Top Ten Cities: No. 9 – Stratford




“The plays the thing.”  Well, and the history too, and so much more!

Some years ago I had the privilege of visiting the city of Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford-Upon-Avon, which is now the home of the Royal Shakespeare Company.  ( This year I have the privilege of going to Ashland, Oregon which is the home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  It also just happens to be 400 years since Shakespeare’s death.  So, for fans and those simply a little curious I thought I’d share some highlights from my day in Stratford, discuss some fun facts and do a little pre-trip cyber exploration of Ashland.

During our visit to Stratford, my traveling companion and I managed to explore the most popular sites.  We visited his mother’s childhood home – Mary Arden’s farm, Shakespeare’s family home & gardens, his grammar school and later his wife’s home – Anne Hathaway’s Cottage.  In the evening we took in, what is for many, his most famous play.


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Located in the heart of England, in Warwickshire, northeast of London and not far from Oxford, Birmingham and Coventry, Stratford is a smallish city of about 27,000 people.


“Stratford upon Avon was founded by the Saxons when they invaded what is now Warwickshire in the 7th century AD. The name Stratford is made up of Celtic and Saxon words. It was the ‘straet’ ford that is the ford by the Roman road. Avon is a Celtic word meaning river or water.”

As with all of my favorite cities I found myself entranced and transported back in time.  Unlike any of the other cities, however, it was not just the amazement of seeing ancient places-these ancient houses where someone so very famous lived.  It was the discovery of the birthplace of so much of the English language.  As is well known, Shakespeare coined hundreds of words.  But in this place I also discovered the source of some common phrases we often use without question which were already in use before ‘the Bard’ was born.

Mary Arden’s Farm House and a few Idioms



This farm and farmhouse are well worth a visit. Walking on the 500 year old, tilted, wooden flooring of Mary Arden’s Farmhouse we encountered a few of these fun phrases.  We were guided by diverting docents that day.  One explained, while we were observing the large trestle dinner table, that we get the term boardroom from this – a room with the big board in it – of course!  But also that people would sleep up on that board after the meal had been cleared away – to be up off the drafty floor and away from any rats.  From this we have the phrase-bed and board.  She went on to tell us about the way they ate their soup or stew in those days, which was to use a loaf of bread for a bowl, and when the top crust of the loaf was cut off it would be given to the head of the house, the ‘upper crust’.


In a bedroom we were shown that there were ropes at the end of the beds that would be tightened at night, to give the straw, wool or moss filled mattresses more firmness, as the ropes tended to stretch.  From this came the common phrase, ‘sleep tight’.  And of course bed bugs must have been common. (You know – Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite!)


We were also shown a carved armoire with one woman’s profile facing another.  The woman on the right had her hair up and wore a dress with a high collar and the one on the left had her hair down with a dress revealing a fair amount of cleavage.  We were told that the on the left was a ‘loose, single woman’ and the other was married. It was suggested that for a woman to get her man it was expected for her to ‘let her hair down’- and dress to please.

Book Recommendation                                                                                                                      One more word about words (and idioms) in English is my book recommendation for anyone interested in etymology.  An easy and entertaining read about the development of English is Bill Bryson’s The Mother Tongue.


According to Bryson, Shakespeare invented about 1,700 words.   (It makes me wonder if the actors reading them even then had a clue what many of these words meant!)

Shakespeare’s Home, School and Wife’s Home


It was a great pleasure to explore Shakespeare’s birthplace including the garden.  It was amazing to be where that great playwright grew up and lived for the first 5 years of his married life.  One of the things that struck me was hearing from a docent that tourists began flocking to visit his birthplace shortly after his death!  Tourism is not such a new phenomenon.

Shakespeare’s Grammar School must have had a significant influence on his love and innovation of English.  There is not a lot of information available on his experience it seems evident that he had a rich and successful education. As a teacher I was delighted to see the building and to learn a little about schooling in that time.


There is so much to take in at Stratford there that it is difficult see it all in one day!  We managed to go by Anne Hathaway’s cottage, but not to go in.  I’d like to return someday.  Here is a short and informative video if you’d like to know a little more about Shakespeare’s wife and his marriage as well as to see something of the cottage.


At The Swan

In the evening we visited the famous, (new) Swan theater where we were treated to Romeo and Juliet.  The original Swan was in London.

I was thrilled with the theater and the opportunity to see my first real Shakespearean play.

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When it began I loved the simplified set and the movement of the actors, but I was dismayed that I could hardly understand what they were saying!  I had not read the play in high school as many have done.  As a child I had only seen the famous movie directed by Franco Zeffirelli. That made quite an impression on me at a very impressionable age.

tumblr_lafskzQXgH1qb6wnb  It was a good thing that I had learned the well known plot because the language of Shakespeare is quite challenging.

As with all of my favorite cities, I would be delighted to return again and to see it with fresh and wiser eyes.  The Swan has also been thoroughly updated ( and the other famous sites are now more interactive than ever.  I think a week just might begin to do Stratford justice.

This weekend I have the delightful prospect of traveling north to Ashland, my first time there, with a group from the Journey Center. (I’ve been sponsored by a friend because of a ‘fun-draiser’ for the same.) We plan to see two Shakespeare plays along with so much more that is to be explored there.  I will make a further edition about this trip along with my reviews of Hamlet ( and Twelfth Night ( after returning.

Until soon then,  fare thee well! 

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Top Ten Cities No 8 – Oaxaca


My Criteria:

• Attractive location, lots of green spaces and water attraction/s

• The central historical area can be explored on foot

• Historic sights, outdoor entertainment and museums

• Transportation is convenient and fun

• Lots of coffee shops, pubs and culturally interesting food

• Has a unique and appealing ambiance 

Oaxaca City is a colonial city centrally located in the southern state of Oaxaca in Mexico.  


The small central historical area including the ‘Zocalo’ (pubic square/plaza) along with Santa Domingo plaza is the for me the heart and soul of what makes it a fascinating locale.  My first visit there cast such a colorful spell on me that I longed for more. oaxaca-city-5-must-visit-atractions-e1431104361661
It has a certain ambiance which is what drew me back several times. Eventually I came to know the entire area fairly well.  There are many interesting sites to visit in the famous center and others within an hour or so by car. 

Here is a link to another blogger who has already done such a great job writing about both Oaxaca State and City I recommend reading this before continuing with mine! 

For the most part Oaxaca City meets my criteria well. It is especially ‘walkable’ since its flat, planned in a grid pattern and there are surprises around every corner.  It is only about 5 blocks from the Zocalo to El Museo de Culturas de Oaxaca (The Museum of Cultures of Oaxaca) and the gardens behind.  (All delightful.)

There are many museums of all sorts:

It has a warm and dry climate that is pleasant, however there are sometimes water shortages.  So the few parks and private gardens are the only green places and fountains are the only water attractions.  

My special experiences visiting there include language classes, El Zocalo, giant radish carvings at Navidad, Monte Alban, the Galagetza, El Arbol de Tule, tapetas and albrejas, and rock waterfalls.  I will mention a little about each of these and include some links with recent information.

Language Classes

Oaxaca City is also well known as a center for ‘gringos’ and other foreigners coming to the Spanish language schools.  This is how I first heard of it.  12 years ago I was working as an elementary teacher at a private school in Mexico City and at a colleague’s recommendation I took a week-long class during Spring break at the ‘Amigos del Sol’ (Friends of the Sun) Language school.  I stayed in an economical hostel run by locals which included a private room and shared meals where we only spoke in Spanish. It was only a few blocks from the school.  The school was small, simple, relaxed, fun and somehow enchanting.  Here is a link to give you an idea of what it is like, but the school has moved since then. (And I can’t find my old photos! 😦 But this link will lead you to some wonderful photos taken by other students. 

El Zocalo

Oaxaca Zocalo at Night 1

Oaxaca Zocalo at Night 1

The classes were only in the morning which left the afternoon and evenings free to explore.  The most wonderfully magical experience I recall was visiting the Zocalo in the evening.  The area was a hive of relaxing activity with a images-1lovely large fountain in the center.  Children were dancing to marimba tunes or pan pipes and chasing balloons skyward.  Larger than life figurines on stilts appeared to be dancing with them.  It was a gentle party.

As that week was ‘Semana Santa’ there were many special celebrations going on which were new to me. Here is a link to another blogger with a video (a bit new age-ish)  Some of the traditions, from Spain, were a little spooky for me (the silent, barefoot, cross-toting parade and the costumes), but still fascinating. The atmosphere was peacefully celebratory.  


Day and evening in the Zocalo there were many lovely, handcrafted items for sale at good prices including tapetas  and novel folk art ‘alebrijes’ – my favorites. 

Restaurants, with outdoor seating, surrounded the Zocalo.  The local cuisine included mole as one of the specialities. Very tasty and exciting sauces.  oaxacacity-cafe-justinhenderson

El Noche de Rabenos – The Night of the Radishes

Enamored with Oaxaca City I visited again to celebrate Navidad (Christmas) with my mother who flew down from California.  One of the unique discoveries we made was the competition of carving giant radishes into amazing structures and artistic shapes.


The Guelaguetza  

We also enjoyed an unforgettable evening’s entertainment watching dances from all of the 16 regions of Oaxaca. 


hotel-camino-real-oaxaca-PF38832_8Normally this festival is held in July, but for the tourists who flock there in Navidad they hold special shows at some of the hotels.  We attended one at the lovely convent converted into the now Camino Real Hotel.


Monte Alban

There are many tours available which could be booked at the hotels.  Although we had a rental car we decided to take a tour bus to the fascinating ancient city of Monte Alban and thereby also learning more about it with a guide who spoke passable English.  Monte Alban and the colonial historic center of Oaxaca are listed as a two-part UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Monte_Alban_temple_2006_08“Monte Alban is the most important archaeological site of the Valley of Oaxaca. Inhabited over a period of 1,500 years by a succession of peoples – Olmecs, Zapotecs and Mixtecs – the terraces, dams, canals, pyramids and artificial mounds of Monte Albán were literally carved out of the mountain and are the symbols of a sacred topography. The grand Zapotec capital flourished for thirteen centuries, from the year 500 B.C to 850 A.D. when, for reasons that have not been established, its eventual abandonment began. The archaeological site is known for its unique dimensions which exhibit the basic chronology and artistic style of the region and for the remains of magnificent temples, ball court, tombs and bas-reliefs with hieroglyphic inscriptions. The main part of the ceremonial centre which forms a 300 m esplanade running north-south with a platform at either end was constructed during the Monte Albán II (c. 300 BC-AD 100) and the Monte Albán III phases. Phase II corresponds to the urbanization of the site and the domination of the environment by the construction of terraces on the sides of the hills, and the development of a system of dams and conduits. The final phases of Monte Albán IV and V were marked by the transformation of the sacred city into a fortified town. Monte Albán represents a civilization of knowledge, traditions and artistic expressions. Excellent planning is evidenced in the position of the line buildings erected north to south, harmonized with both empty spaces and volumes. It showcases the remarkable architectural design of the site in both Mesoamerica and worldwide urbanism.”           

We enjoyed exploring the pyramid like stone structures and hearing about the ancient ball games they played; until we heard that the games involved human sacrifice!     Nevertheless, it was a riveting place to visit.

El Arbol del Tule

“El Arbol del Tule” © 2012 Rafael Bautista

El Arbol de Tule and The Hand Woven Tapetas of Teotitlan del Valle

Another day we drove to see this tree said to be the widest in the world.  It is an easy drive from Oaxaca City about 25 miles east to the small town of Tule.  The 2,000 year old tree is well preserved and well worth the time to walk around it.  The town of Santa Maria de Tule is pleasant too, with gardens and cafes. 

The tapetas can be viewed in the plaza of Teotitlan del Valle, another 15 minutes or so by car.  There you can haggle the prices and even meet the makers.  A1_1611Of course there are also many other hand crafts for sale.  

Later we explored the shops where it is possible to enjoy a demonstration of how the actual dyes are made naturally from thousands of tiny insects called Cochineal.  When these die, dry out and are squashed they make a deep red color from which many dye other colors are created when combined with other substances.  Not all of the dyes used in these marvelous rugs are natural, but some creators specialize in only using natural dyes.  My mother and I were treated to private demonstrations of the natural process.    This rug is very special as my mother bought it that day and it is made of all natural dyes. 


I bought these ones but they are a mixture of natural and man-made dyes. 

Santa Maria de Tule and Teotitlan del Valle can be explored with one or several tours including ‘Hievrves del Aqua’ which I visited the first time I came.  It does require some rough walking but you can go wading in an interesting natural, said to be healthy, pool too.  (I did!) 


There are wonderful pictures of it here at “Mexico’s Freeze-Frame Falls” 

Folk Art

As you can see, Oaxaca has a tremendous amount to explore and enjoy!  I could go on an on, but I will finish with more images of the folk art I enjoyed there.  IMG_6254


Of course you may have seen these here where you will be charged a fortune and sadly, in most cases, the creators will only be paid a fraction of what you will pay!  Better to go there, choose from hundreds of hand made items and be generous with the actual artists. 


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Top Ten Cities N0. 7 – Dublin


My Criteria:

  • Attractive location, lots of parks, green spaces and a water attraction
  • The central historical area can be enjoyed on foot
  • Activities include historic sights, outdoor entertainment and museum
  • Transportation is fun and convenient
  • Lots of coffee shops, pubs and culturally interesting food

Dear Reader,

Before I begin with Dublin reflections and explorations, I’d like to encourage you to please comment not only about anything you like related to what you read here, but also – what are your favorite cities?  Where would you like to visit again or for the first time?  I’d really like to know!

Dublin is a fascinating city, but because I have only been there once (on a coach tour) I don’t know it well.  In fact, the short time I spent there was exciting and a little overwhelming. (Dublin is the largest city in the Republic of Ireland with over 500,000 people in the central area and over 1,800,000 in the greater Dublin area according to a 2011 census.  That makes it slightly larger than Edinburgh.) I would love to visit there again and I see this blog post as an opportunity to revisit what I saw and to plan where I would like to go if I ever I return.

What I recall to begin with is the convenient airport.  As airports go, (and I have been in so many of them that I’m writing a separate series about them next when I finish this Top Ten Cities series!) Dublin is a favorable one. Yelp gives it good reviews as does the site ‘Sleeping in Airports’.

After our short flight from Edinburgh, my mother and I met our tour guide there and were quickly taken to our cozy hotel.  After settling into out hotel we toured the city in the coach which partly explains why I was overwhelmed.  They always try to pack so much information into these tours that it sets your head spinning.  (I wouldn’t recommend this! Neither your head spinning or coach tours.)  What stood out from where I sat was that the doors of the older homes were very colorful and I’d love to photograph them.  Google them yourself, as I just did to get these images, and you’ll see that they’re famous.  Colorful and fun-loving as the Irish themselves have a reputation of being.

I do highly recommend one of the places they took us to on the bus tour, Dublin’s 700-year-old Castle.  Dublin-Castle-Green-Park-2012.JPG

It is still used for matters of state and so a portion of it can only be seen with a tour although sometimes that part is closed.

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Richly furnished and highly colorful as you can see, it is one of the most enjoyable castles I ever did! You can explore and read much more with this link:

[And now for a complete aside: Blarney Castle.

100195_Dublin_Blarney Castle_d503-21You may have heard of it and how you’re supposed to kiss the stone for luck – which involves lying on your back over an edge and is a complete absurdity that you’re welcome to do if you’re of a mind!  As for me, well, I took a picture of it and that was enough! (I mean seriously, the germs from thousands of lips must be on that thing! And I don’t believe in luck anyway.  Shhh! I hope the leprechauns didn’t hear that. 😉


But what I’d never heard before, and am glad I found out, is that there is the most delightful (perhaps even magical) garden down below the castle. images-8

After you climb up the stone stairs and wander around the well-worth-the-effort-ruin, view the views, lay on your back and kiss the crazy crag (if you must), then climb down again and go get lost in that garden even if its raining!  (It wasn’t when I was there, but I would have gone anyway.)

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Being in that garden was one of best experiences of the trip.  If ever there was a place to encounter the leprechauns it would be there, don’t cha know?

(My mother, who loved gardens, was sadly seduced by the tour guides sell of spending the time in the kitschy tourist shops, which is another reason I do not recommend coach tours.  Nevertheless, she enjoyed herself.)

So here we are a post about Dublin and I’ve gone to Blarney Castle!  Rather ‘Irish’ of me! (You know the quirky humor, like, when asked how to get somewhere in Ireland an Irishman might say, “To begin with, if I wanted to go there I wouldn’t start from here.”)

But, let’s get back to Dublin Castle now directly because my background is Scottish, not Irish! (Well, Scots-Irish-English-German-Cherokee-(?), if you really want to know!)

Another thing I’d like to mention that I found interesting about my Dublin Castle visit. was that in front there is a statue of ‘Lady Justice’.  statue-of-lady-justice-at-dublin-castle-in-dublin-ireland-brt8yxVery impressive with her sword and scales.  But the strange things which were pointed out to us on the tour include the facts that she is looking the wrong direction – away from the city, has an odd smile on her face, and is not blind-folded indicating that she is not blind to discrimination!  Given Ireland’s stormy history of oppression by the English monarchy and other complicated political messes I suppose this shouldn’t be surprising.

Trinity_college_dublin_parliament_squareAnother highlight that I recall from my brief visit to Dublin was going to Trinity College and seeing, with my own two eyes in the amazing library there… 4+Book+of+Kells+Trinity

The Book of Kells. sv_bok_16_big

As a book and history lover, illustrated manuscripts have always fascinated me. The Book of Kells is the crème de le crème of delightfully illustrated ancient manuscripts. If you would like to read more about it, here you are:

If I ever have the opportunity to return to Dublin there a number of things I’d like to do such as exploring the city on foot. It is apparent from what I’ve read that this is possible as the city is quite compact. It looks like just the sort of city that would make for a fun adventure to set off in and see where my feet take me.

As for my ‘criteria’, it seems that there are water attractions and lots of green areas in the city center.  There are many park-like ‘squares’ and ‘greens’ some with statues and no doubt lots of quirky history.

There is also a canal to walk along, as well as the river Liffey. It is possible to explore the city following either, or both of these – at different times of course. This link has many great suggestions which I would like to try out!  For example, The National Museum of Ireland is along this walk as well the castle and “O’Connell Street…a street of superlatives…reputed to be Europe’s widest urban street…home to the “Spire“, the world’s tallest piece of sculpture.” Spire1Whatever you do, take an umbrella.

I’d also like to visit the Writer’s Museum, take a tour and see some lunchtime theater. I’d like to learn more about “Swift and Sheridan, Shaw and Wilde, Yeats, Joyce and Beckett who are among those presented through their books, letters, portraits and personal items.”  You can take a virtual tour here:

imagesOf course Dublin is well known for its pubs and the Guinness! If you’re into dry stout tasting then another place to visit is: Looks like it might be fun for the view even if you don’t drink that dark stuff which they say is supposed to be “Good For You”!


If you prefer tea or coffee there are countless cafes, tea and coffee shops. I’d go for the tea shops first and here are some that sound like lots of fun:

But if it’s the coffee that you’re after then these cafes look great too:  And it seems possible to avoid Starbucks for a change!

Of course these places will serve you lots of sweets as well as possibly some savories. No doubt you will find lots of corn beef and cabbage, Irish stew along with potatoes or fish and chips in pubs if you like.  But Dublin is an international city with all sorts of food so you may have what you like if you don’t mind paying the price.

Coming near the end of this post, a visit to Dublin wouldn’t be complete without hearing some authentic, traditional (trad) Irish music.  (Listening to this is what makes me want to get on a plane back to Dublin now!)  This place is recommended:

And here’s some information about it all and more trad to almost end with:


Finally, I must recommend a visit to Christ Church Cathedral where recently my cousin, Travis Rogers, a well-know choir director at Napa High School led a large group of students in making beautiful music.

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Top Ten Cities No 6: York

My Criteria:


  • Attractive location, lots of parks, green spaces and a water attraction
  • The central historical area can be enjoyed on foot
  • Activities include historic sights, outdoor entertainment and museums
  • Transportation is fun and convenient
  • Lots of coffee shops, pubs and culturally interesting food



I’ve visited York a number of times in years gone by.  It is a fun, attractive, almost 1,000 year old city manageable in one day, although a few days would be more fun! In one day you could see the highlights and leave it desiring to return again. York meets all of my criteria beginning with its attractive location in the heart of one of England’s largest counties, Yorkshire.  Yorkshire is full of many delights including my No. 3, Whitby.

The Ancient City Walls

Since I’m a history buff and a lover of castles, the ancient city walls delighted me the first time I saw York.  Although not all of the center is surrounded as it once was, nevertheless, “To this day, substantial portions of the walls remain, and York has more miles of intact wall than any other city in England.”  In many places the walls spring up out of well kept lawns giving it a park like appearance.  


These walls are from different time periods of the city’s history and could be a subject of exploration.  The walls are punctuated by gates, called ‘bars’, including Bootham, Walmgate, Monk, Micklegate, Fishergate and Victoria.

Over two miles of the city walls are walkable.  I have never had time to do this, but in the right weather it would be a pleasurable day’s ramble.


The River Ouse




Running through York the River Ouse is a wonderful water attraction and there are boats a plenty available for a lovely cruise.  I once enjoyed a relaxing trip down river to Bishopthorpe Palace, the home of the Archbishop of York. I did not have a chance to explore the palace itself, but one day perhaps!  If you are curious about the current archbishop and Anglicanism then follow this link.


Exploring York by walking the walls is one of the best ways to begin.  The other highlights are the narrow city streets with lots of engaging shops, the Minster Gothic Cathedral, the Yorvic Viking Museum and the National Railway Museum.


I visited the train museum once and although I’m not a train fanatic I did enjoy exploring it.  If trains are your thing then check it out!

However, the Yorvic Viking Museum was absolutely fascinating for me.  I got to go back in time!  And there I could actually SMELL the way the Vikings lived!  Yuck?  Well it was quite memorable.  The museum brings the past to life so that you can see, hear and yes, smell it.  No tasting though, which is probably for the best.  It is built on the site of the first Viking settlement.

Unknown-11        Unknown-10

Unknown-12                 images

After you return to the present you can examine the relics which archeologists used to reenact the museum’s famous ride. It is the most interesting museum of its type I have ever visited. Sadly, there have been recent floods and they have had to close to make repairs until 2017.  But you can enjoy the story of museum here and now with this link:


Being such an ancient city you are right to imagine that there are many narrow, cobblestone lanes.  Not only is this so but they also have a funny name.  They are called ‘snickleways.’

“A warren of passageways and alleys woven throughout the historic city center, York’s famous Snickelways have long been the beating heart of the city and one of its most charming assets – dozens of narrow winding streets, lined with medieval buildings and paved with timeworn cobblestones. Dating back to the Middle Ages, the Snickelways take their name from the local term ‘Snicket’, meaning alleyway, and range in size from tiny, narrow passageways to long, meandering streets, linking together the city’s main shopping streets, markets and attractions.


Today, exploring York’s Snickelways is a popular pastime of visitors to the city and by far the most famous is The Shambles, a remarkably preserved medieval shopping street that dates back to as early as 1086. Once voted ‘Britain’s most picturesque street’, The Shambles is lined with 15th-century buildings, cleverly built to slant towards each other, casting shade over the shop fronts below (a technique employed by the butcher’s shops to keep the meat out of the sun). Today the timber frames, gabled windows and old fashioned shop signs remain, but the butcher’s stores have long been replaced by antique shops, cafés and boutiques.”

Tea & Coffee Shops/Pubs

Those winding lanes are fun and if you get worn out or lost there are countless coffee shops, tea shops with more types of tea than you can count, and real-ale pubs to stop in and put your feet up!   branch-york-bettys-main

York Minster

Once you’ve recovered your energy the Minster is a must see.  Whether church history is of any interest to you or not, the architecture, the stained glass craftsmanship, the 2,000-year-old-relics and the Roman foundation are well worthy of exploration.

“The gothic cathedral in York is one of the great masterpieces of the medieval age. Built over a period of almost 250 years from the early 13th Century to the 15th Century, the York Minster Cathedral formed the religious center of the English monarchy in the north since the reign of Plantagenet Kings John and Henry III (see Gloucester Cathedral). Walter de Gray was named Archbishop of York in 1215 and decreed the building of a cathedral in the north to rival that of Canterbury in the south and construction of the great church was begun in 1220. A Norman chapel stood on the site of an earlier church which had seen the invasion of the Vikings. The cathedral, commonly referred to as York Minster, though officially the Cathedral and Metropolitan Church of St Peter in York, is the largest gothic cathedral in Northern Europe after Germany’s Cologne Dom, remains the seat of the second highest office in the Church of England and an active center of worship.”

I should warn you that when you walk around inside it is so huge that you can get lost!  Another thing to be ware of is getting a sore neck by trying to look up at all of the roof bosses.  Unknown-15


Instead of looking up, look for one of the mirrors which are provided so that you can see them by looking down.  It would take years to begin to take in all that is there at the Minster!  I was overwhelmed the last time I was there.


Morris Dancers and Youtube Overview

I will finish this No. 6 city with a clip about another thing that captured my attention the last time I visited York.  It was the first time I saw Morris Dancers.  You may have heard of them, but whether they are new to you or old hat you’ll enjoy this last link which also contains lots of views of York nicely dated too.


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No. 5 Oxford


My Criteria:

  • Attractiveness including location, parks and water features
  • Not too big to be overwhelming
  • Activities include historic sights, outdoor entertainment and museums
  • Transportation is convenient, (fun?) and much of it is walkable
  • Lots of coffee shops
  • I’d love to return and spend much more time
  • Zing


Oxford is full of zing!  Everywhere you go students are zinging here and there to classes or meetings.


Cyclists zing through narrow, cobbled lanes, across meadows, along the canals and the Thames river.  The river is also famous for rowing as did Lewis Carrol and no doubt many other famous authors and other famous people who studied at the world renowned university. Travel to, through and from is full of adventure and possibilities.  The area also boasts many huge parks and the universities have green quads.

My last visit there began when I arrived by train and walked to a B & B and later in the week moved to one of the universities.  It was a rich time and  I wished I could have stayed longer.  As I was there for a conference I could not explore much, but the little I did was rewarded with surprises. Steeped in academic history the ambiance of Oxford is unlike anywhere else I’ve ever visited.

It is full of all sorts of coffee shops, pubs and bookstores.  One of my surprises was passing by the legendary ‘Eagle and Child’ where Lewis, Tolkien and others discussed their literary works.   images-3

Here’s a video about some places to visit if you ever go there and are keen on Lewis and Tolkien as I am.

And here is a two minute video about the Inklings:

For my 2 pence worth I can add to this clip what I learned this last year when reading, C.S. Lewis – A Life, Eclectic Genius, Reluctant Prophet by Alister McGrath; without the encouragement of Lewis, Tolkien would never have completed The Lord of the Rings.

My best Lewis memory came the day that I took a little time out of the coimages-9nference on one of the only sunny afternoons we had. I explored Magdalen College where he had tutored for many years.  (You may remember that scene from Shadowlands in which he is working with a student there.)  At first I was disappointed as the only trace the college marked was a set of flower boxes outside his upstairs windows visible from a distance.

images-2But somehow my feet led me to ‘Addison’s Walk’ which was a lovely place to stroll as it says in the video.  Tree lined with a small stream flowing along it I desired to follow on and on, but needed to return to my conference.  Conflicted about having to go back, I paused to read a plaque on a 15 foot high stone wall beside a wide iron gate which led into the great and ancient deer park.                 images-1



This poem had me in tears in no time.  In that moment God was speaking compassion to my heart about my yearning not only for sunshine, but also for the eternal summer we will one day have who look up now to the Bright and Morning Star.



I heard in Addison’s Walk a bird sing clear:

This year the summer will come true. This year. This year.

Winds will not strip the blossom from the apple trees

This year, nor want of rain destroy the peas.

This year time’s nature will no more defeat you,

Nor all the promised moments in their passing cheat you.

This time they will not lead you round and back

To Autumn, one year older, by the well-worn track.

This year, this year, as all these flowers foretell,

We shall escape the circle and undo the spell.

Often deceived, yet open once again your heart,

Quick, quick, quick, quick! – the gates are drawn apart.


Other famous people who I admire that have a connection with Oxford include Churchill, John Wesley, founder of Methodism, George MacDonald who was a friend of Lewis Carrol and Elizabeth Goudge.  Elizabeth Goudge wrote a wonderful novel called Towers in the Mist about the city set in the time of Elizabeth I.  Well worth a search and read.

(Of course there are hundreds of famous people who studied there and you can search the lists if you like:

Although Oxford is overwhelming in size and all that there is to explore, it is to me a wonderful overwhelming!  I would be delighted to visit again and to stay for year.  Maybe someday.

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No. 4 – The Royal Burgh of St Andrews

Top Ten Cities -No. 4- The Royal Burgh of St Andrews


My Criteria:

• Attractive including location, lots of parks, green spaces & water attraction

• Size – No Megalopoli and you can walk most of it

• Activities include historic sights, outdoor entertainment and museums

• Transportation is convenient and perhaps even fun 

• Lots of coffee shops, pubs and culturally interesting food

•  ZING!

Cozy (more of a town than a city really) close to Edinburgh and named after the patron saint of Scotland on whose day I was born, St Andrews is a jewel in the crown of the ‘Kingdom of Fife’.  

scotland-maptowns        24_default

North of Edinburgh over the famous Forth Road Rail bridge it is on Scotland’s east coast between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Tay.  (firth: a narrow inlet of the sea; an estuary)

I’ve ‘motored’ there – as some say – so many afternoons that thinking about it makes me feel homesick.  St Andrews is a place that many made pilgrimage to in ancient times and now I realize that I must return someday too. The drive along the coast took me through many atmospheric fishing villages where I’ve often stopped for fish and chips and a walk along the beach on the way to or from the ancient burgh. (burgh: a self-governing town)

It fits all of my criteria well and is especially ‘walkable’. Even though it has so much to offer I did not find it usually to be too crowded as a tourist destination. Perhaps its often overlooked in favor of Edinburgh, Sterling, Glasgow or the Highlands.  But how crowded it gets depends. If you mention the name of it to many people the first thing that comes to their minds is the famous golf course.  The ‘old course’ is world renowned and even has a golf museum.  (Back in the 80s, I think it was, I caught the fever and went mad about golf.  Thankfully that only lasted a short time.  I say thankfully because it is expensive and there are so many other things to do!)  How crowded St Andrews becomes depends on whether or not there is a major tournament happening.   But this blog is not about golf.  Suffice to say that the best thing about the golf course is that its presence preserves green space.   


Located on the coast just north of St Andrews the links course runs parallel to the beach which extends for what seems like miles. The beach has some marvelous dunes with lots of dune grass where I played hide and seek with my Westie, (West Highland White Terrier) Skye, many years ago.


Viewing the famous beach while watching the 1981 film, Chariots of Fire, was my first ‘experience’ of this historic city.  In the opening scene the olympians are gallantly running for ages along this long beach.  


A great film worth seeing, or seeing again by the way.   

And just in case you haven’t seen that film or would like to review some of it now, here’s a great clip.

I had no idea then that I would have the privilege of visiting St Andrews often.  It is special to me still. I have an oil painting created by a good Scottish friend, Joan Forsyth (resting with Jesus), of the beach and the northeast part of St Andrews in my home.  


In this painting you can see an outline of the famous buildings in the old part of the city including St Andrew’s Cathedral (ruins), St Rule’s Tower (middle) and the castle on the left.  These ancient sites are all worth visiting and not too tiring either.  Unless you decide to climb up the tower! I’ve done it and don’t ask me how many steps there are, but there’s lots and lots!  It’s worth it for the view.

Unknown                           Unknown-1

The grassy grounds around the cathedral ruins have ancient gravestones where my mother spent a long time looking for our ancestors’ names once. 


There is a small Historic Scotland museum where you can find out about the history of the cathedral.   Here’s a bit from their site:

“Headquarters of the medieval Scottish Church – St Andrews Cathedral dominated the history of the medieval church in Scotland from its construction in the 12th century until the Protestant Reformation in 1560. 

Scotland’s largest and most magnificent medieval church, the cathedral was the seat of Scotland’s leading bishops (and from 1472 archbishops). It occupied a site used for worship since the 8th century AD, when the relics of St Andrew, Scotland’s patron saint, are said to have been brought here.

The cathedral buildings are surrounded by a graveyard, and encircled by the most complete and imposing monastic enclosure walls in Scotland. Even in its ruinous state the cathedral remains a prominent landmark, the focus of the three medieval streets of St Andrews, and highly visible from the sea.

St Rule’s Church, with its 33m tower, was probably built around 1130 as the first place of worship for the newly-arrived Augustinian canons. This Continental priestly order supplanted the Culdees, a Celtic monastic order that had been present on the site for centuries. The lofty tower may have been a beacon for pilgrims heading for the shrine of St Andrew.”  

The 450 year-old ruined castle is small compared to many, but interestingly moody and of great historical significance including intrigue and murder. 

st andrews castle

Clinging to the coastline it ‘boasted’… “The Bottle Dungeon – one of the most infamous castle prisons in medieval Britain, cut out of the solid rock. John Knox and George Wishart may have been imprisoned in this dank and airless hole, and Cardinal Beaton’s murdered body was kept here.”

I mostly enjoyed lounging beside the top turrets catching some sun (it is possible), looking at the view and eating ice cream from there.

Ice cream is one of St Andrews strengths as well.  And coffee shops. Lots of those.  My favorite ice cream shop is Jannettas Gelateria.  They have 100 flavors!  Beats Baskin and Robbins easily.  I don’t think much of their decor, or the ‘queue’ you have to wait in to get watcha want, but worth the wait.  

Home-Feature-2  Home-Feature-1

There are at least 21 coffee shops in St Andrews!  (Including Starbucks now, but it is new.) I can’t tell you which is best since I haven’t been there lately, but I will mention that there used to be a great teapot shop with every sort you could imagine that I enjoyed immensely.  I am not sure if it is still there, but it was around the corner from a great book store, J & G Innes. More than books and privately owned.  


As for food, you can get all sorts.  You name it.  I’d go for the Italian, the Indian, or the Chinese, but you will have to decide if ever you go there!  It is a university city so this keeps it cosmopolitan.  And if you’ve been wondering, yes indeed, this is where Prince William studied (well certainly some of his time there was spent studying! 😉 And yes, he met Kate there.  I’ve seen that movie and you can too.

Interesting that the same actor, Ben Cross, who played ‘Abrams’ in Chariots of Fire, plays William’s dad (what’s his name?) in this film. 

The university was founded in 1413 – Scotland’s oldest.  Its buildings are spread throughout this small city and they are, obviously, some of the oldest.  


St Andrews University


There are many narrow lanes and many roads are still of cobblestone.  Even though it is a small city of only about 16,000, I felt I could always find more to explore and to do.  And even though too, it became quite familiar to me, it seemed that I could get safely lost there, in a good way.  


The mixture of the historical venues of this Royal Burgh, the university buildings, the beaches and numerous walks, the old course, the coffee and ice cream shops, restaurants, bookstores and other shops – all these for me resulted in ‘Zing’!  Tis hard to conclude as there always more to write, but this is the end.

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Top Ten Cities

My Criteria:

~ Attractive including location, lots of parks, green spaces and a water attraction

~ Size – No Megalopoli and you can walk most of it

~ Activities include historic sights, outdoor entertainment and museums

~ Transportation is convenient and perhaps even fun

~ Lots of coffee shops, pubs and culturally interesting food

No. 3 Whitby, North Yorkshire, Northern England 

Ahh, Whitby! Enjoyed it thoroughly for one lovely, long day!  I have wanted to return ever since I left.  There are many activities and sights, tea and food to relish.  My favorite place, besides the ‘chippy’, was the Abby.  If you love history too, especially Celtic history, keep scrolling!  I’ve saved that for last.

Located, as you can see by clicking on the link above, north of the famous ‘Scarborough’ – you know – ‘are you going to the fair there’? (Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme) It is much smaller than that city and much more picturesque.  Located on the coast, it has high cliffs and many wonderful steep walks along with 199 steps going up to the ancient Whitby Abby. The North Sea makes a great ‘water attraction’!  It also straddles the mouth of the river Esk. Since Yorkshire gets lots of rain there’s always lots of green.   There are a few golf courses or you could go sailing.

Transportation is not that great, unless you go sailing, but you can walk!  The historic  east side is quite ‘doable’ in a day.  There is an excellent museum which brings out the highlights of the Abbey.

Whitby has lots of coffee and tea shops in the narrow lanes, along with pubs and the Best out of 10,000 Fish and Chip Shops in Britain!  Seriously.  At the quayside (pronounced key side for you americans) there is some fattening, but tasty fare to be had – haddock that is!

IMG_3590 Check it out!  I have and I wish I could scarf some down right now!  But it certainly is not on my diet.  (Here in Santa Rosa, California we have to make due with Betty’s Fish N Chips.  Good for here, but much pricier than there, and the authentic taste I grew to love when living ‘over there’ just ain’t in Betty’s!)

The quayside is a fun place to ‘hang out’ and eat your fish supper.  (Just watch out for the seagulls!)  Sometimes there are outdoor musicians to entertain you as they did last time I was there.  I recall listening to a group from Peru and although they had some lovely haunting melodies they were quite out of place actually!

There is also a stature of Captain James Cook, a famous navel captain who was a great navigator and has recently been voted one of the top 20 Britons of all time!  You can learn about him in 3 minutes here:  One thing I learned just now is that he was responsible for ensuring the health of his crew by having them eat fruit and in this way avoiding scurvy! (Ironically I have heard that some high school kids in Glasgow got scurvy because they refused to eat anything except for chips! So fish and chips may be good for you in moderation, but don’t forget the lemon!) There is also a museum in Whitby about Captain Cook.

                 Now for my favorite part: Whitby Abbey, Saint Hilda and the Celtic Church 



I’m not interested in the bit about the inspiration of Dracula by this building.  I’m fascinated by the fact that near the site of this building there was once, in 657, a monastery here where a famous woman named St Hilda was the Abbess.


“The abbey that still (mostly) stands dates from the 12th century, but lies near the site of a 7th-century Saxon monastery. Caedmon, the first identifiable English-language poet, was a monk here.


It was on this site in *664 AD that it was decided to follow the Roman Catholic church instead of the Celtic Church with regard to the date of Easter.

The first abbey was founded in 657 by the formidable St Hilda, a princess of the Northumbrian royal house, whose Saxon name means “battle.” Recent archaeological research undertaken by English Heritage suggests that it was once a bustling settlement as well as the burial place of monarchs.”

You can discover more about St Hilda here.  (This site will also lead to information about becoming an Anglican ‘sister’.  I find it interesting that there are such communities today.)

In Hilda’s day (she was also known as ‘Hild”) there were both men and women in the community which she led. They lived a celtic form of monasticism.  It was also a center of learning and probably had a scriptorium where illuminated manuscripts were created.  It was here that ‘Caedmon’, a cow herder was brought to Hilda for her to hear his songs.  With her encouragement and Bible teaching in the vernacular, instead of Latin, he eventually became England’s first poet.

He was “famous for adaptation of the aristocratic-heroic Anglo-Saxon verse tradition to the expression of Christian themes.”   You may have heard of the group, Caedmon’s Call.  Now you know where they got the name.  (Great song here!)

caedmon-hymn.jpegLines from Cædmon’s hymn, added at the bottom of a page of Bede’s ‘History’  © Bodleian Libraries (Hatton MS 43 fol 129r)  THIS DOES NOT LOOK LIKE ENGLISH TO ME!

I find it interesting that in the early days of the Church there was a strong and respected Lady Leader to whom even kings came to get advice.  Hilda was a peace maker too.  It was during her time at Whitby Abbey that the ‘*Synod of Whitby’ was held.  At that meeting the Latin Church took precedence over the Celtic church which Hilda favored.  She accepted the decision they made though, thereby keeping peace.

The Celtic Church was, put simply, more egalitarian and community based than the hierarchical Latin Church.  I daresay that men retained more power in the later as well.  The Celtic Church favored monasticism and the leaders of the church were the Abbots and Abbesses rather than bishops etc.  There were also peregrinate such as St Patrick, St Columba and Aiden who clearly were leaders but they did not base their power in hierarchy or the legacy of monuments.

Saint Hilda, though from a royal family, was a servant leader who left behind other abbesses and other leaders.

The Vikings destroyed the abbey of Hilda’s day in 867 and the ruins that are there now are from another era.  But the location lends itself to imagining what it might have been like.  Furthermore, the artifacts displayed in the museum down below the abbey ruins helped me to picture the original abbey in my mind as I climbed up those 199 steps to the hill top.


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