Feeds:
Posts

Posts Tagged ‘Vacation’

Springtime always brings houseguests to our home and many of our visitors are first-timers to Washington DC. Although each person has their own particular interests/dislikes, and depending on their length of stay, there are sights I suggest everyone should see during their maiden journey into the city. My top 10 Washington DC (and surrounding area) must see list is as follows:

  • The Monuments at Night ~ The monuments are spectacular anytime of day but when they are lit up, they become magical. Bonus if there’s a full moon.
  • The Kennedy Center Millennium Stage Performance ~ There are free performances of music or dance every night at 6 pm.For a schedule, click here.

Capitol Building from the top of the Washington Monument
The National Mall ~ Smithsonian Museums, National Gallery of Art and The US Capitol

  • Smithsonian Museums ~ It would take weeks to explore all the wonderful and free museums in Washington DC. Visitors should “speed-date” by walking along The National Mall and ducking into each museum to see the highlights. Visitors can return to the museum they liked best for a deeper dive into all the treasures. Some of the more popular displays are: the Hope Diamond at the Natural History Museum, the Star Spangled Banner flag at the American History Museum and the Kitty Hawk at the Air & Space museum. Click here for more information on all things Smithsonian.
  • The National Gallery of Art ~ My personal favorite. Again, this could take weeks to explore but it’s worth popping into the gallery for a few hours to gaze at the paintings and sculptures which spans from the middle ages to the present. Don’t miss the: Little Dancer (Degas)Self Portrait (Rembrandt van Rijn), and the paintings by the masters such as Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and many more. For information on hours and directions, click here.

Capitol Building with scaffolding

  • The U.S. Capitol Building ~ Take a tour of the Capitol building and stop in to see the Senate in session.
  • The Library of Congress ~ The building is gorgeous especially the Reading Room. There’s an original copy of a Gutenberg Bible (circa 1455)  on display in the lobby. It’s the first bible (major book) printed in Western Europe using movable metal type and was one of the turning points from the Middle Ages into the Renaissance era.
  • Mount Vernon Estates ~ Mount Vernon is located 14 miles south of Washington DC along the GW Parkway. The house and grounds are lovely. Give yourself about four hours in order to tour the home, wander the grounds and visit the on-site museum. Mount Vernon is accessible by public transportation, boat, biking and private vehicle (parking is free). For directions and assistance on getting there, click here.

Arlington Guard

Washington Monument

  • Washington Monument ~ Tickets are free but have a $1.50 service charge per person and anyone two years and older are required to have a ticket to go to the top of the monument. Tickets go on sale three months prior and I highly recommend purchasing them online the day they go on sale. Tour buses snap them up quickly. Click here for more information. If you’re unable to get tickets online, there are a limited number of Same Day tickets distributed at 8:30 am at the National Park Service building located at 15th street near the monument. These are free same-day, timed tickets and one person can get up to six. The line forms much earlier than 8:30am so get an early start.
  • Georgetown ~ It’s a dynamic area of DC to wander around; parts of it are serene and parts are packed with people. Stop in to see the gorgeous Georgetown University campus, take a peek at The Exorcist stairs (and run up them if you’re in great shape), walk along waterfront park and stop in for coffee/pastries at Baked and Wired.

Please note: All buildings in Washington DC have security at the entrances and be prepared to go through a scanner. There are lists of prohibited items on each website. It’s best to pack lightly when touring around DC.

I’ve used my list for the last five years for about thirty first-time visitors. Only one houseguest went rogue. She preferred to visit the National Cathedral, Catholic Basilica, the Botanical Gardens and the Arboretum. That’s the great thing about Washington DC ~ there’s something for everyone!

Read Full Post »

When people find out we were lucky enough to spend a year in London, they usually ask “how did you like it?”  My answer is always “We loved it and still miss living there.”  The follow-up question is usually “So, what didn’t you like about it?”  That’s easy ~ doing the laundry. That may sound trivial (and it is) but doing laundry in a washer/dryer combo machine that doesn’t vent is frustrating. Clothes wouldn’t dry for days. Yesterday, while attending a cocktail party, a woman asked me the usual question “how did you like living in London?” but she got a shocked look when I said how much we loved living there and she followed up with “What exactly did you like about it?”  Hmmmmm….let’s see…”EVERYTHING”  

It got me thinking about our upcoming trip back to the UK in July. We’ll only have a week in London and a week in Scotland. There are so many places we want to re-visit. As much as I like to travel by the seat of my pants, I know we’ll regret not going back to see our favorite places and restaurants. A prioritized to-do list is necessary.

DAY TWO: 

Since we’ll be staying in our neighborhood, Marylebone, we’ll want to visit our old haunts. It’ll be easy to spend the whole day in Marylebone. It’s such a vibrant and beautiful part of London.

London: Marylebone High Street

Marylebone High Street ~ so many restaurants and shops all leading to either Regents Park or to Oxford Street

London:Daunt Books Marylebone

Best book store EVER ~ Daunt Books. Loved their author visits (wine served)

London St James Church Marylebone

The beautiful and Gothic St James Catholic Church ~ our “home” church while in London

London St James at night

…and it’s even more stunning at night

Wallace Collection at Night

The Wallace Collection is my favorite museum in London. It’s so cozy and intimate. I can imagine what it must have been like to be invited over as a friend of the owners to see the marvelous collection back in the mid to late 1800s. I visited so many times when we lived there (it was only a few blocks from our flat) and every time I left, I was already figuring out when I could get back to see more of the collection.

London Church alleyway

London Grotto Passage, W1

Lots of alleyways in Marylebone (and all around London). I love walking through them especially at night.

London Friday night at the pub

Local pub just off the High Street

London Royal Academy of Music

I knew two people who attended the Royal Academy of Music and I walked by it nearly everyday but never went to a concert there. Hopefully we can see a performance there.

London Thank goodness they have these as reminders

…and hopefully the directional signs on the road will help keep me from getting run over by aggressive cab drivers.

London Primrose Hill.jpg

A walk up to Primrose Hill in Regents Park to see the great views of London and of course to people-watch. Lots of buff athletes or the occasional one with his pants too low. I was photo-bombed.

London, Regents Park Station Underground

London US Ambassador's residence in Regents Park

Would love to spend a few hours walking around Regents Park

The pressing question is: Do we go back to our favorite restaurants or do we try new ones? Hopefully we can do both. One we’ll go back to is on Marylebone High Street close to Daunt Books ~ Topkapi. YUM! Lots of vegetarian options, meat eaters were happy and it has a lovely wine selection.

London Marylebone Topkapi

Day two will have us venturing out of Marylebone…

Read Full Post »

With both John and Logan on their own travel adventures, a friend and I decided to catch the Eurostar train to Paris and Versailles for a day trip. Paris is a little over two hours from London so it makes for an easy to get there day trip. I visited Paris once before in 2004 and enjoyed seeing the familiar sights again. We decided to go with a fully escorted tour thinking it would save us the trouble of having to deal with purchasing tickets for Eiffel Tower and Versailles nor deal with transportation. In hindsight, I’m not sure it was worth it since we got stuck in severe traffic jams several times throughout the day (train and metro would have been so much quicker) which cut-in to the time we had to enjoy Paris. Ah, well…live and learn.

The Eurostar left London at 7:00am and we were in Paris at 10:15am. France is one hour ahead. It was my first time on the Eurostar and I was impressed. It was clean, on time and there was a decent selection of food/drinks.

Our first stop was the Eiffel Tower:

Looking up the Eiffel Tower, Paris

Looking up the Eiffel Tower, Paris

Inside the Eiffel Tower, Paris

Inside the Eiffel Tower, Paris

The Eiffel Tower was built by French engineer Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 World’s Fair (Exposition Universelle ). It was built to celebrate the 100th year anniversary of the French Revolution as well as demonstrate France’s technological advances in the Industrial Age. The construction took 2 years, 2 months and 5 days and the result is a very impressive technical and architectural achievement. Although the panoramic views from the 2nd floor are wonderful, I also love looking up into the inside of the tower from the ground level.  Originally the Tower was built to last only 20 years but when the first radio transmissions were sent from the top of the tower, it became a permanent structure. Even for the people who opposed keeping it (many considered it an eyesore), the practical uses of the Tower outweighed the insult to the Frenchmen’s sense of aesthetics.  Good thing for Paris since each year, almost seven million visitors make the trek to the Eiffel Tower.

View of the Seine River, Paris, France

View of the Seine River, Paris, France

View from 2nd Floor of the Eiffel Tower

View from 2nd Floor of the Eiffel Tower

View of the gardens from the Eiffel Tower

View of the gardens from the Eiffel Tower

Another view from the second floor of the Eiffel tower

Another view from the second floor of the Eiffel tower

Statue dedicated to Gustave Eiffel, Paris

Statue dedicated to Gustave Eiffel, Paris

On my last visit to Paris, I was able to see the tower lit up at night but it stays light too late into the evening for us to see it this time.

A few sights from around Paris:

Statue in Paris

Statue in Paris

Paris, France

Paris, France

Balcony Smoke Break, Paris France

Balcony Smoke Break, Paris France

3,300 year old Obelisk of Luxor, Place du Concorde

3,300 year old Obelisk of Luxor, Place du Concorde

Music Academy in Paris

Music Academy in Paris

Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

Champs Elysee, Paris, France

Champs Elysee, Paris, France

After touring the Eiffel Tower and a quick bite to eat, it was time to journey to the Palace of Versailles but more about that in the next post…

Read Full Post »

It was a short walk from our hotel (Vincci Soma) to Parque del Buen Retiro, and as soon as I walked in, I realized I was going to want more then a mere weekend in Madrid. I could have stayed in the park for the entire day ~ it’s big, beautiful with lovely gardens, marble statues/monuments, acres of greenery, manmade lakes and an abundance of locals doing various exercises.

The Park was originally laid out by Felipe IV in the 1600s for the use of the Royals and close family/friends but the park was opened to the public in 1868. Throughout the following years, statues and buildings have been added with the most recent being the “Bosque de Recuerdo” (memorial forest) which is a memorial for the 191 victims of the 11 March 2004 train bombings.

Exercise for your legs, Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid

Exercise for your legs, Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid

Whole lot of exercising going on in this part of the park, Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid

Whole lot of exercising going on in this part of the park, Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid

In-line Skaters of all ages were everywhere in the Park ~ lots of lessons, too.

In-line Skaters of all ages were everywhere in the Park ~ lots of lessons, too.

True Love: a girl and her Iphone

True Love: a girl and her Iphone

Big Bubble, Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid

Big Bubble, Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid

Spanish Guitar music in Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid

Spanish Guitar music in Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid

It’s a great place for the Madrileños to enjoy a pleasant walk, a vigorous workout or just to sit and watch the world go by.

El Ángel Caído (Fallen Angel), Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid

El Ángel Caído (Fallen Angel), Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid

At the base of El Ángel Caído

At the base of El Ángel Caído

El Ángel Caído (Fallen Angel), Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid

El Ángel Caído (Fallen Angel), Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid

The park has many beautiful marble statues including El Ángel Caído (The Fallen Angel ~ Satan) by  Ricardo Bellver. He is said to have been inspired by a passage from Paradise Lost (John Milton). The gargoyles around the base of the statues creeped me out more than the statue itself. From my research, it looks to be the only public statue of Lucifer and supposedly it sits at 666m above sea level.

Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid

Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid

Madrid Day II Woman Statue

Columns near the Alfonzo XXII statue, Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid

Columns near the Alfonzo XXII statue, Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid

Dolphins, Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid

Dolphins, Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid

Statue in Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid

Statue in Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid

Statue, Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid

Statue, Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid

Fountain in Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid

Fountain in Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid

Alfonzo XXII Statue, Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid

Alfonzo XXII Statue, Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid

Cuba Monument, Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid

Cuba Monument, Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid

Besides the lovely statues, there are several beautiful buildings including Palacio de Cristal which was built in 1887 as a winter garden but is now being used for temporary exhibitions of modern artwork. If you look closely at the photo below, those color discs are the artwork currently on display.

Palacio de Cristal ~ the color discs hanging from the ceiling are part of the Modern Art Exhibit

Palacio de Cristal ~ the color discs hanging from the ceiling are part of the Modern Art Exhibit

Inside the Palacio de Cristal ~ dics on the floor are part of the modern art exhibition

Inside the Palacio de Cristal ~ dics on the floor are part of the modern art exhibition

Logan in the Palacio de Cristal, Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid

Logan in the Palacio de Cristal, Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid

Park Vendor outside Palacio de Cristal, Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid

Park Vendor outside Palacio de Cristal, Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid

Our time in Parque del Buen Retiro was wonderful and I definitely would have stayed longer but after a few hours it was time to head over to Museo del Prado to see the Goyas. The Museum is a short walk just outside of the park…

Read Full Post »

Couldn’t believe it was 34°F when John left for the start of the marathon. Burrr…

JP getting ready to head out for the Madrid Marathon

JP getting ready to head out for the Madrid Marathon

We next saw John at Plaza del Sol which was the 18km mark and where a great Rock and Roll band was playing:

JP found us!

JP found us!

Logan and I attempted to catch John again at the finish line but he ran too fast and we miscalculated. He ended up finishing the marathon with a 4:05:05. Yeah to John!

John’s observations of the Madrid Marathon are:

  • Mostly the runners are from Spain with not a lot of foreign runners. More of a local marathon than a destination marathon
  • Fewer women than other marathons he’s run
  • Not as many people were “dressed up” ~ although we did see Nacho Libre and Minnie Mouse outfits
  • They had in-line medical volunteers amongst the runners spraying “icy hot” on runner’s joints and vaseline for chafing. John only saw one “wipe-out”
  • All runners including marathon (elite as well), 1/2 marathon and 10k started in the same corrals at the same time then diverted at different stages of the race. Usually runners start at different times.
  • Course was a bit hilly
  • Only food handed out along the course was power gel at one station
  • Bottles of water and electrolytes were handed out but the large bottles were more than he needed at one stop. He prefers the smaller cups
  • Lots of Porta Potties
  • Lots of wonderful bands (after all it was a Rock and Roll Marathon)
  • Overall, he loved the marathon and would like to run it again!

Here’s a bit of what I saw while cheering the runners:

Elite Men, Madrid Marathon

Elite Men, Madrid Marathon

One of the Elite men, Madrid Marathon

One of the Elite men, Madrid Marathon

Elite Runner, Madrid Marathon

Elite Runner, Madrid Marathon

Fun Band at the 18K, Madrid Marathon

Fun Band at the 18km, Madrid Marathon

Madrid Marathon at the 18K

Madrid Marathon at the 18km

Two Minnies, Madrid Marathon

Back of Two Minnies and a Mickey, Madrid Marathon 2013

Back of Two Minnies and a Mickey, Madrid Marathon 2013

Nacho Libre (?) at the end of the Madrid Marathon

Nacho Libre (?) at the end of the Madrid Marathon

Helping Mom and Dad to the Finish Line

Helping Mom and Dad to the Finish Line

End of the Marathon Band

End of the Marathon Band

John’s marathon shirt was too small for him, so lucky me, I have a new shirt to wear to my next tennis match.

Read Full Post »

Hever Castle, located in Kent, definitely has what most would expect in a medieval castle: towers, a moat, a drawbridge, the “murder holes”, beautiful gardens, a maze and swans in the lake. Add a warm, sunny day and it made for a wonderful visit. Over 800 years old, Hever Castle was the family home to the Boleyns. Anne Boleyn was the second wife of Henry VIII and her sister Mary was a mistress of Henry’s for a short time. Brother George ended up being executed along with Anne on (trumped-up?) charges of Treason. In 1539, the Castle came into the King’s possession after the death of Anne’s father. A year later, he gave it to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, as part of their divorce settlement.

In 1903, William Waldorf Astor purchased and restored the beautiful house and gardens. It’s obvious he was very particular about what he wanted for the house and it can be seen in the details such as the beautiful wood paneling, antique furniture, Tudor paintings, portraits, collection of torture devices, classical statues and a portion of a Roman triumphal arch (circa 52 A.D.). The only original part of the castle is the gatehouse.My favorite treasure of the house is Anne Boleyn’s “Book of Hours” ~ a prayer-book she had with her in the Tower of London on the eve of her execution. She wrote in the book “Le Temps Viendra” (“The time will come”). There’s also the room where Henry slept during his few visits to Hever. There’s a portrait of the king in the room and I can’t help but wonder what he really looked like since none of the portraits I’ve seen are flattering. I imagine the artists “air brushed” the portraits in order to win favor from the monarch (or at least avoid his wrath) so I can only imagine how his portrait would look if the artists were completely honest.

The Long Gallery is an impressive room and chronicles Henry VIII’s six wives using mannequin images. In case anyone forgot, the wives are: Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard and Katherine Parr. The guide told us the rhyme to remember what happened to the wives: divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.

Hever Castle, Kent, UK

Hever Castle, Kent, UK

Hever Castle with rental cottages in the backgound

Hever Castle with rental cottages in the backgound

Hever Castle Fountain

Hever Castle Fountain

Hever Castle Love in the Gardens

Hever Castle Love in the Gardens

Hever Castle Gardens

Hever Castle Gardens

Hever Castle Gardens

Hever Castle Gardens

Hever Castle Garden Statue

Hever Castle Garden Statue

Hever Castle Garden Walkway

Hever Castle Garden Walkway

Hever Castle Statue

Hever Castle Statue

Hever Castle Gardens

Hever Castle Gardens

Graveyard outside of Hever Castle

Graveyard outside of Hever Castle

Outside Hever Castle ~ Bench

Outside Hever Castle ~ Bench

Hever Castle Swans ~ True Love!

Hever Castle Swans ~ True Love!

If you want to visit Hever Castle, it’s located 30 miles SE of London and can be reached by train from Victoria Station in about 50 minutes. We went by bus and it was about a 1.5 hour drive. Click here for information about visiting Hever Castle. No photos allowed inside the castle but the grounds are gorgeous for photography.

Read Full Post »

…with the Blarney Stone.

I was about seven years old the first time I ever heard of Blarney Castle and the tradition of kissing the “Blarney Stone” in order to get the Gift of Gab. My dad told me the story in great detail and I was fascinated. The legend of kissing the Blarney Stone was described in a book by Francis Grouse in 1785 so it’s nice to know the long standing tradition continues. I could certainly use all the help I can with ‘clever and charming’ speaking as opposed to my current snarky sarcastic propensities so let’s hope the kiss works for me.

Kissing the Blarney Stone

Me, Kissing the Blarney Stone ~ have to admit it was awkward but not as bad as I thought it would be. Thank Goodness for the safety bars…

‘Tis there’s the stone that whoever kisses

He never misses to grow eloquent;

‘Tis he may clamber to a lady’s chamber,

Or become a member of Parliament.

“A noble spouter he’ll sure turn out, or

An out and outer to be let alone;

Don’t try to hinder him, or to bewilder him,

For he is a pilgrim from the Blarney stone.”        

                      By Francis Sylvester Mahony

Blarney Castle, County Cork, Ireland

Blarney Castle, County Cork, Ireland

The Blarney Stone is a block of Bluestone which was built into the castle wall in 1446. Besides kissing the stone, the castle and surrounding grounds are beautiful so if you are traveling with anyone who doesn’t want to kiss the stone (fear of heights, etc), they will still find the area beautiful. It’s a perfect place for a picnic. Give yourself a few hours to enjoy the gardens.

Looking out from Blarney Castle

Looking out from Blarney Castle

Inside of the Blarney Castle

Inside Blarney Castle

Stream flowing through the grounds of Blarney Castle

Stream flowing through the grounds of Blarney Castle

Narrow Staircase going up at the Blarney Castle

Narrow Staircase going up at the Blarney Castle

Window at Blarney Castle

Window at Blarney Castle

Stone Archway at Blarney Castle

Stone Archway, Blarney Castle grounds, County Cork, Ireland

Winding Staircase at Blarney Castle

Winding Staircase at Blarney Castle

 
Poison Garden ~ with some serious poisons. Take heed ~ don't touch.

Poison Garden ~ with some serious poisons. Take heed ~ don’t touch.

JP going in for the Kiss of the Blarney Store

JP going in for the Kiss of the Blarney Store

Blarney Castle is only 8km (5 miles) from the town of Cork and can get VERY busy during the summer season. A staff member told us the wait to kiss the stone in the summer can be over 2.5 hours. We arrived at the Castle soon after it opened and didn’t wait at all to pucker up for a “smooch.”  If you decide to go click here for additional information.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »