Living History: King’s Lynn, England

The medieval town of King’s Lynn exists today. On narrow streets along the edge of River Ouse, buildings dating from the 12th century through Georgian times proudly serve as homes and offices.  An 11th century minster (a cathedral-like church shown above) anchors one end of town while the site of the ancient fair granted by a long-ago king is at the other.

Shakespeare played here! The 15th century theatre, one of the oldest in Great Britain.

A nearly 600-year-old theatre where it’s believed Shakespeare and his band of actors  once worked is still active.  Lovingly restored homes, inhabited by proud citizens of the town, bear plaques attesting to the century in which they were built. During the Middle Ages King’s Lynn was an important port city. Sifting sands moved the river, taking business and money away, and leaving the town in its original state. Today visitors can walk on the quays along the river and on the streets through original town, past relics of centuries past.

Originally a guild hall, today this 15th century building is the city hall. The “checkerboard” facade was created by alternating white stones with black.

One of the oldest and most important buildings is the town hall, built originally about 1400 by a guild of wealthy ship owners and merchants. The building was constructed one century at a time, but the checkerboard façade of white stone and shale keeps that a secret.

St. Margaret’s church was begun in 1101 and has been a place of worship since. The towers have both a clock and a “tide clock.”

Just across the narrow street stands the “minster.” A great church honoring Saint Margaret was built here beginning about 1100 AD. It would be a cathedral in another country. Extraordinarily long, the east end of the church is graced by a large stained glass window with a huge carved Tree of Jesse below it. A 20th century stained glass masterpiece can be seen on the western end.

The other very impressive old church in King’s Lynn is St. Nicolas, built in the 1500s by the the town’s rich merchants and shippers.

Another church, Saint Nicolas chapel, is at the opposite end of the mile-long center of town. Built during the renaissance by and for the many wealthy ship owners, traders and merchants, this church now only serves its original purpose on Christmas and other special occasions.  The hammer-beam roof is graced by a large winged angel attached between each pair of roof trusses. The floor is paved in memorial stones and polished stone 17th century sculptures memorialize entire families.

In a corner of St. Margaret’s: an old tree, some very old gravesstones and the buildings of the 12th century priory.

A priory, just south of the minster, dates from the early 1100s.  Today the row of ancient 2-story buildings where monks once lived advjacent to St. Margaret’s church are small homes sharing a secret garden. Medieval windows and walls built of a jumble of stone and bricks overlook the minster church.

Buillt in sections between 1350 and the early 1600s, Hampton Court is comprised of four connected former warehouses than now house large homes.

Remnant of an old monastery, the Red Tower is now the centerpiece of “The Walks,” the town’s large, central 18th century park.

All over the town buildings that are centuries old have become gracious homes and offices. One such is Hampton Court, a large connected group of 14th and 15th century warehouses rescued by citizens of King’s Lynn and converted into 15 gracious townhouses. The streets near the river’s edge are the oldest in town. Many Georgian-era fine brick homes are seen on the city’s streets interposed with older homes, some of them medieval. A large park forms the center of the city. Designed for exercising the upper class in the 18th century, today it’s perfect for walkers and runners. In “The Walks” as the park is known, the visitor finds the remains of a city gate and a small part of the old city walls. In the center of the park a small, squat tower on a gentle rise named the “Red Mount Tower,” built in the 1483 and restored recently is open to visitors. Nearby a Victorian library and a church built to “seat everyone” (unlike the other churches in the city which sold seating) represent community life in King’s Lynn in the 19th century as do terraces of large and small brick homes.

A view of the “”High Street” shopping district in King’s Lynn.

King’s Lynn’s traditional “High Street” shopping area is comprised of several blocks of popular retail shops as well as antique stores and theatres.

Two Sunday morning joggers pass by the charming Duke’s Head Hotel.

Continue the “historical” ambience of time spent in King’s Lynn at one of several long-serving hotels which are still active here.  The Duke’s Head hotel, overlooking the ancient marketplace, is a lovely shade of blue.  Near it, the Globe Hotel is also a long-time favorite. The Bank House is a fine hotel near the Custom House and the river. All these hotels have traditional English restaurants. Other fine dining establishments are found throughout the old town.  On river’s edge, Marriott Warehouse is a wine bar and popular restaurant – try their Sunday lunch!  Hotels and restaurants to fit all budgets are plentiful in King’s Lynn.

A repurposed old warehouse on the quay is a fine restaurant and summer eating space now.

To discover a town that proudly protects and enjoys its history, add this lovely small city to your next U.K. itinerary.

The Eden Project

The Eden Project is an environmental education project housed in six enormous semi-transparent domes in Cornwall, England. Created in 1999, it has continued to inspire and educate children and adults for the past 20 years.  I’ve wanted to go there for a long while and finally was able to do so recently. The leaders of this project can explain it much better than I can so I begin by asking you to view this 5-minute video to learn from one of the co-creators the history, the purpose and the aspirations of the project.
Please click here:

Here’s the link to the Eden Project website:

On the wall of the welcome center at the Eden Project I found the following. I want to share it with you and your family. On the internet I found it here:

If the World were 100 PEOPLE:

Gender 50 would be female
50 would be male
Age 25 would be 0-14
66 would be 15-64
9 would be 65 and older
Geography 60 would be from Asia
16 would be from Africa
10 would be from Europe
9 would be from Latin America & the Caribbean
5 would be from North America
Religion 31 would be Christian
23 would be Muslim
16 would not be religious or identify themselves
as being aligned with a particular faith
15 would be Hindu
7 would be Buddhist
8 would believe in other religions
First Language 12 would speak Chinese
6 would speak Spanish
5 would speak English
4 would speak Hindi
3 would speak Arabic
3 would speak Bengali
3 would speak Portuguese
2 would speak Russian
2 would speak Japanese
60 would speak other languages
Overall Literacy 86 would be able to read and write
14 would not
Literacy by Gender 90% of males would be able to read and write
10% of males would not be able to read and write
82% of females would be able to read and write
18% of females would not be able to read and write
Education 78% of eligible males would have a
primary school education
76% of eligible females would have a
primary school education66% of eligible males would have a
secondary school education
63% of eligible females would have a
secondary school education7 would have a college degree
Shelter 78 people would have a place to shelter them
from the wind and the rain, but 22 would not
Urban/Rural 54 would be urban dwellers
46 would be rural dwellers
Drinking Water 91 would have access to safe drinking water
9 would use unimproved water
Food 11 would be undernourished
Infectious Disease 1 would have HIV/AIDS
1 would have tuberculosis
Poverty 11 would live on less than $1.90 USD per day
Electricity 82 would have electricity
18 would not
Technology 65 would be cell phone users
47 would be active internet users
95 live in an area with a mobile- cellular network
Sanitation 68 would have improved sanitation
14 would have no toilets
18 would have unimproved toilets

These school kids from France were in one of the three school groups at the Eden Project on the day I was there.


Ancient Exeter England

Imagine walking through a Roman town that was hidden for 1700 years or so. Actually, we still walk on top of it because following its discovery, it had to be re-buried for safekeeping until money becomes available to permanently expose it. The Roman walls left from that time still surround the old city.


Imagine walking with a delightful guide through one of the most outstanding gothic cathedrals. Learning that this cathedral has the longest domed roof in the world. Learning where the bombs fell on the building when the town of Exeter was bombed in 1942 – and about the soccer game that paid for the restoration of the damage done.

Imagine enjoying a delicious breakfast in a French bistro while admiring the ancient façade of the cathedral just a stone’s throw away.

Imagine walking down the commercial street (almost always called “High Street” in England) past buildings that have been housing merchants’ stores since Victorian times or before. Today some of them are selling mobile phones and sporting goods and computers but others are doing what they’ve done for a very long time: vending high quality clothing in the latest styles. It’s always good to find Marks & Spencer and Debenhams on the shopping streets of British towns.

Imagine staying in a tiny cottage built in 1822, sleeping under a heavy down-filled duvet, enjoying for a few days the company and assistance of an AirBnB hostess. Truly, were it not for the existence of AirBnb and RyanAir, I could not be taking the trip that I’m now enjoying.

I did all that on my first day in Exeter. For the next week I’ll be exploring counties Devon and Cornwall in southwest England. I plan to blog more often, showing you my discoveries.  Please come again.

And if you’ve visited England, please add a comment, sharing with us your favorite part of this “green and pleasant land.”


Beautiful Buildings in Budapest

The streets of Budapest are lined with beautifully decorated buildings dating from the period of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867-1918) and much earlier. Government buildings and churches were extravagantly decorated. Along the major avenues large apartment buildings with carved exteriors stand proudly, continuing to be prime places to live. Following World War 2 the Soviet Union gained control of Hungary. As in many places in eastern Europe, the poverty of the Iron Curtain era protected beautiful old buildings from change or destruction. Today these countries proudly protect their architectural heritage.

The photo above shows the “Chain Bridge” — the first of today’s bridges to cross the Danube in Budapest. Behind it, along the water’s edge, the extraordinary Parliament building of Hungary is seen, the building with the dome. (Learn more about it here.)

Here are a few examples of the beautiful buildings that line the streets of Budapest.

The castle hill above the Danube in Budapest.


A closer view of the beautiful church on the castle hill.


This building standing watch over the Danube is dated 1782.

This building just across the Danube from the building shown above is the three-level market hall.

This is a view of the church on the campus of the Budapest University of Technology and Economics. It was founded as an engineering university in 1782, making it the oldest such college in Europe.


Another view of the campus and its church, plus the connecting bridge. It’s common in Austria and Hungary for churches to have patterned tile roofs. This one might be due for some upkeep.

The Blooming Desert

In the country where the Sahara Desert is found it’s unsurprising that gardens are special features. Cities are dotted with them. Mosques are surrounded by them. Giant palm trees, exotic flowering plants and water features star in Morocco’s many gardens.

In Rabat on New Year’s Day a physician I’d just met took me on a long walk around Rabat, a walk that included the Kasbah of the Udayas where we found one lone white rose in full bloom.

In Rabat a large park named Jardin Nouzhat Hassan, sited on the edge of the medina, quickly became my favorite place.

On my first day in Marrakech I stumbled upon Jardin Majorelle, created by French painter Jacques Majorelle and nurtured by him for 40 years. Rescued by the fashion designer, Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé, the garden today is filled with massive bamboo plants, many-year-old cactus plants, and inanimate objects brightly painted in bold blue and screaming yellow. It is one of the most popular tourist sites in Marrakech.  Comprised of several acres of mature plants, paths through the garden and the home of Saint Laurent and Bergé, the garden has also become the memorial to the designer. In addition to the garden there are small museums on the property and an upscale shop. Several small restaurants and café’s are adjacent.

The entrance to the garden is lined with enormous, old bamboo.

The narrow paths and the bright yellow pots were found througout the Jardin Majorelle

Here you see the Marrakech home of Saint Laurent and Berge.

Several other large gardens are found in Marrakech including the Agdal Garden covering of one and a half square miles and featuring a large square man-made pond and a botanical garden. Adjacent to it the Koutoubia Garden ,filled with roses and orange trees, surrounds the most visited mosque and minaret in Marrakech. Inside the medina a beautiful place named Le Jardin Secret [Secret Garden] is popular with visitors. In January the days are short, the flowers are few, and my time was limited. I didn’t get to all these gardens so I’ve given you links to share some images with you.

The Koutoubia minaret, surrounded by orange trees.

This is my last post about Morocco. Problems with my computer caused me to be unable to blog as I traveled there.  Morocco is a very affordable place to visit. Prices of hotels and restaurants and taxi cabs (among other things) were extremely low. French is an official language and most people used it. Moroccans I encountered, mostly in hotels and restaurants, were very pleasant and helpful. Marrakech is rather thrilling: the thousands of zooming vehicles will raise your heart rate! I recommend the Hotel Racine where I stayed in Marrakech (very good value) and the Ibis Rabat Agdal hotel in Rabat (delicious food in the on-premises restaurant). There seemed to be lots of honey-mooning couples in Marrakesh.


Morocco in the 21st century

Morocco is a kingdom. It is modern and progressive economically. One example: it’s in the midst of a building program that will create 800,000 new housing units by 2021.  On the outskirts of Rabat I saw some of these apartment buildings from the window of the train as I traveled to Casablanca: row after row of identical modern buildings, each holding perhaps eight apartments.

Morocco’s tourism industry is a major part of its economy.  I experienced two newer structures that will play an important role in the growth of tourism in Morocco.  A new train station in Rabat and a recently built airport in Marrakech.  Both of these are spectacular.

You may be familiar with the high speed trains in France called TGV. The French are sharing this technology with its former colony, Morocco. The first high-speed rail line in Africa, Morocco’s TGV line, opened very recently, is in use from Tangiers to Casablanca with a stop in Rabat. It will eventually reach Marrakech. In Rabat an enormous new train station has been built in an area designated as that city’s new financial and transportation center.  Just completed in November, the station will have a number of banks, restaurants and shops although most are under construction now. Here are a photos of what I found there at the end of December 2018.

The new Rabat Agdal rail station.

Interior of the new Agdal train station will be occupied by banks, shops and restaurants. McDonald’s is already here! Can Starbucks be far behind?

The airport in Marakech has the most spectacular airport terminal.  It consists of buildings for arrivals and departures connected at the center. “Completed in 2008, the terminal extension of the Marrakech Menara Airport in Morocco—designed by Swiss Architects E2A Architecture…” This is a quote from an article entitled The Most Beautiful Airports in the World.

Another view of the arrivals hall exterior at the Marrakech airport. I like the “front porch cafe” but suspect it’s really the smokers lounge.

The interior of the arrivals hall.

The exterior of the departures hall.

The departures area interior

The front wall of the departures hall from the inside. I was truly delighted by this giant room.

Here’s a website about 21st century African-Arabic architecture that provides more information about this airport:

And one you may recognize!

Note added 28 January 2019: I’ve just found this long, detailed article about Morocco’s new high-speed train system. You can read it here:


Medina and Kasbah — ancient Moroccan places

The word “medina” in Morocco refers to ancient original settlements behind protective walls. One source I found said that the medina was entire city of Rabat until the French arrived ca. 1900 and built all around the it for the next 50 years. I stayed for a few days in an old house there.  Rabat’s medina is a warren of narrow, old streets lined with old houses called “riads” and small shops. The main streets are filled with people selling things and with pedestrians, motorbikes and 3-wheeled mini-trucks. My guess is that the poorest residents of Rabat live in the medina and earn their living there, as have their ancestors for generations. It is an unpleasant place, unsanitary, unsafe to walk through, chaotic.

In the medina in Rabat, Morocco.

The medina in Marrakech is the major tourist attraction. It is also a walled and ancient city. Its center is the largest square in Africa, called Jemaa el-Fna. It’s bordered by “souks” – tiny shops selling mostly things tourists buy. The enormous center fills with street food vendors, snake charmers, people in funny clothes who want to be paid for having their picture taken. I was told that I was lucky to come on Monday because the “men from the mountains bring things their families make to sell on Monday.” Indeed, I saw a man selling a pile of rough wool sweaters which were being bought up quickly by Moroccans, not tourists.

In Jemaa el Fna in Marrakech, men dressesd in red are hoping for tourists to pay them for their photo. In the background notice the minaret of one of several mosques in this area.

One large section of Jemaa el Fna is for selling spices and other bits of aromatic plants. Smells great!

An example of merchadise to be found here: beautiful hand made soaps that smell wondeful (above) and shoes including Moroccan pointed-toe traditional slippers.

I found one beautiful quiet corner of the Medina as I left.

You may also know the word “kasbah.” This, I learned, is a word for an ancient fortress.  In Rabat the Kasbah is a well-maintained structure at the edge of the ocean, overlooking large beaches and a lighthouse. Along the way in and out there are few small cafés selling mint tea and CocaCola. The way out leads to the souks in Rabat – narrow streets of small neat shops selling leather goods and other high-end objects. Tourists come here by the busload.

The walls of the Kasbah in Rabat.

Beautiful wares for sale in the Kasbah in Rabat.

The view from the fortress walls in Rabat’s Kasbah.

The Kasbah in Marrakech is south of the Medina and separated from it. There’s a very large mosque at one end with a beautiful minaret (tower). It was much like Rabat’s medina: crowded, chaotic, filled with shops and shoppers.  I think it served its residents much more than tourists.

Marrakech’s Kasbah is entirely different from the one in Rabat. Here you see some of the omnipresent security forces. Note the large mosque in the background and its minaret on the right.

Perhaps my favorite picture: early morning, oranges on the tree, Moroccan pink wall and one woman alone.

I hope these photos will give you a sense of these places in Morocco.


On the Marrakesh Express

It’s impossible to go to Morocco without visiting Marrakesh! Recently I decided I had to go there. I put my bags into a taxi and went to the Rabat Ville train station. As I arrived a porter, a poor man, offered help with my bags. Once inside he helped me find the ticket window and then led me to the train. The wrong train!! Once at my destination I learned that the train  me that took me to Casablanca did not continue Marrakech! A couple of hours later, with the help of a Belgian who has become a Moroccan strawberry farmer, I was on the way, humming to myself  the tune of that old song, Marrakech Express!*

I traveled for two and a half hours across a landscape that changed every few miles.  It was beautiful much of the time. I would love to have taken photographs but the windows of the train were so dirty pictures would have been useless.  Instead I took notes, which I’ll share here with you.

Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the ride was how often the landscape changed in the course of a two and a half hour ride. The first section of green beautiful farmland was very much like Pamlico County. (For readers who aren’t my eastern North Carolina neighbors, that’s a place that’s very flat and agricultural.)  Almost immediately I began to see old farm compounds on a couple of acres of land, always surrounded by walls. The enclosed houses had flat roofs and were often painted dark red. I continued to see those farm house enclosures (sometimes newer, sometimes larger) throughout the ride.

As we journeyed on, the land became softer, slightly rolling, often hosting small groves of trees that may have been almonds or fruit or olives. Once I saw an old almond tree in full bloom. One thing I’ve never seen before: cactus farms. In Rabat people were selling cactus fruit about the size of a tennis ball in the streets.

As the land varied from flat and green to rolling hills of small trees and back to dry and arid desert-like, I was reminded of rides I took long ago across west Texas and Nevada.  As the train moved farther south I saw plants that looked like tumble weed.

Here and there small villages appeared. These were always walled and often every building was painted pink. As the train headed south I began to see crops in the fields, showing six or eight inches of new growth. The nearer we came to Marrakech the more often pink towns appeared. Some were quite large. The train only stopped at one of them, a city named Benguerir. Google tells me this is a university town, quite a large place, and like all the other towns I saw, mostly painted rosy pink.

As we approached Marrakech the best views of all appeared: the High Atlas Mountains. Visitors to Marrakech often hike or ride through these mountains to find Berber settlements and the Sahara desert. When I saw them in January they were shining in their cover of snow as the sun sank lower. Gorgeous!


The photo at the top was “borrowed” from a travel blog by Daniel Vogelein. I hope he won’t mind. For great photos of his experience in Morocco, including some of the rural countryside I’ve tried to describe here, please visit his blog at

*Crosby, Stills and Nash, 1969
The first verse says this:
Looking at the world
Through the sunset in your eyes
Trying to make the train
Through clear Moroccan skies
Ducks and pigs and chickens call
Animal carpet wall to wall
American ladies five foot tall in blue – They described me!

In Morocco

I’m in Africa!  The northwest corner of Africa, where the sky is extraordinarily clean and blue. North Africa, of which Morocco is an important part, is not a great deal like Equatorial Africa or South Africa.  It’s the site of the Sahara Dessert and the Berbers.  As it continues to be today, the country has been ruled by one dynasty since 1631. An elected Parliament sharing governance with the king. Morocco is primarily a Muslim country – at certain times of the day the call to prayer can be heard coming from three minarets.

I’m staying in Rabat, the capital city of Morocco.  Certain sections of the city are brand new (such as the area where the new rail station shown above is located. Other areas (such as the Medina) are ancient – though no one there seems to be without a mobile phone. There’s an active commercial district filled with western-style stores and where today I found McDonalds, Starbucks and Pizza Hut.

Here are some scenes of Rabat you may find interesting:

Here’s a view of the “souk.” Much smaller than the famous one in Marrakech, it covers several blocks of streets. Most merchandise seems intended to appeal to tourists.

Rabat has a number of tall ancient towers erected in the memory of kings.

In the oldest parts of town the streets are filled with merchandise and buyers. Many shops, like this one, display goods inside and out.

A street in the Kasbah quarter.

On the left is the door to the house where I’m staying.

Merry Christmas from Venice!

blog venice frari

Buon Natale as I said to people who passed me on the street early this morning. I got a mixed bag of responses that led me to understand that people in Venice don’t do that!  The lady whose job is to sweep the streets was out working – she was delighted by my wish and responded with a long string of words I didn’t understand and a big smile. The reactions of men on the street varied from a startled look to a grunt to a buon giorno.

For the past week I’ve been searching for Christmas in Venice. This city is filled with churches, sometimes two or three in one block. St. Mark’s Basilica offered a number of times and languages for late night mass last night. Stores have displays ranging from a simple string of lights to extravagant, expensive window displays in the shops of world famous designers. But the old way of celebrating Christmas with one’s family with dinner and mass last night and small gifts and a Christmas lunch today seem to still be the way most Venetians celebrate Christianity’s day of joy.

The best thing I found in Venice at Christmas time was a concert in the only gothic church in Venice, Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari (shown above). A small orchestra, a choir of 30 or so, and five soloists performed some Bach and Mozart and Bing Crosby (yes, they sang “White Christmas.”)  It was lovely.

Here are a few photos of Venetian Christmas scenes.


IMG_1081 St Lucia

The first thing most people see in Venice: Santa Lucia rail station, now dressed for Christmas.


Agi and Blaine on the high water walkways outside St. Mark’s Basilica.


A little high water made a nice reflection outside the upscale shops near St. Marks.


Somehow a Walmart Santa made its way to Venice, where it stands guard over an ancient well.


A window display of Venetian Christmas glassware.