Tag Archives: culture
January 29, 2016

‘Peace of Eden’ in the Bohemian Paradise

‘Peace of Eden’ in the Bohemian Paradise

Gazing up through enormous sandstone walls carved into fluid waves, at the distant branches of enormous trees, it feels as if you’re in another world. A world where dryads, trolls, nymphs, dwarves and elves move unseen yet seeing, observing you from afar, luring you deeper into their universe, where who knows what may happen …

Hruboskalske Rock Town - bohemian paradise - czech republic - zoedawes

Bohemian Paradise, Czech Republic

I’m in Hruboskalske ‘Rock Town’, a sandstone mesa deep within a forested ridge between Hrubá Skála and the town of Turnov, in the Bohemian Paradise (Czeský Ráj). I’m being shown round by Andrew and Linda Philips and their two daughters, who have a holiday home for rent in this beautiful part of the Czech Republic. Within a short drive of ‘Peace of Eden‘, their traditional wood-clad Czech house, is this unique fairy-tale area of impressive rock formations, fortified towers and ancient castles, quaint villages and tranquil countryside.

Trosky castle bohemian paradise - zoedawes

We’d already been to The Old Woman and the Maiden. Trosky Castle, the most significant landmark of this region, is actually two towers, built in the 14th c on twin volcanic peaks which can be seen from far away across the Bohemian Paradise (aka Czech Eden). It’s one of the most popular castles in the Czech Republic and sums up this area’s attraction; historic, imposing, picturesque and yes, most definitely quirky.

Before we’d gone into ‘rock town’ we’d had a quick look round Hrubá Skála, an attractive chateau that’s been remodelled over the centuries and has an eclectic regal appearance.

Hruba Skala Chateau bohemian paradise - zoedawes

Standing on a look-out platform in the castle courtyard, we got a splendid view of the surrounding countryside, with forests, farms and tiny hamlets scattered all about and Trosky Castle in the distance. We spent a fascinating half hour in a gem-stone shop; the owner’s wife makes jewellery from local semi-precious stones. He took great delight in showing us a photo of Sophie, Countess of Wessex, wearing one of their brooches at a Duke Of Edinburgh Awards ceremony in the Czech Republic.

Hruba Skala Gemstone gallery - bohemian Paradise - zoedawes

We entered the ‘Rock Town’ down a flight of narrow steps between sandstone pillars, into a tranquil place of ‘towers’ reaching 55 metres high and straggling trees stretching up to grasp the sunlight above. The sandstone crumbles as you brush past and there are a number of caves, some of which used to be lived in. There is a very poignant memorial to a young boy who was killed falling down into this cavernous world. Emerging from its bosky depths, we followed the main road back to the chateau, passing many Czech families out on bikes and hiking in this popular walking area.

Hiking in Bohemian Paradise - zoedawes

What’s great about staying in Peace of Eden is that you get all the comforts of home after a busy day out; in fact, much greater comfort than my home for sure! Set in over 3 acres of attractive grounds, including a pond and fruit trees, the house has four bedrooms, sleeping up to eight people in cosy comfort.

Peace of Eden holiday home - Czech Republic


The kitchen- dining area is luxuriously fitted out with high-spec equipment, utensils and crockery with a traditional wood-burning oven at its heart. The large lounge has deep sofas and armchairs around a wood-burner, beneath an elegant brick-vaulted ceiling. It’s been renovated most sympathetically, keeping as many original features as possible whilst creating a contemporary feel.  My bedroom had a king-size bed and luxurious en-suite bathroom and looked out over the garden and surrounding countryside. There is wifi throughout the house.

Peace of Eden holiday home - czech republic- zoedawes

 You can order fresh bakes and preserves from a neighbouring farmer and in nearby Turnov there is a Lidl supermarket for most other shopping needs.

You need a spirit of adventure to make the most of your stay in the Bohemian Paradise. Tourism is in its infancy here and this part of the Czech Republic gets fewer overseas visitors than Prague (only 1.5 hours away). A car is necessary; with a SatNav it’s fairly easy to get about. Many signs, directions, menus etc are only in Czech so bring along a dictionary/phrase book and you shouldn’t have a problem. We had lunch one day in quaint Restaurant Bouckuv in Mala Skala; Andrew had got the menu translated for us so it was easy to order. I can highly recommend the venison goulash …

Restaurant Bouckuv Mala Skala - Czech Republic - zoedawes

Our final excursion was to imposing Kost, one of the best-preserved Gothic castles in Bohemia, surrounded by ponds which acted as defensive protection in the 14th c. Unfortunately, it was closed on the day we visited so we had to make do with admiring it from the outside. Aparently it has a macabre medieval torture chamber and an impressive collection of weaponry. Beside the castle is a footpath which leads into the Plakánek Trail, lined with massive sandstone rocks and home to a variety of birds and other wildlife. (Plakánek means ‘The Weeper’ and there are many legends about why is it called that, but according to the excellent Czeský Ráj information booklet, it was actually because charcoal burners got an eye-disease caused by the smoke from their fires.)

Kost Plakanek Trail Czech Republic

As we wandered along the valley, autumn sun filtered in and out of the clouds, lighting up the myriad of coloured leaves, shading from green to gold, amber to crimson, orange to yellow. The girls found a large frog croaking its way into the leaf litter and birds carolled through the canyon.

Plakanek Valley Trail czech republic - zoedawes

This is the Bohemian Paradise Protected Region, due to its unique natural beauty and historical sights. You may not have heard of it before, but now that you have, I hope you get to visit one day. There are very many other cultural attractions and excellent for mountain biking, hiking and other outdoor pursuits. It is a very special part of Europe with an unspoilt character that invites exploration at your leisure.

Zoe Dawes Kost Castle Czech Republic

Many thanks to the Philips family for their generous hospitality and for giving me a glimpse of this romantic region of the Czech Republic. Find out more about Peace of Eden holiday home and booking availability here. Follow them on Twitter @peaceofedencz and on Facebook PeaceofEdenCZ.

Peace of Eden holiday home wesbite


December 31, 2015

Top travel experiences of the year

Top travel experiences of the year

Kempinski Ishtar Hotel Dead Sea Jordan - image zoedawesIt’s the end of the year and, along with many others, I’ve been looking back over the past 12 months and reflecting on all that has happened. On a personal level it was a big year as my son finished school and started university in Liverpool, so much of the time seemed to be spent nagging him to revise. I was also redesigning my training and coaching business zoedawes.com to focus on the tourism, hospitality and creative sectors. But there was time for some top travel trips and very special memories in 2015.  Here are my favourites; some unsual ideas for your own holiday next year..

Top travel experiences of the year

Getting up close and personal with grizzly bears in British Columbia

Grizzly bear cubs Knight Inlet BC Canada - zoedawes

I have never experienced anything like it. To go grizzly bear watching and get within a few metres of these huge, furry beasts as they make their way along the shores of the Great Bear Rainforest is truly wonderful. I can still picture the misty, rain-dappled waters of Knight Inlet and see powerful paws delicately turning over stones to find tasty morsels hidden below. With highly knowledgeable, friendly guides, a variety of transport modes, clothing, equipment and excellent meals all provided by Knight Inlet Bear Lodge, there is really nothing to think about except enjoying every moment.

Gary and Zoe Knight Inlet Lodge BC Canada

Being without internet connection and far from ‘civilisation’ is also a great for a ‘digital detox’; much needed in this day and age. If you love wildlife, the outdoors and bears this will be perfect.

Finally visiting Petra and floating in the Dead Sea, Jordan

Petra from Siq Jordan - zoedawes

In Autumn this year I fulfilled TWO life-long ambition on a memorable trip to Jordan. I first saw a picture of Petra and of somone floating in the sea reading a newspaper when I was a child. Since then I have wanted to experience both., but had no idea they would both be possible in the same country – Jordan. The ancient city of Petra didn’t disappoint, being much bigger and more impressive than expected. The Dead Sea was very different. The whole area is now a big resort with large modern hotels catering for holidaymakers from Jordan and further afield. It has the air of a posh Blackpool, though many of the hotels were half empty due to the current situation in the Middle East. We stayed in great luxury at the Kempinksi Ishtar Hotel (NINE swimming pools!). ‘Swimming’ in the Dead Sea is a highly organised activity, with help in covering yourself in mud (very gloopy) and floating for a few minutes. It’s very difficult to stay upright and the water stings like crazy if you get it in your eyes. But I did it and have the photo to prove it!

Floating in the Dead Sea Jordan - zoedawes

There are many other sights to see in Jordan, we had no problems in Jordan and I would highly recommend visiting now, subject to the usual Foreign Office advice.

Discovering British Royal Heritage on first trip to Germany

House of Hannover - Marienburg Castle

Have you been to Germany? I hadn’t until this year, when I went to explore sites relating to the Hanoverian royal family. I stayed in Hanover (Hannover)  which is only a short flight from the UK and a very buzzy city. Highlights of the Lower Saxony trip included the baroque beauty of Herrenhausen Gardens, historic Celle with its beautiful castle and medieval town, beautiful Buckeburg Castle and a guided tour of charming Marienburg Castle.

New Town Hall Hanover Germany - zoedawes

If you’re looking for a weekend break with a difference, pop over to Hanover and you’ll discover a city of vibrant culture, relaxed night life, good food and drink in a historic region with very regal connections.

International Happy New YearWherever you are and whatever you do, have a VERY Happy New Year full of quirky travel and much joy.

December 7, 2015

5 must-see historic sights in Jordan

5 must-see historic sights in Jordan

The most famous site in Jordan is undoubtedly the breath-takingly lovely ancient city of Petra, magnet for visitors from around the globe, but on a recent visit to this wonderfully diverse country, I discovered many other world-class sights. Here are 5 places that will appeal to any lovers of history, art and beauty.

Amman – Ancient Philadelphia

Amman Roman Theatre Jordan - zoedawes

Roman Theatre

The capital of Jordan, Amman is a beige mish-mash of busy highways, modern skyscrapers, ugly office blocks and higgledy-piggledy housing, where charm needs to be searched out. The jewel in its historical crown is the Lower City, where picturesque streets and old markets can still be seen. However, it’s the ruins of venerable Roman Philadelphia that attracted us. The huge Theatre, built in the 2nd c AD, seating 6,000 spectactors, is still used for public performances and from the top there’s a great view of Amman. Bedside the main amphitheatre is the intimate Odeum, a well-preserved structure that seats an audience of up to 500. Our guide, Burhan, made sure we visited the Museum of Folk Tradition, housed in the original entrance to the theatre.

Museum of Costume and Jewellery Amman Jordan - zoedawes

Museum of Folk Tradition

It has a delightful collection local costumes, attractive jewellery and artworks from around Jordan. I particularly liked the silver necklaces and face masks, embroidered dresses and mosaic fragments from Madaba, dating back to the 5th c AD. Towering over the Theatre is the Citadel, originally the acropolis of the city.

Amman Roman Citadel Jordan - photo zoedawes

Temple of Hercules

It has the remains of the Temple of Hercules and a huge hand from a massive statue. There’s also an excellent Archaeological Museum, with some of the oldest ‘human’ statues ever found.

Madaba – City of Mosaics

Madaba Church of St George Jordan - photo zoedawes

Church of St George

Known as Medba in the Bible, Madaba is renowned for its many churches, the floors, walls and ceilings of which are decorated with intricate mosaics. The first to be discovered in recent times is on the floor of the Greek-Orthodox Church of St George. ‘The mosaic panel enclosing the Map was originally around 15.6 x 6m, 94 sq.m., only about a quarter of which is preserved.’  It’s a map of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, dating back to the time of Emperor Justinian (527 – 56 AD) and is belived to be the oldest map in the world.

Madaba Map of the Holy Land Jordan - photo zoedawes

Map of the Holy Land

It was probably designed for the benefit of pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land; surviving fragments include Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jericho, the River Jordan and the Dead Sea. What amazed us most was how close you can get to it; there is just a little rope surrounding it, over which you can lean to take photos!

Jerash – Roman Gerasa

The Roman Arch of Triumph Jerash Jordan - zoedawes

The Arch of Triumph

I’m ashamed to say that I had never heard of Jerash (ancient Gerasa), yet it is acknowledged as one of the most impressive Roman ‘provincial towns’ in the world. It’s easy to see why. The enormous Arch of Triumph, erected in AD 129 in honour of Emperor Hadrian’s visit, sets the tone for this trip back in time to Rome’s heyday in Jordan. Wandering past the Hippodrome you can almost hear the chariots racing round the track to the cheering crowds. Through the South Gate, you pass the Temple of Zeus and onwards to the large, elegant colonnaded horse-shoe of The Forum. With few tourists around during our visit, it was easy to get a feel for the splendour of this site.

Jerash Forum and modern city Jordan - photo zoedawes

Jerash Forum and Cardo Maximus

The main artery of Jerash is the Cardo Maximus, a paved road flanked by mighty columns decorated with agapanthus leaves. Some lie toppled where they fell hundreds of years ago, adding to the sense of history and myth. I loved the Nymphaeum, which must have looked wonderful when the fountains were in full spate. Hiking up to the South Theatre we were intrigued to hear the incongrous sound of bagpipes drifting across the ruins. Inside the Orchestra area were two guys in Jordanian army uniform, playing their hearts out in the midday sun.

Musicians Jerash Theatre Jordan - zoedawes

Theatre musicians

We chatted to them; it turns out they are retired soldiers who do this all summer to entertain the tourists. They’ve even performed at the Edinburgh Tatoo! Very quirky and unexpected …

Salt – Abu Jabber House Museum

Abu Jabber House - Salt Museum - Jordan - photo zoedawes

Salt Museum of Archaeology and Folklore, opposite the town centre Mosque, is a little gem. Opened in 2010, Abu Jabber House is a traditional Jordanian dwelling where the first King of Jordan stayed. Salt (Al Salt) is thought to have been built during the reign of Alexander the Great and has a strong historical past. Salt’s heyday was in the late 19th century when traders arrived from Nablus to expand their trading network eastwards beyond the Jordan River. As a result of the influx of newcomers this period saw the rapid expansion of Salt from a simple peasant village into a town with many architecturally elegant buildings, many built in the Nablusi style from the attractive honey-coloured local stone. A large number of buildings from this era survive. Wikipedia

Salt street market jordan - zoedawes

Salt street scene

The museum is home to a number of old artefacts, a recreation of a school-room, traditional Bedouin costumes and a model of the town as it used to be. The curator is very enthusiastic about Salt’s latest attraction and spent a great deal of time explaining its history. On a wall in one of the elegant upper rooms is a series of photos of the Kings of Jordan. This country is very proud of its Heshemite ruling family; there are pictures of King Abdullah II and his wife, Queen Rania in public places all over the country.

Salt Museum Kings of Jordan - zoedawes

Kings of Jordan

River Jordan – Baptism Site

Last but most definitely not least, the Baptism Site (Bethabara – Place of Passage) at the River Jordan. This is by far and away the most significant religious site in this part of the Middle East. There was some dispute over which side of the River Jordan was the ‘genuine’ site, but in 2015 ‘UNESCO weighed in on the rivalry, designating Jordan’s baptismal area on the eastern bank a World Heritage site. The UN cultural agency declared this month that the site “is believed to be” the location of Jesus’ baptism, based on what it said is a view shared by most Christian churches.’ 

Baptism mosaic River Jordan - zoedawes

Baptism mosaic

En route to the site itself is a newly created path that leads to the Chapels that have been built over the centuries and to the impressive (newly erected) Church of St John the Baptist with some interesting icons and murals plus some fairly tacky souvenirs and vials of ‘Holy Water’ taken from the rivulet nearby that is all that is left of the original River Jordan.

Church of St John the Baptist

Church of St John the Baptist

The river is a narrow muddy place with a covered pavilion on the site of an ancient chapel. On the opposite side (Palestine) is a much more elaborate complex with many pilgrims immersing themselves totally into the water. You can almost touch those on the other side and there is a feeling of great harmony as people of all races and creeds smile over the water and take photos of each other. Whilst we were there, a group of British visitors were celebrating the Baptism Service in the most appropriate place on earth.

Baptism site at the River Jordan zoedawes

The Baptism Site at the River Jordan

At the time of publication Jordan has the same safety rating as Canada, United States, China and Germany and has fewer tourists at present so it’s a great time to go. Many thanks to our knowledgeable guide Burhan and Visit Jordan for inviting us to experience Jordan, a country beyond expectations. Check out their website for more information on what to see, where to stay and when to go.

November 21, 2015

In search of Elizabeth Gaskell and the real ‘Cranford’

In search of Elizabeth Gaskell and the real ‘Cranford’

The opening lines of ‘Cranford‘ by Elizabeth Gaskell

“In the first place, Cranford is in possession of the Amazons; all the holders of houses above a certain rent are women. If a married couple come to settle in the town, somehow the gentleman disappears; he is either fairly frightened to death by being the only man in the Cranford evening parties, or he is accounted for by being with his regiment, his ship, or closely engaged in business all the week in the great neighbouring commercial town of Drumble, distant only twenty miles on a railroad.”

Elizabeth Gaskell in Knutsford

Elizabeth Gaskell Home Knutsford - zoedawes

Heathwaite House – Elizabeth Gaskell’s home in Knutsford

Standing outside an elegant double-fronted house on a rainy day in Cheshire, Caroline, our expert guide, explained how Elizabeth Stevenson (1810-1865) came to Knutsford as a baby in 1811 after the death of her mother. She lived with her Aunt Lumb until she went to school in Stratford, then stayed in London and around the country before returning to the town and marrying William Gaskell. Together they went to Manchester where he was the minister of Cross Street Unitarian Chapel.

King Street Knutsford Cheshire

King Street

I have been to Knutsford, not far from Chester, a number of times but had no idea that Elizabeth Gaskell had based her well-known novel, Cranford (pub. 1851) on this attractive little town, as well as Hollingford in ‘Wives and Daughters’. I was on a day out with a group of friends from our local Book Club to find out more about Elizabeth Gaskell and her connections to the North West. Caroline told us that many of the characters in Cranford were based on people she knew and some of the buildings still standing feature in her novels.

Miss Matty's house Cranford Knutsford - zoedawes

Miss Matty’s house

A blue plaque outside WH Smith’s states: This property built in the reign of George I is reputed to have been the fictional home of Miss Matty’, the principal character in Mrs Gaskell’s Cranford and was also the home of Miss Elizabeth Harker upon whom Mrs Gaskell based her Cranford character ‘Betty Barker’. Caroline informed us that actually it was probably the property next door …  Miss Matty was played with great wit and panache by the glorious Dame Judi Dench in the BBC TV adaptation of Cranford.

Royal George Hotel and dragon Knutsford

Royal George Hotel

We saw the old Assembly Rooms, sadly not open to the public, the Royal George and Angel Hotel, all with connections to the author and her stories. Most impressive was the Gaskell Memorial Tower and King’s Coffee House, designed by glove merchant Richard Harding Watt from Manchester. Influenced by the Continent and inspired by Italian architecture, Watt’s tower is remiscent of those in San Gimignano, and is dedicated to the town’s most famous resident.

Gaskell Memorial Tower & King's Coffee House Knutsford - zoedawes

Gaskell Memorial Tower & King’s Coffee House

This Grade II listed building features a copper bas relief and bust of the author, along with the titles of all her novels and a sign: This plaque was placed here on the occasion of Mrs Gaskell’s 150th birth anniversary, Sep 29th 1960 and to record that this tower was erected to the memory of Mrs Gaskell by Mr RH Watt in March 1907.

Bust of Mrs Gaskell- Memorial Tower Knutsford- zoedawes

Mrs Gaskell bust

We ended our tour at the 17th c Knutsford Heritage Centre, hidden in an alley through the pretty May Day Gate and past the giant Green Man sculpture. Knutsford May Day is a major annual event and ‘Jack in the Green’ always appears in the front of the May Day Procession. As well as leaflets on The Cranford Trail and an excellent Official Guide to Knutsford, the Heritage Centre has an exhibition of local artefacts, costumes and and items relating to the area’s history, which goes back to the Domesday Book in 1086. Did you know the town is named after King Canute (Cnut the Great), who apparently forded the River Lily here?

Knutsford Heritage Centre and Green Man sculpture - zoedawes

Knutsford Heritage Centre and Green Man sculpture

We didn’t have time to see the Knutsford Millenium Tapestry; we’ll have to return another day to see it and have another look round this charming home to Elizabeth Gaskell’s Amazons.

The Cranford Amazons - BBC TV series

The Cranford ‘Amazons’ – BBC TV series

November 10, 2015

The poignant story of Marienburg Castle, Germany

The poignant story of Marienburg Castle, Germany

Walt Disney must have visited Marienburg Castle or seen it in his dreams. It’s the epitome of a fairytale palace, all pointy turrets and rounded towers, set high on a hill amidst forested countryside in the heart of Lower Saxony, not far from Hanover (Hannover). Its story is a fairytale romance, though maybe more in the tradition of the Grimm brothers than Disney …

Marienburg Castle Lower Saxony Germany - zoedawes

Marienburg Castle

It was built for Marie Alexandrine Wilhelmine Katherine Charlotte Theresa Henrietta Luise Pauline Elisabeth Friederike Georgine of Saxe-Altenburg … She was the queen-consort of George V of Hanover (Hannover) in northern Germany. He gave her ‘Rehberg Hill‘ in 1857 and had the castle built for her 40th birthday. Theirs was a love-match, unusual for royal families of the 19th century, who usually had to make dynastic marriages, often to one of Queen Victoria’s relatives. King George was one of those relatives.

King George III and Queen Charlotte - zoedawes

King George III and Queen Charlotte and their children

He was the grandson of George III of the United Kingdom and nephew of William IV. Blinded in a tragic accident in the gardens of Kew Palace in London when he was only 13 years old, Prince George of Cumberland went on to become the last King of Hanover, dying in exile in Paris and buried in St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle. I recently visited Marienburg Castle to discover the poignant story of this proud, romantic king and his loving queen.

King George V and Queen Marie Marienburg Castle Lower Saxony Germany - zoedawes

King George V and Queen Marie in Marienburg Castle

If you are lucky enough to visit the castle before the end of 2016, you will be also able to see the excellent exhibition, Path to the Crown. Historical furniture, paintings and rarities of art history from the collection of the Royal House of Hannover are on display. The Hannoverian crown, along with the sceptre and bridal crown are on show for the first time since the end of the Kingdom of Hanover to mark the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the Personal Union between Hanover and Great Britain from 1714 to 1801.

Hanover Path to the Crown Exhibition Marienburg Castle - photo zoedawes

Andre Mertens and The Path to the Crown exhibition

I was shown round by Andre Mertens, who explained how the castle had been designed as a summer residence and the Gothic/ Neo-Gothic appearance was designed to reflect ‘the true essence of Germany to be found in the Middle Ages.’ Royal family friend Major Eduard Witte proposed the first design, then architect Conrad Wilhelm Hase followed by Edwin Oppler created more detailed plans, with continuous input from the George and Marie. No wonder it took more than 10 years to build. The courtyard reflects the ornate, nostalgic vision of all involved.

Marienburg Castle courtyard - lower saxony - zoedawes

Marienburg Castle courtyard

By the time the castle was finished, Marie was besotted. She wrote in a letter, “Oh you cannot know how lovely it is here. It cannot be described, the most beautiful place on Earth,” and said it was her ‘little Eldorado’. Unfortunately, during the last year of building, Hannover entered into a futile war with Prussia, were defeated in 1866 and King George fled Germany. Marie moved into Marienburg Castle with her daughter Mary; she had only stayed there briefly before. A year later she too had to flee and join her husband in exile; the calender above her bureau still shows the date 23rd July 1867, the day she left. Above it is a portrait of the queen aged 85 years old.

Marie's Study and portrait Marienburg Castle Germany - zoedawes

Marie’s Study

The castle is a charming mix of romantic styles with ‘modern for its time’ furniture and fittings. The octagonal entrance hall sets the tone with its star arches, impressive columns and a large model of the castle. It has an absolutely glorious blue and gold ceiling with eight allegorical personifications of the Arts.

Marienburg Castle entrance hall ceiling - zoedawes

One of the most impressive rooms is the Rittersaal (The Knights Hall), which was unfinished at the time of the royal exile but has been fitted out with some magnificent paintings and the splendid Augsburg silver furniture, once owned by George II of Great Britain and Hannover. The Speisesaal (Dining Hall) has a fine sedan chair and elaborate uniforms that are still worn by servants in the British Royal household.

Augsburg silver furniture Marienburg Castle - zoedawes

Augsburg silver furniture

There are many fascinating rooms to explore, including the Queen’s Parlour with ornate carving, wooden ceiling and detailed ornamentation. The Princesses’ Room has wall paintings depicting scenes from popular fairy stories including Snow White (supposedly set near here) and the Sleeping Beauty. The corridor onto which this room opens is reminiscent of the cloisters of a monastery, with curved archways and dainty lanterns. The Chapel, now used for weddings, has a marble statue of Christ, a beautiful organ and modern stained glass windows; the originals were shattered during WWII. My favourite room is the Queen’s Library. Under a gothic dome painted in similar style to the entrance hall, are book-laden shelves and busts of famous literary and musical figures admired by the queen. It is perfect in every detail and a work of art in itself.

Marienburg Castle library - zoedawes

The Queen’s Library

Although George never lived in Marienburg Castle and Marie was only there for a year, it retains an air of romance and mystery. Still owned by the Guelph family, Prince Ernst August of Hanover takes a lively interest in the ongoing refurbishment, development and daily life of this magical place.

The Path to the Crown Marienburg Castle Lower Saxony - zoedawes

Marienburg Castle – ‘Path to the Crown’ video

I visited Marienburg Castle courtesy of the German National Tourist Office and the Lower Saxony Tourist Board on a trip to discover more about the British Royal Family in and around Hannover. My thanks to Andre Mertens and everyone in Lower Saxony who helped make this such a memorable trip.

November 1, 2015

Shopping with a dash of history in charming Chester

Shopping with a dash of history in charming Chester

Chester shops

On a shop-til-you-drop day out in Chester with a friend we combined an exploration of the streets, lanes and byways with an in-depth trawl through its department stores, boutiques and quirky independent shops.

Chester Roman soldier

This Roman soldier seemed oblivious to the light rain dripping down his steel helmet as he chatted to two people holding aloft signs encouraging passers-by to try the ‘All-You-Can-Eat-Buffet’ at the nearby restaurant on one of the main shopping streets in the walled city of Chester.  It summed up the universal appeal of one of England’s most attractive towns – ancient history, intriguing architecture, excellent shops and a multitude of great venues to eat and drink.

According to the handy ‘Walkabout Easy Map and Guide to Chester’ we picked up in the Tourist Information Centre next to the splendid Victorian Town Hall, “Nearly 2000 years ago, the Romans marched onto a sandstone ridge, built Deva (or Dewa),  largest fortress in Britain prepared to do battle with the wild, fierce Britons of Wales and the North.  Two millenniums later, the drama and passions of Chester’s history have left their mark in some of the most spectacular buildings in Britain.”

Diorama of the Roman Legionary fortress Deva Victrix in Grosvenor Museum, Chester. - image Łukasz Nurczyński

Diorama of the Roman Legionary fortress Deva Victrix – Grosvenor Museum – image Łukasz Nurczyński

We didn’t have time to visit the Roman ruins outside the city but the The Dewa Roman Experience, on Pierpoint Lane took us back to that feisty era with the sights, sounds and smells of Roman Chester with a look round a Roman galley and the excavated remains of a fortress in the heart of the city.

Figures on the Rows Chester - zoedawes

Figures on the Rows Chester

One of the most appealing aspects of this town is The Rows, covered walkways above street level, dating back to the 13th century.  The names of these Rows often reflect the original trades of the rich merchants who built their townhouses here ie Ironmongers, Shoemakers or more prosaically Northgate Row.  Nowadays they are a treasure trove of shops, cafes and bars and great for escaping the occasional rain shower.

Eastgate Chester - zoedawes

Our leaflet informed us a Town Crier dressed in 18th century finery proclaims the news daily at 12 noon in the summer months.  We didn’t see him but we were entertained by the numerous street performers playing funky music, standing still as statues til a coin was dropped in front of them, doing magic tricks and singing songs, some even in tune.  We spent ages wandering in and out of the shops, especially relishing the scented charms of the perfume counters in Browns Of Chester Department Store. Nearby is ‘The Olde Boot’ a 17th century pub with original seating and good food.

Olde Boot Inn Chester - photo zoedawes

Olde Boot Inn Chester

After a rather exhausting trawl through the myriad shops in the Grosvenor Shopping Centre it was time for lunch.  We decided to go next door and treat ourselves to a light bite in 5-star luxury in La Brasserie at the illustrious Grosvenor Hotel.  I can highly recommend their smoked salmon sandwiches!

The rain cleared in the afternoon so to walk off our meal we had an airy stroll around the City Walls. “The best ornament of the city is, that the streets are very broad, the walls in good repair, and it is a very pleasant walk around the city upon the walls, and within the battlements, from whence you may see the county around.”  Daniel Defoe wrote this in 1724 and the walls are still much the same today.  After walking part of the way round we dove back into the city streets for another quick shop then it was time for one last sight to see – Chester Cathedral.  Built on the site of an Anglo-Saxon church, it became the city’s cathedral in 1541.  There’s a guided tour every afternoon but if you’re in a rush, do take time just to enjoy its splendid majesty for a little while.

Chester Cathedral Cheshire - photo zoedawes

On our way back to the car park, swinging our fancy shopping bags like Carrie and Samantha along a Manhatten sidewalk, we passed under the ornate Eastgate Clock, installed to commemorate Queen Victoria’s 1897 Diamond Jubilee. Its delicate red, blue, gold and black filigree decoration seems to sum up Chester – a colourful journey through time and history.

Eastgate and clock Chester zoedawes

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