Sunday, June 28, 2009

Full Circle!

We left the nigh-magical town of Nether Stowey to travel to our final stop – Oxford. Rather than take a direct as-the-crow-flies sort of route, we went scenic and traveled through some of the Disney-pretty villages of the Cotswolds. Really, this is where you get the burbling roadside brooks, thatched whitewashed cottages, and a profusion of vibrant blooms everywhere you turn. Almost suspiciously pretty, but maybe that’s me. A lot of browsing took place here and a particularly delicious pastry stop.

However, the final few miles into Oxford pretty much “damaged my calm,” as Jayne Cobb might put it. Oxford is a much larger town than the corresponding Cambridge and it’s much harder to maneuver in and about. We finally arrived at our dwelling and trundled the luggage up the requisite steep and narrow staircases and took a deep breath of relief.

Now, Oxford is a pretty town, full of the “dreaming spires” of Matthew Arnold. We were too late to visit many things – most shops were closed and the colleges are just finishing/finished their terms – but we managed to enjoy the Eagle & Child where C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien (probably along with some other initialed folks) hung out, discussed ideas, ate, drank, and occasionally wrote. We also visited the slightly hard-to-find Turf Tavern which has been around for centuries, even hosting the occasional cock fight way back when.

Yesterday we managed, with the help of two maps and the GPS, to get our of Oxford to drive back to Cambridge to return the car and catch the train back to London. Today is our last "full day," and we plan to explore a few places we couldn't get to earlier. Then, early tomorrow, it's to the airport with us to return home from our wanders.

Wonder if I'll remember which side of the road to drive on when I get there!

(Sorry for the bizarre appearance of this post. I can't explain it.)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Laudanum, Wrong Turns and Dreaming Spires

Our intrepid flock spent the last two days in the charming village of Nether Stowey, which is famous for being the spot where the poet Coleridge lived and wrote many of his most famous poems, including the laudanum-induced "Kubla Khan." We actually stayed in that house and walked in the garden. Coleridge never properly finished the poem, since his reverie was interrupted by "a man from Porlock," which is a (relatively) nearby town.

The hosts were wonderful and I can't say enough good things about the town. We frequented a pub that was playing on the Coleridge connection by naming itself "The Ancient Mariner" - no, they did not serve albatross. There was also a lovely bistro called "The Hairy Bear" after the owners' Welsh Terrier. We went there last night as a thunderstorm was brewing and had a wonderful time!

During this time, we also visited both Stonehenge and the marvelous city of Bath. Go see them both - I'll leave it at that.

Today we left Nether Stowey behind and traveled at a leisurely pace through the picturesque Cotswold hills (villages by Disney) to our final stop - Oxford, home of the dreaming spires. Due to heavy weekend traffic and more than a few wrong turns, we got here too late to do much more than walk around. It's been a lifetime since I've been here, but the Eagle and Child is still here, as is the moving Martyrs' Memorial. Three Protestant prelates were burned at the stake in the street; two of them together. According to legend, Latimer said to his friend Ridley as the flames began to burn: "Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out."

Courage like that deserves a monument.

We head back to London tomorrow, most likely arriving in the afternoon. We then have Sunday to play and then head back to the States Monday morning, arrived (due to time zone magic) early afternoon on Monday.

What a trip!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Well Dressed Wells & Beatlemania!

Sorry - I've been Internet-less for a few days, but that hasn't kept things from happening at a rapid pace. A few days ago, we entered the village of Youlgreave (or Yulgrave, or a few other variations thereof) in the Peak District just in time for the annual well-dressing, which is an ancient (read: pre-Christian) festival to celebrate and give thanks for water. It's now considered a feast of St. John the Baptist, but we know better, don't we?

Today, we spent more than five hours on a Beatles tour in Liverpool. Now, I'll be the first to admit that I didn't think I'd think much of this; I'm just not much of a Beatles fan. But we got lucky. Instead of the sixty-person bus tour ("yes, this is where John went to school. Okay - back on the coach"), we asked at the hotel (which is FABULOUS!! It's Parr Studios, which is part recording studio and part funky hotel) and got hooked up with a personalized taxi tour that resulted in dozens of photo stops and personal anecdotes. And I now know the reason behind most of the lyrics of "Penny Lane" and they're cool! Seriously - if you go to Liverpool (and you should), take a tour with these guys.

There's much more, but it's late and tomorrow's busy. So let me sign off for now.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Cam Bridge

We left London this morning and took the train to Cambridge. (By the way, it turns out the university town of Cambridge came by its name honestly. The River Cam flows through the town and is spanned by any number of bridges. Mystery solved!) The train was clean, on time and the trip was uneventful, apart from me discovering that I'd let the iPod run down to its dregs.

Now Cambridge is a much smaller town than its flashier college cousin, Oxford. (We'll be there later in the trip.) In fact, pretty much anyone you meet here is here due to the university - one way or another. (And it's been that way for a long while - the university is celebrating its eighth hundredth year in 2009!) The English college term is just finishing up, so students were going up to stout oak doors that had their grades posted and either celebrating or despairing over the results. We joined in two traditional Cambridge events - punting and the May Balls.

Punting on the Cam is a delightful experience. The River Cam is a shallow, gentle river and a "punt" is simply a flat-bottomed boat, as pictured above. Punters use pole to steer the punts and inexperienced (or slightly inebriated) punters lose their poles in the mud. We hired Alex the Punter and got quite a nice tour of the "backs," which are the backs of (some of) the various colleges that make up Cambridge. After all, the place is a "who's who." Trinity College can boast Newton, Byron, Tennyson, Nabokov, and Milne. Christ had Darwin; Jesus College had Coleridge; King's had Rupert Brooke. Clare had Gen. Cornwallis, but they might not talk much about him to American visitors.

We also wandered around land a good bit and stumbled on the May Ball for Corpus Christi College (the other "CCC"). Corpus Christi, by the way, lists among its graduates Sir Francis Drake and Christopher Marlowe. May Balls used to be held in May (imagine that!) and it's all fancy dress, so lots of black tie, prom dresses, ball gowns and even the occasional kilt. Oh, and one mohawk in black tie, which was a first for me!

This has been a lovely day and we used it to recharge our batteries a bit. We needed that - after all, we leave tomorrow via our own car. Let's hope we remember that wacky "drive on the left" rule!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

London, Day Two!

Today was pure sightseeing. We took a riverboat (no paddlewheels or flashy gamblers, just a horde of French teenagers) down the Thames from Parliament to the Tower of London. There, we "did" the Tower - history, flashy crown jewels, outrageous costumes, an unkindness of ravens and - oh, yes - torture! Really, the Tower is not to be missed on your tour of London.

I sought out the SPRC (Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, although I've called it worse), which turned out to be in Senate House, the library for the University of London where I studied lo these many years before! FryDaddy is a devotee of Roman history, so that was a "must" stop for me. Besides, it was on the way to the British Museum.

Now, one of the benefits to having an empire is that you can assemble a most impressive collection of stuff. The British Museum contains (among innumerable other treasures), the Rosetta Stone, most of the sculpture from the Partheon in Athens, mummies (not just human ones, either), Assyrian bas reliefs depicting a rousing lion hunt, and ancient Greek vases illustrating (shall we say) the earthier side of life.

Truly, something for everyone!

We leave tomorrow for Cambridge. We're driving ourselves rather than using the train or a bus. Remember, they drive on the wrong side of the road in the UK. Pray for us!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Magic Bus!

As I said before, I doubt I'll be able to post every day, but I want to provide updates as I can. We arrived in the UK early this morning (still the middle of the night back home) after a bumpy flight and little sleep. No one really cared all that much - we were here! In England! Yay!

The highlights of today included taking the "Big Red Bus" tour - very touristy, but also a pretty darned good way to get a feel for the city and figure out what's where and how to get there. I think I got a few good photos from the trip - we braved the wind and sat in the open top level (where I got smacked in the head by a low-hanging branch. Not hard, but my dignity was bruised) - and I'll hopefully have a chance to sort through the photos and post soon.

We took an audio tour of Westminster Abbey and saw more history than you could shake a stick at, including (but not limited to), the tombs of Elizabeth I, her half-sister Mary (note the Scottish thistles ornamenting the roof of her tomb), the shrine of Edward the Confessor, and Poet's Corner, which includes tablets to writers and artists ranging from Noel Coward to Handel to Olivier to Kipling. Statesmen such as Disraeli and Churchill, scientists such as Newton and Darwin, and the touchingly somber monument to the Unknown Warrior are all here.

Thanks to the efforts of WoolfWoman, we also had tickets to a special event. Although it has taken place every night for more than 700 years (including the time of the Great Fire and the Blitz), not many people know about the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London. Let me just say that it's full of what the English do well - pomp and circumstance - as the Tower is put to bed for the night.

Speaking of which, I should do the same. I'm not really adjusted to the time difference yet and tomorrow's a big sightseeing day and no matter how many cups of (milky) tea I have, I just can't go without sleep.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Pond Crossing!

In about a week, I'll be winging my way across the pond for a two-week vacation on the Scepter'd Isle. Yep, Mockingbird's flying to England! No work, no conference, just pure sightseeing and a discreet amount of stuffing myself with clotted cream and dishes with such charming names as "toad in the hole." (No blood pudding, though. I'm very firm on that point.)

The trip has been in the pipeline for over a year and, despite an only-okay exchange rate and the very real possibility of belt-tightening to the point of being wasp-waisted this coming academic year, there was no thought of putting off the trip. There are four of us going, all theatre or English majors (well, back when we were majors in anything) and we crafted the itinerary to cover all of our likes. So it's eclectic - a little Liverpool for the Beatles fan, a little Lake District for the Wordsworthian, Somerset for the Coleridge devotee, and a little Stratford for the Bard-struck among us. Plus prehistoric rocks and posh shopping.

Truly, something for everyone.

If only I had a TARDIS for the packing . . .

I'll try to post while I'm there, but forgive me if I don't see you again for a bit!