Oxford University

Today I concluded my personal walking tour of Oxford. The weather has been fine but is now threatening rain. In the course of my walks around the town I believe that I saw and photographed many of the 38 separate colleges that make up this, the oldest English university in the world. (Only the university in Bologna Italy is older of those which have functioned continuously; it was founded in 1088. There is no proven time of origin for Oxford University but it is known that some people were being educated in 1096.

This view down High Street in Oxford shows some of the oldest colleges all in a line.

Oxford’s organization and method are quite different from universities we know in the United States. Each of the colleges is self-governed. Students live, dine and study in their college’s enormous, ancient buildings. Each year around 20,000 students apply for admission and fewer than 3300 are admitted. I noticed a varied student body representing all parts of the world, based on the many languages and accents I heard. My timing was off when I chose to be here this week because this is the week when prospective students and their parents are invited to tour the colleges, meaning tourists weren’t allowed into the college grounds at all. (Normally tourists can enter the “quads” for a few hours each week day.)

One interesting thing I learned and then observed is that to be awarded a degree students must pass one last final exam and that is given only in one building called the Examination School. Students are traditionally required to wear black suits with white shirts and bow ties. The young women are dressed in much the same fashion. Yesterday I witnessed many of them flocking into their exams. A little later I learned about a tradition for those who pass: they are sprayed with whipped cream and sticky stuff and then have large pieces of confetti thrown on them. Many of the streets in the middle of the town had lots of confetti piled in the gutters.

The entrance to Christ Church College and the “closed” sign.

I learned why I was finding all the colleges closed to visitors when I went to Christ Church College this morning. I had planned to visit that one today so I’d have lots of time there.  In addition to the beautiful building and the green quad each of the colleges has, Christ Church has two other sights visitors enjoy. The cathedral of Oxford is literally attached to the college. The dining hall of Christ Church college is the one seen in the Harry Potter films. It was a bit disappointing, then, to learn that all of it was closed to tourists until Friday (when I’ll be gone).

The memorial garden at Christ Church College and the cathedral in the rear.

There is a war memorial garden next to the college which affords nice views of the cathedral and the college buildings. I was allowed to enter that today and found some lovely gardens. I also happened upon one college, the one named Jesus College, when the guard was not at his post. I sneaked in and took some pictures so I can show you at least one “inside the walls.”

The only picture I got of a “quad” — the center enclosed by the four wings of each college.

I’ve enjoyed my time here. The city is well-run, with excellent bus transportation and lots of activities of all types offered to residents and visitors. There were loads of visitors this week including many school groups speaking a variety of languages. (Teenagers are the same everywhere, aren’t they?)

Tomorrow I’m off to Porto, Portugal. The two cities I selected for this trip are quite different from one another. I haven’t been to Porto before. I’m excited by all I’ve read and heard about it. I’ll be sending photos and reports so come back soon.

Libbie

P.S. Besides the colleges I saw many other interesting things in Oxford. Old churches, beautiful displays of flowers on many buildings, lovely gardens, the “punts” lined up in the river by “gondoliers” offering romantic rides. Here are a few other pictures I took this week.

Flowers gracing City Hall’s old formal windows.

Punts lined up early in the day.

Here’s a link to Wikipedia’s article about Oxford University.

Oxford, England

I made a good choice when I decided on Oxford when choosing an English city to visit. I love history and Oxford is filled with it. Stories about “old boys” (as the grads are called). Buildings that are hundreds of years old. Not just the “colleges” (the various entities that make up the university) but churches, houses, cemeteries … the majority of buildings in the center city it seems are very, very old. The university buildings (some dating back to the 13th century) are the show pieces, of course. Huge buildings made of the golden stone of the nearby Cotswolds and decorated with sculpture, the colleges are the place where students live, dine and study. In a “college town” we would expect shops, bars, restaurants and they are here in vast numbers. But Oxford isn’t just about history – it’s about the future too. There are some very striking new buildings as well as the old. I titled the picture above “Three Centuries” because it shows an old building in the background, a 20th century British phone booth (now nearly obsolete) and 21st century bikes which are found by the thousands all over town.

This church named for St. Giles was built in the 1200s and is still serving its parish today.

I was intrigued by this lane, leading to a very old building and surrounded by two others.

I wandered for hours but didn’t take very many pictures.  The weather was cloudy most of the day and there were crowds of tourists surrounding everything I wanted to “shoot” – or so it seemed. I’m posting a few and hoping for good ones tomorrow.

This painting of St. Catherine by Vittore Crivelli, painted in the 1490s, is beautifully done.

I stopped briefly at the Ashmolean Museum. I particularly like the painting shown above.

Tonight I had dinner in a pizza & pasta restaurant called (what else?) Mama Mia’s. Lots of young families there.  A dozen 11-year-old boys were celebrating a birthday. I was there when the cake made its appearance and they all sang: “Hoppy berthday to yew, Ollie!” That’s how it sounded to my American ears anyway. We had a British friend who liked to tell us that England and the U.S. were two countries separated by a common language. It sometimes seems that way!

Libbie

Newsworthy Notes

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Is Going to the U.K. or France on your wish list? If you have a hankering to visit Britain or France, this may be the best time in years to go! The U.K. vote to leave the European Union (“Brexit”) has caused a large drop in the value of both the British pound and the euro. Currently a euro costs $1.11 and the pound is $1.31. (These are today’s prices, August 31, 2016.) The recent terrorist attacks in France and Belgium have caused a significant reduction in the tourist numbers in those countries resulting in some lowering of hotel prices. For much of the past ten years the euro has cost around $1.35 or more and the pound has been between $1.40 and $2.

London and Paris are among the world’s top tourist destinations and I think everyone should see each of those magnificent cities at least once in a lifetime. I enjoy them but I find that exploring the countryside and the small cities and villages in those countries more pleasant. Not only is that kind of travel less expensive, but it’s also more relaxing and it allows you to really meet the people in those countries and to discover how they actually live.

In today’s issue of The Guardian, a major British newspaper, there’s a terrific article about non-hotel places to stay in “back-to-nature” places where you can enjoy a stroll, a bike ride or a leisurely drive in a rental car. Here’s the link.

Also from today’s news, the Washington Post has an article about one family’s discoveries for seeing Paris cheaply. Here’s that link.

If visiting England or France (or both, which is easily done via the Chunnel) has been on your wish list, this autumn may be a less expensive time to go than we’ll ever see again!

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AirBnB Makes Travel Available to Everyone

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AirBnB is a very popular new way to rent a place to stay almost anywhere in the world. Using the Internet, travelers can choose to rent an entire house or apartment, a room in someone’s home, or just a sofa to crash on. I’ve used vacation rentals many times. For my recent trip around Europe I rented 11 places, six of them via AirBnB.

I liked booking with AirBnB more than with the other companies offering similar services. Why? One reason is that all the places I rented were managed by their owners. The difference between the welcome I received from AirBnB hosts and professional managers was very noticeable. Most of the owners met me when I arrived. The three who couldn’t arranged for their mothers or a friend to greet me and make sure the place was ready for my arrival.

Two other important benefits are offered by AirBnB. The first is that the cost is generally lower than that offered by other large online vacation rental companies. The second is that many hosts on AirBnB offer very liberal cancellation terms. (AirBnB has three levels of cancellation; not all of them offer a full refund if you cancel – watch out for this!)

The website puts the owner and the tenant in touch with one another via text message or email very quickly and maintains that link indefinitely. This is really helpful when you have questions or need directions for finding the place you’ve rented. Although I never used it, I was glad to know that an AirBnB employee was just a phone call away if I had a problem.

One drawback of using AirBnB is that the company wants immediate payment of the full rent at the time of booking. That is held until 24 hours after your arrival as protection for you in case the rental is not available or you arrive to find that the rental is unacceptable. This was never the case with any of my AirBnB rentals.

Here’s a brief description of each of the places I stayed in that were arranged on AirBnB. Click the blue city name to see the apartment.

My AirBnB in Antwerp is located in the recently restored old port area of the city meaning I could easily walk to the center of the city. The apartment is owned by Astrid, a young mother who no longer lives in the city. Her friend Gloria manages the apartment and was very helpful to me. The apartment is large. It includes a commodious living room with kitchen on one end; and a bedroom that’s bigger than mine at home. Astrid has made a number of improvements such as installing a washing machine and a dishwasher. The apartment is located on the third floor (American) in a hundred-year-old building. Although I didn’t meet Astrid we communicated via email and phone several times. She was always pleasant and helpful.

My AirBnB in Collioure is a four-story, single family home with a very small footprint. Each floor contains one entire room and nothing more except the staircase. The building is old but has been totally rehabbed and has a new kitchen (pictured above) and bathroom. It’s just steps from the Mediterranean sea. It’s owned by Elise who lives in another part of France. Her mother met me at the train station and welcomed me to the rental with the next morning’s breakfast and lots of information. I was only here for three days in February but the weather was mild and the location allowed me to totally explore the small town. Communication with Elise was easy. Her English is excellent and so is her vacation rental.

My AirBnB in Nice is one of the very best of the entire journey. The owner, Beatrice, is a very charming French lady who speaks English well. She welcomed me warmly and spent an hour or more telling me about the apartment and the neighborhood. Her place is beautifully decorated and very comfortable. It’s in a high-rise apartment building in a middle-class neighborhood not far from the center of Nice. When I left Beatrice came to see me off. I felt like I’d made a new friend.

My AirBnB in Quimper is a nicely decorated, one-bedroom apartment located in the center of the city on a pedestrian-only street that was very quiet. As you’ll see if you click the link this apartment is stylishly furnished. The owner, Marion, is a young woman who has recently married and moved to another city; this was her apartment prior to her marriage. Marion refused to meet me upon arrival until I insisted that she do so – then she arranged for her very pleasant mother to clean the apartment and to meet me. This was the only time I had an AirBnB host who was anything other than professional.

My AirBnB rental in Totnes is a “mother-in-law” apartment attached to the home Denise has occupied for a number of years. The experience of sharing Denise’s home made my stay there very nice. I had been reluctant to rent a room in someone’s home until I decided to go to England where the cost of anything else is very high. Staying in my hosts’ home turned out to be one of the best discoveries of the trip! Denise and I went out to dinner on the evening of my arrival and then on to see a movie with her friends. The space I occupied included a fully equipped kitchen, but I often settled myself at Denise’s kitchen table to use my computer. Denise is a charming and helpful hostess. I enjoyed my days in her home.

My AirBnB rental in Hastings was a room in a six-bedroom home where Francesca has lived for many years and raised her family. There were women coming and going in this traditional rooming house almost any time at all and after nearly four months alone I really enjoyed their company. Francesca provided breakfast and I could use the kitchen to prepare my own dinner. A real bonus here was the sometime-presence of Francesca’s two-year-old grandson. He’s a darling and it was nice for me to spend a little time with a young child. Francesca and I have become friends on Facebook, and I look forward to seeing her again one day.

This has become a very long post so I’ll stop here but next time I’ll share with you some of what I learned about traveling the AirBnB way.

Lincoln: New and Old

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Here on the hill at the top of the town where I’ve been staying for a week most people and businesses are accommodated in old buildings, some of them very old indeed!

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Located on Steep Hill, this house called the Norman House has been occupied since the year 1180. It is one of two houses of that age in Lincoln.

But I don’t want to give them impression that Lincoln is living in some past century. It’s a smart and progressive town that just happens to live where it’s been for 3000 years.

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One of the most impressive new creations that I visited is an archaelogical museum called “The Collection.” What could be more appropriate to a town with so much history? The building is modern without seeming out of place. The displays and descriptions are very 21st century. The museum is great for school age children but adults will enjoy it just as much.   And here’s one example of the thought that went into this museum’s design:

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A perfectly planned window in the new archaeological museum in Lincoln.

Like most English cities and towns, Lincoln has a very active “High Street.” The the British term for the central city shopping area. And like most other towns, this one is largely housed in 19th century buildings. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t up to date! In addition to two or three major department stores, there are branches of many European retailers.

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A canal runs through the “High Street” area and here we find some of the most modern ideas, artwork and buildings (such as new malls) mixed with old buildings such as the pub that claims to date to the 14th century. Lovely pedestrian bridges cross the canal. A large family of swans adds an elegant touch. An old canal boat serves as a café.

Lincoln has really become a popular tourist destination since I was here in 2002. The upper town around the cathedral (called Bailgate) has many attractive boutiques, restaurants, pubs and inns. I’ve shown you that area earlier this week.

I’ve been staying just a couple of blocks away in a wonderful Victorian house called St. Clement’s Old Rectory. This is my second stay here. Roy and Gill who own St. Clement’s are very welcoming and helpful. They have five self-catering apartments (vacation rentals) in this big house, each of them well furnished and with full kitchens. The location is very quiet. The photo at the top of this post shows the entrance to the driveway to St. Clements.

Tomorrow I move on to Ireland, returning to southeastern part of the country where my husband George and I stayed for four months in 2005. It’s going to be a long stay in one very comfortable place. And my friend Bee is coming to join me!

Libbie

 

 

Memories of England

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A few weeks ago I reconnected with friends Charlie Moore and Annie Lucky who moved from New Bern to California last year. Charlie wrote to me about his experience of living in England for many years. I thought you would enjoy reading what he said.

Once upon a time I decided that I would move to the UK or Ireland and that I would spend a year to find my new home. I flew into Heathrow, rented a car for a month, and drove up the east coast of England and into Scotland, then west to Blackpool, into Wales, and south along the west coast, into Somerset and down to Devon where my people lived before immigrating to America in 1640.  When I got to the little town of Wellington, Somerset, near my ancestral home, I knew I had found my home. I rented a small apartment, and lived there for 19 years, in a country farmhouse in the Blackdown hills. But it was not to be forever… I ended up returning to America after a long and happy time in England. I still think of it as home.

And a second part of Charlie’s story:

Let me tell you about Dunkeswell. Near the border between Somerset and Devon is a little town called Dunkeswell, Devon. It was the site of the only US Navy base in England during the war, and it was from there that B-24 bombers flew to bomb the Nazi submarine pens in Holland and Belgium. Since I was the only Yank Navy vet living nearby (in Somerset) I was asked to serve on the Board of Directors of a museum to conserve the remembrances of the then-abandoned air base. It was an interesting experience for me. My old US Navy uniform still hangs in the museum, as far as I know. It was eerie in that you could still see the tire marks of the big planes in the turf, and could almost hear the roar of their engines as they lined up for their missions to the continent. It was from this place that Joseph Kennedy Jr. flew when when his plane blew up on a mission to Europe. His gravesite is in Dunkeswell, a funeral attended by President Kennedy and the Kennedy family.

Charlie

Here’s a link to the museum’s website.

I’ve never before known the details of how Joe Kennedy Jr. died. The story is in this Wikipedia article. You may find it to be interesting.

The photo at the top of this post is from http://www.devonandsomersetmc.co.uk/Dunkeswell_History1.jpg

Historic Lincoln, England

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A view of the intricate stone carving on the cathedral and the pair of towers at the front.

The city of Lincoln in the English midlands is the site of one of the world’s greatest buildings, the Lincoln Cathedral. It was begun at the behest of William the Conqueror in the year 1072. A short distance from the cathedral gate, about three blocks west, stand the remains of the castle that William ordered constructed in 1068. These buildings are on a high hill overlooking the ancient town. On the “High Street” (main street) of Lincoln traffic still crosses a bridge built in the year 1160; houses are built on it too!  Throughout the city houses that are hundreds of years old line the streets.

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The wall that still surrounds the castle yard. The castle is long gone but the wall is a good reminder of what once stood here.

This is my third visit to Lincoln. My husband George and I came here at the beginning of our long journey around Europe. We had never seen buildings like these and a city that has been occupied and thriving for 3000 years. A few months later, when circumstances caused us to add a month to our trip, we came back to Lincoln for another week.

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Just outside the cathedral close are the ancient buildings of the upper town. Antique homes and shops extend for blocks across the top of the hill and around the cathedral

Without realizing what I was doing, I booked an apartment for this week in the place where we stayed in 2002. The same friendly people still own St. Clement’s Rectory, a large old house containing five really nice self-catering apartments. The location is ideal for exploring the city.

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A view of the cathedral nave and organ. The structure extends for probably 100 feet beyond the organ, in three directions. It’s huge!

Although I took pictures today I’m using the pictures I took in 2001-02 for this post. The camera quality isn’t great but they are pictures I’ve loved for nearly 15 years and I want to share them here. I love this place! Over the next week I’ll show you more of Lincoln and tell you more about it. Stay tuned!

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Maybe my luckiest shot ever!

Libbie

The University of Cambridge

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For the past two days I’ve been wandering the streets of Cambridge, admiring the old buildings of the University including the King’s College chapel, visiting museums and learning about the history of “town and gown.”

Cambridge University dates from the 13th century when a dispute in Oxford led some faculty and students to move to the city of Cambridge. The oldest college, Peterhouse, was founded in the year 1284 but teaching had begun in Cambridge in 1209. The University is the fourth oldest university in the world. There are 31 independent “colleges” within the University. Today about 20,000 students are enrolled, many of them pursuing graduate studies.

Travel writer Bill Bryson’s latest book is entitled The Road to Little Dribbling. It’s an update of the book that began his career twenty years ago, Notes from a Small Island. Both books are filled with witty observations of life in many of the cities and villages of Great Britain. His chapter on Cambridge includes this about the famous Cavendish laboratory which was the workplace of many scientists from 1874 to 1974:

“Somebody once observed to me that probably no small patch of earth has produced more revolutionary thinking than an area a few hundred yards across in the centre of Cambridge. Here you had Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, William Harvey, Charles Babbage, Alan Turing, John Maynard Keynes, Louis Leakey, Bertrand Russell and more than we could list here. Altogether ninety people from Cambridge have won Nobel prizes, more than any other institution in the world, and the greater portion of these – nearly one-third – came out of this anonymous building… where J.J. Thomson discovered the electron in 1897 [and] DNA was revealed by Francis Crick and James Watson …”

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The principal entrance to the old Cavendish Lab (shot from a very narrow street).

So here I am in the intellectual center of the universe!

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Saint John’s College on left and right.

Many of the buildings where students live and study were constructed centuries ago. These enormous, ancient structures are located throughout the town. Some colleges are obviously older and richer than others. Clearly there was a competition to build the grandest structures among them that must have gone on for centuries. All the colleges are behind high brick walls and gates. Some have the gates locked and don’t welcome visitors, some open their gates for a fee (a couple of which are quite expensive), and a few welcome visitors to their courtyards and chapels. There are large, ornate churches inside the walls of most of colleges.

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A typical wall around one of the colleges.

Of these chapels the most famous is King’s College Chapel, known around the world for its choir and its architecture. The chapel is a late British gothic building, a long rectangle decorated in the “perpendicular” style known for large windows separated by narrow vertical stone walls supported by buttresses.

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The exterior of King’s College Chapel.

The ceiling is famous for its fan vaulting.

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There are many beautiful stained-glass windows.

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I have really enjoyed my three days in Cambridge. There’s much to see and do here. Tomorrow I move on to Lincoln, England, a city I’ve been to twice before that I really like. I’ll be there for a week. I may not post to the blog again before Monday.

In the meantime, here are a couple more pictures I like from Cambridge.

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The back side of one of the large colleges. Look at all those chimneys!

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The entrance to Free School Lane where the Cavendish Laboratory was located for 100 years.

Libbie

Resources:

Read the history of King’s College Chapel by clicking here. It’s fascinating.

For more images and information about the colleges of Cambridge click here for a website that has both.

Wikipedia has a long article about the history of the university.

Discovering Cambridge, England

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Ancient Cambridge has many grand, centuries-old buildings owned by the “colleges” that make up Cambridge University. Its size is small but it’s filled with the energy of the young people who fill the streets. It may be ancient but it is a forward-looking place. New buildings are rising on the outskirts and to some extent in the city proper. There are many parks and other green spaces. Fifteen museums are listed on the tourist office map including the important Fitzwilliam Museum which has an excellent art collection. Here are a few scenes captured yesterday between April showers.

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The first picture I took was of young people playing sports in the very heart of the city.

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Spring is in the air! Note the old stone street gutter, the French-style roof, the ancient churches.

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I saw several sundials. The oldest of the colleges dates from the year 1248.

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Musical performances are advertised by posters hung on fences and displayed on walls and doors. This is the home of the King’s College Choir.

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A daily market fills a large lot in the very center of town. I was surprised to find it still very active at 5:00. Most outdoor markets in Europe close by 1:00 pm.

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Among the shops that line the streets there are many more old and traditional businesses than chain stores. There is a multi-story shopping mall in the center of the city which seems to have collected the national chains. I was surprised by this: the city library is in the mall! When I asked a librarian whether that occurred because the developer wanted the library’s site he said that’s just what happened. The result is a new 3-story public library with more patrons.

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Here’s another example of how old some of the merchants are: note the date of founding of this haberdashery.

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Cambridge takes its name from the river Cam which flows gently around the center city, behind a number of the colleges.

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This is the famous “Mathematical Bridge” surrounded by “punters” taking visitors on boat tours on the Cam. The “punts” are low and flat, and are poled by people who look like gondoliers.

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The Fitzwilliam Museum is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year. Its collections range from large holdings of pre-Christian artifacts to Picasso paintings. The collection of classical paintings from Italy and Flanders fills several large rooms and includes works from nearly every famed artist.

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Yesterday I wandered from 9:00 to 5:00 and didn’t see half of Cambridge, small though it is. Today I’m going back for more. (Did I mention that Cambridge seems as filled with bicycles as Amsterdam?)

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As I walked back to my B&B in the late afternoon the setting sun was highlighting the large chimneys of row houses along Mill Street. I’ve been noticing the chimneys throughout my time in England. Each chimney pot is linked to a separate fireplace inside. I think every room must have one.

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This picture is for Skyla. When I saw these springtime cakes in a bakery window I had to take this picture to send to you.

Libbie