Archive for August, 2011

We have been back a couple of months from our trips this May. We had three fabulous groups, three wonderful teachers, and lots of good times.

I was looking at some of the comments from those we traveled with  recently. One of the interesting things to me is that for some of the people who joined us, it was a last minute decision. For many, this is a dream trip, an oft postponed or dreamed about venture that for all kinds of reasons has been put off. Then, realizing life is short, people jump. And they are so happy they did. Comments from this May’s travelers reflect this contentment.

Orvieto seen from across the valley

“It took me about 2 weeks after I got home before I started to come down off my “Italy high” and I would love to turn around and go back again.”

And . . .

“After reading your wonderful note, I sit here with tears in my eyes recognizing that this wondrous moment has passed and I am sad that I will not come down to start this day with a heart felt Buon giorno and lovely coffee at the Blue Bar. (I did go for the Espresso Blend in the Keurig this morning though…..)  I am sad but yet so filled with the wonder that is each and every one of you. Such a gift this week has been; the setting, the gracious giving of herself Sue has shown us, the amazing heartfelt depth of everyone and everything we’ve experienced. I cannot find the words to really do it all justice. Magnifico, molto bella…….. are close but still fall short. Thank you will never seem like enough.

The richness of this week will live in my heart forever. Things happen for a reason, I am convinced, and providence could not have aligned any better than it did for all of us this week. I return full of life (full…..literally too!) and an eagerness to embrace it. Thank you Sue, thank you Kristi and Bill, thank you ALL for allowing me to share this time with you.  It would not have been as rich if even one single element had been different. Perfecto!”

And another

Orvieto's Cathedral

“What a fabulous experience a week in Orvieto was for me … getting to know new friends with their hearts in needlework … is more than I could have ever asked for … all thanks due to the two of you with your love for Italy and Sue’s love of quilting & embroidery. I owe the most thanks to my friend Lynn, for “twisting my arm” last summer to join her for a much needed get-away & creative experience. It was a joy to “let go” in the design process and “make do” with fabrics at hand, thanks to the generosity of each in our group, I have lovely bits of fabric in my piece to remind me of each of my new friends.

I’m now totally in love with Italy & truly look forward to a return in the future … just to make sure the dream trip I’ve just experienced was real!”

I credit our trips for some of this wonderful feeling. But one can not deny that there is something about Italy that makes us fall in love with life all over again. What a gift.


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Conwy, the Castle

It is truly difficult to convey with pictures how impressive the castle is and how impregnable it must have been. It dominates the surrounding area and the city. It looms over the river. It was built along with other forts in the late 1100’s by King Edward I to subdue the Welsh. It cost the equivalent of about 72 million in today’s dollars.

The castle as seen from the waterfront outside the town wall

Seen from inside the wall at our B&B's 3rd floor window

At one corner of the castle. The near area is the king's quarters. The far area the great hall, stable, open area. Each tower had several uses: granary, prison, chapel, kitchen, etc.

This is the great hall. One arch remains, you can see where others were that supported the roof. The open area to the right would have had a floor - you can see the fireplace opening. There were two levels below that housed soldiers, amongst other things.

Different tower heights and the countryside beyond

The towers had multiple floors and served many different functions. Visible here is a fireplace, window and the area where the floor would have been for this level.

This is the chapel inside one tower on one level. The king had a private room, above the chapel that allowed him to look into it. His room had a window, latrine, and chimney to vent a brazier for warmth.

Inside, or perhaps beside, each tower were small circular shafts with stairs providing access from one floor of the tower to another. These same precarious type of stair provided access along the medieval wall. How many people fell off these!?!

Our last afternoon and evening were sunny and beautiful. This picture is from inside the city and you can see how inaccessible the castle is even from here. If invaders got into the city, they still couldn't get into the castle.

One last golden view from the waterfront.

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Conwy, the City

The old medieval portion of Conwy is not large. It has its church dating to the 1200’s, one house from 1400, another from the mid to late 1500’s and then newer ones. It is very charming, has some great restaurants, and a coffee shop serving Italian Illy coffee. Can’t beat that!

The delightfully proportioned main square

There are a goodly number of old timber frame buildings

Looking through a city gate to the Conwy River

There was only one entry to the castle from the town and it was via drawbridge

The circa 1200 cathedral

The wall provides wonderful views down into gardens

The river in the background

From the tower of Plas Mawr, circa 1600 home of a wealthy merchant

Never learned if this beautiful arch in the wall was once a gate. It looks original. Trains now enter through it.

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Conwy, Wales

After Kristi finished teaching in Oxford, we made our first trip to Wales. We drove over on a misty, cloudy day taking the back roads. Because of the clouds we couldn’t see much, but my overall impression was a mix of verdant green, mountains, sheep, the occasional town and beautiful. There was one stretch through Ffestiniog that was dark and foreboding from all the shale tailings mounded up and the rain falling at the time. But it was the only really dark stretch.

Conwy is an absolutely delightful city: medieval wall nearly a mile long surrounding the core, an incredible fort sitting one corner, the tidal Conwy River at the front door and Snowdonia National Park with its impressive mountains at the back. These few pictures give you a bit of the city’s setting.  The first is taken from the medieval wall’s corner, diagonally opposed to and  farthest from the fort, which can be seen right-center with the Conway River behind it.Here is another with the fort showing the green hills rising up behind one side of the city. You can also seem some of the houses inside the city walls. The tan building more or less in the center is the Town House B&B where we stayed. Very nice.We look here down the wall at the river. The fort is off to the right and Snowdonia behind us.  The walls were impressive, still largely intact after over 800 years. They were built so that if an enemy were to gain access over the top, they could be isolated by removing wood bridges on either side. The enemy would be sitting ducks from either side.Finally, a model shows the fort and walled city at the time it was built. The fort would have been whitewashed and stood out gleaming against the backdrop of the mountains. Incredible, really, that it still stands today! I’ll show more of the city and the castle in future entries.

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We just got back yesterday from two weeks in England – 9 days in Oxford where Kristi was teachingand five days in Wales. We’d not been to Wales and it was simply glorious.


Bodnant Garden setting

Most of our travel is to Italy and for Adventures In Italy. We go with a different outlook and mindset, since we are hosting others. In Wales, we took on the role of those who travel with us – people looking to experience a new place and its people and ways. Two incidents struck us on this trip about slow travel.

Bodnant's House - not open to the public

We stayed in Conwy, Wales, an absolutely captivating medieval fortress town with its nearly 1-mile long medieval wall, still intact along with its impressive fort built in about 1180 by Edward I. We stayed at the Town House B & Bwhere Alan and Elaine were magnificent hosts. One morning at breakfast a new group

There are a pond, waterfalls, stream and more at Bodnant

appeared having arrived the day before and who we had not met. What struck us was that when asked where they had been the day before, they couldn’t remember. Theirs is a typical journey of taking in as much as possible to the point of amnesia. Our first time to reflect on slow travel – or not!

The Pin Mill in the background

The second incident, lest you think we are immune, involved our visit to Bodnant Garden. (All the pictures here are from the garden.) These are a beautiful combination of wild and sculpted, cultivated garden set in the country with an impressive house and views to Snowdonia Park. We had taken the bus to get there and enjoyed a very pleasant several hours and lunch. But, truth be told, we had it in our minds that we also wanted to visit the town of Lladudno that day, a Victorian resort town in the opposite direction from the way we had come to Bodnant. We wanted to cram a little more in. As a result, we hurried through the gardens in a way that precluded truly savoring, experiencing and enjoying. They truly were spectacular. And we only gave ourselves the smallest taste.

Architecture and nature combined

I suppose the loss was compounded by the fact that Lladudno was, for us, a serious disappointment. We instinctively did not stay there, though it is the more popular destination in the area. We’re glad we didn’t for we found little to recommend it with its hordes of people, chain stores, and tacky tourist attractions – yes I judge!

Reflection and missed chance for reflection

Perhaps if we had fallen in love with Lladudno we would feel differently. But we know we missed something special by trying to cram too much in. Travel is a delicate balance. Time and again Kristi and I learn that the best travel is that in which you don’t rush and you savor every moment rather than looking forward to the next.

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Christ Church Arches

Christ Church is known by some for its dining hall used in the filming of the Harry Potter movies. Here I have taken pictures of the variety of arches on the church and one from one of the other buildings of the college.

I love the unusual shape of the following arch and the following two with more detail.            And then these different arches all on the same building still.   And a different building with Gothic and Tudor influences.    

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Oxford Arches – more

My favorite college at Oxford is Edmund Hall. It is beautiful, but it also is mostly open to the public for no fee, which is unusual. I like that. This year, however, they are doing work inside with scaffolding so is closed. I managed to get a few pictures from the outside, which will give you an idea of the place.

The confined, defined spaces coupled with the stone, arches, and lawn make this, for me, a truly exceptional college.  It’s church is beautiful. Here are several pics.  Here you get a hint of some of the detail I couldn’t capture through the gate.  And here over the top of the wall, look at these incredible windows.    Finally, this simple door from the street into the street. The little Smart Car gives you a sense of the scale.   

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