Castles, Palaces, and Manors: The Bucket List

P1150484

Visiting the Durham Home of the Prince Bishops

It is difficult to imagine a defensive structure more strategically situated. Guarded by steep slopes descending to an almost complete loop of the River Wear, Durham Castle remained impregnable for eight centuries. Yet even this fortress is dwarfed Read More

Blarney Castle

Kissing the Blarney Stone

As the long line of tourists - us included - crept through the ruins of Blarney Castle, I kept shaking my head. Kissing the Blarney Stone has never been on my radar, yet here I am, being herded through the maze of unkempt rooms and twisty narrow Read More

The Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

Learning about Scotland’s History in the Edinburgh Castle

It started raining as soon as I entered the Edinburgh Castle, even though the sky had looked bright when I climbed up the hill. Tip for visitors: Bring an umbrella, the weather changes quickly in Scotland. The Edinburgh Castle has stood on a Read More

Decorated ceiling

Imagining the Lives of the Harem Women at Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace

The surroundings are stunning. Sumptuous Ottoman architecture, Moorish arches, and Iznik tile mosaics. This was where the Sultan lived with his numerous wives, children and concubines, and I am trying to imagine what it must have been like to live Read More

Stirling Castle sits high above the plain (photo credit: Ann Burnett c 2013)

Paying Homage to King James V at Stirling Castle, Scotland

It’s the color that strikes us at first. How could sixteenth century Scotland be so full of color? Even on this dull, rainy day (dreich as the Scots call it) the outside of the Great Hall of Stirling Castle is a luminous cream. One of the many guides Read More

The orange trees of Cordoba's Alcazar

Walking Beside the Orange Trees at Córdoba’s Alcazar

The gardens of Córdoba’s Alcazar may be smaller than those of rival palaces in Seville and Granada, but they are still impressive. Even in the rain. I had walked through Córdoba’s UNESCO listed historic centre, from the magnificent La Mezquita and Read More

Long brown building with many pointed spires and a giant clock tower at the right hand end, on the far side of a broad river

Pondering Power at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, A UNESCO World Heritage Site in London, England

When in London, listen to the stones. The Tower of London says, "Power comes from the King and his army." Westminster Abbey says, "Power comes from God." You would expect the Houses of Parliament to say, "Power comes from the people", but that's not Read More

Skyline of the Tower of London showing light coloured walls and many towers

Finding the Bodies and the Loot at the Tower of London, A UNESCO World Heritage Site in London, England

The Tower of London is an architectural bully, a big tough bouncer at the door of England’s history. Don’t worry, the people at the Tower are lovely and helpful. But the walls themselves? They were built to keep the likes of you and me in our Read More

Castle of Ali Pasha, Ioannina

Finding Byzantium in the byways of Ioannina, Greece

As my sisters and I disembark the ferryboat onto into a calliope of sound, smell, and color, we walk up to what seems to be a pet shop. Chickens and doves squabble in hanging cages. Turtles elbow frogs for a better view. Eels shimmer amidst schools Read More

Goodwood

Touring Goodwood Museum and Gardens in Tallahassee, Florida

Amid the relaxed grandeur of a Southern plantation, it was the daffodils that caught our attention. In such a formal space, atop one of Tallahassee's highest hills, an estate dating back to the 1830s, you'd expect to greet daffodils in neat formal Read More

Gold State Coach, Royal Mews, London

Visiting the Queen’s Horses at the Royal Mews, London

First, a confession. I was hardly aware of the existence of the Royal Mews; they were not on my ‘to do’ list for London. In fact, they do not seem to be high on the tourist radar at all. Just a stone’s throw from the mile long queue snaking around Read More

Large man in green velvet coat with gold chain around shoulders, black hat with white feathers trim, another man in red robe, no hat, in courtyard

Advising King Henry VIII at Hampton Court Palace in London, England

King Henry VIII looks down from his chair and puts the question to his trusted advisors, “What are we to do about the Queen?” We advisors were just 21st-century tourists five minutes ago. Now we have the serious business of telling the most powerful Read More

Caernarfon Castle from the sea

Visiting the Historic Castle of Caernarfon, North Wales

I never get tired of castles. It’s just as well because North Wales is full of them, some crumbling away on overgrown mountainsides, others preening themselves for the visitor. There are so many, and of such quality, that four of them have gone and Read More

Ficus Pumilia (Creeping Fig) at Villa del Balbianello on Lake Como.

Boating to Villa del Balbianello’s Garden on Lake Como

  I am sitting on a taxi-boat instead of walking through a trail from the Lenno dock to Villa del Balbianello on the wooded promontory. The trail is closed on Mondays. Things must happen for a reason because glimpsing the villa through Read More

Naxi women in Yunnan's Countryside (©Coen Wubbels)

Cycling in Yunnan’s Countryside Around Lijang, China

They laugh when Coen sign languages if he can join them. Their faces are skeptical. "A foreigner? Playing mahjong?" But they see he is serious and one of them gets up. "Take my place," he motions. How do you learn this complicated game in the Read More

Chateau de Chillon

Visiting the Chateau de Chillon, Switzerland, by Boat

I’m worried. I’m on a boat surging along Lake Geneva in glorious sunshine and the ticket collector is getting nearer and nearer. I’m clutching the family train tickets, which I thought in good faith would get us on the boats, but now I’m not sure. Read More

Blenheim Palace, England

Following in the Steps of Winston Churchill at Blenheim Palace, England

The first thing I notice when we turn into the grand drive of Blenheim Palace is a woman (or should I say a lady?) in a flowery dress and a big hat. A moment’s panic, while I wonder if I am suitably dressed for such august surroundings, but I relax Read More

Isle of Eriska Hotel Manor House (Stillman Rogers photo 2012)

“The Sweetness of Doing Nothing” on Scotland’s Isle of Eriska

A private island, a staff to indulge my every whim, a skilled chef to please my palate, a 19th-century Scottish manor house as a setting, and a day with absolutely nothing I needed to do. My goal was to spend a blissful day basking in something the Read More

Dover Castle

Exploring the Secret World War II Tunnels in Dover, England

Walking up the hill to Dover Castle, I expected tales of jousting and medieval brutalities: chain mail and armor, cold old stone, and a torture chamber or two. And indeed, there were plenty of old stone walls, and I'm quite certain a dungeon -- Read More

Catherine Palace Amber Room in Pushkin

Visiting Catherine Palace near St. Petersburg, Russia

I'm a child of the Cold War: An eastern European refugee father, elementary school air raid drills, the certainty that whether it be the Cuban Missile Crisis, Prague Spring, the Vietnam War, or socialist Nicaragua, the Commies were coming. So it Read More

The Potala Palace is the former residence of the Dalai Lamas and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (photo credit: Katherine Rodeghier, c 2012)

Touring the Potala Palace, Former Home of the Dalai Lama in Lhasa, Tibet

As I wait my turn to ascend a ladder inside the Potala Palace, I watch an elderly Tibetan woman ahead of me. Dressed in a long traditional dress, with a loyal son at each elbow helping her rise, she slowly makes her way up, pausing at each rung. Her Read More

King Arthur's Castle

Encountering the Real Camelot at King Arthur’s Castle in Cornwall, England

With my poo-hoo nose firmly in the air, I’m on my way to Tintagel on Cornwall’s northwesterly edge. Tintagel is widely known, and wildly visited, for the ruins of its castle – King Arthur’s castle. King Arthur’s castle? Had no one noticed that Read More

Flowers in February at Kew Gardens (photo credit: Jill Browne)

Smelling the Flowers at Kew Gardens, London, England

I’m looking at hundreds, possibly thousands, of orchid blossoms in one of the world’s absolute best plant places: Kew Gardens, London. The waxy lustre of the extravagant petals gives the deceptive impression that these plants are indestructible. Read More

Peterhof

St. Petersburg’s Peterhof by Hydrofoil

Summer in St. Petersburg: white nights, cruise ships, guided tours...  and crowds everywhere. Museum queues are reminiscent of bread lines during the Communist years, tour groups are marched through the palaces as if on a conveyor belt, and in some Read More