One of the magical things about living in London is that you are always stepping back in time while being surrounded by everything ultra modern. You can walk the walls of the Tower of London while looking across the river at the City of London building. You can start the morning walking alongside the old walls of the city down by the Barbican and then end up in trendy Shoreditch with all the technology companies. You can visit the Churchill Museum which looks in part like it hasn’t aged a day past 1945 but then explore every year of Churchill’s life on one of the best interactive computer screens I’ve ever seen.
Or on a half sunny day back in May, you can visit Hatfield House while taking in a particularly entertaining and thoroughly modern sculpture exhibition.
The theme of this month’s travel linkup theme inspired by Emma, Kelly, Rebecca & Angie is “a room with a view”. And Hatfield House was the last (local) location where a window view stopped me in my tracks. The best part? It was a view I’d arrived to by train and from which I returned back home to my cozy little flat. It was a view that pinched me and confirmed – yes, it still hits me – that I live in England.
The view made me wonder who had rolled up to those gates throughout the ages. Who welcomed the visitors to the house through that curved entrance? How many gardeners did it take to shape those hedges? Were the windows still the originals or had they been replaced? Were they damaged in the Blitz like so many other windows? …. If you want to continue on the window theme, how often do they clean them now? (Interesting that I would care about that last one in a country manor house and still not bother to clean my own…but I digress…)
Hatfield House was originally a Palace where Elizabeth I was raised and where her sister Mary was sent to wait on her for not recognizing her father Henry VIII’s marriage to Elizabeth’s mother Anne Boleyn. It was where Elizabeth was interrogated under Mary’s reign and also where she returned after her imprisonment in the Tower of London. Elizabeth’s successor James I didn’t like the old Palace and he gave it to Robert Cecil, the 1st Earl of Salisbury. Cecil tore down most of the old Palace in 1608 and rebuilt it how we see it today. The house is still the home of the 7th Marquess and Marchioness of Salisbury. Even so, connections to the Tudors and to Queen Victoria are to be found all over the house and that makes it a fascinating visit.
One of my favorite parts of the visit was the Great British Sculpture Show taking place in the house gardens – a showcase of 20 contemporary artists featuring some 80 works. You never know when or where you are going to stumble on one and they are all completely different. (I’d encourage you to visit before September 30th before the show is over!)
I am rather partial to the polar bear & bishop.
Sometimes I worry, dear readers.
I worry I’m not quite ready to give the summer up. I worry my roof is leaking (wait, no, that’s a reality.) I worry Amsterdam won’t live up to my expectations when I visit next month. I worry I’m not traveling as much as I want to. I worry I’m a bit too fond of London and a bit less fond of the US these days. I worry that after almost 11 years away from the country I hold a passport to, that I might not really understand it anymore. I worry every time I pick up a newspaper. I worry I might have my priorities messed up. I worry I over-exaggerate. Or that I’m not exaggerating enough. I worry too much.
But then – its silly – I see an old-fashioned ice cream truck outside Hyde Park. I see landmarks that have seen a heck of a lot more worry than I’ll ever worry about. I learn of stories of the world’s loneliest whales and alcoholic vervet monkeys and get out of my self-absorbed human world for a bit. I take a lesson from David Attenborough and think about a world bigger than my own. Jon Stewart reminds me that there are still sane Americans out there. I listen to stories of people with incredible strength. And know I’m lucky to have lived in a time when some truly special people were with us.
And I tell myself its OK to worry every once in a while.
And get sappy in a post.
There is a reason people read guidebooks and research their trips before travelling. And I like to think that might be so they avoid walking 2 kilometers straight uphill to reach a fairytale palace.
Yes, Lindsay and I literally hiked our way straight up Portugal at the beginning of our recent trip. But I actually wouldn’t have had it any other way. Taking a train from central Lisbon, we arrived 45 minutes later in the adorable town of Sintra. There are several castles you can visit and we chose the colorful, fairytale like Pena Palace at the very top. There are some stunning houses on your hike up and the forest is stunning.
Around halfway, the giddiness set in – we came across a giant lemon someone had stuck on a fence and thought it was the funniest thing we’d ever seen. And that was before we spotted the lime in the gutter… Who was hiking up this mountain with excess citrus??
You reach the gardens of the Palace before you continue up the hill to the Castle itself. It is a much nicer walk to wind your way up through what feels like a manicured jungle and I imagine it would be stunning in the spring with all the flowers in bloom.
After curving through the gardens, the bright yellows and reds of Pena Palace greeted us. As did the lines of people waiting to get inside. This is one hot ticket in the summer months and we even visited on a Friday rather than the weekend. The inside was packed with people (including some particularly rude French tourists… France, I must say, you were not on your best behavior during our trip. This would become a recurring theme…) The queues are mainly due to the first few rooms only being doorways you can glance into. Once you get upstairs, the crowds break up and you can wander a bit more freely. And my goodness is it worth it (photos of the inside to come in part II).
With Lindsay having traveled over from Brussels, we felt like we fit right in. The site was first developed in the Middle Ages but the current Palace was built for Ferdinand II, who as part of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, had direct family links to Queen Victoria in England and King Leopold I of Belgium. The whole place feels over-the-top romantic. And the views… oh, the views… And our current weather in London, I’d kinda like to go back…
(Blog maintenance update: I’m upgrading the blog to use Disqus comments. For the moment it looks like I may have lost past comments… But the kind people at Disqus tell me to be patient for 24 hours before panicking. Fingers crossed. Please let me know if you have any problems!!)