Friday, March 31, 2017
With each new place we visited, my love of England grew. The place to humor me the most was Glastonbury. I looked forward to going to the little hamlet of around 9,000 people, but I didn't realize the trouble the area would cause. Driving the tiny roadways unnerved us Montana girls. I swear their two lane highways are less then half the size as our, a slight bit bigger then a logging road. My poor sister was beyond stressed. I think she did marvelously, but Glastonbury caused a huge problem.
In England, cars can be parked on one side of a two lane road blocking half the lane, making the road a little smaller then a logging road. Rules apply, but I don't know if we ever learned the true way to drive. Hence, I am sure we had some Brits a little ticked off at us. However, we did add some money to the economy. Pulling into the town, a huge truck came at us. Kim moved to the side, taking out a curb and puncturing the tire. She pulled off to the side and called for a fix.
As we waited for our knight in shining armor to arrive, we stopped in at the Beckett Inn. We needed a place to stay for the night. Since we had been traveling, we bypassed talking to the proprietor first because we needed to use the bathroom. The entrance to said relief were outside in a little garden. As we took turns, we hung out in the little garden. The proprietress must have been nervous because she came out to chat with us. Unfortunately, the establishment was only a tavern. I felt bad. We didn't order anything. Instead we left for a place to eat and stay. I am sure she wasn't happy with us using the toilet and running. Opps.
Walking down the street, I peeked through the windows of the stores, all of which were closed for the evening. Strange clothing shops, bongs, and other paraphernalia in every other shop caused me to think I had been transported to the 1960's. This little town gave Missoula a fun for their reputation.
A sign enticed me, Excalibur. I was ecstatic for a moment. We had entered the land of King Arthur. When we looked at the menu, I was a bit disappointed. The restaurant served only the Vegan minded. When in Rome…I ordered a bean, pesto, wild garlic pizza with rocket leafs (a different type of lettuce). I was pleasantly surprised. As I waited, I chatted with one of the workers and told her about the tire.
"Oh, that would be the curse." Her face remained serious. "Outsiders traveling to Glastonbury always have strange things happen to them unless they are grounded."
I bit. "How do you get grounded? We are spending the night and don't need anything else to happen." I couldn't keep the shit eating grin off my face.
"You have to eat chocolate and potatoes."
"Oh, that is where I went wrong. I should have ordered potatoes. I had a little chocolate earlier, so I am only half grounded."
I still chuckle at the conversation. Merlin must continue to live in the area. Next time I come to this side of England, the night before I will have fish and chips for dinner with a chocolate dessert. I intend to be well grounded. On our way to Glastonbury, I snacked on a bag of potato chips. When we found our hotel and relaxed for the evening, I ate a one of the chocolates my cousin sent us in London. The rest of the trip went smashingly well. I learned my lesson!
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
The day after Hampton Court, we packed up our bags, drug them to the train, and set out for Dover to pick up a rental car. We chose to do this to be able to bypass London traffic and to see the cliffs. Though we had many challenges with driving and navigating, I am happy with our choice.
At the Dover train station, we hailed a cab. In my research, I knew that the Enterprise car rental from the train was towards the channel and to the right, the Avis driver turned to the left. However, since I didn't "know" the area, I figured when he turned right, he knew what he was doing. He pulled into Hertz. Hum…. We backtracked and ended going in the left. The trip ended up being a little over five pounds. I believe he finagled another pound from us by going the "wrong" way.
The mechanic at Avis insisted we drive up to the Castle and to a museum in the little town of Dover. The three of us acted interested. Normally, I would be game to see the local interests, but our mission was to attempt to see three sights: the Cliffs of Dover, Stonehenge, and Glastonbury Abbey. Our time in Dover was limited. Our first stop after getting the car was at a car park next to a trail that led up the white cliffs.
I soaked up the salty air of the English Channel and grinned as I looked out across the waves and saw the French coast. Ships crossed the water. I longed to be on one coming from the continent to have the cliffs grow in size as we sailed closer. I love to sail. Another day.
As it was, I enjoyed stretching out my legs on the dirt path, instead of concrete. Horses grazed above above the trail and the castle stood off on a hill across from us.
I could have spent the entire day roaming the area. The cliffs, though beautiful, failed to meet my expectations. Most of the stunning shots of the cliffs come from the channel. A few other specific spots run along the cliffs other photos to capture the majestic lines. With our limited time, I wasn't able to find those spots. Instead, we jumped back into the car for our next sight.
After making one or two wrong turns, signing and roundabouts equaled our Achilles heal, we pulled into the car park for Stonehenge after passing a turn off for a military installation. I would love to stop to see a British fort. Again, another day.
I had thought we would see Stonehenge from the motorway or even the car park, but we had to be bused to the area. I sat on the seat, bouncing along on the dirt road, in anticipation of seeing the ancient marvel. As the bus came to a stop, I looked over and the stones greeted us from about a quarter of a mile away. Stepping off the bus, the wind blew over the green grass. Sheep grazed off to the right in a field. A couple people walked across the grass up to the fence to gaze at the stones. Some people must not like paying the fee to get closer.
I enjoyed walking along the path that formed a half circle around the giant rocks. Of course, walking through the stones would be phenomenal, but really, with all the tourists, I wouldn't have liked to share. Besides, I was happy that the lack of traffic kept the grass from being stomped on by all the feet. The sight truly is beautiful. I hoped to feel a moving of spirits, but I felt nothing. My attention turned to the birds.
In all my readings of gothic romances, rooks are mentioned often. The two attendants of the sight fed the birds as the visitors wandered around. We stopped to chat with them. The black birds are rooks. I have finally seen them. Nothing out of the ordinary, but now I have a real idea of the feathered creatures. The other bird being fed is called a European Starling. These little guys have the most lovely coloring. I enjoyed snapping pictures of them.
|European Starling, what a beauty.|
The attendants also explained to us the line of vehicles on a dirt road off to the side. Many druids and pagans come to the sight. Since they come for religious purposes, they are allowed to park on the road for up to two hours. They have to leave but can come back later in the day. During the solstice, they are given free access to the stones to perform their rituals. I was fascinated by all of this. "Can regular people come at this time to witness the rituals?" I asked, realizing the "regular people" was a bit rude. She thought that would probably be possible. How much fun would that be? I would love to see it. A friend thinks we should dress up as druids and attend. Tempting!
Another oddity about the area, my sister pointed out a square cement section in one of the rocks. Come to find out, weather and possibly man created extensive erosion of one of the rocks, creating a big hole. Back in the fifties or sixties, a person took a picture of a couple of people having a picnic inside the rock. To stop further erosion and potential danger of people being crushed, the cement was poured. We also learned that during the Tudor age a common practice of taking pieces of the rock home caused further erosion. The guide said the Tudors had a lot to be reprimanded for which I would learn more of that the next day of our trip.
Back at the car park, my sister pointed out a beautiful sight. Two tracked military vehicles drove up the road and past us. Yay! I love tracked vehicles and always feel a tug of my heart strings. The worst part of being retired is that I will never have the chance to drive them again. I will say, if I ever win the lottery or make it big as a writer, I would be mighty tempted to buy a piece of land and a tank. Oh, the fun I could have! Instead, I drooled as they drove by and I snapped a couple of pictures.
Monday, March 27, 2017
Our last day in London, we traveled out to Hampton Court. In my preparation for the trip, I didn't research Hampton, but I did watch the Masterpiece series on PBS about Queen Victoria. Many of the scenes are at Hampton. However, I stepped through the gate with no real knowledge. As we walked into the first rooms, I was delighted to discover half of Hampton was restored to Henry VIII's day. What a delight! I have always been fascinated with Henry, all his wives, Bloody Mary, and Elizabeth I.
For the record, I only was able to see a pearl from Elizabeth I's age. I need to go back to find were Elizabeth items are. I truly love her. She was an amazing woman. Since being in England, I am reading a book about Elizabeth I and her cousin, Mary Queen of Scotland. I definitely am a fan more of Elizabeth, but both women fascinate me. Both are determined to rule, but destiny only allows for one. In my studies this past year, I have enjoyed learning about Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II, but my favorite is Elizabeth I. I was disappointed not to tour anything about her. Next time, I hope. Also of note, I still have a spot in my heart for Bloody Mary, Elizabeth I's older sister. Her life was filled with so much suffering and hatred. She is truly a tragic character in history.
But, I digress. The day prior, I saw many tapestries. The tapestries at Hampton Court amazed me even further. I have always loved the thought of sitting around a fire doing needle work. I know I would have done tapestries if I lived in the era. If I didn't love gardening and writing so much, I would be tempted to try my hand at the task. So, walking into the dining hall of Henry VIII, my jaw must have hit the floor. The walls were lined with tapestries, just like in the books. Stained glass windows adorned the upper reaches of the walls. And in the ceiling beams, the heads of a king looked down on the diners to remind them the king is always watching. My skin tingled.
Touring through Windsor and Hampton, workers keep watch of the tourists and answer questions. The ones I talked to were delightful. I wondered onto a stairwell landing and the guide joined me as I looked up on the wall at a display of mounted stag antlers. He pointed out the largest rack. The antlers were found in a bog in Ireland. He said they were 10,000 years old. After he left, I thought of my dad. He would love to hear that story.
A little later, as I entered the Chapel Royal, I was greeted by the smell of incense. My first thought was that even after all these years, the smell lingered. However, they still hold services in the church. Amazing. Thus, the smoke lingered from the day prior. The affect still transported me to the days of Catherine of Aragon. I stood in the balcony and to the right a little day chapel was roped off which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. This was were Catherine must have spent hours in prayer while her husband plotted to divorce her so he could marry Anne Boleyn. I prayed here in the balcony. My second experience in a holy place.
My favorite piece of artwork was a family portrait of Henry VIII and his family.
I was disappointed in not being able to see the gardens of Hampton Court in their entirety. I caught glimpses of them through the windows. I longed to wander, but I grew tired as did my companions. Again, I will have to come another time to this spot in the spring or summer to witness the grandeur of such manicured plants. My heart did patter as I looked out towards one sight. Just in the past couple of months, I saw this very scene on the show about Queen Victoria. She walked here. Everywhere I walked in the palace, I am sure she was in the same spots along with other historical figures. In fact, I watched the episode of when Victoria gave birth to her first child. I have been there. Extraordinary!!!
My other favorite part of the tour was the armor room. The displays amazed me. I have always found weapons beautiful. Yes, they kill senselessly when in the wrong hands. But they also defend and provide sustenance. When it comes to firearms, they are fun to shoot. Walking through the display I drank in the artistry of how they showed the items. Dad and Jerry would appreciate the room.
We stopped in a gift shop. I picked my items and chatted with the clerks. My heart flowed with excitement and awe. I laughed with the women and in a hurry took my leave. Going through the kitchens, another gift shop enticed me with a thimble like corkscrew and a cork stopper. As I opened my handbag, my credit card was missing. I panicked but had cash. I dug through everything. My sister ran to the first shop and she backtracked our steps. I opened the two pockets in my backpack I never use. The card was in one of them. The rest of the trip, I double checked for my credit card. I haven't been that scared in ages. Geez, in England with no card! I could have made it work, but I thanked God for finding the small piece of plastic!
Looking back through the pictures, Hampton Court was my favorite of the three castles we went through. I would love to study Elizabeth I to see if she spent a lot of time in this grand home. I really could envision myself living there back in the days of old. The ceilings, lanterns, furniture, all were extremely beautiful. I think I will always feel this trip was only in my dreams.
Friday, March 24, 2017
All of my life, I have dreamt of going to a castle. I read stories of knights in shining armor. I studied the histories. I envisioned going through the dark rooms with smoke stained rocks surrounding large fireplaces. Windsor Castle failed to meet those past daydreams. I am not sure why I didn't think of going to a functioning castle. The thought never entered my mind. Walking through the archway entry onto the grounds, filled me with awe and wonder. The flag over the castle alerted all the visitors that Queen Elizabeth was in residence. I was close to royalty. Surreal!
|The flying flag indicates the Queen is in residence.|
I believe we only saw the back part of the castle. Even this area with the vivid green lawns were immaculate. The foliage, though in the winter sleep cycle, stood tall and proud. I imagined the beauty of the flowers growing and trees budding. Magnificent. I strolled the cobbled road with a headset on listening to the tour. I loved the majestic structure of the buildings and delighted in the arrow slits. Yes, I imaged them and saw them in movies, but I actually looked through them.
Not surprisingly, pictures are not allowed when you enter the castle. I have taken the liberty to find pictures on the internet to use. Being overwhelmed by the tour, I forgot to use my recorder as I walked through room after room. Tears came to my eyes as I strolled through the shield room. A fire went through this section of the castle in about 1992, destroying everything. The Queen and Prince Philip commissioned artists to reconstruct the palace to its former glory. I could imagine their broken hearts after all that was lost. I longed to be able to know the story of the families that all the shields represent. Breathtaking.
I enjoyed the Waterloo Chamber with artwork by Thomas Lawrence. My favorite piece being that of Pope Pius VII. I appreciated that even though England left the church long ago George IV honored the Pope in his part of defeating Napoleon. The portrait is exquisite.
My favorite of all the artwork though was the Massacre of the Innocents c.1565-67. The piece is a depiction of King Herod's ordering of all male children two and under killed. The points I found interesting is the artists use of a Flemish village instead of a Jewish village. I imagine it as if an artist of today using a Montana town as the backdrop. The piece would take on an air of what if it happened today and the little one at church was killed in front of me. Because of this emotional wrenching of the heart the portrait conveyed, years later a new artist was commissioned to paint over the babies. Now the instead of babies, the soldiers are stabbing at food, packages, and animals. I would love to see the original, but the fact that it horrified the people of the time enough to change it speaks volumes.
Disappointingly, we were unable to go into the St. George Chapel. They close all the churches on Sunday's for services. Next time in England, my Sundays will include a service and touring in the afternoon or a simple picnic at a local park. And yes, there will be another trip.
|Waiting to enter the castle.|
|The making of Fairy Tales|
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
My excitement overwhelmed me, reminding me of my young self being giddy with excitement for Christmas, as we walked up to the Tower of London. I studied this historic landmark during my time in college as I worked toward a degree in history. Over the years, I have read numerous stories about the Tower. The story that always fascinated me the most was of the little boys who disappeared while imprisoned in the Tower by their uncle, King Richard III. Well, and of course, the beheadings that took place on the Tower grounds.
|The White Tower within the Tower of London|
As I listened to the guide, I marveled at the age of the buildings and the stories. Hundreds of years of history surrounded me. How does a person capture all of it in a picture or a blog post? The thought of writing a travel memoir slipped away. The task too large. Even sitting here trying to remember, I get overwhelmed by the extent of my experience. The visit filled me like a dream. I walked through the grounds, snapping pictures, and listening, but I failed to grasp the reality. Now the time is gone, never to be captured again.
Our last spot for the guide to speak with us was the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula. The spot has been a place of worship for over a thousand years. However, the building isn't that old. The current building began construction in 1519 with alterations being made throughout the years. The guide pointed out the burial spots of Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard (the two wives Henry VIII beheaded) next to the alter. He talked about hundreds of bodies being buried under the floor where we sat in the pews. Even with all the bodies and violent history, I felt at peace in the chapel and on the grounds. I agree with the guide when he said we must not judge the past with the same focus that we judge in the present. Yes, today, beheadings and torture are condemned, but that was the way of life back then. We can't fully grasp the culture. I believe that is why there is peace in the chapel. God has forgiven.
As we left the chapel, I detoured to the side, stopping in front of a wooden down that led to more dead bodies. Saint Thomas More rested behind the deep brown wood. I stopped for a moment and read a plaque. In my emotional state, I don't remember what it said. The words failed to register. I prayed. About five years ago, I went to confession about a situation of being around worldly people who criticized my way of life. The priest gave me an odd penance. He told me to watch the movie, A Man for All Seasons, the story of Saint Thomas More. The lesson for me? Thomas stood up to Henry VIII in his worldly desire to divorce Catherine of Aragon by leaving the Catholic Church and starting the Anglican Church. Saint Thomas was beheaded for his convictions. I must always remain steadfast in my own faith just like Thomas. I said a prayer for him, thankful for his example to follow. Overwhelmed at being near his relics.
The Memorial to the Executed moved me much like the chapel. In roughly the same spot that blood spilled and heads fell into baskets, a statue memorializes the deaths. A poem is written on the bottom section, which I have to admit I don't remember. On the top circle in a beautiful light blue, the names of those beheaded was printed around the glass. I walked around, reading the names and said a prayer for them. In the middle a glass pillow led my imagination to Anne placing her head down in great fear. Breathtaking in elegance, I marveled at such a tribute for a harsh time in British history.
I would be remiss in not mentioning that we did see the Crown Jewels. Though impressive, my mind returned to the chapel and the monument. Of course, I delighted in seeing the metal statues of some of the animals that lived at the Tower during the days of the Menagerie. I kept in mind the woman who stupidly showed off to her friends by putting her arm into the lion's cage. As lions will do, he had a tasty snack on said arm. The story reminds me of the things people do at Yellowstone or Glacier Park. We haven't learned much over the centuries.
As we left the Tower, I was content with my time in London. Yes, I still had two more days of touring, but the Tower was my true destination. Someday, I will go into Westminster Abbey, tour the Globe Theatre, see the changing of the guard, look on Buckingham Palace, and visit the museums. But for this trip, the Tower of London fulfilled the ache in my heart to be near Saint Thomas More and feel the history soak into my skin.