Category Archives: travel

Bath

I’ve been to Bath before, on my last trip to England, but it was part of a day long group tour to Bath AND Salisbury AND Stonehenge, so really I was there only a couple of hours, just long enough to see the Roman Baths.

But since I have done that, I skipped them on this trip.  First of all, my guest house, The Kennard, was wonderful. Highly, highly recommend it. Perfect location, in a quiet residential street that was within a short walk of Pultney Bridge. And the owners are SO nice and helpful. The morning I checked out, the husband came up to carry down my bags and get me a cab to the station. It’s a lovely old building, too, built in the 1700s, and comes with the coziest beds with down comforters!

The day I arrived, I just wandered around, taking pictures. With the gorgeous gold stone, it’s a very photogenic

This restaurant is a chain, because I saw one in several different cities. I don’t know…maybe it’s because I’m a gardener, and thus very familiar with slugs on lettuce, but I didn’t find this a particularly appetizing name!

The second day, I visited the Bath Fashion Museum. They have a HUGE collection of historical garments, of which only a very small percentage is on display at any given moment.

They also have modern-era clothing, including some by big name designers, but I only popped my head into those rooms. Not interested!  Although, this one did catch my eye:

Remember the stir Jennifer Lopez caused by wearing this? How funny to think it ended up here, in Bath!

Although the light and reflections made it difficult to take pictures, I was thrilled to see a dress by one of my favorite designers, Titanic survivor Lady Duff Gordon, aka Lucile!

Lady Duff Gordon was a fascinating woman – and she wrote an fascinating autobiography A Woman of Temperament. I highly recommend it!

Also at the Fashion Museum, I booked a 2 hour slot in their Study Facilites. It’s pretty amazing, really. Email ahead, and let them know what types of fashion you’re interested in, and they’ll pull pieces from their collection and let you handle them and take photos/sketches. If you’re interested in seeing what I looked at, more info on this is on my costuming blog.  https://dragonflydesignsbyalisa.wordpress.com/2016/05/26/bath-costumes/

For lunch, I had crepes at a little creperie around the corner from the Abbey. So good. I went for lunch again the following day! I took my crepes to go, and ate in the parade park, with the lovely views of Pultney Bridge.

In the late afternoon, I took a boat ride up the river. We were promised a sight of kingfishers, but none materialized. There were some really pretty houses along the river.

Instead of doing the trip back via boat, I went into the little village of Bathampton, and walked back to Bath along the canal.

I got back into Bath just in time to see Bath Abbey lit up into pure gold.

Magical.

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Glencoe and Loch Ness

I probably would have skipped this tour and spent more time in Edinburgh if I’d known what it was going to be like. I chose Rabbie’s because they offer smaller, more personal tours. With bus tours, a lot depends on the driver/guide you get, and I just didn’t really get on with my guide. He didn’t talk enough during the drive – I love a guide that just tells you everything about the country and the history you’re passing through. This guy was more into playing music, which would have been ok, if he’d stuck to Scottish music, and didn’t keep veering off into random music like Pink Floyd. (That was when he really lost me…I hate Pink Floyd. Nails on a chalkboard…)

The largest horses in the world; who knew they lived in Scotland?

And I was just a bit underwhelmed by the scenery too. The Highlands are beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but they are so very much like where I live, in the Pacific Northwest.

Everyone else on the tour was oohing, and I was just…it looks like home. Yeah, by this time I was completely spoiled by all the things I’d already seen, in Iceland and elsewhere.

I don’t remember the name of the place those first three pictures were taken. Some loch on the way to Glencoe.

Glencoe, at least, did live up to my expectations of beauty. That is definitely a place worth going to. And different than home, yes!

And here’s an example though, of why I didn’t like my guide overly much. He told us basically nothing about the history of Glencoe. I knew the basics, of course, but I’m sure there are tons of fascinating details I don’t know – and in opinion, a guide shouldn’t assume his tour already knows even the basics.  I had perfect weather, again, and the guide did a great job of beating the large tours up here, so we got an unspoiled walkaround.

After Glencoe, we went to Loch Ness. I was super pleased with my guide here, because instead of taking us to one of the touristy, busy parts of the lake, he brought us to a little village whose name I have forgotten.  Queen Victoria came here, though, on her tour of the Highlands. She was eating her lunch on the deck of her boat when they came through the canal locks, and was very displeased by the rudeness of the villagers who all crowded around the banks to stare at her while she ate. In reality, though, it wasn’t to see her eat, but simply because they always gathered to watch boats pass through the locks.

I got to watch four boats go through the locks while I was there, and it was fascinating.

One thing that was on my must-do list was try a steak and kidney pie. I finally had my chance. I took it down to Loch Ness to eat.

It was good! I’m now a fan.

Loch Ness itself was very quiet and peaceful. I sat beside the water for almost an hour. So pretty. And so much like home.

From the Loch, there’s a canal through the village.

On the way back to Edinburgh, we stopped briefly in Pitlochry. It’s another village that Queen Victoria visited. Another solo girl from the tour and I foraged out together, first to find a restroom, and then ice cream. She had the familiar choice of raspberry. I tried the Traditional.

The girl (as we’re waiting for the clerk): “What flavor is that? Vanilla?”

The clerk: “No. It tastes like…like milk.”

The girl, making a disgusted face: “Milk????”

It was good. It did taste like milk, very very creamy rich milk. There was another flavoring in there, too, but I couldn’t identify what it was.

Continuing on in the bus, we had to stop for some hairy coos.

I was so delighted.

And so was everyone else on the bus.

Edinburgh 2015

My new favorite city in the whole world.

I boarded the sleeper train to Edinburgh at a little before midnight. Each car of the train has its own attendant, and mine was a super nice gentleman with a gorgeous Scottish accent. I think a Scottish accent is my favorite when it comes to men. (For women, it’s Welsh.)

I loved the sleeper train; I’d love to do it again. The motion of the rails was so relaxing. At about 6:30am, my attendant “knocked me up” and brought me breakfast – porridge with honey. Here’s a tip I have for traveling in the U.K.: carry little packets of salt in your pockets. I don’t know why, but no one pre-salts the food. French fries are unsalted, porridge is unsalted….I learned this pretty quickly, as they don’t include salt packets in Takeway orders, either.

But Edinburgh!

At 7am when they kicked me off the train, the city was pretty much devoid of tourists. It was all mine. I left my bags at my hotel, and went immediately to the Royal Mile. None of the shops were open yet, and I just walked down it, looking in all the windows. I just felt so happy here, like I’d found a place where I really belonged.

If I ever come to the UK again, I’m bypassing London, and flying directly into Edinburgh. Edinburgh was another of my Five Best Experiences.

There were several old churchyards, and of course I wandered through them.

I visited the Elephant House, where JK Rowling wrote much of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

It is justly named the elephant house. There are elephants everywhere inside. Big ones, medium sized ones, and a display case of little ones…and a signed first edition of Rowling’s first book. Plus, a personal thank-you note from her to the cafe.

I visited St. Giles Cathedral, which I liked so much more than Westminster Abbey.

Here, the stained glass was gorgeous and within reach.

It was just much warmer, and more welcoming. But still awe-inspiring.

The St. Giles churchyard was where Rowling used to wander for inspiration. Many of her characters’ names are taken directly from the gravestones. Including Tom Riddle’s.

One of the most haunted places in the world is here, at the Mackenzie mausoleum, home to a violent poltergeist.

All was peaceful when I was there.

Loved the grave art.

The architecture in Edinburgh is so spiky and beautiful. I found myself just repeating “I love it here” over and over inside my head as I walked around.

There are famous dogs,

and pigs I’ve never heard of.

And everywhere, cunning little “closes” or alleys.  I took an interactive tour of The Real Mary King’s Close, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Incredibly informative about Edinburgh’s early days.

The other really amazing thing was Holyrood Palace. Besides being still a lived-in palace by the British monarchy, it was Mary Queen of Scot’s palace. I saw the place where her jealous husband and his friends dragged her male secretary out of her breakfasting room and stabbed him 50+ times in front of her. History gets real when you’re actually standing in it!

Let us talk of graves, of worms, and ephitaphs. Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth. Let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings. How some have been deposed, some slain in war, some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed. Some poisoned by their wives, some sleeping killed, all murdered.

Richard II, Shakespeare

 

Westminster, Kensington, Victoria & Albert

Today Alberta left us to go back to Iceland, while Bonnie and I spent one more day in London together.

For me, this day was one of the least exciting days of my whole trip. I did like visiting Queen Elizabeth I’s tomb in Westminster Abbey, but otherwise, the Abbey largely left me feeling really underwhelmed.

I think part of it that I have such a love for stained glass – and you’d think I’d love the Abbey, because it has the largest collection of stained glass in England. But the thing is, the church is so huge, and the glass windows are so high up, that it’s not at all the same sort of glorious experience as I had at Salisbury Cathedral the last time I was in England. In Salisbury Cathedral, the glass windows surround you completely, and when the sun shines in through them, you feel like you’re inside a jewel box of pure heavenly light.  The Abbey just can’t compare to that experience.

I did like all the cool/weird/freaky carved faces. Which I can’t show you, because the Abbey doesn’t allow interior photography. The only pictures they allow are in the cloisters.

After the Abbey, we went to Kensington Palace. This, also, was a bit of a disappointment, because it used to have some of my very favorite historical fashion on display, but they had taken all of those away. What was up in its stead was lovely, but not what I really would have liked to see.

There was a very sparse collection of Queen Victoria items.  Some of her less-appealing clothing:

Some of her jewelry and items such as this mourning handkerchief:

And her paint box and some original artwork:

There were also some historical fashions made entirely out of paper. Cool enough, but as splendid as seeing Victoria’s wedding dress would have been!  Sigh.

Afterward, Bonnie and I said goodbye, as I was going on to the V&A museum, and then directly on to the train station for my sleeper train to Edinburgh, while she would be spending one more day in London, then traveling to Paris.

I don’t know…I was honestly expecting much more from the V&A as well. I didn’t see much in the costuming area that I really loved. I kept comparing it to the much more incredible British Museum and wishing I’d gone back there, instead.

My favorite part of the whole museum was a section I wandered into completely by accident – the plaster reproductions floor.

All the plaster casts were just so huge and impressive.  Like Trajan’s Column.  Wow.

And this. I don’t remember what it was, but it was beautiful.

I planned to stay at the V&A until they closed at 10pm, but after a couple of hours there, they brought in a DJ and he started playing the most horrible music. I couldn’t enjoy looking at any of the art while that racket was going on, so I just went early to the train station.  I was quite ready to leave London and travel to someplace new!

 

Warner Bros. Studio Tour – Harry Potter!

One of the most amazing things I did was visit the Warner Bros. Studio Tour. It’s a vast, incredible collection of about every costume and prop used in the Harry Potter films, as well as many of the actual film sets.  If you’re in the London area, it’s a must-see.

This was one of my top five best experiences, as well. Before I even got inside, they started playing the film music, and my friend Bonnie and I just instantly broke out in goosebumps!

As a costumer, there were a few of the costumes I was especially looking forward to seeing in person…this one, the Grey Lady, is one I’ll be attempting to reproduce, as close to screen accurate as possible.

The detail on it is so beautiful.

I also got extremely close to Jason Isaacs.  Well…his hair, anyway.

The full sets were amazing – especially when you consider that these are the real thing, not a reproduction like in Universal’s Wizarding World.

The detail was astounding.

Look! There’s the sorting hat!

Voldemort is alive!!!

Some of the effects where amazing. This is not real fire, although it looked exactly like real fire. Light and vapor. Incredible.

So many things had animations.

The most surreal experience was Diagon Alley. So perfect, down to the smallest detail.

(The pictures of me were taken by Bonnie.)

The filming model of Hogwarts was immense.

But when you got up close, every detail was finished.

It left me wanting so badly to just run through onto Platform 9 3/4.

And board the Express to Hogwarts.

I had to settle for some Butterbeer. It tastes like cream soda, with a very thick, sweet, and mustache-making topping. Seriously, it’s impossible to drink without getting a ‘stache.

And some shopping. Even the store was immense. If it had anything to do with Harry Potter, it was here.

And it was decorated with wonderful things!

I took over 500 pictures at the Studio; if you’re interested, you can find them here.

Daytrip to Oxford

After we returned from Leeds Castle, Alberta and I met up with our other friend, Bonnie. We took the train to Oxford.

I just love the expressions these stones have.

 

The English Bridge of Sighs.

The Bodleian Library. It was closed, so we only saw the outside.

 

We got a late start, so we didn’t get as much time in Oxford as I would have liked. Ideally, I would have taken at least a couple of days. It’s a beautiful place, and all the colleges had gorgeous architecture.

There was only one college I was truly interested in, though: Magdalen College, where C.S. Lewis lived and worked. Lewis is on the very short list of people who I consider to be a personal hero. And he’s probably the person who has done the most toward forming my creativity and imagination.  I feel incredibly sorry for anyone who didn’t have the experience of reading the Narnia books as a child – and then again, as an adult.  I’ve long lost count of how many times I’ve read the series. It would total in the hundreds, I’m sure, and I still re-read them on regular basis. They are incredible works of genius.

 

The place did not disappoint. Besides the obvious beauty, I could almost feel the memory of Lewis’ presence there.

The highlight of the entire trip to Oxford – and indeed, almost of my entire month-long trip – was walking Addison’s Walk.

You leave the college through black iron gates, and follow a path alongside the canal.  This is where J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis walked and talked.  This is where, I have no doubt, Narnia was born.

There are seats to rest awhile and think. In wood,

and stone,

and if you’re a duck, there is a house for you upon the canal, safe from foxes.

Being here, walking here, was one of the five best moments of the whole trip.

The chapel at Magdalen was beautiful too, but I especially loved this stained glass window.

Afterwards, we had the best fish & chips I’ve eaten anywhere (the batter was super crispy!) at a place called The Four Candlesticks.

(Bonnie took this picture of Alberta and I, as well as the following color pictures. Alberta took the b&w picture of me on Addison’s Walk.)

 

Oxford is on my list of places I’d like to revisit someday. Only next time, I’ll stay over at least one night, so I can wake up early and go out walking. That’s the magical time to visit a city like this…early, when it’s just you and a few locals.

 

Leeds Castle & Owls

In the morning, I took a backstage tour of The Royal Opera House. I wasn’t allowed to take photos, but if you’re ever in London, I highly recommend it. Fascinating tour – they do absolutely everything on site, from creating the costumes from scratch, to making sets and props, to ballet class, to…well. Let’s just say that complex is HUGE. All these massive underground levels, each painted a different color so people won’t get lost quite so frequently. Here’s a video showing how the amazing stage works. It’s just so cool.

I wish we had been able to see more of the costume department, but I did get to see the dyeing/distressing room, with its massive vats of dye and their newest machine – one that can print any design on any fabric. It was cool.

Next, I met my friend Alberta at Victoria Station, and we traveled together to Leeds Castle. They have a B&B in the old stable, and it’s so beautiful. Quite luxurious!

The view out the window was so pretty.

The time I spent at Leeds Castle was really the only bad weather I had, during the entire trip. It rained pretty much the entire two days. Sometimes just a drizzle, other times a complete downpour. It was still lovely.

The gardens around the stables were spectacular, even though it was September, and a bit past the garden prime time. Lots of espaliered fruit trees, too…including pears.

There were acres of land to wander in, and I wish the weather had been finer so I would have.

There were also tons of birds, everywhere. Wild birds, like falcons and owls, and tame birds.

There were peahens there – although oddly, not a single peacock that we ever saw. And the peahens had chicks! So cute. I wish I’d been able to get a better pic.

Since we were “living” there, we had free access to all parts of the grounds, and also to the castle itself.

Though it had obviously been completely redone since her day, I loved that Queen Catherine of Aragon once lived here, and slept in this very room. It’s always fascinating to walk through the same places where these historical people I’ve read about all my life once walked, and touch the same stone walls that once they touched.

This room was my favorite, though. I think you can guess why!

It had the nicest little window seat nooks for reading in.

But what I really came to Leeds Castle for was their Owl Experiences. The night/morning before, it poured. Poured. I was very freaked out that they would have to cancel on me. But by ten o’clock, the weather had cleared to a sporadic drizzle, and we were good to go.

I met my falconer, Reece, and he introduced me to all 26 birds of prey Leeds has – not just the owls.

I love how the UK falconry laws work. The birds are not captured wild, like in the States. They are captive-bred, and the falconer gets the chicks when they are just a few days old. He brings them home, into his house with him, and bonds/imprints with them. Reece said that the first time he brought an Owl chick home, he was still living with his parents, and they were a little concerned about having an owl living with them. He left the chick in her cage while he went out to run an errand, and told them: “You can take her out if you want, or just leave her alone.”  He came home to find his dad asleep on the couch in front of the tv…with the owl cuddled into his neck, also asleep. After that, they had no problem with owls!

This is Coco. She’s still a baby herself, and the youngest owl they currently have.

Coco didn’t yet know how to fly to her handler’s glove, but she was perfectly happy to sit on my glove, and have her head scratched. She was so unbelievably soft and sweet! When I petted her, she would just close her eyes in complete happiness.

I flew about six different owls during the Experience. One was very tiny.

But the other owls ranged in size all the way up to an Eagle Owl. (My thanks to Alberta, for taking these next photographs!)

Even the largest of the owls, though, was super light when they landed on my glove. And they all liked to be petted and even snuggled.

This was one of those experiences that is so worth the money. And it’s one that’s impossible to do in the States. Our laws regarding birds of prey (and all birds, really) are draconian, and the reasons why are outdated.  Do you know that you cannot legally possess a single bird feather that you might find while walking down the street? No, that’s illegal, unless it’s a feather from a pigeon, a starling, or a couple other birds. I’ve heard of people who have rescued a baby crow, only to have the crow taken away from them and killed by the State.  People who abuse animals should be more harshly punished than they are, but people who care for animals properly shouldn’t be punished for keeping an “illegal” animal. And those who say owls don’t make good companions because they don’t like human contact, well, that’s just stupid. And proven wrong in the first five second of my owl experience. Keeping an owl shouldn’t be any different than keeping, say, a horse. Both are animals that require money, experience, specialized care, and could be dangerous if mishandled. Let’s just ban all the animals! And if you want to spend a couple of hours in an adorable time-suck, just go onto YouTube and search for pet owls.

Okay, ranting on the stupid US laws aside, this was one of the best days I’ve had, and will be a treasured memory. And if I ever go back to the UK, I’m totally doing it again.