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Posts Tagged ‘places’

I was watching the news while getting ready this morning, and the story on yesterday’s 100th anniversary celebration at Fenway Park got me all misty-eyed.

Celebrating 100 years of Fenway Park
It started with Varitek and Wakefield wheeling Pesky and Doerr onto the field, but what really got me was Terry Francona (lovable, loyal, unflappable Tito) touching his heart and waving to the cheering crowds. If it hadn’t been for the amusing image of Pedro Martinez and Kevin Millar (two of the biggest hams I have ever seen in my life) leading the toast from atop the dugout, the tears might have actually spilled over. The history and nostalgia of Fenway is so wonderful, and it’s another reason I love living in Boston.

Then, in keeping with the sentimental start to the day, I heard a song from the musical Elegies, called “14 Dwight Ave, Natick, Massachusetts”. (I often listen to the Emerson College radio station, WERS, on the weekends for their programs Standing Room Only – all musicals – and All A Cappella.) The song first caught my attention because I drive through Natick every day on my commute and wondered how the town ended up in a musical. But the song is a beautiful piece about a life well-lived and the friendships many women share. (The video below is the best one I could find on YouTube, but it actually features two songs from Elegies, so don’t be put off by the 10 minute length.)

My last sentimental moment of the day requires a little more in the way of explanation. I once had a hedgehog for a pet, an African Pygmy Hedgehog to be precise. I find them ridiculously cute, so I am a little obsessed.
Anyway, because of my fascination with hedgehogs, another song on WERS (this time on All A Cappella) snagged my attention with the lyrics “He’s a hedge pig.” I honestly never thought I would come across a rock/pop song with something about a hedgehog in the lyrics, and it turns out the hedgehog is a central feature of the song. It took some internet sleuthing when I got home, but I finally discovered that the song is “Benjamin” by Midnight Youth, and beyond the hedgehog bit, it’s a really fun song.

Of course, as with anything hedgehog related, the song reminded me of my hedgie, Percy, who sadly died in 2005.
Percy
But the song still makes me smile. Especially the “prickly little porker” line which has a really nice rhythm to it.  I have to admit, though, that I have no clue what the song means.  My best guess is that it’s about a dream or a drug trip or something.

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My second day in London was largely spent wandering the turrets, keeps, and walls of the Tower of London.

jumble of towers

While it may not be the most charming fortress, it has so much history and drama that it was a must-see for me.  My first order of business was one of the guided tours by a Yeoman Warder. The Yeomen Warders, also known as Beefeaters, mostly serve as ceremonial guards and tour guides and live on the Tower grounds. The Warders give a tour that hits the high points of the Tower’s history, and the tour is the only way to gain access to the Royal Chapel of the Tower, St. Peter ad Vincula.

Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula

The chapel, built around 1520 during Henry VIII’s reign, is a pretty little space, but you aren’t allowed to take photos. Several famous Tower prisoners are buried in the chapel, including Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey, and Thomas More, and during a renovation in the Victorian era approximately 1500 unidentified remains were found under the chapel floor. Yikes.

After the Warder tour, I spent quite a while wandering on my own. First I checked out the Crown Jewels, which are housed in the Waterloo Block and, of course, carefully guarded.

Waterloo Block
guard

I didn’t expect to be as interested in the Crown Jewels as I was. For one thing, I was amazed at the size of some of the stones, like the Cullinan I in the Scepter with the Cross, which, at 530 carats, is the second largest diamond in the world. It was also neat to see the ways the style of crowns has evolved over the centuries.

After viewing the jewels, I headed to the White Tower, which was built by Williams the Conqueror in the late 11th century and is the oldest part of the Tower of London.

White Tower
corner tower

The outside of the White Tower is distinctive with the light stone trim around the windows and architectural details. It was designed to be defensible, so the entrance is on the second floor, reached by wooden stairs that could be knocked down so that attackers could not reach the door.

White Tower

Inside the tower, there was a big exhibit of arms and armor. I got to see several sets of Henry VIII’s armor, horse armor, ceremonial armor for a child, etc. The variety of the armor was really impressive and interesting, and many had gorgeous inlay, engraving, and other decorations. My favorite pieces were the child’s helmet with a little dragon on top and a very intricate ivory saddle.

articulated armor
intricate armor decorations
Henry VIII's armor
dragon helm
ivory saddle

After seeing the White Tower, I wandered the grounds, walls, and several of the towers.

grounds

The Tower is home to a number of ravens, and legend has it that the kingdom is only safe so long as the ravens remain at the Tower. Until I saw them, I wasn’t really sure I could tell the difference between a raven and a crow, but there’s something regal and mysterious about the ravens. But it could just seem that way because crows are more familiar.

Tower raven

In addition to ravens, the Tower of London has had many creatures in residence in its long history, and an exhibit called Royal Beasts gave some intriguing facts about them. Lions were kept at the Tower for over 600 years, and James I designed a bottle nipple for feeding sick cubs. The royal menageries also included tigers, kangaroos, elephants, and even a polar bear. Apparently, the polar bear belonging to Henry III was tied to a rope, so it could swim and fish in the Thames. And I also spotted a couple more fantastical creatures around the Tower.

Gargoyle

In various structures there are placards and displays relating to some of the stories from the Tower’s history. The Beauchamp Tower has carved graffiti left by prisoners, who were kept in the Tower in varying degrees of comfort. In the Bloody Tower there are interactive exhibits on the mystery of the Little Princes. In the Wakefield Tower you can see torture devices. And in the Medieval Palace you can see the royal living spaces built for Edward I.

private chapel
chapel stained glass
Chapel

As you can tell, there was plenty to see! I think I spent over six hours at the Tower. Before I left, I visited the gift shop and snagged a wee, silver Tower for my charm bracelet. Then I headed out to Tower Wharf, where there are lovely views of Tower Bridge and London’s South Bank area.

Tower Bridge illuminated
South Bank

That could have been enough for one day, and I was pretty tired, but I was determined to have authentic fish and chips while in London. I had read that one of the best places for fish and chips is the Golden Hinde. So, after wandering a bit through the streets of the City of London (including the eerily lovely garden of St. Dunstan in the East, which grows among the ruins of a Wren church that was bombed in the Blitz), I headed to Marylebone for dinner.

fish and chips!

Yum! I enjoyed my crispy, flaky fish and rested my feet a bit before hitting the streets again, this time to take in the lights and do some shopping.

holiday lights

Without meaning to, I ended up at the Liberty of London store, which was beautiful, inside and out, from the window displays to the merchandising.

Liberty of London
Liberty window display
fabrics for sale
rug room

As I recall, I pretty much fell into bed that night, happy and exhausted from a full day of drinking in London’s past and present.

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In the late fall, I decided I needed a vacation. Work had been crazy, friends were having rough times, and so on. At first, I thought I would just take a week off from work, but stay in town. With the help of an airfare voucher and an ad for good fares to London, though, my vacation plan got much more grand. I had been to London once before, my senior year of college, but the visit had been cut very short. It was 1997, and I was supposed to fly from Boston to England on April 1st for about four days in London and a long weekend in Chichester, where a friend was getting married. Alas, April fooled us big time with a blizzard that delayed my trip three days. So, I spent less than 48 hours in London that trip, which made me eager to go back.

St. Pancras exterior

So, 15 years later, I got to actually spend my four days in London, in early December, and it was awesome.  I packed a lot into the days, but left knowing there was so much more I could have done.  I arrived in the morning, a little bleary from the long, overnight flight, but eager to get exploring.  After leaving my luggage at the hostel, I headed to King’s Cross/St. Pancras.  This is a transportation hub and shopping area, with two stations right next to each other.  King’s Cross is sleek and modern, while St. Pancras is ornate and Victorian.  Both house rail platforms, restaurants and shops.  St. Pancras is, at least to me, more picturesque, so it bore the brunt of my shutterbugging.

St. Pancras Station

ornate

Everywhere I looked there were lovely decorative elements, inside and out. And on the upper level of the station I stumbled upon the Olympic rings and a huge sculpture that I found charming and perfectly suited to such a busy place of departure and arrival.

Olympic rings at St. Pancras

statue

Honestly, one of my main reasons for visiting King’s Cross/St. Pancras was to check out Eat St., which is a spot where a variety of food trucks and vendors gather at lunchtime a few days a week. There were so many delicious sounding items that it took me a while to decide on my lunch. I finally settled on a pork taco from Buen Provecho and a noodle soup from Yum Bun.

pork taco

soup

After lunch I headed around the corner to the British Library. I think this was the only attraction I visited on both my trips to London, which isn’t really surprising, since I am an avid reader and majored in English. The Library, though, is rather different from what I remembered since it’s current site (created to bring together the parts of the collection that had been scattered around London) opened in 1997, but after my visit. My romantic side kind of prefers the old look, with the glass cases of manuscripts surrounded by two stories of shelves, but I have to admit that the new galleries are better organized and more informative. I found it thrilling to see the original manuscripts of books and authors I love, Austen, Bronte, Shakespeare, along with letters to and from royalty and other historical figures. This time I also really enjoyed the impressive collection of religious texts, many gorgeously illustrated, from all sorts of faiths. One of the temporary exhibits was on Dickens and his historical context, from which I learned a lot. Well, truly I retained only a little, but I have notes. (Yes, I am such a nerd that I take notes on vacation.)

British Library passageway

My final tourist stop of the day, though I was nearly falling down tired, was the Wellcome Collection. This place is a quirky museum that began with the personal collection of Sir Henry Wellcome and has expanded to include art and other exhibits that relate to health and medicine. Seriously, quirky. The main collection ranges from chastity belts and fertility charms to amputation saws and prosthetic limbs. There are rotating exhibits, as well. I was particularly taken with the Mexican votives in the Miracles and Charms exhibit. The votives, or miracle paintings, are painted on tin roof tiles or other small plaques and created in gratitude to God for deliverance from illness, accident, or some other difficulty. There were dozens of these works, and they were somehow both uniform (standard size and some very common compositions and motifs) and diverse (folksy to sophisticated and all sorts of stories from bandits to electrocution.) Fascinating stuff.

By then it was evening and, not having gotten much sleep on the flight the night before, I was exhausted. So after heading back to the hostel, I had no trouble at all going to sleep, even though it was only afternoon back home.

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Paddling away

Last weekend, a friend of mine invited me to go canoeing on a nearby river.  I have only gone canoeing a couple times, and not in years and years, but I associate canoeing with frustration.  I think it is a combination of not being very good at paddling a canoe and the communication and coordination required with another person to propel and steer a canoe.  I am generally cooperative and personable, but something about canoeing just hasn’t worked for me.  Perhaps I should have been a big girl and given it another try, but I decided to go with kayaking instead.  I love kayaking, so that seemed like a much more pleasant way to explore the river.

kicking back on  the kayak

My friends, A, J, and M, piled into a canoe, and we headed off down the river.

canoers

I should note that the canoers didn’t seem to have any trouble or conflict the whole trip, so if you may have been inclined to try out canoeing, don’t let my aversion sway you!

We were in the Concord area and started on the Sudbury River, which flows into the Concord River. The Concord River is spanned by the Old North Bridge, site of one of the first battles of the Revolutionary War.

Old North Bridge

Unfortunately, I may also now remember it as the site where I accidentally dunked myself in the river. We had stopped briefly at the historic park that surrounds the bridge, and when we returned to our boats, I lost my footing while trying to get back in the kayak. Oops! Luckily, it was a warm day, so I wasn’t too uncomfortable while we made our way back to the boathouse.

Despite the dunking, our afternoon on the river was lovely. The banks were lush and green, with patches of brilliantly red salvia.

woods

layers of color

We saw a grey heron, a deep yellow, fuzzy caterpillar that wanted to join our picnic lunch, and so many turtles.

basking turtles

It was a lovely, relaxing way to spend a Saturday with friends. And we topped it off by going out for ice cream after.

As a parting gift, I will share a blurry photo that I actually like!

doubled

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I had an idyllic day today. From start to finish, it was fun and relaxing, full of moments that made me smile.

As I often do on a weekend morning, I started the day with coffee and a pastry at my favorite local bakery. Then I took a walk and grabbed some bargains at a couple yard sales.

Next I headed to the Esplanade to meet my friend, S, who had agreed to take me sailing. It was a hot, sunny day, so it was comfortable and beautiful out on the water. We chatted as we sailed over the sparkling water and past landmarks. Such a nice way to spend a summer afternoon.

our sail

great day for sailing

skyline from the water

rudders in a row

sail storage

After our sail, I headed over to Beacon Hill and did some browsing, and a little actual shopping. I stopped for a late lunch at The Paramount, then wandered in the Public Garden a bit. Check out the swan and its eggs in the nest!

swan nest with eggs!

At that point, I had a hankering for ice cream, and I lucked out. A Mr. Frosty soft-serve truck was parked right by the bus stop, so I grabbed a cone before heading home. Since then, I’ve been puttering online, doing laundry, and watching the baseball game.  Hooray for summer!

 

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I got to visit my parents in St. Louis after my conference trip to Chicago.  The timing was good, as my dad had just had surgery, so I was able to visit him, while my mom worked.  Most of the visit was spent just hanging out with my parents, but Mom and I did take some time to check out the Missouri Botanical Garden, one of Mom’s favorite places. I generally get out to visit my folks in the winter, so it was nice to be there at a time when the garden was in full bloom.  It really is an impressive place, with lots of different styles of garden, beautifully executed.  It is free for residents of St. Louis county and very reasonably priced for the rest of us.  Honestly, they must do a lot of fund-raising, because the quality is way above what one would expect for the admission price, especially once you see the number of Chihuly pieces the Garden acquired permanently after the exhibition of his work there several years ago.  Those glass installations are not cheap.

Mom and I started in the Climatron, a domed glass greenhouse filled with an amazing variety of stunning tropical plants.

I wish I had taken the photo above with Mom in it, because those plants are enormous!  The blooms were over her head.

See?  More Chihuly.  Mom and I liked the flamingo-like shapes of these, and they really glowed in their pool of sunlight.

And it wasn’t only the colorful things that caught our eyes.

I am guessing this plant is either carnivorous, and catches insects in these hanging pods or that they are for capturing water, with the prickly bits to keep critters from stealing the liquid.

Isn’t it amazing how much variety is in our world?  I love that there are always so many new things to see and wonder about! Anyway, after the Climatron, we wandered to Tower Grove House, which was originally the country home of the Garden’s creator, Henry Shaw.  It’s odd to think of it as a country house, when today the Botanical Garden is surrounded by city neighborhoods.

Of course, it’s easy to forget the city in the immediate surroundings of the house, such as the lovely formal garden, based on Shaw’s original design.

Next we headed to the expansive Japanese Garden.  While I tend to love showy, colorful landscapes, I was struck by the serene and ordered layout in this section.  It was absolutely gorgeous.

There were some flowers, of course, including irises, a favorite of mine.

And we got to feed lots of koi, whose colors and patterns were nearly as beautiful as the plants and flowers (though the photos don’t do them justice, due to the jostling for food.)

It was a hot day, so Mom and I were flagging by that point.  But on our way back to the Garden entrance we wandered through one of the rose gardens and the Orangerie, and enjoyed yet another Chihuly installation.

Really we only saw a portion of what the Garden has to offer.  There were several sections we didn’t see, so you could probably spend the better part of a day here.  Yet another jewel in St. Louis’s cultural crown.

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I am noticing one upside to the long and snowy winter we had in Boston.  I am appreciating spring even more this year than I usually do.  Maybe it is just the contrast to those long months of white and gray that is making the season seem so vibrant, but I could swear everything seems to be blooming at once this year.

Since the weather was sunny and relatively warm this weekend, I went for a long ramble in the Arnold Arboretum.  I live within walking distance of the place, and it is shameful that I don’t visit it more often, but I always manage to make at least one trip each spring.  This visit was spectacular.  I have never seen so many different kinds of flowers there all in bloom.  There were hyacinths and daffodils here and there, carpets of violets in white and blue, rhododendrons and azaleas and forsythia, all kinds of blooming trees, and even a few early lilacs.

It felt so good to get out in the fresh air and surround myself with green and other colors.  And I know my body needed the exercise.  I have been extremely sedentary lately.  But every time I go to the arboretum I wish I knew more about identifying trees.  Maybe one of these days I will actually take one of the classes they offer and learn a little botany.

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