The Plane Truth

A friend forwarded an article to me this week about one of my favorite travel destinations. My heart sank.  It seems trivial at first read, but for the first time in my life I realized we experienced a place that will no longer be part of the travel world for the foreseeable future.  It was a painfully short read.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-23447511

The plane trees along Canal Du Midi

The plane trees along Canal Du Midi

The Canal Du Midi in Southern France is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a favorite with boaters around the world.  The engineering genius of connecting the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, the spectacular beauty of tree-lined canals, locks, tow-paths and villages will be markedly changed when all 42,000 trees that line the bank are destroyed.

Biking through the vineyards along the Canal

Biking through the vineyards along the Canal

I went back into my photo archives to find pictures that capture the incredibly beauty of the place, but it’s difficult. We have a few photos and memories of piloting our hire boat through the canal, the chaos of “all hands on deck” to man the locks, the emotional moment of watching endless shooting stars stream overhead and the magic of dining topside beneath the plane trees at Carcassonne.   Will people still ride bikes along the tow-paths and through the neighboring vineyards?  Will they still stop at the tiny village bakeries to shop and pick up the morning croissants? Will local wineries fare well without boaters tying up along the canals and wandering up for an afternoon tasting and a few bottles of the local vintage?

Enjoying a local vintage...topside on Canal Du Midi

Enjoying a local vintage…topside on Canal Du Midi

Lock keepers managed to find hidden stashes of apple tarts and home made wines to share

Lock keepers managed to find hidden stashes of apple tarts and home made wines to share

So many bridges and locks...

So many bridges and locks…

Moored at Carcassonne

Moored at Carcassonne

Boating under the canopy.

Boating under the canopy.

In 50 years or so, it may return to its former glory, but the knowledge that I’ll probably never see it again nor will my children…is heartbreaking.

Friends and family for a topside dinner

Friends and family enjoying a topside dinner

Advertisements

The Land of Heart’s Desire: The Yeats Trail

Despite the heroic efforts of  my 11th grade English teacher, I am a literary simpleton.  I  like poetry that rhymes and I routinely confuse Yeats with Keats.  Tragic, really.  My father, far more cultured and literate than I, mentioned an interest in a Yeats tour of Ireland as part of our mini “Gathering 2013.”

With a little Irish luck and a lot of Google maps,  I discovered Coole Park, home of Yeats’ literary patron Lady Gregory  and Yeats’ summer home are next to our ancestral family land in Gort, Ireland. A logical and convenient place to start our tour.   I like to imagine my great-grandfather and Yeats crossing paths in the woods, accompanied by other literary geniuses (George Bernard Shaw, JM Synge and Sean O’Casey) that spent time at Lady Gregory’s home.

Thor Ballylee, Yeats' summer home

Thoor Ballylee, Yeats’ summer home
The tower at Thor Ballylee

The tower at Thoor Ballylee

Yeats’ bought his home in Gort, renovated it and called it Thoor Ballylee, a nod to his passion and interest in local lore and culture.  The bucolic, riverside setting  provided Yeats with an inspirational retreat from the world.  Yeats once said: “To leave here is to leave beauty behind.”   He penned The Tower  and The Winding Stairs and Other Poems while living at Thoor Ballylee.

Coole Park House, home of Lady Gregory

Coole Park House, home of Lady Gregory

Coole Park, a short distance away from Thoor Ballylee, was a hub for the Irish Literary Revival. Yeats often wandered the grounds with Lady Gregory and fellow writers, seeking peace, solitude and inspiration.  It was the setting for many of his poems including The Wild Swans at Coole” and “In the Seven Woods.”   In the garden, an ancient tree bears the signatures of notable visitors to Coole Park.  It’s easy to imagine the writers gathered under its branches, casually adding their mark for posterity.

Into the Seven Woods

Into the Seven Woods

Although the house was demolished in 1941, you can still wander the sheltered wooded paths and along the lake to count the “nine and fifty swans.”

Connemara cottage

Connemara cottage

Along the R345 road

Along the R345 road

Our trail led us from Gort further west to  Connemara.  Yeats visited here often and spent his honeymoon in Renvyle.  A few wrong turns off the highway through Connemara, I’m overwhelmed by the scenery and stop to take a picture. I immediately regret only booking 2 days in this beautiful place.  It is a land of peat smoke, unspoiled majesty and melancholy beauty. It is the “Ireland of Ireland.”  We continue the road less traveled to the sea and spend our time imagining a summer spent in a Connemara cottage.

Lough Gill

Lough Gill

Although Yeats was born in Dublin and spent time in London, it was the mountains, lakes and lore of Sligo that inspired him to write some of his most memorable verse, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”

“…arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,  And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:  Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,  And live alone in the bee-loud glade…”

We drove a circular route around Lough Gill to Dooney Rock of  fiddler fame to the boat launch that ferries visitors out to the Isle in summer.  From a distance, it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to “arise and go” live on the tiny island, but Yeats often wrote about the familiar landscapes of home when he was far away and homesick.

Heading west, the majestic and magical Knocknarea, with it’s stunning cairn over the burial tomb of Maeve, Queen of Connaught, inspired Yeats to write “The Land of Heart’s Desire” and “The Hosting of the Sidhe.”  Add a rock to her 40 foot high cairn for good luck, take one away at your peril.

Ben Bulben

Ben Bulben

Sadly, the lovely Lissadell House was closed, due to an ongoing legal dispute, so we ended our Yeats trail where the man himself rests, Drumcliff.  Yeats died in France and told his long-suffering and exquisitly tolerant wife, Georgie Hyde-Lees “If I die bury me up there [at Roquebrune] and then in a year’s time when the newspapers have forgotten me, dig me up and plant me in Sligo.”  Although it took far longer than one year, Yeats was eventually buried according to his wishes under the shadow of Ben Bulben in the busy Drumcliff cemetery.

Cast a cold Eye
On Life, on Death.
Horseman, pass by!

Things to Know

Thoor Ballylee was severely damaged by floods in 2009 and has yet to reopen.  Visitors can walk the grounds and peek through the windows.  It’s worth stopping by, if only to absorb the atmosphere of the place.

Coole Park was an unexpected surprise.  Despite the fact no house remains, the grounds and gardens are lovely.  The tea room and small museum are worth your time. Check dates and times before you go.

Happy Birthday, Prince of Cambridge

After the new little Prince of Cambridge was born, photographers were ready to pack up their tents and cameras and head home. Even they are tired of standing around talking about nothing  20 hours a day.  The crowds have thinned a bit at St. Mary’s Hospital, but not at the Palace.  I walked through Green Park this morning and saw thousands of people crowding the gates, hoping to glimpse the Royal Birth Announcement (PS, it’s quite small a la the Mona Lisa effect).

London Eye/ Jordon Lee/Twitter

London Eye/ Jordon Lee/Twitter

It’s been a fabulous few days. Patriotic colors spun around the edge of the London Eye in celebration and the BT Tower proclaimed “It’s A Boy!”   It was a celebration all round the world.

Tip:  to avoid this, always stay North of the rope in Green Park

Tip: to avoid this, always stay North of the rope in Green Park 🙂

Today, crowds piled into Green Park and the Tower of London to witness two Royal Gun Salutes.  The  Green Park salute was a 41 gun salute, twenty more than the traditional celebratory 21 gun because it takes place in a Royal Park.  There are rules, you know.  The Tower was 62 guns…the standard 21, plus 20 for a Royal fortress and an additional 21 as a tribute from the City of London.  Got it? It is a spectacular thing to watch.  The band marched entertained the waiting crowd with a weird playlist that included the theme from Indiana Jones and a few Star Wars numbers, rounded out with Rule, Britannia.  Not sure what that all means, but it kept everyone quiet.  A few minutes before 2:00pm, The Kings Troop Royal Horse Artillery came barreling down  Green Park on horseback, caissons in tow , disengaged the guns and kept riding on.  If you’re wondering why I posted the YouTube video instead of my own, it’s because I had my camera on the wrong setting for the 45 seconds it took them to ride by.  Yes, I was sad/mad. Still am, but enjoy the concept.

Kings Troop Royal Horse Artillery

Kings Troop Royal Horse Artillery

Happy Birthday, Little Prince.

Hip Hip Hooray!

 

Crowds at the Palace waiting for Royal Baby news

Crowds at the Palace waiting for Royal Baby news

Unless you live  under a rock or you’ve been on a self-inflicted media blackout, you know a historic moment occurred yesterday afternoon at 4:24 pm.  The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge welcomed a little boy into the world, an 8 lb 6 oz baby boy, yet to be named.  

Media tents outside the Palace

Media tents outside the Palace

The media set up camp outside St. Mary’s hospital in record -breaking heat for over three weeks in anticipation of the event.  The twitter-sphere followed #royalbaby  since The Palace announced the Duchess’s  pregnancy months ago.   Granted, the media coverage was over the top.  The reporters were so bored while waiting for the big day, they resorted to interviewing each other at great length about absolutely nothing and there were a fair number of curmudgeonly comments like  “What’s the big deal” and “It’s only a baby.”  But it is a big deal, at least for us and the millions of others who embrace and celebrate a historic event when it happens.  

Raising a glass to toast the new arrival

Raising a glass to toast the new arrival

For our family, it completed a trifecta of fabulous events in London.  We moved to London in time to watch the British celebrate a spectacular Olympic summer. We enjoyed endless Jubilee celebrations and now we’re lucky enough to enjoy the revelry surrounding the birth of a future King of England.  Yes, we went to the Palace to raise a glass and celebrate the happy event.  Congratulations, Will and Kate.  And blessings on your new little one.  Long live the future King of England.

Royal Baby Announcement

Royal Baby Announcement

Following Anne Boleyn

I’m no expert on Anne Boleyn.  I’m more of an Anne Boleyn sympathizer.  I glean information about Anne from multiple questionable sources, ie  The Horrible History series I read to my kids, the epic and very racy television series,The Tudors and a song about Henry’s wives my kids learned in primary school. I can’t really remember how it goes…

Hever Castle

Lucky for me, my passionate retelling of the Horrible History books and a quick recap of The Tudors was enough to convince everyone to come with me to Hever Castle in Kent, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn.

Anne_Henry

Anne Boleyn (2nd wife of Henry VIII) spent her childhood at Hever Castle before attending Court in the Netherlands and France. Her ambitious father, Thomas Bullen (Boleyn) pushed Ann into King Henry VIII’s Court when Henry tired of having Anne’s sister, Mary, as a mistress. Anne was in love with Sir Percy, however, and was heartbroken when her match to Percy was denied. Anne left Court and returned to Hever Castle to nurse her broken heart where Henry VIII, enamored with Anne’s charm, wit and intelligence, visited her there often. She rebuffed his romantic advances and refused to become his mistress, which clearly motivated Henry to redouble his efforts to annul his marriage to Catherine.  Eventually, as we all know, Henry VIII broke ties with the Catholic Church and married Anne. He fathered one living child with Anne before he tired of her.  She was tried and convicted on a number of questionable charges and beheaded in May of 1536 to make way for Henry VIII”s third wife, Jane Seymour.

hever-castle

The house was eventually given to Henry’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, as compensation for the marital annulment after Henry decided Anne of Cleves was incredibly unattractive and refused to consummate the marriage.  Hever Castle passed through a number of families after Anne of Cleves’ death before falling into complete ruin, a sad state for a place that played a role in changing the course of English history.  John Jacob Astor, a wealthy American, purchased and restored the house and gardens n 1903.

It’s easy to imagine Anne wandering the grounds as a child or hiding from/with Henry in the hedgerows.  Supposedly, Anne’s ghost still wanders over the lovely wooden bridge and around the garden (without Henry) during Christmastime.

Photo via onthetudortrail.com

Photo via onthetudortrail.com

The house itself contains an extensive collection of artwork and antiques highlighting the Castle’s role in English history (no photos allowed, sadly).  I loved standing in Anne’s tiny bedroom, staring out the window and reading Anne’s prayer books, one of which she took to her execution. Love letters sent between Henry and Anne hang on the wall. They loved each other once-upon-a-time.

It seemed to me a bit insensitive to highlight Henry VIII so boldly throughout the property.  He did, after all, execute the woman who lived here.  Yet, his portraits and likenesses hang the Long Gallery and the Inner Hall and one of his gilded, personal locks hangs on the door of the Dining Room. Henry’s bedchamber has an original Tudor carved ceiling and a glorious, canopied bed.  If only walls could talk….

Le Temps Viendra   Anne Boleyn  "The Time Will Come"

Le Temps Viendra Anne Boleyn “The Time Will Come”

Things to Know

Hever Castle lies appx 35 miles from London, southeast of Edenbridge in West Kent. It was our first stop on a multi-day trip to the Southeast.  If you want to drive, consider taking the train/tube to the outskirts of London and picking up your car there. I didn’t follow my own advice, and it ended in a very long drive and  a few minor domestic disputes en route. If you’d rather go by train, check the link here to find out more.

Hever Castle is currently owned by a commercial venture, instead of a private family.  I was initially wary about having  a “faux” castle experience (you know what I mean) but was pleasantly surprised. The Castle was wonderfully presented.  The gardens are spectacular and the grounds have activities for children and grownups….archery, walking trails, camping (shudder) and mazes.  Beware the wet maze.  It’s called the WET maze for a reason.  The Mister was not amused.

The Castle opens later than the grounds, so time your visit accordingly. Check rates and times here  before you go. You can spend the night on the castle grounds by contacting the Hever Castle Bed and Breakfast.

If you have an interest in Anne Boleyn, you should also plan visits to Hampton Court Palace, the Tower of London and Blickling Hall.

If you have good reading recommendations about Anne, I’d love to hear them!