Author: JC

Kilkenny, Ireland

I know what you’re thinking. “OMG, they killed Kenny!” Haha, I thought the same thing but there is no correlation of the name of this town to South Park. It didn’t stop me from suddenly shouting it out on several occasions, though…

The morning of our second day, we had a nice breakfast at the hotel in Dublin, then took a taxi over to the car rental agency. Brandie and I approached the desk while Jana stood watch over our luggage. When the guy tells us our car is a VW Golf, I look over at our mountain of luggage, then at Brandie, who then looks at our luggage and back at me. We both look at the clerk with raised eyebrows. The clerk looks at us looking at the luggage, then he looks at me with a look that says ‘seriously dude?’ Jana looks over at us and wonders why everyone is looking at her. Needless to say, we upgraded to a compact SUV, which is actually a big car by European standards. When we see how all the luggage barely fits into the SUV, we knew we made a good choice over the tiny car.

They drive on the left side of the road over here, like in the U.K. Being a democracy and all, we voted that Brandie would be our driver since she had the most experience driving on the left side of the road. Eager to begin the “Great Irish Road Trip”, we pile into the car and hit the road! Note that our course for the day would take us south of Dublin, then break inland to the west in route route to Kilkenny.

Powerscourt Gardens And Waterfall

Our first stop is the Powerscourt Gardens, which is only about a thirty minute ride south of Dublin. It’s a 47 acre 150 year old garden situated at the foot of the great Sugarloaf mountain. In addition to the amazing gardens, it has a resort hotel, spa, and golf course.

These pictures are better appreciated when viewed on a pad or PC.

The grounds here are meticulously crafted and maintained. You can see faint traces of the drought that has plagued Europe this year. I am so thankful that it ended for Ireland a couple of weeks before we came out. Note Sugarloaf mountain there in the background.

The mansion was originally a 13th century castle. It was gutted by a devastating fire in 1974. It sat abandoned and empty for over twenty years until it was renovated in 1996.

Here are some more pictures of this amazing park:

If you read the article on Dublin, you know what a great town that is and what a good time we had. But I must admit that Dublin is not the showcase of the legendary beauty of the Irish landscape that I had heard so much about. But during our trip out to these magnificent gardens, the beauty of Ireland really started to show itself and I began to understand what all the fuss was about:

Who would have thought ten years ago that you would be able to take photos like that with your cell phone?

There is also a Powerscourt waterfall, but it requires a small drive and charges an additional fee:

It wasn’t the most spectacular waterfall I ever saw, but it was a short drive and it is actually the tallest waterfall in the country. It is also where King Arthur fought Sir Lancelot in the 1981 movie Excalibur.

Glendalough Monastic City

This ancient settlement was founded in the 6th century. Some of the building here date back to the 10th and 11th centuries.

Although the cemetery is the most dominating aspect now, back in the day, this monastery included workshops, areas for manuscript writing and copying, guest houses, an infirmary, farm buildings and dwellings for both the monks and general population.

The large, round towers were popular during this time. They were primarily used as bell towers to call meetings, bring in the monks, or warn of viking attacks. One thing I have noticed about Ireland is they present many of their ancient ruins essentially “as-is”. Even though it is rougher around the edges than a place that has been commercialized and enhanced, the as-is approach maintains the ancient aura of the area.

Once we finished up there, we continued through the beautiful countryside in route to Kilkenny.

Kilkenny is a great little town with some very dramatic beauty. It is very laid back and is definitely off the beaten path. Kind of a relief after the crowds of Dublin.

As evening sets in an we are once again at that magical time where we get to seek out a great Irish pub for dinner and drinks. Grabbed this shot, above, as we crossed the bridge and headed to Matt the Millers.

We sampled some legendary Irish whiskies while reflecting on our day and sharing pictures with a live Irish band playing in the background. A great ending to our first day out in the wilds of Ireland!

Dublin, Ireland

This is the beginning of our Great Irish Road Trip! We will be spending a day in Dublin, then we’ll rent a care and head out into the wilds of Ireland covering nearly a thousand miles! So watch for more updates from the backroads of the Irish countryside!

And before we begin, there is one note I would like to mention. More like an advance apology. The Travelin’ Man is published on my own private server, but I use WordPress as a content manager. I am writing the Ireland series on a new and radically different tool. This should allow me to write the articles even while offline, and it should be transparent to you. But you know how these things usually go, so if there is any weirdness, etc, thanks in advance for being patient.

Without further ado, Jana and I arrived in Dublin and met our friend, Brandie, at the hotel. Brandie hails from Atlanta, Georgia in the US. Last summer, she came out and visited us in Sweden, where we had a rockin’ time!

We didn’t spend a lot of time in Dublin but we did manage to hit a couple of good spots before moving on to see the rest of Ireland.

As we approached the river, we saw there was a large gathering of people all blobbed up on the bridge. I was pretty sure they weren’t there to see The Travelin’ Man since I hadn’t called ahead to let the authorities know I would be in town.

We muscled our way into the throng of people and saw it was an Iron Man contest in progress. Which was a relief, because I hadn’t brought a pen with me to sign autographs.

It would be a sin to come to Dublin and NOT see Saint Patrick’s cathedral. You know, the guy that makes everyone wear green once a year…yeah THAT Saint Patrick.

We spent some time exploring the archives of the Book of Kells at Trinity college. Fascinating how far back these documents go, and that they were able to preserve them through the ages. Makes me wonder, in our modern age where so much documentation is digital, how are we preserving this for the ages to come? If apocalypse hit and the power grid is destroyed, how will people a hundred years later know about The Travelin’ Man?

We went by the capital. You know, after the scare at the bridge, I thought we should check in and let them know we were here. But it was Saturday and they didn’t seem to motivated to call anyone up.

But that’s okay, evening was setting in, and we would be leaving in the morning anyway. So now we find ourselves scouting out a good pub. We went by the famous Temple Bar and, OMG, I never saw so many people crammed in and around a bar in all my life.

The world renowned pubs of Ireland did not disappoint. Places like this, above, are everywhere! We ended up at a really cool place called The Lotts. These guys have a whole new angle on cooking and eating a steak.

They heat up this special black stone, I mean it is really hot. The steak is put onto the fiery hot stone and brought out to you as it sizzles. You continue to cook it while also eating it! Literally eating it right off the grill. Yup, that’s two thumbs up from the Travelin’ Man! And great pic Brandie! It was a fabulous meal – if you like steaks, do not miss this this place while you’re in Dublin.

Dublin is a fast moving, modern city loaded with culture, beauty, history, shopping, and of course those marvelous Irish pubs! We had a great time there.

London, England

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The UK Tour (London)

This was our third tour through the UK and surrounding area but the first time as the Travelin’ Man. We were here with our good friends, Bryan and Melissa. They came all the way from Los Angeles. That’s a whopping eight hours of jet lag! Being that Jana and I are living in Sweden, we struggled with our own one hour of jet lag…

We arrived in London, where we stayed for six days. There is so much to see and do here. And we did A LOT! But London wasn’t the end of the tour. We then rode the train to Bath, where we spent the day taking in the sites, then we flew from there to Edinburgh, Scotland. Bath and Edinburgh are covered in separate articles. This article covers our stay in London.

The Food in London

 

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Some people may not care for the food in England. As The Travelin’ Man, I have been extremely lucky to have been to so many places, seen so many amazing things, and eaten so much good food.

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But honestly, I LOVE THE FOOD HERE! I love fish and chips, bangers and mash, hamburgers, and all the great pies here!

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We even did a food tour through SOHO. Check this out, a fish and chips taco!

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This place shaves the ham right off the flank while you watch – love it!

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And what’s not to love about “afternoon tea”?

Buckingham Palace

Yeah, so the Queen wasn’t able to see us while we were in town, but we were in the neighborhood anyway, so we thought we would drop by. The place is only open eight weeks out of the year, and today was the first day, so a lot of other folks were also in the neighborhood.

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But at least they threw us a small parade while we there.

The London Eye

 

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This was spectacular! It offers a magnificent view of London. It’s not a scary ride at all. In fact, the thing moves so slow that you hardly even notice. Buy your tickets online and you get fast-tracked in with no waiting (thanks Jana!). Otherwise, plan on an hour or two standing in line.

Here are a few of the pictures I took while on the ride:

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The Churchill Bunkers

 

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This is another MUST SEE attraction in London. This is, of course, where Churchill continued his coordination of the war against Hitler while London was being bombed. The entire place is preserved nearly “as is” from when they abandoned the bunkers following the end of the war. I must apologize for the photo quality; everything is behind a wall of glass, creating a terrible, unavoidable glare on some of the pictures. I included them anyway because I wanted to give you a feel for what the place is like.

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Shakespeare at the Globe

Ah yes, to be or not to be…. This was a fantastic production of Hamlet. The Globe presents it as it was back in the day.

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That is to say, the people that are standing out in front of the stage, the tiered seating, minimal props, and no electronics such as lighting or microphones used during the performance. It was a good show – highly recommend.

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The Royal Observatory, Greenwich

We swung over to Greenwich to see the observatory, museum, and of course the world famous Meridian Line (aka Prime Meridian). The point is known as Zero Longitude and it is the line from which all other lines of longitude are measured.

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And there’s our friends, Melissa and Bryan sharing a zero degrees kiss. 🙂

This is also the home of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). This is THE time zone of all time zones, this is ground zero.

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The observatory sits atop a big hill just east of London and south of the Thames river. And it affords quite a nice view of London (above). Except of course, the grass is supposed to be green this time of year. Horrible heatwave and drought in Europe this summer.

Summary

How does one even begin to summarize London? The list of things to see and do seems endless.

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It’s definitely more unique in the sense that it does a beautiful job of melding the old with the new. Even just that one picture, above, the hi-tech architecture of the Shard offset with medieval church.

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Here’s another great example. This is located almost in the middle of this great, modern city (see above). This is the ruins of one of the most important buildings of medieval London. It was the palace of the Bishops of Winchester. Many great events occurred here throughout history. For example, James I of Scotland and Joan Beaufort were married in almost this exact spot in 1424.

Oh and I almost forgot…the last night we were in London, they started filming scenes from an upcoming Men in Black movie. It was awesome. This was literally right outside the door of our hotel:

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Once we left London, we went to a ton of other places, like Wimbledon, Edinburgh, and Stirling Castle just to name a few. On the site, just click on DESTINATIONS then select either ENGLAND or SCOTLAND to see the places we went. We really enjoyed our UK tour with our good friends Bryan and Melissa. It was a heck of a vacation, and lasted a full two weeks. We did a lot. And I have to say, even The Travelin’ Man is a wee bit tired after this one, but it’s a good kind of tired, ya know?

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Our next adventure will be in a couple of weeks on an island a little west of here; we will be traveling with our good friend Brandie as we tour through Ireland! We are even renting a car and doing the Great Irish Road Trip. So stay tuned to The Travelin’ Man at jcmarxblog.com.

 

 

Edinburgh, Scotland

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As part of our UK tour, we stayed a few days in Edinburgh, Scotland. In addition to enjoying Edinburgh’s old town, we took a mini-excursion out into the foothills, and we visited Stirling Castle. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the tour!

Edinburgh Old Town

This was our second trip to Edinburgh, and it was just as much fun the second time around. The great thing about Edinburgh’s old town is that it is basically a single street that curves up and around the rocky hill and ends at the top, right into Edinburgh Castle.

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That road, flanked by high walls, is the only permitted access to the castle. The rest of the castle is surrounded by cliffs, as you can see above. The rock upon which the castle is built is known as Castle Rock. It affords a beautiful and strategic view of the city and beyond.

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Edinburgh Castle wasn’t just some party palace for aristocrats. This is the formal definition of a war castle. It was besieged twenty-six times in its 1100 year history. This is one of the most attacked castles in the world. Was it ever lost? The answer is yes, but it was often under dramatic circumstances, Hollywood style! One instance was in 1314. A Scottish soldier had knowledge of a dangerous path up the cliffs and over the walls. The soldiers braved the treacherous climb, scaled the walls, surprised the garrison and took control of the castle.

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Another dramatic attack was in 1341. A team of Scottish soldiers disguised themselves as merchants. When their cart was just under the gates, they stopped, preventing the gates from closing. Their main force was hidden nearby and stormed the castle.

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Cool stuff! But the thing is, while visiting Edinburgh’s old town, you definitely get a feel for the old days. It’s as if you can sense the ghosts of the soldiers walking up and down the streets.

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Underneath the old town is an even older town! It is a complete underground city where they kept all the people who had the plague. We didn’t go there this time, but we did visit it last time we there and I highly recommend doing this if you’re in Edinburgh. Very creepy.

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Just a ton of great things to do in this cool town. They even have their own giant Ferris wheel. I would rank Edinburgh as one of my top five cities that I have ever visited.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse

Well, if you missed your chance to see the Queen while at Buckingham Palace, then you have another chance here. This is the official residence of Queen Elizabeth II. Which means this is her digs when she’s in Edinburgh. It is definitely a working palace and the sight of many historic events. It is commonly known as the Holyrood Palace. No pictures were allowed inside, but I wanted to share a couple of pics I got while on the grounds:

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This picture, above, is the main entrance and courtyard.

The grounds around this palace are just spectacular. A thousand times better than even Buckingham, in my opinion.

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Nestled out in the gardens is a magnificent and awe inspiring ancient abbey.

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Definitely worth going to this palace if nothing else than to enjoy the grounds around it.

BIRDS!

While staying in Edinburgh, we took a trip out to the coast. We went to the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick. They had a really cool museum presentation that included interactive camera controls so that you could see what was happening on Bird Island. Ok, the name of the island is Bass Island, but they need to rename it Bird Island. Here’s why:

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See that island up there? The top of it is NOT white. Those are birds! Here, a picture is worth a thousand birds – note that each successive picture below gets closer to the island. No other words are needed:

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It was just one of those things in nature that just makes you go, “Wow, where’s my hat….”

The Hairy Coo Tour

I have to stop at this point and hang my head in shame. We did something very, no extremely “touristy”. Ok, here it goes… we rode the big orange gaudy Hairy Coo Tourist bus!

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Now I could have just as easily NOT told you about it and you would have never known. But in all honesty, it was a pretty decent tour. It hit some major highlights between Edinburgh and the foothills of the Scottish highlands.

The remaining sections of this article were done as part of the tour. It was pretty massive, so grab a tankard and kick back for a bit.

The Kelpies

Scottish word Kelpie: “A kelpie is a shape-changing aquatic spirit of Scottish legend. Its name may derive from the Scottish Gaelic words ‘cailpeach’ or ‘colpach’, meaning heifer or colt. Kelpies are said to haunt rivers and streams, usually in the shape of a horse.”

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On our way out to Stirling Castle, we took a little detour to see this majestic and artistic statue called The Kelpies. Magnificent presentation. They glimmer in the sunlight and are 30m (100ft) tall.

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It was definitely worth a small detour to see this.

Stirling Castle

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This is a fantastic, classic medieval Scottish castle. Much like Edinburgh Castle, it sits atop a huge intrusive crag. Up until late in the 19th century, it was of utmost strategic value since it protected what was, until the 1890s, the farthest downstream crossing of the River Forth.

Everything is well presented, inside and out. We did the audio tour and it was great. Tons of history inside these walls.

 

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If you look closely there, off in the fog, you can see a tower on a hill. See it there? That is the tower that commemorates none other than William Wallace himself. It was here where he and Andrew Moray fought the Battle of Stirling Bridge against the English. After losing the battle, the English commanders retreated into the castle, but they were quickly starved out by the Scots.

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Some of the fog had burned off by the time we left. Here is another picture of the tower (above). You can visit the tower. It’s a strenuous walk up the hill, then an even more strenuous climb up hundreds of treacherous stairs to the top. But it’s definitely worth every drop of sweat to see the actual sword wielded by William Wallace. We didn’t go up this time, but we did it last time we were here.

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The grounds and views around the castle are breathtaking. Unfortunately, it was raining and foggy while were there. But even that can’t mar the majestic beauty around this historic castle.

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And who knows… maybe you’ll get lucky and spy a beautiful princess…

Scotch Distillery

No real tour of Scotland would be complete without a tour of a scotch distillery. After Stirling Castle, we made a stop at the Deanston Distillery for a quick tour and a tasting.

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The Hairy Coos

And of course we got to see some actual hairy coos! Native to Scotland, they are basically cows with long hair and a thick undercoat to keep them warm in the highlands. The world is just fascinated with these cows. Bred specifically for Scotland, they have since been exported to other countries.

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Our tour guide not only stopped and let us out to see them, but also gave us some carrots. For the coos.

THE END

And so concludes our tour and our wonderful time in Edinburgh. We did a lot of things while we were there, and I shared the major things we did. It’s an awesome place, we loved it as much this time as we did last, and we will be back again.

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(now you see why I was embarrassed about the bus – haha)

 

 

 

 

 

Cheltenham and the Cotswolds of England

 

 

 

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As part of our 2018 UK tour, we spent a couple of days in Cheltenham, England and surrounding area. As the home of the flagship race of British steeplechase horse racing, the Gold Cup is the main event of the Cheltenham Festival, held every March.

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Fortunately, we missed all that hooplah, and it was a quaint, peaceful, cozy town, or borough, as they call them in England.

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We stayed at the most adorable bed & breakfast you ever saw (above). In all honesty, they sold themselves as a hotel (The Beaumont House Hotel), but it had a very B & B feel to it.

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Checkout the view from our bedroom window. That’s Jana relaxing out back at the table.

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As part of our time here, we took an excursion out into the beautiful Cotswolds. The Cotswolds is a rural area of south central England covering 2,038 km2 (504,000 acres). It’s roughly 25 miles (40 km) across and 90 miles (140 km) long. The area of the Cotswolds is the second largest protected landscape in England (second to the Lake District).

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When you close your eyes and think of the rolling hills of rural England, this is it! Grassland harbour thatched medieval villages, churches and stately homes built of distinctive local yellow limestone. Time seems to stand still here.

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I half expected to see Frodo and Gandalf emerge from this house (above).

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Some of you may actually recognize this house, above. Try and picture the scene covered in snow. This was Bridget Jone’s parent’s house in Bridget Jone’s Diary. Parts of Braveheart were also filmed near here.

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But be sure to book a professional tour guide if you want to find all the most beautiful and interesting spots. We really enjoyed our time here.

 

Bath, England

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Beautiful and historic Bath. Known for it’s 18th century Georgian architecture, hot springs, and of course Roman-built baths. It’s located about a hundred miles west of London and is situated in the valley of the River Avon.

The Baths of Bath

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These extremely well preserved baths were built around 70 A.D. and are a must see attraction. The presentation goes well beyond just the main bath area itself.

All of the ancient artifacts that were uncovered are also displayed here. Wander through caves where the springs and private bath areas were.

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You also need to swing by the Royal Crescent. Amazing architecture by John Wood built in the 18th century. Oh yeah, that grass is supposed to be green this time of year. It’s been an unusually hot, dry summer in Europe.

 

The No.1 Royal Cresscent (above) is the very first one that was completed and it’s open to the public. It is decorated in the style of the time to give you an idea how the wealthy lived in downtown style back then. Definitely worth an hour or so to visit.

The city of Bath just seems to have a natural, inherent beauty:

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And of course, being on the River Avon is a big help:

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With all this, plus great restaurants and shopping, this is a no-brainer if you’re ever looking to escape London for a day or two.

Spend some time just wandering around this beautiful, relaxing town as you take in all the sites and shops. This was our second visit to Bath, and we wouldn’t hesitate to go again.

 

 

 

Kew Gardens

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The Royal Botanical Gardens, located in Kew Park are the “largest and most diverse botanical and mycological collections in the world”. Founded in 1840, the exotic garden at Kew Park in Middlesex, London, is a beautiful 300 sprawling acres of greenhouses and gardens.

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Each of the greenhouses is meticulously maintained and elegantly presented. There are a dozen plant houses in total.

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Unbelievably beautiful and immaculate interior gardens. And well documented with detailed descriptions of each presentation. But who reads that crap anyway? Oh wait, is that Bryan down there reading the plaque?

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And is that Melissa photo bombing me?! You see her there? What a punk!

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And speaking of photo bombing, if you look closely in these great pics, above, you should be able to see the giant koi fish.

And it’s not just the greenhouses that are beautiful. The entire 300 acre park is absolutely amazing. It takes 750 employees to maintain it all.

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That’s the pagoda tower in the backdrop, above. We didn’t go to it, but supposedly you can climb up it and get a great view of the surrounding area. But the Treetop Walkway also offers a great view, and we did go up there:

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The pictures kind of speak for themselves. And the view was just incredible!

In addition to the dozen or so greenhouses, there were also another dozen buildings that weren’t greenhouses. The pagoda tower, restaurants, museums… you could easily spend an entire day here. We really enjoyed it.

 

St Albans, England

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The Cathedral

St Albans is a small town in  the commuter belt north of London. It is also the sight of a famous cathedral, you guessed it, St Albans Cathedral. St Albans, the man, was executed on this site about 1700 years ago for proudly standing up in the name of Christianity.

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Let me start by saying this place is a photographers dream. The cathedral is probably the most photogenic place I have ever been to. The cathedral  and grounds are absolutely beautiful.

Inside are breathtaking art presentations and architectural wonders.

 

The Roman Theatre of Verulamium

 

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Not far from the cathedral is the amazing ruins of the 2nd century Roman theatre.

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You can see in the artists rendition, above, how the theatre would have looked back then.

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You can still hear the ancient clapping and feel the ghosts wandering around this rare excavation. In addition to theatre, it is believed the site was also used for sporting events and public executions.

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Right behind the ruins is a huge park. Within the park are remnants of the old Roman city wall, a museum displaying ancient artifacts uncovered at the site, and a beautiful lake. It’s a great place to spend an afternoon.

 

 

Wimbledon, England

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The Town

We stayed in the quaint town of Wimbledon for our first six days in the London area. We found a very nice condo via Airbnb. The town of Wimbledon is small and cozy. There was a grocery store and a couple of typical British pubs within walking distance of our condo.

We rode the bus and metro to all the places we went. The bus stop was very convenient to our condo, although the ride into London was around 45 minutes.

The Club

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I am not a big tennis fan. Seriously, John McEnroe was the last tennis player I ever watched. I remember seeing him throwing his tennis racket around and yelling at the judges all the time.

 

But even so, you cannot deny the historical significance of Wimbledon. We took the grounds tour of the club, and even though I am not a big fan, it was really fascinating to see all the behind the scenes stuff.

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I enjoyed our tour. The court, above, needs a little love to get it back in shape. It has been record-breaking hot and dry in London this summer (all of Europe). But rest assured, it will be pristine by the time the next championships come next year.

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Of course if you are a fan, like our friend Melissa (above), then this place is even more special. Sorry about the blurry picture, but we didn’t take it, the tour guide did. It’s so hard to get good pictures of celebrities.

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And here’s a nice view of London from Wimbledon (above).

Saint Petersburg, Russia

 

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Travel

For us, getting to  Saint Petersburg really was half the fun. We took an overnight cruise ship from Stockholm to Helsinki. We spent the day in Helsinki, including a five hour bike tour, then took a different overnight cruise from there to Saint Petersburg.

We stayed in Saint Petersburg for a couple of days. Jana’s ability to adapt, linguistically, to most everywhere we go is phenomenal. But she felt the Russian language was just too complicated for an independent tour on our first trip. To offset this, we hired a guide to take us around and show us the sights. This turned out to be a good decision for us. But there were a lot more people that spoke English than we would have thought, so next time, we could opt to go independent if we wanted to.

Saint Petersburg

This is the first Russian town (that Russia still holds) that I have ever been to. It is the second largest city in Russia (with only Moscow being bigger). It was the capital of Russia until 1918.  The capital was moved further inland to Moscow due to the looming German forces.

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As with other European cities, Saint Petersburg’s history is a long, bloody tale of wars, politics, and assassinations. What I found intriguing about Saint Petersburg was the history of its name. Most people don’t realize that it used to be named Leningrad.

So let’s back up a second. It was originally named Saint Petersburg. But in 1914, after the outbreak of WWI, it was renamed Petrograd in order to expunge the German-sounding words from the name. In 1924, following Lenin’s death, it was renamed to Leningrad, which translates to “Lenin’s city”. Then, following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, it was renamed back to Saint Petersburg.

Another interesting tidbit on Saint Petersburg is that during WWII, the city remained under siege by German forces for two and a half years. This proved to be one of the longest, most destructive, and most lethal sieges of a major city in modern history.

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Above is the Winter Palace. This was, from 1732 to 1917, the official residence of the Russian monarchs.

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Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, above, is the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral in the city. It is the largest orthodox basilica and the fourth largest cathedral in the world. During WWII, the dome (plated with pure gold) was painted grey to avoid attention from enemy aircraft.

 

Absolutely fascinating story of the construction, and of the breathtaking art presented inside. Some time after the completion, much of the artwork began to rapidly deteriorate due to the moisture in the air from being so close to the ocean. So they began the absolutely painstaking process of converting all of the artwork to mosaics, which would last infinitely longer. The effort was never completed.

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The breathtaking Church of the Savior on Blood. Taking the lessons learned from Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, all of the artwork was originated in mosaic. If you have been following The Travelin’ Man, then perhaps recall from our travels in Helsinki where I discussed how much they loved Alexander II there and all the work he did to raise that city to greatness. Not everyone was happy with his philosophy of modernizing Russia. This church was built on the site where poor old Alexander II was fatally wounded by an assassin’s bomb. He was whisked away to the Winter Palace, where he died a few hours later.

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If you zoom in closely, you can see the millions of individual tiles used to complete the artwork.

Peterhof Palace

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There were a lot of famous people tied to the history of Saint Petersburg, and it would take years to study and document them all (or you could just go read Wikipedia). But there were a couple of exceptional importance that left a considerable mark on the city, and in fact, the country and even beyond. One was, of course, Peter the Great. I mean, they did name the city after him! So you should definitely stop by his old digs while you’re in town.

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We spent the good part of a day here, and still didn’t see everything. As with all great palaces, it’s not just the breathtaking beauty, or draw dropping excessive over the top expensive construction and decorating that you want to see; it’s also about the surrounding grounds and gardens:

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Catherine Palace

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Catherine I of Russia was married to our friend, Peter the Great. The original structure was built in 1717 as a summer palace. You know….. just a little summer palace to hang out with your girlfriends while Peter is out conquering the world.

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Then came Empress Elizabeth, one of twelve children to Catherine and Peter. When she became Empress of Russia, she felt the old summer palace was just too outdated and small. So in 1752 she had it torn down and rebuilt on a much grander edifice in a flamboyant Rococo style.

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Next was the Empress Catherine II of Russia (no relation to Elizabeth…. long story). She disliked the flamboyant gold plating and extravagant styles of Elizabeth. So she remade the palace in a more modest vision, if that word can even be used in this context.

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But after Catherine the Great passed away in 1796, the palace was not used by subsequent monarchs, who preferred the nearby Alexander Palace as a residence. After the Great Fire of 1820, Catherine’s grandson, Emperor Alexander I decided to refurbish the place to restore it back to the condition it was in while he was growing up there (Alexander I was raised by his grandmother, Catherine the Great… also a long story).

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The palace was targeted and gutted by the Nazi’s during their retreat in WWII. Fortunately, the Soviets had documented the place in great detail, which was very useful during the restoration. Although the largest part of the reconstruction was completed by 2003, much work is still required to restore the palace to its former glory. This effort is still ongoing today.

Hermitage Museum

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This is an interesting place. It consists of six buildings total. Five of these buildings are open to the public, namely the Winter Palace, Small Hermitage, Old Hermitage, New Hermitage, and the Hermitage Theatre.

I cannot convey to you how big this place is. It comprises over three million items! This includes the largest single collection of paintings in the world. And it is, overall, the second largest museum in the world.

As you wonder around in this vast museum and encounter room upon room upon building after building, it is truly information overload.

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You could literally spend several weeks exploring all the displays. Here’s an image I copied from google that will hopefully put this into perspective:

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It was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great initially to house the impressive collection of paintings she had acquired from the Berlin merchant Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky (yup, another long story).

 

But the museum wasn’t opened to the public for nearly another one hundred years, in 1852. Hence the name “Hermitage” – it was given this name because of its exclusivity – in its early days, only very few people were allowed to visit.

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Now, having said all that, how I cannot possibly even begin to show you any pictures that would scratch the surface of what is observed in this museum city!

Just look at this magnificent painting of the coronation of Alexander III:

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Collections include inspiring works from renowned artists. See above, Michaelangelo and Van Gogh. This entire floor is mosaic:

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While you will never cover it all in a single visit, you should definitely set aside some time to visit this incredible place. Everywhere you look, from floor to ceiling, is art and beauty, not just the displayed items.

 

In Summary

We enjoyed our stay in Saint Petersburg and would definitely come back again. Tons of things to see and do. We barely scratched the surface. While I had never really considered Russian food before, I must say it was quite delicious. Saint Petersburg is loaded with great bars, restaurants, and parks. I will say, it felt a little weird knowing we were in Russia….