Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

Hopefully you will have read my blog on our last visit to Stratford Upon Avon where we visited Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Shakespeare’s New Place and Hall Croft.

We paid for a “full story” ticket which gets you entry to the five different places – Mary Arden’s Tudor Farm, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Shakespeare’s New Place and Hall Croft. We didn’t have time on the day to visit all five places, so we saved Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and Mary Arden’s Farm for another day.

Well, we chose another beautiful day to visit Anne Hathaway’s Cottage! The sun was shining which shows this lovely cottage in its full glory and meant we could explore all the grounds without the threat of rain! A perfect day out!

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage is a beautiful cottage in Stratford Upon Avon and belonged to the wife of William Shakespeare. The cottage was built in 1463 until the first Hathaway’s moved in as tenant sheep farmers in 1540.

Anne was born in 1556 and lived here until she married Shakespeare in 1582 and moved into his family home on Henley Street, again in Stratford Upon Avon.

In 1610 Anne’s brother, Bartholomew, purchased the lease to the cottage and began to develop it. The cottage was extended, resulting in it doubling in size. Chimneys and an upper floor were built, providing bedrooms and storage.

In the 1700’s the Hathaway family fortunes begin to decline and by 1838, descendants of the Hathaway’s had sold the cottage but remained as tenants. In 1892 the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust bought the cottage, but kept the family on as custodians.

It is wrong really to refer to it as a “cottage”, as it is far larger than you would imagine a cottage to be, and has huge adjoining grounds! Whilst exploring the Cottage and its grounds you will come across;

Willow Arbour, there are a couple of these you will encounter along the woodland walk.

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The Music Note Willow Sculpture was designed by award winning sculpture artist Tom Hare. It is a giant musical stave with music notes and butterflies woven onto it.

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The sculpture leads the way to a special Butterfly Conservation Border planted with flowers to attract the butterflies, and believe me, it works! The gardens were full of beautiful butterflies of all colours!

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The Woodland Walk is really beautiful and well worth doing! Such peace and quiet as you wander through the wood and encounter beautiful trees, flowers, shrubs and even some little bunny rabbits!

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One of the highlights of the visit is the Willow sculpture, a crescent shaped sculpture also known as the “Moon Seat”. This is another design by Tom Hare and is not only beautiful to look at but also acts as the perfect viewing point for the cottage and the gardens.

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The Cottage Garden’s are really beautiful. Someone asked one of the guides whilst we were there how the garden grows such beautiful shrubs, plants and vegetables, to which the guide replied “over 400 years of practice!” It’s true, if the well established gardens hadn’t got the hang of growing the best quality produce by now then maybe it never would have!

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Miss Willmott’s Garden is named after the Edwardian horticulturist who designed the cottage gardens in the 19th Century style. During the Spring and Summer months the garden is full of beautiful scented flowers.

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and of course the main attraction; Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. Isn’t it stunning?! The outside is covered in beautiful roses with brightly coloured flower beds with wonderful scents.

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Inside the cottage you will find all of the rooms set up as they would have been back when Anne used to live here.

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The cottage is beautiful inside with long corridors and wonky walls and is full of original Hathaway furniture including the Hathaway bed!

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Outside, just up past the Traditional Orchard you will find the Sculpture Trail and Arbouretum, with some lovely Shakespearian inspired sculptures, and even more fluffy bunnies playing in the sunshine!

And this is by no means all there is to see! During your visit you can also see the Yew Circle, Shottery Brook Walk, Family Activity Tent (check for seasonal activities), Garden Cafe and Sonnet Arbour, where you can listen to Shakespearian verse being read.

A really lovely day out which is highly recommended and best of all, we bought the tickets using our Tesco Clubcard points so the tickets didn’t cost us a penny!

The “full story” tickets we bought are valid for a full 12 months after purchase, so you can visit any of the five locations as many times as you wish for a full year! So the ticket is excellent value for money!

Full story tickets are £22.50, or you can book online for a 10% reduction in ticket prices (you can book your tickets here.)

 

A day in Bruges

It wasn’t until I saw the 2008 Colin Farrell movie “In Bruges”, a black comedy about two Irish hitmen hiding out, that I had even heard of this Belgian town! I went from first hearing about it, to adding it onto my “absolutely must visit” list less than half an hour into this film…

Seeing this town used as a backdrop for this film was almost a distraction from the storyline itself. The film, as it’s title suggests, does an incredible job of showing Bruges at its best – the beautiful architecture, the stunning Belfry and the wonderful little old bridges. Soon after we had watched the film for the first time, we were booked on a long weekend to go and visit Amsterdam and Bruges!  In fact, we were booked to go on this trip in the May and enjoyed it so much that we booked up to go back again only a few months later in the August!

You always have to take care when you first see a place in a film and decide it is the next place to visit after falling in love with all the Hollywood imagery and effects. You are either going to visit somewhere and find that it completely exceeds your expectations and the film represents it exactly how it is. I’ve found this to be true with Las Vegas, New York and Thailand (Thailand as in Leonardo Dicaprio in “The Beach”.) I’ve also been bitterly disappointed with some places I’ve visited after seeing them featured on the silver screen (spoiler alert – Hollywood is an absolute DUMP in real life!) so I really didn’t know what to expect on my arrival here.

I’m pleased to say that it was everything I had hoped it to be, which is obviously why I booked to go back so soon! It is a beautiful city and in my opinion completely under-rated.

Bruges has most of its medieval architecture intact, making it one of the most well-preserved medieval towns in Europe. The historic centre of Bruges has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000.

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Grote Markt is the largest of Bruges’ two central squares. It is full of beautiful architecture and buildings which have real character – here you will find some Nineteenth century gabled buildings along three sides of the square, and the fourth side features the breathtaking Belfort. There are horse drawn carriages galore within the square if you would like a whistle stop tour of all the main sights. Perfect on those bright and sunny days but beware, they are expensive, as most touristy trips tend to be!

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Whilst here we went for lunch on the square and sat outside so we had a beautiful view of the Belfry. We had been pre-warned that the food would be expensive but it wasn’t as bad as I had expected. We sat in the sunshine and had a lovely lunch and some drinks whilst admiring the views and people watching, so well worth it I thought! If you are put off the prices in Grote Markt then if you walk a few streets away from the square you will find places with more reasonable prices (but not as much of a view, obviously!)

 

Anyway, after our pit stop and refreshment break we went on a mission to explore as much as we could during our short time here! Here are some of the main sights that Bruges has to offer;

The Belfry

As the Belfry is Bruges most famous landmark it would be wrong to start with anything else! It features heavily in the In Bruges film and storyline. It is a medieval tower from the 13th Century and used to house a treasury and municipal archives. The city archives were very sadly lost in a huge fire in 1280, and the tower was largely rebuilt.

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The poor Belfry has actually been subject to three fires over the years, the last one was in 1741 when the wooden spire was destroyed and never replaced. If you want to go all the way to the top you can, and you would be a braver person than I am! Friendly word of advice – if you are planning on going to the top of the tower, DON’T watch the In Bruges film before you go!

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There is a fee of 8 euros to climb the 366 steps to the top of the bell tower and it stands at 83 metres (or 272 feet) high! It is at the South end of the Markt (you can’t miss it!) and is open from 9:30am to 5:30pm. You don’t have to do the entire 366 steps all in one go, as on the way up to the tower you can stop at various levels to see the old bells and watch the big bell and see the carillon in action. There are a total of 47 bells which make up the carillon, and they ring every quarter of an hour.

The Basilica of the Holy Blood

Even if you don’t have time to venture inside here, it is worth visiting just to admire the dark gothic and romanesque exterior!

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The basilica consists of an upper and lower chapel and is dedicated to St Basil the Great. The lower chapel was built in the 12th century in Romanesque style and the upstairs chapel was built in the Gothic style in the 16th Century and houses a venerated relic (the physical remains or personal effects of a saint which have been preserved to be used as a memorial for them). The relic is of St Basil the Great and was brought here by Count Robert II from Caesarea Mazaca in modern day Turkey, or Cappadocia, Asia Minor as it was known then.

The basilica is also famous for housing a phial said to contain a cloth with the blood of Jesus Christ on it. This was rumoured to have been brought to the City by Thierry of Alsace after the 12th Century second crusade, however recent research found no evidence of the relic being in Bruges before the year 1250. The phial is made of rock crystal, there is gold thread wound around the neck and the top is sealed with red wax. It is then encased in a glass fronted gold cylinder. I wish we had taken the time to go in and see this now!

St. Salvator’s Cathedral

The cathedral is one of very few buildings in Bruges which has survived all the ages with no damage. It was originally built as a parish church and was not given cathedral status until 1834.

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The newly defined cathedral underwent significant changes after that to make sure it looked more cathedral-esque, and a fortress like Romanesque style tower 99 metres high was built.

Provincial Palace

This is a really beautiful neo-gothic style building which was actually built in two stages the first stage was between 1887 and 1892 and the second stage between 1914 to 1921.

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The building was originally used as a government meeting hall until 1999 and is now used mainly for exhibitions.

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Church of our Lady

We didn’t have time to actually visit here properly and go inside which was a real shame. Even in the distance looking at the beautiful spire you could tell what an impressive building it is. Its tower is 122 metres in height and the building is the tallest in the city and the second tallest brickwork tower in the WORLD!

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Even more annoying, I learned after we had got home that inside you can find Michaelangelo’s “Madonna and Child” sculpture in the transept, believed to have been the only sculpture by Michelangelo to have left Italy within his lifetime. We really should have taken the time to visit here properly!

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The Old St. John’s Hospital

This, as the name suggests, is an old medieval hospital which was founded in the 12th century. It is located next to The Church of our Lady and houses some of Europes oldest surviving hospital buildings. Today part of the hospital buildings houses the popular Hans Memling museum.

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If you have the time to take a boat trip during your visit to Bruges, you’ll get some spectacular views of the Church and the Old St John’s hospital en-route. The trips only cost around 10 euros and can take you to places in the town that you otherwise can’t reach! The pictures of the Church of our Lady and the Old St John’s hospital are spectacular from the water.

If you have time, also check out the well preserved old city gateways; the Kruispoort, the Gentpoort, the Smedenpoort and the Ezelpoort.

And of course, no trip to Bruges would be complete without window shopping at some of the famous Belgian chocolate on offer! Oh, and waffles, you MUST have some Belgian waffles whilst you are here!

Bruges is ever so easy to get around, the train station is only about 2km from the town centre and the train station adjoins the bus station. Local buses can take you from the train station to the town centre or there are plenty of taxis around if you prefer.

Although we visited Bruges both times during the summer months, the weather was still very unpredictable! The first time we visited it was very dark and cold and the rain didn’t stop the whole time we were there! It was no fun trying to capture some good photos in this awful weather, however, the second visit to Bruges with glorious sunshine partly made up for this! Always plan ahead and check the weather before you go – it really can be one extreme to another!

A really beautiful place which is well worth a visit – I would love to go again, but would like to actually stay in Bruges this time, rather than just do a day trip here. A day just isn’t long enough to explore and uncover all that this place has to offer!

The Jack the Ripper Museum

I’ve spent a lot of time in London over the last couple of months on training courses so I’m always looking for things to do in the late afternoon and early evening to take full advantage whilst I am away from home!

During my last training course I was staying in the Whitechapel area and came across the Jack the Ripper Museum which was only a few minutes walk from my hotel. I am an absolute crime story fanatic and of course the Jack the Ripper story is one of the oldest and most famous unsolved crime stories so I knew I had to pay a visit. I did it just in time too, as it was closed towards the end of May for a refurbishment!

I am not sure whether I timed my visit perfectly or not as I was the only person in the museum the whole time I was there! At first I thought how fantastic, I can get up close to all the exhibits without having to wait, but as soon as I had been walking round the eerie and haunting exhibits for a few minutes I wasn’t so sure it was a good idea…..

In 1888, Jack the Ripper committed a series of murders in the east end of London which shocked the entire world. The Killings spawned hundreds of theories, with each one trying to solve the crimes which, to this day, remain a mystery.

The museum is at 12 Cable Street, and is set in a beautiful Victorian terraced house. It is set across the six floors of the museum and each floor has a different setting;

First Floor – The Murder scene in Mitre Square

This scene relates to the 30th September 1888, the most famous date in Ripper history. In here are two waxwork figures, one of Catherine Eddowes, the second woman who died on this date and Police Constable Watkins, who discovered her body. On one side of the room is a worker’s cart under a street light. These carts were used to move the bodies of the murdered women to the morgue.

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One of the morgues used to store Jack the Ripper’s victims was only a few streets away from the museum. On the wall there is a replica of original graffiti which was left at the murder scene.

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Second Floor – Ripper’s Sitting Room

This room is set up to show how Jack the Ripper may have lived during these times and where he may have planned his murder.

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In this room are newspaper clippings which were written in 1888 and chart the progress of the serial killer’s awful crimes.

Hanging over the fireplace is an original drawing by the person who was the prime suspect in the Jack the Ripper killings, Walter Sickert. To this date there is a debate on whether the subject of the drawing is sleeping or if something more sinister is actually going on…..

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On one of the tables are medical instruments, poison, drug bottles and a skull belonging to the killer.

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On the desk, medical books on surgery and dissection are displayed, along with a letter addressed “from Hell” which may have been written by the Ripper.

A Doctor’s bag which contains knives similar to those used to kill and mutilate the Ripper’s victims is on the floor by the desk.

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Third Floor – Police Station

In this room you will find all the evidence and the profiles of the suspects.

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A crime board shows the sites of all the murders and the evidence the police collected.

In the display case is the actual whistle Police Constable Watkins blew to call for help when he found Catherine Eddowes’ mutilated body in Mitre Square.

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Also here is Police Constable Watkins’ notebook, handcuffs and truncheon he was carrying that day.

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By the desk is a waxwork of Chief Inspector Abberline, the detective in charge of leading the hunt for the Ripper in 1888.

Fourth Floor – Victim’s Bedroom

Up a steep and eerie staircase you can find the fourth floor, which has been arranged as the victims bedrooms may have looked in these times. The walls up this staircase are not decorated in newspaper headings and stories like the others in the rest of the house.

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Jack the Ripper’s victims would have lived in rooms just like this one, in one of London’s most poverty stricken areas.

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A small metal bed with a straw mattress was all the comfort these women would have had. Gin was often the drink of choice in those days, with a bottle costing only a few pence.

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There are rare photos of the victims on the wall of this room, as haunting music quietly plays in the background.

In the display case in this room are some original Victorian bonnets. These would have been worn by women to cover their hair, which would have rarely been washed in those days.

Basement – The Mortuary

This room details the violence of Jack the Ripper’s crimes which still shock everyone today. Note, this room is deemed unsuitable for the under 16’s.

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On the walls of this room are original autopsy photos of the horrific murders which some people may find disturbing. I was really worried about going in here after I read this but most of the photos do not show much detail and, due to when they were taken, are not clear. Having said that, I am a true crime buff and have looked at lots of photos like this so I am quite immune to this type of thing, so please exercise caution if you do get to visit the museum.

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The body of Elizabeth Stride was taken to the parish mortuary of St George-in-the-East. The building, which is only moments from the museum, was once a chapel. On the far wall is a Victorian stained glass window from the mortuary.

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Next to the stained glass window are drawers that were used to store the bodies of the dead until they were collected for burial.

Some of the murdered women had no families to collect their remains. They were buried in mass paupers’ graves and their last resting place unmarked.

and of course, as with most museums, you exit through the;

Gift shop on the Ground Floor

In here you will find a large selection of gift, ceramics, prints and memorabilia which can only be found at the Jack the Ripper museum.

If you would like to read more about the museum or book tickets online you can find their website here.

If this is a case which particularly interests you, you can become a Ripperologist by joining through the museum’s website. The Jack the Ripper museum is the official home of the International Society of Ripperologists  and this worldwide community is dedicated to the study of the Whitechapel murders and in solving the ultimate question – who was Jack the Ripper?

Nashville, a journey to the Deep South

I’ve always wanted to visit Nashville – the home of Country and Western music!

Nashville is the capital of Tennessee and we visited as part of our big tour of the deep south of America so unfortunately our time here was pretty limited. In fact, although we spent roughly the same time in some of the other locations such as Memphis, Chattanooga and Tupelo, Nashville was the one place I really noticed that we wouldn’t have enough time to see the vast majority of the sights this fantastic place had to offer.

I couldn’t wait to visit, mainly to learn more about the history of country and western music, as Nashville is known as the centre of the country music industry, earning it the nickname “Music City”.

Although it was very limited, here’s what we managed to squeeze in during our short time here;

The first point of interest made me chuckle – the John Seigenthaler pedestrian bridge – also known by the locals as the Dolly Parton bridge due to its two rather large humps….

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RCA Studio B is a recording studio which was originally known as RCA Studios. The studio helped to revive the popularity of country music and establish Nashville as an international recording centre. 

The recording studio is a single-storey building with offices at the front, but the area of the studio and control room has a second storey which contains an echo chamber.

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Famous artists who recorded songs at Studio B include The Everly Brothers, Willie Nelson, Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton, and the one and only, Elvis Presley! In her 1994 memoir, My Life And Other Unfinished Business, Dolly Parton told the story of how she was rushing to her first recording session at the studio in September 1967 and, rushing to make the session on time, drove her car through the side wall of the building. The spot where her car impacted the building is still visible even today!

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Daily tours of the studio are offered by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and the tour guides have some fantastic stories to tell which have been gathered over the years – including Elvis Presley banging his head on a low hanging microphone during the recording of “Are you lonesome tonight?” The sound of him doing it can still be heard on the original recording they play for you!

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We also visited the Nashville Parthenon which is in Centennial Park. It is a full scale replica of the original Parthenon in Athens and was built in 1897 as part of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. Today it is used as an art museum – it is really impressive to look at!

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I don’t even really know how to begin explaining the amazing Country Music Hall of Fame! It is absolutely huge! It is one of the world’s largest museums and this is obvious as soon as you step inside! You could spend weeks here looking at the memorabilia and reading the information contained within one of the world’s most extensive musical collections. 

Here are just a few of the incredible items and collections you can find inside;

Elvis Presley’s gold cadillac – the 1960 Cadillac was customised by Barris Kustom City of North Hollywood. The exterior sheen is due to its 24 carat gold plate highlights and forty painted coats of a translucent mixture of crushed diamonds and fish scales called diamond dust pearl. The interior includes a gold plated television and a record player with automatic changer!

Taylor Swift’s crystal covered guitar! Swoon! The pictures didn’t do it justice at all!

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Elvis Presley’s 24 carat gold leaf piano (starting to see a theme here!) I don’t think this is actually here anymore, as news articles seem to suggest it sold in an auction to the Hard Rock Cafe for $600,000!! I’m glad I got to see it whilst I was there!

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Plus rooms and rooms and rooms of memorabilia from hundreds and hundreds of Country and Western music stars, including Roy Rogers, Patsy Montana, Eddy Arnold, Hank Williams, Red Foley, T. Texas Tyler, Spade Cooley, Merle Travis, Hank Thompson, Cindy Walker, Carl Perkins, Wanda Jackson, Keith Urban, Brenda Lee, Jim Reeves, Marty Robbins, Patsy Kline, Tammy Wynette and infamous names like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Dolly Parton…. the list goes on!

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After spending a good few hours here we continued to explore this amazing city and came across the Johnny Cash Museum. 

God, I really regret not visiting here but I don’t know how we would have had the time!

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It features the largest and most comprehensive collection of Johnny Cash artifacts and memorabilia in the world, and is located in the heart of Downtown Nashville. It is one of only six attractions in Nashville to receive the coveted AAA Gem rating and is ranked the number 1 music museum in the world by Forbes, Conde’ Naste and National Geographic Traveler – if you get the chance – GO!

Walking the streets of Nashville is amazing feeling. It is so relaxed, and everywhere you look are shops selling Cowboy hats and Cowboy Boots, or really expensive guitars.

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There are bars open everywhere with live music being played and even street sellers selling famous Moonshine! The stuff looked lethal so no, we didn’t have any!

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There’s so much to see and do here, its easy to see why people love it and call it the home of Country and Western music! I just hope I get the opportunity to go back some day!

 

A trip to Kensington Palace

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I hadn’t ever thought about visiting Kensington Palace but when I told my Mum I wanted to visit London for the day and asked her what she fancied doing she said she had always wanted to visit! Even better, you can get Kensington Palace entry tickets by exchanging your Tesco Clubcard vouchers, bargain!

Kensington Palace is situated in Kensington Gardens and has been the residence of the British Royal Family since the 17th Century. It is currently the official residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Duke and Duchess of Kent, Prince and Princess Michael of Kent, and Princess Eugenie.

Kensington Palace was built as a royal home for William III and Mary II at the end of the 17th Century. It has had many roles over the years, including a museum and a barracks for soldiers guarding the Great Exhibition. It used to be a small mansion known as Nottingham house. In 1689 the new monarchs, King William III and Queen Mary II, purchased Nottingham House for £20,000 and only weeks later, Sir Christopher Wren began work on transforming it into a royal palace. The new palace had a chapel, courtier accommodation, kitchens, stables, barracks and many grand rooms and state apartments. Queen Mary died in 1694 of smallpox in her bed chamber in the palace but had spent many years before designing and furnishing the palace.

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William didn’t make many alterations to the Palace, and his successor, Queen Anne, only reigned for a short time and so only added the orangery during her time. Anne left no heir and so the palace passed to her distant relative, George Ludwig.

The new King George liked Kensington Palace but found it to be in very poor condition and so plans were made to rebuild it on a much larger scale. A new set of State Apartments were built to replace the old Jacobean house in 1718 to 1722.

During the reign of King George II between 1727 and 1760, the Palace was used to its full potential as George and Queen Caroline enjoyed entertaining their guests in lavish ceremonies. Unfortunately, after Queen Caroline’s death in 1737, the King closed off half of the palace. King George died in his private apartments at Kensington Palace in October 1760.

George III showed little interest in Kensington Palace throughout his reign (1760-1820), but this did mean that the furnishings and paintings were left untouched in dark rooms for this time. The Palace eventually became home to George III’s two sons, Prince Augustus, Duke of Sussex and Prince Edward, Duke of Kent. Prince Augustus was a book collector, and amassed over 50,000 volumes in his apartment! Prince Edward was the father of Queen Victoria, who was born in the palace in 1819. In June 1837 she was told of her accession to the throne, and held her first council in the Red Saloon.

Queen Victoria’s daughters, Princess Louise and Princess Beatrice, later lived in the palace. Louise was a really gifted artist and left the legacy of the statue of the young Queen Victoria which sits at the east side of the palace.

A major restoration of the palace took place in 1898 under the orders of Queen Victoria and in 1912 the rooms were filled with display cases when the palace became home to the London Museum. A lot of damage was caused to the Palace by incendiary bombs during the Second World War.

In the 1960’s, Princess Margaret came to live at the Palace, and further members of the Royal Family began to arrive in the 1970’s and 1980’s, one of the most famous of these being Diana, Princess of Wales, who lived at Kensington Palace up to her death in 1997.

There are several tours you can take within Kensington Palace which are:

The Kings State Apartments

The Kings Staircase leads to the King’s State Apartments, and all visitors for the King would have climbed this staircase, (provided that their clothes and jewels were acceptable to the guards!) The staircase paintings were completed around 1726 by an artist called William Kent, who included a portrait of himself on the ceiling in a brown artists cap and holding a palette. Kent’s work was inspired by the work he had seen in Rome, where he trained to be an artist.

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The Presence Chamber was where the King would sit on his throne, under a crimson silk damask throne canopy, and important guests would be ushered in to bow to him.

The Privy Chamber was one of Queen Caroline’s favourite entertaining spaces. It has another amazing ceiling created by William Kent in 1723 and shows Mars, the Roman god of War, and Minerva the goddess of Wisdom, and surrounding them are the emblems representing the arts and sciences.

The Cupola Room was probably my favourite room of the Palace. This room was the first room decorated by William Kent. In this room he re-created in paint a baroque Roman palace but with the Star of the Order of the Garter as the ceiling’s centrepiece. George II and Queen Caroline hosted really lavish parties in this room.

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The strange object in the centre of this room is a clock and a music box as well as a piece of artwork, and was completed in 1743.

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The Kings Drawing Room would have been packed full of courtiers back in the day, who would have all attended the King’s parties seeking power and patronage.

On the ceiling William Kent has shown the powerful god Jupiter, who accidentally killed his lover Semele, and portraits of Venetian doges line the walls. Next door to this room was the King’s bedchamber, and halfway through the evening he would emerge to make his grand appearance.

The Council Chamber is located in one of Christopher Wren’s pavilions, built on the corners of the original Nottingham House and it has served William III, George I and George II as a meeting place for the Privy Council. The sort of court dress that would once have been worn in these state rooms is on display here.

Queen Caroline’s Closet is a small room which originally belonged to William III as his bedchamber. George I used this room to store books but these were removed after Queen Caroline made one of the most important art discoveries of the era. In 1727, she found hidden in a cabinet a portfolio containing many drawings made by Hans Holbein, the younger of Henry VIII and his courtiers. Caroline later made this room a gallery filled with 300 paintings, miniatures and embroideries.

The Kings Gallery was built for William III as an addition to Wren’s design in the new South front and was finished in around 1700. It was in here that William III played soldiers with his little nephew and intended heir, the Duke of Gloucester. After a riding accident at Hampton Court, it was here that the King caught the chill that led to his death on 8th March 1702.

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The gallery was transformed in 1725 by William Kent for George I. Red damask replaced the green velvet walls and the fine oak joinery was painted white and gilded. Kent and his assistants painted the seven large ceiling canvasses that show scenes from the life of Ulysses.

Queen’s State Apartments

The Queen’s State Apartments are deliberately plainer and lower-key than the Kings, both inside and out. Here you can learn more about the lives of Mary II, Queen Anne and the House of Stuart.

The Queen’s Staircase is a sharp contrast to the grand marble King’s staircase. These apartments were built for Queen Mary between 1689 and 1694.

The Queen’s Gallery was painted white and hung with full length portraits of Kings and Queens  of England. Later, Mary developed a passion for collecting treasures from India, China and Japan. She filled the gallery with artefacts such as Turkish carpets, embroidered hangings and lacquer furniture, alongside her collection of 150 pieces of oriental porcelain.

The Queen’s Closet was where a terrible argument took place between Queen Anne and her childhood friend Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough.

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The Queen’s Eating Room has beautiful panelling which has survived from the 17th Century. In here, William and Mary would share simple private dinners of fish and beer. Mary would also use this room to make tea with the ladies of her household.

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The Queen’s Drawing Room used to be filled with Mary II’s porcelain. This room is the room which is claimed to have lost most of its original character, as it badly damaged by an incendiary bomb on 14th October 1940. Most of the panelling was destroyed which is why the walls are now wallpapered.

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The Queen’s Bedroom was used by Mary as her State bedroom when she and William first moved into the palace. Just as soon as Christopher Wren had finished work on the Queen’s Apartments, Mary had her rooms extended to provide her with more accommodation. This resulted in the Queen’s Gallery and a new private bedchamber being built.

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Victoria Revealed

We were very disappointed because this exhibition was closed when we visited, and it was one of the main exhibitions we wanted to see! We will definitely have to revisit to see this. In this exhibition you can visit the rooms Queen Victoria grew up in and learn more about her life right through from her childhood to her final years. In this section of the palace we would have been able to see:

The Stone Staircase where Princess Victoria first met her cousin and future husband, Prince Albert, for the first time in 1836.

The Red Saloon where Victoria held her first Privy Council on the morning she became Queen in June 1837.

On this tour you will also learn more about how Victoria and Albert fell in love and Victoria’s lonely family life growing up at Kensington Palace.

There is also a separate exhibition about Price Albert known as the Great Exhibition, which was in 1851 and would later be known as his greatest piece of work. It showcased technological and cultural achievements from over the world and attracted over six million visitors.

Modern Royals

This is a changing display – when we were here it was a beautiful Diana exhibition showcasing some of her most famous outfits. Well worth a visit and it slightly made up for the fact that the Victoria exhibition was closed.

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The first dress below was designed by Bruce Oldfield, who designed many dresses for the Princess. She wore it at the Courtauld institute of Art, Somerset House in 1990 and again at the Buckingham Palace state banquet in 1991.The Princess chose the second dress in the below picture for an official visit to Japan. The colour was chosen to complement the flowering cherry blossoms.

Diana chose to wear the Spencer Tiara, a sparkling family heirloom, on a state visit to India in 1992. This second dress was designed to complement it. The embroidery on the bodice of this dress was based on traditional Indian patterns.

The Princess wore this first dress when she danced with actor John Travolta at the White House. This second dress was embellished with falcons, the national bird of Saudi Arabia, when the Princess visited there. The high neckline and long sleeves also respected local customs.

The second dress below was worn by the Princess when she visited Brazil, shortly after their national football team lost to Argentina in the World Cup. Conscious of her hosts feelings, she instructed the designer, Catherine Walker, to avoid the blue and white colours of the Argentinian team when she designed the gown.

The second dress below was worn to the New York gala event before the Christie’s Auction.

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You can also visit the beautiful Palace Gardens, which were transformed in 2012. During the winter months, Queen Anne’s orange trees were protected from the cold inside her magnificent orangery, which was built for her between 1704 and 1705. In the summer months, they were transferred to the terrace outside. Anne also added fountains and an alcove with a garden seat to the south gardens. This still exists but was moved to nearby Lancaster Gate in the 1860’s. In 1705, 100 acres were added to the east side of the palace to form a paddock for royal deer and antelope.

The majority of the works done to the gardens were down to Queen Caroline. She extended the plantings, laid the Broad Walk and had the Round Pond dug in 1728. The Serpentine was formed as a boating lake by flooding several smaller ponds.

The Sunken Garden was laid out during the reign of Edward VII and opened in 1909, and is the most popular of the Palace gardens.

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The east and the south sides of the palace were laid out in 2012 with a new scheme designed by Todd Longstaffe-Gowan, inspired by the old layouts of lawns, trees, borders and topiary of George II’s time.

Queen Victoria is present at the front of the Palace in the form of a statue, which was designed by her daughter Louise.

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Kensington Palace was a lovely day out in spite of the cold, wet weather! A place I will definitely have to visit again so I can see the gardens properly in the sunshine and hopefully finally get to see the Victoria exhibition when it re-opens, which should be any day now….

Sudeley Castle

I’ve been wanting to visit Sudeley Castle for ages and we finally went in December 2016 for their Spectacle of Light event. It was a fantastic event which you can read more about here, but we were a bit disappointed that the tickets for this event didn’t include access to the castle, just the surrounding grounds. Anyway, after we had finished wandering around the beautiful grounds we knew we would have to come back very soon to visit the rest! We chose a fantastic day to visit – bright sun and clear skies, and best of all, perfect conditions to take some photos!

The Tithe Barn is one of the first things you come across when you follow the path from the visitors centre. It is pretty stunning for a building which doesn’t have many walls left!

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A tithe was a compulsory payment to the church and represented a tenth of a person’s income. Tithes were frequently paid in agricultural goods and this barn was a store for these goods.

The barn was built in the 15th Century by Ralph Boteler but was destroyed by troops in the Civil War. Surrounding the barn are lovely flowers and shrubs including foxgloves, primroses and hydrangeas. Next to the Tithe Barn you will find a pond full of koi carp, along with your first views of the stunning castle.

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After visiting the Tithe barn you wander along the path until you come across “the Dungeons“. Above the Dungeons is the beautiful castle terrace where you can look out to the Isbourne Valley to Spoonley Wood, the site of a Roman Villa. The mosaic which appears on the terrace is an exact replica of one of the Spoonley Wood floors.

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Next you will come across the Mulberry Garden which lies alongside the terrace and was planted by Emma Dent in the 19th Century.

Mulberry trees were special to Emma, as she was the daughter of a silk manufacturer, and the leaves of a mulberry tree were the only source of food for the silkworms. There is in fact only one mulberry tree in the garden, however there look to be more than this because several trunks grow from one root.

The Dungeon Tower is next to the Mulberry Garden and is listed as an Ancient Monument in its own right.

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The basement area, (which you no longer can go down to unfortunately), housed the original dungeons which went down a total of three levels! In the 19th Century the tower was converted to stabling and offices. A human skeleton was found during the restoration works under the stones and another skull was discovered when the Mulberry Garden was planted. Unfortunately, to this day, it remains a mystery who the remains belong to….

The Royal Ruins are so beautiful to look at and great to photograph with the sun beaming down on them! During the War of the Roses, Sudeley Castle was confiscated by Edward IV, who gave it to his notorious younger brother, the Duke of Gloucester, (more commonly known as Richard III.)

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Richard recreated this area of the castle and built a huge and spectacular banqueting hall in the north east corner, the evidence of which still remains on show today. The huge gothic windows which formed part of the banqueting hall are particularly stunning.

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A large hole can be seen on the far side of the Octagon Tower in the corner,  caused by a cannonball during the second of the two sieges Sudeley endured during the 17th Century. After the war, the winning side ordered the castle to be snubbed and, as a result, most of the inner yard, including the banqueting hall, was destroyed.

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The ruins are now covered with plants and flowers including clematis and roses.

On the ground floor and mezzanine exhibition levels within the castle you will find a children’s museum, which includes a display about Brock, the family’s pet badger, and period-style costumes for the children to try on. Other exhibitions start at the Old Stables which show Sudeley’s timeline and some prehistoric and Anglo Saxon artefacts which have been discovered on the estate over the years. And if all that isn’t enough, you will also find a WW1 exhibition here!

In the upper exhibition levels in the room called the Long Room you will find the Richard III exhibition. In 2013, Richard III’s skeleton was discovered under a Leicester car park. As a result of this discovery his head was forensically reconstructed and in the Richard III exhibition you will find a model of this work. Richard was the owner of Sudeley at the time he rode out of the castle to lead his brother’s army into the battle of Tewkesbury. The model looks out through the Long Room windows towards the ruins of his beautiful banqueting hall….

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The Richard III exhibition leads into the Tudor Room. After Richard III came the Tudor’s, and the castle was owned by all three of the Tudor Kings at some point – Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Henry VII.

Henry VIII stayed here with Anne Boleyn and later, his widow, Queen Katherine Parr, came to live here with her new husband, Thomas Seymour, who had been granted the castle by Edward VI. Katherine Parr is buried in the beautiful church within the gardens.

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Along the corridor from the document room is the old Sewing Room, which is still used for the conservation of textiles today.

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Next you will come across the West Wing Rooms. These small areas haven’t long been opened to the public. In the West Wing rooms you can find some very rare documents, including an extremely important book known as the Bohun Book of Hours. The book contains works which were probably put together for Henry VIII including musical scripts and manuscripts. To this day it is not known how the Book of Hours came to be in Sudeley’s collections.

You leave the West Wing by going down the staircase known as the Haunted Staircase, which forms part of one of the most ancient parts of the castle.

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Sudeley’s housemaids often used to take the long way round to avoid using this staircase! There are said to be three ghosts haunting the grounds at Sudeley – the first is said to be Queen Katherine Parr, seen wearing a green dress, in the library and the gardens. The second is thought to be lady by the name of Janet, who was the housekeeper of the Dent-Brocklehurst family, and has been seen on the Haunted Staircase and in the South Hall. The third ghost is said to be a white hunting poodle called “Boy” who belonged to Prince Rupert of the Rhine and was given the run of the castle during the Civil War. Alongside these three, there were also reports of a darker, more evil presence which resulted in a shamanic exorcism which, hopefully, seems to have done the trick so far!

After you come down the Haunted Staircase this leads to the Queen Elizabeth Corridor. This corridor connects the east and west wings of the Castle. Along the corridor you will find the story of Queen Elizabeth I’s three day visit to the castle in 1592.

Around halfway down the corridor there is a door leading to the Knot Garden. It is a stunning garden and the pattern is based on the pattern of dress worn by Elizabeth in the famous portrait known as The Allegory of the Tudor Succession, a famous group portrait of the Tudor dynasty which was previously in the Sudeley collection.

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Beyond the Knot Garden, in a corner in the ruins, is the small Queen Elizabeth Garden. This is the oldest surviving part of the castle, with walls as old as the 12th Century. A beautiful tableau has been created here, showing Elizabeth in her Presence Chamber, ready to make a formal entrance to one of her banquets being held in the adjoining banqueting hall.

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If you return back to the Queen Elizabeth corridor you will reach the film shed, where a short film is shown about Lady Jane Grey, known as the tragic Nine Day’s Queen.

When the Castle was renovated by the Dents, the converted the East Wing into their principal rooms (I think I would have too, as they have stunning views of the garden and church from here!). The South Hall then became the main staircase of the house, and contains some beautiful Dutch Painted glass, dated between 1580 and 1620.

The Morning Room is a beautiful sunny room and is said to be the favourite of Mary Dent-Brocklehurst, the present owners mother-in-law. Despite being called the Morning Room, this room is still regularly used by the family in the evenings. Other rooms you can visit include the Library, Chandos Bedroom, and the Katherine Parr Ante Room and Katherine Parr Privy.

St Mary’s Church was formerly called the Castle Chapel. It was built in the 15th century and originally had a covered gallery linking it to the Castle. The lost gallery between the old chapel and the Castle has been recreated by a series of arches.

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Katherine Parr and Lady Jane Grey are represented by topiary figures draped in ivy and roses, as they often took this route. The last time they visited St Mary’s Church together was when Lady Jane was Chief Mourner at Katherine’s funeral. Awfully, Katherine’s widower, Thomas Seymour, did not even attend his wife’s funeral. Katherine Parr is the only Queen of England to be buried at a private residence, and you can visit her tomb inside St Mary’s Church.

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Strangely, her coffin was unearthed in the 18th Century beside a wall of the old chapel, and when it was opened her body was still almost perfectly preserved! Her remains were laid to rest again at Sudeley under a beautiful effigy, when St Mary’s church was restored.

The garden immediately surrounding St Mary’s Church is called the White Garden, with its colour symbolising the purity of the Virgin. Along the South wall you will find white roses, peonies, clematis and even a white passion flower.

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To the South of the Church lies the Queen’s Garden which is bordered by double yew hedges. A new rose garden was added to the site in 1989, as roses were the emblems of the Lancastrian, Yorkist and Tudor royal dynasties which the Castle is closely associated with.

In a corner between the castle and the church is the small East Garden. This garden was inspired by Marvell’s poem, “The Garden”, written during the Civil War. It was designed to be a “calm and meditative refuge based predominantly on shades of green”.

The walled Secret Garden can be found to the north of the church. This garden was replanted in 1979 to celebrate Lord and Lady Ashcombe’s marriage, and then replanted again in 1998 to celebrate the marriage of Lady Ashcombe’s son, Henry, to Lili Maltese.

You can find the Pheasantry on the far side of the secret garden which is thought to contain the largest private collection of rare pheasants in the country. You will also find a pair of Snowy owls and an Eagle owl here! When we visited the Pheasantry we managed to make a very pretty peacock friend who followed us nearly all the way back to the car! He seemed to bask in the attention thats for sure! Little scamp!

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A path from the pheasantry leads over the canal to a small Tudor Physic Garden which contains some of the plants that were used for medicinal purposes when Katherine Parr lived at Sudeley. Many of the plants in the garden are actually highly poisonous if not expertly prepared, such as Monkshood and Deadly Nightshade!

Further along the path is the Herb Garden which was created by Sir Roddy Llewellyn in 2011 with planting designs by Jekka McVicar. The final tableau at Sudeley, which you can find at the edge of the Herb Garden, is of Emma Dent. She is depicted in topiaries of yew and is relaxing in a quiet corner of the garden reading a book! I don’t blame her!

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As you can tell, there is so much to see and do at Sudeley Castle, and I’ve not even covered everything! A fantastic day out for all of the family and a place I would definitely re-visit very soon!

A trip to Tewkesbury Abbey

Tewkesbury isn’t too far away from me but is another place I have never visited! I had a week off over my Birthday and thought this would be the perfect opportunity to have a long overdue trip to this beautiful historic river-side town.

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The main thing I wanted to see was Tewkesbury Abbey. It was such a shame about the weather – it was grey and overcast and drizzly and really cold! I should think this building looks even more spectacular with the sun beaming down on it!

The correct name of Tewkesbury Abbey is The Abbey Church of St Mary the Virgin. There has been a church situated here at this site since Saxon times, and the church is even mentioned in the Doomsday book, surveyed during 1086.

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King William II (aka William the Conqueror) gave the Manor of Tewkesbury to Robert Fitzhamon, who was a soldier and a great and loyal friend to the King. He and his wife, Sybil de Montgomery, founded the Abbey and brought Abbot Gerald and his monks here from the failing abbey of Cranbourne in Dorset to form the new monastery.

When Fitzhamon died in 1107 from wounds sustained in the Battle of Falaise two years earlier, his body was buried in the Abbey’s chapter house. Building work continued by his daughter Mabel and her husband Robert Fitzroy, who was the eldest illegitimate son of King Henry. The Abbey was consecrated in 1121.

The Abbey itself has some amazing Norman features including the arch and stunning turrets. The quire and transepts were probably the earliest examples of a three-storeyed building in Europe. The tower was created in the late 12th Century and and is the largest and finest Romanesque tower in the world. The tower is 14 metres square and 46 metres high.

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The West front shows six beautiful rounded classic Norman arches. Before the window was installed in the 14th Century there was a total of seven arches.

In medieval times the Abbey would have looked very different – everywhere would have been painted in strikingly bright colours and patterns and biblical patterns, but there is hardly any trace of this within the Abbey today.

The original Norman ceiling in the nave was higher than the one here today and was more than likely made of wood. It was replaced in the 14th Century with stone in the Gothic rib vaulting styling.

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The nave looking towards the high altar. The pillars are Norman but the beautiful vaulting is 14th Century.

The photograph below on the right shows the vaulting upside down as it is a reflection in a cleverly placed mirror so you can admire the detail without hurting your neck straining to look upwards! It is such a stunning vaulted ceiling.

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Stunning net vaulting above the quire. The centre is King Edward IV’s emblem, known as the sun in splendour.

For nearly 300 years, three successive medieval families were the patrons of Tewkesbury Abbey. When the Fitzhamon’s grandson, William, passed away the Abbey devolved through his daughter and into her husbands family, the de Clare’s. The patronage was then inherited by Gilbert de Clare’s daughter, Eleanor, and her husband, Hugh le Despenser II. In around 1320 the Despensers began to modernise the abbey. This work was halted temporarily when Hugh was executed for treason in 1326. Eleanor built a beautiful tomb for Hugh, which can be seen in the Abbey today. Eleanor and her son, Hugh le Despenser III, continued work on updating the abbey, including raising the nave roof and adding the beautiful nave vaulting. The high altar, presbytery and quire were transformed and new stained glass windows were added.

Lord Edward Despenser, Hugh Despenser III’s nephew and heir, is commemorated in the beautiful chantry chapel, commissioned by his widow, Elizabeth Burghersh. This is the oldest of the three chapels and has a beautiful fan vaulted ceiling and a statue of Lord Edward on the roof. Unfortunately because of it’s position, you cant get close enough to see the detail which is a real shame.

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A terrible picture I am afraid as this is the closest you can get but this is the wooden effigy of Lord Edward Despenser, kneeling on top of his chantry facing the altar. He is quite faded now but was originally painted with bright vivid colours – a very unusual effigy for its time.

The patronage was then passed to Isabella Despenser following the deaths of her brother and father. She built the most elaborate of the Abbey’s chantry chapels in memory of her first husband, Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Worcester, who died in battled aged only 22.

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The ceiling of the chantry Chapel designed by Isabella Beauchamp – this too used to be full of colour however very little colour now remains.
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The elaborate vaulting of the chantry Chapel built in the 15th century by Isabella Beauchamp for her first husband, Richard, Earl of Worcester.

Richard Neville became Earl of Warwick and Lord of Tewkesbury when he married Anne Beauchamp, the daughter and heir of Isabella and Richard. Richard Neville was known as the “Kingmaker” due to his influence and power.

Richard’s support was critical in the overthrowing of Henry VI and the crowning of Edward IV, however Richard and King Edward IV fell out soon after. Richard later travelled to France and was persuaded to make peace with the Lancastrians and provide his support in restoring Henry VI to the throne. Richard was defeated and killed in the Battle of Barnet in April 1471 when Edward returned to England from exile.

Henry VI’s queen, Margaret of Anjou, came back from France with her son Edward, Prince of Wales and was persuaded to stay and fight for her son’s inheritance. Her plans to combine the two groups in Gloucester were foiled when the Yorkist constable of Gloucester castle prevented their entry into the city. She had no choice but to follow the course of the River Severn, which resulted in her arrival in Tewkesbury on the 3rd May 1471.

On the 4th May 1471, a battle ensued known as the Battle of Tewkesbury. The Lancastrians were forced to retreat towards the town of Tewkesbury, and many sought shelter within the Abbey. It is said that the Yorkist’s pursued them inside the Abbey with swords. At the time, Abbot Strensham was celebrating mass at the high altar. He challenged Edward and his brothers and demanded that the troops did not defile the church with such slaughter and bloodshed. The King withdrew as requested but the Abbot was unable to argue that the Abbey was a place to grant sanctuary, and the Lancastrians were handed over to King Edward. The resulting bloodshed closed the building for a month sop it could be purified and re-consecrated.

There is a brass plate in the floor in the sanctuary which marks the grave of Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, the son of King Henry VI, and the end of the Lancastrian bloodline. He was killed during the Battle of Tewkesbury, was the only Prince of Wales to ever die in battle, and was only 17 at the time of his death.

After the battle, the monks of Tewkesbury are rumoured to have picked up pieces of horse armour from the battlefield which they hammered flat to strengthen the door of the sacristy.

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One of the best ceilings I’ve ever seen – the vaulting above the choir with the beautiful stained glass windows below.
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Both the vaulting and the stained glass windows pre-date 1440.

Between 1536 and 1541, to assert his authority as head of the Church in England, Henry VIII disbanded the monastic houses of England and seized all their lands and possessions. Tewkesbury Abbey was finally surrendered to the Commissioners in January 1540. The Commissioners ordered the dismantling of some of the monastic buildings.

The east end of the church once had a magnificent Lady Chapel of which only the foundations now remain. In the years following the Dissolution of the Abbey in 1540, the Lady Chapel was on of the buildings which was dismantled. The footprint of the chapel is outlined with stone slabs in the grass at the east end of the building. Today’s Lady Chapel is now in the south transept.

The townsfolk of Tewkesbury later petitioned the commissioners to be able to buy the church building. The price paid was £483, which was the value of the lead on the roof and the metal in the bells.

In 1609, King James I sold the manor to the Corporation of Tewkesbury for £2,454.

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Tom Denny’s windows were installed in the chapel of St John the Baptist and St Catherine and were to commemorate 900 years since the arrival of the monks at Tewkesbury.

The eastern exterior of the Abbey is my favourite view of this beautiful building. It is marked in the grass where the 14th Century Lady Chapel once stood.

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The eastern exterior

Also keep a look out for the two storey gatehouse, known in the 15th Century as “the grate gate”. This is one of three entrances like this and is thought to have been the monastery’s inner gate.

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The grate gate

As Tewkesbury is a river-side town, it unfortunately often sees the effects of flooding. The Abbey itself has flooded twice during severe floods in 1760, and more recently on 23rd July during the 2007 floods. There were signs of flooding during our visit, and no doubt the heavy rain over the past few weeks has not made the situation any better….

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If you are visiting Tewkesbury for the day I would also recommend paying the town centre a visit. Along Church Street you will find some beautiful half timbered buildings which are worth admiring!

A really lovely place, I am already looking forward to re-visiting. We had hoped to do a little boat trip up the River Severn but after a couple of hours walking around in the cold, wet weather we were really for some lunch and a hot chocolate!  Hopefully the next time we go, the weather will be a bit warmer and we can enjoy a little boat trip to see more of the sights Tewkesbury has to offer!

Happy Birthday to me!

It’s wrong to say Happy Birth”day” to me because in actual fact I have a Birth-week not a Birth”day”! I always pack my Birthday week full of fun and days out with family and friends and this year was no exception!

Here’s what I got up to during this AMAZING week!

On Monday, Mum and I caught the megabus to London! Yes it takes ages but it cost us only £8 each for a return from Gloucester to London! The coach stops at Victoria Coach Station which just so happens to be a five-minute walk away from one of my favourite bakery’s in London – Dominique Ansel’s! So, we popped in here for breakfast before starting our busy London adventure!

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I had an amazing turkey croque monsieur and one of their Blossoming hot chocolates, which I have wanted to try for ages!

I also had a delicious Cookie Shot, a shot glass sized cup made out of cookie and filled with delicious creamy vanilla milk! I bought a pack of six Cookie Shots to take home with me as well! The cakes in here are incredible – check out these lovely Blizzard Bear cakes!

After our lovely refreshment break we caught an Uber over to Kensington Palace. We had a lovely time here, so much so that I am writing a separate blog on this amazing place – the Diana Exhibition which is currently on was definitely an added bonus! Even better, we didn’t pay the entrance fee because we managed to pay for the tickets using our Tesco Clubcard vouchers!

After a few hours exploring Kensington Palace we moseyed on over to Cutter and Squidge for our Genie’s Cave afternoon tea! I really love attending these themed afternoon teas! I have been trying to get into the Tale as old as Time one for months but it is always fully booked. Then after going to the amazing Mad Hatter’s Tea Party afternoon tea in December last year I was on the hunt for something similar and came across the Genie’s Cave version! This was another brilliant experience with amazing food, so a a separate blog is to follow on this too! A word of warning though – the Genie’s Cave theme is due to end at the end of March so get booking if this is something you fancy!

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After stuffing our faces we wandered around and did the only thing we know best – bought more delicious treats to bring home with us! We visited Doughnut Time who sell THE BEST doughnuts ever! Move over KrispyKreme!

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After visiting all of our favourite food places we wandered slowly back over to Victoria Coach Station via Buckingham Palace to catch our coach home. What an amazing start to my Birthday week!

Tuesday was far less exciting but definitely a lovely day off – I basically got up at the normal time and got ready and then spent the morning in my local Starbucks catching up with writing my blogs and updating my Instagram and Twitter accounts. I managed to publish a blog every day in December for Blogmas, and over the Christmas holidays I had intended to get my blogs up to date and to have them scheduled several weeks in advance, but unfortunately this fell by the way-side and since mid-January I have been struggling to get my weekly weekend blog published. The week commencing 19th February I didn’t publish anything, which was the first time in a long time. I’ve found it especially hard to focus and get back into the blog writing since our lovely dog Skibba passed away last month as well. Anyway, today gave me a chance to catch up and draft as many blogs as possible, plus drink ridiculous amounts of my favourite coffee! A nice calm and relaxed morning!

After a few hours of getting square eyes I wandered over to the business park next door to have a look in some of the furniture stores to get some decorating ideas for our house. We’ve got the plasterer booked to plaster most of the upstairs and the dining room ceilings next week and after that we can get cracking with the decorating, so I need to start thinking about designs and colour schemes! I’m hoping by the time we have been in the house six months (beginning of June) I can write a blog about the progress we have made so far, but things are moving far slower than I had expected and the weeks and months just seem to be whizzing by!

Anyway, I came across some lovely dining room tables and chairs, bed frames and wallpaper and kitchens and nursery furniture so plenty of food for thought!

In the evening hubby and I went out for a lovely meal to Zizzi’s which is one of my favourite restaurants. Plus, we had £40 worth of Tesco Clubcard vouchers to spend in here, so it was practically a free meal which was brilliant!

On Wednesday, my Mum and I traveled over to the nearby town of Tewkesbury. I’ve always wanted to see Tewkesbury Abbey and, as it is not too far away, Tewkesbury seemed to be a lovely day out. It is a really beautiful building with lots of history so, you guessed it, a separate blog is to follow!

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After visiting the Abbey we grabbed lunch at a nearby restaurant called Café E Vino. The lunch was delicious and they had plenty of vegetarian and vegan options which I thought was very impressive! I had a delicious meal of gnocchi in a gorgonzola and speck sauce – really tasty!

After a hearty lunch we wandered down to the waters edge to see the river, although we didn’t hang around for long as it was absolutely freezing and the water level was really high after the recent snowfall had melted.

After a lovely day we hopped in the car to go and collect my amazing Birthday cake from Claire’s Cakes Cheltenham! Isn’t it beautiful!?

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She has made several cakes for us over the years including an amazing Winter Wonderland cake, two amazing Game of Thrones themed cakes and a Harry Potter themed cake! This year’s cake was a Geode cake and as usual she has outdone herself and made a spectacular creation! Can’t wait for friends and family to see it tomorrow!

Thursday was my actual Birthday so my Sister and I started the day going to Hubble Bubble, one of our favourite coffee houses, for one of their famous freakshakes! We tried the Easter edition this time!

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After our sugar overload we ventured into town for a bit of retail therapy,  coffee  and lunch. The centre of Gloucester isn’t great for shopping however Gloucester Quays Outlet Centre is only a short walk away so we spent most of our time here. I had planned for us to go to The Grill Shed for lunch but unfortunately I woke up this morning with a stinking cold so I didn’t feel up to having a big meal! We ended up having macaroni cheese in Costa instead which was just what we needed!

After our shopping trip I came home and prepared a little buffet for the family and friends who were popping over to visit me for my Birthday! It was really lovely to see everyone and catch up with them and after the buffet we all enjoyed a large slab of Birthday cake! My Mum and my Sister bought me some beautiful flowers and people came over with mounds of presents!

When everyone had gone I had the important task of opening all of my cards and gifts! I just hadn’t had the time so far! As usual, I’ve been absolutely spoilt! My Mum bought me the amazing shoes I included in my Valentine’s Day treats post (and believe me they look as good in real life as they did in that picture!)

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My Sister asked me if I wanted anything in particular but she knows me very well and is brilliant at present buying so I told her to surprise me! And she did! As well as my beautiful flowers she bought me a lovely pair of grey trainers, a keyring, a pen and a Columbo boxset! (I LOVE Columbo!!!)

Hubby asked me ages ago what I would like for my Birthday and I really couldn’t think of anything I wanted but as my Sister and I were walking through town today we walked past the Pandora shop to have a peep in the window. I’ve always wanted a Pandora bracelet and really love all the amazing charms you can get, but I have always worn gold jewellery, and all my existing jewellery is in gold! The gold bracelets and charms are available but are really, really expensive and I would never want to spend so much on a bracelet. Anyway, when we looked inside they were promoting the new Pandora Shine collection which is basically thick gold plated jewellery and obvious makes it far more affordable than the solid gold range, so it was as if it was meant to be!

So I had a beautiful gold Pandora bracelet and two charms from hubby in the end! I was so pleased to finally get one and he was pleased I had chosen something I really wanted for my Birthday! I’ve been very spoilt! I also had cash and vouchers from family and friends so I’ll take these with me when I’m working in London next week to see what lovely things I can find!

A perfect evening with family and friends – except the washing up afterwards of course!

The Friday was another brilliant day because I got to spend the day with my Sister and my Mum! It would have been nice to venture over to nearby Cheltenham as there’s plenty of places I would like to visit, but unfortunately my Birthday always lands in the middle of Race week at Cheltenham Racecourse, so Cheltenham and the surrounding areas are jam-packed with people! Even trying to get a restaurant reservation in Gloucester during this week is quite difficult so we thought it would be best to go a bit further afield and visit Blenheim Palace! It is only around an hour away from us and once again we were able to get our tickets using £8 worth of Tesco Clubcard vouchers! We’ve done extremely well over the years exchanging these vouchers for days out or restaurant vouchers!

Before we set off I wanted to treat my Mum and Sister to breakfast so I booked a table at one of our favourite restaurants for breakfast – Cote Brasserie. In fact, I’ve not been here for lunch or an evening meal, only for breakfast! I always have the Croque Monsieur – it is to die for!

After a hearty breakfast we set off for Blenheim Palace. I’ve wanted to visit here for a long, long time so I’m really pleased I finally got round to it! I definitely want to re-visit in December when they have the “Christmas at Blenheim Palace” theme going on. I can imagine the Palace will look even more beautiful at that time of the year!

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We spent a few hours here, there is plenty to do and see and to be honest I really underestimated how big this place is! I will have to come back soon to finish looking at the parts of it we hadn’t got around to.

As a special treat I booked for the three of us to  have Afternoon Tea in the Orangery which was really lovely and the food was delicious.

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We finally got home after sitting in traffic for ages and luckily I hadn’t made any plans for the evening, so this gave me the chance to have a sort through and edit all the photos I had taken this week (and to have a well earned rest and hot bath!)

On the Saturday night we went over to our friends house and they cooked us a delicious dinner, my friend also made me this beautiful cookie mermaid, rainbow and unicorn display! Isn’t it amazing? She’s so talented!

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She also bought me a mound of presents including some sparkly trainers, amazing cocktail liquors chocolates, keyrings and some amazing Pusheen slippers! I’ve been wearing them all weekend!

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Our friends only live about a 15 minute walk away so we walked home, and just in time really as shortly after we arrived home the “mini beast from the East” struck and it started heavily snowing again! I don’t ever remember there being snow around my Birthday before! Fingers crossed Spring will be here soon and we can start the Easter celebrations!

Another fantastic Birthday! I’m so grateful to have such great family and friends!

Gloucester Cathedral

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I am very ashamed to say that I have lived in Gloucester all my life however have only visited Gloucester Cathedral on three occasions! The first occasion doesn’t even really count as I am pretty sure I was only in junior school, and so I don’t remember much of it!

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The cathedral originated around 678/679 with an abbey which was dedicated to Saint Peter. The abbey was later dissolved by Henry VIII. The cathedral as it currently stands was build in Romanesque and Gothic style between the years 1089 and 1499.

 

 

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An interesting fact – one of the stained glass windows in the cathedral shows one of the earliest images of golf! This window dates back from 1350 which is over 300 years before the images of golf appeared in Scotland.

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The beautiful nave

As with most Cathedrals these days, there is no entrance fee and tickets aren’t required, however there is a donation box for you to leave what you would like to show your support.

If you would like to take photos inside the cathedral – whether this be with a camera or on your phone, you need to buy a ticket for £2 and you will be provided with a sticker to wear to show you have paid to take photos. I thought this was a really good idea, until the lady serving me said that they often find this policy to be abused, particularly by those taking photographs on their phone, which I thought was awful!

£2 to take photos of this incredible place was well worth it, and it’s nice to know all of this money will be put back into the restoration and upkeep of the cathedral.

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Whilst inside you will come across the Stained Glass Windows of the Thomas Chapel. The glass is the work of Thomas Denny and was installed in 1992. The windows are based on Psalm 148 – the right-hand window reflects the worship of the elements, and the left-hand window reflects the worship of all God’s creatures.

You may find Gloucester Cathedral to be very familiar after seeing it appear as a filming location for three of the Harry Potter films, Sherlock Holmes (The Abominable Bride scene at the end where Sherlock and Watson are in the ruins of a desanctified church) and the Doctor Who Christmas special!

The beautiful cloisters of Gloucester Cathedral are particularly memorable from the Harry Potter films!

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The stunning fan vaulted roof Cloisters – as seen in Harry Potter (first, second and sixth film)

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Inside Gloucester Cathedral you will find some famous historical tombs, including;

Osric, King of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of the Hwicce.

Osric is claimed as the founder of two monastic houses, one at Bath (now Bath Abbey) and the other here at Gloucester Cathedral. 

Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy and the eldest son of William the Conqueror.

He died in 1134 at Cardiff Castle, a prisoner of his youngest brother, King Henry I. The exact place of his burial is difficult to establish, however legend states that he requested to be buried before the High Altar.

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King Edward II.

Born in 1284 and reigned from 1307 to 1327. The King’s funeral was held on 20 December 1327 and his coffin was placed under the floor. Sometime afterwards, presumably on the orders of his son, King Edward III, this stunning tomb was built over it. The canopy was carved from local Cotswold limestone and the base is covered with Purbeck marble. The King is depicted as a saintly figure with angels at his head; he holds a sceptre and an orb – the first time the orb appears on an English royal tomb.

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The stunning vaulted ceiling

Once you have had a good look inside,  I highly recommend you take part in one of their tours to the crypt! The tours run quite often and you can’t go down there unsupervised because it is dark, but my sister and I paid a visit and absolutely loved it!

Our tour guide was fantastic and we learned so much about the history of the crypt, and of the Cathedral itself. You can buy tickets in the shop at the front of the cathedral – tickets are £3 each and the tours last around 20 minutes.

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The crypt at Gloucester Cathedral is one of very few Norman crypts in the country and was used for praying, funerals and even to hide valuables during times of war and conflict. If you search for information about the crypt of Gloucester Cathedral you won’t find much, basically because so little is known about this mesmerising place!

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We are usually very lucky with the weather on most of our family day trips out, and our visit to Gloucester Cathedral was no exception! We chose a beautiful bright and sunny day which meant we could get some great photos of this stunning building.

The only downside was that we visited when there is vast building work taking place outside the front of the building to design a new garden, so I had to do my best to crop the diggers and high fences out of my photos!

If you are hoping to visit when there isn’t any form of building work going on then you will have a while to wait! Project Pilgrim is a huge project which is taking place over an approximate ten year period!

The project is split into several different phases as follows:

External Works

The external re-landscaping will create (amongst other things) level access to the West door, provide more disabled car parking spaces and add a green space with plants and trees.

Internal Works

This phase will include the creation of a new glass entrance lobby and glass cloister door, and a new welcome area which is going to include a lovely glass model of the Cathedral to help visitors navigate their way around – I’m looking forward to seeing this!

Lady Chapel

This 15th Century area of the Cathedral will have major restoration and conservation work done which includes new lintels, new lighting, cleaning of the stonework and stain glass windows and installation of new radiators and underfloor heating.  Work is also being done to the external walls of the Lady Chapel including restoration and conservation of the existing stonework.

Solar Panels

The solar panels were added as part of the Church of England’s “Shrinking the footprint” campaign. The aim of the campaign is to reduce the Church of England’s carbon emissions by 80% by 2050! The solar panels were installed in November 2016 and will reduce Gloucester Cathedral’s energy costs by 25%.

There are also some lovely shops and tea rooms in the surrounding area of the Cathedral, including a Beatrix Potter shop which is well worth paying a visit! The Cathedral is also within walking distance of Gloucester Quays where you can find a shopping centre, loads of restaurants and brilliant themed food fayres throughout the year!

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CocoChlo in Paris

Ooh la la!

What a beautiful place Paris is! So much to see and do and so much history! And so much style – I really don’t think there’s such a thing as being overdressed in a place like Paris!

I only spent a couple of days here but this is what I managed to fit in during my short visit:

Place de la Concorde

The Place de la Concorde is one of the major public squares in Paris and measuring 21.3 acres in area, it is the largest square in the French capital. Features of the Place include two identical stone buildings, separated by the Rue Royale. The eastern one houses the French Naval Ministry, and the western one is the Hôtel de Crillon. At each of the eight angles of the octagonal Place is a statue representing a French city:

  • Brest and Rouen by Jean-Pierre Cortot
  • Lyon and Marseille by Pierre Petitot
  • Bordeaux and Nantes by Louis-Denis Caillouette
  • Lille and Strasbourg by James Pradier

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Luxor Obelisk

The centre of the Place is occupied by a giant Egyptian obelisk decorated with hieroglyphics exalting the reign of the pharaoh Ramesses II. The obelisk once marked the entrance to the Luxor Temple and is over 3000 years old! It is one of two the Egyptian government gave to the French in the 19th century – the other one stayed in Egypt, too difficult and heavy to move to France with the technology at that time. It arrived in Paris on 21 December 1833 and three years later, on 25 October 1836, King Louis Philippe had it placed in the centre of Place de la Concorde. In the 1990s, President François Mitterrand gave the second obelisk back to the Egyptians.

The obelisk, a yellow granite column, rises 23 metres high, including the base, and weighs over 250 tons! Given the technical limitations of the day, transporting it was no straight forward task and on the pedestal are diagrams explaining the machinery that was used as part of the transportation. Missing its original cap, believed stolen in the 6th century BC, the government of France added a gold-leafed pyramid cap to the top of the obelisk in 1998.

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Champs-Élysées

The Avenue des Champs-Élysées is an avenue in the 8th arrondissement of Paris, 1.2 miles long and 70 metres wide, running between the Place de la Concorde and the Place Charles de Gaulle, where the Arc de Triomphe is located. It is known for its theatres, cafés, and luxury shops, for the annual Bastille Day military parade, and as the finish of the Tour de France cycle race.

Palais Garnier

The Palais Garnier is a 1,979-seat opera house, which was built from 1861 to 1875 for the Paris Opera. It was called the Salle des Capucines, because of its location on the Boulevard des Capucines in the 9th arrondissement of Paris, but soon became known as the Palais Garnier, in recognition of its opulence and its architect, Charles Garnier. The Paris Opera now mainly uses the Palais Garnier for ballet.

The Palais Garnier has been called “probably the most famous opera house in the world – partly due to its use as the setting for Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel The Phantom of the Opera and, especially, the novel’s subsequent adaptations in films and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s popular 1986 musical.

The beautiful building includes very elaborate multicolored marble friezes, columns, and statues, many of which portray deities of Greek mythology.

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The two gilded figures on the apexes of the principal façade are Charles Gumery’s L’Harmonie (Harmony) and La Poésie (Poetry). They are both made of gilt copper electrotype. Bronze busts of many of the great composers are located between the columns of the theatre’s front façade and include Beethoven, Mozart and Spontini. 

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The Ritz Hotel

The Hôtel Ritz is ranked among the most luxurious hotels in the world and is a member of “The Leading Hotels of the World”. The Ritz reopened on 6 June 2016 after a major four-year, multimillion-dollar renovation.

The hotel was founded by the Swiss hotelier, César Ritz, in collaboration with the chef Auguste Escoffier in 1898. The new hotel was constructed behind the façade of an 18th-century town house, overlooking one of Paris’s central squares. It quickly established a reputation for luxury, with clients including royalty, politicians, writers, film stars and singers. Several of its suites are named in honour of famous guests of the hotel, including Coco Chanel and Ernest Hemingway who lived at the hotel for years.

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Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel

The Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel is a triumphal arch located in the Place du Carrousel. It was built between 1806 and 1808 to commemorate Napoleon’s military victories of the previous year. 

The monument is 19 metres high, 23 metres wide, and 7.3 metres deep. The 6.4 metre high central arch is flanked by two smaller ones, 4.3 metres high, and 2.7 metres wide. Around its exterior are eight columns of marble, topped by eight soldiers of the Empire.

The chariot atop the arch is a copy of the so-called Horses of Saint Mark that adorn the top of the main door of the St Mark’s Basilica in Venice.

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Notre Dame

Notre-Dame is a medieval Catholic cathedral and is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture, and it is among the largest and most well-known church buildings in the world.  The cathedral treasury contains a shrine, which houses some of Catholicism’s most important relics, including the purported Crown of Thorns, a fragment of the True Cross, and one of the Holy Nails.

Read more about Notre Dame here.

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The Eiffel Tower and Parc Du Champs De Mars

The Eiffel Tower is named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built the tower. Constructed from 1887–89 as the entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair, it was initially criticised by some of France’s leading artists and intellectuals for its design, but it has become one of the most recognisable structures in the world. The Eiffel Tower is the most-visited paid monument in the world; 6.91 million people visited it in 2015.

The tower is 324 metres tall, about the same height as an 81-storey building, and is the tallest structure in Paris. During its construction, the Eiffel Tower surpassed the Washington Monument to become the tallest man-made structure in the world, a title it held for 41 years until the Chrysler Building in New York City was finished in 1930.

The tower has three levels for visitors, with restaurants on the first and second levels. The top level’s upper platform is 276 metres above the ground – the highest observation deck in the European Union. The climb from ground level to the first level is over 300 steps, as is the climb from the first level to the second!!

The Champ de Mars is a large public space between the Eiffel Tower to the northwest and the École Militaire to the southeast. The park is named after the Campus Martius (“Mars Field”) in Rome, a tribute to the Latin name of the Roman God of war. The lawns here were formerly used as drilling and marching grounds by the French military.

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Les Invalides 

Les Invalides is a complex of buildings containing museums and monuments, all relating to the military history of France, as well as a hospital and a retirement home for war veterans, the building’s original purpose. The buildings house the military museum of the Army of France, the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, and the Musée d’Histoire Contemporaine, as well as the Dôme des Invalides, a large church with the burial site for some of France’s war heroes, most notably Napoleon Bonaparte.

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Grand Palais

The Grand Palais des Champs-Élysées, commonly known as the Grand Palais is a large historic site, exhibition hall and museum complex located at the Champs-Élysées. Construction of the Grand Palais began in 1897 following the demolition of the Palais de l’Industrie (Palace of Industry) as part of the preparation works for the Universal Exposition of 1900, which also included the creation of the adjacent Petit Palais and Pont Alexandre III.

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Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile

The Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile is one of the most famous monuments in Paris, and is at the western end of the Champs-Élysées. The Arc de Triomphe has an overall height of 50 metres, width of 45 metres, and depth of 22 metres. It honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.

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The Louvre

I had no idea just how huge the Louvre was! The Louvre is actually the world’s largest museum and is a central landmark of the city.  Approximately 38,000 objects from prehistory to the 21st century are exhibited over an area of 72,735 square metres. The Louvre is the world’s second most visited museum, receiving 7.4 million visitors in 2016. We had planned to visit the Louvre but just did not have enough time to explore such a huge place! I was disappointed we didn’t get the chance to see the infamous Mona Lisa painting though!

The museum opened on 10 August 1793 with an exhibition of 537 paintings, the majority of the works being royal and confiscated church property.  The collection was further increased during the reigns of Louis XVIII and Charles X, and during the Second French Empire the museum gained 20,000 pieces. The collection is divided among eight departments: Egyptian Antiquities; Near Eastern Antiquities; Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities; Islamic Art; Sculpture; Decorative Arts; Paintings; Prints and Drawings.

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Inside the Louvre, find some world famous artifacts including:

Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa – arguably the most famous painting in the world, due in large part to when she was stolen in 1911.

Great Sphinx of Tanis (Old Kingdom, 2600 BC, Old Kingdom) inscribed with the names of the pharaohs Ammenemes II, Merneptah & Shoshenq. Excavated in 1825 among the ruins of the Temple of Amun at Tanis, it’s one of the largest sphinxes outside of Egypt.

Venus de Milo (100 BC, Cyclades, Greece) Art Historians believe she’s a 100 BC replica, however she does have typical 5th Century BC details.

Winged Victory of Samothrace (190 BC, Ancient Greece) Her Hellenistic form merits her place as one of the Louvre’s top three most important pieces. During WWII she was evacuated with the Mona Lisa, Michelangelo’s Slaves and Venus de Milo to Château de Valençay.

Luxembourg Palace and Gardens

The Luxembourg Palace was originally built (1615–1645) to the designs of the French architect Salomon de Brosse to be the royal residence of the regent Marie de’ Medici, mother of Louis XIII of France. After the Revolution it was refashioned (1799–1805) by Jean Chalgrin into a legislative building and subsequently greatly enlarged and remodeled (1835–1856) by Alphonse de Gisors. 

On the south side of the palace, the formal Luxembourg Garden presents a 25-hectare area of gravel and lawn adorned with statues and large basins of water where children sail model boats.

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Sacré-Cœur and Bell Tower

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart is a Roman Catholic church and minor basilica, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Sacré-Cœur Basilica was designed by Paul Abadie. Construction began in 1875 and was finished in 1914. It was consecrated after the end of World War I in 1919.

A mosaic in the apse, entitled Christ in Majesty, created by Luc-Olivier Merson, is among the largest in the world. It is absolutely stunning but unfortunately the use of cameras and video recorders is forbidden inside the Basilica.

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Cruise along the Seine

I was a bit unsure about going along to our pre-booked trip on a boat along the Seine because the weather had been so unpredictable all day but I am so pleased we went in the end. All the buildings you travel alongside are lit up beautifully and stunning views of the Eiffel Tower make this a fantastic photo opportunity!

There are several places online you can pre-book tickets for your river cruise, including Seine Cruises and good old Viator.

 

 

A fantastic trip to a beautiful place! Paris is a centre for art, fashion, gastronomy and culture – what more can you ask for in a destination??

New Orleans, A journey to the Deep South

We visited New Orleans mainly for the Mardi Gras celebrations (see my Mardi Gras blog!) but during our few days here we managed to fit in so much more besides! New Orleans is a truly beautiful place, I really I hope I get the opportunity to go back again someday.

Here’s some of the other amazing things we managed to see and do during our trip to the Big Easy:

Jackson Square

Jackson Square is an historic park in the French Quarter of New Orleans. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960, for its central role in the city’s history, and as the site where in 1803 Louisiana was made United States territory pursuant to the Louisiana Purchase. In 2012 the American Planning Association designated Jackson Square as one of America’s Great Public Spaces.

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St Louis Cathedral

The Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France (also called St. Louis Cathedral) is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans and is the oldest cathedral in the United States. The first church on the site was built in 1718; the third, built in 1789, was raised to cathedral rank in 1793. The cathedral was expanded and largely rebuilt in 1850, with little of the 1789 structure remaining.

The cathedral is said to be haunted by Fr. Antonio de Sedella, more commonly known as Père Antoine. He was a priest at the cathedral and his body is buried within the church. He is said to walk the alley named after him next to the cathedral in the early mornings. Accounts of his apparitions by parishioners and tourists claim that he appears during Christmas Midnight Mass near the left side of the altar, holding a candle.

Another haunting is said to take place in the cathedral by Père Dagobert, a monk who resided in the church. It is said that his voice can be heard chanting the Kyrie on rainy days….

Luckily we didn’t encounter Père Antoine or Père Dagobert during our visit!

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The Cabildo

The Cabildo was the seat of Spanish colonial government, and is now a museum. It is adjacent to St. Louis Cathedral.

The original Cabildo was destroyed in the Great New Orleans Fire (1788). The Cabildo was rebuilt between 1795–99 as the home of the Spanish municipal government in New Orleans, and the third floor with mansard roof was later added, in French style. The building took its name from the governing body who met there — the “Illustrious Cabildo,” or city council. The Cabildo was the site of the Louisiana Purchase transfer ceremonies late in 1803, and continued to be used by the New Orleans city council until the mid-1850s.

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Pontalba Building

The Pontalba Buildings form two sides of Jackson Square, they are matching red-brick, one-block-long, four‑story buildings built in the late 1840s by the Baroness Micaela Almonester Pontalba. The ground floors house shops and restaurants; and the upper floors are apartments which, reputedly, are the oldest continuously-rented such apartments in the United States.

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The French Quarter

The French Quarter, also known as the Vieux Carré, is the oldest neighbourhood in the city of New Orleans.

The district as a whole has been designated as a National Historic Landmark, with numerous contributing buildings that are deemed significant.  Due to its distance from areas where the levee was breached during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 as well as the strength and height of the nearest Mississippi River Levees in contrast to others along the canals and lakefront, it suffered only relatively light damage from floodwater compared to other areas of the city.

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Saint Louis Cemetery

Saint Louis Cemetery is the name of three Roman Catholic cemeteries in New Orleans. Most of the graves are above-ground vaults constructed in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The above-ground tombs in New Orleans cemeteries are often referred to as “cities of the dead.” Enter the cemetery gates, and you will find decorative ironwork, sun-bleached tombs and stunning crosses and statues. It seems weird visiting such a place as a tourist, but I’m pleased we paid our respects to such a beautiful peaceful place.

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Early settlers struggled with different methods to bury their dead. If you dig only a few feet down in New Orleans, the grave becomes soggy and begins filling with water which results in the coffin literally floating. Even worse, after a rainstorm, the rising water would pop the airtight coffins out of the ground. To this day in New Orleans, unpredictable flooding still lifts the occasional coffin out of the ground in areas generally considered to be safe from flooding.

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Eventually, New Orleans’ graves were kept above the ground, following the Spanish custom of using vaults. The walls of some cemeteries here are made of vaults stacked on top of one another, while wealthier families could afford the larger, ornate tombs with crypts. Many family tombs look like miniature houses, complete with iron fences. The rows of tombs resemble streets–and this is why New Orleans burial plots quickly became known as cities of the dead.

We visited St. Louis cemetery number 3 which is located about two miles from the French Quarter. The cemetery opened in 1854 and the crypts on average are more elaborate than the other St. Louis cemeteries, including a number of fine 19th century marble tombs.

St. Louis No. 3 also includes a Greek Orthodox section. The cemetery was heavily flooded during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but its tombs escaped relatively unscathed other than some plaster damage from debris.

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The Mississippi River

The picture I took of the river looks really cold and wet…. because it was! I couldn’t stand there in the cold for much longer to take a photograph so I’m afraid this was the best one I have!

The Mississippi River is the chief river of the second largest drainage system on the North American continent, second only to the Hudson Bay drainage system. Flowing entirely in the United States (although its drainage basin reaches into Canada), it rises in northern Minnesota and meanders slowly southwards for 2,320 miles to the Mississippi River Delta at the Gulf of Mexico. The river either borders or passes through the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

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New Orleans Street Cars

Streetcars in New Orleans have been an integral part of the city’s public transportation network since the first half of the 19th century. The longest of New Orleans’ streetcar lines, the St. Charles Avenue line, is the oldest continuously operating street railway system in the world.

There are currently five operating streetcar lines in New Orleans: The St. Charles Avenue Line, the Riverfront Line, the Canal Street Line (which has two branches), and the Loyola Avenue Line and Rampart/St. Claude Line (which are operated as one through-routed line). The St. Charles Avenue Line is the only line that has operated continuously throughout the wide destruction by Hurricane Katrina and subsequent floods from the levee breaches in August 2005.

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Oak Alley Plantation

Oak Alley Plantation is an historic plantation located on the west bank of the Mississippi River, in the community of Vacherie, St. James Parish, Louisiana.

Oak Alley is named for its distinguishing visual feature, an alley created by a double row of southern live oak trees about 800 feet long,  which were planted in the early 18th century — long before the present house was built. 

The mansion has a square floor plan, arranged around a central hall that runs from the front to the rear on both floors. The rooms feature high ceilings and large windows and the exterior features a free-standing colonnade of 28 Doric columns on all four sides that correspond to the 28 oak trees in the alley.

The grounds include a formal garden that separates the mansion from the old garage. The old car garage is the temporary site for the sugarcane Theater, where the history of sugarcane cultivation is explained through a video and exhibits. A blacksmith shop and the Stewart graveyard are also on the grounds.

The film “Interview with a Vampire” was filmed here!

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Carriage Rides

I’d highly recommend taking a carriage ride while you’re in New Orleans – the tours are expensive but the drivers are so knowledgeable – you can learn a great deal during your 90 minute journey.  The carriages take you past the many landmarks of New Orleans, including Bourbon Street, the Mississippi, and Jackson Square.

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Food-wise there are so many amazing places to eat in New Orleans, but I would highly recommend a visit to Cafe Du Monde!

When you are there, order a Cafe Au Lait (coffee with hot milk) and Beignets (a square piece of dough, fried and covered with powdered sugar served in orders of three). They are absolutely delicious! Be warned – Cafe Du Monde gets VERY busy – be prepared to queue!

 

On our travels around the city we also tried jambalaya – a dish consisting of meat and vegetables mixed with rice. The meat usually includes smoked sausage such as andouille, along with some other meat or seafood, frequently pork, chicken, crawfish, or shrimp.

We also tried gumbo – a stew that consists of a strong stock, meat or shellfish, a thickener, and what Louisianians call the “Holy Trinity” of vegetables, namely celery, bell peppers, and onions. I highly recommend trying both – very delicious!

Drinks wise, as I say in my Mardi Gras blog – definitely give the Hurricane cocktail a try – a famous cocktail created by New Orleans tavern owner Pat O’Brien consisting of dark rum, white rum, over-proofed rum, passionfruit syrup and lemon juice. In the 1940s, Pat O’Brien needed to create a new drink to help him get rid of all of the less-popular rum that local distributors forced him to buy before he could get a few cases of more popular liquors such as scotch and other whiskeys. He poured the concoction into hurricane lamp–shaped glasses and gave it away to sailors, hence the name.

A definite place to add to your bucket list to visit – New Orleans is one of my favourite destinations out of all of the amazing places I’ve visited so far!

When in Rome…

I have always wanted to visit Rome, it is definitely another place I need to re-visit so I can spend more time exploring (and to take better quality photos than the last time I went!)

It was only when I was researching Rome to write my blog that I realised how much I had missed during my short trip. I think, unlike other places in Italy like Venice and Florence, it is partly due to the fact that many of the attractions are quite a distance apart, and not within walking distance of each other. Here’s some of the amazing places I visited during my time in Rome –

The Colosseum

The Colosseum, also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, is an oval amphitheatre in the centre of the city. It is built of concrete and sand and is the largest amphitheatre ever built. It is certainly very impressive to look at! Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72, and was completed in AD 80 under his successor, Titus. Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96). These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius).

The Colosseum is estimated to be able to hold between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators. It was originally used for gladiatorial contests and other public spectacles, however it ceased to be used for entertainment purposes during the early medieval era.

It is easy to see why the Colosseum is one of Rome’s most popular tourist attractions! 

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Arch of Constantine

I can’t believe I took such an awful photo and didn’t get in a better position so the arch wasn’t blocked by the trees! I’m so annoying sometimes!

The Arch of Constantine was built on the order of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, in 315 AD. The arch was built to honour the victory of Constantine following the Battle of Milvian Bridge that took place in 312 AD.

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The Domus Augustana

The Domus Augustana is the modern name for the so-called domestic wing of the Roman Palace of Domitian (92 AD) on the Palatine Hill.

This was the principal residence of the emperors in the city from the late first to the third centuries A.D.

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Trevi Fountain

The Trevi Fountain is a beautiful fountain in the Trevi district which was designed by Italian architect Nicola Salvi and completed by Pietro Bracci. Standing just over 26 metres high and 49 metres wide, it is the largest Baroque fountain in the city and one of the most famous fountains in the world.

In January 2013, it was announced that the Italian fashion company Fendi would sponsor a 20-month, 2.2-million-euro restoration of the fountain – the most thorough restoration in the fountain’s history. Restoration work began in June 2014 and the fountain was reopened on the evening of November 3, 2015. The restoration included the installation of more than 100 LED lights to improve the night time illumination of the fountain – the main reason I want to re-visit Rome is to see the results of these amazing restorations! I bet the night time photos of the fountains with these LED lights will be spectacular! 

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Vatican City

Vatican city (Citta del Vaticano) was built over the tomb of Saint Peter and is the smallest state in the world.

Inside the Vatican city you can find 11 Vatican Museums which include Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, and Vatican Gardens – a place full of large and small gardens, fountains, a fish pool and an enclosure for rabbits!

Arguably the most important building in Vatican City is –

St Peter’s Basilica

The Papal Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican, more commonly known as St. Peter’s Basilica, is an Italian Renaissance church designed by Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini. St. Peter’s is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture and one of the largest churches in the world. 

Catholic tradition claims that the Basilica is the burial site of Saint Peter, one of Christ’s Apostles and also the first Pope – Saint Peter’s tomb is supposedly directly below the high altar of the Basilica. Construction of the present basilica, which replaced the Old St. Peter’s Basilica from the 4th century AD, began on 18 April 1506 and was completed on 18 November 1626.

St. Peter’s is famous for its public worship functions, especially those attended by the Pope. These events have been known to attract audiences of between 15,000 to over 80,000 people, either within the Basilica or the adjoining St. Peter’s Square.

St. Peter’s is one of the four churches in the world that hold the rank of Major Basilica – all four of which are in Rome!

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The Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel was top of my list of the places to see when we visited Rome but the queues were so long we just didn’t have the time to fit it in so I was really disappointed. I do hope to see this beautiful creation one day!

The Sistine Chapel is a chapel in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope. The fame of the Sistine Chapel lies mainly in the Sistine Chapel ceiling, painted by Michaelangelo between 1508 and 1512, and particularly “The Last Judgment” which was painted between 1535 and 1541.

Many people visit Rome for a long weekend but after doing all my research I don’t think a weekend is long enough to see everything that this amazing place has to offer! Definitely one for the “re-visit” list  – I’ll have to ask hubby if he fancies paying a visit!

A Mexican Adventure

Mexico has always been a really popular destination for a lot of my friends, and some of them revisit year after year. I wasn’t particularly bothered about the destination itself but Chichén Itzá has always been near the top of my bucket list!

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We stayed in the Occidental Grand Xcaret hotel in Riviera Maya on an all inclusive basis. We choose this hotel because it’s full of animals and tropical plants in spectacular gardens, and has two Mayan ruins and a cove where you can swim with tropical fish.

Those who know me very well know that I absolutely love lizards and iguanas so I was in my element in Mexico!! Great big huge lizards EVERYWHERE!! Wish I had brought them home!! Hubby and brother in law weren’t so keen though!

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We also had a couple of really lovely parrots living in the hotel!

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Located next to the hotel is the Xcaret eco-archaeological park. The park features river formations, five outdoor pools (three of them fresh-water pools, one adults-only salt water pool and one kids’ pool), a swim-up bar and a private cove with soft white sand and so much more it would take too long to list here! Find out more information here.

Whilst we were here we saw tropical birds, huge marine turtles, jaguars, and manatees. We did the tropical jungle trail and admired the paradise river. There is so much to do here we were kept occupied for the entire day!

In the evening we attended the Xcaret Mexico Espectacular which was an amazing performance depicting Mexico’s rich culture and history from pre-historic times all the way to modern day times through dance and other performances. The show was well worth a watch!

The best part of the holiday was our trip to Chichén Itzá which we booked through Viator.

Chichén Itzá is a world famous complex of Mayan ruins. A massive pyramid known as El Castillo dominates the six and a half square kilometre ancient city, which thrived from around 600 A.D. to the 1200’s. The city may had the most diverse population in the Maya world, a factor that could have contributed to the variety of architectural styles at the site. Chichén Itzá is one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico; and estimated 1.4 million tourists visit the ruins every year!!

El Castillo (The Kukulkan Pyramid)
Possibly the best known construction on Chichén Itzá is Kukulkan’s Pyramid – a pyramid approximately 75 feet tall. Kukulkan Pyramid was built for astronomical purposes and during the vernal equinox (March 20) and the autumnal equinox (September 21) at about 3pm the sunlight bathes the western balustrade of the pyramid’s main stairway. This causes 7 triangles to form, imitating the body of a serpent roughly 37 yards long that creeps downwards until it joins the huge serpent’s head carved in stone at the bottom of the stairway!

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The Great Ball Court – Archaeologists have identified thirteen ball courts for playing the Mesoamerican ballgame in Chichén Itzá, but the Great Ball Court about 150 metres to the north-west of El Castillo is by far the most impressive. It is the largest and best preserved ball court in ancient Mesoamerica and it measures 168 by 70 metres! A whisper from one end can be heard clearly enough at the other end 500 feet away and through the length and breath of the court as the sound waves are unaffected by wind direction or time of day and also night. Legend says that the winning captain would present his own head to the losing captain, who then decapitates him. While this may seem very strange reward, the Mayans believed that this to be the ultimate honour!

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At the base of the high interior walls are slanted benches with sculpted panels of teams of ball players. In one panel, one of the players has been decapitated; the wound emits streams of blood in the form of wriggling snakes.

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At one end of the Great Ball Court is the North Temple, also known as the Temple of the Bearded Man. This small masonry building has detailed carving on the inner walls, including a center figure that has carving under his chin that resembles facial hair.

Built into the east wall are the Temples of the Jaguar. The Upper Temple of the Jaguar overlooks the ball court and has an entrance guarded by two, large columns carved in the familiar feathered serpent motif. In the entrance to the Lower Temple of the Jaguar, which opens behind the ball court, is another Jaguar throne, similar to the one in the inner temple of El Castillo, except that it is well worn and missing paint or other decoration.

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Tzompantli – The Wall of Skulls
The Tzompantli structure at Chichén Itzá is very interesting structure, where the heads of sacrificial victims were placed. The platform walls of the Tzompantli have beautiful carvings – the skull rack itself, scenes with human sacrifices, eagles eating human hearts and skeletonized warriors with arrows and shields.

Platform of the Eagles and the Jaguars
The elaborately carved platform is located on the central plain between the Temple of Venus and the Platform of Skulls. The pedestals that top the platform are crowned with serpent many heads, over which it is believed that there had been standard bearers in the form of jaguars. The figures of jaguars and eagles devouring hearts are said to represent the warriors who were responsible for obtaining victims to sacrifice for the gods. The “Eagle Knights” were archers who attacked the enemy before all other soldiers fought hand to hand. The aggressive eagles which sculpted on the walls of the platform are the symbol of these elite vip group of archers who stood out on the battlefield because they wore clothing of feathers from the bird for which they were named.
The “Jaguar Knights” were believed to be the army fiercest members, modeled after those found elsewhere in the Central Mexico. They fought hand to hand, with wooden clubs tipped with obsidian knives. They covered themselves with armor made of jaguar skins and also helmets of jaguar heads. The figures of jaguars represented the soldiers who were often charged with obtaining prisoners for sacrifice to the Gods of city.

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Platform of Venus
There are two different structures with this name at Chichén Itzá, the first is located at the Great Plaza and the second one is located near the Grave of the High Priest. In the corner of one of its panels, there is a Serpent Bird Man, which is considered to be the Quetzalcoatl-Kukulkan’s representation as the ‘Morning Star’. The Round Platform, one of the few buildings so shaped in Chichén Itzá, held a small stone-paved area and a container with offerings. The function of these buildings was probably as podiums for rites, ceremonies or dances.

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The Temple of the Warriors is one of the most impressive and important structures at Chichén Itzá. It consists of a large stepped pyramid fronted and flanked by rows of around 200 carved columns depicting warriors. All square columns are carved with Toltec warriors; in some places they are cemented together in sections, painted in brilliant colors and covered with plaster. The Temple of Warriors has a broad stairway with a plain, stepped ramp on either side, and each ramp has figures of standard-bearers to hold flags. On the top there are serpent columns which had S shaped supported wooden lintels (which are now gone) above the doorways. Astronomical signs and decorative features on the head of each serpent are carved over the eyes. On the top of each serpent head is a shallow basin that could have been used as an oil lamp.

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El Caracol, the Observatory, is a unique structure. El Caracol means ‘snail’ in Spanish and is so named due to the spiral staircase inside the tower. It is suggested that the El Caracol was an ancient Mayan observatory building and provided a way for the Mayan people to observe changes in the sky due to the flattened landscape of the Yucatán with no natural markers for this function around Chichén Itzá. The observers could view the sky above the vegetation on the Yucatán Peninsula without any obstruction and Mayan astronomers knew from naked-eye observations that Venus appeared on the western and disappeared on the eastern horizons at different times in the year, and that it took 584 days to complete one cycle. They also knew that five of these Venus cycles equaled eight solar years. Venus would therefore make an appearance at the northerly and southerly extremes at eight-year intervals.

Of 29 possible astronomical events such as eclipses, equinoxes and solstices believed to be of interest to the residents of Chichén Itzá, sight lines for 20 can be found in the structure. 

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The High Priest’s Grave is the name given to this pyramid because it contains an ossuary (which is a communal graveyard) beneath its foundations. The High Priest’s Grave includes a pyramid about 30 feet high with four stairways on each side, with a sanctuary in the center and a gallery in the front. The sides of the stairways are decorated with interlaced feathered serpents.

Between the first two pillars is a square stone-lined vertical shaft in the floor which extends downwards to the base of the pyramid, where it opens up on a natural cavern. The cave is 36 feet deep and when it was excavated, bones from several human burials were identified along with offerings of jade, shell, rock crystal and copper bells.

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After our visit to Chichén Itzá we were lucky enough to visit the Ik Kil cenote. A cenote is a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. The cenote is open to the sky with the water level about 26 metres below ground level. There is a carved stairway down to a swimming platform and the cenote is about 60 metres across and about 40 metres deep. There are vines which reach from the opening all the way down to the water along with beautiful small waterfalls and there are also black catfish which swim in the cenote.

Hubby was very brave and jumped into the sinkhole but seeing as I am not a good swimmer I thought it best I just stood back and took photos! A very beautiful and calming place despite the huge amount of tourists passing through!

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I’m so pleased I got to go to Mexico and see Chichén Itzá! A really lovely location and great hotel! The only downside to our visit was the scores of mosquitos we encountered! Even the locals and the lovely people working at the hotel said they had never known there be so many at that time of year and the sprays and creams were just not keeping them away! It was frustrating at the time but looking back at all these amazing memories and adventures I think it was well worth being bitten for a few days!