The UK Trip: Day 4 in Windsor and Dorset

Originally, my plan was to drive to Brighton, then Dorset and up to Oxford, but when I couldn’t find room in the itineraries to visit Windsor, I had to make a sacrifice.

Windsor Castle was non-negotiable when it came to my must-see list, so Brighton was cut. We checked out of our hotel in Kingston-Upon-Thames and headed west.

Windsor was one of the places I checked out prior to visiting to make sure it would be open. With Princess Eugenie and Jack’s wedding that same week, I made sure we could still visit.

The town of Windsor is adorable, with its corridors of shops and little storefronts decorated with Union Jack bunting. 

Full disclosure: I didn’t know the Changing of the Guard happened at 11 a.m., but lucky for us, we arrived just in time. People were lining the streets and we followed suit. 

A statue of Queen Victoria welcomes visitors to Windsor Castle.

And a portrait of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip with their grandchildren (minus Prince Louis) welcomes visitors at the entrance.

The castle is every bit as grand as I anticipated. 

Of course, I can just imagine being in this courtyard when Prince Harry and Meghan drove away in that sports car after their wedding…

A marker for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I: 

View of Windsor from atop the castle: 

The castle was stunning, and I only snuck a couple of photos from inside because photography was prohibited. Yes, I was naughty. 

The grounds were plenty gorgeous, and I enjoyed walking around the whole property. However, the one specific thing I wanted to see was inside St. George’s Chapel. In fact, I had been counting on it. 

Unfortunately, I had to adjust my expectations. Despite the website making no mention of the chapel being closed for wedding preparations outside of October 11 and 12, it was indeed closed to visitors.

I literally had to choke down tears on account of my disappointment. All the monarchs buried here, all the royal weddings that have been held here, the architecture, the heralds and banners… I would not be able to view it all with my own eyes. It seems silly now, I admit, but I really was upset. So as to not ruin the experience entirely, I took a few minutes to readjust and appreciate the moment as it was.

When it was all said and done, we finished watching the Changing of the Guard ceremony and left the castle. 

The drive to Dorset took several hours, but I knew the views would be worth it. (What I didn’t anticipate was the level of fitness required to climb to Durdle Door.) Dorset is known for its beautiful countryside and seaside cliffs, of which you’ll be familiar if you watched Broadchurch. We parked at Lulworth Cove and met a British friend/co-worker of Chuck’s for a quick pint before taking on the massive hill that led to Durdle Door.

Though only a mile from one spot to the other, the scope of the hill is no joke. I only thought we were hiking when we climbed the White Cliffs of Dover. Oh no! This was actual hiking. (You can listen to our huffing and puffing on my Instastories.) 

Of course, once we reached the top, it was worth it. 

To fully appreciate the size, in the photo below, take note of the man standing on the beach and the two girls in the water. Ahem

Durdle Door is one of the most photographed places on the southern coast. Per usual, I wanted to see it for myself. 

It took a few hours for us to hike to the seashore and back, and not just because I was taking pictures. I cannot impress upon you the steep incline and the necessary stamina it took to climb it. 

Once we made it back to the car park, we opted to eat a quick dinner – fish and chips, naturally – before taking the long road to Oxford that night. 

Up next: Oxford and the Cotwolds

The UK Trip: Day 3 at Hever Castle

We visited more than just Hever Castle on Day 3, but my affection for Queen Anne Boleyn warrants its own post on account of the number of photos I took at her childhood home. 

My interest in Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, is primarily rooted in her impact on the English Reformation as a religious reformer and her insistence to qualify their daughter Elizabeth as an heir to the throne. (Spoiler: Elizabeth I made it to the throne.) 

Hever Castle was Anne’s childhood home, so it was a non-negotiable visit. Though Chuck had no prior knowledge about this place and has limited-to-no interest in the British Monarchy, he enjoyed touring Hever and said it was one of his favorite things we did while in the UK. ūüôā 

The property as a whole is stunning, and I remain grateful we visited on a bright, clear day. Upon crossing the drawbridge (THE DRAWBRIDGE!!!) we entered a courtyard that showcased the manor’s architecture.  

Each room offers a delightful amount of access, unlike other castles that prohibit photography and keep a rope draped at the doorway. Some pieces of the home are replicas since the castle went into disrepair until a wealthy American, William Waldorf Astor, purchased the property in the early 20th Century to restore and preserve it

I read as many placards as I could and studied the artifacts with great care. I’ve wanted to visit Hever Castle for more than a decade, and there I stood where the Boleyn family used to live. (Not that I have an affection for the entire family, mind you.)

Of course, Anne was wrongfully executed on the accusation of witchcraft and myriad other silly things. She was unable to produce a male heir (because women were totally in charge of that, you know) and she suffered a series of terrible miscarriages (again, the complete fault of the woman on account of her witchcraftiness). Oh the importance of modern medicine!

Whatever really happened back then, Anne Boleyn remains an important piece of the Protestant Reformation, as well as a crucial role in the validity and success of Elizabeth I.

This marriage tapestry represents the marriage of Henry VIII’s sister, Mary Tudor, to King Louis. 

A few rooms of the manor reflected early 20th Century decor, as this was a private home for the Astor family. 

Interestingly, Winston Churchill was acquainted with the Astor family and often visited Hever to visit and paint. 

The grounds were beautifully manicured and beginning to burst with autumn color. Again, I was so thankful for the clear weather.

One of my favorite memories will always be feeding the ducks at Hever Castle. It was like that moment was crafted specifically for me. 

Like I said, Hever Castle wasn’t our only stop on Day 3, but it was an important one for me.

Up next: Mermaid Street in Rye, the White Cliffs of Dover, and dinner in Canterbury. 

Santa Fe with Michele

Earlier this year, Chuck started asking me what I wanted to do to celebrate turning 40 years old. Figuring that I wanted a party of some sort, he came back to that idea a few times – venues and guests lists. Nope, I reassured him. That’s not what I wanted. What I really wanted to was to go back to Amarillo and visit Michele.¬†

We met in 2009 when I responded to an ad for a features writer for the city’s magazine. We’d been freshly transplanted from North Georgia to the Texas panhandle, which meant I had given up my column of eight years in the Chattanooga Times Free Press. It was a natural thing to look for a job since homeschooling wasn’t on the horizon and the boys were approaching school age. When I interviewed with Michele, I felt an instant connection – not just that I wanted to work for her but that I wanted to be friends with her.

I was hired by March, and I knew right away that working at the Globe-News, specifically Amarillo Magazine, was going to help me adjust to the high plains, an area of the country unlike anywhere I’ve lived before. Michele became my boss and, soon after, my friend. She helped me find my way around Amarillo, helped me find a doctor, helped me navigate the school system, helped me feel not so lonely.¬†

Our mutual friend April picked me up from the airport! What a nice surprise!

Michele and I worked in sync and had a blast while doing so, but with much at stake for our family, I knew I couldn’t stay. We needed – and wanted – to move back home to Tennessee. So, three years after meeting Michele and enjoying every bit of my job as the features writer for Amarillo Magazine, I said goodbye.


The week before 40

I texted her in May or June (I can’t remember now) about visiting her during the summer. We wouldn’t stay in Amarillo, but I would fly there and we’d drive to Santa Fe, the best little retreat three and half hours from the panhandle. We used to run away to Santa Fe when we lived in Amarillo. In fact, my favorite camping trip ever was just north of the city at Hyde Memorial State Park.¬† We also spent the first Christmas without my mother-in-law in Santa Fe, an attempt at grieving and figuring out what happens to a family after the matriarch passes away.¬†

We settled on dates and I immediately starting looking forward to the trip. We moved away in 2011 but I went back there in 2014 – also for my birthday. That’s the last time Michele and I saw each other in person.

While I was eager for many things, the most important first thing I had to do upon arriving in Amarillo was meet Wilson F., Michele’s dog.¬†

The first night in Amarillo was relaxing, which set the tone for the next four days. We never moved too fast but that was intentionally.¬† We didn’t want to spill our wine.

Crush // Amarillo

Santa Fe

I didn’t take my camera on the trip so as to not distract myself from present company, but I snapped plenty of photos with my cell phone, which does a fine job of capturing things I don’t want to forget – like this place:

Las Palomas // Santa Fe

Our lodging for two nights was a delightful boutique hideaway near the main square, but that’s actually what every worthwhile thing is in Santa Fe – hideaways. Little restaurants and hotels are tucked away behind unsuspecting doors and corners. You have to take a chance on everything because facades are deceiving.

Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi

We had no agenda, other than to patronize the short list of shops I wanted to revisit – The Collected Works Bookstore & Coffeehouse, Double Take (the best consignment store I’ve ever known), and wherever the wine was good.

We returned to Amarillo Tuesday afternoon so I could catch the Wednesday morning flight home, assuring I could spend my actual birthday with Chuck and the boys. 

We grabbed dinner at 575 Pizzeria, a favorite of mine when I lived there. As a bonus, Andy Chase Cundiff was on the calendar to perform – another favorite – whose artwork currently hangs in my home office. He is one of the sweetest men I’ve ever known. (As a third bonus, the first song he sang was “Crazy Love” by Van Morrison, which is the song Chuck and I danced to at our wedding reception nearly 18 years ago. I wept.)

My dinner dates!

Thank you, Michele and Jerry, for being perfect hosts, and thank you, Amarillo, for welcoming this outsider. Thank you, Santa Fe, for being beautiful and inspiring, and thank you, boys (all five of you), for letting me get away for a few days.

And thank you, Wilson F., for sitting so perfectly for this photo:

Adventure in Iceland – Day Two

When we got back in town Tuesday night, after our excursion to Reynisfjara Beach, we went to a local grocery store to buy food for the rest of the week. We had already made a mistake by eating on the fly Tuesday late-morning, jet-lagged and un-researched. This is a huge fail when it comes to visiting Iceland on a budget and we resolved to be better the rest of the week.

(I think I’ll make a separate blog post about traveling to Iceland on a budget, so if you’re interested in that, stay tuned.)

Since we had eggs, toast, cereal, and milk in the house, breakfast was a cinch. Once they boys were dressed and fed, they went outside to the backyard to pet the cats.

The first stop on Wednesday was along the Golden Circle to Thingvellir National Park, which you can see noted on the map below:

Thingvellir is important to Icelandic culture and history, as well as its geological and ecological significance. It is literally where the North American tectonic plate and Eurasian plate meet.

Iceland is notoriously vibrant and green in the summer, and despite the snow, you could still see the beautiful moss growing everywhere.

If you continue on the path you run into Oxararfoss, an up-close magnificent (frozen) waterfall.

One of my favorite photos from the trip – this is my whole heart right here:

I can’t emphasize how clear the water is. I mean, if you want to drink from it, go ahead.

Oxararfoss is right behind us. We walked across frozen water to get to it. I’d love to see it in summertime!

After climbing out of the crevasses, we got back in the car and headed to Strokkur/Geysir. The Golden Circle is a heavy tourist area, so unlike much of our experiences on Tuesday, we were among fellow travelers most of Wednesday.

Imagine boiling water bursting out of the Earth and running down a frozen tundra. That’s Geysir.

This is Strokkur, a reliable hot spring that erupts every four to eight minutes.

Even with steaming hot water erupting from the Earth, there is plenty of frozen bright blue water to be found.

The last place we visited along the Golden Circle was Gullfoss, Iceland’s largest waterfall. Of course, it was mostly frozen so I’d love to return in summer to see it in full color and motion.

Our five hours of daylight were fading fast, so we hoped in the car back to Reykjavik to explore the city at night.

But first, sunset.

Icelanders take their Viking history seriously, so Thor is everywhere. EVERYWHERE.

It was foggy on Wednesday night, so we knew we’d have to come back to Hallgrimskirkja Church the next day and hope for clear skies.

Next: Krauma Geothermal Baths and Reykjavik in the daytime

Adventure in Iceland – Part Two of Day One

Continued from previous post: Adventure in Iceland – Day One

The goal of Tuesday was to get to Reynisfjara Beach near Vik, which National Geographic rated as one of the Top 10 Non-Tropical Beaches to visit on the planet. It’s known for its black sand and lava stacks.

Of course, right before you reach the beach, you pass a church.

We reached the beach during Iceland’s long sunset, so the rocks were glowing bright orange, which washed out the tufts of green moss and grass.

The stacks are impossible to resist. They beg to be climbed.

Tucked away in the highest stacks are hundreds of nests. Supposedly there are puffins as well as seagulls nesting in the crevasses, but I didn’t see any.

The rocks lost their glow as the sun sank behind the horizon, so the rocks when from orange to gray. I absolutely love this photo of Jeremy. I mean, goodness.

Jackson asked to use one of my cameras, so for a moment, I indulged him.

I guess we need proof that I was on the trip too. I took a selfie on this beach, but mainly so I could capture my explorers behind me:

Once the sun fully set, we said farewell to the North Atlantic Ocean and headed back to Hafnarfjordur. The moon was bright in the sky on Tuesday, which was a lovely goodnight to our first full day in Iceland.

Next: Thingvellir, Geysir, and Gullfoss.

Friends and Ryan Bingham

We ran off to Chattanooga this weekend for a much-needed refueling via long-distance friends. The kids played, we played. Everyone was exhausted by the time we got home yesterday afternoon. As usual, being in Chattanooga was hugely nostalgic.

In between the frivolity was a funeral on Monday for Corey’s grandmother, the sweet woman who let me sleep over on a weekly basis¬†when I was 14 years old. She was tiny but feisty, and she lived a long happy life. It was important that I pay my respects and be with my best friend on a difficult day.

I’m not sure if it’s irony or just good timing, but we had long-standing plans to attend a Ryan Bingham concert with Corey in Chattanooga on Monday night, so after all the tears and hugs that afternoon in Atlanta, we enjoyed a couple hours of good music and great company.

For the record, he’s even better on stage.

Ryan Bingham

 

Library, Air and Space, Archives

Yep, the Library photos are my faves. Will someone please paint my ceiling like this? (Click on the photos for a larger view.)

Color in the library

The untouchables:The Stacks

Most amazing view from the second floor of the Library:
The view from the library window

I love that donations to the museums come in all currencies: Donations

Men looking at suspended airplanes:Chuck and Jeremy at the Air and Space

Hot Air in the Air and Space

My heart swells:
Leaving the Air and Space

No pictures allowed inside:National Archives

Two of my favorite people on the planet:
Two favorite people

Weekend Recovery

I’m off my routine and fumbling. I can’t blame the holidays anymore but I do blame back-to-back weekends of travel and sleep deprivation. All of our fun has been super fun, but recovering from fun is way hard. You know what I mean. Organizing a thought takes extra effort.

The boys and I went to Chattanooga for a night and then to Atlanta for two. We were zombies by Monday evening when we got home and spent the majority of yesterday still in a state of fatigue and snippiness. The boys were so exhausted that they didn’t argue when I put them to bed at 8:30 two nights in a row. They surrendered willingly.

I took tons of pictures of the boys with their friends, but I have to share this one first. Chato is the sweetest little bulldog ever. And so calm. SO CALM. (Do you hear me, Major? CALM.)

Chato and his twinWe’re still in a bit of recovery this morning, based on the amount of tattling I’ve already had, so I’m off to wrangle two children and change their tones. Before I do, I’m going to adjust my own attitude with a little music and another cup of coffee. First coffee, then children. Always.