Happy Trails from Traveling Tales: 2017
Welcome to our year in review. What’s happened over the period? Websites, TV, and print media have bombarded us with negative images and stories. More than any previous time, we invite you to join us for a more optimistic look at our planet beyond national and global politics, turmoil, and strife.
Make yourself a cuppa’, take a comfortable seat, and breeze through these images and words at your own pace, full of faith that kindness and compassion still exist in our world. Let us walk together and not only find these valuable qualities, but make a conscious effort to give them freely.
Onto a snapshot of 2017. After the local sheep crossed the road, our first international stay of the year began at Fawsley Hall, Country Retreat, near Daventry, England (photos above). Apparently we arrived late for the main event: some 400–500 years after King Henry VIII (1491–1547) and later Queen Elizabeth I (1533–1603) had visited the manor. Born to Henry and his second wife Ann Boleyn (yup, one of two who lost her head), Elizabeth remained single her entire life. Perhaps a famous dad with six marriages put her off the idea.
Click on a topic below or simply scroll through the text. Put your cursor on any photo to enlarge or to read a caption. The Sources section has additional links to websites offering unique images and gutsy details about the famous people and places mentioned. Many pictures and few words tell the stories of 2017.
Please post comments at bottom under “Leave a Reply”. You can check a box if you’d like notification by email of any follow-up messages. Give us a call or send an email. We’d love to hear from you and learn more about your year.
Stephen & Rita
Around Sugar Land
A surprise October visit from Stephen’s daughter Joanne who lives 5,000 miles away in England knocked our socks off. We arrived at (son) Chris and Michelle’s for a veggie BBQ and were peering into the fridge when Joanne leaped from the laundry room! Hard to believe she was able to keep quiet about her whereabouts earlier when she chatted with Stephen.
The year included a Valentine’s Day flower arranging class (yup, even the guys loved it), Stephen’s b’day by the pool with Chris’ new whale playmate, grandcats Poppy & Molly in full Halloween dress ready for visitors, quiet times on the Gulf Coast at Galveston, a visit to the new local theater to watch The Nutcracker Ballet, Bear & Family’s new Christmas clothes, and Stephen’s gourmet treats.
Stephen has embraced strength training, challenging himself with a local Bootcamp program designed to pump those pecs. In addition to continuing his independent work in the finance realm, he serves on the Board of the community Homeowner’s Association, planning for the future and ensuring current issues impacting residents get resolved, including damage from August’s Hurricane Harvey.
Gratefully, our home, along with Chris and Michelle’s, escaped damage. In Europe at the time, we gasped when we heard on the BBC about serious flooding in our town, especially since our house stands just feet from a lake/waterway. A number of friends had to be evacuated by boat. We worried the local wildlife (a.k.a. alligators) with their habitat seriously disrupted might come out in force. (Note: they didn’t.)
Expanding her options to keep out of trouble, Rita enrolled in a Cambridge (England) University training offered at a Houston language institute and gained the “Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults” (CELTA). The intense, four-week program proved challenging. Rita’s first practice teaching included students from 12 different countries — including Russia, Peru, Japan, Columbia, Egypt, El Salvador, and Moldova. After hours of classroom learning, countless written and practical assignments, several all-nighters, and a few cropped fingernails: she passed and now teaches private classes.
San Antonio, TX
A quick break in the nearby home of the Alamo provided a fun chance to celebrate our birthdays together. We stayed in the Pearl District at the edge of town so we could easily gain pedestrian entrance to the center of things via the unique River Walk. Fifteen miles of sidewalks and paths provide access to restaurants, hotels, museums, and the Historic Old Town. Tour boats and water taxis make the experience available to all. We loved getting up early (before the crowds) and venturing out when wildlife were most visible and the surroundings so peaceful. Learn more about the Pearl District in Sources.
“You can take the girl out of the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the girl” so the saying goes. We loved seeing Rita’s former classmate Ken and wife Chari, watching their gorgeous horse Liggy run so gracefully through the grassy meadow. Just before we left, Chari gave an unexpected gift: “Bucky” the dog, to hold us until we took the leap and got a real one.
Rita’s delightful schoolmates Bill & Mary invited us for a delicious, homemade Sunday brunch, joined by classmate Rev. Doug and wife Susan. We managed to see Rita’s fellow cheerleader Betty, horse trainers Peach & Larry, musicians Mark & Jody, schoolmate Roberta & football player John, along with other team members Loren & Danny, neighbors Helen, Sis, Mandy, & Snookie, and others at the High School Reunion dinner. Genuine Midwestern hospitality continues throughout a lifetime; no matter how long you’ve been away, it’s still home!
Old friend and neighbor Chuck and wife Susie shared the new Kent (Kent State University) landscape with us, complete with health food stores and hip eating spots. First-grade pal Janet joined Rita for a marathon 4‑hour breakfast at the local café. (Note: not enough time; schedule more next visit.) A renewing, laughter-filled gathering with family ended our Buckeye stay.
Land of so many memories, Michigan holds a special place in Rita’s heart. She often travelled to Ann Arbor where brother Josef attended the University of Michigan School of Music. The Michigan Union hosted dance contests — think “jitterbug” — where the brother and sister duo earned a trophy (and a claim to fame). Not far away live old friends Sandy and John and their kitties (who couldn’t get enough of Texas catnip toys). Our hosts took us for a hike in Kensington Metropark’s enormous grounds: 4,486 acres with 1,200-acre Kent Lake. Favorite unexpected experience: a wee talk with park farm animals.
UNITED KINGDOM UNLIMITED
Joanne suggested a train ride (America, please, more public transport!) to Hastings, England, allowing us to arrive relaxed and ready to walk the seaside paths. Foyle’s War, British detective TV series (2002 – 2015) set during and after WWII, was based in this fishing town on the southeast coast. One of us has wanted to visit this intriguing location FOREVER! Back at home base, Granddog Betty demanded Stephen’s unwavering attention, first in the comforts of her home and later in town as they both watched with aggravated trepidation as a giant (small-dog eating?) canine approached them.
Long-term friends and colleagues from our European workdays, Pru and John joined us dinner in Reading at a 17th century pub. The cozy setting with open fireplace and delicious food set the tone for a memorable evening, full of stories going back as far as 20 years.
Scottish Castle Reception
We delighted in attending a wedding reception at Sorn Castle, Ayrshire, for the daughter and new son-in-law of our friends Pat and Grant. The venue’s pink sandstone castle dates from the 14th century with later additions, overlooks the River Ayr, and features extensive flowering gardens: a magical place to celebrate the marriage of Stephanie & Neil. We loved the romantic ambiance, live music and dancing, and the incredible cake with marble frosting (made by the multi-talented bride herself). We stylized a few photos to show the arty, dreamy feeling under the white celebration tent.
Troon and Glasgow remain ever present in our minds as we visit the places we’ve known and loved. Our friends Farley and James remind us we first met in a weight-lifting class; our recollection is feeling sweaty and bad-tempered after over-doing it (well, that would be one of us…). Amazing our friendship began and continues, celebrated by special dinners whenever our paths cross.
Stephen’s sister Jean and partner Andy invited the Glasgow Clan over for a lovely dinner – always a bit more complicated when your relatives are vegetarian. We enjoyed catching up with the family and learning about everyone’s travels and work/school/life experiences.
We’re happy to report that our Scottish friend Pat recently had her first book published: Till the Dust Settles — a thriller novel about September 11 in NYC. See Sources at end for link to publication.
Located in a lagoon in the Adriatic Sea, Venice, Italy is built on more than 100 islands, connected by canals and 400 bridges. In 1987, Venice became a UNESCO World Heritage site. Many problems face Venice today including rising water levels, high cost of living, poor housing and services for locals, along with huge numbers of tourists on a relentless daily basis. Venice remains vulnerable to its own success.
Despite its challenges, the city’s overwhelming beauty continues to draw visitors from around the world. From Saint Mark’s Basilica and the Grand Canal to see-everything cafes and sophisticated outdoor restaurants, Venice has it all – even snazzy shops offering bras with hand-blown Murano glass inlays.
Our experience in Venice ranks high on the list, except for one minor detail: after several self-planned excursions, we nearly didn’t make it back to our hotel. Why not? We got lost. Even our handy-dandy pedestrian phone map aps couldn’t cut it. Google and Apple left us on the edge of deep water, literally. We finally resorted to following little signs painted on historic walls directing walkers to a particular chiesa (church), piazza (square), mercato (market), biblioteca (library), or darsena (boat dock). Meanwhile, we struggled to read our water-stained, crumpled paper city map. Goes without saying: we enjoyed every moment fully immersed/lost in space.
GORGEOUS GREEK ISLANDS
Thira & Santorini
Blue domes. Determined donkeys. Staggering steps. Friendly people. What more could you ask for? As an art teacher, Rita’s mom always used to say, “It’s the light in Greece that artists love. It’s the light…” Something about the pure, unadulterated stream of energy that flows around and through you as you look out over miles and miles of pure sea with nothing to block your view. We’ll take it. The simple life with simple pleasures.
After a fitness workout, we just wanted to relax so we hopped on a City Sightseeing Bus and toured the town, jumping off at the Parthenon, an all-important bakery, a few churches, and the National Garden – an oasis of tranquility. After a few drinks (beer for Mr., chocolate milk for Ms.), we tried to rescue an errant turtle from certain danger, but he refused our help.
Mykonos & Corfu
Wandering the stone steps of these islands proved a delight to the senses: food, flowers, fantastic water off Corfu for swimming — right alongside a darling donkey (named “Marika”) who liked to nuzzle foreigners and a lucky black cat who waited by the front door for tidbits. Speaking of animals, we missed seeing the famous “Petros”, white pelican of international fame, who frequents local cafés welcoming visitors. We met him only once (on a previous trip) — quite the gentleman really. And yes, even seabirds have feelings.
LOVELY LANGUEDOC, France
Bed and Breakfast MilliFlore
at La Cave De Gayda, Brugairolles
Our Scottish friends Pat and Grant recommended this private B & B run by two British residents. We loved every minute in the quiet retreat, enjoying the company of the local feline “Henri” (please use the proper French pronunciation: ahn-REE), walking and biking through the adjacent vineyard, enjoying the refreshing salt-water pool and the tasty, healthy breakfasts. Our gracious hosts Susan and Graham made us feel completely welcome and at ease; we didn’t want to leave.
Click below on Tribute to watch Henri’s short video, accompanied by the music of Irish singer-songwriter Damien Rice, “The Blower’s Daughter.” Check Sources link at end to hear the whole song and watch its poignant video with Julia Roberts and Jude Law (from 2004 movie Closer, available on STARZ).
La Cité de Carcassonne
The Carcassonne site has been inhabited since ancient times. In the 13th Century, after many invasions, occupations, and a crusade against religious heretics, the town took the form of a fortress. In 1853 a restoration began, returning the city in 1911 to its former, historic glory. UNESCO’s World Heritage listed the monument in 1997.
If you look at the photos below, you may ask, “Why is Stephen sitting in front of giant food offerings when there’s so many exciting things to see and do?” Answer: He’s hungry. Or maybe, more realistically, his travelling partner bought them with her last Euros and now he’s stuck with gooey homemade Italian pizza and cappuccinos with chocolate sauce, fresh whipped cream and mints. Good grief. “Och, aye, somebody’s got to eat it,” comments the Scotsman.
For ten amazing facts about Carcassonne, see Sources at end.
Pat and Grant’s Place
The sojourn to France appropriately ended with dinner al fresco at Scottish friends’ holiday home. Previously Grant had given us a tour of the surrounding area and the landscape he and Pat enjoy whenever they can. Looking out from the back garden with our hosts, we admired an ocean of grapevines, fruits almost singing as the sun fell behind rows of misty mountains — the whole vista reminiscent of an Impressionist painting. How fitting. All was well with the world.
NATIONAL TRUST TIMES
Greenway: Agatha Christie’s house
Near Brixham, Devon, England
The famous British author (1890–1976) had known about Greenway as a child. Many years later, it went on the market and Agatha had to have it. The holiday home brought many happy times. Once she would complete her latest book, the family would retreat to this magical spot near the water, full of flowers, trees, and privacy – just to relax. During WWII, the house was requisitioned first for child evacuees and later for the Coast Guard. (All Americans know about grand British homes being converted during wartime, thanks to watching Downton Abbey.)
Agatha ranks as the best-selling novelist of all time, outsold only by Shakespeare and the Bible, according to her website. Her accolades include the world’s longest-running play, The Mousetrap, 66 detective novels, and 14 short story collections. Where would we be without Hercule Poirot, the iconic Belgian private detective? Christie’s novel Dead Man’s Folly was adapted for the TV series Agatha Christie’s Poirot and was shot mainly at Greenway Estate, along with its original boathouse on the River Dart. A stunningly beautiful and inspirational place to visit!
See Sources below to learn more about this renowned writer.
Upton House & Gardens
Near Banbury, England
The building of Upton House began in 1695; major interior remodeling took place in the 1930’s while the exterior remains largely unchanged. Walter Samuel, 2nd Viscount of Bearsted, (who inherited his fortune from his father, co-founder of the Shell oil business) acquired the property in 1927. For the curious: from top down, the ranks of English “peerage” are Duke, Marquess, Earl, Viscount, Baron.
No matter what your rank, you may view the vast collection of art, paintings, china, and porcelain figurines on display in the house and then saunter freely through the terraced gardens with pools and abundant flowers for company.
Near Daventry, England
The Dryden family called Canons Ashby home for over 400 years before donating it to the National Trust in 1981. The most famous kin was John Dryden (1631–1700), England’s first Poet Laureate in 1668, widely recognized as a political satirist.
Across from the manor house stands St. Mary’s Church (Canons Ashby Priory), a remnant of the area’s history going back to the 12th century. Built by canons (religious clerics) apparently known for frequent visits to the local public house (pub) and association with “slovenly” Oxford students, the priory was suppressed in 1536 and given to a childhood friend of Henry VIII. The current size covers about ¼ the original priory.
Snowshill Manor and Garden
Walking into this house produced a compelling need to grab the trusty little guidebook Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui by Karen Kingston. The Chinese method of organizing everything around you to reflect harmony and balance, allowing energy to flow fluidly, has no place in this homestead! However, if you love to collect things – any and all manner of treasures, then you will delight in this quirky house full of stuff from around the world.
Who put all these disparate items together in one place? Owner and architect Charles Wade, born in London, gained his enthusiasm for collecting from his grandmother. In the early 1900’s he purchased Snowshill and (with an inheritance) dedicated himself to his passion. So renowned was his collection that writer Virginia Woolf and even Queen Mary visited the manor.
See Sources below for link to feng shui book.
Completed in 1601, this magnificent structure was home to Sir Edward Phelips, lawyer and Member of Parliament. Its surroundings include a garden and park. Sir Phelips played a key part in one of the most famous trials of the century as he gave the prosecution’s opening statement against Guy Fawkes (who plotted to assassinate King James I in 1605.)
The house received a makeover in the late 1700’s and became a part of the National Trust in the 1927. On a fun note, Montacute House served as location for several scenes from the film version of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (1995) and The Hound of Baskervilles (2000) for Canadian TV.
See Sources to learn about Guy Fawkes and his 12 co-conspirators.
Lytes Cary Manor
Near Somerset, England
The Lyte family made Cary Manor their home for six generations, ending in the late 1700’s. The original resident was William le Lyte, a feudal tenant of the estate in 1286. A later relative, Henry Lyte, committed himself to genealogy and botany and in 1598 published Niewe Herball (translation of a Flemish herbalist), dedicated to Queen Elizabeth. The home’s chapel was built around 1343 and renovated in 1631 with stained glass added in 1912. Colorful spring daffodils balanced rain-threatening skies during our visit.
Near Somerset, England
Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, 7th baronet, wanted a temporary country lodging built where he and his family could live until a new grand house was finished. He engaged London architect John Johnson; a local builder completed the house in 1779. Once the home was ready, Johnson designed the stables, finished in 1780. Sir Acland started, but never finished, the more luxurious property. Proof of its existence was just uncovered by a volunteer archeological team in 2017.
With 6,400 acres, the Killerton estate includes the family residence with chamber organ in the music room, 2 chapels, and gardens along with 18 farms and 250 cottages. A further 3 properties sit on the land: Clyston (Water)Mill, Marker’s medieval hall house, and Budlake Old Post Office.
A la Ronde
Exmouth, Devon, England
One of our favorite all-time stories! Imagine a single English woman in 1784 adventuring off to Europe with three other females, touring for several years around France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and perhaps, also Spain and Portugal. OK, her dad was a wealthy wine merchant from Devon. Meet Jane Parminter who took along her sister, cousin, and a London friend. Apparently fluent in many languages, Jane and cousin Mary navigated the group’s travels with great intelligence. In France, they visited Versailles where they saw Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette and Dijon where they spotted the King of Prussia.
After returning from her trip, Jane built A la Ronde, a unique 16-sided structure with views of the sea (even in the driving rain), full of mementos (especially shells) from years abroad. In 1799, Mary and she became full-time residents. Jane died in 1811 and left a detailed will naming in sequence six unmarried women who would inherit A la Ronde in turn, with strict conditions for possession. She specified the inheritance could not be negated by marriage, as British law at the time prohibited married women from owing property in their own right.
Kingswear, Devon, England
This country home was completed in 1926 for Rupert (theater owner and hotelier) and Lady Dorothy D’Oyly Carte (daughter of the 2nd Earl of Cranbrook). Colton Fishacre shows off its Art Deco style with grace and elegance. The design and furnishings reflect its minimalism with pale colors and little decoration, yet sophisticated enough to feature in Country Life magazine in 1930.
Hot off the press: The BBC Countryfile Magazine (with input from readers) has announced Colton Fishacre as one of five nominees for the “2018 Garden of the Year” Award. With its stunning sea views, coastal cliffs, and microclimate supporting exotic plants from distant places, Colton Fishacre ranks high by horticultural standards. We loved walking through its curving gardens, enjoying a wide array of spring blossoms, natural pools, and trickling streams.
Lower Basildon, Reading, England
Sir Francis Sykes, 1st Baronet (1732–1804) and member of the House of Commons, purchased Basildon Park estate in 1771. Joining the British East India Company, Sykes amassed a fortune in Bengal. He needed a manor that appropriately reflected his wealth and status.
After Sykes death, the yet unfinished house was sold to the Morrison family who held it from 1838 to 1928. During WWI, the estate served as a convalescent home for officers and soldiers. In WWII, again the property hosted the military: this time, the 101st Airborne Division of the American Army for D‑Day training. Later, as a prisoner of war camp, Basildon housed Germans and Italians (hard to imagine).
Altrincham, Cheshire, England
The property’s name comes from “dun” or hill in Anglo-Saxon, while “Massey” represents the location as seat of the owners, the Massey barons, who held medieval Dunham and its environs for 400 years until the 14th century. Family castles and a manor house sat in the area throughout their ownership, but Sir George Booth built the current red brick residence in 1616. The moated site also includes stables, carriage house, gardens, and a 172-acre park – home to a wide range of wildlife and fallow deer.
Not to miss: the rich treasures assembled over 300 years number nearly 30,000 items. The property’s accredited museum collection includes silver, textiles, portraits, furniture, books, family and servant clothing and more.
When you have a bit of time, all can be viewed online at Dunham Massey Collections listed in Sources.
Nymans Home & Garden
Near Haywards Heath, West Sussex, England
Although Nymans has its foundation in the 17th century, its story started in earnest when Ludwig Messel, a member of a German Jewish family, moved his family to England. He worked hard to become a successful stockbroker. In 1890, he purchased the property and created an inspired English garden around the house. In 1968, Ludwig’s great-grandson, photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones married Princess Margaret, sister of Queen Elizabeth II.
A catastrophic fire almost demolished the home in 1947, leaving it in ruins. Only a small part of the residence was ever repaired, leaving the garden and grounds to be the stars of the show. The enormous, gnarled trees edging a long walk around a pasture truly made us smile, while the aroma of fresh, happy flowers soothed our senses.
SOURCES & RESOURCES
National Trust UK comprises over 500 historic houses, castles, ancient monuments, gardens, parks, and nature reserves.
National Trust for Scotland manages 129 properties, including 15 historic houses, 10 castles, a palace and many other places related to Scotland and its history.
Pearl District, San Antonio