A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Ceci's Cre

Dun Huang - The Gateway on the Silk Road

Valentina, Valentina's Sister, Me

sunny 40 °C

This is the story of a group of young girls venturing to enjoy the most sumptuous gastronomy and to see the most spectacular desert formations.
Introducing the protagonists:
Valentina!!!
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Unique Traits
- loves to play games on Ipad/Ipod/anything that starts with I
- -never tired during the whole trip – hyper-energetic
- takes sinister pleasure in catching peccadillos in my Chinese and claims to have a large collection that she threatens to share with our mutual friends

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Lu Lu
- cousin to Valentina
- Older than us, has already started work, but looks and acts naturally youthful
- Always wins the upper edge in the friendly banter with Valentina, has a whole arsenal of witty comebacks

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Me
- honestly, I realized that I have a propensity for uniqueness
- can pull off an adorable appearance to make people accept my small offenses
- adventurous, daring, intrepid except when it comes to eating funny things…

Chaperones
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Valentina’s Daddy
- friend to my daddy
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Liu Shu Shu
- colleague to Valentina’s Daddy

Itinerary
Day 1 Friday afternoon July 14

I pledged to my team leader and supervisors the day before that I would be working from home on Friday, because I had a flight to catch in the afternoon.

Around 5pm, Valentina and I arrived at the new #3 terminal of the Beijing Airport, checked in speedily, and bought some magazines for the short wait before take-off. We were scared for a second when the status update screen showed every single flight as delayed. But our fear was quickly assuaged by the airline employees, who told us that there were heavy rain in the South causing flight delays. Since we were flying to the West, our flight should be on time.

Little could we foresee that this “should be” would surely and completely turn into a false hypothesis. Beijing had a torrential shower the night before, whose intensity trickled into the next evening. With weather forecasts of shower in Beijing, our flight was met with the same fate as the others. We waited and waited, refusing to eat the comfort meals that the apologetic flight attendants were handing out. Eventually hunger took over and made us submit to the unfortunate situation. At 9:30pm, we finally heard the coveted announcement that our flight commenced boarding. Happily, we embarked on our first leg of the air travel from Beijing to Lanzhou (famous for their handmade noodles). When we laid over in Lanzhou, we sat in the waiting room for another hour until we took off once more, this time to our destination – Dun Huang. At 2:30am, 4 hours behind schedule, we hit the sack in a five-star hotel that Valentina’s Dad had reserved for us.
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The deserted airport of Dun Huang

Saturday, July 15
After sleeping for about 5 hours, we felt physically unprepared but psychologically excited for the day's adventurous itinerary. Our tour guide was a mid-thirty, tall and good-humored woman, who has been living in Dun Huang ever since her dad brought her whole family from Xin Jiang to settle here when she was still a child. Valentina, Lulu, and I sat in the spacious Toyota cruiser, dubbed by the locals with the majestic title of "Desert Prince." Valentina's Dad and two other adults rode in another black car, which had trouble catching up to our "Desert Prince" every time we had to cross over some tough terrains.

Dun Huang's most famous for its vast amount of caves filled with elaborate drawings of Buddhas and large Buddha statues, called Mo Gao Ku. The runner-up on the list is Ming Sha Mountain and Yue Ya lake. The tour guide planned for us to visit all of these "top tourist spots" on Sunday, while Saturday was reserved for a ride into the heart of the natural phenomenon - the Ya Dan Landforms.

Though we had been warned of the extreme heat of the deserts in the West, we only began to understand the meaning of "extreme heat" when we stepped out of the air-conditioned car at the entrance of the Ya Dan Landforms. Scorching heat enveloped our entire bodies in an instant. The winds, carrying 40 degrees Celsius of heat, washed over our faces and limbs as if an iron had roved over us. The skin began to burn at the first contact with the blazing sunshine. The short couple of minutes I took to take pictures left me sweating and panting, defenseless against the debilitating heat.

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Sun-kissed smile, hair-pulled messy hair, closer to the desert than I've ever dreamed

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Entrance rock

The Ya Dan Landforms are the children of a 300,000 years of sculpting by nature's windy blows and corrosive breaths. Now, there are hundreds of thousands of sculptures scattered over 3000 square miles. Most of these formations have irregular shapes, but like the constellations in the sky, people's imaginations have given some of the them an anphropomorphic identity. Generally speaking, they are mounds of earth and sand shaped like unfinished cylindrical vases, with lateral layers circling around its body from bottom to the top. Or they can be compared to heaps of hay, except taller and skinner.

To catch people's fantasy and make the wander into the expanse of sandy wilderness more purposeful, our guide stopped the car and led us to take a closer look only at a few selected sites. The most memorable ones were a peacock, a marine fleet, and a monk called Tang Seng looking towards the West.

The Ya Dan Landforms were the most memorable part of this trip, because they were uncovered, unadulterated, unabridged. We saw, smelled, and felt the awe of such a breathtaking phenomenon. The was little to none human intervention - which meant we were closer to the distinguished ecosystem, the desert, than we had ever been.

To relieve our exhaustion from the morning expedition, we were taken to a nice village restaurant, and ate under an umbrella of lush grape vines that formed a shady arch over the dining area.
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Beautiful vines above us as we dine
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The most refreshing green

We went back to our hotel for a brief rest before dinner. I took the opportunity to sit the lobby of this five-star hotel in the desert to practice some sketching. I really need to keep practicing or else my pencils will rust soon.

Dinner venue was recommended by the tour guide. We realized that it was clearly and totally a tourist trap the moment we entered the big hall, lined with four-people wooden tables, with two long tables catering buffet-style dishes standing in the back. To the left, we saw a small stage, which would later bring forth the "authentic" Dun Huang dancing. Though dinner was not very delicious, we were not discouraged because the night market was waiting for us.
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The "tourist trap"

At the night market saw lots of local produce. The most attractive item in the whole market to me was the locally grown apricots called Li Guang Xing (李广杏).
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Warmth and lights
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I alone stand still in this busy street

It was a pity that we only saw preserved apricots, not the fresh fruits, or else I would have carried 10kg of those succulent delicacies back to Beijing.
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Dun Huang Art

At the end of the market was the food court, with a fountain in the middle surrounded by tables of chattering, drinking, eating groups of tourists and locals. We got a table and ordered the apricot juices, beers, and some skewers. The table was perfect for card games, and the three of us youths began to play a popular card game (斗地主) alongside the three adults. The night crept away in a bewildering mix of sounds, smells, and sights...
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杏皮水- Homemade Apricot Juice

Sunday, July 17
4:00am, I got up from bed and marched into a wake-up shower. Lulu snoozed a bit in bed and sprang up from the tempting sheets to wash up after me.

4:30am, our van played a solo racer down the deserted city streets. Everywhere lit by the headlights, we saw only the patch of asphalt ahead. Our goal was to ride the camels to the summit of the sand mountains to watch the sunrise.

4:45am, we arrived at the gate, standing between the city road and pure desert. We could not beat the crowd. The line stretched for at least 200meters from the entrance. Luckily, our tour guide secretively led us to follow a tourist group, a much faster lane.

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We all had to wear bright orange shoe covers!

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The crowded camel ground in the dark.

We waited for a while in the middle of the camels’ resting ground. Although our sight was shrouded in darkness, we were acutely aware of the presence of thousands of camels kneeling, standing, and ambling around us. I was put in the same “mini caravan” as Valentina and Lulu, while Valentina’s dad and another adult were put into two other separate caravans. The capacity for each caravan was strictly restricted to five. For some administrative reason, we could not be all united but at least I had two companions. No complaints.

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first time on a camel back

As our camels trudged on the sand ridges, we came to see the meandering thread of sillouettes slowly moving ahead of us.

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The sands were silent. The night before dawn was undisturbed except for the howls of a single camel waiting at the base. Gradually, the undulating sand forms began to emerge as the first rays of the sun, diffused across the sky, lifted the inky veil over the whole desert.

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Unfortunately, we did not see the legendary sunrise. But we did have an early start to the day, which allowed us plenty of time to do some other exciting activities, such as sand sledding.

The funny episode of our sand sledding experience happened after we strenuously climbed the ladder to a high point on the sand mountain and found nobody to guide us on how to use the sleds. As resourceful as we were, we decided to push a sled down to test out the path. The result was unexpectedly helpful. The nonchalant owner quickly responded and shouted at the top of her lungs for us to stop pushing down the sleds. Soon enough, under the threat of our passive rebellion, help was on its way.

The other famous attraction, the crescent-shaped naturally formed lake in the middle of the desert – Yue Ya Lake, was quite a disappointment. I don’t know why but there was a large artificial lake just 100 meters next to the crescent lake. I wonder if the mucky waters, in sharp contrast to the emerald-clear water we were expecting to see, had lived past its history.

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Picture surpasses the real scenery

The last destination were the caves that housed precious paintings from the Tang Dynasty and Xi Xia Dynasty. One of the most interesting caves was the historical storage of thousands of valuable Buddhist scripts, discovered by a Daoist monk, Wang, who sold off the scripts for cheap foodstuffs along with the government. Now, these scripts are scattered over 10 countries being exhibited at world-famous museums. Perhaps one day they will find a way home, or perhaps as some believe it was this dispersal of the scripts that drew people’s eyes to develop this wild desert.
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Nine-level temple - the only symbolic architecture exposed to the outside and open to photography

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The motif on many murals – Fei Tian (Goddess Flying to the Heavens)

On our stop in Xi'An, we stopped over at a small local eatery that sells traditional noodles. Each bowl has only one piece of noodle, but it was enough for a small girl's stomach like me.
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Home, home, let me go home. Finally heading home.

Posted by Ceci's Cre 21:04 Archived in China Comments (0)

Germany - A Tale of Beauty with the transformed Beast

First Hamburg, then Berlin

sunny 2 °C

Hamburg
24 March

In the Northwest of Germany, we find the second largest city nestled in a beautiful region, possessing two lakes, historic harbors, and a small island. DSC04930.jpg
The weather was much better than what we had hoped for - the weather forecast told us the opposite of this sunny glory
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German S-Bahn trains ran overground
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Our first stop was this popular attraction called Hamburg Dungeons - unfortunately we were unable to enjoy the history talks and interactive activities because everything was conducted in German! Thankfully, the ticket officer kindly confirmed with us if we met the language requirement.
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No attraction, don't worry! We could always enjoy a couple hours of lounging in the sun, sipping our hot chocolate and nibbling on our cakes
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The little island off the South tip of Hamburg's harbors is called Hafencity. There are numerous bridges connecting the two land masses (one big, one small)
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construction going on to build modernistic high-tech buildings
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Bubbly surface, interesting
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Irregular, eye-catching
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Our thank-you notes to Hamburg for its loveliness!

Now it was time for a ferry tour around the harbor! The one-day pass we bought from the central station covered all forms of underground, overground, and water transportation - we hopped on the ferry right before its ramp lifted for departure
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The breeze from the Elbe River (heading from Czech Republic to the North Sea, criss-crossing through Central Europe) made us feel so free!
Cher calls this "half a Titanic" (the classic Titanic pose!)
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Besides the ferry, there was a tunnel deep down underground built for cars, cyclists (plenty in Germany), and on-footers.
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After a little rest on the ferry and seeing the tunnel, we wanted to drink in the lake scenery before sunset. Peaceful and pure.
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Hamburg is a city that makes me breathe so naturally, so rhythmically - it breathes life into every cell in my body
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The City Hall's Baroque facade
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View from below
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Wondrous window design
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Healthy dinner at a local bakery. We got closing-time discounts for arriving after 6pm
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An unexpected adventure in a high-tech complex, looking onto a medieval church spire
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The night view is serene and enchanting
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St. Catherine's - in our pursuit of St. Michaelis, we went to St. Nikolai, St. Catherine's...by the time we reached St. Michaelis, its doors were all locked.
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The Ritter Sport chocolates have an exciting variety of flavors here in their home country

Berlin
25-26 March

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Taking the Bahn train, we arrived in Berlin around 8:30am. We unfortunately missed our first train by 2 minutes and had to pay for the penalty and the purchase of new tickets
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German undergrounds

The Jewish Museum
Few museums lead visitors through personal journeys like the one and only Jewish Museum. From its symbolic exterior to its carefully selected displays, we not only gained more education on the Jewish history but also developed our own interpretations of the much-debated past.
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The floor plan of the museum, resembling a lightning
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The Garden of the Void
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In summertime, all the olive branches would be green.
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Caught inside the Dark Void room
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Thousands of steel masks
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we trampled on these masks with our dirty shoes, squashing their screaming - deafening inside the eardrums
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On the top level, the exhibition traced the Jewish communities from their origins up to the rise of Nazism. I gained my first glimpse into this much-respected-in-modern-time but much-despised-in-history ethno-religous group.
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Their most important texts: the Torah and the Talmud

Leaving the Jewish Museum, we had lunch near the Charlie Checkpoint, where the guarded border between East Berlin and West Berlin used to stand.
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Most of the tourist and historic attractions are situated in East Berlin, such as the Potsdam Plaza - posh modern center in a new development area
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we spot ourselves in this tall mini-mirror against a giant skyscraper
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Modern Buildings

The greatest motivation for coming to Germany was to visit my high school friend, Anna. We met up at the Potsdam Plaza under an enormous Lego giraffe. Now after one and a half days of reading maps and following a set itinerary (with flexible changes now and then), I took a long breath and happily handed over the decision power to Anna and her Berlin-based college friend, Marie. They took us walking down the Brandburg boulevard and finally ending at the Holocaust Memorial.
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The Famous Brandenburg Gate - the German Arch of Triumph. Counting my fingers, I have seen the Washington Square Arch of Triumph in NYC, the Marble Arch in London, the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, the authentic Arc de Triomphe in Paris - that's a total of 4 arches!
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Group shot at the Holocaust Memorial! The weather was an antithesis to Hamburg's bright skies
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Peek-a-Boo
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look ahead. lost. search.
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Two Peek-a-Boo babies
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Anna and I

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We walked a long way to find dinner. Initially, we set our goals on finding traditional German food. Soon, we faced the idiosyncratic reality of German dining that once a restaurant is full, it means it is full for the WHOLE night. People go out to eat not just for filling their empty stomachs, but to have a whole night of social entertainments like card games and conservations. Also, traditional German restaurants were the gathering places of people twice our age.
So then, we decided to take Marie's recommendation for a local burger place.
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Popular gas drink among young people in Berlin
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My eggplant vegetarian burger - it was delicious!
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Tired, going to bed early for another fun-packed day in Berlin!

The second day started with patches of blue skies peeking through fluffy clouds. Our first destination was the Berlin Dom - a baroque cathedral that won us from the eyes to the heart.
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The impressive exterior
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the tall vaulting aisle
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The MAGNIFICENT altar and apse
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The fine detailing
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The circular dome
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Capture me in this golden orb of transcendental beauty
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The Organ
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The silent shadows
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Design from late 1700s
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Design in early 1800s
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What we witness today
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We climbed to the top
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The panoramic view of Berlin - not as pretty as Paris, but distinct with its own flavor

Leaving the Dom, we reunited with Jane, who just arrived on this second day to join our Berlin trip. The first destination for the three of us was the Reichstag - Parliament. If you want to splurge on an exclusive dining experience, reserve seats two weeks in advance for the opportunity to eat in the restaurant sitting on top of the Reichstag. Exactly where? well you asked the wrong person because I did not go up there.
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The Big Reichstag and the Tiny Me
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Memorial stones close to the Reichstag
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German Street food was very appetizing
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The bridge next to the East Side Gallery (the longest existing section of the Berlin wall)
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The paintings expressed hope, anguish, war, rejuvenation, dreams...
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"Life is worth the pain of living"
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My signature
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A memorable street

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After seeing the Berlin wall, we met up with Anna and Marie for our second day's guided walking tour around the Alexandreplaz area (landmark was the tall broadcasting tower)
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Our favorite part of walking tour - the Hofe: a combination of shopping store and outdoor market
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Our favorite store: Ampelman Store!!! East Berlin's traffic lights are all adorned with the cute Ampelman. We picked out magnets, gummy candies, earrings, and bags with Ampelman on them.
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Which one beat the Ampelman? None!
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Pfaancuchen - thanks for Anna and Marie's insistence, we tried this absolutely delicious dessert that characterizes Berlin's breakfasts and afternoon snacks

After shopping, we ambled down a historic district with elegant historic-styled buildings, before heading to Marie's apartment for dinner.
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Marie's apartment was gorgeous, making me want to move to Berlin to study and lodge in this type of affordable housing!
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busy in the kitchen
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Lazy -> taking a nap on the comfortable sofa bed
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Spaghetti Casserole
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We finished it all!
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Anna " I wish there was more..."
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Yes, there was the delicious dessert - Haagen Dazs Dulche de Leche and Strawberry ice-cream, accompanied by fresh strawberries that I picked up from a street-side vendor

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My souvenir for myself: Rittersport chocolate collection in Mini packages. =D

Posted by Ceci's Cre 15:00 Archived in Germany Tagged berlin friends hamburg Comments (0)

Paris- Les Meilleurs et Les Misérables

Second trip, many lessons learned, many inspirations gained

overcast 2 °C

It is hard to reverse first impressions. My first encounter with Paris four years ago left me with a lasting impression of gray skies and gloomy streets. Two weeks ago, my wanderlust and fascination with the French culture fueled my compulsive purchase of Eurostar tickets to Paris. I wanted to give it a second try and take advantage of the close proximity of London to Paris.

The trip, in Christine's words, " was everything, the good and the bad." I will begin with the good part.

Les Meilleurs
1. La Musee d'Orsay - a pleasant and relaxing art museum with the largest collection of Impressionist Paintings by Monet, Manet, and Degas.
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The open and relaxing ground floor of the museum, scattered artistically with sculptures and students with their sketching pads
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My Favorite Statue in the museum
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The ornate clock hanging above the entrance - a popular theme of many sketches by students around the museum

2. Les Jardins du Rodin - a lovely sculptures garden
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The gardens were sprinkled with sculptures, but the museum (yellow house in the background) shows the magnitude of Rodin's prolificness with its thousands of sculptures in different forms and shapes.
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The famous "Thinker"
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Then Pensive Dancer
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He was talented at capturing human passions and erotic feelings in alabaster stones
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Strength
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Softness
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I wish I could do this

3. Basilique du Sacré Cœur - The Cathedral that crowns the Montmartre hill, claiming the title of the highest point in Paris
I remember the artists, portrait painters, stunt performers who clustered aroun this artsy and free-spirited district on my first trip. Although my school trip did not portray Paris in its most exciting facets, Montmartre left a sparkling imprint on my memory, calling me to visit again.
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On my way to the Sacre Coeur, I discovered this desperate steel man trying hard to master the art of walking through walls.
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The artists' yard
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The immaculate facade, three domes fashioned after the Roman style of architecture
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The Altar and the vaulting dome - I look this picture by putting my life on the line against the French laws (which are so rigorous that I find them unsympathetic. Unfortunately, I will encounter the brunt of their brutality later)
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The intriguing details
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The view of Paris from the top of Montmartre
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The surrounding scenery of Sacré Cœur

3. The Louvre - my first blitz trip through this ginormous museum four years ago was only 2-hours short. This time, we spent a satisfactory three hours to absorb the massive amount of arts in this world-famous museum. One Tip: go after 6pm on Friday, students have free admissions.
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Caesar: I command thee to appreciate art with eyes filled with admiration.
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As delicate as the fabric around the beautiful dame
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Venus de Millo
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Derrick and the statue posing as Jane =)
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The impression Egyptian collection
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The Turkish Bath by Jean Dominique Ingres - A painting that I did a French presentation on a year ago, which now I had the chance to behold before me
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Winged Victory
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Cherub: follow me
Me: lead me to the architectural center

4. La Défense - the modern commercial center on the Northwest border of Paris, which drew me to pay a quick visit on Saturday morning.
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The modern parody of the triumphant arch - looks like trousers to me...
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Interesting architecture
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Cherry trees in the midst of concrete and steel
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Wonder what this building is used for...hmmm!
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The avant-garde twist of an arcade
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Do you spot the arch of triumph in the distance?

5. The church that I stumbled into in the Latin Quarter, perhaps called Saint-Michel - instilled in me deep feeling of peacefulness
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The rose windows
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The Gothic Vaults
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The Recess where contemplation was the natural occupation

6. Les Jardins du Luxemburg - garden that adorns the Parisien cityscape, which would be much prettier to visit in the summer
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Grasses are green, trees are bare
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The Parliament
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Imagine all the branches green with lush foliage
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Beautiful sculptures and statues dot the garden lands

7. Le Pantheon - the sacred burial ground of famous men
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the imposing facade
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The decorated ceilings
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The towering and vaulting hallways
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Victor Hugo finds his final resting place here
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Alexandre Dumas
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Emile Zola
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Louis Braille - the creator of the blind's language

8. Notre Dame Cathedral
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View of the Seine river from one of the many bridges connecting the North and South shores
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Candles of hopes
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Rose Window
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The Flamboyant Gothic style
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While waiting to go up to the towers of Notre Dame, Derrick opened his magical box of divine-tasting macaroons
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The Pensive Gargoyle - I like it so much. I bought a magnet in its shape to be put on my fridge at home.
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Paris!
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We see Sacre Coeur from its religious counterpart

9. Late night dinner with Christine - exhausted after a whole day of travel, we had our midnight meal at a diner in the vicinity of our hostel, traditional American cheese burgers!
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We were starving

Now moving onto the less fortunate aspects, a.k.a., lessons I learned along the trip
1. Always buy subway tickets in Paris and always keep the tickets until you leave the station
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We got 40 Euros fines at the checkpoint station to Eiffel Tower. The French police were ruthless. Even if you bought a ticket and misplaced it, you would still be facing a stern-faced police telling you: "forty euros now or seventy euros later."

2. Missing our bus - we did not get on our overnight bus from London to Paris on Thursday evening, which led to buying a rush Eurostar ticket - overpriced at 4X the regular price...

The biggest lessons we learned on this trip are all transportation-related. Now, the nugget of wisdom we will carry with us for future travels is never missing our scheduled bus/train/flight and comply with all traffic laws.

Overall, the Paris trip was a mixed box of chocolates and licorice - some sweetness and some bitterness.

Posted by Ceci's Cre 14:32 Archived in France Tagged paris Comments (0)

Hurstpierpoint - The Point of Peaceful Joys

Philip and Suzanne are my favorite hosts in the world.

sunny 3 °C

Ever since I read the story of Heidi, I longed to have a bed made of straws, tucked under the roof of a barn. There would be a window that looks out into the night sky, strewn with bright stars. That was my childhood dream. Then came along Anne of Green Gables, who frolics in tremulous flower fields and wanders through picturesque lanes. The countryside draws me with a magic allure. I try not to romanticize the life of rural people, but all the paintings and movies I have seen point me to one direction only.

This past weekend, I was lucky to spend two days in a traditional English countryside home, the home of Suzanne and Philip. My visit was arranged through a volunteer-based organization called HOST, and for my preference, I had put down "the country." I arrived on Friday evening and stayed till Sunday evening. Here I was, in a village one hour South of London by train, named Hurstpierpoint. My travel companion and fellow visitor, Tracy, was here with me participating in her second host visit.

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Our bedroom
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Our beds
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Our bathroom on the third floor
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the flower-adorned windowsill and beautiful view from the bathroom window
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Shells from around the world - Philip and Suzanne have traveled to many places
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Fresh flowers on the dining table

Our first reaction upon entering such a lovely house was irrepressible joy. The bed linens with floral print, the flowers found throughout the house, the aged wooden furniture, and the crackling fireplace, resonated with my innermost desire. I felt slightly like a stranger who has walked into her own dream, discovering everything was in fact reality.
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My favorite room in the house, the small living room on second floor
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The dining room
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The front door
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The kitchen table
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The notice board made of corks - I had wondered if they all come from Suzanne and Philip's celler - some of which were given to them as gifts

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That first evening, we talked by the fireplace, when Philip and Suzanne shared their life and travel stories in exchange for ours.
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Thirty years ago, they adopted a son (2 years old) and a daughter (4 years old) from Thailand. Since then, they have hosted over 100 students from around the world, where the majority come from Southeast Asia. They wished their children to grow up with exposure to their indigenous cultures. I could vividly conjure the image of their living room, with the fire licking the logs, and Philip sitting in the sofa, Suzanne sitting in a chair, opposite us - listening intently to our stories.
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They had a particular interest in geography, asking Tracy to show them where in Taiwan she came from, and many miscellaneous questions related to our hometowns. I lost count of the number of times they walked out of the room to fetch an atlas, a travel book, a brochure, or other pieces of printed materials pertinent to our discussion. They have a wide collection of books, mainly on architecture, travel, and cooking. They
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Philip was an engineer for an international oil company, which led him to travel and work in places like Saudi Arabia, Columbia, and Venezuela.
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Suzanne was a nurse, her brisk clever speech reflects on a youthful spirit that is still young and vivacious inside her.

The kind couple, over the course of two days, has completely won me over with their hospitality and everlasting energy. I wish I could find someone and grow old with him like Philip and Suzanne. Sharing every step of this hard yet rewarding life, conquering new heights with each other's support, their lives are brimming with love - their house felt so warm, though there was no electric heating (the fireplace and the stove served as the sole sources of heat).

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The greenery that shimmers at the touch of sunlight
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The blossoming daffordils that smile at visitors all around the village
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The peaceful bucolic scenery
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The red brick houses that are very common in the village

The meals that we enjoyed over the weekend were all traditional homemade English food. I have a funny episode of hunger before dinner on Saturday, because I refrained from asking for a second serving of toasts at lunch, out of modesty and decorum - a very big mistake. Our day was packed with fun activities that exhausted me and left me famished. I stood by the stove, warming up my hands and legs by its heat, while tending to the boiling rice. There I felt for the first time, the double threats of hunger and cold, which occupied every corner of my mind for the entire one and a half hour waiting for food to be ready to be served. I was humbled by my humanly vulnerability and needs. I was thankful for each spoonful of food that I sent to my mouth. Because of this short experience of starvation, I overstuffed myself at the Sunday Church potluck. I had a full plate of Cottage Pie (like Shepherd's Pie, except made with beef instead of lamb), stewed chicken, boiled peas, salad, and two small plates of pudding, cheesecake, and summer pie. My stomach was bloated for the next two hours.

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The berry pie made by Suzanne for us on Friday night
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Tea with traditional biscuit offered to us after our walk around the fields with Philip
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Pancakes made by Philip - drizzled with lemon juice and powered sugar - so divine
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Homemade jam; Suzanne taught me to spread butter and then jam on toasts, which were simply delicious
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Tomato soup and toast, our lunch on Saturday (not filling enough for me - leading to the later reflection on survival and subsistence as mentioned above)

The garden was one of Suzanne and Philip's greatest prides. They are both members of the horticultural club, which would be hosting a contest soon. One characteristic exhibited by my hosts is their exuberant health. They are involved in many local activities, including the hiking club, which is led by Philip, and goes on monthly excursions within a radius of 200 miles. I love the diversity of engagements in their retired years, something that I aspire to emulate when I reach their age. In the meantime, I picked up on a distinct discrepancy between English elders and Chinese elders like my grandparents - the grannies and grandpas that I talked are all world travelers. One grandpa worked in Libya and has recently finished an engineering project in Taiping Lake, in the vicinity of Beijing. Another granny's oldest daughter is working in Botswana. I am in awe with the mobility of these English folks, who talk so friendly and walk so blithely at four times of my age. It almost reminds me of the British Empire one century ago, how the British sailors would have traveled all over the five oceans, compared to relatively localized people in other regions.

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Suzanne has a lovely garden in the back of her house
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She showed us around
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There were many berry trees and vegetables, most of which waiting for their turn to bloom in the coming months
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A funnel to measure the rain
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The loveliest flower I've seen
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thick vines covering the wooden posts

Saturday's Busy and Fun Schedule
Coffee Morning - Coffee and Biscuits, and sales of small trinkets for charity
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Jumble Sale - like a garage sale, with great deals of everything for 10 pence!
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The sundry items that we bought from the Jumble Sale. I bought: two toy cars, a pack of cards with country scene paintings, a scarf, a sweater, a jar of plum jam, a porcelain doll, two handbags, and a small lavender-print bag. Everything was under 5 pounds.

Polo Game - It was the first time for all of us to watch a polo game.
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Walk - In the mist, on the damp grasses, we set our spirits free.
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Sunday Church
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Suzanne and Philip took Tracy and I to Sunday church service. This unique experience inspired me to imaginations of a villager child, growing up surrounded by God-loving neighbors and learning to love neighbors as he loves himself at a tender age.
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Philip leading us to lunch
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Suzanne serving desserts. She made two enormous bowls of pudding with fruits and jelly.
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My plate of Cottage pie, potatoes and chicken.
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The Summer Pie and Suzanne's first bowl of pudding
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Second Serving with cheesecake and Suzanne's second pudding
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Tea, for the 100th time, desirably

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Tracy, Suzanne, and Philip
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All Four

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Now it's time to go. I miss them so bad, my heart was sore. Philip's ruddy face with its perennial kind smile, Suzanne's quick wits with her loving touch, and the village's peacefulness - my feet dragged on the floor as we walked away from the village.

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Suzanne said "That's what you didn't see" pointing at the rolling hills which were previously hidden in thick fogs. Suddenly, I felt like I had a revelation. Sometimes life is not about what we see, what we learn, those new things. Instead, it is about seeing for the first time things that were previously neglected. On this trip, I learned the virtues of frugality, sincerity, and loving one's neighbor as one loves one's self.

Let me remember this journey forever.

Posted by Ceci's Cre 13:33 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (4)

Grace and Grandeur

Leed's Castle

semi-overcast 2 °C

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In our imagination, we have all dreamed of living in a castle. It might take many forms, such as this black-and-white picture, showing the strong fortress walls to protect the kings and queens residing inside. Lucky for us, we have the good fortune of walking into one of these castles today - in bright colors. Leed's castle is known to be a Queen's castle, notably Catherine of Aragon and Queen Elizabeth I (during her imprisonment before coronation).

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Lady Bailey and her daughters lived in Leed's castle until her death in 1974. Then she donated for public enjoyment. Here we are to avail ourselves on this privilege.
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Castle's facade - construction with Kentish Ragstones, which are known to be light and strong building materials.

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The colors of the blue water and the verdant field paint a picturesque scene

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Warmth.

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The detailed ironmongery of door knob and studs

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When the Queen conducted meetings, her royal highness would have laid in this luxurious recliner.
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Window looking out onto the castle ground

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Queen's Bathroom - water would have been fetched from nearby wells, heated, and then poured into the bath tub.

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Lady Bailey's dress
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Living room, decorated by French interior designer
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The Tassels are a favored decoration in French design
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Lady Bailey had a penchant for exotic birds, even the ornaments are shaped into these feathered creatures

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An architectural feature, the broken pediment, pioneered by Michelangelo whose creativity propelled him to break through the constraints of traditional triangular pediments
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Music floated through the splendid series of rooms
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A kitchen fashioned with the utmost delicate taste and the right proportion of luxury

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Like a fairytale, there is a maze inside the castle ground, to entertain children and adults. The secret to the maze -- shhh-- let me know when you go visit, and I'll let you know.

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The sunlight slanted over the roofs of surrounding houses
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We frolicked around the castle grounds like the countless birds dwelling here.

Lady Bailey, the last resident of Leed's Castle, captures my imagination as an epitome of an accomplished lady. She was wealthy by birth and titled by marriage. A genteel interior designer, a lover of fowls, a connoisseur of French impressionist paintings - she is like a pearl that emits a soft luster, no dazzling lights, simply an aura of grace and culture to envelop those who venture into its radius of shimmer.

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A cultivated taste in interior design
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Her love for exotic birds could be seen in these specimen, bird-shaped decorations, and a delightfully varied aviary
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French Impressionist Paintings
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Her sister was a skilled equestrian enthusiast. What an eclectic family with diverse talents

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Goodbye, Leed's Castle. You will live gracefully in our memories and memoirs.

Posted by Ceci's Cre 14:57 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (2)

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