Door of the Day: The Downtown Abbey wolf

Door of the Day: The Downtown Abbey wolf

This is a stunning wolf decoration that we found upon entering the front door at Highclere Castle—or, as it is better known, Downtown Abbey!

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We visited Highclere on a VERY rainy day in 2015. This meant that we didn’t really get a chance to patrol the grounds, though I did see a very amazing tree out front (before the rain really set in).

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Most people visit Highclere Castle because of it being Downtown Abbey, but it has another famous association. It belongs to the Carnarvon family, who sponsored Howard Carter’s expedition in Egypt. As such, the subterranean floors of Highclere feature a museum dedicated to Egypt, and housing many of the artifacts found during that expedition. I had been to the Valley of the Kings many years before, so visiting the Highclere exhibit felt like coming full circle.

I’m posting my door inspirations from around the world to celebrate releases of The Secret of Zoone (paperback – January 28) and The Guardians of Zoone (February 25).

You can find order links for the books HERE.

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Door of the Day: three magnificent gates leading to a secret world

Door of the Day: three magnificent gates leading to a secret world

Here are three magnificent and imposing doors at Changdeokgung (the Palace of Prospering Virtue), one of five grand palaces in Korea—and a UNESCO world heritage site.

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This site also features a secret garden and, when we were there, we saw a neoguri (raccoon-dog).

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Changdeokgung-Korea-neoguri

I’m posting door inspirations from my travels to celebrate the release of The Secret of Zoone (paperback – January 28) & The Guardians of Zoone (February 25) with HarperCollins Children’s books. There will be many photos from Korea, since it (and the UK) are the places outside of Canada that I spend the most time in!

Purchase and preorder links for both Zoone books are HERE.

 

Raccoon dogs and romantic vistas at the Palace of Prospering Virtue

Raccoon dogs and romantic vistas at the Palace of Prospering Virtue

One of my favorite experiences on my recent trip to Korea was a visit to Changdeokgung, otherwise known as the Palace of Prospering Virtue. Changdeok is one of the five grand palaces in Korea, the others being Gyeongbokgung, Deoksugung, Changguyunggung, and Gyeonghuigung.

I had actually been to Changdeokgung many years ago, but that was a rain-plagued visit, so I was looking forward to a more thorough visit.

If you’re looking for big and expansive, then I highly recommend heading up the road to Gyeongbokgung. However, in my opinion, what Changdeokgung offers is a more intimate and romantic experience. The fee is only 3,000 won (less than three US dollars).

Some history

Now a UNESCO world heritage site, Changdeokgung was originally built in the 1400s by King Taejong, during the Joseon dynasty. It was the site where rulers and ministers hammered out affairs of state, and where the royal family lived. Changdeokgung was burnt down, like all palaces in Seoul, during the Japanese invasion of 1592, but was rebuilt in the 1600s.

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Go early!

Changdeokgung features a “secret garden” tour, so we booked spots for the first English version tour of the day, which was around 10:30 am. We arrived in advance of that to do some exploring of the rest of the grounds and that was definitely the right decision; there were hardly any visitors at the palace, which gave us beautiful views, uninterrupted by the hordes of people you usually find at tourist sites.

Take water

You’ll know this anyway if you visit Korea in the summer, but definitely make sure you buy a bottle (or two) from the onsite store before you embark on the Secret Garden tour. You’ll need it!

An impressive main gate

This is Donhwamun Gate, the main palace gate. It’s a two-story structure and is the largest of all palace gates in Korea. It once houses a giant bell and drum. The gate was destroyed in the 16th-century Japanese invasion.

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Below, are pictures of the main courtyard and Injeongjeon, the main hall. As I mentioned above, the courtyard was mostly empty and we were treated to one of those awe-inspiring moments where you can slip into your imagination and wonder what it might have been like to tread these stones in a bygone era.

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You can also get photo-bombed by your own wife!

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So many doorways

As my friends and students know, I love doors and details—and there’s no shortage of them to be found at Changdeokgung.

An ornate access panel to a chimney:

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Decorate roof tile:

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I loved coming across doorway views like this during my maundering:

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Traditional (and weathered) door:

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Happy tiger sculpture:

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The traditional Korean buildings were heated from underneath. This opening shows where servants would have placed fuel below the floor, accessed from the outside of the quarters:

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I adored the many shapes, patterns, and colors that could be found as we explored the labyrinthian network of buildings:

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I never tire of the swooping rooflines you see at the Korean palaces:

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Doorway with sign written in traditional Chinese characters above (can you see the sweat dripping off of me?):

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Another doorway:

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Stunning detail and color on the roof beams:

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Window shutters:

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Magnificent doorways:

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Not that secret garden

After exploring the main grounds, we headed to the starting point of our tour of the Secret Garden. Obviously, it is a very evocative name, reminiscent of the famous children’s book, but the true explanation of why the garden has that name is far less magical. As our tour guide explained, the name in Korean is “Biwon” and comes from the office of the same name that existed in the 1800s.

The garden has actually had many names, but during the Joseon period, was mostly called “Huwon.” The garden was originally developed for use by the royal family. It offers stunning views, featuring a lotus pond, pavilions, and meandering pathways.

The Lotus Pond

The first place we arrived at on the tour was the gorgeous Lotus Pond. You can see the gate on the far side of the pond. The main doorway is for the king; the two flanking it are for his ministers. These doors are lower, forcing the ministers to crouch (bow) as they enter, emphasizing their servitude to the king.

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I loved this face peering over the water. The last time I visited the garden, water was streaming out of its mouth.

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Raccoon Dog

While I was off taking photos of the pond, my friend Stacey was at the other end and got to see an animal I’ve never heard of: a raccoon dog. Here’s her photo:

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The tour guide told her that the animal is “not cute” and that she preferred cats. She also warned Stacey to keep her distance; the raccoon dog is wild and could have rabies. It seems to resemble a fox more than a dog, but gets its name from the distinctive mask.

Nature by design

The rest of the tour took us through different portions of the garden, though some areas were closed. Along the way, we were treated to many scenic views, all purposely designed.

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And I thought I was old

The tour ended with a stop by the Hyangnamu (aromatic) tree, which is believed to be over 700 years old. As you can see in the photo, it is propped up in places, but you certainly can’t blame it. Many visitors see different shapes and creatures in the curving branches of the tree, the most common being an elephant.

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As I mentioned off the top, Changdeokgung is well worth the visit. It may hover in the shadow of Gyeokbokgung, but you can easily see both palaces, as they are within walking distance of each other.

Exploring Gyeongbokgung Palace

Even though I visit Korea often, it’s been several years since I’ve visited the vast Gyeongbokgung Palace complex in Seoul. This trip, I decided to go there with my wife to show her one of the important centrepieces of the Joseon dynasty.

Even though most of the original structure was destroyed during the imperial rule of Japan in the first half of the 20th Century, most of it has been beautifully reconstructed.

Here’s a few of the pictures from our visit . . .

A pair of stone tigers flank the magnificent front gate.

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You can also see a ceremony involving the guards who are wearing traditional garb.

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I simply adore the architecture of the palace. The elegant curves of the rooflines offer many romantic vistas as you explore the complex.

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Many figures from the Oriental zodiac surround the royal throne room, including this monkey.

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Here is a better overall view of the throneroom.

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This is the magnificent ceiling of the throne room.

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Here is the banquet hall, situated amidst a pool of semi-frozen water. If only it had been gently snowing!gyeongbok-banquethall

There are many Korean totem poles (called jangseung) in the folk village area of the complex. Traditionally, they are placed on the perimeter of a village to ward of evil spirits.

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Of course, I am fascinated by doors, doorways, and all things to do with doors—locks, keys, hinges . . . you name it. I captured many of them during my visit to Gyeongbokgung Palace!

Here’s a few of my favourite pics . . .

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gyeongbok-reddoorwithchaingyeongbok-doubledoorgyeongbok-greendoorgyeongbok-greendoorwithlockgyeongbok-browndoorwithlockgyeongbok-reddoorwithknockergyeongbok_woodendoorrgyeongbok-reddoordetailgyeongbok-greendoorrossettegyeongbok-fueldoor