Memories of a Greek childhood

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In some ways, my childhood wasn’t dissimilar to Gerald Durrell’s. When I was ten, I lived on the Greek island of Lesvos for six months while my mother was doing academic research there.

Being home-schooled, I was brought up with the luxury of having the freedom to learn outside a classroom. And while my textbooks accompanied us to Greece, I spent a lot of time — like Durrell — observing the animals on the island. Continue reading

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A Week in the Wild West (of Scotland)

 

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June was a month of travelling for me. After a short break in Madrid, I spent a week in the wild west of Scotland. The Ardnamurchan peninsula is the most westerly point in the UK and it’s very remote. There are no towns, no shopping malls, and barely any cellphone reception. It’s a perfect place to relax and spend some time at a slower pace of life – reading, hiking, eating good food, and watching out for wildlife. Continue reading

Travel Goals – five destinations on my list

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October is just around the corner and the days are drawing in. My summer vacations — spent in Spain and Scotland — are now just memories and photographs. I’m thinking ahead to places where I’d like to go next year: five very different destinations. Which places — cities, countries, regions — are on your must-visit travel list?

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Travels in Madrid: Part 3 – art galleries, Egyptian temples and more

After the busy sight-seeing in Toledo on the second day of my trip to Spain, my friend had to work on the third day, so I ventured out into Madrid on my own. I decided to go to El Museo Nacional del Prado — one of the most magnificent art galleries in the world.

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Before you can enter the museum, you have to go through a more basic version of airport-style security: bags through the scanner as you walk through a metal detector. As I only had a small backpack, I was allowed to carry it with me but people with any larger bags had to leave them in a room behind the security desk. Continue reading

Travels in Spain: Part 2 – Adventures in Toledo

If you read my previous post, you’ll know that at the beginning of June I flew to Madrid for a four-day mini vacation. Four days isn’t a long time, but it’s surprising just how much you can see, do and experience in that time. I spent three days in Madrid and one day in Toledo, a nearby city.

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A view of Toledo, looking back across El Puente de San Martin (Bridge of St. Martin)

 

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Travels in Madrid – Part 1

At the beginning of June, I spent four days in Madrid, visiting a Spanish friend who is living there and studying for her Master’s degree. I am already longing to go back. The city is beautiful, filled with gorgeous architecture, elegant parks and expansive boulevards.

On the first day of my visit, we went on a three-hour walking tour around the city. I chose to go on the Spanish-language tour, but it is available in English too. We began in Plaza Mayor. Like many Spanish cities, Madrid is a city filled with plazas (squares), but Plaza Mayor is the main square — popular with locals (madrileños) and tourists alike.

Plaza Mayor Madrid

The largest and most central square in Madrid, Plaza Mayor is lined with tapas bars and restaurants.

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Alnwick Gardens and a trip to Hogwarts (Alnwick Castle)

Situated in the north-east of England, the Alnwick Garden is a wonderful place to spend a day, exploring and wandering around the 12-acre garden. It is next to the historic Alnwick Castle, which was used as a filming location for the first two Harry Potter movies. Formal gardens at Alnwick were first created in 1750 by the well-known Georgian landscape architect, Lancelot “Capability” Brown.

Throughout the centuries, the gardens at Alnwick were developed by the Dukes of Northumberland, especially during the Victorian era when it was a time of great discoveries in the plant kingdom. Today the Alnwick Garden is owned by a community charity. After a period of development, the gardens opened to the public in 2002.

The Grand Cascade is the focal point of the garden.

Grand Cascade Alnwick

There are steps each side of the Cascade, allowing visitors to get up close and personal. Every thirty minutes, jets of water spray up from the Cascade in a dancing display of water which moves from the top of the water feature right down to the very last pool.

Fountains

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It reminds me of a similar water feature at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, although the Chatsworth cascade is 300 years old (you can see spectacular photos by clicking here). The Grand Cascade at Alnwick is a modern interpretation with a classical style.

Near the Cascade is a topiary serpent and between its coils, you find contemporary water features which delight children and adults alike with their mixture of visual effects and illusions.

After enjoying the water features hidden in the coils of the topiary serpent, we strolled through the bamboo labyrinth which was created by Adrian Fisher. If you have followed Cultural Life for a while, you might remember that I wrote about another of Adrian Fisher’s creations a few months ago: the ostensibly straightforward but fiendishly difficult five-pointed star maze at Scone Palace in Scotland. The bamboo labyrinth was a lot easier and it took less than five minutes to weave our way through it.

A clue inside the labyrinth

A clue inside the labyrinth

We had lunch in the Treehouse Restaurant, a truly unique dining experience. It is one of the largest tree houses in the world and it feels like something out of the Harry Potter books!

The Treehouse Restaurant

The Treehouse Restaurant

You reach the treehouse via aerial walkways, lined with twinkling lights.

I enjoyed a two course lunch of grilled red mullet and baby squid followed by halloumi salad with artichoke heart and chickpeas.

Inside the Treehouse Restaurant

Inside the Treehouse Restaurant

After lunch we walked to the Ornamental Garden, a pretty area just above the Grand Cascade.

The entrance to the Ornamental Garden

The entrance to the Ornamental Garden

A peaceful place to sit

A peaceful place to sit

Alnwick Castle, owned by the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, is a short stroll from the gardens. It was used as a filming location for the first two Harry Potter movies. Photography is not allowed inside the castle but I took a few photos of the exterior. You can view some photos inside the castle on their website here.

Part of Alnwick Castle

A view of part of Alnwick Castle

The castle is filled with history from different eras. But it is still very much a family home; the Percy family have lived in the castle for 700 years. As well as the beautiful furniture and historical artefacts, a lot of people visit the castle due to the Harry Potter connection. Harry’s first broomstick lesson took place within the grounds of Alnwick Castle (aka Hogwarts!) and when Ron crashed the flying Ford Anglia into the Whomping Willow in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the scene was filmed at Alnwick Castle.

Quidditch lessons were filmed on the lawns at Alnwick!

Quidditch lessons were filmed on the lawns at Alnwick!

The beautiful blue of the clock on the Alnwick tower stands out on a rainy day

The beautiful blue of the clock on the Alnwick tower stood out.

I plan to post all these photos plus a few more into a Cultural Life gallery in the next few days; I hope you enjoy browsing them.

Alnwick Castle and Gardens are wonderful places to visit. There is so much to see and do and a whole lot of history to soak up.

Do you enjoy visiting gardens and historic buildings? Let me know your recommendations from around the world!