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.

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 Revisited – Highgate Cemetery

Last week I reposted one of my Wednesday Wander posts, in response to the fact that any sort of non-essential travel still looks to be some time away for most of us. I’ve decided to keep going with it – it’s fun to imagine, to dream of being spirited away somewhere else, especially when things are so uncertain.

This week, I’m reposting my trip to Highgate Cemetery, London. Even though it’s written about a location close to where I live, it’s my most popular Wander post. To be fair, it is a rather spectacular place. I went with my mum for her birthday a couple of years ago and we both found it fascinating. The cemetery is divided into two halves – one is private and can only be visited with a guide, whereas the other half is open to the public. We visited both sides and, afterwards, took a wander into Highgate itself, where we happened upon a memorial to one of the cemeteries more recent (and sorely-missed) inhabitants…

It’s Wednesday, and it’s time to wander once more. This week I’m heading to a rather unusual attraction in London, a place one could describe as the ‘dead centre’ of town. This is Highgate Cemetery.

Up until the 1830’s, burial in London was a somewhat haphazard affair, with burial grounds crammed into small spaces, highly unsanitary in a large city with a growing population. In 1836, in response to the growing health crisis, Parliament passed an act creating the London Cemetery Company. Land was set aside to create seven new cemeteries, one of which was Highgate.

Opened in 1839, Highgate Cemetery was created after the acquisition of seventeen acres of private land, set on a steep hillside overlooking the city. Its elevated position encouraged the wealthy to invest, as did the effort expended on exotic formal planting and Gothic architecture. Burial rights were granted for either a limited period or in perpetuity, and the first burial there was of Elizabeth Jackson, aged 36.

The cemetery became so popular that a second site across the road from the original, known as the East Cemetery, was opened in 1860. Many famous people chose to spend their eternity among the trees, including writers, musicians and political figures.

However, after the Second World War the cemetery’s fortunes began to wane and in 1960 the London Cemetery Company was declared bankrupt. The cemetery closed and its future was uncertain, with vandalism and desecration damaging some of the graves. In 1975 The Friends of Highgate Cemetery was formed, work began on repairing and restoring the cemetery, and it was opened to the public once more.

Nowadays you can take tours of the West Cemetery, wandering among the Victorian graves. I went this summer past, and could have spend literally hours there just reading the inscriptions, stories told of lives lived and families intertwined.

However, the West Cemetery can only be viewed by taking a tour, so we booked in and were taken around by an affable and entertaining volunteer, who clearly loved his job. The tour took just over an hour and included the Egyptian Avenue, a passageway containing sixteen vaults accessed by an imposing Egyptian style entrance.

We also visited the Circle of Lebanon, a circular structure of thirty-two vaults created by excavating earth around an ancient Cedar of Lebanon, which had been planted when the grounds belonged to a private house.

The tree towers above the vaults and is a fantastic sight to see, testament to the imagination of the cemetery designers.

Once the tour was finished we went across to the East Cemetery, where you can, for a small entrance fee, wander freely among the graves. (If you take the tour of the West Cemetery, entrance to the East Cemetery is included). There are many famous names there, including George Eliot, Malcolm Maclaren and Douglas Adams. One of the fascinating things about the cemetery is the sheer creative range of funerary architecture, said to be some of the finest in the country. There are graves with faithful hounds, lions, movie reels and even a grand piano, all final statements of those they memorialise, set forever in stone. And each grave holds a story, a life lived.

The cemetery now faces a new threat. Its romantic overgrown look is wonderful for photographs and meandering walks, but the trees and ivy that have sprung up on and around the tombstones are threatening to clog the cemetery entirely, blocking the once fantastic views of the city skyline and damaging some of the graves. There are discussions underway of how best to manage this without losing the atmosphere of the place. For Highgate is still a working cemetery, and burials still take place there. One of the more recent high profile ones is that of the late, wonderful George Michael, who lived only a short walk away. After our tour we ventured up into Highgate village and stood in front of his house, marvelling at the makeshift memorial that had sprung up to the much-loved singer after his untimely death. The photo below is only a fraction of what’s there – as his grave is in a private part of the cemetery, it was to his house that fans came to pay their last respects.

I realise we are only a day out from Halloween, and so perhaps this was an appropriate wander for this week. However, Highgate is not a spooky place – at least, not during the daytime. It is atmospheric, a little melancholy, and certainly peaceful – I enjoyed my visit there immensely.

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

As it turned out, I’d taken so many photos on this trip I had to run a second post – you can find it here…


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, 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 – A Trip To Dragonstone, Part 1

When I was about a year into blogging I started a regular feature called a Wednesday Wander, where I’d write a post about somewhere I’d been (I’ve travelled a bit), share photos, a bit of local knowledge and my own insight into the place. I had to stop doing them, eventually – not due to running out of places, but because other things came up in my life and they were feeling like a bit of a chore. However, they remain some of my most popular posts, and I’m so happy that people enjoyed them 🙂

Now we can’t go anywhere, for the most part, locked into our cities and towns and villages, dreaming of holidays past. In that spirit, I thought I might revive a few of my old Wanders so we can all travel again, albeit virtually for now. I’ve chosen Dragonstone, aka Itzurun Beach in Zumaia, Spain, as my first location – we’re just over a year out from the (disappointing) finale to one of the most popular television shows in history, so it seemed appropriate. However, even if you’re not a fan, sit back, feel the sunshine, and enjoy the wander…

(…and if you want to do a bit more armchair travelling, check out my other Wanders – there are over 100 of them!)

I’ve recently been away, doing a spot of wandering in Basque country. I am a big Game of Thrones fan and so, when I found out that two of the locations used for the show were not too far from where I was staying, I decided to take a look (and dragged the family along with me).

If you’re not a Game of Thrones fan, don’t worry! These locations are spectacular in their own right, and interesting even without their link to the most popular show in the world.

So, this week I am wandering to Dragonstone, otherwise known as Itzurun Beach, Zumaia. (Yes, I did go to the second location as well, but that will be in another post). Located on the rugged north coast of Spain, Itzurun Beach is notable for its spectacular geological formations, as it is part of the longest continuous rock strata in the world. The beautiful layered rock formations are known as ‘flysch’ cliffs, and are completely spectacular.

Zumaia is a lovely town, the streets lined with lowrise apartments. There is also an ancient fortified church, part of the original monastery that founded the town in the 1200s. Itzurun beach is a short walk from the town centre, along a walkway shaded by trees and a stone archway.

As you reach the steps leading down to the beach (also used in the show), you are greeted by a statue of two lions… or are they dragons?

The beach itself is no secret – the day was hot and sunny day when we visited and it was packed, the restaurant overlooking the water heaving with diners, the sand covered in towels and blankets and sunbathers. I tried my best to get shots without people in them, but it was difficult at times.

However, Game of Thrones fans will definitely recognise the cliff face and cave entrance, as well as this interior shot of the cave where they filmed Jon and Danaerys walking back to the light after visiting the Dragonglass mines. The iconic shape of the cliffs that surround Dragonstone itself are there too, though with a hotel at the top instead of a castle of stone.

And so what was it like to wander in the footsteps of the Targaryens? The rocks were beautiful, the layers of colour and rippling shapes like nothing I’ve seen. A young woman in a long black dress with flowing silver grey hair posed at the entrance to one cave, counterpoint to the many bikini-clad beach goers. Nearby a small child screamed, and I heard the flap of fabric as a towel was shaken out… or was it wings? Overhead sea birds soared, the waves crashing on the ancient stones, wind blowing cooler from the North as the tide came in.

Just to give you an idea of the scale of the cliffs and cave entrance

We spent a couple of hours there, playing in the waves, wandering around the rock formations and lying in the sun. As we left, we headed up the stark grey steps used as the entrance to Dragonstone on the show and I could see why the location was so appealing, so much that they needed to create the magic of Dragonstone already in place.

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

(And next time won’t be too far away – I’m hoping to post about San Juan de Gatzelugtxe, otherwise known as the second location for Dragonstone, before the end of the week.)


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, 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.

Back From A Break

Hey everyone!

It’s been a few months. Well, almost nine months to the day, to be exact, since I went on my break. I’ve missed you all and, I must say, it’s nice to be back. However, I think things will be slightly different this time. One of the things that caused me to take a blogging break was the pressure of having a weekly commitment – my Wednesday Wander. While I loved writing and researching the posts, and they’ve been very popular, coming up with one every week as well as sorting and editing photos started to feel like a chore. So, while I’m still travelling and seeing new places, I won’t be posting about them every Wednesday, just every once in a while. However, I’ll still be doing all my other usual rambling, as well as sharing writing stuff and whatever else comes to mind 🙂

But the main reason I took a break was that I’ve been working on another book. Several books, if I’m honest. You may already be familiar with my Ambeth YA series or A Thousand Rooms, my standalone women’s contemporary fiction novel. These have all been independently published – I’ve worked with beta readers and editors and cover designers to make them as professional and high quality as possible, and the feedback I’ve received seems to show I’m hitting the mark. However, as much as I enjoy being an indie and the creative control that comes with it, I’ve also been pursuing a dream to be traditionally published alongside my indie works.

To that end, I decided to devote several months to a book I completed last year, called The Last Raven. It’s a book about vampires, so perhaps not so red-hot in the market at the moment. Nonetheless, I had some interest last year from two publishers, as well as a couple of near-misses with agents. Both publishers initially declined but have invited me to re-submit with changes, offering valuable feedback regarding structure, as well as letting me know what they liked about the story (a lot, as it turns out).

So I took my story and pulled it apart, turned it inside out, chopped and changed the structure, increasing the level of detail and building pace. To be fair, it needed it. The story was already good, but spending three months restructuring has taken it to the next level. It’s been a fantastic learning process for me as a writer, and I’m looking forward to sharing some of the insights I’ve learned on the blog. I also had a very promising meeting with an agent earlier this year – I’d initially approached her to assess my submission package, something you can do through the Bloomsbury Writers & Artists website. I wanted to know whether it was worth my going through the submission process again with the revised version of Last Raven, and whether there would be a market for it. As it turned out, she loved what she read and requested the full manuscript! It was a thrilling and enjoyable meeting for a lot of reasons – now I’m just waiting to hear what she thinks (and trying not to refresh my email every five minutes!)

As for the other books I’m working on, I have another YA series taking shape, as well as a non-fiction book about a health issue I encountered several years ago. Basically, after a season of editing, I’m back writing again. And so it seems as good a time as any to get back to blogging, too. After all, I don’t think I’d be the writer I am without this blog and all you lovely people out there.

When I started this blog back in 2014, it was originally going to be about my journey in writing, and what I learned along the way. Since then it’s grown and developed to become much more than that, chronicling my journey through the world. But my writing journey is still ongoing, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you again.

xx


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…


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.

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Wednesday Wander – Ellis Island, New York

There is something quite magical, even on a cold and snowy day, about sailing the narrow strip of water past the Statue of Liberty to Ellis Island, with Manhattan in all its glory to the right. It must have been an incredibly exciting, emotional sight for the more than twelve million immigrants who arrived in New York City between 1892 and 1954. However, their journey wasn’t quite over – they still had to pass through immigration which, in those days, meant stopping at nearby Ellis Island.

Ellis Island, named for its eighteenth century owner, Samuel Ellis, was for 62 years the entry point for migrants coming across the Atlantic to the United States. After voyages that could, in some cases, take months, each weary traveller had to carry their possessions through the echoing halls, be examined and questioned and sorted before being allowed access to the tantalisingly close mainland. It must have been heartbreaking for those who had travelled all that distance, leaving all they loved behind, to be turned away almost at the gates, so to speak, the glittering city so close by denying them entry for whatever reason they deemed fair. Yet for all that, Ellis Island was not the haunted place I imagined it to be before I visited – rather, the story there seems to be one of success, of the countless migrants who chose to chase the American dream, many of them finding success and prosperity enough to send for their extended families.

The current buildings on Ellis Island were opened in 1900, after a fire destroyed the original timber buildings in 1897, only five years after they’d been built. Immigration records dating back to 1855 were also lost in the fire, and for several years, while the new buildings were being constructed, the Barge Office at nearby Battery Park was used as the processing station for new arrivals. Once the new buildings were in place, immigrants once again had to stop at the island before being allowed entry to the United States. New arrivals were asked 29 questions by officials, including their name, occupation, and how much money they had, as they were expected to have enough to support themselves. Anyone with visible illnesses or poor health was sent home or held in the nearby hospital, even if the rest of their family had been approved to enter the United States.

In the vaulted Great Hall, migrants were checked for a variety of conditions (including one harrowing check which involved scraping the eyeball with a metal hook!), then sorted into sections to be sent their separate ways. On the day we visited, the hall was almost deserted – it was hard to imagine how noisy it must have been when full, or how many different languages once echoed beneath its lofty ceiling.

In some ways, the Hall itself was a symbol of the American dream. Our guide told us that the beautiful tiles lining the ceiling and floors were made by a family who had passed through the hall themselves only a few years earlier, bringing their expertise in tilemaking from the old world to the new, and finding such success that their products were soon in demand across the country, making them millionaires.

Across the water from the arrivals hall are the hospital and quarantine buildings, which have not yet been restored. It is possible to tour them, though, arranged through prior booking and while wearing a hard hat. We chose not to do so, instead following our guide out to where a curving wall of steel bore the names of all those recorded as having passed through the island to a new life in America.

The city gleamed in the distance, Liberty holding her torch to guide weary travellers with her promise of freedom and justice for all. It was an extraordinary place, with stories enough to fill several libraries, I would imagine. I’m glad I got to see it.

Thank you for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me! See you all next time…


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