Historical York, England

York, situated in northeast England, can keep you delightfully occupied – a history buff needs more than a couple of days (which alas was all we had). It is home to the largest medieval church in northern Europe, the Minster, as well as the longest circuit of medieval city walls.
We’ve seen a lot of churches (really… another one?) but this may well be the most beautiful and certainly the grandest. We were able to attend an evening song and a kind resident invited us to sit in his box with him: “best seats in the house.” The gentleman said, “Just kneel when I kneel and stand when I do and you’ll be fine.” The Gothic cathedral was built in the 13th century and boosts impressive stained glass windows. An exquisite Rose Window commemorated the union of the royal houses of Lancaster and York, through the marriage (1486) of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, which ended the Wars of the Roses and began the Tudor dynasty.

The Wars of the Roses were a series of battles fought from 1455 to 1485 between the Lancasters and the Yorks…both belonged to the House of Plantagenets (albeit different branches) and both laid claim to the throne. The wars ended with the defeat of Richard III of York, by Henry Tudor (father of Henry VIII) who united the Yorks and Lancasters by marrying Elizabeth of York (who Phillipa Gregory made even more famous in her book “The White Princess”).

We stayed near Bootham Bar (gatehouses are called “bars” here – as in “bar the way”), one of 4 or 5 ancient bars one must pass through to enter the medieval web of narrow streets composing Old Town York.

Bootham Bar – an entrance to Old Town and stairs to the city walls.

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York is a warren of medieval streets like this with narrow alleys called “Snickelways” to explore.

You can climb up the stairs of a bar to get on the 13th-century city walls. …. A magnificent circuit  nearly three miles long with marvelous views of the city. York walls_pse5642

After walking the wall we descended at Micklegate Bar near the estate called Gray’s Court, built (on Roman ruins) by the first Norman Archbishop of York in 1060.  It has been continuously occupied and renovated in the centuries since. They were booked well in advance so we could not stay here, but we treated ourselves to afternoon tea.

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Grey’s Court as seen from the city walls with the Minster looming behind it.

Afternoon tea is served on three tiers of plates with small sandwiches, scones and sweets in this lovely setting. Enough for a light and lovely lunch (especially if you’ve had a British breakfast earlier!).  We did this in the Lake Country and will be having it again!

If we had more time we would have boated along the River Ouse. But it was a lovely few days as is. Have you been here? Next week: Bath and the charming Cotswolds – the train leaves for Bath in the morning! (And then maybe I’ll get back to the themes of “writing, expats, and nature” or even Colombia… I am a bit eclectic I guess.)



Hadrian’s Wall: Roman England

We drove from Keswick to York via Hadrian’s Wall. The wall delineated the northern frontier of the Roman Empire. Spanning a narrow part of the island from sea to sea, it is some 75 miles long.

Tom next to Hadrian’s Wall

The conquest of Britain began around 43AD. The Romans built forts and cities, including Londinium, but were harassed by the troublesome Scottish tribes. Emperor Hadrian ordered the wall to be built, circa 122 AD, by the tens of thousands of soldiers stationed in the north. They made good use of the rocky escarpments and had guard gates every mile and observation posts in between.

Originally the wall was up to 20 feet high, but the stones have been pilfered over the centuries to build other structures and now it stands about four feet in height. It was used for some 300 years before the Romans left the island for good….and now it keeps the livestock in place.

There is also an archeological dig of a rather large Roman fort and settlement. The number of artifacts on display astounded us – for example dozens of finely crafted leather shoes. Apparently, despite the wet climate, the conditions were anaerobic and thus preserved items that you would have expected to rot.

Housesteads: remains of Roman fort and settlement

Tom was mesmerized by a cache of coins some Roman soldier had buried for safe keeping, discovered almost 2000 years later. This was not so uncommon in a time without banks; thousands of purses or amphoras full of coins have been found in England alone. Did the person forget where s/he stashed it? Did they die without anyone else knowing where their money lay hidden away?

We hiked along the wall sometimes in heavy rain, but it was worth it. Perhaps weather and being a weekday kept away the crowds and we usually had it to ourselves.

Made it!…and appropriately dressed.

I have wanted to see this remarkable feature for years and believe me it is fascinating.


Art museum in the mid-background; you can just make out the castle in the far left background.

Edinburgh is a wonderful old city. The Old Town is so well-preserved you feel you are in another century. The main attraction is the Castle originally built in the 12 century on this volcanic hill high above the rest of the city

Edinburgh Castle dominates the skyline


There is a great story about the magnificent Scottish crown jewels. After Charles I was executed in 1649, Cromwell ordered all such regalia destroyed. However the Scottish “Honours” were hidden in the Castle and almost forgotten (to make a long story short) until Sir Walter Scott set out to discover them in 1818. The scepter and the gold and red velvet, jewel encrusted crown have been on display for most of the years since in the Crown Room.


Adjacent to castle walls I was delighted to find a red telephone box still functioning!  The iconic kiosks have been around for almost 100 years, although harder to find in these days of mobile phones.   

Holyrood Palace is the Queen’s official residence in Scotland.  It includes the Historic Apartments of Mary Queen of Scots.  Holyrood is elegant and has beautiful grounds, but inside feels austere, especially inside.  I wouldn’t want to live there and perhaps that is why she prefers her country estate of Balmoral.

Holyrood Palace


We also visited the fabulous botanic gardens north of town and enjoyed walking around.  This hedge on the right is 20 to 30-feet thick and perhaps as much as 40 feet high.  The trunks have grown into trees.  We were so lucky with the weather, it hardly rained and was not very cold (this is September).

Red Admirals, familiar to us in California, live in Scotland too.


If you go to Edinburgh avail yourself of the hop-on hop-off bus.  It is a great way to familiarize yourself with the Old Town and goes to all the major sites. Dunedin, New Zealand, where we lived for over four years, is modeled after Edinburgh. So we recognized George, High St and Princes Streets and had no trouble finding our way around  – until we left town. We rented a car, but it took us 45 minutes to get to the motorway which is not well-marked.  We wandered around on narrow roads while the GPS mis-directed  us!   Another panorama (above) of the city.  We could hardly fit Edinburgh into our itinerary (with a name like MacKinnon we had to) but so glad we came.  Really enjoyed the Scots we met and listening to their brogue (they tend to be talkative story tellers I think.)


My husband and I are visiting northern Britain – we are in the Lake Country for the next few days. The countryside dotted with sheep so reminds us of New Zealand – with the addition of picturesque stone walls and barns.

“Dry” wall constructed without mortar by interlocking the stones.  Occasional,  larger “tie” rocks span both sides to give the wall strength,  as do the perpendicular capstones.

These guys (below) were so cute peering at us end-to end as we drove by that I had to stop and photograph them.  The one on the right however studiously ignored me until I crept closer and then they were both up and off.

We based our selves in the small town of Keswick – pronounced Kes-ik. You drop the “w” on all the towns that end in “wick.” Likewise Leicester is Lester,  Gloucester is Glouster i.e. drop the “Ces.” We stayed at a special B&B, Howe Keld, impeccably run by a gracious English-Swiss couple; it was comfortable and well appointed, right down to the selection of artwork.

Typical Victorian homes, often converted to B&Bs.

People come to walk the lovely countryside.  One popular outing is a launch that travels around Derwentwater Lake. You can hop off at any of many stops, hike to the next one and jump back on the next boat.


A not uncommon sight is where walkers push coins into cracks in logs; if it is over 50p they are well hammered in to foil the village boys.


Waterfalls and babbling brooks are everywhere.


One of the unexpected sights ( to us Outlanders) was Castlerigg Stone Circle erected almost 5000 years ago – as old as Stonehenge, but you’ll see more sheep than people. It is more in keeping with the mystical experience to have it (almost) to yourself. Samuel Coleridge, who visited with Wmm. Wordsworth, waxed poetic about the setting, itself encircled by mountains.

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I wandered lonely as a cloud… alas not the time of year to spot the daffodils.

There are more prehistoric circles in northern England than anywhere else; most date to the early Bronze Age (800-2000 ya). It is thought they were not only sacred sites, but also places where tribes gathered to swap goods and stories.

You will notice that it is cloudy in most of these pictures: I read somewhere that only 23%of the days are sunny so we were just happy that the rain was mild.

The Britons and other Europeans travel with their happy dogs and I couldn’t resist this bit of humor.

Un Poste Bilingue (A bilingual post)

My Francophile friend ‘Sue-Suzette’ spends time in France every year. She is  in St. Palais-sur-mer (located between Nantes and Bordeaux) and provided this bilingual description.

The sun doesn’t always shine along the coast of St. Palais-sur-mer. But rain and cloudy skies bring a different sort of charm. I woke up to big rain drops and a chilly wind. Nevertheless, I decided to take my umbrella and go for a walk.

Il ne fait pas toujours du soleil á St. Palais-sur-mer.  Mais la pluie et le ciel couvert ont un charme différente.  Je m’a réveillé et il y avait des grand gouttes de pluie et des coups du vent.  Néanmoins, j’ai décidé de faire un promenade,parapluie en main.

At the beach, the grey sky matched the color of the waves crashing on the rocks. Some hardy soul was swimming beyond the waves. As I watched, I saw that it was a woman, a modern day Diane de Poitiers, the celebrated mistress of King Henri II, who swam every day in the Loire river.

Á la plage, le ciel gris était le même couleur des vagues qui se brisaient violemment sur les roches.  Une âme intrépide nageait au-delà les vagues.  C’était une femme, une Diane de Poitiers contemporaine, la maîtresse du Roi Henri II qui nageait tous les jours dans la Loire.

Walking into the neighborhoods, I happened up the old clock tower.  This is all that remains of an 11th century church. It is surrounded by a graveyard with both old and more recent tombstones.  Today the door was open so I wandered in to find an exhibit of modern art.  Starting at the ground floor then climbing six flights of stairs, 170 steps in all.  It was interesting to see bright, vibrant modern paintings and sculptures against ancient stone walls. The artist Kael has a gallery in town.

Le vieux clocher

En marchant dans le quartier, je suis passé le clocher.  C’est la ruine d’une église du onzième siècle qui est entouré par un cimetière qui contiens des ancien et des tombes d’aujourd’hui.  La porte était ouverte donc je suis entrée.  Il y avait un exposition d’art moderne qui est monté de la rez-de-chaussée au cinquième étage, 170 pas en tout.  C’était intéressant à voir des tableau modernes pleins de couleurs vives contre les vieux murs.  L’artist Kael a une galerie en centre ville.

After a hot chocolate to warm my bones, my fellow travelers and I drove down the coast to St. Georges-de-didonne, stopping for lunch at a seaside restaurant.  The variety of shellfish here is amazing.  In addition to shrimps such as langoustines and crevettes, there are oysters, mussels, clams, whelks and snails.

Two more friends, Sharon and Jolie, enjoy large beautiful plates of fruit de mer.

Plus tarde, mes amies et moi sommes allés en voiture le long de côte á St. George-de-didonne ou on a déjeuné au restaurant balnéaire.  La grande variété des fruits de mer ici est stupéfiante.  En plus de crustacés comme les langoustines et les crevettes, il y a des huîtres, des moules, des palourdes, des bulots, et des escargots.

Continuing down the coast, we arrived at Talmont-sur-Gironde, a charming tourist village at the Gironde, an navigable estuary formed at the mouth of Dordogne and Garonne Rivers.  It has an 11th century romanesque church built high above the rocky coast, buffeted by the storms of the  Atlantic.  We wandered the cobbled streets and into the shops until it was time to drive home.

On a continué notre séjour à Talmont-sur-Gironde, un joli village sur la Gironde, un estuaire crée par les fleuves Dordogne et Garonne.  Il a une église Romanesque qui était construit dans un colline au-dessus le littoral rocailleux et qui sont battu par les orages d’Atlantique Océan.  On a flâné les rues pavés et dans les boutiques jusqu’à l’heure de rentrer.

Ah France – the most popular vacation spot in the world.  Merci Sue for providing us a glimpse of this corner of the country.

(Ah France – le lieu de vacances le plus populaire au monde. Merci Sue pour nous donner un aperçu de ce coin du pays.)



Most of these flowers are from Table Mountain, an old volcanic “neck,” near Chico in northern California. The landscape is stunning in the spring (4 slides below).

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My companions, husband and golden retriever. (Geologists will recognize the basaltic rocks.)


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(4 slides above/5 below)

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…wait for the close up!


White meadow foam (Limnanthes douglasii) was abundant next to the streams (click to enlarge).


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Butterflies were having a field day (5 slides).  These are Pipevine butterflies, but the pipevines flowers were not out yet, so they pollinated brodiaeas. (Maybe the pipevines are just where they lay their eggs – I have seen the plants full of black and red caterpillars.)

Wildflower season is almost over now – unless I head for the mountains, but after growing up in the tropics I can appreciate what the seasons bring.  Have you walked in a field of wildflowers in spring?  If not put it on your bucket list!


Off the Coast of Africa… Expat File # 18

I’m delighted to welcome my guest today, Julz Ma Poon who has lived in eight different countries – but who’s counting? A lifestyle not for the faint-hearted. Here is a buoyant account of an adventurous woman.

I have been what one would call an expat my whole life – well not completely true… I was born in 1976 in a small town close to Copenhagen, and my first ever resident/visa stamp in a passport is from February 8th 1982. I moved to south of France in March that year. My parents and bigger sister had already moved and I stayed with my maternal grandparents at that time. I missed my sister dearly. I remember the winter of ’81-’82 I was waiting for them to arrive from France one night. There were no mobile phones back then, so we never knew when they would arrive. Of course I fell asleep on the couch waiting. I woke up in the middle of the night and my sister had gone to sleep in the same bed as me. We went to my GrandMa’s kitchen and had a cup of chocolate. I still remember the happiness of seeing her again. Fun memories.

Little Julz with her father in France

If you ask me where I am from (and many people do) – well I say Denmark. I am proud to be Danish. I speak it fluently (if a little old fashioned, my friends would say), I love the Danish traditions and I do my best to keep them with my own children today.

I have never thought of myself as being a Third Culture Kid – Denmark, France – there isn’t that big of a difference – at least there never was for me. I used to live in one and moved to another. That was that. I grew up in France and had a pretty normal life – except we drove to Denmark twice a year and I used to love all the places I would see from the car, the hotels and the restaurants on the motorway. The chocolates we would buy.

After studies in Switzerland and a few moves across the Atlantic – I finally settled down with my husband in the UK. In the early 2000’s nobody spoke about ‘expats’ the way we do today. I always considered myself an immigrant, until our first big move for my husband’s work. I suppose then we became expats.

Citadel in Amman, Jordan (the Roman temple of Hercules is on the far right)

That move took us to Amman, Jordan. We moved (as with all our moves) without having visited . We landed in the middle of the desert on a cold January evening, with a 5 month old baby. There were holes in the road and no lights on the highway – but people were friendly, very friendly. We spend 2 and a half years in that amazing country. Jordan has culturally, religiously and historically so many things to offer: the baptismal site of Jesus, Mount Nebo (where Moses looked out over the promised land); Petra, the famous Nabataean site (known from the Indiana Jones movies), and the largest Roman ruins outside of Italy in Jerash – just to name a few examples. We left Jordan with a soon-to-be 3 year-old and a little baby boy – grateful for all the things Jordan gave us, but leaving great friendships behind.

Temple of Mengwi, Bali, Indonesia

Then came a couple of years in Indonesia, with a move to Bali. The Island of the Gods – and it truly is. Never have I been in a place where Spiritualism is so widely present. If one doesn’t believe in spiritual matters, all that is needed is a bit of time with the Balinese – and everyone changes their minds. How can I say this? Everyone believes so strongly that things happen…

Julz with her children in the Maldives

Another move, another country. This time, life took us to the Maldives – the small island country in the northern part of the Indian Ocean. Beautiful islands, nature and amazing underwater wildlife. But a hard life: one small island, one hotel – and that’s it: no shops, no schools, no friends.  Thus when we stayed longer than planned, I decided to take our 2 children to Mauritius, my husband’s home country.  I had to leave my husband behind until he could join us and we could be together again as a family. That is where we are today, reunited and happy.

Although I never thought of myself as a Third Culture Kid, my children are exactly that: they have been exposed to more cultures than most people will ever be. I often wonder if I did (do?) the right thing as parent, with this very nomadic lifestyle. My daughter is now 7 and has lived in five countries, my son in 4. But then I look at my children and see what this has brought them. They have lived in Christian, Muslim, Hindu and multi-religious countries. People  have cared for them on (more than) four continents. They never refer to anybody per the colour of the skin (except the one time when my daughter tried to wash her Balinese nanny’s arm!), the financial situation, the religion or even the nationality – for them it simply does not matter – it’s the girl in the white dress or the boy with the red shorts, it’s our friends from Singapore or London, Melbourne or Doha. They have a thirst for adventure, a true will to protect nature, a need to learn about their environment or new culture and so much to give, to share. And for all that I hope I am doing the right thing.

The Ma Poon kids on beach in Mauritius

 I always wanted to see what was beyond the next mountain, across the river, over the ocean. I guess that what I wanted as a kid is what I have created for my own children. That’s actually very selfish and I hope they will not be too hard on their mother for the lifestyle I have imposed on them as children.

The world I grew up in, was already a world in movement. The world we live in today, as no real borders. It becomes harder to keep traditions, it becomes harder to say I am from Denmark or Mauritius, but I knew where I was from; for my children it is a little harder than that.

I (CCM) confess that I had to look at a map to confirm exactly where Mauritius lies.  I learned that it has retained some of its French heritage but was also settled by the Dutch and British – among others.  Leave questions and comments for Julz below. To learn more about Julz and Mauritius visit: https://wanderingexpatfamily.wordpress.com/