Ninth Year in East Hampton: Same Old is Damn Good

Follow me on Instagram @caramia447 where I post quirky one-off images of, among other things, tiny houses, retro storefronts, street art and the occasional sunset

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I’M BACK IN EAST HAMPTON for my ninth season and I don’t even care that it’s raining for the third straight day. I’m just glad to be here.

My show-stopping 15-foot-tall rhododendrons have already faded and are rapidly falling apart. Hours of tedious petal clean-up and deadheading await. Is it worth it, in exchange for the week or two of blossom explosion my friend characterized as “like an LSD trip”? You bet.

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The irises, too, are having their moment. It takes time, I’m learning, for irises to come into their own after planting, maybe three years. It’s a bumper crop and here I am, just taking them for granted.

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The garden has a thick new blanket of mulch, whose spreading I hired out this year, leaving me to wander my tidy-looking half-acre with an odd, displaced feeling of nothing to do.

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I’m here for just a few weeks, determined to make the most of June before renters arrive July 1 and stay through Labor Day.

May was cold in my unheated house, so fires in the fireplace, sweaters and scarves were the order of the day, and hot water bottles the order of the night.

Below, the golden hour: May at Maidstone Beach

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Memorial Day weekend brought friends to my deck for the first al fresco meal of the season, the traditional (round these parts) salad Niçoise, free-flowing rosé and a fire in the fire pit.

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A week into June and the house is still 54 degrees, fire crackling away, space heater turned up full blast, soup on the stove.

Arriving last Saturday evening, after a couple of days attending to business in the city, I couldn’t waste time in transition. I dropped my bags and ran down to the beach to catch the sunset, not knowing these were the last rays to be had for at least 72 hours.

It was close to a religious experience — fat clouds limned in gold against postcard blue, the bay shimmering, seagulls bobbing, sand glinting, horizon satisfyingly distant but not so far off as to be intimidating, evening air soft on my face. I picked up shells and driftwood and a gull feather and walked along the water as darkness fell, smiling goofily at people with dogs and fishing poles.

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I’m grateful to be out of the city, to be where nature can work its magic on my mood.

And now I can say it, loud and proud: I love East Hampton. Nine years ago, when I first moved here, I was embarrassed to tell people I had bought a house in “the Hamptons” (albeit the cheapest house on the South Fork).

All I really knew of East Hampton before I bought that first cottage (I’ve since sold it  and bought a different house nearby), were snooty, overpriced designer stores and the hassle of finding parking in high season.

Now I cherish the fabulous institutions with which the town is blessed, like the hushed, rambling mock-Tudor library with its Long Island research collection, a room devoted solely to garden books and brand new children’s wing; and Guild Hall, an art museum and theatre, with a circus-striped auditorium featuring ambitious programming all year long,

I’ve discovered exquisite local gardens like LongHouse Reserve and Madoo, and smaller gems like the beautifully tended kitchen garden at Mulford Farm, a cedar-shingled saltbox pre-dating the American Revolution by a long shot. Even the 200 ancient elms that line Main Street are a national treasure (and possibly endangered).

My time here will be truncated, so I’ve got to squeeze it all in: gardening, swimming in the bay, farmer’s markets, picnics at Louse Point, walks on Gerard Drive, sunsets at the jetty, art exhibitions, garden tours, yard sales.

Knowing I’ll soon have to tear myself away makes me appreciate all the more what my Hampton, prettiest of them all, has going for it.

Posted in GARDENS & GARDENING, HAMPTONS, LONG ISLAND | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Tough Life: A Week in the Yucatan

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LAST MONTH, I SNUCK IN ANOTHER VACATION, this one a weeklong mother-daughter event. Destination: Tulum, Mexico, on the Caribbean edge of the Yucatan peninsula, a place I’d first heard of years ago when it was a laid-back beach town known for yoga retreats and lack of electricity. It’s no longer quite as laid back, with development proceeding apace, and I had the feeling we got there in the nick of time.

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We flew into Cancun and taxi’d south, spending the first two nights in Akumal, about half an hour north of Tulum. There, we could afford a hotel right on the calm, crescent- shaped Bay of Akumal, top, above and below, known as a sea turtle habitat and very popular for snorkeling (to the detriment of the turtles).

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We stayed in a stone bungalow, below, at the Hotel Akumal Caribe, a circa 1970 all-inclusive resort that was the first-ever in the area.

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Now, the sole highway between Cancun and Tulum is lined with much glitzier hotels, but we loved the funkiness of the Akumal Caribe, and the convenience.

For two days, we found all we needed on the hotel property, including a yoga studio, below, and good food in several on-site restaurants of varying degrees of casual, all with views of the water.

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There’s a scuba dive center on the hotel grounds, and my daughter, Zoë, a scuba pro, went out to the coral reefs one day; another day, she dove at Dos Ojos, a nearby cenote, or cavern, of interest mainly for its geology. See her spectacular photos, below.

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On Day 3, we decamped for Tulum, a $20 taxi ride due south, and settled in for the next few nights at Posada Luna del Sur. We loved our studio apartment with its own lush garden, and the breakfast served on the hotel’s rooftop each morning.

The charms and limitations of Tulum immediately became evident. The seven-mile-long strip of beachfront, justifiably renowned for its beauty, is lined with low-rise resorts, architecturally modest and nearly hidden in jungle foliage, but with prices commensurate with their waterfront location ($400-500/night).

Like many visitors, we stayed instead in the pueblo, or town, where the real folks live, about three miles inland. The pueblo definitely has its own appeal and a slew of inviting open-air bars and restaurants. The main drawback is that one is beholden to taxis. They’re plentiful enough, and the drivers are polite and trustworthy (the hotel provided a helpful list of official prices). But the beach is just too far away to walk.

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Tulum is known, too, for its superb Mayan ruins, below, 800-year-old remnants of indigenous culture right at the water’s edge. Once painted bright colors, with fires atop the main structure to signal passing boats, the buildings are now weathered and populated mainly by iguanas. It’s a must-do in Tulum, and we did, on the first morning.

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We spent much of our remaining time at the beach clubs lining the sandy rim of the sea. All the beaches are public; each hotel has its arrangement of chaises and palapas (thatched umbrellas).

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You can settle in at any one of the beach clubs for the day, ordering from young waitstaff who run hither and thither to bring you towels, drinks, snacks. For lunch, we’d go to one of the many more or less interchangeable beachfront restaurants, to gaze out over the water while consuming our cocktails and shrimp fajitas.

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Had we not had our swimming and snorkeling time in the tranquil Bay of Akumal, we might have been more disappointed that the waters were too rough and the days too windy for us to swim in Tulum.

We got a lot of reading done and walked on the beach and along the boutique- and cafe-filled beach road, below.

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Our most special meal was at a restaurant called Kitchen Table, below, on the jungle side of the beach road.

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We left relaxed, satisfied, fulfilled. Yay for the Yucatan. Yay for vacations.

Posted in Mexico, TRAVEL | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Live the Beachy Life This Summer…Rent My Rustic-Modern East Hampton Retreat!

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UPDATE: The house has been rented for the full 2017 summer season.

IT’S HIGH TIME to square away plans for renting a place at the beach for July and August, or part thereof.

I can help you with that. My rustic-modern retreat in Springs (East Hampton), Long Island, a 5-minute walk from stunning Maidstone Beach — is available for rent in July and/or August.

It’s pretty idyllic.

Built in the 1940s as a fishing bungalow, with a later addition and a separate guest cottage, the house is 1,400 square feet on a private, landscaped half-acre, with a great big wood deck for lounging and dining, and a glorious outdoor shower right out the back door.

Share the place if you want — it can work for two couples with a total of two or maybe three kids.

The house sleeps 6, officially — there’s a master bedroom with comfortable queen bed; a second bedroom with two twins; as well as a separate 14’x17′ guest cabin with double bed and space for additional cot or crib (bathroom is in the main house).

There are two showers, one indoors and one out, and plenty of room to spread out — there’s a dining/sitting room with fireplace, in addition to a great room with two comfy sofas, and a home office with a partner desk, if you must work.

Live like Jackson Pollack and Lee Krasner (whose home and studio is a mile away) in the 1940s… no air-conditioning, no dishwasher.. but good Wi-Fi and fans in each room. (*TV and DVD player on request)

Picture it:

  • Swim, kayak, paddleboard at unspoiled, never-crowded Maidstone Beach on a miles-long crescent of sand just down the road
  • Walk the scenic ‘loop’ through Maidstone Park, or along nearby Gerard Drive with Gardiner’s Bay on one side and Accabonac Harbor on the other
  • See egrets, ospreys, wild turkeys (no deer on my property, though — it’s fenced!)
  • Nap or read on the deck, watch the sun set over the jetty, picnic at Louse Point, make bonfires on the beach (legal!) or in my fire pit, shower outdoors, grill on the brick patio, hang out on the porch at the local landmark Springs General Store
  • Surf or swim in the ocean at Amagansett (10 minutes by car) or Montauk (25 mins.)
  • Shop for local produce at farm stands and weekly greenmarkets
  • Check out the always-promising yard sales and thrift stores. Designer shopping too.
  • Art shows and galleries, live performance at Guild Hall, music at Stephen Talkhouse, historic house tours
  • Garden tours + garden visits at LongHouse Reserve, Madoo, Bridge Gardens
  • Restaurants and bars galore
  • Explore nearby Sag Harbor (20 minutes), Shelter Island (30), North Fork, Block Island (day trip)

Sound good? It is good! I’m opening the house for the season in the next couple of weeks. Let me show you around.

Contact me for more info, including rental rate: caramia447 [at] gmail [dot] com

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This is what awaits at the end of the day, at the end of the street:

img_1799Contact me for more info: caramia447 [at] gmail [dot] com

Posted in HAMPTONS, LONG ISLAND, PROPERTIES FOR RENT | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Ongoing Philadelphia Renovation Still Ongoing

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HAVE YOU EVER DREAMED of opening a door and finding an extra room you hadn’t known was there? I have (mainly during the years I lived in too-small New York City apartments), but last fall, I had it happen in real life. And it was not just one room, but two.

When I bought an early 19th century Philadelphia row house in 2005, it had undergone a ’70s renovation and been converted to three one-bedroom apartments, one on each of three floors. But I always knew there was an attic at the top of the house that had been sealed off for years, though I’d only glimpsed it once, through a small hatch in the ceiling above the public stairwell. And then only from below, with a flashlight. At that time, I saw baseboard molding and an old panel door, enough to realize it had once been living space.

There was no other access to that level, and so it remained — forgotten, for the most part, while I rented out that third floor 1-bedroom, most recently to a tenant who stayed six or seven years.

When he moved out last November, I decided the time was right to incorporate that attic space into the apartment below it, which would create a pretty special duplex. It would necessitate a new interior stair, of course, and new windows, among other things.

I knew there was originally a dormer window there, which could be seen from outside the rear of the building, as well as a half-round window, its filled-in silhouette still visible on the side of the building, below.

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On November 1, the contractors I planned to hire (who had done other work for me in Philadelphia) set up an extension ladder and we entered the attic space through the small hatch.

It was quite the eureka moment. There were two very decent-sized rooms up there, with sloping ceilings — but plenty high enough to stand up in. The plaster walls were actually in semi-decent shape, as were the old cedar floor boards. There had never been any electrical wiring, and there was no heat source. But overall, I was astounded by the condition and possibilities of the space. Below, photos from that first look.

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I also made plans to do a basic renovation of the apartment bathroom, cosmetically upgrade the kitchen and lay a new wood floor in what would become the lower level of the duplex (it was wall-to-wall carpet over plywood).

The job got underway around Thanksgiving. Four months later, it’s still underway. Much has been accomplished, including a new stair opening, new windows, a new staircase built by my son Max, electrical wiring upstairs, new electric baseboard heating units, a new tub and tile floor in the bathroom, new wood flooring downstairs, and a great deal of plastering and spackling.

There’s a fairly lengthy punch list still ahead, including a railing for the stair and stair opening, finishing up the bathroom, new kitchen cabinets, sanding the floors upstairs, polyurethaning the new floors downstairs, new trim and molding as needed, and painting the whole place.

Progress photos below.

First we cut a small hole for access in the general area of the stair to come and measured for stair construction. The stair comes up in a room that measures 15’x20′, some of it sacrificed for the opening, which eventually measured about 5’x12′.

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The other room is clearly a bedroom, with a dormer window. Below, before and after installation of a new window in the existing opening. 

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Below, the view at the top of new stairs, with a new half-round window looking south over rooftops.

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Below, a peek into the half-renovated bathroom and the kitchen, awaiting new cabinet fronts.

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Stair under construction, below. The stringers are poplar, painted gray, the treads maple.

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That’s where things stand. My hope is that it will be finished in April, rented in May, and occupied by June. I’m pleased with the quality of the work, if not the speed.

Posted in PHILADELPHIA, REAL ESTATE/INVESTING, RENOVATION | 9 Comments

London: Summing Up

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IN THE PAST WEEK, I’ve been all around London, from the mews of Mayfair to the thrift shops of Dalston, from the obsessively planted Avenue Gardens of Regents Park to the tiny back gardens of friends in Islington, from David Hockney at the Tate to Amy Winehouse at Camden’s Jewish Museum. Not to mention a few historic pubs.

The weather has been changeable. It’ll be dreary and drizzly for the better part of a day; then it suddenly stops, the sky opens up, the light is crystalline and the sun slants in at its low angle, touching everything with radiance.

Brexit has been little mentioned in conversation, U.S. politics mercifully little, too. Tonight, the horrific incident on Westminster Bridge dominated the news.

My trip ends tomorrow and I’ll soon be back in New York, drinking more coffee than tea, trying to keep up the walking and appreciate New York with the same interest and enthusiasm it’s been so easy to rouse for London.

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Coming into Kings Cross last Thursday night from Edinburgh felt like coming home.

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On assignment last Friday, I did an interview with an architect in Mayfair, right around the corner from Claridge’s, above.

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A curious old building and a neon-lit storefront in the area around Oxford Circus.

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The too-much-ness of the display in the cafe at Liberty of London. Flowers at the front entrance of the ersatz medieval building, which has an extraordinary skylit interior.

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Scones just out of the oven at the home of friends in Islington.

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Their sitting room and back garden viewed from a window.

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Fragrant clematis going crazy, spotted on a walk around De Beauvoir Town, which also took in…

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my favorite local source for take-out, cheeses and fancy groceries, The De Beauvoir Deli, above.

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Vintage architecture and signs of spring in De Beauvoir Town and Dalston, above.

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The Dalston Curve Garden, a community garden that also serves as a cafe and gathering spot for young families living in blocks of modern, garden-less flats nearby.

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Note to self: plant more euphorbia.

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Colorful houseboats in Regents Canal as it passes between De Beauvoir Town and Hoxton.

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We made a field trip to Hampstead, below, whose hilly residential streets are lined with the homes of the arty and famous, from Romantic poet John Keats and painter John Constable to Sting, Judy Dench and Ridley Scott.

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Etched glass, soft lighting and a fireplace make The Flask a very inviting stop-off on a wet day. There’s been a tavern on this hilltop Hampstead site since at least 1700.

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Ploughman’s lunch and a couple of half-pints at The Holly Bush.

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Thank you, Tate Britain, for a full-on David Hockney retrospective, from his student sketches to recent video installations. Hockney is now up there in the Pantheon for me.

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Below, a Hockney experiment with Polaroids.

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A Chelsea morning, below. More blue-plaqued celebrity homes, past and present.

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Our outing included a visit to the Chelsea Physick Garden, a 350-year-old medicinal/botanical garden. That’s Hans Sloane, below, an early garden benefactor (who became rich after inventing hot chocolate, we learned).

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These two Chelsea row houses were the homes of Keith Richards and Mick Jagger in the late 1960s through ’70s:

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Above, Sloane Rangers on Kings Road.

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At London’s Jewish Museum in Camden, there’s an intimate Amy Winehouse exhibition organized by her brother Alex, on through September. It includes her hand-written list of favorite songs, below, among other personal memorabilia.

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Below, Regents Park after a rain, and its formal Avenue Gardens.

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The top deck of London buses provides a slightly different angle on the city.

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The number 30 brought me back to my friend’s mini-Eden in De Beauvoir Town, below, my home for the past three weeks.

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Last dinner in London: chicken and mushroom pie with mash and cabbage at The Albion, below, an Islington standby since the pre-Victorian era.

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Posted in LONDON, TRAVEL | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Two Days is Not Enough for Enchanting Edinburgh

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EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND, dramatic and unspoiled, is now among my favorite cities, one to which I would gladly return. Windy but not cold during my 36-hour visit, it has more greenery and longer days than I imagined possible in mid-March.

Edinburgh wears its stony grime proudly. It’s an irresistible tourist magnet, yet very real. It has an Old Town, where ancient cobbled streets are linked by often-steep alleys, and a New Town, where elegant townhouses built in the late 18th century form uniform rows along geometrically laid-out streets, crescents and squares.

The two areas are separated by a wide valley of vegetation, the Princes Street Gardens, that contain some of the city’s key museums and serve as a venue for Edinburgh’s famous summer cultural festivals, which make the city the second most visited in Europe after Paris.

I circumnavigated Edinburgh on foot to see as much as I could in my brief time there, hitting several of the literal and figurative high spots, starting with Calton Hill, right behind my very comfortable guest house. The 15-minute climb is rewarded by the view from the summit, where a replica Parthenon intended to honor Napoleonic war dead was abandoned incomplete for lack of funds in 1826 but still makes a striking landmark, and the city spreads out below to the Firth of Forth, an estuary in the distance.

Then I walked the Royal Mile in Old Town, a cobbled road that runs from Hollyroodhouse, the Queen’s Palace when she’s in Scotland, to Edinburgh Castle, a skyline-dominating fortress with parts as old as the 12th century, and through the ordered Georgian streets of New Town.

Toward evening of my only full day, my legs aching and my iPhone step counter registering the equivalent of 45 flights of stairs, I fell into a cushy seat at the American-style multiplex right around the corner from my guest house and caught a showing of T2 Trainspotting, set on some of the same atmospheric streets I had just been treading.

The centerpiece of Day 2 was a good modern Scottish lunch at The Gardener’s Cottage, a four-year-old restaurant with its own kitchen garden out front. I willed myself not to rush but to savor my meal and the serene ambience of the restaurant, before regretfully saying goodbye, too soon, to Edinburgh.

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My highly recommended guest house, below, the family-run Adria House, is at the top of the street, above.

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My room had ceilings at least 15 feet high and a garden view (£60 a night, including breakfast).

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After breakfast, I climbed Calton Hill, below, which felt like a taste of the wild Scottish moors.

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At the very top, an unfinished Greek-temple-like monument and other Neo-classical buildings have given Edinburgh the occasional title “Athens of the North.”

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I descended into the heart of the city, where there’s a dearth of modern buildings…

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and strolled along the Royal Mile, where there’s no dearth of shopping.

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Stepping into an  archway and then a courtyard, I was intrigued by the building, below, which turned out to be Lady Stair’s late 17th century house, now a museum celebrating Scotland’s three literary luminaries: Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert Burns.

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The city milks its Goth splendor and Harry Potter connection with all manner of ‘haunted’ tours and attractions.

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I crossed the bowl-shaped Princes Street Gardens, below, to New Town, which has a very different feel, and walked around enjoying the row houses and old storefronts.

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I walked along a stream too small to be called a river; they call it The Water of Leith.

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Below, the utterly charming Gardener’s Cottage, scene of my best meal in Edinburgh.

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Below, cod and mussels with barley, parsnips and broccoli.

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The Doric, one of Edinburgh’s oldest pubs, where I passed a little time before heading across the road to the train station for my 4 hour 20 minute ride back to London.

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Posted in TRAVEL | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Old York, Old York

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LONDON HAS ENOUGH 17th, 18th and 19th century houses to keep an old-house aficionado busy for years. But because the Great Fire of 1666 swept away nearly the whole of the city, it’s lacking in domestic architecture that predates the 17th century.

The city of York, on the other hand, an easy 2-hour train ride north of London, has an entire district of medieval buildings, still leaning at least, if not quite standing tall. The most picturesque street is “the Shambles,” the medieval butchers’ quarter, where many of the buildings have been put to use as stores selling chocolates and other sweets.

There’s a stupendous cathedral, York Minster, which took 252 years to build, starting in 1220, and nearly intact city walls built in the 13th and 14th centuries, that enclose 263 acres, with original gates of varying complexity. (The earliest stones date to the Roman presence in York.)

If all that wasn’t enough reason to make a day trip, I also thought, as a resident of New York, I should see the city for which mine was named, though that turns out not to be the case (it was named after James II, the Duke of York).

York is an eminently walkable city. A friend and I spent the day mostly outdoors, making a circuit from the train station, across the River Ouse, to the first-rate gardens around the charred Gothic ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey, to the cathedral area, the ancient business district and eventually back over the river to catch trains in opposite directions (she returned to London, I went on to Edinburgh).

Come see the city of York with us, in the order we saw it.

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The expertly planted grounds of St. Mary’s Abbey, below. The once-magnificent building was burned in 1539 during Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries.

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York Minster, the largest medieval building in England, has been an Anglican church since the Reformation.

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The Treasurer’s House and garden, below, extensively remodeled and restored over the centuries, is now a National Trust property.

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Scenes from the warren of ancient streets…

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Barley Hallbelow, a restored medieval townhouse open to the public, illustrates York life in the 15th century. The building had been so altered over the centuries, even being used at one point as a plumbing shop, that no one even realized that below the brick facade was a 500+-year-old timbered house.

In the 1990s, it was restored by the York Archaeological Trust with painstaking accuracy, using original building methods and at great expense. The great dining hall is the most impressive room.

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Tea time in a quaint 1960s-ish tea room

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More medieval eye candy and city views…

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The building below, still having a useful life as a tea shop, dates from the 14th century, with 17th century additions. 

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The 1762 Fairfax House, below, a fine townhouse with an important collection of Georgian furniture, was restored in the 1980s after having been used for a time as a cinema (?). 

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Over the Ouse again on a different bridge on our way back toward the station…

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And what do you know — yet another timber-framed house of the 15th century, below. Known as Jacob’s Well, it has a carved portico from a different house and a different era.

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Mickelgate was the principal street into York from the south, with this most elaborate of gates. You can walk along the parapet for quite a distance.

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Posted in ENGLAND, TRAVEL | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments