Wednesday Wander Revisited – Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

Another week, and another Wander revisited. This time we’re heading to Spain, and to one of the most extraordinary buildings I’ve ever seen. I visited back in 2017, on a wonderful trip that took in two GOT filming locations, some spectacular beaches, beautiful coastal towns and a salad we enjoyed so much that we still make it at home (and call it Biarritz Salad). Perhaps I’ll share the recipe one day…

This week I’ve decided to wander to a place I visited recently – the spectacular Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

The first sight of the Museum is a moment of wonder, the kind you get when seeing iconic structures such as the Eiffel Tower or the Sydney Harbour Bridge for the first time. It’s an instant of disconnect, when you wonder whether what you’re seeing is real. Perched on the edge of the river running through Bilbao, the building seems almost to float upon the water, like a magical ship or giant sea creature, metallic scales reflecting the sky.

A museum of modern and contemporary art, the Guggenheim was designed by the architect Frank Gehry, known for his unique vision. When you come into Bilbao from the east, as we did, the Museum is one of the first things you see, a tumbled cluster of gleaming shapes on the curving edge of the river.

The museum was inaugurated almost exactly twenty years ago, on October 18th 1997. Prior to that, the riverbank was an industrial area, home to piles of curving steel and machinery, said to have partly influenced Gehry’s design. The architect said that ‘the randomness of the curves are designed to catch the light’ and they certainly do so, reflecting light and water and shade so that the angles constantly change, each step as you move around the building revealing a different viewpoint.

I particularly liked how the walkway and reflecting pool are positioned to look, from some angles, as though the river runs up to the edge of the building. I also like the red archway that sits astride the road into Bilbao, bringing you immediately into the design.

When we visited, there was a huge dog sculpture covered in real flowers at the front of the building, which we all loved. It is called ‘Puppy’, and was designed by Jeff Koons, and the flowers change with the seasons. It’s been guarding the entrance to the Guggenheim since 1997, but prior to that it lived at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, Australia.

The spider sculpture, visible at the bottom right of my photo, is permanent and seems to be a popular image associated with the museum, if the tourist trinkets for sale nearby were any indication. Personally, I’m not a fan of spiders, especially huge ones like that!

This is not my first Gehry – I visited the EMP in Seattle a couple of years ago, and also saw El Peix, a fish-shaped canopy on the beachfront in Barcelona. Like most of Gehry’s works, the Guggenheim is impressive, extraordinary in its complexity. We spent ages just walking around the outside, taking in the shapes, wondering at the mind that could create such wonders.

Gehry’s style of architecture has been described as ‘desconstructivism’ though Gehry himself says he does not associate with that movement. Post-modern it certainly is, form without any other function than to catch the light and beguile the eye. Clad in titanium, at times it appears silver, and at others gold. Extraordinarily for a building of this type, the Guggenheim was completed on time and on budget.

Overall, it was a spectacular building to see and experience. I took loads of photos, as you can imagine, and these are some of the ones I liked the most. Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me! See you next time.


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Wednesday Wander Revisited – Plas Newydd, Llangollen

Here is the next in my series of revisiting Wednesday Wanders. I’ve been to Llangollen many times in my life; I have family near there, and a lot of history tied up in the little town, nestled among the ancient hills. But my first visit to Plas Newydd was only three years ago – a fascinating place, with a wonderful story of love, friendship, and living life…

This week I’m wandering to a rather wonderful place tucked away on the hillside above Llangollen. This is Plas Newydd, once home to the famous ‘Ladies of Llangollen.’

The two ladies in question were Sarah Ponsonby and Lady Eleanor Charlotte Butler, who came from Ireland in 1778 to live in Llangollen, North Wales. Their story is a fascinating one. Both born to noble families, they met at school in 1768 when Sarah was 13 and Eleanor 29. Sarah was an orphan and ward of Sir William and Lady Fownes, while Eleanor came from the Ormonde family and lived at Kilkenny Castle. Lady Fownes was friends with Eleanor’s mother, and Eleanor was asked to keep an eye on Sarah while she was at school. The two became close friends, corresponding for several years until, both unhappy in their home lives, they decided to run away together. Eleanor was under pressure to enter a convent, while Sarah was enduring the unwelcome attentions of Sir William, who had decided she would make a perfect second wife (even though his first wife was still alive!).

The two women first attempted to escape in March 1778. Dressed in men’s clothing and armed with a pistol, they made it as far as Waterford before being apprehended and brought back to their families. Despite further pressure, Eleanor managed to escape again, running to Sarah. Faced with such devotion, their families finally relented and they were allowed to leave Ireland in May 1778 to start a new life together.

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons – Manfred Heyde (own work)

They moved into Pen Y Maes cottage, as it was known then, in 1780, renaming it Plas Newydd (welsh for New Hall). They extended and renovated the cottage, including the addition of stained glass windows and extraordinary wood carvings on the interior and exterior of the building, many of which were salvaged from old churches and furniture. You aren’t allowed to take photographs of the interior, but I did manage to find this image of one of the staircases, just to give you an idea of what it looks like inside. The details around the exterior doors are also extraordinary, and it must have been a magical place to live. The Ladies lived there for almost fifty years, in what they called ‘a life of sweet and delicious retirement’, until Eleanor passed away in 1829, Sarah dying just two years later.

During their lifetime the ladies were figures of curiosity, well-regarded and attracting many famous visitors, including Lord Byron, the Duke of Wellington, William Wordsworth (who composed a poem while staying with them) and Madame de Genlis. Their relationship was seen to embody romantic friendship, a high ideal much sought after at the time. The true nature of their relationship is still unclear – they shared a bedroom, sleeping together in the same bed, and referred to each other as ‘Beloved’. They also dressed in men’s clothing and powdered their hair, as can be seen in the few portraits that survive.

Whether The Ladies’ relationship was simply one of platonic love, or something more, doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that they were both strong enough to live their lives outside the conventions of the time – yes, they both came from privilege, but this was still a time when women were reduced to ‘wife of’ once they were married, no longer allowed to hold either property or their names. I love the story of the Ladies because it’s a story of love, of friendship, and the desire to live life as they pleased. The house in its in green gardens, ruined castle on the hill beyond, stands as a beautiful memorial to life, to the Ladies, and to love.

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!

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Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Walking Through Rivendell (Revisited)

I forgot. Again. Heat is melting my brain, I guess? I have over 100 Wednesday Wanders just waiting to be reposed, but I keep forgetting. So here we are, Thursday and wanderless. However, in honour of it being such a stinking hot day here (30 degrees and humid), I’ve decided to post, not exactly a wander, but instead a memory of a cool valley replete with green grass, snowy mountains and a waterfall. Oh, and apparently it was the original inspiration for Rivendell, Tolkien being inspired by its beauty when he visited over a century ago. Enjoy…
This was the view from where I stayed

This was the view from my chalet. Pretty nice, hey?

About twenty-five years ago, I went on a trip around Europe. I was living in Canada at the time and this was my first big holiday by myself, so it was a Big Deal. The trip brought its own set of challenges and experiences, most of them positive, as well as some marvellous memories.

One of the places I visited was the valley of Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland. I stayed there for a couple of nights, lulled to sleep by the sounds of the nearby waterfall and the gentle chime of cowbells. It was an extraordinarily beautiful place, and I felt the spectacular landscape had a fairy-tale quality quite unlike anywhere else I’d been before. While I was there, I also took the cog railway up to the top of the Jungfrau mountain, taking photographs of the scenery along the way.

Ascending the Jungfrau

Ascending the Jungfrau

What I didn’t know at the time was that J.R.R Tolkien had visited the same valley in 1911, and was so taken by its beauty that he used it as the basis for Rivendell, home to Elrond and the Elves. (Apparently, on the same trip, he also picked up an illustration that inspired his description of Gandalf.) If you look at Tolkien’s painting of Rivendell (which I don’t have permission to reproduce here, so here’s a link), you can see the similarities between his fantasy world and the real one.

The glacier on top of the Jungfrau - the original Pass of Carahdras?

The glacier on top of the Jungfrau – the original Pass of Carahdras?

I recently wrote a post about the landscape that had inspired my own book, Oak and Mist. Though not quite as striking as the Lauterbrunnen valley and its towering mountains, the park near my childhood home holds both beauty and memory for me, making it the perfect starting point for my story. And this is one of the things I love about writing fantasy – blending the real world with the one I create.

The valley seen from the lower slopes of the Jungfrau

The valley seen from the lower slopes of the Jungfrau – look familiar?

I know you can visit Hobbiton and some of the other locations for the LOTR movies in New Zealand, and that they are spectacular. However, to walk through the actual landscape that inspired Tolkien to create Middle-Earth is quite something as well (even if I didn’t realise it at the time) 🙂

So how about you? Has your work been inspired by real places you’ve visited or lived in? Or have you walked in the footsteps of your literary heroes?


You can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Wednesday Wander Revisited (on a Thursday) – Surfing Santa Cruz

How has another week passed already? Time is very strange of late; it stretches and shrinks, some days feeling endless, others over almost as soon as they begin. When I get asked what day it is, I often have to take a moment to think, the sameness of lockdown life making it hard to remember at times. That, I suppose, is the long way of me explaining why I’m revisiting another Wednesday Wander on Thursday (though I do think it might still be Wednesday somewhere, just for a few minutes more). Anyway, this week I was in the mood for a bit of fresh air and saltwater, so decided to visit Santa Cruz, California. Surfs up!

IMG_0366I am married to a man who loves to surf so, when we visited California last year, we spent a fair bit of time looking at beaches, watching the waves roll in. Not so bad a way to pass the time, really. We drove south from San Francisco to Cambria, and a stop at Santa Cruz was a definite highlight.

IMG_0369After all, this is the place where, in 1885, three Hawaiian princes surfed the entrance to the San Mateo river, on redwood boards they’d ordered from a local lumber yard. It was the introduction of surfing to the U.S. mainland and the rest, as they say, is history.

IMG_0382These days the waves still break, rolling and blue, and the surfers still come to surf, though the fibreglass boards they ride are a world away from the floating redwoods of Hawaiian royalty.

IMG_0374And yet, the spirit remains the same. To capture, for a moment, how it feels to fly, or to be a dolphin – to be one with the ocean. To honour the waves, and be free.

Thank you for joining me on another Wednesday Wander – see you next time!

Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Wednesday Wander Revisited – Rocher De La Vierge, Biarritz

Another Wednesday, another Wander post revisited. While we still can’t travel (or have to quarantine if we do), it’s nice to look back at places I’ve been, as well as consider places I’d like to go once things go back to whatever normal is going to be. This week I’m wandering to Biarritz, somewhere I visited a few years ago and absolutely loved – the colours of the sea and sky, the rocks and waves, the good food and friendly people. I’ll definitely go back there again, one day…

Last summer, I was fortunate enough to spend some time in Biarritz, located on the French coast. I absolutely loved it – the light, the water, the people, the food – it was just wonderful. I’ve written about it here and here, but for today’s Wander I’m going to go back to the town’s origins as a fishing village, before Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie made it such a fashionable place to be.

For centuries, the principal industry in Biarritz was whaling. It wasn’t until the 18th century that it became known as a town for bathing, and the 19th century when it became fashionable due to the patronage of the Empress.

Nowadays, there are splendid hotels and a casino along the water’s edge but, if you wander a little further along the beach, you come to the old fishing village and harbour, the water clear turquoise against curving ochre rocks.

The old harbour walls remain and are used today – we spent a few minutes there watching a group of men launching a boat into the water. In the mid 1800s, Napoleon III decided he would like to build a large anchor point and sea-wall, connecting a nearby rock to the coastline. A wooden walkway was built between the two, and a statue of the Virgin Mary was placed on top of the rock to watch over the whalers as they returned to harbour.

The sea can get ferocious in these parts, however, and in the 1880s the wooden walkway was replaced by a metal bridge attributed to Gustav Eiffel (known for a rather more famous metal structure bearing his name). Today you can walk out to the rock and take in the glorious views, past archways of stone over dark blue water, sea birds wheeling overhead.

The day we went was warm and hazy, the water calm, though we had heard that the waves can splash as high as the footbridge on more stormy days.  Also, I think I may have found my dream house…

The Rocher De La Vierge is easily accessed via the coastal walk that runs along the main beach at Biarritz, past the Casino and town centre and leading to the excellent Aquarium. The views looking back are beautiful, as are those beyond, and the walk itself is quite gentle – I highly recommend it.

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Wednesday Wander – Times Square and Rockefeller Plaza, New York

It’s Wednesday, and time for another wander. I’m continuing with our recent trip to New York – apologies for the number of posts but there was just so much to see, as we crammed in as much as we could in the few days we had! This week, I’m wandering to Times Square and Rockefeller Plaza.

I have to admit that Times Square isn’t really my kind of place. A bit too frantic, a bit too touristy. But, at the same time, there is a kind of intensity to the neon insanity and towering structures, and I do believe that it’s somewhere you need to see when you visit New York, even if you just wander through.

Times Square is located at the intersection of 42nd and 7th, and was originally called Long Acre Square, after the original in London. Originally the location for William H. Vanderbilt’s American Horse Exchange, in the late 1800s the area was seen as a prime spot for advertising and, when the New York Times building was completed in 1905, the name of the square was changed to reflect the newest tenant. The New York Times eventually moved on to another location, but before they did so they started the tradition of the New Year’s Eve spectacular, which continues to this day.

The advertising and screens around the square are almost overwhelming, content scrolling through and changing every moment, flashing lights and bright colours competing for attention, like some sort of dystopian future city. It was fun to experience for a little while, but we didn’t stay too long, as we had other places to see.

Continuing our wander, we headed towards Rockefeller Plaza, and the famous Top of The Rock observation deck, which we’d been told was the best spot to see the views. However, when we got there, the deck was clouded in – we were told we could take the trip up but there was no guarantee we’d see anything. As it was quite expensive, and the gorgeous girl wasn’t too keen on either the long elevator ride or the height, I opted to stay with her while hubby went up and took his chances with the low cloud. He wasn’t able to see much, but did take a couple of wonderfully atmospheric shots of the Empire State building.

After we went out to see the famous skating rink, with its golden statue of Prometheus (which to me looked as though he’d slipped over while skating). The rink itself is not large – it can hold only 150 skaters and it’s recommended that you book tickets in advance.

We stood at the edge among the flags of the world and watched skaters spin on the ice, dark against the pristine white. Wisdom watched from the main entrance above, another of the many examples of wonderful Art Deco works that decorate the Rockefeller Centre, inside and out. Conceived by John D. Rockefeller as a ‘city within a city’, the Rockefeller Centre comprises several landmark building, including the Radio City Music Hall. Built in the 1930’s, it is a wonderful example of the architecture of the time, and is home to many works by famous artists of that period.

Then it was time to wander up to Fifth Avenue, through gardens decorated for Easter with lilies and blossom and eggs, a touch of colour on a gloomy day. (it was tough to get a shot without getting someone else, also taking a photo, in it, as you can see)

Along Fifth Avenue there were more Art Deco wonders to see, such as this doorway featuring the Industries Of The British Empire, gilded against a bronze panel. The sun at the bottom is symbolic of the phrase ‘The sun never sets on the British Empire.’

We continued on and another wonder was revealed, inset between two buildings. The giant statue of Atlas is one of the iconic figures of the Rockefeller Centre, and has even appeared on a US postage stamp. It is extraordinarily impressive to see in real life.The rain was starting to fall in earnest, but we pressed on, heading north on Fifth Avenue to our next destination, Central Park…

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Wednesday Wander – A Wet Day in New York

It’s Wednesday, and time for another wander. I’ve had my head down these past two weeks working on an edit, so have not had time to do much else at all! However, I like to keep going with my Wanders, especially with my most recent trip still fresh in my mind. So, let’s head back to New York…Our second day in New York dawned a little warmer than the day before, but that just meant rain instead of snow, Manhattan Island still blanketed in cloud. However, it wasn’t going to stop us – we only had a few days in New York and didn’t want to waste any of them!

The gorgeous girl, who, like most kids at the moment, is caught up in the squishy craze, wanted to visit Chinatown. We decided, despite the rain, to walk from Soho through Greenwich Village, taking in Little Italy before reaching Chinatown. Soho was filled with lovely boutiques and restaurants, (and I may have stopped in a few of them en route), while Greenwich had lovely old homes and interesting shops, including one which sold only puppies (!) with a puppy play area where you could play with them *squee*

We planned a route via Washington Square Park, with its famous white marble archway built to commemorate the anniversary of the inauguration of George Washington. Constructed in 1892, the arch replaced an earlier wooden one. The park itself was once marshland, but was acquired by the city in 1797, as a place to hold public executions. Later it became a military parade ground, then a park for the wealthy inhabitants of the nineteenth century mansions still lining one side of the park. In the twentieth century it became a haven for protestors and performers, including the beatniks of the 40s and 50s, and the folk musicians of the sixties. Nowadays it’s a community park which holds regular events – they were setting up for one while we were there, as you can see from my photo.

Not far from Washington Square is the Electric Lady studios, which my husband was keen to see. In 1968, Jimi Hendrix and his manager bought the premises, which had been a nightclub, and turned it into a professional recording studio. It has hosted many famous musicians including Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Wonder and David Bowie, and, in more recent years, Adele, Lana Del Rey, The Kills and Daft Punk. It’s now the oldest operating recording studio in New York City.

As you can see, the weather hadn’t improved much, but we pressed on. I was fascinated by the zig-zagging fire escapes on the old apartment buildingsas we wound our way through Manhattan to Little Italy. The streets smelled of garlic and cooking and sweets, and were still decorated for Easter.

The interesting thing about Little Italy and Chinatown is that they exist right next to each other, so you can walk down one street lined with Italian cafes and market stalls, yet when you turn the corner you’re surrounded by the spicy smells of Chinese food, bright neon on the buildings. I really enjoyed it, and wished the weather had been better. As it was, we were keen to get inside, eating lunch at a Chinese restaurant and then spending a little bit of time searching for squishies, which was a success! The gorgeous girl got quite a haul, so was very pleased with her day out.

As we headed back up to midtown, the rain finally started to ease, giving us hope the next day might be a bit brighter. I snapped this last image of a wonderful Art Deco building (of which there are so many in New York). I loved the shapes it made, the lines and shadows like an ancient ziggurat.

And then it was back to our hotel for dinner and a rest. We had another big day planned for tomorrow…

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me! See you next time.


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Wednesday Wander – Ground Zero

We had to go there. It didn’t seem right to be in New York and not visit the site of an event which has shaped the modern city, and much of the world, since it happened. And so this week my Wednesday Wander is to Ground Zero, the site of the World Trade Centre attacks in New York.

I don’t think there are many of us who were alive at the time who don’t remember where they were on September 11, 2001, when those first terrible images of planes crashing into the World Trade Centre appeared on the television. It was an unprecedented moment, and one where the world changed forever. It was also an event where over 3000 people lost their lives, so it seemed appropriate that we go and pay our respects.

The gorgeous girl knew what had happened that day, though her exposure to images of the event has been very limited. So, after our trip to the Statue of Liberty, and a stop to see the Mighty Girl facing down the Charging Bull on Wall Street, we made our way to the memorial, on the site of the twin towers.

It is an extraordinary place to visit, and you can’t help but imagine how it must have been that day, the horrors that took place there. Yet, for all that, it is a place of overwhelming sorrow and peace, rather than anger and pain.

The footprint of both towers has been retained, marked by spectacular water features, the endlessly falling water marking the outlines of where the towers stood. Around the edges are the names of every single person who died there. We took a moment to read a few, to remember them as people who were just at work, or taking a routine flight cross-country, when disaster struck.

The gorgeous girl and I sat together for a little while, watching people walk around in the pale sunshine. ‘This is a sad place,’ she said, and I hugged her and agreed. It felt as though it was time to go. But, on our way out, we stopped to take a closer look at an extraordinary structure in one corner of the square.

This is the Oculus, the most expensive train station in the world, built to replace the World Trade Centre station which was destroyed in the attack. It is a building that has apparently divided New Yorkers, with some loving it and others hating it. To me, it felt triumphant, like some sort of fantastic bird rising from the ashes of sorrow. Inside it was spectacular, like a bright vision of the future. Quite appropriate, in such a place.

Thank you for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Wednesday Wander – Casa Batllo, Barcelona

I know, I know. You thought I was going to continue with my epic trip from last month. And, I am, definitely. There’s still so much to see in New York, from Rockefeller Plaza to the Chrysler building, Central Park to the Art Deco architecture of Fifth Avenue. Plus all the other places we visited…

But this week my mind has wandered to Barcelona, and an architectural masterpiece by one of my favourite architects, Antoni Gaudi.

I was last in Barcelona a couple of years ago. The weather was lovely while we were there, not too hot and perfect for walking around the city, which we did every day. I made sure to go and see as much of Gaudi’s work as I could, as I’d missed some on my previous visit, so we took the train up to Parc Guell, marvelled at the twisted spires of Sagrada Familia, and pondered the construction complexities of Casa Mila.

Not far from Casa Mila, on the Passeig de Gracia, is Casa Batllo or, as the locals call it, Casa Del Ossos, the house of bones. Looking at the extraordinarily intricate facade, one can see why – vaguely skeletal pillars hold curving window frames, while balconies look like the skulls of some strange sea creature, dried out in the sun.

Gaudi worked with colour and fantastical form, and I think this house is probably one of the best examples of his particular genius. The humped roof with scaled tiles was designed to evoke the idea of a dragon, with scaled tiles and a knobbly spine. There is a theory that the turret signifies the lance of St George, the patron saint of Catalonia, plunged into the back of the dragon.

The house was created in 1904 for the Batllo family, who commissioned Gaudi to design and build a new home for them. However, Gaudi convinced them that the existing building on the site, built in 1877, could simply be renovated instead. The Batllo family lived there until the 1950s, when the house was purchased by an insurance company and used as offices. It has since been renovated and restored, and is now open to the public (through ticket purchase) for tours and private event hire.

It was a thrill for me to see the house – what a joy it must have been to live there, in this wonderful ornate city where even the pavements are etched with flowers. Barcelona is one of my favourite places, and the art and architecture are a big part of the reason why.

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next week, when we head back to America again…


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Wednesday Wander – Statue of Liberty, USA

I recently returned from the most wonderful trip. I summed it up on Instagram as follows: seven cities + six hotels + five states + four flights + three suitcases + two countries = one amazing trip! But it was so much more than that. Our whirlwind two weeks travelling from New York to Toronto to Boston and beyond took in some amazing sights – some expected, others less so. As you can imagine, I have loads of Wednesday Wanders to write. However, I thought I’d start at the beginning…

We arrived in New York to a sunny sixteen-degree day, warm enough to make the interminable queuing at JFK Customs an even less pleasant experience, heat radiating through the long glass windows. It was a pleasure to finally reach our midtown hotel and kick off boots and jumpers, putting long coats aside as we went out for a walk, eyes wide despite the jetlag kicking in.

However, we woke to quite a different city. Overnight the temperature had plunged to minus two degrees, thick snow falling. But we weren’t going to let the weather stop us – we had somewhere we needed to be. I’d purposely booked a Statue of Liberty tour for our first morning, both to get us all out of bed and to make the most of the short time we had in New York. It was high on our list as somewhere we wanted to see, so we were all excited.

We wrapped up warm and, after getting directions from the hotel staff, headed for the subway. That in itself was kind of exciting – the New York subway system is famous, so it was kind of cool that we were riding it. (and yes, I can appreciate that, if you have to do it regularly, it’s not quite the same thrill). We emerged at Battery Park to a winter wonderland, snow still falling.

Battery Park, at the southernmost tip of Manhattan, is named for the artillery batteries that have lined the shore since the eighteenth century. Four of the five original battery buildings still remain, including one in the park itself, and we were to meet our guide there. She was a wonderfully warm Puerto Rican lady, who immediately made our small group feel at ease before herding us all onto the ferry which would take us out to the statue.

We were still starry-eyed about being in New York, and, despite the weather, stayed outside to watch one of the most famous skylines in the world as we pulled away from the dock. I can’t think of another city (Paris, maybe?) that has so permeated human consciousness, featuring in books and films and music, on television and across popular culture; there is something quite magical about being there and seeing it for yourself.

As we neared the Statue of Liberty, we crossed the state line from New York into New Jersey. The statue loomed closer, holding her torch high, her oxidised copper robes green against the pale sky. The statue is so familiar as a symbol of liberty and freedom, that once again it’s quite something to see it in person. Gifted to the US by the French as a monument to US independence, the statue was dedicated in 1886, after years of fundraising by both countries to bring her to what was then called Bedloe’s Island. Made of copper and supported by an iron frame, the statue was designed by French sculptor Frederic August Bartholdi, and constructed by Gustave Eiffel. The figure of Liberty represents Libertas, a Roman goddess, with a broken chain at her feet. She holds the torch above her head with her right hand, and in her left hand she holds a tabula ansata inscribed with Roman numerals, JULY IV MDCCLXXVI, the date of the US Declaration of Independence.

When the statue was first constructed she gleamed, her copper bright. However, it only took a few years for it to oxidise to the familiar green we know today. The cost to restore the copper finish would be astronomical and, due to the statue’s exposed position, would only last a few years, so it has been left as is. Over the years the elements have played havoc with the fabric of the statue and, in 1984, it was closed to visitors for major repair and restoration works, opening again in 1986. The original torch was also replaced, due to corrosion, and is now displayed inside the museum entrance, giving visitors an idea of the extraordinary scale of the statue. The new torch, rather than containing a light, has been gilded with 24 carat gold and is lit by floodlights at night.

The Statue of Liberty museum, housed beneath the statue pedestal, is interesting and well-presented. It houses exhibits including a lifesize replica of the statue’s face and foot, shaped metal pieces from the original Eiffel frame, and a plaque commemorating Emma Lazarus’s famous sonnet, The New Colossus, which contains the oft-quoted line ‘Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free .‘

The pedestal itself was closed to visitors after the September 11 attacks, and only re-opened in 2004. It was once possible to ascend to the crown but, since 2001, this access has also been limited or closed off, due to safety concerns. On the day we visited the pedestal had been closed early on, due to the weather, but it re-opened in time for us to go inside. There are a LOT of stairs and catching the single lift, as you can imagine, involves a bit of waiting. However, it’s worth it to take in the fantastic 360-degree views. You can also view the statue interior through the glass ceiling, which was fascinating and kind of terrifying. To be honest, even if it was still possible to go up in the crown, I don’t think I could have done it!

I realise I’ve only scratched the surface of the history of this fascinating place, rightly designated a Unesco World Heritage site in 1984. However, this is a blog, not a novel, and so I’ll end this Wednesday Wander here. Next stop, Ellis Island…


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