Entries Tagged as 'Travel'

The view from Hatfield House



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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…) 

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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.

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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.

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Sintra, Portugal (I)



Sintra // Jess-On-Thames


Sintra // Jess-On-Thames

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.


Views from Sintra // Jess-On-Thames

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!!)




Once upon a time, in Wiltshire, in the early evening, you could turn off the A360 and pull over to the side of the road to peer through a fence. It was your standard, average wire fence. But on the other side of it – was Stonehenge.

Stonehenge was one of those sites that my heart started beating a little faster for in anticipation of seeing it for the first time. I didn’t know what to expect. How big was it? Would I see it coming from a distance or would it sneak up on me? Worst of all, would I be disappointed?

That first glimpse took place a few years back and it was special because I felt like I just stumbled upon Stonehenge. (If one could just stumble upon a gigantic, ancient monument in the middle of farmland.) We were driving and then suddenly: there it was – just off to the side of us. We jumped out of the car and scampered over to the fence, pressing our noses up against it trying to get closer. I was immediately struck by questions like where on earth did they get these slabs of rock from and how on earth did they place them all together? It was after-hours and the site was closed, so we stared at it quietly for awhile while those questions bounced around in our heads and then we continued off on our journey.

Fast forward a few years later and I took my mom back to visit the site. And here is where I admit I was just the tiniest bit disappointed. That little road we drove along right up to the site years ago has been blocked off and a huge, very nice, English Heritage visitors centre has been built to manage the crowds flowing in to visit Stonehenge. This is where I scold myself because the centre is clearly needed: a million people visit Stonehenge every year (some 5,000 on a summer day alone)… and it is good for the local economy to have people stay at the site for a longer amount of time.

But there was something about not having to stand in a huge line of people and be piled into little trolleys to take you to the site that made it seem more accessible. More like how farmers must have seen it when they came upon it walking across the Wiltshire farmlands. A sort of mystery that belonged to everyone.

Maybe I’m just getting older and becoming adverse to change (I feel like my grandfather with one of those “back in the day, we walked to school up-hill both ways with no shoes in the snow” stories) … but it felt a bit less personal the second time around.

Now that we have established I am writing like an 80-year old in this post, let me state for the record: you have to visit Stonehenge. Archeologists estimate that the stones were placed between 3000 and 2000 BC and those are dates that will blow the mind. The site was privately owned until as late as 1918 when it was given over to the state and the public could actually walk amongst the stones until the 1970s. Today, you can walk a full circle around the site – and you really should because every few steps give you a different view of the monument.

Go early in the morning to beat the crowds, take the little trolly up to the first stop and get off at what seems like a little forest. You’ll set off on a 10-15 minute walk through some cow pastures (yup, just wander right past the cows) and see Stonehenge appear in the distance, which is a lovely way to see it.

Stonehenge is open every day of the year except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Advanced booking is required through English Heritage. Check their website for entrance times, which vary depending on the time of year.

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