Big Spring Project

I always seem to make my plans for the year, and then something comes up, and we make a huge change of plans. This year, instead of building new animals housing, we’re making some structural changes to the circle garden. This is mainly roses, clematis, and other flowering plants.  Two years ago, I ripped out a middle section to put in a quail coop. Since then, I’ve been meaning to get around to revamping things, but I never have.

The wood sides are over ten years old, and are in pretty poor shape. After going over a number of different options, I decided to go with the most labor-intensive. Sigh. Instead of replacing the wood sides, we’re tearing the wood out, digging out the plants, carting away the extra dirt, and making the circle garden into a flat, rather than raised, bed.

Yesterday, it was raining pretty hard. We worked anyway. We got the largest clematis and one rose moved, and I hope the clematis will survive. I’ve never moved a clematis before, but the internet says it can be done. So we’ll see.

Today, it was sunny and actually warm! It was much more pleasant being outside, but it is still back breaking work – especially since our backs were already pretty much pre-broken from yesterday.

One half of the circle is done, however, and I have the largest rose moved from the other half.

The ducks were very interested in the whole process.

What ARE you doing down there?

Are you looking for slugs? Your method seems a bit…destructive…

Dexter the corgi wanted to help, but I felt he’d be more of a hindrance, so he had to satisfy himself with being on duck watch. From his patio position, he warned us whenever the ducks were sneaking up behind us. Beware! Feral garden ducks!

It was a good birthday.

New Edible Trees for 2016

I wasn’t going to add more trees this year, because I was going to get into meat rabbits/ducks. But it looks like we may be delaying getting into the meat animals until Fall, or even next year, so I’m going ahead and bringing in more fruit.

Four more apples.

Granny Smith, for my mother who likes her apples tart.

granny-smithAshmead’s Kernel, for me, who likes the very old heirlooms. This one sounds interesting, as it’s a dessert apple that tastes like a pear!

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Greensleeves. This isn’t an old variety, but it’s a British apple, and it sounds perfect for what I want.

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And a crab apple, Dolgo.

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In addition, I added two more plums.

Shiro, a Japanese variety.

shiro plum

And something really interesting, Nadia, a plum x cherry hybrid that’s getting some rave reviews. Supposedly, it’s like a huge juicy cherry!

nadia

Plus I bought six more raspberry plants. “Meeker”.

AND some Black Caps. (Basically black raspberries. We can’t have too many raspberries!)

From Baker Creek (rareseeds.com) I found a variety of strawberry I’ve never heard of before. From their website:

This is a cold hardy old variety from Denmark; it was found growing in an ancient, viking village site. Plants are low growing which makes them harder to spot by birds and also protects the delicate fruits from frost. These are a medium sized June bearer with a great flavor; fruit sets early. Very rare and hard to find.

How could I resist that? Viking strawberries!

Although it’s not quite spring here, spring is definitely on the way. These last couple of weeks, it’s been nice enough to get out and start doing some prep work in the outside garden, and I got a few hardy seeds (spinach and lettuce) planted in the cold greenhouse.

The birds also feel spring. The quail are laying again, and the males are amorous, so I’ve started saving eggs to hatch. Probably by Monday or Tuesday, I’ll have enough to fill the incubator.  These will be the first quail hatched from non-shipped eggs, so I’m excited to see how that works out.

Also laying eggs are the baby chicks from last year, now fully grown.  My new favorite breed is the Buckeye. If Charlotte is any example, they are placid hens that don’t get up to mischief or bullying, but also stand up for themselves, so they don’t get bullied themselves. She’s fit right in with the old girls. She’s a great forager, too.  I don’t have a recent picture of her; I’ll have take some soon. She’s a very pretty red, like a fancy Rhode Island.

The Americauna, Freddie, had a name change. It just didn’t suit her crazy temperament. She’s now Boadica, the British Queen who took on the Roman invaders. For a long time, she was simply known as ‘that crazy hen’. She’s calming down now, though – less crazy, more eggs!  She lays these pretty green eggs – kind of an olive green.

And the odd thing is, she never bothered to lay those tiny pullet “starter eggs”. She went straight to full-sized. And she’s the smallest hen I have. Ouch. No wonder she’s a bit crazy.

Year in Review – Including Best Books of 2015

2015 was incredible. In the garden, we took down two old rotten sheds, paved a long section of pathway through the garden, and built a duck coop for our new animal additions, and built a greenhouse.

Outside of the garden, I took the trip I’ve been dreaming of for half my life to Iceland, Great Britain, and Venice.

I would have also published my first book, but I decided to delay it until I finished all three in the trilogy, and release them at the same time. So basically, I wrote three books in 2015. A little more tweaking, and they’ll be ready to go out in Spring, I think.

Additionally, this was the year of me being the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything, according to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Seriously, I loved being 42.

And of course, I read a ton of books in 2015. I made my yearly goal of 150, just barely – hey, I didn’t read at all during my month abroad! I ended up with a total of 152.

Out of those, here are my favorites, beginning with nonfiction.

1: Real Food for Rabbits, by Laura Wheeler

rabbitsI talked about this one in my last post. But basically, it’s a fabulous book for people with either pet or meat rabbits, who want to feed their animals with natural food, not commercial pellets.

2: Book Cover Design Secrets, by Derek Murphy

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Sometimes a particular book comes to you at the exact moment you need it. This is one of those books. It’s absolutely brilliant – Derek tells it like it is, often going against the commonly believed and published “truth” about cover design. If you’re an Indie writer, this book MUST be on your bookshelf. I borrowed it through Kindle Unlimited, and then immediately went and purchased a copy – it’s that good!

3: The Compassionate Carnivore, by Catherine Friend

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Really good explanation of what I’m trying to do on my little farm, and why I’m doing it.

4: The Nourishing Homestead, by Ben Hewitt

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Yes. Just read this. He has a few things wrong (I disagree completely with his views on wheat, for instance) but the majority is so, so right.

5: My Garden, the City, and Me, by Helen Babbs

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Wonderfully written, interesting little book about gardening on a rooftop in London.

6: Grow a Little Fruit Tree, by Ann Ralph

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This book should be required reading for any backyard gardener with an interest in fruit trees. Wow – so much helpful info! Everything you think you know about planting, pruning, and growing fruit trees is wrong…read this book and find out why. It will completely change your gardening game plan.

7: Adventures in Yarn Farming, by Barbara Perry

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I admit it; I’m fascinated by sheep and shepherds. I would love to own sheep, but I can’t quite figure out how to fit them in my backyard farm…plus they are just ever so slightly illegal where I live. So I read these books and dream of the day I can move to the country and have my own flock. Icelandic sheep, definitely, after experiencing the wonder of those sheep in their home country!

I’ve been reading far more non-fiction than I used to, and it’s heavily weighted in favor of practical books relating to homesteading, gardening, or animals. But I also still read tons of fiction.

8: Fool’s Quest, by Robin Hobb

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So good. I can’t even…it’s just so good. I love how Hobb ties everything together in this one, all of her various series just fitting together seamlessly. Book one of this particular series made my Best Books list last year, and I expect she’ll make the list next year, too.  My favorite series of hers, although to really get the most pleasure out of it, you really should read her others, first.

9: Kat, Incorrigible, by Stephanie Burgis

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So charming and fun. It was a delight to read, and after I finished, I immediately downloaded the rest of the series. There were equally good.

10: The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, by Catherynne Valente

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Valente’s writing is SO yummy. It’s old-fashioned and modern and hip and nostalgic and you can’t skip even a single word. No one writes like Valente; she’s just incredible.

11: The Hollow Boy, by Jonathan Stroud

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This book deserves way more than five stars. Take all the stars! Honestly I am just blown away by how good this series is, and this book in particular. Every one I know needs to read this book right now!

12: Uprooted, by Naomi Novik

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I’ve been a fan of Novik’s dragon series for a long time now, so when I first heard this was coming out, I was a tad disappointed. What, no dragons? No Napoleonic War? No men who (a tad disconcertingly) call their dragon ‘dear’?  But yowza. I was blown away by this. It’s head and shoulders above her dragon series. It’s truly the best fantasy I’ve read for ages.

 

Okay, it was super hard this year to pick an over-all favorite, because numbers 11 and 12 were SO incredible.  But I’m going to give the title to:

13: Miss Buncle’s Book, by D.E. Stevenson

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This isn’t the most amazing, life-changing book in my list. It’s not even the best written. But it is a book that I hugged to my chest when I was done reading, because I grew so intensely fond of it. It made me happy, and once I started reading it, I couldn’t stop. I stayed up way too late, and skipped watching two of my favorite tv shows for this book. And the sequels are great, too – I think I may even like the second book a triffle more.

And there you have it: 2015 was a year of glory. But I have a feeling 2016 is going to be pretty spectacular too….

Christmas, and Looking Forward to 2016

This Christmas was one of the best in nearly a decade. The extended family and their drama went elsewhere, and it was a quiet, peaceful Christmas with great food, excellent gifts, and an opportunity to attend our Christmas Eve church service. I actually made it through feeling relaxed instead of stressed out, and rather than being SO GLAD it’s over, I’m looking forward to next year.

This was Dexter’s second Christmas, and the first that he really understood what unwrapping was all about.

We also discovered the perfect way to apply flea medicine to a wiggly corgi…you use the sleeve of a sweatshirt to ardvark them!

It’s been rainy almost non-stop this fall and winter – we’ve set records for rainfall. Finally, though, we’re seeing the return of some sunshine, and it’s bringing on the desire to garden. I’ve been marking up my seed catalogs, and almost have my order ready to send. This year, I’m going to try to stick to tried-and-true varieties, because I’m making it a goal to grow as much greens/seeds for the animals as I can.

rabbitsI found this fabulous book on Amazon:Real Food for Rabbits: Raising Meat Rabbits Without Buying Commercial Feed.  Don’t be put off by the title if you only have pet rabbits – it’s all about feeding, and it applies just as well to pets. I’ve actually suggested to the author that she change the title.

I would LOVE to get all my critters off packaged, commercial food. The chickens are, but the quail and rabbits are (hopefully) being converted over to natural grains and veggies this coming year. I’ve seen so many benefits from the chickens being off commercial food. They are healthy and happy, and – biggest of all – their poop doesn’t stink. At all. I’m looking forward to having that be the case with the quail!

I don’t know if my meat rabbits will happen in 2016. I have a muscovy duck in the fridge ready to cook tomorrow, and assuming we like it as much as everyone says we will, I think I’ll be starting with a few meat ducks.  I’ll order the minimum order of 10 ducklings, save out the nicest trio for breeding, and eat (or sell) the rest. The nice thing about muscovies is how quiet they are, plus the females are terrific mothers.

muscovyI really like having the Indian Runner ducks in my garden. Other than a certain devilish attitude at bedtime sometimes, they are no trouble at all.  And every time I see them out the window, they make me laugh. I’ll be getting two more in the Spring. Either as chicks, or I’ll try hatching some eggs.

I’ll also be hatching more quail. I don’t remember if I told you guys, but I lost a female this Fall, bringing my numbers down to just four females and two males. I want to plump up the female numbers. And my friend lost all but one of her quails due to a predator attack. She didn’t wire in the bottom of her pen, and something dug through the rocks and gravel and killed all of them but one little male in one night. Put wire underneath your cages, folks. It might be a little more trouble and expense, but you never know when a predator will find your cage!

I’m keeping her lonely male with my females, until I get more quail hatched. Then she’s taking him back – I have enough males already!

So right now, that’s the big plan. Re-vamp the chicken yard area to make room for the muscovies, hatch more quail, and garden ALL THE FOOD.

Because seeds.

SAD

http://www.greensparrowgardens.com/2014/12/sad-seed-acquisition-disorder.html

Back to the Garden

The travel posts are over, and now I can return to updating you on the garden and the animals.

It’s been pretty warm weather-wise – we only had our first light frost this week – so I’ve put off winter-proofing the quail coops until 2 days ago.

To keep out the worst of the winds and rain, I wrap the smaller coops in clear plastic.  I want them to still get light, and to be able to see out. I also fill the coops with loose straw. The quail LOVE to be able to burrow around in there.

I don’t put plastic on the big coop. It’s big enough the rain can’t get in except at the edges, and there’s lots of areas where the quail can get out of the wind. I do put a lot of straw in it, through.

Look how pretty the nasturtiums look – they are blooming up a storm, even though it’s the middle of November.

Partly because of my travels, I didn’t get much of a fall vegetable garden in. I did plant garlic, and I planted the greenhouse in some beets and kale.

I also moved a few of my more delicate potted outdoor plants inside. It’s nice to be able to have a place to put these, finally.

The “Hardy Nasturtium” I planted this year is growing tremendously. I hope it will survive the winter okay, because I really love it.

It’s finally blooming, too. The hummingbirds love the flowers.

The ducks are full grown, and are doing their job as slug patrol.

An unexpected benefit of having them loose in the garden all day is  that they keep the chickens in line. I have a couple of young, flighty chickens, and I used to have some trouble with them flying over their fence into the garden. Not while the ducks are on duty! The ducks LOVE the chickens (they are sex-crazed little maniacs, and I think they hope the chickens are drakes!) and given the chance, they will follow the chickens around the yard and try to seduce them. The chickens are not amused. If the ducks are in the yard, the chickens won’t go there.

Another benefit of the ducks is their eggs. Surprising the heck out of me, they are actually using their nest box!

And I completely adore duck eggs. They taste better than chicken eggs, for sure! I’ve never been able to eat eggs on an empty stomach – if I have scrambled eggs for breakfast, it always makes my stomach feel a bit icky. Duck eggs don’t have that effect on me. I’ve heard that people who are allergic to chicken eggs can eat duck eggs without a problem, so how cool is that?

The chickens are not laying right now because of molting, and winter light, and a variety of other excuses. But they do still have work to do. Year-round, they are my master composters.

They have a large yard, that they have turned to dirt. To keep the ground soft enough so they can dig for worms and bugs, I keep a layer of straw on top of it.

If I throw it out in sections, they will take care of spreading it out.

They also eat all the grass seed in it, and break the pieces up, and poop in it, and basically turn it into this lovely pre-compost. One or twice a year, I go and scoop it up and put it on the garden.

It finishes composting directly on the garden, and I put more straw out for the girls to get to work on. The chickens are definitely earning their keep even when they are taking a vacation from egg-laying.

I’ve been making lists of what I plan to accomplish next year.

I want to build a second rotating quail bed for the extra females to live in, so I can get them out of the big coop. I also want to hatch some more quail to add to the female population. Right now, I just have two mated pairs, and three solitary females.

Once the quail are moved, I can remodel the big coop a little bit, and hatch some miniature serama chickens.

I also want to build the colony rabbit house, and start raising meat rabbits.

Also a must-do is finishing the various fencing around the property, and put in some new raised beds along the side front yard.

And then….wow. I think all the building might be done! If all this gets done in 2016, starting in 2017 I’ll be able to start working on the purely decorative stuff that been sliding by because of lack of time/money.

 

Venice, part II

According to my favorite custom of getting up early to explore new cities while the rest of the tourists are still sleeping, I grabbed a quick bowl of fruit for breakfast, then went to see St. Mark’s in the morning.

The previous night’s rain made lots of bathing pools for the pigeons.

But there’s always some folks that prefer a good shower.

Since the Palace and the Basilica weren’t open yet, I spent awhile just taking pictures of the carvings outside.

Some of it was rather creepy.

And then they let me into the Basilica, where I couldn’t take any pictures. Bah. It was beautiful, and had a feeling of immense age about it, which I didn’t feel inside the English churches.

Next was the Doge’s palace, which did allow photos.

One of the my favorite parts of the palace was the views through the windows.

The prison/dungeon was MUCH larger than I thought. All these little passages…if there hadn’t been signs to direct me, I’d probably still be there.

In one of the rooms, there was a little slot in the wall.

I peeked through it, and found myself observing a woman in the next room who thought she was alone. You just never know who’s watching.

My ticket included entry to the Correr museum, so I took a quick run through there. I found the chopines particularly fascinating.

I also loved these illustrated books.

Entirely hand-painted, and so tiny.

There was also tons of sculpture and paintings, but I’ve never seen the point of taking photographs of those. If I like a painting, I’ll just buy a postcard or print – much better than a snapshot!  I did take one, though, just to show you something amazing.

The Correr is a series of little rooms, and in most of them, there’s no guards or docents or anyone at all.  A lot of the time, I was the only person around. And there is no glass or barrier of any kind between you and the art. There’s not even any signs not to touch!  How do they keep people from messing with it? In America, you’d have kooks bringing in bottles of spray paint or something…or at least leaving fingerprints all over it. It’s puzzling, but awesome.

The last thing I did in Venice was take a boat ride down the Grand Canal.

It’s so much fun, because the boats rock with the waves.  After we reached the Canal, we slowed down, and I went outside beside the driver so I could get better pictures.

Although I didn’t take nearly as many as I could have done. I mostly just wanted to be there. Unlike some folks. This girl is in a gondola, on the Grand Canal, and she can’t be bothered to look up from her phone. I kept glancing over at her, and nope. I tell you, I hate smart phones.

 

Labor in Venice is interesting.

There was one small street I walked down, and workmen were gutting the inside of a building. All the stone rubble was taken out by hand, put in a wheeled cart, and handwheeled to the canal. Where it was emptied into a boat to be taken away.

I loved all the little gardens.

Sadly, a lot of the destruction of Venice is happening due to large cruise ships traveling up the canal. The residents are trying to stop this, but so far, no one is listening.

Although I loved it, two days in Venice was enough for me. I was ready to go back to London for one day…before I headed home to America.

My last day was all about bookshops and tattoos. My first stop of the day was Cloak and Dagger Tattoo in Shoreditch. They are super friendly and nice, and just the perfect place for a complete newbie to get her first tattoo!

I’d been thinking for years about getting one, and finally I’d settled on a place to put it – and a design that was properly meaningful to me. I went with a simple black silhouette of a dragonfly on the back of my ankle.

Dragonflies have a unique lifecyle. Depending on the variety, they can spend years living in a wingless form, underwater, completely aware of what they are truly meant to become. It is only when they leave the water, that they understand they are creatures of light and flight. I find it a perfect analagy for our life here on earth. We are wingless creatures, living in a world that isn’t truly ours. A lot of us are completely unaware that we are meant to be something else – and even those of us who do understand, well…is it possible to truly know the joy we will feel when we are finally able to leave this murky world and find our wings and the Light, our Saviour, Who is meant to live in us?

Everyone told me that having a tattoo done on the back of my ankle would be incredibly painful – but it hardly hurt at all. It felt like the artist was just scraping the tip of a safety pin over my skin! Even when he hit a sensitive spot, it was barely a 2 on the pain scale.  Even afterwards, it didn’t hurt. The hardest part was remembering to take proper care of it, since I kept forgetting it was even there.

After the tattoo, I went to Hatchard’s Bookshop to pick up a couple copies of the new illustrated version of Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone. It was just being released on this day and I was super excited to be getting the British version, rather than waiting for the US one to come out.

Hatchard’s Bookshop is the oldest surviving bookstore in the UK, and it’s glorious. If bookstores were anything like this in the US, I might be tempted to give up my Kindle in favor of printed books again…but honestly…probably not. Kindles are just too perfect!

They didn’t have any of the Harry Potter books out yet, but when I asked, a clerk got them from the storage area for me. I took them up to pay, and the guy at the register refused to sell them to me (very politely, calling me ‘madam’.) He said the release date they had on their computers wasn’t for two days from now. I said I’d checked the publisher’s site, and they said it was today, and could he double-check that?  It took two clerks ten minutes, but they finally discovered I was right and their computers were wrong.  So I was the first one to buy one of the HP books at Hatchard’s – and possibly, the first one in the whole of Britain, if the stores had been given the wrong date (the US release date instead of the UK one.)

It’s a marvelous book. Well worth hauling it all over the airport the following day. It’s VERY heavy…and I had two of them. Look at these illustrations!

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The most common question I’m asked is a variant of: Don’t you wish you were still there/could have stayed? The answer is: No.

Before I left on this trip, I was feeling very burnt out and stretched thin, like too little butter over too much toast, as Bilbo likes to say. Because I was saving for this trip, I hadn’t gone anywhere new in two years, and I was really feeling it. The trip itself was often stressful, because constantly having to find my way in new places (when I have zero sense of direction!) and figure out how to handle new things every day for twenty-three days was…out of my comfort zone, to say the least. This was my first solo trip, the longest trip I’ve ever taken, and only the second time I’ve been out of the States (unless you count Canada, which I don’t.) By the end of it, I was ready to come home. It was amazing and incredible and I’m so glad I went, but I was definitely ready to come home.

But it did its job of rebooting my brain. The final morning I woke up in London, I woke up with a new short story ready-made inside. The exact words were just there, like a gift. Before I went to the airport, I dashed out to the first shop that sold notebooks. On the plane from London to Reykjavik, I wrote the words down, non-stop. After a two hour layover in Reykjavik, I wrote for another three hours non-stop on the way back to Seattle. These gifts. These marvelous gifts.

I don’t remember dreaming at all while I was on the trip, but for two weeks after I got home, my brain was an explosion of color and sound and vivid, vivid dreams every night. More gifts.  These are the things you don’t think of, when you consider traveling, the benefits that you don’t realize will happen. I was in the middle of writing a particular novel when I left, and I was a little worried that I’d lose the thread of it – because it was already giving me trouble.  Now I’m back, it’s just bursting out of me, and I can’t wait to finish it, because the next book will be all about the things I saw in Europe – as seen through the eyes of a monster-hunting steampunk girl in Queen Victoria’s court.

But I’m happy to let Winnifred Sebastian-Veals do the traveling for awhile now, while I return to the calm solitude of my garden, my animals, and my art.

Besides, my chicken missed me.

 

Venice 2015

From Bath, I took the train back to London. I was really excited to do a little guided mudlarking along the Thames with LondonWalks.  At low tide, you can walk along the shore and discover all kinds of cool things, many of them from the 1700s or earlier. As my guide stressed, however, you do have to be careful. Wear gloves and don’t touch your face until after you wash up, because you can catch a really nasty (and sometimes fatal) virus.

The south shore of London is very modern, and thus not very nice in my opinion, but it did give me a chance to walk across the Millennium Bridge.  Didn’t see a single Death Eater, though….

I found several interesting things on the beach.

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The red shard is part of an 1700s pottery plate, and the guide said it was unusual because it’s glazed on both sides. The long narrow pieces are also from the 1700s – the pipe stems from disposable clay pipes. Smoke once, throw it in the Thames. The piece in the upper right corner is my favorite thing, though. Since it has a fragment of writing on it, the guide was able to narrowly identify it as part of Victorian marmalade pot!

Then it was back to St. James Park for a look at the pelicans, which, once again, were on the far side of the island. Sigh.  I did see lots of young swans.

And this bird, which I saw all over Great Britain. I think it’s a magpie?

And this lovely heron.

I made an early day of it, because the British cold that I started in the Scottish Highlands was really starting to kick in. I felt so bad by the time I was settled into my hotel, that I even considered whether I wanted to catch my flight to Venice at all. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to enjoy it, and I was a little nervous about flying if my head was all congested. I stopped by Boots Drugstore, and threw myself on the mercy of the salesgirl. She set me up some special travel ear plugs, some fizzy Vit. C and zinc tablets, and some decongestants.  So I went to bed, and before I’d even properly gotten to sleep, the fire alarm in the hotel went off. I got up, and went out into the hall, but there was absolutely nothing going on, and after a couple of seconds, the alarm cut off. Another girl opened her door, and we discussed the odds of their actually being a fire, and decided to go back to bed.

I had to get up at four am, and fortunately, I was feeling better. And I’m so glad I didn’t miss Venice! My flight was fine, and the airport was simple to navigate. One tip: don’t buy your Aliliguna (water bus) tickets inside the airport. Everyone does that, and there’s a long line. If you wait until you get to the dock itself, there’s no line at all.

To get to the dock, you have to walk for about 11 mins through a parking lot and down the street (it’s well-marked), and then suddenly there’s the water, with a long line of water taxis and buses.

Around 1pm, I arrived at St. Marks.

All it took was one quick glance toward the square itself, and I decided to delay that part of Venice until evening. (Thank you, Rick Steves. Your Venice Guidebook was SO helpful, and never steered me wrong!)

Geez. Even in October, there’s too many people during the midday –  I can’t imagine the hell of summer!

I booked at the Casanova Hotel, which was right behind St. Marks Square, and easy to find. I was stymied briefly by the light switches – until a maid showed me how to insert the brass part of my room key into a slot to activate the power.

Also interesting was a bell pull inside the shower. To pull in case you fall, and need emergency assistance!

After I checked in, I went and got myself lost. On purpose, since good old Rick Steves told me I couldn’t get really lost.  All ways eventually loop back around to the Grand Canal, and San Marcos.

Once again, the weather was flawless.

The water was so gorgeous. So many different colors. I kept trying to capture its true colors, but I don’t think I ever did.  Beside the Grand Canal, it smelled purely of saltwater, but in some of the smaller canals, it smelled of deeper, riper things.  Not unpleasantly, though.

I spent almost all time in Venice just wandering around. The shopping wasn’t much – mostly very high-end designer stores, which I find boring – and glass/mask/paper stores, which after awhile,  all start to look alike. I did buy a beautiful wire mask, and a handmade black glass cat for myself, as well as a few Christmas gifts for people who might be reading this blog. ;)

I kept passing signs for McDonald’s, but never actually found it.

One thing you should know about me is that I am not a foodie. I really don’t like restaurant food – homemade is so much better! The only real reason to eat out, in my book, is for simple convenience – or because you’re being social with friends. Since I was solo on this trip, I had no reason to be social, so it was all about convenience. I never did eat at any of the sit-down restaurants in Venice; I just walked up to one of the many sandwich places when I got hungry.  I would have actually eaten at the McDonald’s if I’d come across it, because one thing I do find really interesting is how different a chain restaurant is when it’s in a foreign country. The menu is different, and and there’s all these odd little cultural details that fascinate me. In York, I ate at KFC – and I swear their chicken is a million times better than here. And you get little pots of gravy to dip your fries in.

The displays of fresh seafood along the street were beautiful, though.

After wandering until I was exhausted (I was still feeling a bit under the weather), I had a little rest in my hotel room until around 7pm. Then I finally went to St. Marks.

Most of the people had left, and the lighting had changed to one of those evenings where the sky is half stormy and half still blue.

Every so often, a flock of pigeons would take flight and fly by me, so close on both sides that sometimes their wings would brush my shoulders.

And then it started to rain, which drove away pretty much everyone but myself. The bells in the clock tower were chiming, and it was the closest thing to pure magic I’ve ever felt.

I walked down by the water, and managed to take the best two photographs of the whole trip:

And I think I’ll end this post here. Next up,  Venice, part II.

Cardiff and the Doctor Who Experience

From Bath, it’s a short train ride to Cardiff, Wales. And from the Cardiff train station, it’s a short walk to Cardiff Castle.

Cardiff Castle is, hands down, the most ornate place I have been ever inside. It’s mind-blowingly beautiful.

Literally every inch of the place is decorated. Look at these ceilings!

And the walls and floors are equally splendid.

Some of the details were so whimsical. Like this fish.

Cute little animals were sculpted in everywhere.

Stained glass, too.

I think you could live in this castle for years and not notice all the details.

The library was beautiful.

They have a small collection of birds of prey, too. I was especially taken with the owls. As I always am.

During WWII, the exterior castle walls was used as bomb shelter. They have a fantastic walkthrough, with it set up just like it was.

Canteens,

and metal bunkbeds.

Plus, they had sound piped in, of bombs falling, and sirens, and period music, and other things. I spent a long time in here, it was so deeply evocative for me.

Afterward, I walked along the Animal Wall. The story goes, that the owner wanted to put in a zoo, but the townsfolk refused to allow it, because of fears of the animals escaping. So he built a wall with stone animals perpetually in the act of escape. Some of them have glass eyes, and they are pretty creepy…in a completely awesome way.

This wall and its animals are definitely making it into the next book series I’m going to write.

Cardiff has several Victorian-era shopping arcades, with lovely little shops under a glass roof. This one, Castle Arcade, was my favorite. Largely because of the button shop. I bought a bunch of cool hobbit-y buttons there.

When I finished shopping, it was time to grab a cab to Cardiff Bay, and the Doctor Who Experience!  After you travel with the Doctor through an interactive experience, you get turned loose in an immense warehouse filled with costumes, props, and sets.  Nothing is behind glass – although they do have the occasional guard to make sure you don’t actually manhandle the treasures.

The TARDIS set was particularly cool, because you could walk around inside it.

There was creepy stuff.

And you always need to remain on your guard…

But I was thisclose to Ten. His suit, anyway. Guys, you don’t know the struggle it was not to reach out and touch…

It was awesome being able to get so close to all the costumes.

I took a billion pictures, including closeups of most of the costumes. You can find them here, if you’re so inclined.

I really liked Cardiff. It’s definitely on my list of places I’d love to visit again.

Bath

I’ve been to Bath before, on my last trip to England, but it was part of a day long group tour to Bath AND Salisbury AND Stonehenge, so really I was there only a couple of hours, just long enough to see the Roman Baths.

But since I have done that, I skipped them on this trip.  First of all, my guest house, The Kennard, was wonderful. Highly, highly recommend it. Perfect location, in a quiet residential street that was within a short walk of Pultney Bridge. And the owners are SO nice and helpful. The morning I checked out, the husband came up to carry down my bags and get me a cab to the station. It’s a lovely old building, too, built in the 1700s, and comes with the coziest beds with down comforters!

The day I arrived, I just wandered around, taking pictures. With the gorgeous gold stone, it’s a very photogenic city, and there are so many interesting little details.

This restaurant is a chain, because I saw one in several different cities. I don’t know…maybe it’s because I’m a gardener, and thus very familiar with slugs on lettuce, but I didn’t find this a particularly appetizing name!

The second day, I visited the Bath Fashion Museum. They have a HUGE collection of historical garments, of which only a very small percentage is on display at any given moment.

They also have modern-era clothing, including some by big name designers, but I only popped my head into those rooms. Not interested!  Although, this one did catch my eye:

Remember the stir Jennifer Lopez caused by wearing this? How funny to think it ended up here, in Bath!

Although the light and reflections made it difficult to take pictures, I was thrilled to see a dress by one of my favorite designers, Titanic survivor Lady Duff Gordon, aka Lucile!

Lady Duff Gordon was a fascinating woman – and she wrote an fascinating autobiography A Woman of Temperament. I highly recommend it!

Also at the Fashion Museum, I booked a 2 hour slot in their Study Facilites. It’s pretty amazing, really. Email ahead, and let them know what types of fashion you’re interested in, and they’ll pull pieces from their collection and let you handle them and take photos/sketches. If you’re interested in seeing what I looked at, more info on this is on my costuming blog.

 

 

For lunch, I had crepes at a little creperie around the corner from the Abbey. So good. I went for lunch again the following day! I took my crepes to go, and ate in the parade park, with the lovely views of Pultney Bridge.

In the late afternoon, I took a boat ride up the river. We were promised a sight of kingfishers, but none materialized. There were some really pretty houses along the river.

Instead of doing the trip back via boat, I went into the little village of Bathampton, and walked back to Bath along the canal.

I got back into Bath just in time to see Bath Abbey lit up into pure gold.

Magical.

 

York

I don’t know what it is about York. I assumed I’d love it, but I didn’t. Even though it’s ancient – its bones go back to Rome, it felt somehow fake-old to me, like an American city pretending to be British.

I took the train along the coast from Edinburgh to York, and it was a beautiful, very scenic ride. I’d intended to stop off along the way at Alnwick Castle, but I’d picked up one souvenir I hadn’t wanted to: a British cold. I felt pretty much ok, but I didn’t have the energy I should have done. So I skipped the optional excursion.  I do love train travel in the U.K.; the trains run on time, and if you have a Britrail pass like I did, you can just hop on any train you want, anytime. It felt so freeing, because otherwise, to get the good fares, I would have had to buy the tickets before I left for Europe, and that would have locked me in to where I had to go, and what time.  One tip: if you’re traveling a short distance, don’t fill the date in on your Pass until the conductor asks you to. When I went to Leeds Castle, I got a free ride both ways because the conductor was nice enough to tell me I didn’t have to use my Pass on such a short distance!

My hotel in York, the Bar Convent, was brilliant. It was a functioning convent, and so quirky and charming.

It reminded me of a hotel for hobbits.  A lot of the doors were short – even for me, and I’m only 5’4″. I could – just barely – walk through my room’s door without ducking, but the toilet across the hall? Not a chance.

The toilet had some crazy forced perspective. It got tinier as you walked in.

And, most importantly, the people who run it are wonderful. The male receptionist (whose name I have already forgotten) was the friendliest guy. He took me on a quick tour of the place on the way to my room, pointing out which way was the breakfast room, the chapel, the garden, the toilet.  There were so many little passageways and staircases, it was like a maze. Fortunately, the walls were well-marked with directions.  The receptionist told me to feel free to wander wherever I wanted. I said it was a good thing there were so many directional signs, or I’d get lost for sure.  He said, “That’s okay – we feed anyone we find lost and starving in the hallways!”

After I settled in, I took his advice for a wander, and when I passed the reception desk, he jumped up and took me on a more in-depth tour. We visited the chapel, which was built to be a secret, as Catholism was illegal when the convent was built.

This gorgeous dome?

It’s invisible from outside the building!

There is also a relic of a woman who was tortured to death rather than betray her priest. Inside this locked box is a mummified hand!

He opened it and showed it to me.  The next day, I was actually inside the shop that used to be her home, and saw the actual priest’s hole, where the priest was hiding.

The convent gardens were lovely.

After I settled in, I went to the Railway Museum.  Normally, this sort of museum wouldn’t have a lot of appeal for me, but they have Queen Victoria’s train on display, and this I wanted to see!

Inside, it was just like a Victorian house, lots of upholstered chairs, lamps with fringe, and little fussy tables. So cute. As I was forced to take pictures through the very reflective glass of the windows, none of my pictures turned out good enough to share. However, if you Google “Queen Victoria’s train carriage” there are lots available to see.

Next I went to the castle. I did not walk up the hundreds of steps for the view.

But I did visit the castle museum, which was my favorite museum of the this trip, and the best of its kind I’ve ever been to. So worth a trip if you’re in York.

They had a HUGE section of street reproduced exactly as if it were a Victorian street. All the details were perfect. They even had the sounds of the street playing over a speaker. It was very immersive.

Some of the street was meant to be residential.

But the largest section was full of shops.

Some of them were just for window-shopping,

but others you could either look inside, or actually go inside!

Part of the time, I had the whole street entirely to myself!

And as I left, I noticed that you can actually rent use of the street after hours for parties and events. Costuming friends, think of how fun it would be to hold a Victorian party here – it would be the closest possible thing to time travel!

The second day I was in York, I visited the Shambles, the famous little shopping street. And I did love this particular bit of York.

Sometimes, you’d catch a glimpse of the Minster.

And then, the Minster itself.

Unlike Westminster Abbey, the Minster allows photos.  Yay!

Lots of stained glass, but like the Abbey, too high up to really appreciate.

The faces were the best part.

The Elizabethan-era memorials were splendid, and gave me just a hint of how colorful the entire church must have been, when it was new and all the stonework (walls, ceiling, and posts) were all painted vivid colors.

And down in the crypt, a memory of the past: an opening to the Roman foundation. Those are coins down there…people just can’t resist throwing money into any vaguely well-like opening they see.

York was super easy to navigate in, because of all the signposts.

Geese wander at will through the streets, completely unperturbed by traffic.

I visited the ruins of St. Mary’s.

Another reminder of Roman days…everywhere in the gardens surrounding St. Mary’s were Roman caskets, dug up and discarded during construction of modern buildings.

Hundreds of them were thrown in the rubbish pit, until someone rescued a bunch of them and used them for garden “art”. Interesting to think that sometime in the future, our own graves might be treated similarly.

And for my mother, who loves pictures of laundry…

Even though I never really bonded with York as a city, it ended up having my favorite museum, and being my favorite place to shop.

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