Tag: UK Travel

21 New UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Part 2

21 New UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Part 2

For my post on the first ten new UNESCO World Heritage sites, click here.

11. Taputapuātea, center of the “Polynesian Triangle”, French Polynesia

The Marae, or burial site of Taputapuatea in French Polynesia - one of the new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The marae of Taputapuātea.

Taputapuātea on Ra’iatea Island is part of the Polynesian Triangle – the last part of the globe to be settled by humans. The property includes two forested valleys, a portion of lagoon and coral reef and a strip of open ocean. At the heart of the property is the Taputapuātea marae complex – a political, ceremonial and funerary center. The site has a paved courtyard with a large standing stone at its center. Widespread in Polynesia, the marae were places of learning where priests and navigators from all over the Pacific would gather to offer sacrifices to the gods and share their knowledge of the genealogical origins of the universe, and of deep-ocean navigation. Taputapuātea is an exceptional testimony to 1,000 years of mā’ohi civilization.

12. Tarnowskie Góry, lead-silver-zinc mine, Poland

The mines of Tarnowskie Góry and the underground water system there - are one of the new UNESCO World a Heritage sites.
Today, you can tour the mines of Tarnowskie Góry.

Southern Poland contains one of the main mining areas of central Europe.  The site at
Tarnowskie Góry includes the entire underground mine with adits, shafts, galleries and even a water management system. According to UNESCO, Tarnowskie Góry represents a significant contribution to the global production of lead and zinc.

According to legend, in 1490 a local peasant-farmer named Rybka found a strange, heavy, metallic stone while plowing the field near village of Tarnowice. He presented his find to a local priest; within three decades the town became the largest silver mining center in the area. Its population rivaled in size some of the major cities of the Renaissance world. Prospectors were coming from all corners of the continent, some as far as Spain. They were spurred on by the massive amount and quality of ore, so high that on many occasions it was said to be practically pure, metallic silver. Silver, lead and zinc were bountiful in these grounds and the evidence of an early metal production dates back to at least 3rd century AD. Sadly, in the beginning of the 20th century, the source of the silver ore dried out and the mining stopped completely.

13. Sambor Prei Kuk temple zone, Cambodia

The temples of Sambor Prei Kurt, Cambodia are one of the 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
A temple in Sambor Prei Kuk

Sambor Prei Kuk is a Khmer name meaning “the temple in the richness of the forest.” The archaeological site has been identified as Ishanapura, capital of the Chenla Empire that flourished there in the late 6th/early 7th centuries. The vestiges of the city cover an area of over 15 square miles and include a walled city center as well as numerous temples. Ten of the temples are octagonal, unique specimens of their kind in southeast Asia. Decorated sandstone elements in the site include lintels, pediments and colonnades – they are true masterpieces. The art and architecture developed here became models for other parts of the region and lay the ground for the unique Khmer style of the Angkor period.

 

14. English Lake District, United Kingdom

The Lake District in England is one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Located in northwest England, the English Lake District is a mountainous area whose valleys have been modeled by glaciers in the Ice Age. From the 18th century onwards, the Picturesque and Romantic movements celebrated this area in paintings, drawings and words. It also inspired an awareness of the importance of beautiful landscapes and triggered early efforts to preserve them. Interestingly, only one of the lakes in the Lake District is called by that name, Bassenthwaite Lake. All the others – such as Windermere, Coniston Water, Ullswater and Buttermere – are meres, tarns and waters.

15. Valongo Wharf, archeological site, Brazil

The Valongo Wharf in Rio de Janeiro is one of 21 new UNESCORTED World Heritage sites.
The Valongo Wharf, now surrounded by the city of Rio de Janeiro.

Valongo Wharf Archaeological Site encompasses the entirety of Jornal do Comércio Square in the center of Rio. It was the landing site and center of trading of African slaves from 1811 until the banning of the transatlantic slave trade in 1831. An estimated 900,000 Africans arrived in South America via Valongo.

16. Venetian Works of Defense, Croatia, Italy, Montenegro

The Venetian defense work of the 15th-17th centuries are one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Aerial view of the Venetian defense system in Palmanova, Italy.

This property consists of 15 components of defense works in Italy, Croatia and Montenegro, spanning more than 600 miles between the Lombard region of Italy and the eastern Adriatic Coast. The fortifications throughout Venice and its mainland territories protected the Republic of Venice from other European powers to the northwest. Those of Venice’s overseas territories protected the sea routes and ports in the Adriatic Sea to the Levant. They were necessary to support the expansion and authority of Venice. The introduction of gunpowder led to significant shifts in military techniques and architecture. These changes are reflected in the design of alla moderna bastioned fortifications, which spread throughout Europe.

17. ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape, South Africa

The Khomari Cultural Landscape of Botswana and South Africa is one of 21 new UNESCORTED World Heritage site.
Bushmen in the ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape

The ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape is located at the border between Botswana and Namibia. The area contains evidence of human occupation from the Stone Age to the present. They developed specific knowledge, cultural practices and worldview related to the geographical features of their environment. The ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape bears testimony to the way of life that prevailed in the region over thousands of years. In fact, a set of tools almost identical to that used by the present-day inhabitants of the area was discovered at Border Cave in 2012. Those tools dated to 44,000 BC!

18. Landscapes of Dauria, Mongolia, Russia

Dauria Landscape, an area in Russia and Mongolia, is one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
A Daurian hedgehog.

Shared between Mongolia and the Russian Federation, Dauria is a sea of grass that forms the best and most intact example of an undisturbed steppe ecosystem. Because of the climate’s distinct wet and dry periods, Dauria contains a wide diversity of species. The steppes serve as habitats for rare species of animals, such as the White-Naped crane and the Great bustard, as well as millions of vulnerable, endangered or threatened migratory birds. It is also a critical site on the migration path for the Mongolian gazelle.

The region has given its name to various animal species including Daurian hedgehog, and the following birds: Asian brown flycatcher (Muscicapa daurica), Daurian jackdaw, Daurian partridge, Daurian redstart, Daurian starling, Daurian shrike and the red-rumped swallow (Hirundo daurica).

19. Los Alerces National Park, Argentina

Los Alerces National Park in Argentina is one of 21 new UNESCORTED World Heritage sites.

Los Alerces National Park is located in the Andes Mountains of northern Patagonia. The park is vital for the protection of some of the last portions of continuous Patagonian Forest. A number of endemic and threatened species of flora and fauna make the park their home. The park was created in 1937 in order to protect the alerce forest, and other plants of the Patagonian Andes. The National Park has the largest alerce forest of Argentina. The slow growing alerce is one of the longest-living trees in the world; some in the park are around 3,000 years old, with many of them over 1,000 years.

20. Qinghai Hoh Xil, China

Qinghai Hoh Xil in China is one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Qinghai Hoh Xil is the largest and highest plateau in the world. This extensive area of alpine mountains and steppe systems is situated more than 4,500 m above sea level, where sub-zero average temperatures prevail all year round. Despite the harsh climate, Hoh Xil is home to more than 230 species of wild animals, 20 of which are under Chinese state protection.  Protected species include the wild yak, wild donkey, white-lip deer, brown bear and the endangered Tibetan antelope, or chiru. The abundant plateau pika, a small burrowing rodent, is the main food of the region’s brown bears; the bears also feed on the yak and antelope.

21. Historic city of Ahmedabad, India

The historic walled city of India is one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage site.
Entrance to Bhadra Fort in Ahmedabad

The walled city of Ahmedabad, founded in 1411 by Sultan Ahmad Shah presents a rich architectural heritage from the sultanate period. This is nowhere more evident than in the Bhadra citadel, the walls and gates of the city, and numerous mosques and tombs. The city consists of densely-packed traditional houses in gated streets with features such as bird feeders, public wells and religious institutions. The city continued to flourish as the capital of the State of Gujarat for six centuries, up to the present.

8 Amazing Airbnb Homes

8 Amazing Airbnb Homes

Airbnb’s Most Amazing Homes

Sometimes picking a place to stay when we travel is as much fun as planning where to go and what to see.  There are some truly amazing homes available on Airbnb that you can rent.  They’re so good, they’ll make you want to book the place to stay and then plan your trip around its location, instead of vice versa!

1. The Seashell House – Isla Mujeres, Mexico

airbnb most amazing homes

This home in a gated community on Isla Mujeres seems like it was made from two giant shells.  In fact, shells dominate the decor inside the house as well. The plumbing fixtures are also shells, pouring out water into the sink and shower.

airbnb most amazing homes

Shells are also built into the walls both inside and outside the house, and the property features a stunning view of the water. Isla Mujeres is a small island off the Yucatan Peninsula, and the closest airport is Cancun. The property includes a private pool, two king beds, kitchenette, wifi, and air conditioning. The rental fee for the Seashell House is from $308 per night, and it sleeps a maximum of four people in two bedrooms. The property has received 131 reviews with an average rating of 5 stars. Click here to see its listing on Airbnb.

2. Underground Hygge – Orondo, WA

airbnb most amazing homes

This Hobbit-inspired home is nestled right into the mountainside of the breathtaking Columbia River Gorge. The doorway and windows are round, providing renters with an amazing view of the surrounding countryside.

airbnb most amazing homes

The house is outfitted with many natural elements – the floor appears to be made of log slices, the fireplace and chimney are made of stone, the sink basin is made of well-preserved natural wood. It isn’t hard to imagine a peaceful little hobbit living here. Staying here does require a bit of a hike uphill to reach the property from the parking area, and I really wouldn’t recommend staying here if you’re claustrophobic at all. (The largest room is 7 ft 10 inches by 11 feet. Also, if booking in winter, you will need a vehicle with four wheel drive, as they do get a lot of snow December – March.  The property is available to rent from $250 per night, and it sleeps two. The property has received 185 reviews with an average rating of 5 stars. Click here to see its listing on Airbnb.

3. Skylodge – Calca, Peru

airbnb most amazing homes

For those who want their lodging to provide them with an unforgettable experience, there are the Skylodge Adventure Suites in Peru’s Cusco region.  We actually saw these from our train to Machu Picchu in May.  They are “transparent luxury capsules” that are attached to a mountainside in the Sacred Valley of Peru. This may be the only hotel that you have to climb a mountain (1300+ feet) to enter. I’m a little unclear about how the booking works. It appears as though you make a reservation for one person, but they say that maximum occupancy for the three pods is 12 people. Rates are from $462 per night, which includes a gourmet dinner with wine, transportation from Cuzco, professional bilingual guides, and breakfast in the morning. There is a strict cancellation policy, so be sure you are going to stay there before you book. The property has received 53 reviews with an average rating of 4.5 stars. Click here to see its listing on Airbnb.

4. The Cozy Palace Bamileke Suite – Marrakesh, Morocco

amazing airbnb homes morocco cozy palace

This gorgeous little place just oozes romance, with colorful tiles, arching doorways, and a four poster bed. It is a suite in a riad – a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard.

amazing airbnb homes cozy palace morocco

A skylight fills the bedroom with natural light, and the courtyard is the perfect place to relax.  Guests also have access to a rooftop terrace which provides excellent views.  The suite accommodates up to four people, and rents from just $42 per night!  The property has received 401 reviews with a 5-star average rating. Click here to see its listing on Airbnb.

5. Old Smock Windmill – Kent, England

How many people can say that they’ve slept in a windmill?  You can, if you rent this renovated windmill in the English county of Kent.

amazing airbnb homes old smock windmill kent england uk

You will have three floors at your disposal.  Each is furnished with modern conveniences while retaining the rustic look of a bygone era.

amazing airbnb homes old sock windmill kent england uk

Notable features and furnishings include a copper basin sink, walk in shower with under floor heating, gas wood-burning stove, and a patio/deck.  The rental fee for the Old Smock windmill is from $235 per night. Sleeps a maximum of four people in two bedrooms. The property has 154 reviews, with an average rating of 5 stars. Click here to view its Airbnb listing.

6.  San Giusto Abbey Tower – Tuscania, Italy

amazing airbnb homes san giusto abbey tower italy

Built in 1146, San Giusto is a medieval monastery located in a beautiful valley one hour north of Rome. The tower has been recently restored and decorated, taking into consideration the beauty and austerity of a 12th century building: medieval charm and modern comfort. 

amazing airbnb homes san giusto italy

As you can see above, the decor is very much in keeping with the building’s age and purpose. If you are looking for a luxurious, spa-like environment, this will not be what you want. On the other hand, if you want to feel like you’ve stepped back in time, you will probably enjoy this.  The apartment has 4 floors: living room and kitchen, 2 bedrooms (each with a bathroom) on the upper floors and a terrace that overlooks the valley. The tower rents from $184 per night and can accommodate up to four guests. The property has 64 reviews with an average rating of 5 stars. Click here to view its Airbnb listing.

7.  Jack Sparrow House – Cornwall, England

amazing airbnb homes jack sparrow cornwall england uk

If quirky and cozy is your thing, you will love this little house! (Have I mentioned that I think Cornwall is the most beautiful place on earth?  Why, yes, I have.) It consists of a comfortable room with a seating/kitchen area downstairs and a romantic bed on the second floor with beautiful views of Porthallow Bay.  

amazing airbnb homes jack sparrow house cornwall england uk
The cabin has been lovingly constructed with careful attention to detail. There is a toilet in the house, but shower facilities are located nearby in a converted horse trailer. The Jack Sparrow house rents from $134 per night and, needless to say, it can only accommodate two people. This property has 138 reviews with an average rating of five stars. Click here to view its Airbnb listing.

8. St Pancras Clock Tower – London, England

amazing airbnb homes st pancras clock tower london england uk

There’s a new place on my bucket list!  There are two Airbnb apartments located inside the clock tower above St Pancras International Station in London. It features a 30 ft high room in the tower overlooking many of London’s landmarks such as St Paul’s Cathedral.

amazing airbnb homes st pancras clock tower london uk

Not only is sleeping inside a clock tower a really cool experience, but the location of this clock tower is exceptionally convenient for visitors to London.  From there, you can walk to many of London’s sights, including the British Library, the British Museum, and the West End. The tower does not have bells, and road/rail noise is minimal; however, you should be aware that the windows are not curtained and light will stream in from sun and/or floodlights. The apartments accommodate up to four people and rent from $147 per night.  The property has received 341 reviews, with an average rating of five stars. Click here to view its listing.

If you haven’t tried Airbnb before, what are you waiting for?  This is just a small sampling of the unique and cozy homes available on their site.  Click here, and you’ll get $40 off your first Airbnb stay!

Buckingham Palace Opens New Exhibit of Royal Gifts

Buckingham Palace Opens New Exhibit of Royal Gifts

It’s Good to Be the Queen

During its summer opening (July 22 to October 1), the State Rooms of Buckingham Palace will hold an exhibit of over 250 items given to Queen Elizabeth II.

It is customary when heads of state from different countries meet for them to exchange gifts as a symbol of diplomacy. Because Queen Elizabeth II has reigned for over 65 years, she has received quite a few of these royal gifts. This exhibit highlights some of the more spectacular items she has received from over 100 different countries. The gifts are special not only because of their beauty and rarity, but in many cases they are also special because of who presented them to the queen. Many of the gifts were from notable world leaders (past and present), including US President Dwight D. Eisenhower, South African President Nelson Mandela, and President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China.

Here are some of the items that will be highlighted at the exhibit:

Vessel of Friendship (China)

buckingham palace exhibit royal gifts vessel of friendship china

This is a model of the treasure ship in which navigator and diplomat Zeng He sailed in the early 15th century. The prow of the ship features a dove and olive branch medallion, representing peace. The sides of the hull contain elements from Dunhuang frescoes, as well as traditional Chinese symbols of friendship and peace.

Yoruba Throne (Nigeria)

yoruba throne beaded chair nigeria buckingham palace royal gifts exhibit

The Yoruba people of Nigeria presented this throne to the Queen in 1956. Embroidering the beading and creating patterns for beadwork chairs and footstools is an important spiritual exercise for the Yoruba people. The designs denote many aspects of spiritual life – power, the past, the future and respect for ancestors and descendants. Beadwork and royalty were closely associated in this culture, so owning vast quantities of beads was considered a source of wealth and status. The wealthiest Yoruba kings employed craftspeople to embroider their clothing and other objects. These ornately-decorated pieces, in turn, became an important part of their regalia.

Totem Pole (Canada)

buckingham palace royal gifts exhibit canada totem pole

Another hand-crafted item, the First Nations of Canada’s north-west coast carved this totem pole. It features the mythical thunderbird at the top, with its wings outstretched. The aboriginal people of Canada believed that the bird brings thunder by flapping its wings.

Salt (Salt Island, British Virgin Islands)

buckingham palace royal gifts

Salt Island, part of the British Virgin Islands, used to pay tribute of a pound of salt every year on the monarch’s birthday. Over time, as salt became less valuable and more easily attained, the custom ceased. The Governor-General of the British Virgin Islands reintroduced this tradition in 2015, presenting this bag of salt for The Queen’s 90th Birthday. The bag features a scene of an islander collecting salt.

Coconut Baskets (Tonga)

buckingham palace royal gifts exhibit coconut baskets tonga

Queen Salote of Tonga presented these baskets to Queen Elizabeth II during her Commonwealth visit in 1953.  The baskets represent an industry that Queen Salote had re-established on the island of Tonga. Queen Salote endeared herself to the British public during Elizabeth II’s Coronation.  Leaving the Coronation service at Westminster Abbey in the rain, she insisted on riding in an open carriage, and rode back to Buckingham Palace waving to the crowds.

UPDATE: The exhibition is now closed.

An Italian Riviera Village… in Wales

An Italian Riviera Village… in Wales

Do you ever feel as though a vacation on the Italian Riviera is just an impossible dream? Well, if you live in the UK, the experience may be a lot easier than you think. Just go to Portmeirion, the Italian Riviera village located in Wales.

Portmeirion wales
The village of Portmeirion in Gwynedd, Wales

Sir Clough Williams-Ellis designed and built the village of Portmeirion in Gwynedd, Wales, between 1925 and 1975.  He was an architect and environmentalist who wanted to create a functional and attractive private village.  His purpose: to demonstrate how a naturally beautiful place could be developed without spoiling it. As a result, Portmeirion has the perfect combination of natural beauty and stunning architecture.

At Portmeirion, Williams-Ellis paid tribute to the atmosphere of the Mediterranean. While he repeatedly denied claims that Portmeirion was based on the Italian Riviera town of Portofino, he also said, “How should I not have fallen for Portofino? Indeed its image remained with me as an almost perfect example of the man-made adornment and use of an exquisite site.”

Portmeirion wales portofino italy comparison

The Village

At first glace, the village of Portmeirion seems larger than it really is. This effect is achieved by architectural designs that include arches, slopes and varying window sizes. Strolling through the area, you can admire the statues and other whimsical details that fill every nook with interest.

portmeirion wales battery square
Battery Square, Portmeirion

Battery Square contains guest accommodations, an aromatherapy spa and a café with outdoor tables on the cobbles – a great spot to grab a coffee, Mediterranean-style.

The  Hotel Portmeirion is the hub of the village’s quayside.

portmeirion hotel wales
Hotel Portmeirion, Quayside

In June 1981, fire gutted the hotel. It took nearly seven years to restore the hotel to its former glory.  Fortunately, however, the work was so well done that it received a Good Hotel Guide award for “Brilliant restoration of a great hotel.”  In the past, the Hotel has hosted notable people such as H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, and Noël Coward.

Nearby

Outside the main village but within the Portmeirion estate, there is a striking mansion known as Castell Deudraeth.

portmeirion castell deudraeth
Castell Deudraeth

The mansion has a stone façade, tall crenellations and Gothic flourishes.  But don’t let its exterior fool you.  Inside, you will find a hotel with 11 modernized guest rooms and suites.

So, if you fancy a taste of the Italian Riviera without actually going to Italy, maybe you should consider Portmeirion. Admission for a day visit costs £10-12.  Alternatively, you could stay overnight in the Hotel Portmeirion, Castell Deudraeth, or numerous self-catering cottages within the village.

For more information:

Flamborough Head, Yorkshire

Flamborough Head, Yorkshire

On our recent trip to England, I had a list of lesser attractions for us to see. They weren’t big enough to drive out of our way for, but they were interesting or scenic enough to add into our itinerary if we found ourselves with a little bit of extra time and happened to be in the area.

Flamborough Head was one such place.  I had seen pictures of white cliffs and a big lighthouse and thought, “Well, that will be a nice place to take a few pictures.”  I had no idea there was so much history attached to it.  As a result, I was pretty pleased that we had gone to check it out.

flamborough head old lighthouse chalk tower

We passed this chalk tower as we approached the Flamborough Head lighthouse.  Sir John Clayton built the tower in 1669 with the permission of King Charles II. It stands over 78 feet tall and would have had a coal or brushwood fire burning at the top. However, most historians agree that it was never actually lit. Perhaps the voluntary dues from passing sailors were insufficient to provide funding for it. The chalk tower is most likely the oldest surviving lighthouse in England.

When we arrived at the current lighthouse, Hubs took a moment to read the signs, and we got a little insight into the historical significance of the site:

In the middle of the American Revolution, on September 23, 1779, the Battle of Flamborough Head took place. The battle was a conflict between an American Navy squadron led by none other than John Paul Jones on the Bonhomme Richard, and two British escort vessels, the HMS Serapis and the Countess of Scarborough, which were protecting a large merchant convoy.

Battle of Flamborough Head

Jones’ initiated the conflict by engaging the Serapis in a violent gun battle. It seemed that a British victory would be inevitable because the Serapis was more heavily armed.

At one point in the battle, John Paul Jones’ ship collided with the Serapis, rendering both ships temporarily immobile. The British captain, a man by the name of Pearson, taunted Jones by asking if his ship had struck.  (This was a play on the word strike, which is also the term for lowering a ship’s flag as a sign of surrender – “striking the colors.”)

John Paul Jones’ response?  The famous quote, “I have not yet begun to fight!”

In the end, Jones claimed the victory, although he lost his ship in the process. Countless expeditions have looked for the wreckage of the Bonhomme Richard but none have met with success to date.

Samuel Wyatt, a noted architect, designed the current lighthouse at Flamborough Head.  Built in 1806, it held an oil lamp, which rotated by means of a clockwork motor.  The light was reportedly visible for 20 miles.  In 1925 authorities raised the lighthouse to its current height of 85 feet, which puts it 250 feet above the waves.

Flamborough Head Lighthouse

In addition to the impressive lighthouse, the view there was really beautiful.  Water lapped at the edges of the white cliffs and the North Sea stretched out in front of us as far as we could see.  It was the kind of place that you want to just stand and take it all in. So if you’re in the area and have a half hour or so to spare, stop by to soak up the history and the salt air.

Flamborough Head Cliffs

You can reach the Flamborough Head Lighthouse by way of Lighthouse Road (B1259) in Flamborough, Yorkshire, postcode YO15 1AR.

Travel Trivia

Travel Trivia

I often joke that I can remember a fact that I learned in fifth grade, yet I can’t remember why I walked into another room.  It’s not quite that bad, thankfully, but I do have a knack for holding on to useless knowledge.  So I thought I would share some of my favorite bits of travel trivia.  I hope you find them as interesting as I do!

  • One state in the US has more national parks than the other 4 – California is home to nine national parks. (Alaska is a close second with eight.)
  • The largest active volcano on earth is Mauna Loa, in Hawaii. Its last eruption was in 1984.
  • The Philippines has the only national flag flown differently depending on whether it is at war. The blue portion is on top in times of peace and the red portion is on top during war time.

philippines-flag travel trivia

  • At 5772 miles long, the Trans-Siberian Railway is the longest railway in the world. It crosses 3901 bridges.
  • The Republic of Nauru, an island nation in Micronesia, has no capital.
  • South Africa, by contrast, has three capital cities:  one administrative/executive, one legislative, and one judicial.  Fourteen other countries have two capitals.
  • Three countries in the world are completely surrounded by only one other country:  Lesotho, San Marino, and Vatican City. Lesotho lies within the country of South Africa, whereas San Marino and Vatican City are within Italy.
  • In the list of Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, only one still stands today – the Great Pyramid of Giza.

great_pyramid_of_giza travel trivia

  • Many people have heard that the city of Venice Italy is slowly sinking. However, it may surprise them to learn that Mexico City is also sinking – at 10 cm per year, a rate that is ten times faster than that of Venice.
  • The world’s oldest subway is London’s Underground. At its opening in 1863, it measured four miles long. Today, it is approximately 250 miles long.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these bits of travel trivia! If you have a fun fact to share, please comment below.

Same Language, Still Foreign: How to be a good traveler in the UK

Same Language, Still Foreign: How to be a good traveler in the UK

Over the years, I’ve made three (soon to be four) trips to the UK. There is a great degree of comfort in going there, because even though it’s a foreign country, there is no language barrier.  Going to the UK is easier than going to say, Germany, or China.

However.

It is not wise to get lulled into a false sense of security. Just because we speak the same language does not mean that we use the same names for everything. Nor does it mean that there won’t be cultural differences. Through doing some preparatory research before I traveled and making some mistakes, I learned that there are a few things one shouldn’t do in the UK if one wants to stay in the good graces of the natives.

  1. If you choose to wear one, do not refer to your waist pack as a “fanny pack.” On this side of the Atlantic, fanny is a rather adorable word for butt. On that side of the Atlantic, it’s a crude name for female genitalia.
    guide to uk travel fanny pack
  2. Likewise, do not gasp when you hear someone in the UK mention “fags” or “faggots.” They could be talking about a cigarette, a bundle of sticks, or even a meal.
  3. A zebra crossing in the UK would be called a crosswalk here. Hopefully you won’t actually see a herd of zebras crossing the street in London.
  4. If someone is spelling a word for you and they say zed, it’s a Z.
  5. Do not ask someone where the rest room or bathroom is. Instead, use the British term toilet or lavatory.
  6. When making a V or peace sign with your index finger and middle finger, take care to ensure that your palm is facing out, not toward yourself. If you make this gesture with the back of your hand facing out, it is the American equivalent of giving someone the finger. Particularly when combined with a flicking motion. Hubs made a motion for someone to pass us on the road in this fashion and the other driver was quite insulted. Former President George HW Bush made a similar error when visiting Australia in 1992.
    guide to uk travel peace sign
  7. Don’t tell a Brit that you love their accent if you are both standing on British soil. If you’re both on British soil, you are the one with the accent. Come to think of it, it’s probably not the greatest thing to say on American soil, either.
  8. Be aware of the geography. The UK consists of Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England. The latter three, sharing the same land mass, can also be referred to as Great Britain. Do not refer to someone who is from Scotland, Northern Ireland, or Wales as English. Only people from England are English.
    guide to uk travel united kingdom great britain england
  9. While I hate to make generalizations, I think most people would agree that Brits are much more reserved than Americans. In British culture, you are likely to raise eyebrows if you do any of the following: shouting, kissing, laughing loudly, shaking hands outside of a business setting, talking loudly on a cell phone, and talking about the value of your possessions.
    guide to uk travel cell phone use
  10. Because Brits drive on the left side of the road, you should look right-left-right before crossing a two-way street. This is the exact opposite of what we typically do here, and it’s hard to break that habit. Bigger cities such as London actually have instructions/reminders about which way to look painted on the ground, so that helps. But it less densely populated areas, you’ll need to concentrate on which way to look before stepping off the curb.

By observing these subtle but important differences between our country and the Brits’, you won’t have to worry about committing a faux pas when you are traveling in the UK.

Coventry Cathedral: A Monument to Reconciliation

Coventry Cathedral: A Monument to Reconciliation

I am a huge history geek.  (I’m sure you didn’t notice! hahaha)  Sometimes I will read about a place that has such a phenomenal history behind it, I want to go there.  Coventry Cathedral is one of those places.

Coventry Cathedral Then

On the night of November 14, 1940, a German Luftwaffe bombing devastated the city of Coventry in Warwickshire, England. In the aftermath of that attack, many of the city’s buildings burned, reduced to piles of smoldering rubble.  The 14th century cathedral in Coventry was one of the most badly damaged buildings.

coventry cathedral ruins after bombing

Shortly after the destruction, the cathedral stonemason, Jock Forbes, noticed that two of the charred medieval roof timbers had fallen in the shape of a cross. They were later placed on an altar of rubble with the moving words ‘Father Forgive’ inscribed on the Sanctuary wall.

Coventry_Cathedral_burnt_cross

A local priest fashioned another cross from three medieval nails. In the years that followed, Lutheran churches in Kiel, Dresden, Berlin and other cities destroyed by Allied bombings receieved a replica of the original Cross of Nails as a symbol of peace and forgiveness. It was through these churches that trust and partnerships between England and Germany grew and former enemies became friends. Thus, the Cross of Nails became a powerful, inspirational symbol of forgiveness and reconciliation throughout the world.

rsz_cross_of_nails

 

Coventry Cathedral Now

When it came time to rebuild, Basil Spence designed the new cathedral building. Spence insisted that the ruins of the old cathedral remain as a garden of remembrance with a new cathedral next to them.  His intention was for the two buildings – old and new, medieval ruins and modern architecture – to form one church. His work on the cathedral was so notable that he received a knighthood for it.

Coventry Cathedral

The new church building is very modern and as such, it’s quite a contrast to its medieval predecessor. The baptismal font is carved from a boulder that came to the church from Bethlehem.  The stained glass windows form a screen depicting saints and angels.

rsz_1rsz_coventry_cathedral_interior

Outside the new cathedral there is a striking statue of the archangel Michael fighting off the Devil. I love that the Devil is on his back, in chains, with Michael’s foot effectively on his head.  I also love that Michael is holding a spear.  Angels can be fierce.

Coventry Cathedral Angel

If you’ve seen the English Christmas movie “Nativity!,” you may recognize the ruins of the old Coventry Cathedral as the site of the performance. (If you haven’t seen “Nativity!,” you should. It’s a great movie featuring Martin Freeman of Sherlock fame. If you haven’t seen Sherlock… well, I may just have to do a BBC intervention for you.)

Coventry Cathedral’s address is Priory St, Coventry CV1 5FB, United Kingdom.  Hours for the new building are Monday – Saturday 10:00 am to 5:00 pm and noon to 4:00 pm on Sundays.  The ruins are open 9:00 am to 5:00 pm daily.  There is a small fee for admission for adults.  Minors and students from UK universities enter free. The free Coventry Cathedral app is recommended to enhance your visit.

Hever Castle and Gardens in Kent, England

Hever Castle and Gardens in Kent, England

Home of the Boleyns

My very favorite time and place in the entirety of world history is Tudor England. And my favorite people from that time period are King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Even though I have been to England three times (almost four), I have never visited Hever Castle and Gardens – Anne Boleyn’s childhood home. Shocking, I know.

Hever Castle and Gardens in Kent - Ancestral Home of the Boleyn Family

Anne called Hever Castle home when she caught the eye of the king. King Henry VIII, still married at the time, would stay at the nearby Bolebroke Castle while courting young Anne and pursuing his favorite pastime of hunting.

Anne did not spend much of her pre-Henry VIII life at Hever Castle, however, which is why it’s referred to as her childhood home.  She was at the French royal court from approximately age 13 to age 20.  Upon returning to the English court, she became a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine of Aragon.  Her striking looks and polished manners drew the attraction of not just the King, but also many male courtiers.

Inside the Castle

Today, Hever Castle gives us a glimpse of Tudor life, although many additions have been made over the years.  Here are a few of the rooms I look forward to seeing in person some day.

First, the Dining Room.  In the fifteenth century this room was the Great Hall and was originally open to the roof rafters. English sculptor William Silver Frith designed the linenfold paneling, the ceiling and the fireplace with the Boleyn coat of arms.

Hever Castle and Gardens in Kent - the Dining Room
Dining Room

The Inner Hall was the Great Kitchen in the Tudor period. William Silver Frith designed the Italian walnut paneling and columns as part of the 1905 restoration of Hever Castle. The rood screen at King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, served as the inspiration for the gallery above the hall. by The Elizabethan ceiling incorporates the Tudor rose emblem.

Hever Castle and Gardens - the Inner Hall
Inner Hall

The Morning Room was a private retiring room in the Tudor period. The paneling and fireplace date to the seventeenth century. The elaborate stone fireplace surround includes the initials H.W. representing Henry Waldegrave.  It was Waldgrave’s family that owned Hever Castle after the Boleyns’ fall from grace, between 1557 and 1715.

Hever Castle and Gardens - the Morning Room
Morning Room

And finally, the 16th century Long Gallery extends across the entire width of the Castle. The room had many uses, including entertaining guests, taking exercise, and displaying art collections. The paneling dates from the sixteenth century. The ceiling is an early twentieth-century reconstruction in the Tudor style.

Hever Castle and Gardens - the Long Gallery
Long Gallery

Visiting Hever Castle and Gardens

The castle offers tourists a look at three floors containing antique furniture, Anne Boleyn’s prayer books, instruments of torture, and a large collection of Tudor paintings. The site also contains a museum of the Kent Yeomanry, an artillery regiment formed after World War I. The gatehouse is the only original part of the castle, and it has the oldest working original portcullis in all of England.

In addition to those historic attractions, Hever Castle has an annual events program that includes jousting tournaments and archery displays in the summer months and an annual patchwork and quilting exhibition in September.

The grounds of the castle include a yew maze, planted in 1904. In 1999, Hever Castle and Gardens added a water maze – visitors must try to reach the folly at the center without getting wet. A special children’s adventure playground also has a tower maze.

Hever Castle is located at Hever Rd, Hever, Edenbridge TN8 7NG.  Telephone +44 1732 865224.  Hours vary by season; check the website or call when planning your visit.

What Big Ben Is… and Isn’t

What Big Ben Is… and Isn’t

I’ll give you the bottom line first. Big Ben is a bell, not a building or even a clock. You cannot see Big Ben in this photograph:

Big Ben

And sadly, unless you are a resident of the UK, you never will see Big Ben. The interior of the tower is not open to overseas visitors, although United Kingdom residents are able to arrange tours (well in advance) through their Member of Parliament. But there is no lift, only 300+ stairs, so maybe it’s just as well.

However, that will be changing. Next year, a three year long major renovation is due to take place. In addition to essential maintenance on the clock mechanism, a lift will be installed in the tower. The clock will be stopped for several months during the maintenance, and there will be no chimes. Striking and tolling will, however, be maintained for important events. Tours will also be suspended at the end of this year until the work on the Tower and Clock is complete.

The tower in which Big Ben resides was renamed the Elizabeth Tower in 2012 to honor the queen for her Diamond Jubilee. In times past, it has also been known as the Clock Tower or St. Stephens Tower.

The clock is famous for its accurate timekeeping abilities. Each face of the clock bears a Latin inscription at the bottom which means O Lord, keep safe our Queen Victoria the First. 

On top of the clock’s pendulum is a small stack of old penny coins; these are to adjust the speed of the clock. Adding or removing a penny will change the clock’s speed by 0.4 seconds per day. In August of last year, the clock was discovered to be running 7 seconds fast. Coins were removed from its pendulum to correct the error, which caused it to run slow for a time.

Big Ben is the largest bell inside the Elizabeth Tower, and it is formally known as the Great Bell (there are four smaller bells known as quarter bells). It is 7 feet 6 inches tall and 9 feet in diameter.

Big Ben Bell London

 

Big Ben was cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, who also made the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. The Whitechapel Bell Foundry was established as a business in 1570 and is still operating today. The Foundry can be toured, but tour availability is limited and must be booked well in advance. For more information, check the Foundry website.

Back to Big Ben. How it came to be called that is a matter of opinion. Some believe it was named after Sir Benjamin Hall, who oversaw the installation of the Great Bell. Others believe it was named after English heavyweight champion Benjamin Caunt.

Most people nowadays use the name to refer to the clock, the tower and the bell collectively, although sticklers like me cringe upon hearing it.

So, to review:

  • the bell is Big Ben or the Great Bell
  • the tower is the Elizabeth Tower

Any questions?