It was a crisp day in the Cappadocia region of Turkey, and my husband and I were out walking through the town of Guzelyurt– a small town set outside of the larger and more tourist-populated areas of Cappadocia. (“Guzelyurt” means beautiful valley.)
We would often visit and stay in Otel Karballa there: a lovely structure that
Otel Karballa, Guzelyurt
had once been a Greek monastery, but was now converted to a small hotel with a fantastic chef and the ability to give its guests an authentic taste of life and history in this enchanting region.
This area of Turkey is fascinating– so well known for its natural beauty and unusual landscape, as well as its long and illustrious history. In fact, the two things go hand in hand. The famous “fairy chimneys” of Cappadocia housed the cave dwellers of the Bronze Age, and later housed early Christian refugees and gave rise to the thousands of cave churches that dot the region.
Once inside these churches, you are often met with once-beautiful frescoes that (while still beautiful) are severely weathered by both age and ordeal. Age, because most of the churches here date to between the 6th and 11th centuries; ordeal, as they were intentionally defaced because of religious aniconic sentiments.
If the cave dwellings and the colorful history weren’t enough to make Cappadocia a fantastic destination, it has this going for it: it’s no artifact, it’s still living. The potteries of the region are thriving, the people are hospitable, and many locals still live in the hollowed out cave dwellings (and have wired them for electricity!).
Walking down one ancient road in Guzelyurt, you might look up to see this:
only to believe that you are passing by empty, ancient buildings (but note the electrical wires that run the length of the road). Then the next thing you stumble upon, two doors down, is the family from the lead photo on this post, huddled in the doorway of another ancient structure and adjoining cave and making their daily flatbread over a simple fire and dome of hot metal.
The ancient meets the everyday in the streets and valleys of Cappadocia, the modern meets the miraculous. For my husband and me, who grew up in the tidy convenience of suburban America and were more likely to take dinner from a casserole dish hot out of a Kenmore oven, or even from a drive-through fast food window, this family, hard at work to make their daily bread, kneaded and rolled on a board on the ground and cooked over an open fire on a humble metal dome, this moment was extraordinary. And so very ordinary too.
We stopped and spoke to the family. We shared what little language we knew, and they shared some of their bread , warm and crisp from the fire. I don’t think anything has ever been more delicious than those few bites shared on an ancient road. What an incredible way to eat local.
Move over Lancelot and Guinevere, Harry and Hermione– we’re storming the castle! (Alnwick Castle, 2006)
Traveling through the UK with my two knee-high knights was always a good time. It’s easy to see a photo these days (when both of my kids have grown to my height) and feel a twinge of nostalgia. But since moving back to the States recently, I’m a little overwhelmed by waves of nostalgia. It’s a problem. Nostalgia is a great place to visit, but it’s no place to live. I’m aware of that. And I know that, as I move forward with this blog (I still have plenty of stories and photos to share, and hopefully new travels in the works too), I don’t want this fug of nostalgia to take over entirely.
But, when logging into my blog account last week, I noticed many– so very many– other blog posts popping up about Nostalgia-this and Nostalgia-that. I laughed a little, thinking the internet was riding some wistful wave–a viral mood gripping its readers as the autumn chill and our nesting instincts kicked in. As it turns out, that wasn’t it at all. Wordpress had posted a weekly photo challenge entitled “Nostalgia.” People were jumping on board the theme.
Although I’m a few days late for the weekly challenge, I think this gives me free reign to go nostalgic this week. I’m sure it won’t be the last time my posts take this tone, but I hope (for both our sakes) that a little indulgence of my nostalgic mood will help it to pass.
On offer today: some photos, and a few notes, from Alnwick Castle, Northumberland, England. (“Alnwick” is pronounced “An-nick”)
Alnwick, on the river Aln, is set by the coast in Northumberland. It is a couple of hours north of our old homebase of Ripon, N.Yorkshire, and a couple of hours south of Edinburgh. That made it a great stopping off point when we would drive the beautiful coastal road up to Edinburgh . . . but it was also a great destination in its own right.
Alnwick Castle is, was, and quite possibly always will be, home to the Duke of Northumberland. The family still lives in the castle, and, although tourism is big business for the castle, it is still very much a family home. There are family photos in the living areas, family stories told by tour guides, and, if you are lucky, plenty of family sightings.
On one visit there, we had to scurry quickly through one of the stone entrance gates to make way for the Duchess of Northumberland to drive through. (Jane Percy gave us an appreciative nod as she motored her convertible Audi through the gate– she was gracious and graceful, and yes, I envied her life in the castle and the convertible just a bit.)
Alnwick Castle is about 1,000 years old–yes, you heard that right. Some nip, tuck, and augmentation over the years, but she’s a medieval beauty with a fantastic backstory (both illustrious and checkered) of exploits in British history. Much of her prominence owes to the fact that she sits near the present day Scottish border. The border lands have long been disputed territory, so Alnwick was strategically important. Her most famous son was Harry “Hotspur” Percy. He became a knight, Sir Harry Hotspur (I kid you not), who earned some fame for his military prowess, and later for rebelling against Henry IV.
But Alnwick’s past often takes a backseat for tourists who know her better as the backdrop for many scenes in the Harry Potter films and the Downtown Abbey Christmas Special. Nevermind that– the Percy family is glad to entertain Potter fans and sneaky enough to slip a little British history into their experience, even if they only showed up to frolic on the Quidditch Lawn.
The grounds of Alnwick are beautiful and extensive. The gardens are certainly worth a tour and they will surprise you. There is a poison garden (clearly needed for horticulture and potions classes at a Hogwarts proxy) and the massive Treehouse restaurant that will blow your mind if you are, or ever were, a child. When I was little, I used to dream of being part of the Swiss Family Robinson, just for the tree house– but this tree house puts that one to shame! Also, the food is supposed to be fantastic. . . we never ate there, owing to very young children who were only interested in running full throttle through the structure. (Only an adult would climb into a huge treehouse and immediately set themselves in a seat, right?)
As you can imagine, the interior rooms of Alnwick are extraordinary. My favorite rooms were the dining room and the library. The library is grand, but also filled with family touches that remind you that this space isn’t a museum, it is very much a family home. My only complaint with this room is that Jane Percy, in a misguided fit of whimsy (that steered right past whimsy and landed in the territory of macabre), has on display a taxidermied dog. Yes, a stuffed dog. (Not her own, we were assured.) This is a step too far. . . even for a colorful dutchess who lives in a 1,000 year old castle. Not cool, Jane Percy, not cool.
Alnwick boasts a “Knights’ School” tucked into one of its courtyards, where children can have some hands-on time sharpening their medieval knight’s skills. (The lead off photo on this post is my kids at the Knights’ School.) By our second visit to Alnwick (nine or ten years ago), there were also Harry Potter exhibits (tastefully) in place around the castle. I expect there might be even more Potter Paraphernalia in place these days. It’s all in good fun, and the Percy’s seem to develop these exhibits and activities in ways that feel right and respectful to the space.
On that second visit, we stayed overnight in a small hotel in Alnwick (I can’t recall the name). It was simple, but comfortable, and the English breakfast was fantastic. It was a “Full English Breakfast” with toast, beans, eggs, tomato, sausage and bacon, and black pudding. I couldn’t face the black pudding (a highly seasoned blood sausage, sliced and fried) –a little too medieval for me. Honestly, I dodged a few items on the menu, having a pork allergy– but I always wonder how anyone can consume a “Full English” and still be ambulatory at 8 o’clock in the morning. That much food for breakfast would send me moaning back to bed. But I digress.
The thing more impressive than the breakfast itself was the fact that we found ourselves eating under a signed photo and note from the cast of Harry Potter #1– a photo of, and signed by, the all important trifecta of young wizards, Harry, Ron, and Hermione. I think parts of the cast and crew had stayed in the hotel during filming. I would guess that half of the hotels in Alnwick would have been filled with cast and crew, it was such a big production in a small town. Anyway, it brought a smile to our faces to sit under the gaze of our favorite wizards. (We may have gone to Knights’ School to learn to be Hotspurs, but our hearts have always yearned to be wizards!)
Although the castle dominates the town, there is plenty to do on a stroll through the town of Alnwick too. Great restaurants and pubs, some lovely, small antique shops, and a bookstore that I still vividly remember 10 years later–very impressive. Barter Books is housed in a former Victorian Rail Station and is massive, with books new and used, fireplaces and cozy chairs, and a tea room right there in the store. You might disappear into this place on a rainy day and not come back out until closing time. (Unless, like us, you have two young “Hotspurs” running in circles and dragging you on to the next adventure.)
And so, Alnwick has a little something for everyone . . . or a little of everything for everyone. It has history and Hollywood, medieval and muggle, sprawling grounds and mile-long dining rooms, tree houses and train stations . . .it has charm. Who wouldn’t get nostalgic about days spent there?
There was a blog-space challenge making its rounds this week, for posts and photos of “The Things We Leave Behind.” There have been great photos of, and posts about, crumbling architecture, changing cityscapes, found objects, etc. The challenge catches me in a nostalgic mood, having just moved back Stateside, so my mind has lighted on personal memories– earlier travels when my children were little. I’ll share just a few of those photos here.
The first photos come from an early summer day in Yorkshire, England, when Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (the actual car from the movie) made an appearance at a local manor house one Saturday. The owner of the car, who had actually driven the car in at least one scene in the movie, was proudly displaying his picture-perfect auto and answering a frenzy of questions from fans of all ages.
One lucky person, whose name was drawn out of a hat, got to go for a ride in the car. We didn’t make that cut, but we enjoyed ogling the iconic car anyway. It was a magical day.
I look at the photos now, and it does feel like an era left behind: our lives in England, our children’s wide-eyed elementary and preschool years, and a certain fabled-space that those two things created in their synergy.
It’s funny, but when I looked at a number of old photos that I might post of “Things We Leave Behind,” I found that my present nostalgic filter made me see each of them differently. For example, this photo from Fountains Abbey, in Yorkshire. I went looking for a picture of the impressive ruins of the Catholic abbey that Henry the VIII closed down (but which partially stands proud to this day), but what I saw immediately in the photo was my son’s love of the Davy Crockett coonskin cap which he wouldn’t take off of his head, even in the summer heat. It was a funny phase. . . but eventually left behind.
When I looked at this photo of graffiti on the walls of Kings College Chapel, in Cambridge, England (some of it dating back to the 1600’s), I immediately remembered a lazy afternoon stroll along the Cam River and “the Backs” of the university with my daughter. And I also thought of the graffiti on the walls in the Tower of London, some of it from prisoners kept there hundreds of years ago, and I remembered my children’s amazement at it, and their love of British history when it was so solidly placed in front of them, and so brilliantly re-animated by the British book, TV, and stage series “Horrible Histories.” Living elbow to elbow with history is something that Europeans do very well, but Americans a little less so.
Maybe that’s just a matter of circumstance. Europeans simply have so much more history to steep in than Americans, and it’s in your face on every street corner. Still, it offers a certain long view of the world that is so very valuable–a sense that we don’t really “leave behind” things, so much as we build on and around them.
Like childhood and Chitty Chitty, there are certain things that we should never totally leave behind–and couldn’t, even if we wanted too.
In May of 2014, I posted “Boxing Up My Life,” as we packed and prepared to ship our household goods to Germany. And then I blinked and it was June of 2016, and I find myself, once again, knee deep in the boxing up process. I am amazed, and a little dumbfounded, by the inertia of my life. A body in motion tends to stay in motion– but that doesn’t make the move process any easier.
Nobody likes goodbyes– it’s hard to wrench yourself away from people and places that you love. And for some of us, even the simple motion of boxing up our domestic goods brings on certain pangs. It’s a hassle, to be sure, but it’s also a poignant process– the handling, organizing, and thoughtful packing of the things you accumulate. It’s a time to separate the wheat from the chaff, and to remember why you’ve collected certain items in the first place. Some objects are curiosities, others are fond memories, and still others are nearly totemic in their connection to the arc of your life.
The handling and packing of these things is gratifying in lots of ways– it’s like watching a retrospective study on your life– but it’s also maddening to ship these things out, in hopes that they will come back to you intact in a few months.
Here is my perspective from two years ago:
My material things don’t equate my life–let me just say that up front.
I’m a magpie. I collect threads and scraps as I move along, and they pad my nest. No, that’s not exactly it. They become the fabric of my nest. The baubles I collect as I keep wandering represent my life. And it’s hard to watch them all be packed up, some to load onto a slow boat to Germany and some to sit in storage for a couple of years. So many of my things feel like old friends, like artifacts of adventurous times, not like run of the mill stuff at all.
And, yes, in the interest of full disclosure, I have too much “stuff” too. I’m not proud that among the boxes being packed up in my house there are “As Seen on TV” products, old DVD’s and VHS tapes of bad sitcoms, some dog figurines…well, it just gets ugly. But let’s focus on the beauty here:
There’s the portrait of Teak, the first dog my husband and I owned–so beautiful and so smart. He was the beginning of a small menagerie of children, dogs, and goldfish who share our life.
There’s the old dollhouse from England, bought at auction. It’s a Tudor, half-timber design, handmade, and sporting a “Toy Town Antiques” sign over the door and a little antique shop in the front room, visible through the window.
There’s the 300 year old walnut chest that may or may not house a ghost. (We call her Emily.)
The church pew from the Ripon Cathedral in our old hometown of Ripon, England (legitimately bought, not carried out of the cathedral–thanks for asking). It is quite beautiful, but impossible to look at without imagining the people who were there before you. Brides and widows. Carolers and clerics. Young, old, rich, poor, inspired, and downtrodden. A microcosm of life on one short bench.
There’s the old pocket Bible from WWII that bears King George’s stamp and message to soldiers in the front cover, and is partially hollowed out in the middle so the owner could hold cigarettes or pass notes. It came from the estate of a former British soldier; he was a POW in the Pacific theater.
The Turkish carpet we bought from a man affectionately (?) known as “the one-armed bandit” in Kizkalesi, Turkiye. He lived in a coastal town not too far from where we lived and knew our car the minute we drove into town for the weekend. He’d flag us down, bring us into his home, close the curtains, and then pull out his stash of carpets, jewelry, and antiquities for sale. All a little shady, but in a seductively high intrigue way. We felt like James Bond in Istanbul, wheeling and dealing. And, yes, he had just one arm. (No doubt, there’s an interesting back story there.)
The list goes on. And on. And on.
Each item is its own story–some love stories, some comedies, some tragedies, some mysteries. Inanimate objects? No way.
Some of it is just stuff. But so much of it runs deeper than that. The artifacts of a life lived and loved. Who could possibly fit that into a box?