A Spring Break in North Georgia

A Spring Break in North Georgia

Entranced by the lush cherry blossoms and  legions of showy dogwood trees, I disregarded plumes of pollen and dodged incoming traffic to capture a few spring moments in our community. It was nice to take a break from travel photography, and to relax behind my camera seeing just what I want to see and not what I want to show. I have new respect for photographers now that I’m trying my hand at travel blogging. Usually when I go on a journey I’m with someone, (hello family!) and I feel guilty for holding a day of sightseeing hostage so I can stop every few minutes to figure out what lens to use. When we do wander around together, I try to alternate camera days, but invariably the days I don’t bring it with me interesting clouds are dotting the horizon and when I do, the atmosphere is as thick as pea soup. And then there’s the gear. I’ve seen some amazing equipment out there, lenses the size of toasters and I’ve come to realize that big isn’t always better. For me at least, travel photography is much easier with a couple of small lightweight fixed lenses, a 50 mm and a wide-angle. Like everything in life there is a balance, and in this case it’s finding the sweet spot between enjoying the moment and documenting it.

When we moved to our community 20 plus years ago, it was mainly rural, and most people didn’t recommend moving “so far” north of the city. Like many urban areas the boundaries between these areas collided and suddenly we’re a northern suburb of Atlanta. The downside of being almost urban is the increase in development, traffic and sadly the loss of a historic building or two. Still, it’s a lovely place to live in the best of both worlds, close to the city, with a touch of the countryside.

An old repair shop, Holcomb’s Machine Shop.
Our little town’s main street, all grown up.
I drive past this charming old fireplace almost every day. I imagine it warming the hands and hearts of a family from long ago. Each time I pass it, I’m thankful that it’s no one has had the stomach to demolish this piece of local history.

I learned that this was the area’s original sheriff’s office. Today, it’s a modern bike and coffee shop, Whitetail Bicycles, catering to those who travel on two wheels instead of four.

I never expected to use my photo session as a sort of historic tour of our area. It was interesting how my experience evolved into a greater appreciation for the beauty in the unexpected, and how happy I was to share what I saw through my lens.

Take care, and happy spring,

e.

Day Trip to Canterbury

Day Trip to Canterbury

London, long a top travel destination, is rich in history, has a wealth of museums, and monuments, plus a vibrant restaurant scene. Still, it’s nice to get out of the city and day trip-it to a nearby area. Bath, Stonehenge, even Paris are popular options, but don’t forget about Canterbury, a cathedral city in southeast England famous for its pilgrimage site from the middle ages.

[The Miller] swoor, “By armes, and by blood and bones,
I kan a noble tale for the nones,
With which I wol now quite the Knyghtes tale.”

If you feel as though you just time traveled back to high school lit class you’re not probably not alone – the above quote is from The Canterbury Tales, written by Geoffrey Chaucer between 1387 and 1400, and I remember daydreaming through much of it. It is the story of a group of thirty people who travel as pilgrims to Canterbury. They come from all layers of society and tell stories to each other to kill time while they travel to the shrine in Canterbury. Some of the characters are funny and rude (i.e. “colorful”), while others are moral and reflective. Chaucer is important because The Canterbury Tales was one of the first major works in literature written in English, and it helped put Canterbury on the map.

The massive romanesque and gothic cathedral that dominates the city is a compelling reason to hop on a train. Founded in 597, the Canterbury Cathedral is one of the oldest and most famous Christian structures, and is best known for the murder of Sir Thomas Becket by the knights of King Henry II, and for the pilgrimage that Chaucer wrote about in the late 1300’s.

Located beyond the Cathedral, are the remains of St.Augustines Abbey, one of the oldest monastic sites in England. When Henry VIII seized the abbey in the 16th century, he destroyed some of the buildings and converted others into a royal manor for his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves.  In 1541 parts of the abbey were torn down and most the stone was sold locally. The library, containing two thousand manuscripts, was destroyed. The ruins of the Abbey are now a UNESCO world heritage site.

Canterbury Hospital Ruins

Other Highlights:

Canterbury is easy to see in a day. Currently, there are trains from London St. Pancras Station to Canterbury in as little as an hour, leaving plenty of time to tour the town and the cathedral, and to grab lunch at a local restaurant. The train station is an easy walk to the main street.

The city itself, although defined by its past, still has a busy modern vibe. Similar to Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, the King’s Mile has a variety of independent retailers and other shops along the old cobbled street. There is also a large student population who support the interesting dining, shopping and nightlife scene.

Canterbury is home to Greyfriars Chapel, Britain’s oldest Franciscan building which spans the River Stour. You can explore the ruins of the Norman Castle and view the Westgate Towers which has stood over the road to London for six centuries. Eastbridge Hospital was founded following the murder of St Thomas Becket to provide accommodation for poor pilgrims visiting his tomb. The building includes the early 13th century painting of Christ in Glory. Also, don’t forget the 13th and 14th century medieval city walls surrounding the city, built on the line of original Roman walls. Some have survived and offer great views of the town. Look for Castle and Broad Streets for access.

The impressive Christchurch Gate, built between 1504 and 1521, is the main entry into the Cathedral grounds. Try to find the sculpted heads of Prince Arthur, elder brother of Henry VIII, who married Catherine of Aragon in 1501. After Arthur’s death, Catherine married Henry VIII, and most of us know what happens next. Catherine is unable to produce a male heir and after twenty-five years of marriage led henry to divorce her, breaking with the Catholic Church and altering the course of English history.

Also recommended is the charming visitor attraction, The Canterbury Tales,  an audio visual recreation of 14th century English life. Here you’ll meet Chaucer’s pilgrims at the Tabard Inn near London and view scenes illustrating five tales. Located on St. Margaret’s Street.”

Where to Eat: We grabbed lunch at Kitch, an all natural cafe located on St. Peter’s Street. The atmosphere is charming, and the food is fresh and delicious. Other top recommendations: Pinocchio’s – Italian Restaurant in a light airy space, 64 Castle Street, Café du Soleil – menu inspired by Provence and Italy, 5 Pound Lane, Deeson’s – modern British dining in elegant venue, 25-27 Sun Street, Café des Amis – Canterbury’s original Mexican Restaurant, 95 St Dunstan’s Street.

If you do go to Canterbury, I hope you enjoy your day in Southeast England. Don’t forget to wander around on your own for a while to enjoy the unexpected sights and sounds you might find along the way, and think about writing down your thoughts when you return to your hotel at the end of the day. It’s nice to reread and daydream about your trip once you return back home to reality.

e.

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Edinburgh: The Scenic 360º

Edinburgh: The Scenic 360º

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Nelson Monument

When we arrived in Edinburg, my husband and I took a cab from the train station to our hotel near the University area. We quickly dumped our luggage in the room, changed shoes and headed out the double glass lobby doors to explore the beautiful city on the shores of the Firth of Forth. There was no plan really, I remember printing out a list of must see’s and figured we’d stumble on something amazing soon enough – the city is, after all, gorgeous with a wealth of historical and natural wonders. We wandered down along the lively Royal Mile then took a detour through an old atmospheric cemetery built on a hill. It was when we reached a clearing at the top that a recent travel review appeared vividly alive directly in front of me,“This small, steep hill scattered with architectural oddities and follies were once supposed to make Edinburgh the Athens of the North,” and I knew exactly where we were: Calton Hill. Oddities work for me, because I prefer the quirky side of history and this was no exception, a jumble of monuments that looked as though they’d been dropped from the sky above, landed hard and created a backdrop to the astonishing views of the area. From here we climbed Nelson’s Monument to the top viewing balcony, and despite gusty winds we enjoyed the scenic 360 of Princess street, the New Town, Leith, Holyrood Palace and Arthur’s Seat.

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National Monument of Scotland, a memorial to Scottish soldiers and sailors who died in the Napoleonic wars. Never finished, nonetheless lovely, and a popular place to simply hang out and enjoy the views.
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New Town, built between 1767 ~ 1800, is known for its neoclassical and Georgian architecture, and is considered a masterpiece of city planning. A UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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Inspired by a Greek temple of the Four Winds, the Old City Observatory, designed by William Henry Playfair in 1818.
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The official residence of the British Monarch of Scotland, once home to the ill-fated Mary, Queen of Scots.
Princess Street featuring the distinguished clock tower of the Balmoral Hotel
Princess Street featuring the distinguished clock tower of the Balmoral Hotel

Takeaways from our visit to Edinburgh:

  1. Three days including travel to and from London was barely enough time to scratch the surface of this fabulous UNESCO World Heritage city.  Four or five days would have been reasonable for us, and I’d love to push-off to the Scottish Highlands from here when we return someday.
  2. Edinburgh Castle is a must see, and I highly recommend the free tour. Our guide was lively, kept our interest and educated our group with important history in all of 30 minutes. Don’t miss the charming St. Margaret’s’ Chapel, the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh.
  3. We focused most of our time in Old Town. On our last evening we wandered over to New Town for a delicious dinner in the welcoming Olive Branch Bistro, when we sadly realized we didn’t have nearly enough time to explore this lovely half of the city, including the waterfront area of Leith and Dean Village.
  4. In my last post, Climbing Arthur’s Seat, I wrote about Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat. If you visit someday, don’t forget to pack your hiking shoes and climb to the top of this beautiful dormant volcano.
  5. My blogging friend, Restless Jo, posted a wonderful piece on Holyrood Palace, Clandestine Cloak and Dagger in Holyrood Palace last September. After reading her post last week, I deeply regretted not making the time to tour this site.
  6. We enjoyed wandering off to the little side streets of the Royal Mile in Old Town to get a feel for the city’s medieval history. My favorite street was Victoria Street, a charming curved road lined with restaurants and colorful shops; and below that the Grass Market, a historic marketplace lined with pubs and interesting architecture…all with a stunning view of Edinburgh Castle from above.
  7. The country’s most popular attraction: the National Museum of Scotland, it’s free and worth at least an hour or so if museums are your passion.
  8. Always do your research, and make a plan so you can use your time wisely…but for me the most important thing about travel is to remember to relax a little when you’re out and about, and to take advantage of the city’s sights, sounds, and especially the views.

e.

Hiking Arthur’s Seat

Hiking Arthur’s Seat

With a Fitbit strapped firmly to my wrist my husband and I tracked our second day in Edinburgh via steps, 23,000 total – 9,000 of which marked our hike to the top of Arthur’s Seat and back down again with a few detours along the way. The crown jewel of Holyrood Park in the form of an ancient volcano marks the highest point of the mountain at 251 M above sea level, giving incredible views of the city below and of the richly patterned countryside. I read that it was the most popular attraction in Edinburgh, and of course now I know why.  It’s a fun and moderate hike for both visitors and locals, and is completely void of typical tourist trappings. Here you get a true taste of the entire country, a microcosm of Scotland’s scenery, as the landscape within the former volcano includes crags, moorland, marshes, glens, lochs and fields. I fell in love with the wildflowers dotting the paths up and down the mountain and the tall bright green grasses swaying in the breeze. Even the soil was beautiful with its rich hues of reds and plums. My favorite part of the climb was the obvious destination, Arthur’s Seat, where there was a festival-like atmosphere of people from all over the world celebrating their mountain challenge and reach to the pinnacle. Strangers became friends here, lots of photo ops and smiles and an informal bond that forms when sharing a great moment. After all, we did just finish climbing a dormant volcano together!

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Tips for Climbing Arthur’s Seat:

  1. Depending on your fitness level you can make the climb to the top in 30 to 45 minutes, but allow extra time for exploring. We were in the park for almost 3 hours.
  2.  Bring your camera! (I always bring a plastic bag as a quick cover in case of unexpected rain.)
  3. Take along a bottle of water.  *One commenter noted that he “Ate bread and cheese with a good friend on top of this majestic wonder.”  I do like that sound of that!
  4. Wear comfortable shoes. Hiking boots aren’t necessary, a good pair of running shoes or trainers are fine.
  5. Within the park you can also visit St. Anthony’s Chapel – a 15th century medieval chapel, Salisbury Crags – a series of 150 foot cliff faces dominating Edinburgh’s skyline as well as Duddingston Loch – a fresh water loch rich in bird life.
  6. The trails are marked and easy to follow, however, you can pick up a map from the Park Information Centre.
  7. Work up an appetite? Try something healthy at the charming Hula’s Juice Bar at the bottom of Victoria Street in Old Town.

e.

Santa Barbara, Naturally

Santa Barbara, Naturally

Traveling alone has never bothered me, and I often seek out the opportunity to wander through cities almost anywhere in the world. Coastal towns like Southern California’s Santa Barbara are more family and couple oriented, so on this visit I was more comfortable gravitating to the many stunning areas of natural beauty that surround the city.

The Santa Barbara Courthouse was completed in 1929. Its Spanish Moor designed complex is beautiful in of itself, and it offers the most jaw dropping views of the city, mountains and sea from the top of  its 85 foot “El Mirador”clock tower.

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A wealth of natural beauty: Climb into your car and head for the Pacific Coast Highway. Head south on the iconic 101 and take 150 towards Ojai Valley which is known for its hippy vibe, or drive north to the exit for Calif. 1 toward Lompac and experience the stunning Valley of Flowers, a nickname for an area known for producing most of the world’s flower seeds.  For a wonderfully detailed overview of the Santa Barbara area, along with suggestions for travel routes and destinations, you might enjoy reading Road Trip, researched by National Geographic writers.

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The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden deserves its own post, and I look forward to researching and writing one someday soon. Founded in 1926,  the SBBG’s mission is to display native California plants in natural settings. Highlights include a lovely redwood forest, a dam constructed in 1806 by Native Americans, as well as almost 6 miles of hiking trails. It is one of the prettiest gardens I have ever explored, and my visit was one of the most pleasant mornings I’ve spent anywhere, and if I were a local Santa Barbaran, I’d be a member.

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A trip to any coastal town requires a sunset at a favorite beach, so I chose Hendry’s on a busy Saturday evening. I love this photograph because it timeless. It captures a scene that is reminiscent of the 1900s, as well as the here and now, or maybe twenty years in the future. Our pull towards the sea is universal, and I often wonder as we stand there entranced looking far beyond the last breaker, if we’re all waiting for a some signal from the great mother ship.

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Like most places I’ve visited for the first (second, third…) time I felt as though I’d only scratched the surface of Santa Barbara. Next time I (we) go however, it will better planned with a more complete list of things to do. I need to check out the booming arts district and the wine tasting bars representing various local vineyards. And yes, I’ll make sure my husband double checks his calendar and see how he likes this hotel, The San Ysdiro Ranch, which looks to me like the perfect combination of peaceful retreat and vacation resort. While we’re on the subject of fabulous Southern California Beach towns, have you checked out Grace and Frankie on Netflix? Its kind of fun watching this older cast romp around their ageless life issues, and the setting is fabulous. The house where it’s filmed is as big of a star as the cast, and found some fun information on this interesting blog “Hooked on Houses.” Until next time…

A Whisper to Winter

A gentleman on horseback ambled through my viewfinder not long ago, and without stopping, asked me what I was taking pictures of. His words made me pause for a minute. I was standing in that sun swept North Georgia field for a reason, but how do you explain how special the light is in late winter to a stranger who had to ask? How the sun transforms everything it touches with its amber glow, the grasses, those oceans of wild wheat that pulsate in the light, rows of nimble dancers swaying in the wind. I started to sweep my arm around to show why it moved me, then dropped it back to my side and mentioned something vague about the setting sun and wished him a wonderful evening. His friendly voice carried across the field as he and his horse continued on, half shouting about how bad the traffic had become and that he can’t take his horses on the roads anymore because of it, and did I know he used to photograph his daughters during their many years of horse shows. After they disappeared into the woods I slowly turned and drank in what was left of the day, then quietly whispered a goodbye to winter.

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Walking the Brooklyn Bridge

Walking the Brooklyn Bridge

Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge is fun, almost festive, and if you decide to go you’ll definitely never be lonely. My husband and I made the trek one cool Monday morning last fall and were both surprised to find the bridge trail buzzing with other travelers, busy locals, people out for a run, and a few pretty brave bikers. It’s the perfect activity for travelers who like to be outdoors and on the move. And there is no where else in the city where you can take in the beautiful NYC skyline as well as the borough of Brooklyn, the New York harbor and even run into a celebrity or two, all from the unique vantage point of a raised walkway on the top of an iconic suspension bridge.

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“The great appeal of the Brooklyn Bridge
is that the view is all around you”

If you’re in New York and interested in walking across the bridge to Brooklyn, head for lower Manhattan and look for the small park next to the Manhattan Municipal Building, a beautiful Beaux-Arts building and subway station. You can take a cab, Uber or ride the subway to get there, and easily get your bearings by joining the parade of bikers and walkers headed toward the bridge trail, or keep an eye out for signage. The exit off the bridge on the Brooklyn side is a little confusing, but we followed the path on the right which deposited us directly in front of a detailed map of the area. I highly recommend spending some time here! There are so many interesting neighborhoods, each with a unique history to absorb. We found the Dumbo section of Brooklyn enticing for its amazing views of the city, art galleries, restaurants, and interesting shops in repurposed warehouses. Lunch at the famous pizzeria Grimaldi’s almost seems mandatory (it was delicious) before the hike back to Manhattan. If you’re as curious as I was, the acronym for this wonderful neighborhood, “Dumbo” actually stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.

The dappled sunlight celebrates the beauty of the Manhattan Bridge and the distant view of the Empire State Building.
The dappled sunlight celebrates the beauty of the Manhattan Bridge and the distant view of the Empire State Building.
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Autumn is the perfect time of year to explore New York City on foot.

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If you happen to arrive or depart lower Manhattan from the Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall/Chambers Street subway station, make sure to look up and enjoy the views of the lovely vaulted ceiling of white Guastavino* ceiling tiles in the south arcade. The white columns and tile detail is truly stunning.  (*Spanish architect who patented the tile arch system in 1885.)

For More Information:

10 Spots in NYC for the Ultimate Skyline Views

Every Trail – Brooklyn Bridge Walk

Day Into Night: Greeting a New Year in Paris

Day Into Night: Greeting a New Year in Paris

After a hurried holiday breakfast and a few lingering embraces with the rest of our family, my daughter and I headed for the airport and boarded a waiting plane to Paris – traditional Christmas celebrations would have to wait until next year. I’ve always wanted to experience life in Paris during the holidays, and a plan slowly came together which captivated our daydreams for months until the sudden jarring news of the November terrorist attacks. After a brief pause amidst real concerns, we continued with our plans, an affirmation that life must continue in the face of adversity. After all, we will always need this iconic French city, and now Paris needed us back.

A strongly persistent tail wind agreed, pushing our plane forward and swiftly delivering us to our destination ahead of schedule in the pre-dawn hours to our beloved city of light. The full moon resting low in the sky guided our driver easily through the streets still twinkling with holiday decorations and deposited us curbside to a vacant Place Vendôme and a sleepy hotel desk manager. As we waited for our room, we didn’t understand that by stepping into the balmy pre-dawn night we were making an unspoken and unexpected agreement with the travel gods that we’d be up and very awake for the next 24 hours. Giddy and energized, we greeted the day with a few other travel vagabonds, and wandered the streets for hours until our dinner at the Eiffel tower and the ride to the top finale. It was the start of a week to remember, seven days between Christmas and New Year’s, a welcome return to a city we love and I think especially this time, a city that truly loved us back.

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Our week in Paris was a meandering, window shopping, café lingering, schedule-free visit of sorts, and there were days that no cameras were allowed.  A see-with-your eyes only rule was temporarily instated until a visit to lovely Montmartre. The small artist enclave once surrounded by vineyards is of course now a popular tourist destination, especially on beautiful sunny winter afternoons. This hilltop village is like being on top of the world, the vast views almost begging one to spread their wings and fly.  Once grounded, the labyrinth of crooked streets come alive with interesting street scenes begging for capture.

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The icing on my Parisian travel cake will always be the captivating Eiffel Tower, and upon reflection, it made perfect sense that on New Years Eve all roads seemed to lead to the Champs de Mars. United in purpose, the slow march from the Champs Élysée with thousands of other revelers will be forever etched in my memory. Strangers became friends, united by the pull of the great structure in our need to celebrate a night of new beginnings, an optimism normally taken for granted. The toned-down light show was more exciting than the greatest of firework displays and the exuberant cheers and happy chorus of voices is a sweet sound that I often hear in my daydreams. Cheers for happy memories, and for now, a belated Bonne Année to all.

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NYC: One World

NYC: One World

I haven’t been able to spend much time in New York City in the last several years, and never experienced the powerful scene of the post 911 tragedy in person. Print media and images broadcast on television portrayed the horrific impact of the event, but I would have liked to have seen the rebuilding progress in person to offer my respect to the lives lost and to the thousands of people who worked so hard to give aid and rescue.

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My arrival fourteen years later to the World Trade Center depicted a completely different scene. As I write this today I am still humbled by the beauty of the site, and moved beyond words by the memorials to the victims. A peacefulness cloaks the sounds of construction and traffic, yet it still pulsates with a quiet energy.

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In the space where the Twin Towers once stood, waterfalls cascade into two enormous square memorial pools. The pools are surrounded with bronze panels inscribed with the names of all the 9/11 victims, as well as those who were killed in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

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Beneath the tree-shaded memorial plaza is an underground museum with multimedia exhibits that tell the story of 9/11 and its aftermath.

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An impressive observatory on the 100th floor of the newly completed Freedom Tower provides 360 degree views of the city and beyond.

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Views of the three bridges that connect Manhattan to Brooklyn, the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges.

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Freedom Tower

The new World Trade Center area is lovely. An area designed for reflection and grieving also provides hope for a better world. There is an energy and excitement pulsating throughout the 16 acres of the former Twin Towers. It bounces off the sparkling panes of glass of Freedom Tower, the memorial waterfalls and the dramatic new architecture ringing the area. I love this city, New York, and I’m deeply proud of my country.

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Please do visit One World Trade Center, the Memorial, the Museum and the rest of gorgeous Lower Manhattan. Official website links are found below, for information and tickets. I recommend buying your tickets to the Memorial and Observatory in advance, as the lines do grow very long.

911 Memorial Museum

One World Observatory