Pretty Churches

During our trip to the UK we visited lots and lots of old churches and cathedrals. Husband especially loves touring old churches. There is so much history, architecture, art and intrigue. The United Kingdom had some especially beautiful old churches, and we were lucky enough to spend lots of quality time in them.

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When we visited Westminster Abbey in London they were about to start services and weren’t allowing visitors, sooo we did the only logical choice and told the guard we were going to services, which we did. We sat and and listened to the choir and services start, but Luna wasn’t exactly enjoying it or sitting quietly, so we left after about ten minutes. Unfortunately, that was the only time we had in that famous Abbey, BUT have no fear, we made up for all of that lost time in the York Minster, my all time favorite cathedral, er minster? Does anyone know the difference?

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The York Minster is HUGE. Huge and gorgeous. We spent hours and hours covering every inch, brick and stained glass window. We toured the basement, which goes 2,000 years back into the Minster’s history. Husband and Dad-in-law climbed the winding staircases to the top of the Central Tower. (I had to stay back thank to some baby and “it’s too dangerous for kids” rule.) I spent a lot of time in “the orb” It’s a new exhibit that gives you a very rare opportunity to see some very cool, very old ancient stained glass. I’m not typically a huge fan of stained glass, but I found a whole new appreciation for it after spending time in the orb, and in the Minster for that matter.

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In Scotland, our favorite Cathedral, and Husband’s all-time fav church, with the St. Giles Cathedral. St. Giles is over 900 years old and is located in the center of The Royal Mile. It’s dark, mysterious and has some incredible stained glass windows. However, the most interesting part of the church is the Thistle Chapel. This little room caught Husband’s attention because it was off limits, due to theft. Obviously, he was intrigued and determined to go in, after a little research and a convo with one of the workers, the doors were unlocked and we were taken in right before closing for a little private tour.

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I REALLY wish I would have immediately written down everything we were told because it was so interesting, but of course, i didn’t write down a single word. Here’s what I do know… The Thistle Chapel is a room created for the Order of the Thistle (Scotland’s great order of chivalry). There are 16 members of the Order. Each member has their own stall in the Chapel with their own “heraldic device” on display. After one member dies, another is invited to join the Order. The room is full of the most detailed and intricate carvings and designs. There are many symbolic details, and some silly ones too…like an angel playing the bagpipes. It was a cool room, made cooler by the fact that we got a private tour.

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Oh, so many gorgeous details.

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Where will our next ancient Cathedral be?

Cheers!

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The Noble Trip To York

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While planning our trip to the United Kingdom I knew I wanted to start in London and end in Edinburgh, but I was not sure where we would stop in between. In fact, I basically looked at the map and thought, York looks about halfway…okay, done. My handy dandy  Fodor’s travel book, as well at the Internet, helped me outline an itinerary for York while staying in London. I knew NOTHING about York prior to our trip, so I needed all the help I could get, especially since I was the designated tour guide.

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Our first stop was Grey’s Court, which is a magical country cottage hidden between the Minster and the city walls. It’s a home that is over 900 years old and is now a restaurant/hotel. We had lunch and coffee and it was oh.my.gosh. amazing. Great food. Great service. Great ambiance. And, a great view. Everything we ordered was delicious and when we finished our waiter offered to give us a tour of the rooms and the property. Let me just say this; if you ever find yourself in York, book a room at Grey’s Court.

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No high chairs, but Luna enjoyed eating on the comfy couch
No high chairs, but Luna enjoyed eating on the comfy couch

Next stop was the York Minster and I swear to you this was the most interesting church I have ever visited. St. Peter’s Basilica is unbelievable, but there was something so captivating about the Minster. Maybe it was the lack of tourist, the stain glass exhibit or the underground rooms… whatever it was, it kept us there for hours. The boys got to climb the spiral staircases to the top in capture some amazing views, but it was “too dangerous for children” so Luna and I stayed down below.

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There was on room with dozens of these heads, each one different and so detailed.
There was on room with dozens of these heads, each one different and so detailed.

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poor baby was terrified to walk on the glass floor!
poor baby was terrified to walk on the glass floor!

We spent the rest of the day walking and touring. We went through the Shambles (old narrow street that was once all butchers and now touristy unique shops). We naively hiked to the top of Clifford’s Hill, only to learn that the tower was closed. We drank beer and cider at the Trembling House of Madness, a cozy pub adorned with dozens of stuffed animal heads and is apparently haunted, and did some shopping, of course.

The Shambles
The Shambles

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Day 2 we did some extreme walking. As soon as the sun was up we walked through the Museum Gardens before having breakfast in the gardens. After our huge meal, we spent a couple of hours walking the full loop of city walls. After that long walk (with a stroller) we earned a coffee break at the Perky Peacock, which is inside an older bridge tower. Then, off to the National Railway Museum! (Somewhere in here we went to the Yorkshire Museum..it lead much to be desired.)

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I am not typically interested in trains, but these trains were so very cool! We saw royal trains with complete designer bedrooms, living rooms, offices, kitchens, dining rooms and bathrooms. Fancy overnight trains for very wealthy people. (Why can’t we all travel by train these days?), bullet trains, very old mail trains, enormous engines and so much more. Every single person told us that the museum was “must-do” in York, and I now agree.

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Our last night in York was topped off with one of their famous ghost tours. Yes, York is apparently the most haunted city in Europe. The tour was cheesier than I had hoped, and we froze our butts off, but whatevs, we did it. Next stop, Edinburgh!

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Cheers!

Harlem Trotters

Due to all of our free time lately (Yay Summer!), Husband and I have been taking advantage of the warm weather and extra daylight by taking lots walks around the city. We LOVE  getting to know Manhattan better, learning about the history of NYC, and going to places for the first time. My 24 Great Walks in New York book may be completed by the time Autumn gets here.

Yesterday we took the “Harlem and Hamilton Heights” walk, in Harlem…if that wasn’t obvious.

The only time we venture into Harlem is when we are desperate to go to Target. You’d think that would happen pretty often, but having to take a train there and taxi back (due to the many purchases) is surprisingly discouraging. To be frank, I am a little frightened of Harlem. I wish I wasn’t, but it has such a bad rep. It doesn’t feel dangerous as I walk the four blocks from the train to Target, it just feels different.

Let’s face it, Husband and I are spoiled to growing up in majority white, majority middle-class suburban-America. Yeah, we may travel quite a bit, and have moved away from our childhood homes, but we still live in a predominately white, now predominately upper-class fancy-pants neighborhood. I HATE to admit it, but a little color and a little culture makes us a little uncomfortable. It isn’t right, or fair, or decent, or okay in any way. It’s just something engrained in us from childhood through media and narrow-mindedness, and it’s a challenge to erase.

So, to counter what most of you probably hear in the media…Harlem is NOT what it seems. Harlem is so full of history, culture, and some of the most beautiful homes and churches you will ever find in New York.

During our walk we learned about some really interesting and beautiful places in Harlem. The most unusual was Alexander Hamilton’s “country retreat”. Apparently, he used to travel 2 hours by stagecoach to Wall St, and built this house as an escape from the city. Crazy to think that Harlem used to be an escape from the city. It was really strange to see this old and very large home right in the middle of Manhattan.

 

 

City College, very old, originally opened for the children of immigrants. It was built with the debris from subway tunneling, and has  a medieval architectural theme throughout the campus. It grew to become a pretty radical school and was nicknamed “Harvard of the Proletariat”. We really liked walking through this campus, it was gorgeous, and another odd structure to be found in Manhattan.

 

 

Right next to the college is St. Nicholas Park. This park was designed by the same creators of Central Park, but on a MUCH smaller scale. Belle did not seem to notice the size difference. She was just thrilled to rub her back in the grass and get the recent bath-smell off of her.

 

 

We saw lots of enormous old churches on our walking tour, but the most impressive was the Abyssinian Baptist Church. It was built in 1808 as a protest against racial segregation. In the 1930’s it was the world’s largest protestant church, and one of its pastors was Adam Clayton Powell Jr. He was a member of the US House of Representatives, and was a powerful force in anti-segregation movements in NYC.

 

 

The YMCA in Harlem is famous for allowing African-Americans to stay there when they were refused service in most white-run hotels in the city. Several famous artists and musicians once stayed at this YMCA.

 

 

Our last stop on the tour was the very famous Apollo Theatre, which actually opened in 1914 as a burlesque house. It’s probably most famous for amateur night where amazing talents like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, James Brown, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder all made appearances.

 

 

We really enjoyed our time in Harlem. It’s still too far from our favorite places for us to consider moving there, but its worth a walking tour, a trip to Target, and from what I’ve heard, there are some really good restaurants. So add Harlem to your NYC itineraries!

Cheers!