperatures are warm, the air fragrant with blossoms and the sunshine puts a golden glow on every little thing. Oh, it’s good to be here!

The loose itinerary is this: 18 days in the UK, 8 days aboard the Queen Mary II from Southampton to New York City, then 5 days in the Big Apple. We won’t have internet on the ship but while we do, I plan to use this space for photo sharing. You are most welcome to travel along.

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Kenmare, Parknasilla and the Ring of Kerry

We left Kilkenny early to beat the traffic on the Ring road and found it harrowing just the same. Apparently, the roads to come are even narrower and so we rested up, and lunched on local ingredients in Kenmare — a cozy little tourist town en route — and visited our first Stone Circle.

No one knows exactly why the 15 stones sit in a circle just outside town, or why the centre stone is larger than the rest. No one could tell us who arranged the stones or when they were set down. Archaeologists say evidence suggests that 4,500 years ago the stone circle served some ritual purpose for the pagan religion of the day — something tied to the worship of the sun since the shadows from the stones fall into alignment on the summer and winter solstice. Today, they bring in a little tourist revenue, which would come as a surprise to the ancients who once lived here, I’m sure.

We arrived at Parknasilla mid-afternoon and enjoyed walking the grounds along the sea shore. I came upon a fairy trail and found some darling little houses, just the size of the folk that inhabit these parts. Tomorrow on to Dingle!

Kenmare

Kenmare

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Parknasilla

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Parknasilla

Parknasilla

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Fairy Folks

Fairy Folks

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To Kilkenny

We’ve heard it rains a lot in Ireland and that’s why I felt disappointed in myself for leaving my rain jacket on Pender Island last weekend. As it turns out, I haven’t needed it. The weather has been warm and balmy with wood smoke in the air and no rain to speak of. At dinner last night we chatted with our waiter who is from Dingle, on the wet west coast, and he assured us that rain it would. “You can count on it.” Every. Other. Day.

So we stopped in at a department store called Dunnes when we arrived in Kilkenny and found an inexpensive waterproof slicker, just in case. The Irish tell me that just because I did, it will rain. But they also believe in fairies.

The ride from Dublin to the Rock of Cashel was lovely — lush and green. The toll highway was an easy go. If you’re in Ireland, I recommend stopping at the Rock. What a setting! And the history is pretty fascinating too. Located on the highest point of the Plain of Tipperary (we were reminded that it’s a long way here) the Rock was the seat of ancient royalty from 300-1100 CE and then served the church. The architecture is early Christian, Romanesque, and Gothic so the place feels a little like a giant’s home renovation. The graveyard is still in use today and the Celtic crosses are some of the best preserved we’ve seen to date.

Next we took to the side roads on our way to Kilkenny to see its famous castle. My man put on his Mario Andretti hat, driving on the opposite side of the road, swerving tight around the corners, hugging the hedgerows so-to-speak, and brought us safely to our accommodation. But not without some nail biting from his navigator. Even the hotelier remarked on the crazy drivers in this part of her island.

We ate Italian, walked the castle grounds, took in the cute touristy shopping district, and headed back to our room to attend to some housekeeping duties. A great day and we’re ready for the sack!

The Rock of Cashel

The Rock of Cashel

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Family Day

Family Day

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Sites around Fair Dublin

Ireland is the known for its storytelling and so we headed to the Brazen Head Pub last evening for dinner theatre entitled Food, Folk and Fairies! The food was from the farm and hearty, Irish stew, thick bread and pie for dessert, and the entertainment quintessentially Irish! This morning when I opened my email, I had a note from the storyteller, who included 3 of his favourite fairy tales. I’m excited to bring them home for my grandkids.

Today we took in Trinity College and the Book of Kells (containing the four gospels in high monastic art), visited the Chester Beatty Library where my eyes feasted on the earliest surviving manuscripts of the gospel writers and the Apostle Paul. For those who care, they were P44 & P45 Codex. The very resources I used in my exegesis paper last fall.

We shopped a bit, walked a lot, dined at a lovely Parisienne restaurant for lunch, strolled around Kilmainham gaol imaging what Ireland must have been like in its revolutionary days.

It will be an early start tomorrow to Kilkenny by car so we are off to bed.

 

Dublin Castle Herb Garden

Dublin Castle Herb Garden

Lunch stop

Lunch stop

 

Trinity College

Trinity College

 

Kilmainham Gaol

Kilmainham Gaol

Chester Beatty Library

Chester Beatty Library

Georgian Architecture and Window Boxes

Georgian Architecture and Window Boxes

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Dublin

Here we are in Ireland’s fair Dublin — strolling the cafe lined streets, taking in the Georgian architecture and appreciating subtleties and varieties of the colour green. Our accommodation, The Schoolhouse Hotel, sits on the edge of a small river known as the Grande Canal, lined with willows and maples. Stone bridges and locks offer pedestrians opportunity to meander from bank to bank and cyclists in Fleet Street suits weave in and out on their to who knows where. People stroll through the garden space — St. Stephen’s Green — a pastoral sanctuary away from the hubbub of traffic and construction. We are in Dublin, the seat of English control for 750 years in Ireland. Independence was hard won and evidence is everywhere.

Tomorrow we’ll take in the major sites: Trinity College, Chester Beatty Library, Kilmainham Gaol, and eat dinner at the Brazen Head Pub then finish with some Irish theatre.

First impressions? The people are friendly, the city has young vibe with its university crowd, and there is a lot to learn from one of the oldest settlements in Europe. And now for bed.

Schoolhouse Hotel

Schoolhouse Hotel

 

Schoolhouse Hotel Entrance

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Good to be Home

“‘Come on, John,’ he said, ‘the longer we look at it, the less we shall like it.'” CS Lewis, The Pilgrim’s Regress

Every time I walk the long corridor toward the open door to the long tube I will spend a day sitting in, taken high up into the clouds in, waiting and waiting in, I like it less. But considering the miracle of flight — and the distance I can cover in an extraordinarily short time — not to mention that my generation possesses the opportunity to light into the air like the birds, I can’t justifiably complain. It was a 10 hour flight from Charles de Gaulle to YVR and the time flew with me.

We are home on our little Island in the sun. My garden delivered up a large bowl full of ripe strawberries this morning. The potatoes compete with the garlic and the weeds have adopted an attitude of permanence, thinking they can hide from me. All is lush and lively in my tiny subdivision-sized plot.

Oh, it’s good to be home!

 

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Spires and Turrets

“Then I dreamed that they came in sight of the city, very old, and full of spires and turrets, all covered with ivy…” CS Lewis, The Pilgrim’s Regress

Park Guell isn’t old, but it is full of spires and turrets, all covered with lush gardens — a vision and architectural wonder — another of Gaudi’s creations. A Humanist, the father of Modernista and a devout Catholic, Gaudi drew on the Catalan culture, Creation and Christianity for inspiration. His friendship with Eusebi Guell was the catalyst for the project, which was built initially as an estate for wealthy families. Due to lack of interest and the difficult terrain, it failed as a residential building and was opened to the public as a park in 1926. In 1984 it was named a UNESCO Heritage site and welcomes visitors from all over the world.

The metro is on strike today so we hailed a cab and arrived a little early to take in the gardens. As we climbed the staircase up the mountainside, vendors laid their wares — mosaic geckos and elephants, necklaces, scarves — on white blankets (a quick and easy way to “scoop and hide” for when the police make their rounds). Buskers played jazz and Spanish guitar, hordes of tourists couldn’t decide where to point their cameras, and the sky threatened rain. My impressions of Park Guell? I felt as if I were inside a live exhibit, not viewing it objectively, but a part of the creation itself. I wonder if that’s what Gaudi intended — that through imaginative participation we continue to be drawn to God.

It’s our last day of touring in Spain and we have loved being here, learning about the culture, tasting the foreign dishes of octopus, sea bream, pintxos, and experiencing a culture that lives out loud. We will miss the spontaneous singing in the streets, the double kisses of greeting, and the siestas but we’re ready to board the train for a 6 hour ride to Paris tomorrow. Adios, Barcelona!

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