Archive for the ‘United Kingdom’ Category

The beautiful town of Alexandria (Old Town) was officially established by three Scottish merchants and the town is named after one of them, John Alexander. The city celebrated its Scottish heritage with the 44th Annual Scottish Christmas Walk. It’s actually an entire weekend of activities and a major fundraiser for The Campagna Center which supports children programs in Alexandria.

I’m a big fan of Scotland so, even with the threat of a downpour, I’m glad I attended the parade. Pipers in kilts and lots of dogs ranks as some of my favorite things.

Scottish Parade 2014
Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend

Scottish Parade Grand Marshal
Representative from the Scottish Government as the Grand Marshal

Scottish Parade Flags

Scottish Parade St Andrews Society
There were Scottish Societies from Baltimore, Philadelphia and Ocean County, New Jersey

Scottish Walk Father and son
Father and Son

Scottish Walk Shamrock and Thistle
Shamrock and Thistle

Scottish Parade Re-creation

Scottish Walk Horse and dog
Mary Queen of Scots representative

Scottish Parade socks

Scottish Parade Pipers

Scottish Parade Men in Kilts

Scottish Parade Boy scout
Boy Scout with the flag

Scottish Walk Darth
And then there’s the Scottish Darth Vader

Scottish Parade Comicon
…little more Star Wars characters

Dogs on Parade:

Scottish Walk Fluffy dog

Scottish Parade 4 fluffy dogs

Scottish Parade Unfortunate looking dog

Scottish Walk Harley with Sheltie
Biker with his sheltie dog

Scottish Parade Scotties

Scottish Parade Happy dog

Scottish Parade dog

Scottish Parade dog in kilt

Scottish Parade Animal Welfare League

Scottish Parade Westies
Lots of Westies

And of course there was a Santa with pipes:
Scottish Parade Santa

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Edinburgh Castle View

I love Scotland ~ from Edinburgh to Inverness and all the way to the North Coast. The countryside, the people, the can’t quite put in to words feeling I get when I’m there.

On our 2013 drive through Scotland, my well-traveled (dare I say slightly jaded) 15-year-old said “Inverness speaks to my soul.” I have no doubt she will return to Scotland again and again.

We’ve been watching the debates, keeping an eye on the polls and now the day has come for Scotland to decide its future. Looks to be a nail-biter. My American heart is rooting for their independence but my economy-thinking brain can’t help but see the financial struggles looming for both Scotland and England. And even in Independence, there is an interdependence with other countries for security, finances, etc that can’t be ignored.

Such an important day in history and I wish only the best for Scotland and the wonderful Scottish people!

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London Belgrave Homes II

Walking around London with no particular destination is always a treat for me. The sights, the sounds, the people. I loved days when I had no fixed plans and could wander about. It wasn’t the case on this visit. With only four days in the city, we decided to re-visit as many of our favorite places and see as many friends as we could. That left little time for meandering.

Much as I enjoy doing my own research regarding the history of London, it’s always nice to go on a guided walk with one of the many, extremely knowledgeable and entertaining London Tour Guides. I’ve been on numerous London Walks which were all very pleasant and I learned a lot when we first moved to London. London Walks cover the basic history of a particular area and it’s mainly for those just visiting. For our return visit, I felt I’d outgrown the basic walks and wanted something more in-depth. A tour the locals would prefer.

Having followed Mark Rowland’s blog for over a year, I was thrilled when I read about his walk entitled The Gentlemen’s clubs of St James’s: Victorian London’s LinkedIn. It’s offered through Footprints of London.

We linked up with Mark in Green Park at 7 pm then went on a very thorough and interesting evening walk through Mayfair. He intertwined stories of these men’s clubs and how important they were for upper class networking.

White's on St James Street

Our first stop was White’s at 37 St James’s Street (building with the bay window in the above photo)

White’s Chocolate House was opened in 1698. Anyone could frequent it so long as they could pay a small fee. But by 1736, White’s owner realized it was much more lucrative to cater exclusively to the aristocratic men. These men would meet to discuss politics, world events and, of course, gossip. White’s became a members only club with a very long waiting list.

There was an awful lot of decadence happening behind the beautiful facade. Its members have always been the power brokers of Great Britain but White’s is also legendary for being a den of gambling, gossiping and conspicuous consumption. There’s a betting book which archives bets placed between 1743 to 1878. These wagers (and we’re talking about thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands) were placed on everything ~ sometimes morbid bets such as which celebrities would die first; personal bets as to length of pregnancies; and, as Mark told us, even a bet as to which of two raindrops would reach the bottom of the window pane first. Obviously men with way too much time and money on their hands.The betting lead to financial ruin for many.

To this day, White’s is an extremely exclusive club ~ there are 500 members, men only and a nine-year waiting list. Queen Elizabeth II is the only woman to have visited and that was back in 1991.

There were many other clubs we went by and talked about including Almacks, Brookes, Boodles, Automobile club, etc.  Mark had a lot of amusing tales as well as very interesting historic facts. Originally, when I told my 16-year-old the name of the tour, I got a raised eyebrow and a not so subtle skeptical look. About an hour into the walk, she whispered in my ear “This isn’t what I expected. It’s really interesting.”

London Chatham House
Chatham House, London

My favorite was the very respectable Chatham House. Membership consist of people and organizations interested in international affairs. Membership includes business leaders, academics, diplomats, the media, non-governmental organizations, policy-makers and researchers. It is ranked as the 2nd top Think Tank worldwide (Brookings Institute is #1).

And I’m a big fan of the Chatham House Rule which states:

When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.

If you’re able to partake in one of the Footprints of London walking tours, you won’t be disappointed. Click here for additional information and to pre-book your tour. There are several walks I’d love to go on and they will definitely be on the agenda next time we’re in London.

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It was such a comforting feeling of familiarity as we drove closer and closer to London. We returned the rental car at Heathrow and caught the tube to Baker Street where we rented a two-bedroom flat for our four nights in London. We stayed in the same flat when we left London last year.

Sherlock Holmes
Baker Street was a perfect location for us ~ the tube stop and bus stop were basically outside our door.

Sunday and Monday were reserved for John’s graduation from Kings College and for reconnecting with friends. On Tuesday, we went back to one of our favorite restaurants in all of London.


Maguros beef bento box

We ate lunch at Maguro in Maida Vale. So delicious! If you find yourself in London and have a hankering for Japanese food, I highly recommend Maguro at 5 Lanark Place, W9 1BT / TEL 020 7289 4353. It’s an easy walk from the Warwick Avenue tube stop (Bakerloo Line). Click here for more info and the menu. They do take-out and it’s a great meal to take to the park for a picnic.

Michael at Electric Hair
Michael and Logan at Electric Hair, London

Another must was an appointment with Michael at Electric Hair. He does it all ~ color, cut, style. Logan and I both got hair cuts & Styling. Loved it! If you’re traveling through London (or lucky enough to live there) and are in need of some hair care, Michael is fabulous and can be reached here. Now if I could only figure out how to get back here every few months for another appointment.

Up Next: A two-hour guided walk that I’ve been planning for almost a year! Hint: it lived up to all the hype and more.

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I’ve decided to impose a new rule when I plan a trip ~ if at all possible, two days minimum at one locale. I left both Glasgow and York feeling rushed. But even though we were limited on time, I still did one of my favorite things which is to wander the streets to get a feel for the area. Here’s what caught my interest, both the silly and the serious, as I meandered through York:

York gate into the city

Micklegate Bar (meaning Great Street) was the most important of York’s four main medieval gateways. At least six reigning monarchs have passed through this gate and the tradition is for them to stop at the entrance to ask York’s Lord Mayor’s permission to enter the city.

The lower section dates from the 12th century while the upper two stories are from the 14th. The building was originally inhabited in 1196 and, for centuries, the decapitated heads of traitors were posted above the gate. The last severed heads were removed in 1754. Thank Goodness…

York Roman Wall

York Roman Wall B&W

Thanks to the forethought of the citizens of York in the early 1800s, the medieval city walls of York are the most complete still standing in England today. The Roman walls survived well into the 9th century but then in 866, the Danish Vikings invaded York and went all Taliban (as when they destroyed the Buddha statues) on the wall and buried the existing Roman wall under the earth.

York looking for a restuarant
There are lots of restaurants ~ we had a hard time deciding where to have dinner.

York Pub
Pub in York

York yellow bike
The symbol of Yorkshire is the White Rose but in 2014, in honor of The Tour de France, York went YELLOW with painted yellow bikes showing up all over the city.

York Home
What a beautiful location for a beautiful home

York The Hat Company
Hat Shop

York Ghost Trail
York is considered the most haunted city in Europe but we didn’t have time for the ghost tour. Probably just as well ~ not Logan’s favorite subject matter.

York converted church to a bar
A church converted into a pub. Looks like a Bro hangout as evidenced by all the men hanging outside smoking.

York Constantine Statue
Constantine arrived in Britain with his father, the emperor Constantius, in 305. His father died the following year in York and, according to the succession rules, another Caesar should have become emperor. But the soldiers in York immediately proclaimed Constantine as their leader. He later became known as Constantine the Great because he managed to unite the whole of the Roman Empire under his rule.

The following photos are of the single, engaged and married in York:

York Saturday night club outfits
I definitely don’t have the shoes to join these ladies who were heading out for a night of clubbing.

York Hen Party
We saw no less than 15 Hen Parties in progress ~ good fun!

York Just Married
Just Married!

York is a wonderfully historic city and also a lot of fun (especially on a Saturday night).  Thrilled I finally got a chance to explore it.

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With only 18 hours in York, we checked into the quaint Mount Royale Hotel and then went directly to the Minster. We made it in time to climb to the top and, lucky timing for us, we were just in time for the 5:15 Evensong. The sang at the entrance of the inner chapel area and then we hear them as we climbed the stairs to the top. It was truly a magical sound.

Mount Royale Hotel

York Minster II
York Minster

York along the narrow walkway to the top
Walkway to the top of the Minster

York View from the minster

York flying buttresses
Gothic architecture ~ Flying Buttresses

York Stained glass window
Stained Glass at the Minster

York Minster gallery of kings

York Minster lighting a candle

York Minster in the cellar
Minster basement area ~ old stone and foundation

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We were back in Glasgow for a night. The last time we visited (April 2013), we also only had one night but we squeezed as much as we could into our limited time. See here.

Glasgow Commonweath Games mural
Commonwealth Games 2014 mural

It was a few days prior to The Commonwealth Games and there was definitely a spark in the air with all the athletes exploring the city.

Glasgow Street II

Glasgow II

Glasgow III

Glasgow Fish and Chips

Glasgow Suits
Glasgow is a sartorial splendor ~ at least where the men are concerned. The women not so much…

Glasgow Logan at Mono
Since we didn’t have much time (less than 24 hours), we walked around the city and had dinner at our favorite Vegetarian restaurant, Mono.  Food and atmosphere are great, sadly this time the service was lousy. Slow and Unfriendly.

Glasgow Street
Lovely outdoor cafe

Glasgow is such a fun and vibrant city and I left it feeling disappointed we didn’t have more time to explore it. Next time, more time!

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As the one who organizes our family holidays, I decide where we stay, activities we do and locations we visit. A must on the list was the Culloden Battlefield which is managed by the National Trust for Scotland. The field sits on Drummossie Moor and is an easy 5 mile drive east of Inverness.

My preferred book genre is historic novels ~ both fiction and non-fiction. The Battle of Culloden has appeared as a backdrop in more than a few of books I’ve read recently.  And in the airport before our flight to Edinburgh, we picked up The Economist magazine which featured an article about the upcoming September vote for Scotland’s Independence. It mentions the The Battle of Culloden which had repercussions spanning many generations and is still a timely topic. Having read so much about it, I’m glad I got a chance to personally visit this important historic site.

A little historical background: The Jacobite Rebellion began in 1688 when a son was born to James II and with him the prospect of a Catholic succession. Almost immediately after his birth, a popular movement began to depose James II and let one of his protestant daughters (Mary) succeed to the throne. Within a year, Mary and her husband William III were crowned King and Queen of England, and James II was sent into exile. Scotland as well as Catholic countries including France and Ireland still recognized James II and his descendants as the legitimate heirs to the English throne. Jacobus is Latin for James hence the name for those Loyal to James II were called Jacobites.

William and Mary died without an heir. Due to the Act of Settlement which stated NO CATHOLIC on the English throne ever again, the English crown was passed from the Stuarts to the German Hanoverians specifically George I who was 52nd in line to the throne but, most importantly, the first protestant in the succession line.

His son, George II’s reign was threatened in 1745 when Charles Edward Stuart, grandson of James II and known as the Young Pretender, landed in Scotland. The Jacobites supported “Bonnie Prince Charlie” and had initial success in rebellion clashes BUT then came the devastating defeat at the Battle of Culloden in 16 April 1746. It ended the Jacobite threat and so much more. It was also the last full-scale battle fought in Britain. The Commanding Officer of the Royalists earned the nickname “The Butcher” because of his ruthlessness not only at but especially after the battle. By all accounts, it was brutal and savage.

At the battle, two-thirds of the Jacobites were made up of Highland Gaels and the rest were from the Scottish lowlands, France, Ireland and even England. Also, many of the clans in the Highlands supported the British Government. Sadly, it pitted not only clan against clan but also family member against family member. The battle took approximately one hour, but the results were felt for many generations. Public executions for those supporting the Jacobites. Also, an attempt was made to wipe out the Scottish social structure by dismantling the Highland clans and crushing the Gaelic culture to include prohibiting wearing the kilt, playing the pipes and speaking Gaelic. The punishment for doing these would be death.

We were there on a dry and warm day but I could easily imagine what it must have been like on the cold, rainy day of the battle. There is an informative information center, museum and cafe on the grounds but my favorite part was walking through the actual field and reading the markers as well as listening to the audio guide. I learned a lot more about the battle and more importantly about the brutal aftermath which shaped Scotland all these many years.

Culloden fields
Walking through the Battlefield

Culloden Battle Monument
Battle of Culloden Monument

Culloden Cottage
Leanach Farmhouse

Culloden Stone Wall
Jacobite position ~ stonewall

Culloden Visitor and information center
Visitor Center has a impressive 360 reenactment film, museum, interpreters, and a nice cafe (with vegetarian options)

Culloden Veggie Haggis
At the cafe, you can get Vegetarian Haggis. I was tempted to buy some to bring home but since Haggis is on the list of banned items to bring to the US, I didn’t want the hassle of homeland security.

Culloden Stone wall and battlefield
Looking out from the Jacobite position. The red flags are where the British were.

Culloden spiked shield
Highland Targe (Shield) with spike. Used by the Jacobites in the Battle of Culloden

Culloden Period Dressed lecturer
Period dressed Interpreter at the Culloden Visitors Center

Culloden Beautiful Skies with puffy clouds
I couldn’t get over just how BLUE the sky was on the day we visited Culloden Battlefield. I love the cotton ball clouds, too!

Culloden English Stone
Memorial Stone in honor of the English who died at the Battlefield

Culloden Stone Markers for Macgillivrays
Stone Marker where  Alexander MacGillivray was killed

Culloden Well of the Dead
Well of the Dead ~ I read this is where the wounded crawled to get water. Many of them perished near here.

It was a somber place to visit but also fascinating. I highly recommend it if you’re in the Highlands.

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Culloden Bee in action

The Thistle is the National Flower of Scotland.The bee was working hard on pollinating! 

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At the end of the beautiful drive from Ullapool to Durness is the GORGEOUS white sandy Durness Beach! Well worth the approximately 70 mile drive. We ate lunch at the Oasis Restaurant which was more than disappointing. The location is great, the service fine but terrible food. Enough about that, we ate as fast as we could and headed straight for the beach.

No doubt the visit to Durness Beach was a highlight of our trip. After all, we are “Displaced Beachbums” always on the lookout for a sandy beach where we can dip our toes in. And despite the cold, we dipped away!

Durness Beach
Durness Beach

Durness Beach II

Durness Beach sitting on the arch next to waterfall
Lovely Waterfall at Durness Beach

At Durness beach
Logan couldn’t wait to get in the water (at least her feet) but she was shocked at just how cold the water was. She sarcastically asked “how is it not frozen over?”

Durness beach swimmers kids dogs
Not only was Durness Beach beautiful but uncrowded. Save a few brave swimmers, dogs and families

Durness Beach smaller cove
Smaller cove at Durness Beach

Durness Beach Lookout II
Lookout point

This was our route:

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