What is a weekend?

Friday, July 24, 2015

I've never been a massive television person. Gossip Girl was the first show I ever watched from start to finish and I'll purchase the odd month of Netflix when a new OITNB season rolls out or to re-watch episodes of Skins or to cry about how Sherlock is never going to come back...but other than those, nothing's ever really captured my attention enough to be fussed with waiting by a television for 7pm.

And then Downton Abbey happened.

I had some friends on Facebook talk about "this new British show" a few years back and figured I'd give it a go. I like England, I like history - why not.

And I was hooked. HOOKED, I say! I immediately purchased the entire season on iTunes, bought the DVD sets from Target, and when a new season was airing in the UK I tricked my computer into thinking it was in London so I could watch the catch-up episodes on the ITV player since it hadn't been released in the states yet. (Sorry) I managed to lasso my family into the obsession and we spend Sunday evenings in the Autumn gasping to each other over the phone "Have you watched the new episode?!? I can't believe it!"

Although the show is set in Yorkshire, the filming locations are scattered across England and certain areas like the kitchens are a set built for the show, but most of the interiors and the unmistakable castle exterior is all filmed at Highclere in Berkshire County. Otherwise known as the Royal County, as Windor Castle is located in the eastern bit!

Naturally, when I moved to England getting a glimpse of the real Downton Abbey was firm on my radar. Easier said than done. Unless you live near Newbury and have a car, visiting Highclere Castle is no easy feat. Between its remote location, filming, and the family living there, opening dates and ticket availability are far and few between. They open up the online portal to announce opening dates and ticket sales randomly throughout the year and sell out months in advance. I had read that they were opening their doors around Christmas time and when I checked the website the day after the portal was opened, they were all booked up. The summer season tickets usually go on sale early in the year, I purchased mine in February and my visit was in July. So if you're a diehard DA fan or just interested in a visit, I would keep your eyes glued to the website. They do offer walk-up tickets, and my taxi driver advised me that they rarely turn anyone away, so if you're in the area it could be worth a gamble.

Enough of me rambling...let's get to the good stuff! After rolling up the mile-long driveway, I was greeted with a familiar view that gave me the smile of an excited 8 year-old.

The family who live there now is comprised of George Herbert, the 8th Earl of Carnarvon and godson of Queen Elizabeth II (casual) and his wife, Lady Carnarvon who also runs a blog along with their children and a number of adorable pets. The Earl inherited the castle along with their wealth from their ancestors who pillaged discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun, and their home now hosts Egyptian artefacts, camera crews, weddings, and visitors. Real life Downton Abbey family, right there.

The gardens include a meticulously manicured "secret garden," a colourful greenhouse, rows of lavender, a wildflower field, roses galore, rows of walnut trees, and much more! Well worth spending time exploring all of these.

You can purchase tickets for the whole shebang - castle, gardens, exhibition; or for a individual area/combination. Photos aren't permitted inside the house, but I can promise you it is just as stunning as it is on the show! I was giggling at seeing a familiar room like Lady Mary's dotted with contemporary magazines and books like Tatler and John Grisham. While they definitely cash in on the Downton Abbey aspect of the home, the focus is definitely more on the family and castle history. Family photos in frames are scattered around just like any other home, these just happen to include people like the Queen.

While there is a cafe and spot for afternoon tea on the premises, the favoured way of eating here was clear. Picnic all the way!

Click HERE for opening times, admission prices, public open dates, and tickets! The website also helps out in planning your visit regardless of your transport options.

For example, from Bristol, my route was: Train to Reading followed by a train to Newbury and hopping in one of the taxis that are lined up outside the station. The ride to and from the castle is about 15 minutes and will run you about £16 one-way. Not bad if split between friends, but slightly painful when traveling solo like I did. If you're lucky like I was however, you'll snag Paul as your driver. Paul was cheerful, talkative, and knew all sorts of fun historical facts about Newbury and Highclere.

Not an easy place to get to, but an amazing day out!

(Spirit Animal)

Are you a Downton Abbey fan?

Dachau Concentration Camp.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A German word meaning "coming to terms with the past" This word describes the attempt to analyze, digest and learn to live with the past, in particularly concerning the Holocaust

Well, this isn't going to be the most uplifting or picture-heavy post. While in Munich, Rach and I agreed that even though we felt a bit squeamish at the idea  - visiting a concentration camp memorial site was a once in a lifetime opportunity that was too important to pass on. I didn't know anything specifically about Dachau before visiting, and honestly I'm glad I saved the YouTube searching for when I returned home, because I don't know if I could have stomached it otherwise. 

Taking the S2 train from Munich Hauptbahnhof in the direction of Dachau/Petershausen brings you into the town in about 25 minutes. The 726 bus from the train station is clearly marked as the transport to the site and it drops you directly at the foot of the memorial in 15 mins.

The entrance includes the usual visitor's centre type of building along with a cafe and gift shop, mostly full of history books and other things for sale in order to keep the preservation of the memorial going. 

You walk along a while-dirt road and there are modest signs dotted along the edges before reaching the gates.

"Arbeit macht frei" meaning "Work makes you free" was the slogan placed at a number of concentration camps, including Auschwitz.

In 1933, Dachau was the first of the concentration camps established by the Nazis and set the precedent for those that followed. Originally set up as a work camp for political prisoners for forced labour, it grew as the location for imprisonment, extermination, and conducting medial experiments. The majority of the prisoners were men, as women weren't moved into Dachau until August 1944. 

On the 14th of April 1945, Heinrich Himmler knowing defeat was inevitable, ordered the destruction of evidence of the camps including the extermination of remaining prisoners, saying "No prisoners shall be allowed to fall into the hands of the enemy alive". The days that followed saw the deaths of thousands of prisoners from disease, starvation, and exhaustion during death marches that occurred during the evacuation. Dachau was liberated on April 29, 1945 by American forces. In early May of 1945 they also liberated the prisoners sent on the death march, although they found over 30 train carriages full of deceased prisoners. 

There are over 32,000 documented deaths recorded at Dachau. Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, emigrants, and many more are included in those numbers. With thousands of undocumented deaths, we will never really know the number of people murdered at Dachau.

I didn't take many photos at the memorial because it just felt really...odd to do so. There were of course a handful of people taking selfies and even photos of the ovens and gas chambers - it made me feel sick to even go inside the building so it really blows my mind that people thought it was appropriate to take photos. Like...what? Stupid fellow tourist behaviour aside, Dachau is a well-done memorial and a humbling reminder of our history. It's by no means a "fun" place to visit, but an important one. 

"Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.
George Santayana

Lessons Learned in Munich.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

I've loved hashing out these pictures and stories from our Euro-romp, but I was getting a little tired of the repetitive posting style of "So we did this, and then we did this, and then we did this..." Neither of us had been to Germany before, save the Frankfurt airport once, so Munich was a whirlwind of cultural differences and surprises around every corner.

1. Remember how we were kinda freaked out by all the WWII Nazi remnants in Salzburg? Enter, Munich - the birthplace of the Nazi party and former home of Hitler. I kept my camera in my bag an unusual amount whilst in Munich because, well, I just flat out felt weird about taking photos of where Hitler used to strut around. I know that coming to terms with history and moving on through it is part of how we progress as a society, and as Dumbledore wisely said "Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself," we just had a hard time saying things like "OOOh I know Nazis used to have speeches here, but quick - take a cute photo of me!"

2. Surprise! Nudity is legal in some parts of Munich. On our first evening, we made our way to the English Gardens after reading many recommendations to do so. Upon our arrival, we "oohed" and "aahed" at the vast landscape of greenery and streaming rivers in front of us. I pulled my camera out of my bag just as Rach slowed her pace and said something along the lines of "Uhh...I think that guy is naked" Sure enough, there was a man laying in the buff not too far from our path. Trying to stifle our giggles, we picked up our speed and kept going. Until...we saw another man in the nude..and another...and another... My camera went firmly back in my bag and we distracted ourselves from the man who decided to stand up fully naked about 6 feet away from us by staring at the dogs playing off in the distance. Munich gave public nudity in six designated areas the green light back in 2014, and we just happened to accidentally walk straight through one. Fully clothed, might I add.

The English Gardens are larger than NYC's Central Park and have surfers, a Japanese tea house, beer gardens (naturally), a Chinese Tower, biking and walking paths, and an open air theatre. 

Nearby Hofgarten, no naked people spotted.

3. "Everything we see is a LIE!!!" - Rach. Jokes aside, Munich was 82% destroyed during WWII, so while everything looks pretty old, the buildings themselves are mostly from the 1970s. Along with the other big German cities, they took the approach to rebuilding from a city-wide vote: we can either rebuild the city as it was, or go in a new, modern direction. While Berlin opted for new and modern, Munich chose to go back to how it was. The one positive thing that the Nazis ever did for Munich was documenting every inch of the city with photographs when they realised that war was imminent, giving the citizens a perfect image of what to build. 

4. Going on some sort of tour will give you insight into all the Easter eggs hidden around every corner. As we were at the end of our holiday (and scraping the bottom of our wallets) we opted for the Sandeman's free walking tour on our second morning in the city. The 3-hour tour completely flew by and we learned so many things that we completely passed by without blinking an eye the previous day. Our guide pointed out the best places for sp√§etzle (SPOILER ALERT: YUM), cannon balls nestled in church roofs, farmer's markets, old myths and legends, Oktoberfest facts, and led us straight to the Michael Jackson memorial...which is a thing across from the hotel he used to stay at.

Shoutout to Rach for capturing this one

5. Seeing a city from above is still my favourite thing. We went up the new town hall in Marienplatz, the city's main square since the beginning, for for these views. You can also go up St. Peter's Church - third photo down with the pointy spire - but it'll cost you 299 steps of walking, whereas town hall includes an elevator. Both are only a euro or two for entrance, St. Peter's is the only fully panoramic viewing tower, as town hall's had a column around the back keeping you from making a full circle.

Frauenkirche, or Church of our Lady where legend has it the builder made a deal with the devil where the devil would agree to finance the church on the basis that no windows were built to celebrate "darkness". The builder agreed, but tricked the devil by positioning columns in front of the windows so he couldn't see them from where he stood in the foyer. Once the church was already consecrated, the devil realised he had been fooled and could not enter the church. Furiously, he stomped his foot into the ground and a black footprint remains in the stone and is one of the few parts of the church to survive bombing during WWII. Historians can't confirm nor deny that he was a size 9 in Converse All Stars.

6. I could survive on pretzels and beer. Yep.

What surprises have you had from a city?

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