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Friday, August 30, 2013


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Kensington Palace and the Golden Gate

Everyone enjoys a bit of gossip, especially when it concerns famous people. I was surprised to learn, on my recent visit to Kensington Palace in London, that there is no end of gossip associated with the British royal family. And I don't mean recent 'gossip' as reported in newspapers and magazine after such tragic events as the untimely death of Princess Diana or the antics of Prince Harry and Sarah Ferguson. The gossip heard at Kensington goes way back to the first royal inhabitants.

The palace gardens

Kensington Palace has been a royal resident since the late 1600's when it was purchased by King William II and Queen Mary II after they assumed the throne as joint monarchs in 1689. Before that it was known as Nottingham House, originally a Jacobean mansion built in 1605.

There's a lot of tragedy in the stories of Kensington Palace too. Sadly, Queen Mary II died of smallpox in the palace in 1694 and just a few years later, King William III suffered a fall from a horse and died shortly after. Then the palace became the residence of Queen Anne whose life was fraught with health issue and unhappy relationships. By the age of 30 she was lame and corpulent. She had 18 children but only two survived past the age of three and many were stillborn. One room in the palace shows all the little chairs representing "Queen Anne's Hopes"


In 1710, in the Queen's State Apartments (also known as the Queen's Closet), Queen Anne and her best friend Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough had a huge argument. The Duchess was jealous of the attention the queen had shown to another woman and actually accused them of having a lesbian relationship. After that gossip circulated the Duchess was stripped of her official duties and the two women never spoke to each other again.

There is a "Whispering Room" in the palace where you can actually 'hear' the whispered gossip of all the royal goings-on.  Lean your ear close to the horns of the Victrola and you'll hear it: "Psssss pssss...did you hear...?"  Quite amusing!


Queen Victoria was born in the palace in 1819 and lived there much of her life. At the entrance is a beautiful statue of her on a pedestal. 


And you can visit several of the rooms she occupied from the nursery to the Privy Council room where she signed her official documents upon become Queenon June 20, 1837.

You will see the piano that her beloved consort Prince Albert used to play music he had composed for her. There is also a display of her clothing, including the formal mourning clothes she and her children wore after dear "Bertie" died.

Death and tragedy are as much part of the palace as the titillating gossip.  We all remember that sad day on August 31, 1997 when "the People's Princess", Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris. Within hours of the news the golden gates at the south side of the palace were covered in floral tributes and in the following days ever bit of railing around the palace was covered with flowers.


As you enter the Vestibule of the palace there is a beautiful photo of Diana and embroidered pillows of her as well as William and Kate who will reside there once the new renovations are completed.

(The palace is divided into two parts - the historic state apartments which you can tour, and the private living quarters of the royal family.) There is a Diana Memorial Playground in memory of the late Princess located next to the palace.

I really enjoyed the brief visit I made this summer. I didn't have as much time as is needed to see everything because I had a plane to catch.  But I'd definitely recommend this as an interesting destination if you happen to be visiting London.

Check out details for opening times etc at

Monday, August 19, 2013


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I've been to Cardiff, Wales many times and frequently I've walked by the long stone fence outside of Cardiff Castle, intrigued by the crouching animals that hang over the fence. This Animal Wall was built along the south side of the castle during the 19th century,and decorated with statues of animals as well as a Swiss Bridge that was erected over the river by the West Gate.  It wasn't until this summer that I ventured beyond the wall and through the main gate into the castle grounds.

Cardiff Castle (Castell Caerdydd) is located in the Castle Quarter of the city. It is a medieval castle and a Victorian Gothic revival mansion. The original moat and bailey castle was built in the late 11th century by Norman invaders on the site of a 3rd century Roman fort.  It was either William the Conqueror or Robert Fitzhamon who commissioned the castle. It formed the heart of the medieval town of Cardiff. By the 12th century the castle was rebuilt in stone with a shell keep and defensive walls and further work was conducted in the second half of the 13th century by Richard de Clare. During this time the castle was repeated involved in conflicts between the Anglo-Normans and the Welsh. It was stormed in 1404 during the Owain Glyndwr rebellion.

There's lots to see inside the castle walls. Besides a museum you can wander the landscaped gardens and explore some of the old Roman ruins as well as climb up the keep and get a good viewpoint of the whole area. One of the most interesting parts is the Victorian mansion once owned by the Bute family who made their fortune from the cold mines of Wales.

The castle 'house' was remodeled in 1868 by the third Marquess of Bute who engaged architect William Burges to remodel the castle in medieval Gothic Revivalism style. A 150 ft (46 m) high Clock Tower was constructed of ashlar stone. it formed a suite of bachelor's rooms, a bedroom, servant's room and the Summer and Winter smoking rooms. The rooms were decorated with gildings, carvings and cartoons depicting the seasons, myths and fables.  Other rooms were added including the Arab Room, the Chaucer Room, the Nursery, the Banqueting Hall, bedrooms for Lord and lady Bute and magnificent Library.

Clock Tower

Banquet Hall

Ornate Ceiling



The Library


Work was also carried out on the castle grounds when the remains of the old Roman fort were uncovered. new walls in a Roman style were built on the foundations of the originals complete with a reconstructed Roman North Gate. The grounds were planted with trees and shrubs. From the late 18th century until the 1850s the castle grounds were open to the public but later restrictions were imposed. Today the castle belongs to the city of Cardiff and is run as a tourist attraction. it also serves a a venue for events including musical performances and festivals.

I spent a good part of one morning browsing around the castle, especially intrigued by the sumptuous furnishings and decor of the mansion.  You can read up on more of the long, detailed history of the castle at

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

SWANSEA, WALES: A Day Spent Remembering Dylan Thomas

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In 2014 Swansea, Wales will be celebrating the centenary of the birth of one of the world's most distinguished voices, Dylan Thomas. I've always wanted to visit Swansea, where he was born and Laugharne where the poet lived and wrote from his famous Boathouse. (Under Milkwood, originally titled The Town That Was Mad was set in Laugharne).  Unfortunately I was unable to find a tour that would take me to all the Dylan Thomas sites and I didn't have enough time to make the side-trip to the Boathouse.  So I settled on an afternoon in Swansea and a visit to the Dylan Thomas Centre.

The Dylan Thomas Centre

The poet's image in the window.

 I took the train from Cardiff and found it easy enough to make my way through Swansea to the Centre which is located in Swansea's Maritime Quarter. The Centre holds a permanent collection of memorabilia on the poet and his life and hosts the Dylan Thomas Festival during October and November each year.

As I wandered the exhibits in the Centre the voices of Dylan Thomas and others reciting his work were played over the speakers.  The most impressive was that of actor Richard Burton who was a friend and fellow Welshman.  Included in the exhibit is one that shows his connection to the poet.
Interior displays

Dylan Thomas Theatre
In the square outside the Centre is a sculpture of Dylan and nearby the Dylan Thomas Theatre. Had I known, and had it not been so rainy and windy, I might have taken time to wander the Swansea City Centre Trail that takes you around the city of Dylan's youth and includes landmark buildings such as the pub he frequented on Wind Street when he was a cub reporter and the fabled "Salubrious Passage". 

The Uplands Trail takes you by the house where the poet was born on the 27 October 1914, at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, and where he wrote some of his most important work. The Uplands Hotels was where he got his first taste of beer which became one of his passions. "...its live white lather, its brass-bright depths,the sudden world through the wet brown walls of the glass, the tilted rush to the lips..."

In future, I'll visit Swansea again and make sure to take in the Mumbles and the Gower Trail which were also places important in Dylan's life. But for that one day, despite the wind and rain, I enjoyed my stroll around the city and the few hours I spent immersed in the life of one of my favorite poets.

 Swansea street

Friday, August 09, 2013


Add to Technorati FavoritesThis year when I visited London I was invited to stay with a friend in the northern district of Wood Green. A short walk from her home is the Alexandra Palace, named after the new Princess of Wales, Alexandra of Denmark who married Prince Edward but the palace is known as "the People's Palace" It was built in 1865 and covers 7.5 acres.

 Alexandra Palace "The People's Palace"
The palace is an entertainment venue meant for recreation, education and entertainment.  The late comedienne Gracie Fields nicknamed it "Ally Pally".

During the First World War the park was closed and the palace ad grounds were used as an internment camp for German and Austrian civilians. In 1936 the palace became the headquarters of the world's first regular public "high-definition" television service operated by the BBC. The radio tower is still in use. During the Second World War the transmitter was used for jamming German bombers' navigation systems.  The palace continued as the BBC's main transmitting centre until 1956. 

BBC Tower

The day I visited there wasn't a tour of the inside of the palaceI enjoyed a leisurely stroll all around the grounds of Alexandra Park. From there you get a sweeping panoramic view of London city although that day it was overcast.

The park surrounding the palace has flower-beds, flowering trees and in a woodland at the edge of the park I spied deer grazing.

The palace and park are overseen by the Greater London council with provision that it should be used for charitable purposes.The original Victorian theatre also still is in use. The Great Hall and West Hall are used for exhibitions, music concerts and conferences. There is also an ice-skating rink, palm court and a pub. On weekends a City and Country Market is held there.
Skating Rink

Palm Court Entrance

You can get to Alexandra Palace and Park by Underground to Wood Green (Picadilly line). There is also a rail line to Alexandra Palace from Moorgate and King's Cross.