Category Archives: Castles

The Inimitable Biltmore Estate

At 178,926 square feet, the Biltmore—the Vanderbilt family’s 8,000 acre estate— ranks as America’s largest privately owned home, and I’ve wanted to visit for about 50 years, particularly after hearing the rumor that we’re related by marriage to the Vanderbilts (many cousins-removed ago). In the early 2000’s (at the height of our family’s musical ministry), I was negotiating with the Biltmore to sing gospel music there one Sunday afternoon           (which they still do, by the way),  although one of my closest friends ended up planning her wedding for that same weekend, and being in the wedding preempted everything else! Nevertheless, the mystique of America’s grandest estate nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains hovered like mist in the back of my mind, and last May, after visiting many of the gorgeous châteaux along the Loire River in France, several of which were the French Renaissance inspirations for the Biltmore,    such as  Château de Blois,        Château de Chenonceau,         and Château de Chambord,         I realized that a trip to the Biltmore was still on my unconscious bucket list. So, when we attended a conference this May just 15 miles from the Biltmore, you can imagine my excitement to see this romantic tribute  to America’s Gilded Age!  Yesterday I shared photos from the gardens (in conjunction with thoughts for pondering how to overcome your past and fulfill your potential),  but today I want to share a few photos from the inside of this grand home,  which would have made a worthy location for Downton Abbey! The Biltmore Estate has 250 rooms,  including 33 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces,  a dining room table that can seat up to 64 guests,   and many novelties for the 19th century,  such as  a 70,000-gallon heated indoor swimming pool  and one of the nation’s first bowling alleys to be installed in a private residence. Only half of George Vanderbilt’s collection of 22,000 books can fit in his library, and while we were visiting, their was a special exhibition of costumes  and information related to movies that have been made  from some of the many first-edition classic books owned by the Vanderbilts. The Vanderbilt family still live in and operate their estate,  but unlike many European grand estates and palaces, the Vanderbilts allow visitors to take photographs of all the home’s treasures,  including many beautifully preserves tapestries  and gorgeous paintings.  On a sunny day, like the day we visited,  one could easily spend their entire day touring the home,  enjoying lunch at one of their stable-turned restaurant venues,  and exploring their vast gardens.  Although we loved visiting, Alan and I both left thinking
how happy we are to live in our snug little “Tanglewood Cottage.”  I’m not even sure “I want a mansion, just over the hilltop.” Do you?  Actually, I don’t care where I live, just as long as it’s with Jesus!

Jesus said, “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love” (John 15:9-10).

“Mansion Over The Hilltop”

“I’m satisfied with just a cottage below
A little silver and a little gold
But in that city where the ransomed will shine
I want a gold one that’s silver lined.

Don’t think me poor or deserted or lonely
I’m not discouraged I’m heaven bound.
I’m but a pilgrim in search of the city
I want a mansion, a harp and a crown.

I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop
In that bright land where we’ll never grow old
And some day yonder we will never more wander
But walk on streets that are purest gold.” (Ira Stanphill)

(All photos, except the four related to our trip to France last May, were taken this May on our visit the the Biltmore Estate, near Ashville, North Carolina.)

Messages to Magnificent Kyoto

Osaka Castle 2Osaka Castle Osaka Castle  3  Stands tall against the moonlight. Girls trying to scale Osaka Castle  Fear no one but God.Scaling Osaka Castle

Kyoto 4.16.14Two thousand temples.  Kyoto City Scape+ Cherry Blossoms Kyoto, have you heard of Budhhist Worshipper 4.16.14  The God who loves you? Girls with Cherry Blossoms“The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.”
(The Bible, Jeremiah 31:3) Buddhist Temple
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
(The Bible, John 3:16)

What Wondrous Love Is This?
An American Folk Hymn

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this
That caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul!

When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down
Beneath God’s righteous frown,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul for my soul,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul.

To God and to the Lamb I will sing, I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb,
Who is the great I AM,
While millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing,
While millions join the theme, I will sing.

And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free
I’ll sing His love for me,
And through eternity I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,
And through eternity I’ll sing on.

Could Anything be Better than the Magic Kingdom?!

Stephen and Joel at Magic KingdomDisney’s Magic Kingdom has been described as “the happiest place on earth,” and the fact that it’s  the world’s #1 paid tourist attraction (with Disneyland #2) lends some credence to their claim , especially if you believe  money talks! Blue and Pink Flowers at Disney 1.6.15 The Magic Kingdom is a combination of delightful rides and gorgeous grounds, and everyone goes there to enjoy life and bond with loved ones…
so of course it’s a happy place! What’s not to love?  🙂Cindarella's Castle at Night Last Tuesday I mentioned many of the best rides in the park for tots, but this week I want to share some pictures from our last trip to the kingdom at night, Magic Kingdom Train Station because it really does seem magical in the evening when all the lights come on, Disney's Main Street at Nightand at Christmas time—when the park is aglow with special decorations and alive with people celebrating Christmas— it seems the most magical of all! Tomorrowland at NightWith many of the littlest ones off to bed, the pace slows to more: more quiet, more strolling…more time enjoying the interplay of colors, lights, and sound. Magic Kingdom CarouselPeople still continue with the rides and fun, but there’s an almost breathless sense of expectation as everyone awaits the grand finale: “Disney Wishes,”Cindarella's Castle Illuminated JPG which is an incredibly spectacular laser, light, music and fireworks extravaganza where Disney extends the hopes that “all our wishes will come true.”Fireworks in blue at DisneyI have to confess, in our 40-50 times of taking the kids to the Magic Kingdom,  we were always among those parents who hoisted their babes shoulder top
(not wanting them to miss anything!) and then had to lug them home whilst visions of starlight and starbright exploded and danced across their dreams,Grand finale fireworks at Disney Wishes and I was ever grateful for our 3 older sons, who eventually helped carry our 3 younger sons home on such enchanted evenings! Cindarella's castle frosted in lightsOf late, some 200,000 lights make Cinderella’s castle look like it’s been dipped in sugar…sugar-coated dreams! Sounds just about perfect, doesn’t it?

Fireworks over Cinderella's CastleNow, I’m not contesting the beauty and pleasure of the Disney experience,
and  we’ve probably taken our kids to Disney more often than anybody we know, but I just want you to know that there is a kingdom even greater than the Magic Kingdom, and that’s the Kingdom of God. Disney WishesThere’s also something infinitely more effective for finding fulfillment than wishing on a star or believing in ourselves, and that’s believing in God and petitioning Him for the grace and strength to enable us to do what we should …and for his miraculous intervention to accomplish what good we cannot. Magic Kingdom Christmas TreeIn addition, there’s a tree more glorious than Disney’s—the cross on which Jesus died to pay for our sins and make it possible for us to become sons of light and children of God…the one, true God who can make all our wishes come true! Potpourri of lights at Disney's Wishes FireworksI’m sorry that the Kingdom of God is not a place I can show you now, although it will be one day. Until that time, God asks us to believe by faith and walk by faith, with the promise that someday our faith will be rewarded by sight, and in the end we’ll find that it is more glorious and more wonderful than any place we’ve ever seen here on earth!

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).

The Romance of Northern Europe (13): The Magnificent Catherine Palace

Catherine PalaceSomeone asked me if I actually saw the Catherine Palace or just promised to Grand Stairwaywrite about it. If you’ve ever seen Disney’s Condor Man (which is a ridiculous IMG_1825spoof on From Russia with Love…but our family all thought it was very funny),Catherine Palace front gate then I’d like you to know that, like Woody, I test out everything before writing Apple Blossoms about it in the comics (or this blog, whichever comes first).Spring at the Catherine PalaceYes, we really did go on a marvelous cruise of Northern Europe in the springtimeCatherine Palace Complex. Royal Russia. News and although this one picture (showing the magnitude of the palace complex) was taken by “Royal Russia,” all the rest of these pictures were taken by Alan and Kathi at Catherine Palace yours truly and my trusty husband of 41+ years,  Harpsichordwho has endured and enjoyed world travels and cultural experiences with me! Carriage at the Catherine Palace The Catherine Palace was originally commissioned by Catherine I in 1717 Eighteenth Century Palace Dress as the summer residence of the Russian tsars. Catherine the GreatThrough the years, it changed in style and grew in magnitude and opulence, Palace Guard but in January of 1944, the palace was totally destroyed by the German army Catherine the Great Portrait as they left after the bloody 872-day siege of Leningrad during World War 2.Rococo Decorations at Catherine Palace Today, much of the Catherine’s Palace has been restored to its former Rococo IMG_1821grandeur, but in order to raise funds for completing their renovations,Great Hall the Catherine Palace now rents out its dazzling “Great Hall” for special events, &Entertainment at Catherine Palace we enjoyed being beneficiaries of one of their magical evenings of entertainment!The gates of Catherine Palace Alan and I were part of a group who arrived at the front gates early enough to Music at Catherine Palacetour the palace before the concert, but even then we were welcomed with music!Spires of Catherine PalaceIt is said that more than 100 kilograms of gold have been used to guild the Front of Catherine Palaceglorious rooftop and intricate stucco facade of the Catherine Palace, Dining Room at Catherine Palacebut I think the complete value of this treasure house is beyond estimation.Gold GuildingFor example, the walls in every room are enhanced with gold-guilding, Beautiful Seteeand artfully adorned with exquisite furniture and statuary. Palace CurtainsStunning curtains line the windows.Parquet floor in Catherine PalaceThe floors are crafted with intricate parquet inlays; Ceiling Mural at Catherine Palace the ceilings are graced with ethereal scenes from the world’s great artists;Porcelain Fireplaceand each room has a gigantic, blue and white porcelain heat radiator. Portrait Hall. Catherine Palace The Portrait Hall covers 100 sq. meters and is filled with superb oil paintings. IMG_1771 In the Light Gallery (and on the evening we were there) over 696 lamps are lit Lights at Catherine Palacenear the mirrored walls and windows and hanging from the chandeliers, Hall of Mirrors giving the room a magnificent, golden glow. Lumiere. Be My Guest(Does this look like Lumière from Beauty and the Beast, or what??!) Royal Carriage Well, besides touring the palace and the Royal Carriage House, Chamber Music at the Great Hall we were treated to an evening of classical music Royal Dining Table and a royal reception (not really at this table) to try some of Russia’s famous Caviarchampagne (which I opted out of) and caviar (which was exotic but excellent). Catherine Palace GardensThe evening ended with a stroll through the perfectly manicured palace gardens IMG_1849while enjoying even more musical entertainment! Catherine Palace BandI couldn’t help but be impressed with all the music, and I believe it’s really true Russian Dancersthat Russians (and probably all of us) love beauty, music and dancing. Catherine Palace SpiresIt’s hard to even imagine the beauty and joy that awaits us in heaven!

“But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”
(1 Corinthians 2:9)