Monday, 3 June 2013

An English affair: Pontefract Castle

Pontefract Castle was a running joke between B. and me in the days leading up to my visit across the pond. She joked about how it would be the first place she took me, and then laughed when I said, "I can't wait!" with more excitement than she expected. But here's the best part -- I actually enjoyed my visit through the castle ruins.

Pontefract Castle: History in the ruins
Known as one of the most feared forts in England's history, Pontefract Castle is truly a sight to see. Though all that's left of it are the scarce ruins, a walk through the grounds gives you an eerie sense of all that happened there in centuries gone by. Used as a fort, then as a castle, then as the prison of Richard II (It's believed he was murdered within the castle, actually!), it has played a pivotal role in the history books. In fact, Shakespeare was inspired by the story of Richard II's death there.

I couldn't help but appreciate the views from the castle grounds. It's situated high above the town of Pontefract, so depending on where you stand, you get an awesome view of all the hustle and bustle in the town below. I had this moment where I felt I was part of history and part of the present. I was walking through the ruins and staring off into the distance as cars drove by. It felt pretty remarkable.

Visits to the castle grounds are free, except when special events take place there.

A stone pathway around the castle ruins.
Photo by StraightFromTheCurls

Wide view of the castle grounds.
Photo by StraightFromTheCurls
The remaining ruins of Pontefract Castle.
Photo by StraightFromTheCurls

I'm amazed at how so many of these ancient structures are still preserved in the UK. It's so fascinating to see the modern world built around these centuries-old buildings. Though not always romantic in history, these structures give modern culture roots, and I'm grateful that I had the chance to see so many of them firsthand. There's more to come, so please visit often!


My favourite things today include:
- A summer that (so far) isn't as muggy as last year.
- The gift of time.
- Fresh, clean drinking water within reach.
- Alfonso Ribeiro coming out of hiding to do this. (Ignore the obnoxious bits and skip straight to 3:30)
- And this. It never gets old.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

An English affair: Harewood House

I was lucky enough to visit a real heritage home during my trip to England earlier this year. I knew I wanted to see one in real life (I guess you can say it was on my 'bucket list'), so B. and her sister graciously made it happen during a day trip.

Harewood House: A national Treasure House
As one of the 10 most treasured houses and palaces in England today, and located on the outskirts of Leeds, Harewood House was built in the mid-18th century and stands on a vast property. Among it's acres and acres of well-manicured land that's dotted with sheep (and some molehills), there's a beautiful bird garden and a serene orchard.

The house itself is grand. There's no other way to describe it. From the the old kitchen in the lower levels (or 'under the stairs'), to the cabinets filled with centuries-old fine China on display, one could spend hours simply exploring life as it used to be. I also got a sense of just how many people it took to maintain a home like this -- think Downton Abbey and multiply that by a dozen. Gardeners greeted us while planting flowers along the pathways, and we also saw a man go into the bird garden to feed some of the exotic birds on display.

Perfect for a day trip or a family excursion, Harewood House boasts history in every corner. It has art collections, rooms that display old Chippendale furniture and huge terraces that overlook green fields as far as the eye can see.

Harewood House - front view.
Image courtesy of

Quote on the walled garden at Harewood House
Photography by StraightFromTheCurls

One of my favourite parts of this trip was when I found this quote (above) on the door leading to the orchard. It really spoke to me and I thought I'd share it with all of you.There's no question that the English have a way with their words. Beautiful!

One of the many views as I walked through the paths surrounding Harewood House.
Photography by StraightFromTheCurls
I took a moment to capture this shot because I couldn't get over how breathtaking it was. I thought about how I could easily get used to the serenity that came with this view. Stunning, isn't it? 


My favourite things today include:
- Mum's delicious home cooking.
- Dreams of an east-coast wedding happening later this month (not mine, but a dear friend's).
- A Chicagoan coming to visit me in a couple of weeks. Yaay!
- My faith that everything will work itself out as it's supposed to.
- Free time -- the fact that it's rare makes it that much sweeter when it happens.

Friday, 5 April 2013

An English affair: Nostell Priory

At the end of February, I picked up my bags and hopped on a jet plane bound for England. I had made up my mind earlier this year to spend about 10 days exploring a country that's been on my travel list for as long as I can remember. And explore I did. I had the chance to travel through some of England's major cities in the north, and ended my trip with five magnificent days in London. Over the course of the next few posts, I'll share some highlights from the trip, including my favourite sights, sounds, eats and experiences. So visit often!

A love so true
I flew in to Manchester and met my dear friend B., who I've known since my stint in South Korea. B. lives in West Yorkshire, and I spent the first few days of my travels exploring this quaint section of the world she calls home. I can't deny that the sights, sounds, smells and simple beauty of this part of England had me giddy with romantic thoughts. I was finally a part of the English countryside I'd read so much about -- it was no longer simply in my dreams, and it didn't fail to deliver.

Nostell Priory: The big house
I visited Nostell Priory with B. and her sister on my first full day in England. We drove through the country roads and pulled up to the front parking lot of a grand house near Wakefield -- the kind I'd only seen before in BBC dramas or in my imagination while engrossed in Jane Austen novels. I remember seeing the house in the distance and thinking about how magnificent it looked set against the misty English weather I'd come to love.

The Nostell Priory website sums it up quite truly and simply: An 18th century architectural masterpiece. Getting to the house meant walking through the grounds, which seemed to go on for acres. But I didn't mind it. I imagined the ancestors of the Priory (home to the Winn family for 300 years) walking the grounds just like me, but years before; sharing stories, exchanging ideas and dreams. My little romantic heart went pitter-patter as I walked through the well-maintained pathways, and I finally started to realize the inspiration for all my beloved Victorian novels.

The main grounds of Nostell Priory. Photography by StraightFromTheCurls
I hope you enjoy this photo as much as I do. Stay tuned for more from my trip to the other side of the pond. From an actual estate home to a serene walk along the Thames in London, there's a lot more happy memories coming your way.


My favourite things today include:
- A clean desk at work (I took my lunch hour for some spring cleaning -- absolutely worth the effort).
- My bed (March was a busy travel month, and there's something to be said about the comfort of your own bed).
- The Hundred-Foot Journey (It's the book I'm currently reading, and absolutely love).
- Duck Dynasty marathons on A&E.
- Daily texts from my mother.
- The first signs of Spring (I saw tiny crocuses pushing their way out of the Earth today, and I couldn't help but smile).

Your turn! What are some of your favourite things right now?

Monday, 11 February 2013

Music, moments and memories

One of the last distinct conversations I remember having with my father happened a year ago today. There were more, of course, but this one stands out in particular because of the date. It was about the death of Whitney Houston. She, for as long as I can remember, was always one of his favourite singers. "She has such a powerful voice, no?" he would often say to me.

He would then go on to compare her to the latest singers -- most of whose names he could barely remember. He would make up their names, coming as close as possible, but never quite get them. I guess it showed he didn't care much for the Britneys and the Chris Browns of modern music. He often vented about how the latest music was "rubbish". "Whitney -- wow!" he would say.

So when he found out one of our timeless favourites had passed away last February, all he could say in reaction was "So sad..." over and over again, with a contemplative look on his face. He knew her life story and said all of that didn't matter because she was an amazing singer with a beautiful gift. It was fun watching him talk about the things he felt passionately about.

The more I think about it, the more I realize he must have known he didn't have long either. Just over four months later, he passed away.

Image courtesy of Google Images

That's the thing, though. My father always had a special connection to his love for music. He preferred his trusty little transistor radio (tuned in to one of two stations -- CBC Radio 2 or the best of the oldies), to any television show. Well, except for Turner Classic Movies.

But the one thing that defined my father... The one way everyone knew he was home from work was because of the music -- soft acoustic jazz, classic crooners, the oldies and so much more. He loved it all.

And that's how we knew something was amiss towards the end. He was home, but the sweet sounds that floated lightly through the silence had stopped. The music had stopped, and that's how we knew.

Today, his little transistor radio sits on my kitchen counter, tuned to the same station that played his favourites for him in the evenings -- CBC Radio 2. Sometimes, when I miss him the most, I turn it on and it feels like he's in the room with me.

That's the funny thing about music -- it's the easiest way to connect with a memory. Music evokes emotions, and it's a wonderful thing. Whether a vacation, a moment of nostalgia or a person, music is universal and it acts as the invisible thread that ties our past, present and future together into a lovely package.

So whatever happens, whatever you do, don't let the music in your life stop playing.



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