Claire Came to Visit!

Claire, my wonderful sister-in-law, came to visit the week after Thanksgiving and we had such a blast introducing her to England! It’s been so long since I’ve seen my siblings or siblings-in-law, and it was so nice to spend a week with Claire. We visited York, the Yorkshire Dales National Park, Birmingham, and London. Continue reading “Claire Came to Visit!”

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Claire Came to Visit!

Visiting Salisbury and Winchester

Salisbury Cathedral

Prior to our move abroad, I picked up Edward Rutherford’s epic novel Sarum and somehow managed to reach the end. This book provides a sweeping history of England by tracing various families from neolithic times to the 20th century. The majority of the 1,000 pages are set in present day Salisbury, Continue reading “Visiting Salisbury and Winchester”

Visiting Salisbury and Winchester

Spain Part II: Ávila

Ávila is a tiny town only an hour or so from Madrid that was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. Famous for its towering medieval stone walls, 12th century cathedral, and ties to St. Teresa of Ávila, this was a wonderful place to stay for a night. After massive amounts of walking and exploring in Madrid, I was immediately charmed by the size of the city and solitude of the surrounding countryside.

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View from the walls
Cathedral in the distance

Murallas

Gorgeous countryside
Countryside on the way to Ávila

Even though our visit corresponded with one of the busiest times of the year, the feast day of St. Teresa, I would hardly describe the place as crowded. St. Teresa is one of the Doctors of the Catholic Church and she lived much of her life here. We visited her convent, church, and a mini-museum containing her diary, many original writings, the rosary and crucifix that she carried everywhere, and one of her fingers. We also saw her gigantic statue that is brought out on a “float” for processions. These are very common in Spain and they are carried through the streets during festivals and celebrations and then displayed for a few weeks before being tucked safely away. We saw them in each of the cities we visited, and I have to say they’re quite impressive and such a fun tradition. The one in Ávila was covered in flowers.

A visit to Ávila isn’t complete without touring the old city walls, or murallas. They date from the 12th century and are remarkably well preserved, standing atop old Muslim battlements. Stones dating to Roman times were also reused in the construction of the murallas, so the massive fortress is a kind of testament to the multiple civilizations that have occupied this hilltop. We climbed up and walked the perimeter of the city and I absolutely loved the views! Mountains in the far distance, little cottages and farms, and the red roofs of the town.

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Walking on the walls

We spent about 24 hours in Ávila and then drove south to Toledo. Exploring smaller towns and off-the-beaten-track areas has quickly become my favorite way to travel! If you’re spending a few days in Madrid, I highly recommend adding a day to see Ávila or Toledo so you can experience Spanish life outside the capitol.

Basílica de San Vicente
Basilica de San Vicente

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Spain Part II: Ávila

1 Day in York

When you close your eyes and picture England, what pops into your head?

London and it’s dazzling buildings along the Thames…

Rolling green fields with sheep as far as the eye can see…

Rain, fog, and bowler hats…

Tiny villages of stone…

Or how about York? Beautiful, quaint, Medieval York is the England I envisioned before setting foot on the island. An easy, unforced combination of past and present, clean and well-kept despite its ancient buildings, very traditional yet not outdated. In all of these things York reminded me a bit of Bruges, Belgium. Unlike Bruges, however, York is not a canal city, and its ancient city walls are still standing.

York iPhone

When I hear “quintessential English” I think of York: narrow winding streets, leaning Tudor buildings with tiny doors, Gothic churches, and loads of tea shops.

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hats hats hats.

And, ladies in hats! There was a wedding at York Minster Cathedral and I couldn’t help creeping and taking pictures. Technically they’re called “fascinators.” And they certainly are fascinating. Check out the one with the giant feather.

Also, isn’t this building gorgeous!? The grandness of these ancient churches and the detailed architecture stuns me every time. York Minster is one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in Europe and the second most important church in England. I’m not entirely clear on the hierarchy/structure of the Anglican church, but I know Canterbury (and the Archbishop of Canterbury) is #1 and the primate of York is #2. There has been a church on this site since 627 and the crypt still contains elements from this original church, old Roman foundations, and 11th century Norman elements. The existing church was built between 1220 and 1480. We stuck our heads inside but didn’t pay for full access. The exterior seemed to be the real show anyways.

I recommend visiting York during the week or an off-season weekend. Definitely don’t visit on a bank holiday weekend as we did. Narrow streets are even narrower with scads of slow moving tourists. Penny didn’t do as well on this leg of the adventure since there were so many people and dogs, and she prevented us from going inside a tea shop to relax. We sat on the river and had a pint hoping she would chill out away from the crowds, but instead, she made friends with a little toddler from Spain. Thank heavens this little boy liked her because she kept jumping up and putting her paws on his shoulders and giving him kisses. Besos. Cutest thing ever, but a bit nerve wracking since he would walk up behind us and Penny would be all over him before I knew what was happening.

That evening we stayed in Leeds and had a fabulous time chatting with our Airbnb hosts. We came away with great recommendations for walking in the Yorkshire Dales. They even made us a wonderful breakfast the next morning to prepare us for a long day of hiking (completely unexpected). Thanks to their tips, we had a fabulous 8 mile hike.

Check back tomorrow for pics of the Dales! I know I said I’d do that today. I lied. Sorry. Turns out I had more to say about York than I thought.

1 Day in York