A Travellerspoint blog

Prelude to Our E.V. 2004: Footsteps, Footwork & Disclaimer

Well, ya gotta read it to believe it!

Hello, Reader!
Thank you for taking a moment to read this very important prelude to our European Vacation adventures of 2004. Hopefully my words below will help you to find your way through my stories without too much confusion.
Our European adventures were not just great fun with great people, they were a great learning experience, as was writing them. Our adventures took place over 2 months, visiting a total of 9 countries, of which one stop was to visit family and two were to visit dear friends. I brought along a blank journal to record daily each place, each adventure, each experience- the typed up results are what you will read, broken down into 45 entries, or chapters. I tried to write them so that any chapter can stand alone by itself. Whether I was successful in that or not, we shall see.
Thank you in advance for sharing them with us through these stories.
In my eyes, every adventure should consist of the following: A companion (real or imaginary) with whom to share your journey, a sense of adventure (if your traveling companion does not have one, then pack a left hook as well to knock some sense into them), a vivid imagination (helps greatly if you are accompanied by an imaginary friend), a couple of Ziploc bags (keeps the unwanted bugs in the rock and shell collection you will acquire from escaping into your suitcase, preventing them from making a new home in your underwear), plenty of tissues (for emotion when art touches your soul or uncontrollable tears of laughter wvhen your traveling companion has tripped… tissues also double as T.P. in a pinch), a small bottle antibacterial soap gel (like a true Scout, always be prepared), a pen and a journal - although lipstick and a napkin will suffice in an emergency.
Before following in my footsteps through my travel stories, you might want to be Heads Up on my footwork… My right foot tends to trip a lot- usually on Air. You’ll find my left foot easily- it’ll be the funny looking thing I’ve got stuck in my mouth. I’m not flat-footed, nor are my feet always flat on the ground as I tend to bounce a lot. Think ‘Tigger’- you’ll get the idea. If my feet are not tripping, bouncing or stuck in my mouth, it’s probably because they are standing on one of my Soapboxes… For that, I feel the need to beg forgiveness in advance if any of my soapboxes offend anyone, as that was never my intention. While each chapter was typed up as an independent story, it is important to remember it is really a journal. What is written is simply what I wrote at the moment, in whatever mood I happened to be in at the time- whether it was spiritual with lots of prayer, personal with a soapbox or two, the eager student with historical (or hysterical) trivia at hand or just simply the goofball with a few laughs- generally directed at myself. Due to the personal nature, the thoughts within unfortunately may at times come across as a bit... strong. Changing words to make my soapboxes disappear would only be done to make me appear sane to those who don’t really know me, and what would be the fun in that? I am who I am, and the stories stand as were written in my journal.
And now for the oh, so important Disclaimer…:
I apologize if any of the historical trivia I have included is inaccurate. Please keep in mind I do not profess to be a historian, I am merely an archaeologist wannabe; I like to dig and climb in strange places to do my research. All historical information provided which was researched on the Internet was limited to official websites of the museums or state sponsored tourism websites, not from tourist opinionated websites. Some information was from audio provided by the site or tourist bus; other historical trivia was straight out of the mouths of tour guides we were lucky to be close enough to sneak up to hear while we quickly jotted down their quotes on tissues- before quickly hiding our notes in case of discovery. The rest of my research was taken from documents I picked up at the sites themselves such as books, pamphlets, small leaflets sealed in plastic found inside bags of potato chips purchased at the onsite gift shops, or printed on the labels of the wine provided at the museum cafeterias. Anyone deciding to take me to court to dispute any historical or other errors in my writings must be informed that my defense strategies will hold up in court: I am a Blonde, and can please temporary insanity.
So now… step into my world, and let the adventures begin…


Posted by tacoinusa 00:50 Comments (0)

Sandy & Vidal’s E.V. 2004: The Abridged Version

What We Did in Two Months in Europe in a Nutshell

View Sandy & Vidal's European Adventures of 2004 on tacoinusa's travel map.

This is for those of you want to hear about what we experienced, but hate to read. Or maybe you just don’t have much time and want to choose what to read without having to open one chapter, fearing it is too long for your short attention span… Or maybe you are just curious as to which might actually sound good, if anything. Or maybe you are too lazy to read, period- but you want everyone to think you actually read each chapter and are in need of Cliff's Notes, a Reader’s Digest condensed version or just a good old Cheat Sheet to memorize in case it comes up in conversation or if there is a Book Discussion, Book Report or worse- a written exam.


England Part 1 Our Intro to Europe: Guildford & Cranleigh:
We met up with our friends Naomi, Mike, Lottie and Shane, hit some pubs, ate some English grub, drank some tea. People drove on the wrong side of the too narrow roads in backward built cars with steering wheels on the wrong side; the hills were green and the cottages cute. Saw the Omen cathedral hall; Damien was out for the day. Great time, but it was NOT Bloody Hot!
England Part 2: Day Trips to London:
Saw Big Ben & Parliament, rode a red double decker bus, made a call from a red phone booth, saw a bunch of guards changing shifts, saw that the London Bridge really did fall down but the Tower Bridge still stands, took a photo with Sherlock Holmes, saw a bunch of stolen items in the British Museum and lots of fancy paintings in the National Gallery, saw the Picadilly Circus wasn’t a circus and saw Eliza Doolittle’s flower market no longer has flowers- and Eliza wasn’t there, either. It was NOT bloody hot.
England Part 3: The Old World: Dominos of Stonehenge, Salisbury Steaks & the Winchester Cathedral:
Salisbury: Almost slept near land mines. Saw an old church with a big steeple; went inside and saw all the people. Stopped at a pub, ate some English grub, we met a bartender from Liverpool, he had a brother who was really cool, knew the Beatles when he went to school, was their Cavern Club bouncer who sat on a stool. We then slept over an old pub, as it was safer than sleeping over the land mines. It was NOT bloody hot.
Stonehenge: We had special permission to get up before the sun to go see a pile of rocks in the middle of a field on the side of a road and see if the blue rocks were hot or cold. It was NOT bloody hot.
Winchester: Sang the song and saw the cathedral Diver Dan saved from drowning, walked through a castle that had no walls, waved at Jane Austen’s former home, saw King Arthur’s Round Table, but not the knights. It was NOT bloody hot.
England Part 4: The Pinball Wizard in Brighton and the Funky Pavilion:
Saw the big pier, rode on a mouse, ate cockles & whelks and fish & chips, Vidal kicked a ball and won a shark, we walked down some Lanes and saw a funky pavilion; had tea, crumpets and a brownie with a free strand of hair on the palace veranda. It was NOT bloody hot.
England Part 5: A Day at the Races: My Fair Lady Hits Royal Ascot… or Tailgating British Style:
Had a picnic, drank some champagne, rode in a carriage, missed the queen, saw some horses, won some money, wore a Mad Hatter hat. It was NOT bloody hot.


Arhus: We drove round and round ‘til we understood Danish. Vidal had a Jack Thompson Special (a hamburger), we sat at a train station.
Snedsted: We met Sandy’s cousins, checked out the Thomsen Tree to see where the Thompsons came in. Went to a bonfire to see the Danes burn and defeat a witch, sending her screaming back to Germany. Ate lots of yummy food.
Thisted: Saw a church Sandy’s ancestors attended and walked the streets, all through the rain.
Sjorring: saw the house that Jack’s ancestors built, church they attended and the lake they drained, saw where a Viking castle once stood on a hill with a drained moat, all through the rain.
Took a peek at the non-drained North Sea.
Viborg: Saw old houses and where a baker no longer lives to bake bread. Forced to eat more delicious food.


Ascona: We visited friends Mari, Zenon and Karla, walked to a lake, made rock sculptures, saw an old nudist colony, didn’t buy a painting we wanted, Vidal swam in the ice.
Lucarno: We went to open Swiss bank accounts to deposit our millions, walked around to see some old buildings and searched all over Switzerland because Vidal had to have an ice cold Coke, that spoiled brat.
Alps: We took a rickety lift to the top of a mountain to see Santa ‘Uncle Sepp’ Claus make cheese, drank some homemade gasoline; heard santa yodel and the cows play their bells.
Lucerne: We walked along an old painted bridge then went cuckoo in search of a cuckoo.


We didn’t go to a coffee house, we did meet Vidal’s cousin Rosalia and her hubby Peter from Germany, we didn’t join the stoned people in the Dam Square, we did visit the city museum with the chopped up Nightwatch, the Van Gogh museum to see how Vincent lost his marbles and the house where Rembrandt went bankrupt. We did see where Anne Frank lived, we did take a cruise around the canals, we did get ripped off buying cheese, and we did stay in a closet.


We saw a bunch of old houses with funny names on a big square, and went in search of a peeing boy. Did our impressions of Monty Python's Brian as we ate too much chocolate, waffles, mussels and fries.


We stayed in a closet, had a glass of lousy wine and a small beer which cost more than our closet, Vidal wore new shoes and got blisters, the French Army went on a stroll. Mona Lisa followed us, DaVinci’s St John pointed to the exit for us, the crowds on Bastille Day stopped us from seeing the Eiffel Tower and then threw M80s at us; the gargoyles at Notre Dame scared us. We hated Paris in the springtime, we hated Paris in the fall, although we were there in the summer-we still were not crazy about it at all.


It was hot. We rode a bus around and around, saw Picasso’s art, Gaudi’s funky buildings, his unfinished church and his funky mosaic lizard; wandered through some old gothic quarter, rambled along a long boulevard lined with living statues and a thousand flower and bird vendors, ate at the Snails place with pork legs dangling everywhere and paid way too much to sleep on a couch on the Rambling boulevard.
Spain Road Trip, Day 1: Granada, Here We Come:
It was hot. Saw a big Moorish palace with lots of tiles, fancy arches, a fountain of lions and enough gardens to fill 3 football fields. We were so busy seeing sights we almost forgot to eat.
Spain Road Trip, Day 2: Help Me, Ronda – Help, Help Me Ronda!:
It was hot; Vidal got a tummy ache. We said no to Morocco, yes to the whitewashed town on the top of a cliff. I ate bull for dinner and Vidal used his prescription for a meal of tonic water and chicken soup.
Spain Road Trip, Day 3: Shades of Chevy Chase In Seville: Look Kids, Its Big Ben! Parliament! … I Mean- La Giralda! The Cathedral!:
It was hot. We circled the historic center 20 times to find our hotel, we saw the cathedral where Columbus may or may not be buried, watched a foot stomping, toe tapping, finger snapping, skirt swirling flamingo show.
Spain Road Trip, Day 4: Seville to Córdoba: Through the Frying Pan of Spain:
Écija: Jumped into the frying pan and couldn’t find our way out, so we melted.
Córdoba: It was hot. Saw a mosque that’s a cathedral but still a mosque with lots of candy canes, and went to another foot stomping, toe tapping, skirt swirling flamingo show with a prize winning dancer who danced sideways.
Spain Road Trip, Day 5: Through Central Spain, the Birthplace of Cortez and Fighting Quixote’s Giants:
Medellín: It was hot. Saw the town where Cortés the creepy conquistador was born, the church where he was baptized and the castle he never lived in. The people all disappeared, and so did we.
Consuegra: It was hot. We watched salt and pepper shakers on a mountain turn into Don Quixote’s Giants, then we fought them. We looked for Donny boy in his castle, but he wasn’t there. We left, and we weren’t there any more either.
Spain Road Trip, Day 6: Toledo to Soria: Heading North Through the Medival Cities of Avila, Segovia and Burgo de Osma
Toledo: It was hot. We searched for a sword instead of sights.
Avila: It was hot. We saw the walls, the walls were big. They went all the way around the city. And then we left.
Segovia: It was hot. The Romans left an aqueduct and the Jews hid their synagogue; we saw a fairy tale castle and Vidal bought lethal weapons.
Spain Road Trip, Day 7: Soria to Olite- A Knight in a Shining Castle
It was hot. We stayed in the old castle and paid to check out the new one. We wandered through medieval streets, ate some cheese and bread with our wine.
Spain Road Trip, Day 8: Olite to Pamplona-Let’s Get This Party Started
We got to hear rockets, sprayed some champagne, danced in the streets. Sandy fell and twisted her knee chasing bulls. Then we saw some giants, guys with really big heads and men with horse butts bashing people with mallets.
Spain Road Trip, Day 9: Pamplona: Running With the Bulls to the Finishing Line
The bulls ran and got confused; Sandy’s twisted knee slowed her down. Then we did a cross country race.


Venice and the Thousand Bridges
We saw a bunch of bridges, stayed in a broken down palace, ate some good food, rode on a ferry ‘cause we’re too cheap to ride in a gondola.
Florence: The City of David:
We saw a dome, climbed a bunch of stairs, saw a bunch of old buildings and another old bridge, lots of old paintings and an enormous statue of a naked man without a fig leaf; tried to see Dante and Mickey Angel but they had left their buildings with Elvis.
How Vidal Straightened Out the Leaning Tower of Pisa
We saw a tower. The tower was leaning. We leaned as we walked up the crooked tower. Vidal straightened the tower. We went home.
Pizza with the Camorra (Neopolitan Version of Cosa Nostra) In Naples; Conductors and Chefs of Sorrento
Naples: We were followed by the mafia, ate some pizza then rode a train with a certifiably insane conductor.
Sorrento: We found the only cash machine in Italy that had cash. We waited for a bus and then ate some good food.
The Isle of Capri: The Beautiful People vs. the Well-Read Tourist
We passed out Band-aids as we walked to the villa of an insane Roman emperor; he wasn’t home so we went to go find a cheap sandwich.
Pompeii: City of the Dead
We saw a bunch of ruined old buildings, hid from the volcano and took a train home.
When in Rome…
We rode in a car with a madman who tried to kill us, saw a bunch of fountains and really old buildings then saw some that were even older, saw a bunch of really crowded piazzas and a big flight of stairs; ran into a Roman soldier and tried to see a gladiator fight. They were all gone. Then we ate some really good food. Again. And again.


We saw a bunch of paintings and lots of vendors selling once in a lifetime deals- special deals just for us that day; couldn’t find the popenopener so we left.
Admired the Paint By Numbers version of the Bible painted on the walls. We looked up and saw what Michelangelo did, and we saw that it was good; then our heads nearly fell off from staring at the ceiling.
We went with our clothes on, took the elevator to see the dome and the inside of a fence on the roof. We found an angel and he gave us a tour of a really pretty church.

Posted by tacoinusa 00:40 Comments (0)

1 ENGLAND: Our Intro to Europe: Cranleigh

Friends Are Family In Cranleigh

overcast -28 °F
View Sandy & Vidal's European Adventures of 2004 on tacoinusa's travel map.

Monday, May 31 – July 20, 2004
Cranleigh_1_airplane.jpgMonday, May 31, 2004. We were flying over the Atlantic; our dream trip to Europe was finally being realized! We had left our home in Mexico, had a whirlwind 36 hour stopover in Chicago for power shopping (our daily tropical Mexico wardrobe would not suffice for the various European climates!) and to pick up some goodies purchased online as well as maps my dad had personally chose for us. We were able to fit in a delicious Roberto’s pizza and a family get-together of a Bunko game, officially departing Chicago at 9:30am in our comfy Boeing 777 seats on American Airlines, on our way to England. The flight was excellent, a great deal at $500usd r/t including tax; every time we turned around we were brought snacks, meals or both. There had been decent movie choices throughout, as well as the flight pattern ‘You Are Here’ screen to see if we were there yet. The flight flew by quickly (pun intended); possibly our adrenaline contributed to that.
Cranleigh_1_knight.jpgIt was twilight as we made our descent over the London area; the time change and light tricked my overactive imagination into making me see castles everywhere with modern day Robin Hoods robbing them all and giving the jewels to the poor peasant flower girls like Eliza Doolittle and dowries to the Elizabeth Bennets- all while singing “All You Need is Love”. After all, growing up in America (which translates to having been partly educated by Hollywood), the things our minds conjure up when we think of about England are the Queen, the Beatles, Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes, 007, Robin Hood, castles, knights in shining armor and the like.. Well, at least I was not expecting anyone to be clunking around clad in armor, my imagination is not that wild! I was bouncing out of my seat, the seatbelt fraying at the edges by the time we landed; it took all I had in me to not scream out the window to our awaiting friend, “NAOMI! WE ARE HEEERE!!!”; Vidal’s hand on my mouth may have helped keep my voice down to a low roar...
We landed 30 minutes early, waltzed through immigration- amazing Vidal as well as myself; I had to force myself to stop bouncing so much lest the immigration people realize I was off my American rocker and have me thrown into the Tower. After receiving fresh passport stamps on our passports proving we were acceptable to step foot upon British soil, we got our luggage and changed some dollars- as we watched our hard earned Mexican Pesos fade away into the sunset… The Peso, which had been 9MXP to 1USD for a long time, had recently dropped; although it was great for changing Dollars to Pesos, we only had pesos so had to do the reverse- at 11.5 Pesos to 1 USD. The Gatwick airport exchange rate was 1.95 USD to 1 Pound, plus commission… Meaning our thousands of Pesos were pretty much the equivalent of a handful of peanuts. Exiting the luggage area, we saw 2 signs: ‘Nothing to Declare -This Way’ and ‘Declare -That Way’. Fools we were not, we chose Door Number One, the Nothing to Declare door. Strange. Basically we just walked by ourselves down a very long deserted hall at 10:35pm (apparently all the other people on our flight had lots to declare), feeling like maybe we went down the wrong way or were about to be interrogated in a remote wing of the airport, never to be heard from again… Suddenly we were OUT and hugging our dear friend Naomi, who like us, could not believe we had finally made it overseas to visit her. Oversized luggage in tow, Naomi drove us (on the wrong side of the street) to Mike’s (her father) home in Cranleigh, who had graciously opened his home for us to use as our base for the next 2 months.Cranleigh_1_luggage.jpg Knowing us very well, Naomi had probably realized we would be loaded down with luggage and would need a house that could hold 10 oversized suitcases. In our defense, experience taught us we were not good at being backpackers and would be visiting various countries with varied climates for 2 months, most places for 1 night only with no time to do laundry, so we packed accordingly. And hey- a woman needs shoes, does she not? An extra large suitcase was needed for that alone (okay, truth be told I only brought 4 pair), another full of presents to bring and leave in Europe to make room for Italian shoes we planned to purchase. We quickly settled in before sitting down to catch up with Naomi; we all crashed at 2:00am (8:00pm our time!)
Cranleigh_..en_pond.jpgWe were up by 9am with no jet lag at all and ready to start the day. Naomi had risen early to prepare a wonderful treat of a traditional English breakfast with coffee, tea, eggs, English bacon, sausages, muffins and crumpets. As we enjoyed our first English meal, we were able to see out the window at the gray day into Mike’s lovely garden; I was intrigued. Where I grew up, we would call it the backyard or just the yard, but staring out; I finally understand what an English Garden really was. It was so perfectly landscaped with paths and lots of trees in the background, a deck for sunbathing, even a Wendy House (playhouse) snuggled in the wooded area, a wooden fence surrounding it all for not just privacy- but tranquility.
Among the décor Mike had in his garden was a beautiful fountain, in which we saw our first magpie. When I pointed the magpie out to Naomi, she told us we had to salute it. Cranleigh_Mike_house.jpg Huh? This was followed by her reciting the magpie poem:

‘One for sorrow, Two for joy, Three for a girl, Four for a boy, Five for silver, Six for gold, Seven for a secret never to be told’.

– It meant that you should hope to see at least one more magpie, otherwise it was sorrow for you… Hmmm…. And they say we people from the New World are strange!
Cranleigh_..e_grill.jpg Cranleigh_..en_pond.jpg Our home away from home in England was lovely; enough cannot be said about the genius of Naomi’s idea and the generosity of Mike allowing us to invade his home. Mike was no stranger to us; he had not only been to Ixtapa several times both with and without Naomi, he had been a guest at our wedding, so were already quite at home with each other. Mike is a lovely person, very low key, relaxed, social with all of Naomi’s friends, and has a great sense of humor. He especially enjoyed the company of Vidal- teaching him about golf and horse racing, two of his passions which were constantly on the TV. The house was quite roomy with 4 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, living room, dining room, laundry room, indoor pool, pool (table) room, fireplaces, full kitchen and wet bar. Our room was in the rear of the house, next to a full bath and right by the pool; we did enjoy a few swims during our stay. Cranleigh_.._hamaca.jpgThe garden was equipped with a BBQ grill, which we took advantage of a few times for some lovely dinners with Mike. Other than eating, sleeping, and sharing a bottle or 2 of wine with Mike while brushing up on golf and horseracing, we were privileged to have been there for Mike and Naomi’s Midsummer Night Party. Though Vidal and I had side trips planned right before and after, we were able to assist. Naomi and I were in charge of setting up a gazebo. After a quick glance at the instructions (I do that only on special occasions), we put our brains and muscles to use, had a hilarious time of it, but we did it! Sadly, a huge storm came in while Vidal and I were away prior to the party; our gazebo blew down and it had to be redone…
Cranleigh_gardens.jpgOur days at the house were always relaxing; Naomi was around as often as she could between work and helping her pregnant sister. On the day after we had gone to Ascot, Naomi and I decided to take off for a bit while Vidal and Mike worked in the garden; she had wanted to show me a bit around her hometown without having to do so by pointing places out from the car. We parked downtown and naturally the rain began to pour, so we slipped into a pub to chat for a bit. The rain let up, and off we went again, to check out some lovely English gardens. Cranleigh_cricket.jpgOur walk took us to the local cricket grounds, where cricket had been played for 150 years. It was a Sunday and there was supposed to be a game on, but nobody was on the field, so I assumed the game was over. Naomi explained that a typical Sunday game of cricket lasts 6 hours or more… WHAT? Six hours? Yes, she said, they break up halfway through for lunch at the pub. Hmmmm… So when they say “Games have been played here since 1843” it could possibly mean “A game has been playing here since 1843”? I recalled hearing stories of Babe Ruth coming to play in Comiskey Park and sneaking across the street between innings to McCuddy’s to wolf down a couple of hot dogs, but both teams taking a break for lunch together at a pub? Cranleigh_..y_hotel.jpgThe Cranley Hotel and pub was across the street from the field; we went over for a cold drink to chat while we waited for the players to finish their lunch and resume play. The game resumed, we headed over; I commented that I was surprised that there were literally no spectators- no buddies, no wives, no kids playing in the dirt, digging for arrowheads... Oh, no! No digging in the cricket field! That was as harsh of a crime as it was to kill one of the queen’s geese; the Brits take their cricket fields very seriously! The game itself was very interesting, but weird. The pitcher does a circular motion overhand throw, while running… I was fascinated for all of 10 minutes; then we headed back to Mike’s house; Vidal and Mike had prepared BBQ mint lamb and achiote chicken for us. We were grateful, as the one other thing missing from the cricket field was hot dog vendors. Don’t tell me, let me guess: Mustard stains are just too difficult to get out of the grass, right?
One of Cranleigh’s claims to fame is not that of any of its famous citizens (Mike), but that it is proclaimed the largest village in England. Cranleigh_St_Nicolas.jpg Also, its quaint 14th century Anglican church, St Nicolas, has a gargoyle which is said to have inspired Lewis Carroll to create the Cheshire Cat. Aside from famous individuals passing through such as Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Vidal and Sandy; Oliver Cromwell had passed through and left his mark as well. The Cromwell Tea House was named after him, from his visit in 1657. It is said that he sat in its main dining room where he signed a charter. So, if he had just passed through and stopped to use the bathroom, what would they have done- named the public bathrooms the Cromwell Loo? Cranliegh_..a_house.jpg
Cranleigh_..e_Shane.jpgOur nights in Cranleigh were not always spent at Mike’s house. Charlotte (Lottie), a dear friend of ours through Naomi (and who had also been a guest at our wedding), had recently married Shane; they had a place in Cranleigh, not far from Mike. Naomi had taken us to see them on one our first weekend there; it would be our first meeting with Shane. It turned out to be love at first sight with all of us. We were highly entertained by their wedding video; they had been married in Vegas (we were not able to make it) by none other than Elvis, who would burst into song during the vows. Ya gotta love it!
Cranleigh_..l_Shane.jpgOnce in a while you realize that, even though you speak the same language, you’ve no idea what the other person is talking about. Naomi would have fun with us and cop an American accent if we did not understand her English one (i.e.: “I put in the Gare-ahsh.” ‘The what?’ “The GARE-ahsh, the GARE-ahsh! ‘The what, Naomi dear? I’m sorry; I have no idea what a GARE-ach is!’ “Eh!”, she sighed as she rolled her eyes and feigned an American accent “The gar- AGE!!” ) One afternoon, we were sitting with Mike (who is deaf in one ear); we were expecting Lottie to call that day. Mike answered his mobile phone; all we could hear was his part of the conversation, “Who is this? Nancy? Who is Nancy? I don’t know any Nancy. Who? I said I don’t know any Nancy, sorry. What? Oh, Lottie! Why didn’t you say so! You alright? Yes, they are right here...” After we stopped laughing about that, Lottie asked if we‘d like to come over for take away Indian. Excuse me, I said, what is that, a card game? Something like Charades? Goody, I love games! What? Huh? Oh, you mean we are going to order Indian food to go; Indian take-out… A few nights later, we went out for pizza with Lottie, Shane, Naomi and another friend who decided to tell jokes when we stopped at a pub for a nightcap. Vidal at that early point was still having trouble understanding the English accents, I however did not; having grown up listening to my brother blasting the Beatles on his stereo must have had something to do with that. But the jokes went way over my head, as if they were speaking another language completely. For once, Vidal and I were able to feel like idiots together!
Cranleigh_.._invite.jpgJune 26th The day before, it had rained all day as well as all night, and it was still raining when we woke up. We helped with the party set up in the backyard (oops! I mean, in Mike’s Garden), including rigging up 'roofs' for the bars that were being set up. Cranleigh_..roast_1.jpg It was sooooo wonderful to see everything happening right on time: the band had arrived early to set up, the catered food was delivered early and the pig was up and roasting away on his spit, everything in place before the guests started to arrive at 5:00pm sharp; these were things I missed from My Life Before Mexico- people actually showing up on time! Cranleigh_.._guests.jpg It was unlike any party either Vidal or I had ever been to; we were used to casual parties- t-shirts and shorts or jeans. At this party the collars outweighed t-shirts (unless they were underneath), although no ties; heels were the choice over flip flops. Cranleigh_..and_pal.jpgEveryone was fabulously friendly, Vidal even made a New Best Friend with Dange, one of Naomi’s who friends fell in love with his accent; he kept asking Vidal to talk! There was lots of champagne, Pibbs and other drinks; delicious spreads of food everywhere, besides the succulent pig itself. Kids were more than welcome; Naomi’s sis brought her newborn baby, I at one point caught Naomi’s neighbor Glenn shooting pool with his son and other kids. The Olympics were starting that evening, so there was the television crowd in the house as well. Cranleigh_..he_BAND.jpgThe band was fabulous, jazzy rock with a tad of disco thrown in; by the end of the night the band gave in to Lottie’s relentless requests for ‘Karma Chameleon’ and winged one line for her. I talked to the singer at the end of the night (they stopped playing at 1:00am), she told me she was a substitute for their lead singer who was ill..
The rain had let up for the party, thank God! Mike had plenty of overhead covering as well as ground coverage all over the garden and a covered dance floor. I will always remember Mike’s friend Wendy, who we called the dancing queen; she was the belle of the ball for sure, with more energy than most people half her age and just having a great time. Naomi was ever the gracious hostess and floated around all night long. Cranleigh_.._Lottie.jpgOn hand also were our buddies Lottie and Shane, Naomi’s friend Sexy Ange, as well as Dancing Fool Ben. Mike was having a great time himself between being host and dancing a strange sideways dance. Cranleigh_..e_dance.jpgVidal was having a great time, refilling his beer bottle with water throughout the night, before excusing himself to go to the bathroom around 10:30pm, when he instead snuck off for a 2 hour nap. The party started to wind down around 1:30am, just in time for us to call for a taxi to get us to Gatwick airport for the bus to Stansted, and our next side trip… By far, the most awesome party either of us had ever been to!
PUBS AND GRUBS: Cranleigh_..rot_Inn.jpg Cranleigh_..England.jpg
Between the fabulous party and the pub section below, I will note that I was very impressed when I was told that it is rare that people drive if they planned on having more than 1 drink. People take the law very seriously in England; I had heard the same good news from a friend in Spain. That unfortunately had not caught on in either the US or Mexico. One thing we learned quickly was about the English pub being very much a part of life. They were not just drinking establishments, they were a place to meet and eat; there were many which served excellent meals. I had heard rumors that the food in England was atrocious at best, I am glad to say that rumor was completely false. We only once had an awful meal, that was in London and I take full blame for having chosen it. Any time our friends chose the place, we had awesome meals. Below are those in the Cranleigh area that we graced with our presence, along with some notes I had written, starting with the one with the longest note (though neither for the food nor drink):
LITTLE PARK HATCH: A traditional pub with Sunday roast, large beer garden with children’s play area and a wishing well that doubled as a BBQ. We went there on June 6- the 60th anniversary of D-Day. With the current war in Iraq and much animosity towards Bush those days (myself being a pacifist), I was hesitant wherever I went about opening my mouth, lest my American accent make trouble for me. That was never to be a problem for me (not even in France!), least of all on the anniversary of D-Day. It just so happened that we had chosen that particular day, a Sunday, to meet up with Paul – a friend of Naomi and Lottie who had also been a guest at our wedding, his sweet wife, Trudy and their adorable 4 month old baby, Lily. We had stuffed ourselves silly at Sunday roast in another pub, and met them in mid-afternoon at the Little Park Hatch’s beer garden. The pub was completely full and everyone was so very friendly; it seemed like every single person we passed by would smile and say, “Cheers!” - By that I do not mean the American raise-and-clink-your-glass-and drink-with-me ‘cheers’, but in the typical English “Hi, nice to see you!” sentiment. The majority of the clientele were older men, and on this particular day, many of those men stopped me when they heard my American accent with my “Hello!” It would start out with “You’re an American!”; my instinct was to utter a quick apology and run, but all I could manage was a meek “Yes…” , frozen in my spot-awaiting the onslaught of verbal American bashing. Instead, it was followed by an extended hand and warm handshake on their parts, while inviting me for a beer as they shared their love for Americans for what we did on D-Day; many of them were WWII vets. It truly touched me. I did not accept any offer, stating to each the truth in that my friends were waiting for me outside. However, I did end up returning to the interior bar once, and did accept a beer from one particular man who was English by choice, but not by birth. He was quite obviously Italian, and he had overheard my accent from me saying hello to someone else when he called me over. He too said he had a great love for Americans, for the same yet slightly different reason than the rest. He seemed very sad and in need of unburdening his story, so I stayed to listen. He was very emotional as he told me he was from Italy, and that his father (who he would refer to as “that Bastard”) was sort of a right hand man for Mussolini, and that shamed him. He said the cruelties his father had done to others were atrocious and he wished he had never been alive because of it; he had always hated his father for what he had been, and had moved to England for that very reason. He wanted nothing to do with him. Thirty years ago/thirty years after the war, his father was murdered. He said that in Italy, it is an unwritten law- the “Italian Family Law” - that if someone kills someone in your family, you were supposed to take revenge by killing them or someone else in their family (can you hear the Godfather theme song right now?). As he was the oldest, it was up to him to fulfill that law. But he did nothing; for one he had wanted the violence to end, and because he felt his father got what he deserved. I do not remember the man’s name; I did not write it down. I remember clearly his face, his anguish; his tears. His daughter came by about halfway through our talk; she apologized for her father’s ramblings. I told her on the contrary I did not feel uncomfortable; I felt and told them it was an honor to hear his story, as well as reminding him he was not to pay for his father’s sins. Vidal did eventually wander inside an hour later to find me… and then everyone wanted to meet the Mexican with the funny accent!!
CHEQUERS PUB: Lamb steak, salmon salad and jacket potatoes were a delightful treat.
WHEATSHEAF PUB: We enjoyed an excellent traditional Sunday dinner here of roast pork, roast beef, lots of broccoli, potatoes and carrots; I tried the yummy Yorkshire Pudding- it reminded me of a fluffy biscuit.
PARROT INN PUB: For tea and phone calls in an indoor red phone booth. Once owned by Procol Harem’s lead singer. Come to think of it, that might explain the strange tea... Cranleigh_..e_booth.jpg
THE ONSLOW ARMS: On High Street; has pool tables. I believe this is the pub where one must beware of men balancing TVs on their heads, but I will have to double check that with Shane. :) Cranleigh_pub.jpg
THE THREE HORSESHOES PUB: 17 th century pub on High Street.
THE CRANLEY HOTEL: On the Common, right across from the Cricket field. Specializes in Cricket lunches...
PERCY ARMS: Lamb shank, tailor-made steaks by size/inch.
The public transportation system was very easy, prompt and with exceptional service. Everyone we met seemed willing to go out of their way to assist us. From Cranleigh, the nearest train station was 20 minutes away in Guildford, then another 30 min-1 hr. to London, depending on the train. The very convenient bus service to Guildford ran about every 20 minutes, and although our trip to England was all about being with our friends with sightseeing for once taking a backseat, we did take a couple of day trips to London. On our last full day of our trip, we took the bus/train to London to do some last minute shopping. My mom had asked for only one thing, a scarf like the one her niece Mary had brought her from London many years ago. I had not found it anywhere in the Cranleigh-Guildford area; Lottie and Shane had taken us to many shops over our last weekend- including Swan Walk in Horsham- all in vain. So while our friends were at work, we hit London, did our shopping, threw in a few more sights, spent all our Pounds; I had to bring out my credit card for my mom’s scarf, as it ended up being quite expensive (she’s worth it!). We just made the short train back to Guildford, even found 2 nice cushy seats; we were happy. We got on the first bus back to Cranleigh, the bus driver made small talk with us. We got off in Cranleigh, walked over to grab our last bag of fish and chips and went to visit Lottie at work, at the Jewelers on High Street. Cranliegh_High_Street.jpg We chatted about our day; she asked if we found the scarf. I said yes, and asked Vidal to give me the bag to show her. “Bag? What bag? I don’t have the bag, I thought you had the bag!”, he said. Panic set in, as I realized I had left it on the bus; I remembered having it when we got on. To make things worse, I had put my credit card receipt in the bag, something I NEVER do, so I was really panicking. While this was flashing through my mind, Lottie had already grabbed the phone book and was on the phone with the bus company, who told her there was no form of communication for the drivers; we would just have to wait for the bus to return on its return route. We did not remember which number bus we took, only that it was a female driver. They gave us the timetable; we had about 15 minutes to wait for the next bus. We thanked Lottie as we raced out the door. First bus goes by, different bus driver, but we asked nonetheless, he said another bus would be by in about 10 minutes, number 53. I just sat and prayed. 10 minutes later, another bus arrives, no number, empty bus. The driver opens the door, looked right at me and said, “You are waiting for bus #53?” I replied yes I was. “Don’t worry, it will be here in a few minutes”, as he smiled, closed his doors and left. I was convinced God had sent me an angel, and I felt immediately relieved, knowing my bag would be fine. Bus #53 pulled up a few minutes later. The driver opened the door and smiled; I asked her if she remembered me, that I had got off earlier but left a bag; she smiled and said just a minute, reached down and held up my bag! She said she noticed it right after we got off and kept it up front with her. WOW. Now that is service, with a smile! I thanked her and told her I was so happy I wanted to kiss her, but I wouldn’t. She laughed, said goodbye, closed the door and drove off…
We took Naomi, Mike, Lottie and Shane out for our last dinner at the Percy Arms pub. A wonderful dinner shared by good friends – or better put- family. We were sad to go (although I am sure poor Mike was glad to have his house to himself once more!), but so glad we had the time we did with our generous “English family”. We would miss them the most. We’d also miss the friendliness of the English people in general – the “Cheers!” greetings everywhere, the genuine neighborliness feeling; how we were made to feel so welcome everywhere we went. So long, England! We will be back!
As we were flying back to Chicago on July 20, I reflected on England. The crazy driving on the left, the roundabouts, the waaay too narrow streets, oh, yes. Then there were the beautiful rolling oh- so- green -hills, the tunnel-streets through what seemed like ‘forests’ canopied overhead, the steep embankments on each side of the windy streets that were for 2 way traffic yet only wide enough for 1 car… The quaint cottages and old houses-how nice it was to see the real thing and not some copied style I’ve seen so often in the USA… The food which was excellent everywhere (although I had yet to have fish and chips wrapped in paper!); but most of all, it was the people that touched me the most; how everyone was so genuinely friendly! The friendliness especially in the cathedrals still blew me away. So much history, so much culture, so much beauty- and we had not seen but a tiny portion of the land; what a thrill it will be to explore more with our friends on our next venture… England was truly a lovely island, a lovely country and with the best of friends to be had, and we were grateful to be blessed with them and the time we were able to share with them.

For more information:
Cranleigh: http://www.cranleighvillage.net/
Bus links: http://www.surreycc.gov.uk/sccwebsite/sccwspages.nsf/LookupWebPagesByTITLE_RTF/Guildford+and+Cranleigh+bus+timetables?opendocument

Posted by tacoinusa 00:35 Archived in England Comments (0)

2 ENGLAND: Our Intro to Europe: Guildford

To the House of a Friend, The Way Is Never Long

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Guildford_..e_booth.jpgJune 1: Naomi had a relaxing day planned for us. Fearing we would have jetlag from crossing the ocean the day before, she had decided to keep it low key and local, taking us to the town she lived in not far away, Guildford. She told us it was going to be “bloody hot”, and to dress accordingly. I was a bit skeptical, so we wore jeans; I brought along a sweatshirt for Vidal and a jacket for me, just in case. We wore both all day long. I got in the driver’s seat that had no steering wheel; it had been moved to the passenger side, where Naomi the driver sat. Vidal sat in the back, wanting to give us girls room to chat. Naomi decided to take the long scenic road to Guildford… On a very windy narrow road that looked like it was carved out of the huge hedges that canopied around it, Naomi whipped the car around the curves like a pro, telling us that it was a 2 way road and occasionally it would get so narrow that 2 cars would not fit. Not two seconds after she finished that sentence, we saw an oncoming car, and there was not enough room for both of us… Naomi quickly put the car in reverse to a point where the road was just slightly wider with room for the other car to pass, and we continued on to Guildford. The countryside was absolutely gorgeous; the gray sky took nothing away from it. We passed through lovely rolling green hills in the rain and quaint English cottages (which had names, such as April Cottage, in lieu of street numbered address) and villages- my favorite being “Shamley Green” –the kind of village so small you’d miss it if you blinked- and I just loved the name! I later read that Shamley Green had lent its name to Alfred Hitchcock's company which produced the movie Psycho: Shamley Productions…
Our first stop was a Car Park (parking lot). Vidal was a strange shade of green when we got out of the car…The back seat and the winding road had been too much for him; he unfortunately gets motion sickness easily... We followed Naomi around the car park, unaware that we were taking our first English tour. There did not seem to be an exit or escape route, and for 20 minutes we were all convinced that we had either parked in the Twilight Zone or had landed a spot in Candid Camera, with the car park stairs leading up but not out... guildford_1_parking.jpg
Guildford, 50 km southwest of London, is the county town of Surrey, in southeastern England. It is believed that Guildford was founded by Saxon settlers around 410 AD. One could say Guildford is the place of legends: In ‘Le Morte d'Arthur’, Guildford is identified as Astolat of Arthurian legend (Lancelot rode there to receive nothing less than a sleeve). There is even a pub by that name to prove it. Famous people who have lived there (before Naomi, that is) include Lewis Carroll (1832–1898), author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Famous people that have passed through there (before Vidal and Sandy, that is) include William the Conqueror, who, after his victory at the Battle of Hastings swung by via the Pilgrims' Way to sack Guildford and its neighbors; and Alfred Atheling, brother of Edward the Confessor and son of Aethelred the Unready (ya gotta love these English nicknames!) -Nickname-less Al had been living in Normandy around 1040 during the Danish invasion of Saxon England. After Canute the Dane died, Alfred, the Man Without a Nickname, returned to England, where he was met and entertained in Guildford. What? That’s it? The dude ‘came to town to be met and entertained’ and was put on the wall of fame for that? No wonder he had no nickname! Oops, I left out the part where he was handed over after dinner to Harry the Harefoot who had him killed. Maybe he commented on Harry’s wife’s cooking or worse- made fun of Harry’s foot?
Guildford_.._dinner.jpgBefore heading to the historical center of Guildford, we stopped to see Naomi’s house, a few minutes away. A darling little home with 1 bedroom and bath upstairs and tiny kitchen and living room below, with a lovely garden that Naomi was very proud of. All in all quite sufficient for one person or a couple, with the added bonus of being very convenient to public transportation. We did stay a couple of nights, along with several visits to her charming home; most importantly on June 17, Naomi’s birthday. Guildford_..Vidal_3.jpgWhen planning our side trips out of England, there were 4 specific dates we wanted to make certain we were in England for; Naomi’s birthday was of course top priority. She had invited her family and a few close friends for her special day with champagne, mouthwatering prawns, salads and other delights. When it comes to friendship and entertaining, Naomi is without a doubt Numero Uno!
Guildford_..ket_day.jpgNaomi took us straight to High Street; to our delight it was the farmer’s market day. Fresh everything; farmers brought everything from fresh fruit, veggies and flowers to wine, sausage and cheese, cheese, wonderful cheese! There was fresh cow cheese, goat cheese, sheep cheese, and if it was not fresh enough for you, then by all means walk a few stalls down to the fresh animal department so you can milk and churn it yourself; there was homemade soaps of course for sale to wash your hands after playing with the cows, sheep and goats. Let’s don’t forget the Organic Chicken: ‘We sell chicken that tastes like chicken used to taste’. So what did it used to taste like- frog legs? We ducked out of the rain to dry off at a lovely old pub above High Street, before heading down to walk around town a bit more.
Guildford_..en_0001.jpgThe sun came out for a bit; we passed by a red phone booth for my first really English photo op- couldn’t pass that up! I was excited that our next stop would be the Guildford castle, which overlooked part of the Pilgrims' Way-the pass through the hills, but disappointed when I saw all that was left was a ruined tower; and even that was closed for renovations. The castle itself is thought to have been built by Willy Boy the Conqueror, after he had sacked the area in the 11th century. After the 14th century, inland castles were no longer required (anything with more than 400 rooms was considered excessive; nobody likes a show off), which resulted into it falling into disrepair. By the 14th century, everything had fallen down except for the King's great chamber. It was for a while used as a jail, then used for farming and rented out to various people. The ruins were later bought by the city who turned the castle into a park and gardens. The grounds- ahem- the GARDENS, were absolutely lovely and we enjoyed a peaceful stroll through them. Naomi told us the Guildford College horticulture students took care of it, I can say they did an impeccable job and are welcome any time to do my garden!Guildford_..en_0002.jpg
Guildford_Weyside_Inn.jpgWe walked past Lewis Carroll’s house, before heading once again to get out of the rain and a bite to eat off the River Wey, at the Weyside Inn. Afterward, we took a pleasant walk along the Wey, watched the canal boats go lazily by; Naomi showed us the locks and explained how they worked. It made sense at the time and was fascinating, but my somewhat blonde brain did not retain that information long enough for me to later jot it down… :(
Guildford_cathedral.jpgWe headed back to the car (found our way to it no problem, but again, finding the exit was a joke!); our next stop was to be the Guildford Cathedral. Towering on a hill above the town with a spectacular view, the cathedral only dated to 1933; the outside architecture reminded me of my old high school. The inside was another story indeed. What struck me first upon entering was not the impressive gothic vaulted aisles straight out of a horror flick, but the woman who, upon entering, got up to greet us with a sunny smile as she handed us pamphlets and welcomed us; I was totally thrown by that. Having travelled extensively in Latin America, visiting many Catholic churches, cathedrals and basilicas, I had come to expect somber, stern women in dark clothing to remind us to be quiet in hushed tones, not a happy peppy perky lady dressed in tan reaching out to warmly greet us in a normal voice. It was, well, very Christian. An excerpt here from the Guildford Cathedral of the Holy Spirit pamphlet says it all:

“Here on Stag Hill, our Cathedral of the Holy Spirit stands as a beacon to bring, with our surrounding churches, the knowledge and love of God to all who visit. …there are seats for 1200 and room for 1500. Please sit down and stay for a while and let the beauty of the interior of the building speak of the wonder of God and His love for you and all creation.”

- Amen!
Although we really did speak in quiet voices, we wandered through the treasury/exhibition room, admired the altar, chapel, nave, and lastly walked through the eerie North Aisle, reminiscent of something…
The hallway leading to the wizard in the Wizard of Oz? Guildford_..en_hall.jpg No, it was literally something out of a scene from the first Omen movie, partly filmed there. As we left the cathedral, both Naomi and I could hear the theme song from the Omen going through our heads… You know, one of on those strange things where you could not for the life of you recall a single note of a particular song, and suddenly, there it was, playing in your head, refusing to leave you in peace…
Guildford_..st_0001.jpg Guildford_..st_0002.jpgWe would return once more to Guildford on July 15, after a 17 day side trip to make our 4th date in England, Guilfest. Guilfest is a music festival held in Guildford every July that features music such as jazz, rock, folk, blues, and pop. Besides music, there’s the Cosmic Comedy Tent, Kid Zone, campground, showers, tofu burgers, mushrooms and the obligatory beer tent. Naomi and her friends traditionally got weekend passes and camp out the whole weekend. Between being wiped out from our side trip and the Guilfest weekend pass being a bit out of our budget, we opted to go one night with Charlotte and Shane and just meet up with Naomi. The headliners for 2004 included Blondie and UB40; the night we went it was Ricki Lee Jones (Chuck E's in Love) and Simple Minds (Don't You Forget About Me). We had an interesting experience getting in, being told different stories about where to get tickets (‘…go to the booth at the far end.’ ‘ Who told you that? No, you get the tickets at the entrance first and bring them to this both!’ ), needing a bracelet (‘You just need a ticket to enter.’ ‘Go back to the booth at the other end and exchange this for a bracelet or you will be thrown in the Tower!”); it felt like we were back in Mexico. We only caught the tail end of Ricki Lee Jones, but saw Simple Minds, a blast from the past of the 80’s; we also had the pleasure of hearing the very talented up and coming English jazz singer, Katie Melua. A fun time was had by all… Guildford_..st_0003.jpg

For more information:
Guildford: http://www.guildford.gov.uk/GuildfordWeb/Tourism/
Guilfest: http://www.guilfest.co.uk

Posted by tacoinusa 00:31 Archived in England Comments (0)

3 ENGLAND: London, Day Trip #1

Double Deck This: Hey, Kids! It’s Big Ben, Parliament, and the Queen! Touring London with a Personal Guide!

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View Sandy & Vidal's European Adventures of 2004 on tacoinusa's travel map.

London_DAY_1_0001.jpg BLOODY HOT
Wednesday, June 02, 2004. We had arrived in England late on the 31st of May and spent our first full day taking it slow with our dear friend and tour guide Naomi in Guildford, where she lived, about ½ hour south of London. Fully rested and ready to rock and roll, we headed out really early (that is, 9am for us non-morning people!) for London. Naomi had paid careful attention to the weather report and advised us it would be ‘bloody hot’ that day and we should dress accordingly. We by that second day had realized that what was ‘bloody hot’ to Naomi translated to ‘a bit on the cold side’ to us. Although Naomi had lived by us in the warm tropics of Zihuatanejo, Mexico for a few years, she had been back in England far too long and forgot what it was like to those of us who think of weather in terms of cold, cool, normal, hot and bloody hot as follows: Cold= anything under 70 degrees Fahrenheit, Cool= between 70 and 80, Normal= between 80 and 90, hot between 90 and 95; Bloody Hot being anything over 95 degrees; bloody cold just plain does not exist in the region where we live. Just a TAD bit different than the English weather! With that in mind, we had our long sleeved shirts and jackets ready as we headed to explore London, for the first of our 3 day trips there. We would have better weather for a bit on our second trip there on June 21, returning once more to London on July 19th, our last full day in England.
London_DAY..en_parl.jpgLondon, the capital of the UK, has been an important settlement for two millennia, going back to its founding by the Romans. Later came the Danes, Normans, Anglo-Saxons, William the Conqueror and the Medieval Times; many famous buildings from that era still exist. We got off the train at Waterloo, walked around the station towards the Thames River, and there was every modern symbol of England all within eyesight: The Underground, a red phone booth, a black taxi, red double decker buses, British flags for sale on a corner kiosk full of souvenirs and the London Eye staring across the river at Big Ben. For our crash course in modern London history, a few words on each:
RED PHONE BOOTHS: There was a contest in 1924 to design a phone booth to protect British callers from getting soaking wet (good marketing strategy; they would of course then spend more time on the phone call and more money); an easily identifiable red booth was chosen-easier to see at night; more fun for crazy tourists to have their photos taken in. Not of course to be confused with the blue police box used by Dr. Who to travel across time, and much more attractive than the ugly aluminum/glass ones used by Superman. As we had already seen one the previous day in Guildford, it was no longer a big deal to us, so we moved on…
BLACK TAXIS: More accurately-motorized hackney cabs- are not only quite famous, they are also unique as their drivers must pass a test called ‘The Knowledge’ to show they have an intimate knowledge of the streets of London. I would like to see that happen in any part of the New World, as most American taxi drivers have just arrived in the US and therefore could not possibly know their new city after 2 days, and in Mexico... well, finding a driver who has a real driver’s license would be akin to a miracle.
THE UNDERGROUND, AKA: THE TUBE: The world’s oldest subway opened in 1863 (a few of the trains are a bit newer than that); it is also the world’s longest metro system. In 2003, over 5 billion hamburgers had been sold in the USA, and one billion passenger journeys were recorded having ridden on The Tube. We would add ourselves to those numbers on our 2nd and 3rd trip to London, making it one billion and 2 in 2004.
RED CROSSES AND UNION JACKS: Ask the average tourist (okay, American) what the English flag is, and 9 out of 10 (or maybe 99 of 100) will point out the Union Jack. BEEEP! I’m sorry, you have failed to advance to Final Jeopardy... The flag of England is the St George's Cross. The red cross has been an emblem of England since the Middle Ages and the Crusades, and is the base of the United Kingdom flag-the Union Jack. In defense of my countrymen, it does not help those who have not passed the flag test when the London souvenir kiosks fly only the Union Jack!
London_DAY_1_0003.jpg THE LONDON EYE: The world’s 2nd largest Ferris wheel at 443 ft has 32 capsules which hold 25 people each; it takes 30 minutes to complete a cycle. Takes a bit longer if you want a second rinse cycle. Looking at it, it barely seemed to move an inch and at first I was not convinced it was operating. Awesome views of London are to be seen from above, although be forewarned everything will of course look the size of ants at that height. Nosebleeds free of charge. Champagne rides available if reservations are made in advance (someone’s idea of the perfect honeymoon?); less expensive ‘beer and a shot’ rides are in the works. Discounts available for those willing to ride without seatbelts or protective siding. Naomi had wanted to take us up for our initiation to London, but when, upon arrival, we was told that there was an hour wait in line on top of the 30 minute tour, making a total of 1.5 hours for us to get 2 blocks. The idea was vetoed (a sigh of relief from Vidal, who turns green and gets motion sickness by just looking at Ferris wheels), and we headed straight for one of the other big symbols of London: The Original Tour Red Double Decker Bus.
London_DAY..England.jpgHow cliché to tour London on a red double decker bus, no? Naturally. But I think part of the fun of traveling is doing the cheesy thing every so often; we all need to allow ourselves to let our hair down at times and play the typical tourist (as long as it is not the typical Ugly American Tourist). So when Naomi told us that was part of her plan for us, we were totally up for it. The Original Bus Tour had live (as opposed to dead) guides giving commentaries along the hop on-hop off-route. The ticket was good for 24 hours and included a few other goodies, such as a river cruise (we didn’t use) and a few walking tours- such as the Beatles tour (that we wanted to return another day for, but never did); there were around 90 stops total on the routes. The plan was to do The Yellow Route and get the lay of the land so Vidal and I could come back on our own another time. The chosen stops for the day would be #1-Changing of the Guards, #2-The British Museum and #3- The Tower of London; anything else would be a bonus. We crossed the river to the bus stop, got our tickets, maps and seats Up Top.
London_DAY_1_0002.jpgI am amazed-no- appalled - at how many people have no clue what the above line means. 'National Lampoon’s European Vacation' should be part of everyone’s travel, tourism and/or history class, and a MUST for anyone travelling… anywhere. My only gripe about our bus commentator was that she did not repeat that famous line for us as we went around the roundabout in front of Big Ben and Parliament (it really should be part of the tour). Big Ben is the world’s biggest chiming clock with 4 faces (is that better than being called two-faced?); each clock’s face is 23 ft. in diameter. Big Ben is actually the name of the 16 ton main bell inside the tower. It is part of the Palace of Westminster-AKA Westminster Palace-AKA Houses of Parliament, where the 2 houses of the Parliament (the House of Lords and the House of Commons) meet. I grew up seeing London in movies and TV all of my life-from the older King Arthur and Robin Hood to the ‘more recent’ Peter Pan, Sherlock Holmes and let’s not forget, Monty Python; Big Ben was almost as familiar to me as Chicago’s John Hancock and Sears Tower, thanks to the magic of television. For that, seeing Big Ben-Parliament up close was an unbelievable thrill.
London_DAY..rd_0002.jpg It was a Tuesday. We figured the mass of family tourism had not started yet, as most kids were still in school. Weekend tourism should have been over by Monday, so by Tuesday, we should have been safe. The Changing of the Guards was to commence at not 11:30am, not 11:25am, not even at 11:26am- but at precisely 11:27am. And unlike Mexico, we were in England where things start on time, or “Off with their heads!” Boy, were we in for a big surprise when we showed up at 11:15am, and there were already close to fifty million people already there. We pushed and shoved our way up front and commandeered a couple of the Royal Horse Guards’ horses, Vidal and I doubling up on one so I could manage the camera, to the delight of the crowd… :) London_DAY.._guards.jpgOops! Caught daydreaming again! We politely excused ourselves and made our way to the edge of the palace’s outer gate; a much better view as we were then only behind 2 million people. Unlike in Mexico, I did not tower over the crowd at 5’ 6½”, but we did have 2 advantages: First, on the other side of the gate we had a full-on view of the funky furry oversized hats of the guards who were changing (shifts, not clothes), second- I had Vidal’s strong shoulders. London_DAY..rd_0001.jpg
Before someone harps on me about the furry hat comment, let me get off on one of my trivia kicks: the 18 inches tall Guards hats are called Bearskins, each weighs one and a half pounds and is made from the fur of the Canadian Brown Bear; some are over 100 years old and passed down in the family- as a tradition or a traditional joke, I’m not sure.
The Changing of the Guard takes place in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace. We were unable to see the Palace and just barely able to see the huge Victoria Memorial in the center of the queen’s Gardens, as 1.5 million tourists had apparently slept overnight there to grab those front row spots. 2London_DAY.._guards.jpg
It was more than a parade; it was a free living historical museum. In a nutshell, the new guard marches to the Palace to take over for the old guard, all to the lovely beat of a military band. There was a bunch of inspection going on with questioning and Chinese water torture, all the while the band played on. London_DAY_1_band.jpg
The band is known for mixing up the music and occasionally playing contemporary songs. For example, the day we were there, I swear I heard as part of their repertoire ‘Killer Queen’. I could go on and on about the details of the ceremony, but why spoil the fun? At the bottom of this story is a list of Internet sites, including the Royal Family’s official:


-where you can purchase your very own DVD for more information. Don’t go to the site expecting to get information, you will be told to buy the DVD. Must be a recession going on in the Royal Family as well, huh?
Our trip took place in 2004, with everyone still on alert for terrorist attacks. England has had their share of terrorism for many years, although I by no means imply anyone could or should ever be used to it; American Sandy and Mexican Vidal were not accustomed to terrorism threats at all. Vidal saw an unaccompanied bag in the middle of the crowd right after the end of the big ceremony; our hearts raced as we searched for the nearest policeman to report it. They rushed over and quickly, professionally, quietly dispersed the crowd; thank God nothing came of it… We decided that was our clue to go to our next stop, the British Museum. We went back to catch the Double Decker Bus, catching glimpses of a few other places of interest along the way.
London_Day..agettes.jpgOur route took us past the beautiful Hyde Park. The guide pointed out the park was one of the Royal Parks of London, famous for its Speakers' Corner, of which we also passed by. Speaker’s Corner has become a traditional location for demonstrations, including but not limited to the Suffragettes (did they sing ‘Sister Suffragette’ from Mary Poppins?). We sat in traffic while we were passing by the Park, when suddenly we heard a few sonic booms in succession, which sounded to Vidal and I like bombs. Still a bit nervous from the ‘unaccompanied bag’ experience a few minutes before, we could not understand why nobody else seemed to be panicking; were they all wearing ear plugs, did they not hear the sonic blasts? What was the deal? We asked the tour guide, who explained that veterans were practicing for the upcoming D-Day 60th anniversary celebration. We would be in Cranleigh on that date, appropriately, amongst veterans.
London_DAY..ST_stop.jpgWe got off the bus at the Baker Street stop before winding our way down to the British Museum. Fans of our dear Sherlock may recall his address of 221B, but alas, no such address exists; we did our detective work. There is however a 9 ft statue; I had read it claims to uncannily resemble the real Sherlock Holmes. Hmm. How does one resemble uncannily a real fictional character? That’s elementary, my dear Watsons, to say that is a mystery…
London_DAY.._facade.jpgI am a fanatic of ancient history, have been as long as I can remember; fascinated by the Egyptian culture ever since I was able to write. I imagine that is thanks to Sunday afternoon movies and/or Peabody's Improbable History- of the Bullwinkle show. Suffice it to say the British Museum was on my list of Must Dos in London (actually, it was the only must, anything else was just a bonus); how could I pass up the chance to see the Rosetta Stone or the controversial Elgin Marbles? The British Museum was Britain’s first national museum. It belongs to the public and has been a museum of history and culture since the 18th century; it houses the world's largest collection of Egyptian antiquities outside Cairo and the largest collection of Mesopotamian antiquities outside Iraq. It is home to (or prison of, depending on which stand you take) millions of objects, the most famous and controversial of which being the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles. I side passionately with any country that has had their history pilfered or outright pirated away from them; it is their history and they have every right to it. As much as I love wandering aimlessly and purposefully through the halls of history museums, I see no reason, other than $$, why they can’t make deals with the mother countries to have the pieces returned after making exact copies to keep for themselves. Of course, that didn’t stop me from wanting to roam the halls of the British Museum…
London_DAY..me_Troy.jpgWe entered the museum’s Great Court, to our delight they had on display a few of the costumes used in the 2004 movie, ‘Troy’. We admired the details for a few seconds (the fact one was worn by Brad Pitt may have made Naomi and I stare a few seconds longer, wondering why he was not there to model his very masculine dress and Mohawk helmet), we went directly to the Ancient Civilizations exhibits: Ancient Near East, Egypt, Greece and Rome.. What we saw, I was not prepared for. I had known the museum had quite a collection, but had no idea of the size of the collection or the size of many of the objects. My mouth hung open the whole time, wondering to myself (probably out loud, knowing me) How on earth were these pieces transported here? Who in their right mind could have brought themselves to moving these priceless historical objects from their homes at the risk of harming them? So much history, so many pirates…
London_DAY..a_Stone.jpgIn the not so ancient history of Egypt: After the defe at of Napoleon and the French in Egypt in 1801, the Egyptian antiquities that had been collected to that point by the French were confiscated by the British army and presented to the British Museum, including the Rosetta Stone. In addition, the Museum acquired more Egyptian antiquities from excavations for another century until changes in Egyptian antiquities laws led to the suspension of exportation. In a nutshell: Brits beat the pants off Napoleon’s men then took from the French what the French stole from Egypt; the Egyptians are pissed off at both. The Brits kept hauling away the goodies they dug up until the Egyptians finally got wise and wrote a law saying they couldn’t. One can argue that had the Brits not grabbed the goods from the French, the Rosetta Stone would not have ended up in the British Museum to later be translated and from there, the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics would not have been discovered. But the French can’t cry in their wine over their loss of the Stone, as it was actually a French archaeologist who, while working with the museum, made the discovery. It didn’t take long for us to find the Rosetta Stone, in fact, it took me quite by surprise as I found myself facing it in the midst of a room crowded with objects; I had expected for its significance for it to be in a small room by itself. We found it in the first hall we had entered, Room 4. It was not as large as I had expected it to be, and hard to believe there are actually 3 languages on it. But there it was, in all its glory. Silently, I thanked it for being the key to unlocking Egyptian hieroglyphics for me, as I some day would of course become a famous archaeologist.
London_DAY..ah_bull.jpgWe went onward from there to Ancient Near East/Nineveh to be greeted by colossal winged bulls at the entrance. Colossal lions and tons of other statues were around every corner; what’s the deal? Did they just pick up the entire country and have it all relocated to England? Ancient stone panels depicting the lives of cultures long gone were simply fascinating to me; I could have wandered through for hours. Next were the Greek and Roman rooms; another open mouthed gawk at the Nereid Monument- a reconstructed Lycian temple from around 380 BC, complete with stolen statues. Further into the Greek rooms, Naomi pointed out to me that nearly all the heads had been chopped off of the Greek statues of women, but the heads of the men had remained. We wandered through several rooms, each confirming her suspicion. How strange! Did Ancient Greek women have bigger brains, bigger heads whose size became too much for the statues and fell off?
5London_DAY..Gallery.jpgThe last room in the section was, appropriately, the Elgin Marbles. Although in a long room separated from the other Greek pieces, attention was not called to the fact that we were looking at the famous (or infamous) marbles. The Elgin Marbles, AKA the Parthenon Marbles, are a collection of 17 life-sized classical Greek marble sculptures and other pieces from the Parthenon, which include half of the sculpted frieze which was once wrapped around the great building. British ambassador Thomas Bruce, who happened to be the 7th Earl of Elgin, obtained a letter of permission from the Ottoman Empire to remove pieces from the Acropolis. By 1812, he had removed half of the Parthenon’s surviving sculptures. Much of England was in an uproar, calling Elgin scandalous, having used his position to acquire antiquities for his private collection, and his actions vandalism; some pieces had been hacked up for easier transport. Despite the public outrage, people were attracted to the magnificence of the pieces, and the British Museum bought the collection from Elgin.
In a nutshell: Lord Elgin had his cronies take axes and saws to the Parthenon to fill up his hall in the huge home he built back in England; when under scrutiny, showed a letter from his mommy giving him the okay to do it then sold the treasure to the British Museum, laughing all the way to the bank, no doubt.
London_DAY..gallery.jpgOne of Lord Byron’s famous poems, ‘Childe Harold's Pilgrimage’, which was a vehicle for Byron's own beliefs, describes his criticism of Elgin:

Dull is the eye that will not weep to see
Thy walls defaced, thy moldering shrines removed
By British hands, which it had best behooved
To guard those relics ne'er to be restored.
Cursed be the hour when from their isle they roved,
And once again thy hapless bosom gored,
And snatched thy shrinking gods to northern climes abhorred!

The Elgin Marbles are of course claimed by Greece and backed by UNESCO among others for restitution. The legality of the removal of the marbles from Athens by Elgin has been debated for over 200 years; he supposedly had permission to take them. The original permission letter ‘disappeared’ shortly after the removal of Elgin’s trophies, and only a copy from memory was produced in Parliament (a letter from his mother?). But for 200 years, the British Museum has steadfastly refused to return this or the Rosetta Stone (Finders keepers, losers weepers; nah, nah nah nah nah!). Some of the reasons the museum has given for retaining the collection are quite entertaining:

*The British Museum Act of 1963 legally prevents any object from leaving its collection once it has entered it. AKA: The Finders Keepers/ Piracy Made Legal Act

  • More than half the original marbles are lost and therefore return of the Elgin Marbles would not complete the collection in Greece. Hmm, good point, but it should also be pointed out that Elgin took over half of what existed at the time…
  • But that would empty both the British Museum and the other great museums of the world! The expression, ‘Finders-Keepers’ once again comes to mind, although it seems ‘Piracy’ may fit the Elgin Marbles dispute more accurately.

My insatiable thirst for historical/hysterical knowledge left me quite thirsty for water. I stopped staring at the Marbles to step out of my archaeologist wannabe world for a minute, saw that Vidal and Naomi were about to pass out from hunger, so we quit the museum and headed out for a bite to eat.
London_DAY.._tavern.jpgAround the corner from the museum, we spotted the 18th century Museum Tavern- renamed after the opening of the museum from the much more original name, ‘The Dog and Duck’. Apparently they wanted to add humans to their list of unusual clientele; it specialized in good old English fish and chips. Perfect! That would be one more thing to check off of my Things To Do In England list! We plopped our weary butts down; I was so excited I was about to experience fish and chips in London. Naomi and I ordered fish and chips, Vidal, who typically enjoys trying new dishes, ordered a hamburger... I thought for a moment I was sitting across from my dad, who was famous for ordering hamburgers in every ethnic restaurant we took him to… The food was excellent. Naomi wanted to show us a bit more on foot, so we walked over to Covent Garden.
London_DAY..in_back.jpgThe 17th century Covent Garden was once host to the greatest market in London from the 15th century until 1974; becoming the most important after the great fire of London of 1666. Covent Garden is the only part of London licensed for street entertainment (if you have a cone to play, you can play it there); it was also the host of the 1st Punch and Judy show, in 1662. The small church of St Paul, having a long and close association with the theater community and known as the actor’s church, is at one end of the piazza. The Royal Opera House has an entrance on the piazza; the Soho District is just around the corner. The market and Royal Opera House were given fame in George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion/My Fair Lady, where good old professor Henry Higgins meets Eliza Doolittle selling flowers. There was a crowd in the spacious piazza watching the street entertainment, which included human statues and a guy whose claim to fame was that he played the traffic cone; his sign said you were welcome to take a photo or ask for a song, but it would cost you. Would your payment be listening to him play? Covent Garden may no longer have the largest outdoor market in London, but they certainly have quite a large indoor one now; it is basically a craft market. We looked at candles and whatnot, the photograph stalls caught our eye and we purchased a lovely B & W photo of Big Ben.
We went upstairs to the very popular Punch and Judy Pub, sat on the balcony (it was bloody hot) to people and traffic cone player watch for a bit, before heading back to catch the 5pm train back to Guildford, having spent a lovely day (and all our energy) exploring London.

For more information:
London: http://www.visitlondon.com/
London Travel Card: http://www.londontravelpass.com/transport.asp
The Double Decker Bus Original tour: http://www.theoriginaltour.com/
Changing of the Guard: http://www.changing-the-guard.com/
The British Museum: http://www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk/
The Rosetta stone: http://www.egyptologyonline.com/rosetta_stone.htm

Posted by tacoinusa 00:29 Archived in England Comments (0)

4 ENGLAND: London, Day Trip #2

Abbey, the Painters and Where's the Temple? On Our Own Around London!

sunny -28 °F
View Sandy & Vidal's European Adventures of 2004 on tacoinusa's travel map.

June 21, 2004. It was beautiful and sunny but still a bit on the cool side. Naomi and Mike were slaving away at work; Vidal and I took the train back to London to have another look. We hitched a ride from Mike to a bus stop closer to Guildford, where we would take the train to London. We arrived at the Guildford station at 8:30am; found the London Rail Pass, which included train to and from London as well as bus and Tube all day, would cost £12 if purchased after 9:30am, but £24 each if purchased before! We were not in a rush, so we bought sandwiches, sat at a bench and waited… We arrived in London, map in hand; we had a plan. First, to get a closer look at Big Ben, get a few shots with a somewhat sunny sky; wander past Parliament to see what they had to say, and go directly to Westminster Abbey.
London_DAY..ce_line.jpg There were only scattered clouds above us by the time we arrived at the Abbey. We welcomed the sun with open arms as it shined upon our faces and the Abbey, highlighting the elaborate details on the façade of the great church, making the 20 minute wait in line seem like only five. At that time, back in Mexico, I had been a teacher and Vidal had been taking French classes (not from me, as my repertoire of French consisted at that time solely of 5 words; the class would have been quite boring); due to that, we were able to get student IDs for travel discounts in Europe. Although I had applied only for a teacher ID, they had given me a student ID by mistake… but which entitled me to better discounts. We did get funny looks from the people at the admission booths (What? Are you really 40 year old students? Yes, we’re slow learners), but as they were official ISTC cards, they could not deny us. As we made Mexican salaries, any discount was welcome; in this case, discounts of £5 each equaled a total of about $20 in USD for us.
As no photographs were allowed inside, all indoor photos I have are photos of postcards. Pity, as every corner was a feast for my eyes from the high gothic arches, the beautiful stained glass windows, the monuments and tombs of the dearly departed to the paintings and frescoes that adorned the walls.
The great gothic 13th century Westminster Abbey, its oldest parts dating to the 11th century, has been the site of Benedictine monks since the middle of the tenth century, establishing a tradition of daily worship which continues to this day. It briefly held the status of a cathedral in the 16th century, and is currently a Royal Peculiar (as opposed to royally peculiar) - being owned directly by the Royal Family. The Abbey has been the coronation church since 1066; its first crowning being that of William the Bastard, whose first order of business after being crowned was to change his name to William the Conqueror. Legend has it his ceremony was quite the dramatic one; when shouts of acclamation rang out from within the walls of the Abbey, the guards on the outside thought William to be in danger, so they set fires to nearby buildings, resulting in chaos within (gee, ya think?!) and the guests fleeing for their lives. They thought someone was trying to shoot the Bastard, apparently.
London_DAY..warrior.jpg There are over 3,000 people buried within the Abbey, some with grand monuments, others with simple markers. The tomb of the Unknown Warrior was near the entrance, so we visited it first. Made of black marble and surrounded by flowers, it is the only tombstone in the Abbey that cannot be walked on. While not being a superstitious person nor believing that a person’s soul remains on this earth once they die- let alone remain in their place of burial, it has always seemed intrusive to me to walk upon a grave, as if each step taken screams that the body buried below your feet belonged to someone not worth remembering, whether you knew them or not. While there were areas in this and other churches where it was virtually impossible not to walk upon tomb markers, it seemed to me that even if this one had not been surrounded by flowers, that walking upon the tomb of the Unknown Soldier would be unpatriotic, whether one be English or not; akin to spitting on its grave and to soldiers everywhere, dead or alive. Reading the inscription was a very sobering experience; it left me with chills, part of which was this:

The lord knoweth them that are his unknown and yet well known, dying and behold we live greater love hath no man than this in Christ shall all be made alive.

4London_DAY..ostcard.jpgOne of the frequented corners of the Abbey is Poet’s Corner, a spot we did not want to miss. Geoffrey Chaucer (Canterbury Tales) was the first to be buried there around 1400 AD; Edmund Spenser (The Faerie Queene) was later buried nearby, and so began the tradition of burying or erecting monuments to famous poets, novelists and composers which continues to this day. Although floor space is now covered with grave markers, making it impossible to not walk on top of them, I did not for once feel intrusive while stepping upon the names of these great artists, but comforted; an unexpected thrill. Their memorials and tomb markers on the ground below my feet were testaments to their works, so many of which I had devoured growing up, always hungry for a good read and wanting to be a writer myself; it was an honor to walk amongst the great writers which also included Shakespeare, Robert Browning, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, George Handel, Alfred Tennyson, and Lewis Carroll.
There were countless monuments- some very elaborate, others simple yet eloquent- commemorating the lives of many famous sons and daughters of England, including Lady Elizabeth Nightingale, Oliver Cromwell, Winston Churchill, Charles Darwin (rumor has it that his body reverted to that of a fish upon decomposing), Sir Issac Newton (buried with his apple), David Livingstone (I presume) and Harry Purcell.
Amongst the 3,000 people buried there were 17 monarchs; probably the most unusual being the tomb of the Protestant Elizabeth I and Roman Catholic ‘Bloody’ Mary Tudor. Both queens of turbulent times were half sisters who may have been at slight odds during their lives, but in death they share a tomb which bears the inscription ‘Sisters in the hope of resurrection’. London_DAY..arytomb.jpg
Found also is King Edward the Confessor (later made a saint), who confessed he was son of Ethelred the Unready and brother of Harold the Harefoot; Mary I, Queen of Scots (in her manly kilt, no doubt) and Henry VII (poor guy must have led a boring life, as he has no fun nickname- Henry the 8th, he was not, he was not).
As we took our time to admire our surroundings, putting to use our trusty floor plan and reading descriptions on plaques of who or what we were looking at, while staring at the Coronation Chair (which to me seemed surprisingly plain; I had expected something much more ornate) I overheard a priest leading a tour underneath it. We hustled ourselves closer to hear to find the priest to be full of insight as well as humor. While describing the 700 yr. old chair and its state of disrepair, he spoke of how it had been forsaken many years and that people had defaced it with graffiti; now it was way up high up on a pedestal, out of reach. He said it had been used for 29 coronations, it was tradition to use it; “…but we really don’t expect the next king or queen to swing from a chandelier to get up there, we will actually move it!” London_DAY..onation.jpg
In 1998, ten 20th century Christian martyrs, including Dietrich Bonheoffer, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Oscar Romero, were immortalized in stone statues over the Abbey’s west door. Very touching…
From the moment we entered the Abbey, I felt warm; I felt welcome. The kindness, cheerfulness of the priests and volunteers within was a great part of an unforgettable experience and what would later in my reflections be an integral part of the Church of England. Each hour, an announcement is made for 1 minute of prayer of which all are invited to share in their own language, as expressed in this outtake of their brochure:

‘At Westminster Abbey we put prayer at the centre of everything we do. It is just one reason why tourists are so welcome here and why they value the calm and space the Abbey now provides for reflection and prayer. Every hour we ask all our visitors to keep silence for a brief act of prayer for the world and its needs and we invite you to share in this.’

Amen. As we were there for over an hour, we gladly joined in twice.
We left the Abbey, first walked around the Westminster Palace, AKA Parliament, stopping to admire the architecture and statues. We then found ourselves across from the famous Horse Guards building, home of -you guessed it-the British Horse Guards, AKA Household Calvary, who were founded by Cromwell in 1650 (after he losted them). I snapped a quick photo of the Horse Guard on duty; the horse smiled, the guard seemed a bit bored. London_Day..e_guard.jpg
London_DAY.._square.jpgIt was a good day for walking, something I adore. Our next target was about 6 city blocks away- Trafalgar Square, home to the National Gallery. Trafalgar Square, with its impressive Nelson's Column and the lions who guard it (stone, not real), commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar (over which Admiral Nelson presided before he was put up on the pedestal-column), a historic battle at sea won by the British Royal Navy against the combined French and Spanish fleets. All I can say is that the Spanish should have known better, really. The last time they had sent their impressive armada to conquer England it was a disaster. They had sent their beautiful ships, designed to impress (but obviously not to fight, let alone win) grossly outnumbering the English, who sent them crying back to their mommies after whipping their Spanish butts in English waters. History repeated itself and England has a beautiful square to commemorate it. The fact that they also beat the pants off the French seemed to have been reason enough to make the square REALLY grand, but that’s my opinion.
The sky was blue with a hint of clouds while we were at the Abbey; that much has been declared; by the time we got to Trafalgar Square, rain clouds were hanging over us. It poured for 2 hours, the length of time we roamed the Gallery’s halls. The National Gallery opened its doors in 1824; it now houses over 2,300 paintings from the 13th to the 20th century. It is owned by the British public and entry to its main collection is free. I have fond memories of my Yorkfield grade school years and the Picture Lady who visited us regularly (monthly, if memory serves me correctly), bringing famous works of art to life for us with prints for us to study, with brief descriptions of each painting and the artist who had given birth to it. While I am sure I had also studied at some point art in high school as well (although those years I remember mostly friends and fun and little of the learning), it will always be the Picture Lady who I remember as introducing me to the World of Art, and it was she who I thought of as I silently thanked her as I saw in person for the first time (outside of Chicago, that is) the works of some of the greatest artists who’ve ever lived. Again, no photos allowed. Some highlights included: Delaroche’s The Execution of Lady Jane Grey, life-size at 8 x 10 ft, which struck me as so brilliant with the blindfolded 9 day queen in white that looked so real- as if we were right there about to see her meet her demise;
Botticelli’s Venus and Mars, with his usual style of using mythical gods- in this case Venus the goddess of love and Mars the god of war- symbolizing love conquering war, with a few almost devilish looking children looking on; Degas’ Ballet Dancers, soft shoes with an elegant soft touch; Da Vinci’s The Virgin of the Rocks, in typical Da Vinci style with the baby Jesus pointing at John the Baptist; Michelangelo’s unfinished The Entombment, - or at least it is attributed to him; Raphael’s The Madonna of the Pinks, a very touching portrait of Mary as a mother, vs. as the traditional religious figure, caring for her baby; London_DAY..e_Pinks.jpg
Picasso’s ode to a good Cubist dinner with his Fruit Dish, Bottle and a Violin; Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus, showing a round faced beardless Jesus with three of his various aged disciples, looking very much like a good Jewish argument as they are about to break chicken (the poultry being a bit more dominant on the table than the bread); a few of Rembrandt’s self portraits as well as his Belshazzar's Feast, with his trademark use of shadow and light;
Renoir’s The Skiff- AKA Boating on the Seine, Monet’s very impressionable La Pointe de la Hève, Water-Lilies in the Setting Sun and The Water-Lily Pond, Vincent van Gogh’s drooping still life work in Sunflowers and his equally still Van Gogh’s Chair, and last but not least - Sandra Thompson’s Stick Figures in the Sunset.
London_DAY.._Circus.jpgThe rain had ceased by the time we left the Gallery and the clouds were beginning to disperse. Ready to see another London Landmark, we headed a few blocks away to Picadilly Circus and the Shaftesbury memorial fountain, topped with the famous statue of Anteros. Picadilly Circus is just a big road junction where five streets meet in an entertainment district which includes the London Pavilion and the Criteria Theatre, but it is most famous for its neon signage. The Shaftesbury memorial, across the Circus from the neon signs, is dedicated to the 7th Earl of Shaftsbury, a famous Victorian philanthropist. Although it is known as the statue of ‘Eros’, the Greek god of love and erotic desire, it is actually Anteros, the Greek god of requited love, selfless love and the avenger of unrequited love, which adorns the top.
Our feet and stomachs started to scream at us at that point, so I whipped out my Fodor’s London from its hiding place and looked to see what was nearby. The Sherlock Holmes Pub sounded perfect, it came highly recommended, wasn’t far and situated right by the Old Scotland Yard. I grew up fascinated by Sherlock Holmes stories, so it sounded good to me. Our trusty map turned out not to be so trusty and we ended up taking the long way to the pub, but we found it, even spotted a sign commemorating the spot of Old Scotland Yard where I snapped Vidal’s photo, and before he snapped my head off for forcing him to pose for one more silly photo, grabbed an outdoor table in front of the pub. It looked very Victorian, served fish and chips as their specialty; the service was a bit… nonexistent. I went in to wash my hands, ask for service and check out the interior, which was adorned with all things Sherlock, except for the food warmer full of fish and chips… That should have been my 2nd clue (the service being the 1st) that things were not going to be quite as good as we had thought. We ended up having the worst meal of our trip, the food was cold and tasteless, which says a lot, considering the fact we were starving and anything should have tasted divine to us at that point. Oh, well. Having lived in a tourist destination in Mexico for 15 years, I should know better than to believe the food critics of a tour book; bottom line is never trust the word of someone whose personal tastes you do not know. But back to the Sherlock Holmes Pub: We choked down our lousy meal and headed off to the Tube to our next destination: The Temple Church.
The Temple Church in London, built by the Knights Templar in 1160, was famous for its rare circular nave, ‘the Round.’
The church was originally part of a huge monastic complex that incorporated housing, military training facilities, and leisure area for those who were not permitted to leave the grounds without the consent of the Temple Master. The Knights Templar held worship services as well as their secret initiation rites in the Round. Sounds just like the kind of church you want to send your kids to. I had read The DaVinci Code prior to our trip- no it did not shake my faith, I’m fully aware it is nothing more than fiction; but I enjoyed a good suspense novel and found it to be very entertaining for that. Part of it took place in the Temple Church, the description fascinated me and I had to see it. I found it on our London map and we were off.
It was right there on the map…Easier than it looked; impossible to find. We began our mad search by map, ended up asking anyone we could find. That in itself sounded like the easy thing to do, but in fact, added to the chaos: Where’s the Temple? You’re in the Temple. Where’s the Temple? It’s in the Temple, by the inner temple and down a small road. Huh? I guess some things just don't translate from English to... English? A few dozen more people we asked, finally a nice policeman pointed down the road towards a huge complex, The Temple.
London_Day_2_Temple.jpgBut not The Temple, just The Temple. What? Exactly. Whatever, I thought. By that time it was pouring rain, but I was determined to find the Temple, although I was no longer sure what exactly that meant. I felt like we were living inside a Monty Python or Mel Brooks parody of the Da Vinci Code! We followed the policeman’s directions - down the street, up the path to a massive complex, entered through a gate, wandered down the winding lane, past old buildings… We finally found it by accident, down a dark alley then through a hedge labyrinth and then behind the third bush on the right. I would love to go on here about how mysterious the inside of this round church was and about how we were looking over our shoulders the whole time we tip-toed around the ancient marble effigies on the tombs of the templar knights, how I went hysterical upon seeing the grotesque heads carved in marble above the door and ran off screaming, but that would be a story out of my imagination, as the church was closed for renovations…London_DAY.._church.jpg

We stood at the ancient doors, I searched frantically for some ancient carving that would be worth our while, but alas, there was not…I thought Vidal was going to chop me into little pieces to at least have some suspense story ending for the long mad hunt for a closed down temple… We stood there like drowned rats; I snapped a photo of the outside of the temple with the 2 knights on one horse on top of a pillar, before Vidal dragged me kicking and screaming back to the Tube… ***If I knew then what I know now, the following information would have been a great help… The Temple is also a nickname for the Inns of Court, which consist of 4 inns: Lincoln’s Inn, Gray’s Inn, the Middle Temple and the Inner Temple; in between the latter two is the Temple Church. This information, however, would not come to light until my return to Mexico, when I figured out DaVinci's missing clue (which I will keep to myself!).
Back at the Tube station, I resisted looking directly at Vidal as I told him our next stop was the Tower of London and the nearby Tower Bridge. As worn out as he was, I knew he would thank me later (50 years later, when he finally would forgive me I was sure, but nonetheless, he would thank me!). Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, AKA the Tower of London or just plain ‘The Tower’, was built by William the Conqueror in 1078, moat and all. It has been a fortress, a royal palace, a prison, a place of execution and torture, an armory, zoo, treasury, the Royal Mint, and since 1303- the home of the Royal Jewels. Let's not forget the famous Beefeaters who guard the tower in their slightly outdated yet very royally identifiable uniforms, who, unlike the Royal Guards of Buckingham, have been known to crack the occasional smile- or at least, one did for my sweet grandmother back in 1970.
London_DAY..efeater.jpgTheir official title is the Yeoman Warders; they’ve been guarding the Tower and it’s secrets since 1485. Like any Royal Guard department, they have their own ceremony each night- the Ceremony of the Keys- after which they undoubtedly are given their meal of… beef. There is a joke that the real Beefeaters are the Royal Ravens… Man, these Royal Brits are a bit loco for their birds, let me tell you. I learned in Salisbury that one could lose their head for harming a royal swan, and there is even a royal position for a Royal Swan looker-after guard guy (the official name, I do believe, though I am not sure if his funky hat is made entirely of white feathers or not). At The Tower, there have been since the 17th century ravens, whose wings have been clipped, and who are fed a great deal of Grade A beef daily; the Ravenmaster, one of the Beefeaters, is in charge of their welfare. Legend has is that if the ravens leave the Tower, London will fall faster than its bridge.
London_DAY..ridge_1.jpg A few blocks past the Tower, the mighty Tower Bridge spanned the River Thames. Rumor has it that the man who bought the old London Bridge in 1968 (and had it shipped and rebuilt in Arizona), thought he was buying the Tower Bridge. He should have had a clue when his bridge fell down. By the time we arrived at The Tower, it was 4:30pm. We dragged our feet a few blocks to the entrance, stood in line, and a very nice kid at the ticket booth, probably all of 18, asked me if this was our first time to the Tower. I smiled and said yes it was. He said it was 4:30pm and the Tower closed at 5pm, that if we really wanted to, he would sell me the tickets, but to really see it, we would need at least an hour; if we had more time it would be better to come back another day. I felt more than saw Vidal sigh deeply, thanked the guy for his good advice and said we would return. We unfortunately never did return (next trip to England!), but we did take time out to photograph the Tower Bridge from there.
I gave in to Vidal and we headed out of London on the 5:20pm train to Guildford…

For more information:
The National Gallery: http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/
Westminster Abbey: http://www.westminster-abbey.org/
The Temple Church: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/england/london-temple-church.htm
The Inns of Court: http://www.kellscraft.com/NooksAndCornersofOldEngland/NooksandCornersCh05.html
The Tower of London: http://www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/stories.aspx
The Tower Bridge: http://www.towerbridge.org.uk/TowerBridge/English

Posted by tacoinusa 00:27 Archived in England Comments (0)

5 ENGLAND: London, Day Trip #3

Harrod, Albert and Paul

sunny -3 °F
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London_Day_3_Harrod_s.jpgMonday, July 19, 2004. It was our last full day in England before we headed back to Mexico. We had spent our last weekend in Cranleigh, having been kidnapped by our friends Lottie and Shane and had a great time. During that weekend, our friends had taken us all around to different shopping malls in Cranleigh and surrounding suburbs, in search of the one thing my mother had asked me to bring her: a long wool scarf just like the one her niece had brought her from England many years ago. As it was July, we were having no luck, and decided to head to London to try our luck at London’s famous Harrods and throw in a few more sights at the same time before we returned to pack after our 2 month trip. The Harrods motto is Omnia Omnibus Ubique - All Things for All People, Everywhere; it sits on 4.5 acres of land and has something like 300 departments. If we were to have luck, that would be the place. Lottie dropped us at Mike’s house on her way to work; we freshened up and we were off to Guildford. Before heading to the train, we hit Guildford’s shopping mall, just in case… No such luck, so we headed out on the 10:40am train to London, heading straight to Harrods. Well, sort of. A few doors away from Harrods, we spotted a scarf store, but no scarf matched the one my mom had, so we went to Harrods. Harrods had a shopping angel, as the scarf department was not far from the entrance. Although I did not see the exact scarf I remembered my mom having, I bought the closest thing, paying way too much money for it (but Mom’s worth it!). Vidal wanted to go straight to St. Paul’s Cathedral, but I wanted to sneak a peek at the Royal Albert Hall before getting on the Tube…
London_DAY..RT_HALL.jpg We compromised: I saw the Hall from a block away, gave a quick Queen’s wave, it waved back and we went Underground on the Tube to St. Paul’s..
London_Day.._ticket.jpgBack when Lady Diana married Prince Charles, I was young and foolish; I got caught up in the fairy tale, staying up to the wee hours (Chicago time!) to watch their wedding, which took place at St. Paul’s. Although with the exception of that moment in history, I have never been one to get caught up in the personal stories of people who are not immediate family or friends; the memory of the beauty of that cathedral has always stayed with me, and I was anxious to walk along its aisles. So when we turned a corner with a view of the famous cathedral dome for the first time, I was expecting a rush of adrenaline. What I got instead was a rush of disappointment; the cathedral was surrounded on all sides by scaffolding, covering the great dome completely. The current cathedral is the 4th to occupy the site, on grounds considered sacred before Christianity arrived; it is believed that a stone circle once stood there. When the architect of the current cathedral began construction, he discovered remains of a pagan temple in the foundations of the previous cathedral. The 1st cathedral was built by the Saxons in wood in 604 AD, rebuilt in 674 AD, although the rebuilt version is not considered cathedral #2. That cathedral was sacked by the Vikings in 962 AD and the 2nd St Paul's was built, this time in stone. The 3rd St Paul's (now known as Old St Paul's), was begun by the Normans after the late Saxon cathedral suffered in a fire of 1087, but was not completed until 1310 AD. By the 16th century it was decaying; radical preachers enticed followers to destroy much of the interior. Soon after that, the spire was destroyed by lightning; the entire cathedral was later ruined in the 17th century Great Fire of London. It was just plain a bad luck church! The present St. Paul's Cathedral was designed by the famous architect Sir Christopher Wren, and completed on his 76th birthday in 1708. The dome was inspired by St. Peter’s in Rome, rising 365 ft. to the cross which adorns the top.
Photography is not allowed inside St. Paul’s, but that did not matter, as unfortunately there was indoor scaffolding as well, making it impossible to see the mosaics on the inside of the dome. We happened to be there when a great restoration project was taking place for the cathedral’s 300th anniversary. Although the main altar and many of the famous murals were being worked on, we were able to admire the great monuments to the Duke of Wellington and Lord Nelson.
London_DAY.._to_USA.jpgAlas, our trip to St. Paul’s was not in vain; not everything was so ancient it needed to be renovated. Behind the apse is a chapel to commemorate the members of the United States forces based in the UK who gave their lives defending liberty during WWII- the American Memorial Chapel. It has been said that originally, the idea to have a WWII memorial for Americans was first put forth by the US Air Force; the dean of St. Paul’s volunteered his cathedral as he responded, “It is not for you but for us to erect that memorial.” The chapel was funded by the British people as a tribute. An inscription in large letters runs along the edge of the floor,

‘To the American dead of the Second World War from the people of Britain’.

There is on display a 500 page honor roll of names of the American men and women who are commemorated in the chapel, presented in 1951 by General (before he became President) Eisenhower. I do not think my being American had anything to do with how much the memorial moved me, the fact that such a significant part of this cathedral was dedicated and the obvious honor the designers wished to portray moved me quite deeply; the fact that we had been in England for the 60th D-Day anniversary and the thankfulness expressed to me by veterans made visiting the chapel so much more significant.
Sir Christopher Wren is buried in a quiet corner within the cathedral, his masterpiece. His grave marker, written by his son is eloquently simple:

‘Reader, if you seek his memorial - look around you’.

As was the case with Westminster Abbey, an announcement is made every hour in St. Paul’s Cathedral for a call to prayer; although we were in the cathedral for less than an hour, we were there for the prayer time. This time it was the Lord’s Prayer which all are invited to pray together, each in their own tongue, while praying for their loved ones as well as for the needs of the world. Amen! With that, we said our goodbyes to the cathedral, looking forward to returning another time, when we could see it in all its glory.
Before saying our final farewell to this fine city, we stopped for another look at Covent Garden to pick up a few more souvenirs, and a couple of cold drinks once more while people-watching at Punch and Judy’s. We made it in time to Waterloo Station to catch the 2:50pm train to Guildford (our travel angels showed us to the plush train with comfy seats in lieu of the hard backed seats we had previously); making it back to Cranleigh in time to Power Pack and enjoy a relaxing farewell dinner with our wonderful friends.
For more information:
St. Paul’s Cathedral: http://www.stpauls.co.uk/

Posted by tacoinusa 00:23 Archived in England Comments (0)

6 ENGLAND: Exploring The Old World: Salisbury

Salisbury Steaks, a Great Letter, and That's Some Steeple!

semi-overcast 75 °F
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Thursday, June 3, 2004. The day was gray, rainy and chilly. Such a cliché, I know; but it is what it is. And it was. Gray. Rainy. Chilly. Mike had not been successful in talking us out f going to Stonehenge, or as he called it,

“A big pile of rocks on the side of a road in the middle of a bloody field!’

Naomi, Vidal and I were about to take off on a 2 day adventure which was based around our seeing Stonehenge. Naomi had rented a car as hers was a 2-seater sports car and Mike needed his. The plan was to hit the road early by 11:00am (that is early for us non-morning folk), find a B & B close to Stonehenge, then explore the coast a bit. Naomi had picked up a book of B & Bs in England, it showed we had plenty of options for the area. It was a lovely 1.5 hour drive to Amesbury, a town with a few more years than Chicago (Amesbury’s church dates back to 979 AD), which is right by Stonehenge (that is to say Amesbury is, not Chicago). A darling town (Amesbury that is; Chicago is a city), but everything was booked. We hit the next town. And the next… Raining on and off, we kept searching for 2 hours. At one point, we drove right past a massive pile of rocks on the side of the road, right in the middle of a field.
SALISBURY_Bustard_Inn.jpgWe turned toward a small town called Bustard; a sign directed us to the end of another road to the Bustard Inn. The road was long; we drove past fields on both sides, only a few houses dotted the surrounding area. The Inn looked charming from the outside, but the owner seemed a bit strange, and she spoke with a very strange accent. Oh, sorry! That would be an English accent she spoke with-I had forgotten where we were! “No rooms”, she said. We went back out, and noticed a few signs across the street from the Inn which warned:

‘Danger from unexploded mortar and shell bombs. On no account should any object be moved or touched. It may explode’.

Huh. You don’t say! Good thing it was booked, as I dearly love to wander barefoot through minefields… Naomi decided it was best to head to Salisbury, 20 minutes away, which we had planned to visit after Stonehenge (at a decent hour when normal people are awake), and probably best to forget about the coast for that day. We agreed.
SALISBURY_..om_room.jpgThe sun was starting to poke its head out at us when we arrived in Salisbury. We parked on Castle Street first; Naomi said she was going to run in to check a couple of B & Bs; we could just hang out and wait so she could run faster. She came back with good news; the White Horse Inn just a few doors down had 2 rooms. At £55, it was a bit more than we had planned on spending, but at that point none of us cared. We got rooms with large windows that opened up to a great view down Castle St towards Market Square; the Salisbury Cathedral’s famous spire peeking out at us just beyond. As we had all munched on the road with the delicacies Naomi had packed (cheese and sandwiches), we were ready to head out to the famous cathedral. It was about 6 blocks away, but we decided to not pass go or collect $200 on the way and just get directly to our goal.
Okay, so not all things go according to plan, but I have often found that unplanned adventures can be the most rewarding. I had only researched London and Stonehenge- but not Salisbury; I had not even researched to find out that Salisbury steak was not from Salisbury, but from the good old USA. I had not even purchased a tour guide book on England, so I was going in blind. I had heard of Salisbury, vaguely remembered a blurb somewhere about its cathedral… But we had Naomi, so we were fine, she was a far better tour guide than she gave herself credit for, she knew how to drive on the wrong side of the road with a displaced steering wheel and she could read a map.
The town was so lovely, the idea of going straight to the cathedral was quickly scratched, deciding instead to take our time checking out our surroundings. It was a straight shot ahead down Castle Street, but being the first medieval town Vidal and I had been to, we were fascinated by everything. We meandered past the huge Market Square, past gardens and old churches.
SALISBURY_kings_head.jpgWe spotted an old Inn, the King’s Head Inn, thought it would be fitting to stop in for a cold drink; it was bloody hot with the sun now out at 72 degrees! The inner décor did not match the charming exterior; it had been bought out by some chain, which in turn converted it into a chic modern bar. We wanted none of that and returned to our wanderings.
SALISBURY_..th_Gate.jpgWe meandered down the narrow brick High Street, enjoying the old buildings and shops around us. Halfway down, we saw what looked to Vidal and I like a bridge connecting some buildings. Naomi explained that it was the High Street Gate, part of the city walls which surrounded the Cathedral Close. We entered the Cathedral Close through the High Street Gate which, dating from 1327 AD, was one of 4 gates and the main entry to the Close. All gates were locked at 11.00pm every night and reopened at 7:00am; the Close closes up early, all night owls beware. So much for nightlife! Entering the Close, we went from a shopping district to a residential area, with homes from modest to stately with lovely English gardens. The Salisbury Cathedral Close is the largest close in England; stones were brought over from the abandoned cathedral at Old Sarum to build a wall around it; designed as a preserved area near the cathedral for priests and other church workers. Based on seniority and importance, they were each given between 1-3 acres of land. Hey, now we all know who ‘they’ is, and where ‘they’ live!!
SALISBURY_..y_house.jpgDown the North Walk of the Close, we peeked at a few stately homes and gardens. Right before the 13th century St Anne’s Gate, we stopped to read a few plaques posted on the outer walls of the Malmesbury house of historical events that had happened there: King Charles had graced it with his presence in 1665 (hiding from the plague, or something like that), Charles II played hide and seek there during the Civil War, and the young composer George Frederic Handel Slept There, using St Ann’s Gate for his recitals. There was also a Sundial which dated from 1749 and which bears the quote, ‘Life’s but a walking shadow’, and And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.’ -John 17:3, directly below it. I had noted on a few plaques around this town referring to the Glory of God; the words were comforting; how nice it was to be in a place where it was not politically incorrect to give glory to God… Further down the Malmesbury house wall was another plaque, ‘An important timely point of interest to the passer-by’, which spoke of the reformation and adoption of the Gregorian calendar of 1749 and the above wall/dial.
Our next stop would be the Salisbury Cathedral. Direct from their pamphlet:

‘…800 years old, built to reflect the glory of God in glass and stone, is one of the ancient holy places in England. Over the centuries many thousands of men and women have come here and discovered the presence of God with them. We hope that you will find God with you… You are welcome here. May God bless you as you come and as you go.’

I would just like to add an Amen and a Hallelujah to that!
SALISBURY_Cathedral.jpgMy first full view of the cathedral took my breath away. A huge immaculate lawn surrounded it, with plenty of room to take photos of the exterior. The surrounding trees were all far enough away to allow me to take a photo and get the whole inspiring spire in. It’s probably a good thing I had not known at the time there was a guided tower tour which takes you 332 steps to the top of the spire, as I would have done it in a heartbeat.
SALISBURY_..ral__2_.jpgProbably a good thing we did the Stonehenge trip within our first days in Europe and before any side trip to Italy, where we had found that tours to the tops of cathedrals to be all the rage. But we had not been elsewhere and I had not researched Salisbury; but to my delight (and her surprise), Naomi ended up being a better tour guide than she had given herself credit for. As we approached the cathedral, Naomi looked at us and said she remembered having been there before; in fact, she remembered one of the reasons it was so famous: it housed the Magna Carta. But back to the spire… Quite impressive at 404 feet, it is the tallest medieval spire in Europe; it was built about 25 years after the cathedral was finished. It towered over the town, quite literally. The hollow spire, with it’s ancient wood scaffolding, weighs in at a paltry 6,400 tons; which would later cause the great marble pillars which supported it to sag, needing restoration 40, 300 and finally 740 yrs later.
SALISBURY_..l_Nave2.jpgThe cathedral itself was constructed in only 38 years; the cornerstone dated 1220 AD. As we went inside the cathedral, we were greeted by friendly people, in fact there were many volunteers there handing out pamphlets and offering their services. Will these Brits ever cease to amaze me? The massive gothic exterior was home to many statues- saints. The interior of the cathedral was spacious; the gothic arches seemed to reach up to heaven with their height, and yet it did not give me the eerie feeling felt by the similar aisles at the Guildford Cathedral. Indeed, it was said that the idea of building the arches so high was to have people life their eyes and thoughts to God. There was much natural light there, giving it a peaceful, joyous feeling vs. dark and somber, as many cathedrals I’ve seen have been. There of course were chapels, the organ, medieval tombs, stained glass and high altar to admire, and one other object of particular curiosity: the medieval clock. This was one clock that won’t be making faces at you; in fact, it has no clock face, period. Built in 1386, it’s the oldest working medieval clock in the world, and its bells chime on the hour to summon people to prayer.
The cathedral had a leaflet for children, ‘All Creatures Great and Small: An Introduction to the Animals of Salisbury Cathedral’. I picked it up thinking it was about animals on the grounds, but to the contrary, it had a numbered map of the animals carved on the walls. There were drawings of each of the 13 animals found in the cathedral with an educational description of each, e.g.: Picture 1 (drawing of a lion lying at someone’s feet on his tomb):

‘By the Gilder Pilot window is the tomb of Sir John Montecute. He has a lion at his feet. Can you see the gold lines in the lion’s mane? When the tomb was made there was gold paint on the lion but most has worn off. Only people who were part of a royal family were meant to have lions. Sir John had the title of “King of the Isle of Man”, so he could have a lion. Some people used a lion when they were not royal, but this was cheating.’

End quote. I Love it! If I move to England, I want the fun job of writing their pamphlets.
SALISBURY_..a_Carta.jpgThis was originally going to be named Chapter 11 of this journal entry, but for those of you non-American readers, Chapter 11 is our filing code for bankruptcy, as are Chapters 12 and 13. Chapter 14 is a project for reformation of education, which appealed to me as a title (in lieu of trying to come up with another catchy or boring title); I added a few more entries above to put this one at 14. There are 14 Virtues on the door of the Chapter House, but more of that in a minute. The Chapter House houses the best of the 4 surviving copies of the Magna Carta, but wait- that is the following chapter! The octagonal Chapter House was built to house meetings of the clergy; they would read a chapter of the Bible at the start of each meeting, hence the name ‘Chapter House’. The interior was small yet roomy and a feast for the eyes.
SALISBURY_..omorrah.jpgAround the walls of the Chapter House was a 13th century frieze which portrayed scenes of the Old Testament books of Genesis and Exodus. The inner door had carvings that represented 14 virtues showing defeat with their feet standing upon their vices -Humility over Pride, etc. Carved heads adorned the meeting points of the arches and were supposedly features of the people who worked on it, some with very peculiar expressions. Most interesting was the head with 3 faces that faced the entrance; presumably it was of the bishop who oversaw the work, suggesting that he (or the mason, who supposedly it resembled more!) was surveying his work. The Chapter House was the only part of the cathedral where photo and video taking are not allowed (trying to keep the Magna Carta a secret? Not willing to take the risk someone might copy it to use as the base of their own country’s constitution?). I suppose it was a wise decision for two reasons: #1-big crowds of amateur photographers in small room may cause claustrophobia and/or fist fights, with budding photographers who would under normal circumstances be calm and patient finding themselves losing their cool with outbursts:

That’s my angle, you’re in my field of vision and blocking the natural light, so move it or lose it! Oh, sorry Vidal, I didn’t know that was you...”

and #2-Help raise money for the cathedral, so buy the guide book! If you are too cheap, buy a couple of postcards!
The copy of the Magna Carta is kept locked and preserved, for obvious reasons, under glass with regulated temperature and humidity control. The Magna Carta, also called Magna Carta Libertatum -Great Charter of Freedoms, represents the agreement between King John and his barons. One of the greatest constitutional documents of all times, it forms the basis of the US Constitution and others. It contains clauses providing for a church free from domination by the monarchy, reforming law and justice. It established, among other things, that the king was bound by law, that he must respect certain legal procedures; limited his powers and protected rights of his subjects, and that no free man may be imprisoned or prosecuted without fair trial before his equals. Having passed Magna Carta 101, we left the great cathedral.
SALISBURY_..s_swans.jpgCrossing the River Avon, we stopped on an old bridge so Naomi the Tour Guide could give us a bit more English history, as she pointed down to the swans gracefully floating below us. Owned by the Queen of England, if you kill one, you will be killed yourself. There was even a royal post, the Keeper of the Royal Swans. I for one was impressed. You have to look at the bright side of things: for one, the queen created a job for someone in the 13th century (yes she is that old), that person may well have otherwise not been able to feed his family of 8. Second, we all must do our share to Save the Wildlife, and if this man had not been given his royal post, he may have had to kill a swan to feed his family, landing himself in the London Tower (where he might have been tempted to steal the Royal Jewels and put himself and family in further peril). You can say she killed 2 birds with one stone by creating said post (…pun intended. The Queen can get away with that, you know).
SALISBURY_..uill_PC.jpgWe strolled back to the town center,
SALISBURY_..ill_pub.jpgstopping at the lovely 16th century Wig and Quill pub for cold drinks in their garden with a view of the cathedral spire while it serenaded us by ringing its bells; then went for dinner at the New Inn, a 15th century Tudor style pub for yummy traditional mash and pie.
SALISBURY_ox_row.jpgStuffed after dinner and still early, we walked a bit, enjoying the charm. It started to rain; we dove for shelter in the Market Square at the Ox Row Inn, a great old timbered bar full of character.
SALISBURY_..rtender.jpgThe principal character, Phil the fun bartender from Liverpool, had fun with his American client (‘You like the Beatles, love? My brother was a bouncer for the Beatles at the Cavern Club’) and his Mexican client (‘Want to pour a pint, mate?’). Two degrees away from the Beatles or not, we certainly loved him! A great day spent, we were asleep before 11pm- needing to be bright eyed and bushy tailed for Stonehenge at dawn!
I had found in some used bookstore somewhere a very thick novel called ‘Sarum’, by Edward Rutherford, a few years before our trip. It was a historical epic novel about the history of England from the Ice Age to present, and sounded fantastic. Its 897 pages put me off reading it right away; after a while I put it in a safe place to be read later, and promptly forgot about it. Ironic, as 897 pages will seem like light reading once I am through writing of our travels! I did read it a year after our trip which caused me much regret… It is a fascinating novel, based on the history of Old Sarum and New Sarum- Salisbury. The building of the cathedral and many other delightful tidbits of history are all there, and naturally I researched whatever I had read. That was how I found out that Old Sarum had been right under our noses, right down the road from our hotel, on Castle Street! A reason to go back to Salisbury? Sounds like a plan to me!

Bustard Inn: http://www.durringtonwilts.co.uk/pubs/featured/bustard.htm
Bustard Walkabout: http://www.walksandpeaks.bedsearcher.co.uk/index.cfm?fuseaction=walking.walkRoute&walkId=a358dbf5-3ad7-4c03-8afd-23f0e3407b2a
Old Sarum: http://www.timetravel-britain.com/articles/castles/sarum.shtml
Salisbury: http://www.visitsalisbury.com/
Salisbury Cathedral: http://www.salisburycathedral.org.uk/
The White Horse Inn: http://www.bedandbreakfasts.co.uk/bookingsystem/bookingsystem.asp?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.activehotels.com%2Fwl%2Fservlet%2Fxmlbrochure%2Findex.do%3Fhotelid%3D200616%26trkref%3DBBA&subid=

Further reading:
Sarum, by Edward Rutherford

Posted by tacoinusa 00:20 Archived in England Comments (0)

7 ENGLAND: Exploring The Old World: Stonehenge

A Pile of Rocks In The Middle of a Field on the Side of the Road: The Dominos of Stonehenge

semi-overcast 68 °F
View Sandy & Vidal's European Adventures of 2004 on tacoinusa's travel map.


June 4, 2004. There were only a few Must Sees for our England portion of our trip; quality time with Naomi was #1 on that list, anything else was just whipped cream on the banana split. London came in second, with Stonehenge (okay, and eat fish and chips, too) not far behind. As it turned out, we would get to see both places with Naomi, putting the cherry on top of the whipped cream on the banana split (and served with fish and chips).
I have often said that most people really don’t take advantage of what is at their backdoor. While that is not necessarily true for everyone, I have heard many people say that often tourists knew more about their city then they did, as more often than not, tourists do a bit of research on where they are going before they get there- I’m referring to educated tourists and not the Ugly American tourist who have given the rest of us a bad name. It seems to be that when you grow up surrounded by so much cultural heritage, that you become blind to it. Naomi had stressed to me that she was not much into culture/history the way I was; she was quite aware that I could be something of a history addict. Having been born and raised in a city less than 200 years old, it is really no wonder that I was starved to be wandering around a land which had thousands of years of history. I have wandered around ancient Mexico; I was ready for the Old World. I don’t expect others to share my enthusiasm for history, but it is a treasure when they humor me; Naomi was willing to go with us to Stonehenge and get a little cultured with us.
stonehenge_0004.jpgMy brother Rob and his wife Julie had gone to England for their honeymoon; it was from them that I had learned 2 things: One, that the Big Dominos had been placed upright again after Chevy Chase knocked them down (National Lampoon’s European Vacation, if you have not seen it), and Two, that there is a roped off area that prohibits people from wandering off the sidewalk which surrounds it at a safe distance, about 20 feet from the nearest Domino (probably to prevent any other cars from knocking them down as Chevy Chase had). In my mad search for information for our Europe trip, I had somehow stumbled across a website which told me how to get ‘special permission’ to see Stonehenge up close and personal, through the English Heritage Organization, ‘Stone Circle Access’. Only a handful of people per chosen days of the month were allowed access, but your name had to be pulled lottery style from a lot of 5 billion names placed in a tall furry hat, or find a golden ticket inside a Wonka bar, or know the Queen herself. We on the other hand, knew Naomi, someone far more important, far more regal than good old QE2 herself. I had sent the info to Naomi, who had it faxed, stamped and approved by the Queen with the Royal Seal before we arrived. Naturally, as none of us were morning people, our entrance time would be at the crack of dawn.
Mike thought we had completely lost our minds when we told him we were going to see Stonehenge; I can still hear his classic lines in my head that to this day give me a good chuckle:

“It’s just a bloody pile of rocks! On the side of a road! In the middle of a bloody field! If that’s what you want to see, then I’ll save you some money, I’ll put some rocks in the middle of my garden and you can take bloody pictures and say you’ve been to bloody Stonehenge!”

Well, Mike may not have realized what he had in England's backyard, but he certainly knew what he had in his garden! stonehenge_0006.jpg
The morning was gray and chilly with light rain. We devoured our included 6am room service of cereal, croissants, fruit, juice and tea… but no coffee. We were on the road by 7am for our 730am private access (hey, that’s crack of dawn for us non-morning folk!), arriving at 7:20am. stonehenge_0002.jpg
The parking lot was closed, but a security guard was there. We told them who we were, he asked for our permission sheet and note from our mothers, then let us in the car park with strict instructions to sit in our car until 7:30am. There were a couple other cars on the lot, but no people. Across the street, there it was: a big pile of rocks on the side of the road in the middle of a field.
stonehenge_0009.jpg All around, there was nothing but lovely rolling green hills, backdrop of gray skies and lots of wind- it was chilly! We got out to read a sign by the lot that gave information on the Stonehenge Bluestones, which were different from the Sarsen stones. It told us that the Bluestones, which weighed 4 tons each, came from the Carn Menyn mountain in Wales, over 240 miles away. Although gray, they turned blue when wet. The temperature of the Bluestones was also supposed to be cooler. We of course would put that to the test. At 7:30am, a few more people arrived; we were 8 total. No tour guide, we would be on our own. I had not been aware of that, I just assumed someone would go with us, which was why I had not brought any book with me- not wanting to seem the uneducated tourist- and discounting the Cracker Jack Stonehenge photo book I picked up in Salisbury for the pretty pictures. Naturally, the book store was closed. We followed the others around the corner through the tunnel under the road which led up and across, facing the great Stonehenge.
stonehenge_0008.jpgMike had been wrong; Stonehenge is not just a pile of rocks on the side of the road in the middle of a field; it is a pile of MASSIVE rocks, most of them upright in a circle, looking majestic and lonely on the side of the road in the middle of a field.
It was not the largest Neolithic stone circle in the world but it was the only one that has lintels around the top, making it unique.
Some of the stones were more than 13 ft tall and weighed in at a hefty 25 tons. Looking at the grandeur of Stonehenge, the mind wonders how it was built, and for what purpose. Since that could only be speculation, I won’t dwell on it. There are a few things that archaeologists seem to agree on: Stonehenge was built in different stages from about 3000 to 1800 B.C. The first stage was a circular earth formation; the second they added timber; the third they replaced timber with Bluestones.
stonehenge_0003.jpgThe Sarsen stones, weighing between 6 and 60 tons each were hauled from Avebury, 20 miles away, 250 years later. For hundreds of years, the great stones gradually fell and were carried away to make bridges, houses and roads. In more recent history the demise of Stonehenge is due to the uneducated visitors, chipping away at the stones for souvenirs- the reason it’s been roped off since 1978 to everyone who does not bring a note from their mother.
I am a self proclaimed archeologist wannabe. I love ancient history and have jumped at the chance to climb ancient pyramids throughout Mexico and Guatemala. I have been to pyramids and squares, but this was my first circle, and it was a tad bit older than anything I had ever seen, by at least 3,000 years. While it would have been nice to have had a scholar tell us what we were looking at, I knew enough to know there wasn’t much written in stone on Stonehenge (sorry, I couldn’t resist!), and it was nice to be left alone with our imaginations (although in my case that is often dangerous). I have always been fascinated by Stonehenge, but no photo does it justice. There is just no way to describe it, standing next to these megaliths; imagination going nonstop: How did the Neolithic age people get these rocks here to this field? Surely that road did not exist, so Hertz Rent-a-Truck was out of the question-or did they have Rent-a-Wheel back then? Maybe Fred Flintstone had a hand in it? Up close, I could see where some stones were cut to fit into another. Some were perfectly straight, others had not stood the test of time so well and had rougher edges, almost as if someone had tried to sculpt something out of them. If I stared long enough, I could see people in some- a profile of David’s goliath, maybe? Or maybe Goliath’s dominos? We wondered and wandered, taking photos to remind ourselves later that yes, we really were there. The sun peeked out at 8am, but it remained cloudy. We did do the touch-test; there really was a difference in temperature between the 2 types of stones. Bizarre.
Stonhenge_0.jpgFor the past few millennium, these are questions that have plagued man with, as of yet, no real answers. So, I did my own research, and found these fun folk tale answers to scientific questions.

FAQ: Where did the stones come from, really? Don’t give me this “a bunch of Stone-Age men dug them up with antlers out of a mountain in Wales” line, I’m not stupid. What gives?
ANSWER: The stones were originally owned by an old woman who lived in Ireland. The Devil bought the stones from her, wrapped them up, and brought them to the Salisbury Plain. One of the stones fell into the River Avon, the rest were carried to the plain. The Devil then cried out, "No-one will ever find out how these stones came here!" A friar replied, "That’s what you think!," whereupon the Devil threw one of the stones at him and struck him on the heel. The stone stuck in the ground and is still there.
FAQ: Why a circle? Why not a square? What does it mean?
ANSWER: It was believed that giants once existed, before human evolved. One day, the giants were dancing and circling around on the Salisbury Plain. Suddenly, they were frozen and turned into stones. This explains why Stonehenge consisted of a concentric circle... everyone knows giants NEVER square dance!
FAQ: Who put the stones back up after Chevy Chase backed into and knocked them down?
ANSWER: We did. I am stronger than I look.

Maybe this one will fly- after all, King Arthur did have a round table (I have seen it!); why not a round circle, too? Stonehenge is mentioned within Arthurian legend. Geoffrey of Monmouth said that Merlin the wizard directed its removal from Ireland, where it had been constructed on Mount Killaraus by giants, who brought the stones from Africa.
We headed out at 8:30am, in search of badly needed coffee- each of us having withdrawals. The bookstore did not open until 10am… (probably a blessing it was closed as the shop was large and I saw some really cool stuff, like puzzles and dinnerware), so we headed to nearby Amesbury for a 2nd breakfast; Naomi suggested we take the road to the historical town Winchester before heading back home. As the 4300 yr old Amesbury Archer- discovered in 2002- had been moved to a Salisbury museum, pretty much nothing in Amesbury was open and more importantly I knew a few lines of the song ‘Winchester Cathedral’, we moved on…

Stonehenge inside access (look for stone circle access): http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/nav.877
Stonehenge general: http://www.stonehenge.co.uk/
Stonehenge Bluestones: http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/tm_objectid=15661198&method=full&siteid=50082&headline=archaeologists-figure-out-mystery-of--stonehenge--Bluestones-name_page.html
Stonehenge legends: http://www.math.nus.edu.sg/aslaksen/gem-projects/hm/0102-1-stonehenge/legends.htm
Amesbury: http://www.timetravel-britain.com/articles/towns/amesbury.shtml

Posted by tacoinusa 00:17 Archived in England Comments (0)

8 ENGLAND: Exploring The Old World: Winchester

Jane, Big Al, a Round Table & the Cathedral That Was Bringing Us Down

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Winchester..l_Close.jpgJune 4, 2004. Exhausted from our previous day’s jaunt to and around Salisbury and the current day’s crack of dawn wake up call to go play with the oversized dominos at Stonehenge, we were heading back toward our home base in Cranleigh. Winchester was not much off the beaten path for us; I was ‘2 thumbs up’ for stopping there when Naomi informed me it was once the home of one of our shared favorite authors: Jane Austen. A former citizen even more famous was a particular (but not peculiar) king-King Aelfred. We parked, walked through a small farmer’s market and found our way to the main street, or as a main street is known in England: High Street.
Winchester..aelfred.jpgWelcoming us to Winchester in front of Guild Hall at the beginning of High Street was a giant statue of their great king, Aelfred. Held high in his right hand was a cross hilted sword, representing Christianity defeating heathenism. He sported a Saxon helmet and shield, perched on a pedestal which simply bears his name, nothing else: AELFRED. Known as King Aelfred the Great, he became ruler of the West Saxons after he and his big brother king Ethelred defeated the Danes; the later death of his brother left Al baby as successor in 871AD. He was remembered not just as a great warrior, but also as a social reformer who built towns, opened schools and encouraged literacy by having Latin texts translated. He is the only king to bear the honor ‘The Great’, and Winchester was his capital.
Winchester__high_st.jpgRight by the statue of Alfred was the Victorian Guildhall which housed the tourist center; we picked up some handy pamphlets on Winchester Walks. With Naomi still as our official tour guide, she led the way, taking us first down High Street, past some lovely 16th century timber-framed houses and shops, towards Lloyd’s Bank, housed in the old Georgian Guildhall. Above the bank was the old town clock, above the clock was a statue of Queen Anne, above the statue was a belfry (complete with bats). Those are facts. So is the fact that Winchester still had a curfew; night owls are not recommended to live there (but bats are welcome, as long as they remain in your belfry). Since I am by nature a night person and by blood, a Dane, it did not sound like the ideal place for me to live. Too bad, so sad as it was a very cute town. To continue… From there, things get a bit murky. I have read about the curfew bell that is rung nightly in Winchester at 8:00pm, but as we did not stay that late for fear we would be turned into pumpkins, I cannot say for certain. I read, in the City’s Winchester Walk pamphlet, that the bell has rung the 8pm curfew since 1361 in the belfry above the old guildhall. But how can that be, if the building itself only dates from 1731? Dyslexic history, maybe? I have also read that it has been rung since the days William the Conqueror was there,which also makes no sense, as he was there back in 1087; maybe he projected himself into the future to the 18th century, rang the bell and returned to the 11th century? Other Winchester sites have the curfew bell being rung from above the CURRENT town clock tower in the CURRENT guildhall… Oh, I am sooo confused! Let’s just get on with the tour!
Sitting in a crowded corner on High Street was the 15th century 43 ft City Cross, AKA Market Cross, AKA High Cross, AKA the Butter Cross. So called due to 1) well, it is the Cross of the City, of course! 2) its location was formerly the market; 3) its location is on High Street, 4) butter was sold right below it. The statue was, how should I put it.. strange. It sat on a pedestal of 5 steps, and looked to me like the frame of a tower covered with cream colored frosting dripping from it, with a scepter at the top, topped with a tiny cross. If you looked hard, you could see a few statues of people hidden in the framework. There were 4 or 5 figures on the sculpture, but of who they are also seems to be quite vague; getting facts straight did not seem to be one of Winchester’s strengths! William the Conqueror once had a home on that spot where the cross sits, but for some reason his name was not added to the long list of names for the cross…
The city had sold the Cross statue in the 18th century, but when the new owner tried to move it, the townspeople would have none of that and started a riot (apparently they threatened a deadly butter fight with anyone who dared move their beloved Butter Cross). The statue was given back to the city (or sold back, that is not clear) and it has remained there ever since. Hey, that deserve a name as well, no? The Riot Cross, maybe?
Winchester_Cathedral.jpgIn the front, we were greeted by a welcome sign stating what the Winchester cathedral was and its history: the Old Minster. Wait! There was another sign next to it: Winchester Cathedral, the Anglo –Saxon cathedral. And another next to that: Winchester Cathedral, the Norman cathedral. Here in Mexico, when one sees 4 signs in front of a historical site, they would each be in a different language. But not in Winchester- they were all in English. How terribly… American! Actually, the Old Minster was the name of the original cathedral or minster on the site- it was excavated in the 1960s; the foundation pattern was revealed and can be seen on the cathedral grounds.
The Winchester cathedral was almost brought down in 1900. Built in 1079, the foundation was made of logs laid on swamp land; by 1900 it was sinking. An underwater diver and his team worked for 5 years under the foundations in black water, removing the decayed timber and underpinning the foundation with concrete. Yes, the song was playing in my head the whole time we walked around the cathedral. Strangely, when researching for kicks the lyrics to 'Winchester Cathedral', I discovered it was re-recorded in the 1980’s by a Dutch singer using my nickname… Taco!
Winchester..ceiling.jpgThe cathedral was smaller than the one in Salisbury, but easier to see and focus on its details. Interestingly, I later read it had the longest nave of any Gothic cathedral in Europe. The ceiling vault above the high altar was decorated with objects too far away to distinguish, but looked like tiny royal ornaments in red, gold and blue nailed to an otherwise boring wood ceiling.
Winchester..ry_tomb.jpgMortuary chests there had once held the bones of ancient Saxon kings, but wartime and Cromwell’s men took care of that, as they had stormed it during the civil war. Some accounts say they ran out of ammunition and therefore were forced to break open the chests to use the bones as ammo in order to smash the stained glass windows. No,they were not defending themselves; they were just bullies vandalizing the cathedral… Supposedly the shards of glass were later recovered and used again… Whether any of that is true or not, it certainly gives a bit of color to the cathedral’s history!
Winchester..les_net.jpgThe tiled floor was simply beautiful, different medieval patterns on small square tiles; I read they dated from the 13th century and the cathedral had the largest area of medieval tiled floor in the UK. The crypt, which still regularly floods every winter, has a statue of someone reading - maybe he has something to do with snow flooding the hall? Possibly some chap who neglected to pay his taxes?
Winchester..emorial.jpgWe wandered around the aisles, stopping first to see the Jane Austen wall memorial. Jane, who died in 1817, was buried in the cathedral, but the public was outraged that her literary accomplishments had not been mentioned on the memorial stone over her tomb.
Winchester.._window.jpgIn 1872, a brass memorial plaque was added on a wall:

‘Jane Austen. Known to many by her writings, endeared to her family by the varied charms of her character and ennobled by her Christian faith and piety was born at Steventon in the County of Hants, December 16 1775 and buried in the Cathedral July 18 1817. She openeth her mouth with wisdom and in her tongue is the law of kindness’.

In 1900, stained glass windows were added above the plaque in her honor; below it were several fresh floral bouquets.
As it was an old cathedral, there were many tombs and ancient memorials, such as the tomb of a 9th century bishop, St. Swithun. He was known for his humility and that he once restored a basket of eggs. HUH? Is that all it takes to become a saint in this town? Anyway, his body, with the exception of one of his arms, is buried in the cathedral. His missing arm went to Norway. As the current cathedral was built after his death, his 2 armed body was dug up to be put in the new cathedral. Apparently one of his arms did not like that and took off to Norway. They say (you know - THEY) ) that it rained 40 days after his body was moved because he disapproved. Folks still say that if it rains on St. Swithum’s day, it will rain 40 days straight.
Outside of the cathedral was a graveyard. One particular man, soldier Thomas Thetcher, is now famous because of his grave marker, which states:

Thomas Thetcher died of a violent fever after drinking a small beer; 1764; 26 yrs old.

The city holds him so dear that his marker has been replaced 3 times, each time an additional amusing line has been added:

Soldiers, be aware of his untimely fall, and when you’re hot drink STRONG or none at all; 1781.

Followed yet by:

An honest soldier never is forgot, whether he die by musket or by pot; 1802.

The final replacement was in 1966, but sadly no loving quip was added…
Winchester_college.jpgWe left the cathedral; Naomi consulted the Winchester Walks pamphlet and decided our next goal was to see Jane Austen’s house. As we turned on College Street, I saw signs pointing to the Wolvesey Castle. Cool, a castle! Step aside, Jane; that’s where I am heading! We followed the signs to the castle, Naomi warning me that it was probably in ruins, as we had seen in Guildford just a few days ago. But I was having none of that, and got very excited as I saw just up ahead on the street the unmistakable turrets of a real live castle! We hastened our pace, the signs pointed past it; of course that must have meant the entrance was just further up, right? Oh, maybe with a museum, awesome! Wait, huh? What does this sign say? Huh? Oops!! It’s just the Winchester College; keep going to Wolvesey Castle on the other side of the street!
We entered the castle grounds, trees obstructing my view of what certainly must have been a wonderful castle. Why else would there be so much signage, right? And then it appeared… Or not.
Winchester..ey_0001.jpgThe entrance sign stated: ‘..l.argely destroyed during the Civil War, 20 years later the castle was demolished in order to build a new palace in the then-popular Baroque style. That palace can be seen directly beside the ruins.’ All that remained of Wolvesey itself were ruined walls… Fortunately Naomi is the kind of dear friend who wouldn’t even think of saying “I told you so”… Well, we figured, we were there, might as well explore the grounds (as if there was much more to see than the ground itself). There were signs posted that described the exact spot where certain rooms were and what was in it.
Winchester.._castle.jpgMy imagination was not quite working at first; it was difficult trying to imagine what type of furniture had been, let alone what the windows looked like, as what was left of most of the walls was nothing but the lower half. My sense of humor kicked in when I read the posted sign where the kitchen had been that said something like:

‘The kitchen can be seen on the right, and the serving area on the left. If you look close you can see where they kept the ovens’.

Winchester..se_door.jpgHaving explored all the castle ‘rooms’ (except for the upper levels as there were no stairs leading to the… air), we walked down the street (the way we had come!) to the address of 8 College Street, the final residence of Jane Austen. I had expected to find a statue dedicated to her, or at least a small museum, but instead there was just a plaque on the house:

‘In this house Jane Austen lived her last days and died 18 July, 1817’.

It is now a private residence. Well, at least the cathedral paid her the tribute she deserved, and she really only lived there a short time. Her novels were written in other homes elsewhere in England, which are now museums.
Next on our walk was to find the Great Hall. It looked a lot closer on our small map, but ended up to be about 8 blocks away. Uphill.
Winchester..l_steps.jpgAnd then up a million and a half small steps, the kind you think you can take four at a time but can’t, so it takes forever to climb. Or so it seemed by the time we got there! A sign greeted us at the entrance to let us know where we were and to ring for assistance. Ring? Ring whom? Ring the queen? Man, these Brits were really friendly!
The Great Hall, AKA Castle Hall (seems these Winchesterites cannot make up their minds about names) is all that remains of the castle originally built by William the Conqueror in 1066. Rebuilt by Henry III in 1240 and ordered destroyed by Cromwell in 1646; all had been destroyed except the Great Hall. Bare of furniture except for a few benches along the great walls, the size was the first thing I noticed upon entering. Properly named, as it really was a great hall, immensely so; I could just imagine a huge banquet table for 50 with plenty of room for guests- with 2 servants per guest serving without having to trip over his fellow servant. There would have been plenty of room on the table for the roast beasts, flowing wine and ale, with the court jesters jesting at either end. Although we had our Winchester Walk pamphlets with a few lines for each interesting stop, it was Naomi our tour guide who once again saved the day here as she recalled bits of historical trivia.
Winchester..d_glass.jpgShe pointed out that each stained glass window had the coats of arms of medieval kings and nobles; one was that of the coat of arms of the Knights of the Round Table. She also pointed out the Round Table itself, hanging high above the entrance.
Winchester..d_table.jpgLooking like a great big dart board, we had to move back a third of the way down the Great Hall to get a good view. Our tour guide told us it was commissioned by King Henry III for a dinner party to impress his guests, presented as the Authentic Round Table. Five and a half meters in diameter, the table was divided in 25 sections, one for each knight and one for King Arthur. Aside from the more famous Sir Galahad and Lancelot, there were 24 Round Table Knights in all. A figure representing King Arthur sat on a throne at the top; supposedly it was actually a figure of King Henry III. Maybe he was really the one who pulled Excalibur out of the stone, and the history books were wrong? I’d best ask my tour guide…
Winchester..ictoria.jpgIn the corner of the Great Hall, royal scepter in hand and wearing heavy flowing bronze robes with what looked like angels on top of her throne and her shoulder, sat a statue of Queen Victoria. She looked very regal and…bored. Maybe because she was placed looking away from the Round Table? Maybe because she, as a woman, was not allowed to be a Round Table Knight?
Winchester.._garden.jpgTo the rear of the Great Hall was a doorway that led to a lovely, peaceful English Garden, a modern reconstruction of a 13th Century garden named Queen Eleanor’s Garden, after Henry III’s wife. I went outside for a bit to reflect. Okay, I really went outside to sit and rest, exhausted after climbing those stairs! After that, we decided to head back to Cranleigh; another fun but exhausting day was had by all.

Winchester: http://www.visitwinchester.co.uk/
Winchester Cathedral: http://www.winchester-cathedral.org.uk/new/
The Great Hall: http://www.hants.gov.uk/greathall/index.html
Jane Austen: http://www.pemberley.com/

Posted by tacoinusa 00:13 Archived in England Comments (0)

9 ENGLAND: Brighton

The Pinball Wizard and the Funky Pavilion

semi-overcast 75 °F
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Brighton_Pier.jpgFriday, June 5, 2004. The plan was for Vidal and I to go with Naomi, Lottie and Shane to spend the day in Brighton, but Naomi had to back out. We piled into Lottie and Shane’s new Mini at 11 o’clock, ready for a day by the sea. The day was chilly and typically gray, but we had high hopes for a great time, with or without the sun. Brighton was a town on the south coast of England; it has been around since before the Domesday Book of 1086, becoming popular in the 18th century as a health resort. Today’s Brighton is known for its seaside and piers, The Lanes’ shops and pubs, the crazy Pavilion, and of course the Pinball Wizard.
We were looking forward to taking our shoes off and getting sand between our toes on English shores, but we quickly saw that would have to be elsewhere, as the grains of sand in Brighton were quite big, as they were large pebbles and stones. Somehow it just does not sound as appealing to say you cannot wait to walk on the beach to feel the stones between your toes- it sound more like a foot problem… Anyway, that did not seem to bother the beach goers, as the beach was full of wooden lounge chairs and beach umbrellas ready to be rented. Not many takers that day, but the day was still young!
Walking along the promenade, Lottie and Shane pointed out where someone tried to eliminate Margaret Thatcher with a bomb, and the nearby burnt remains of West Pier. Opened in 1866, it was closed down in the 1970’s with hopes to renovate it, as it was a huge part of Brighton’s history. More recent years brought disaster in the form of 2 fires. We stared at the sad skeleton of what had once been a treasure; part of the local culture. While we had not had the pleasure of seeing it in its glory, my always vivid imagination made it possible for me to picture it as the grand lady it must have been...
Brighton_Pier_cockles.jpgWe walked down the promenade, glancing around to our amusement at the stalls offering tarot and palm readings as well as tattoos. Seafood shacks, fish and chips and the like on the right, a few artists scattered in between; New Age crap on the left! There was a rather important building on the beach side- the Brighton Fishing Museum… about the size of a dollhouse. Vidal had to try one of the local specialties that Shane raved about: Cockles in vinegar. Cockles? Isn’t that something that you are supposed to keep warm? What?! They are sea cockroaches? Hey, now that sounds appetizing, count me in! - A cup of cockles and whelks, with a side order of jellied eels, please! Okay, I admit I really did try the cockles and whelks (being the crazy American fool that I am-although I balked at the jellied eels); they really weren’t bad!
8Brighton_Pier.jpgWe headed for the Palace Pier, recently renamed Brighton Pier. It was built in 1899 and acknowledged as the finest pier ever built. Acknowledged by whom, I am not sure. We passed the carousel on the promenade, waved at the horses trying to leap off in vain; we entered the pier to the sounds of arcade games, pinball machines, video games, tin can alley, toy grab-it ‘slot’ machines, music, laughter and cotton candy; the whole nine yards. We watched the kids, the old and the young, play their games. Vidal and Shane took their part as well in a Soccer kick-the-ball game; Vidal won a stuffed shark (in case you have never been to a carnival, that would be a stuffed toy, not a meal of a stuffed fish); he gave it to Lottie as a thank you gift. There were a few rides as well; Lottie and Shane had told me about the roller coaster at the end of the pier, so of course we went to check it out; I’ve never been one to turn down the chance to scream on a roller coaster!
Brighton_Pier_ride.jpg The Crazy Mouse roller coaster. Sounds harmless enough, right? Winding turns with the obligatory high drop at just 50 feet, it almost sounded boring and looked very much like a quiet ride in the kiddie area of a carnival. But they said they had a great time the last time they had been to the Pier, so we got in line, Vidal volunteered to stay behind with the shark, as fish were strictly prohibited on the ride without a Green Card. The line went quick (stats state 900 rides per hour); up we went, chatting and giggling away like teenagers, to a slow start. I was ready and willing to try out my Hollywood scream for kicks, but as I still thought of it as a tiny tot’s ride, I sat back for a pleasant ride with a view of Brighton. The view was fabulous; the tracks sat right at the edge of the pier, and at points it seemed we were just hanging off of it. The obligatory slow creep to the top, with the car swinging right, then left… Then the car started to spin, then it began to rock, and we hit the winding upward curves a rockin’ and a rollin’! Basically it could be best described as Tilt-a-Whirl meets roller coaster; it was a really good thing my motion sickness prone husband sat that one out! A slight drop to pick up momentum and the car started to spin out of control, up and around the winding turns, my Hollywood scream was working hard between squeals of laughter. We stopped afterward to check out the photo taken of ourselves, it was hysterical!
It was probably a good thing we had eaten nothing more than a handful of cockles, whelks and mussels before going on the ride; all that laughter had made us hungry, so we went for fish and chips on the pier. I had yet to have proper fish and chips served in newspaper, and was looking forward to the tradition. Sadly, they were served on plates… We were told it was rare to find fish and chips in newspaper something about it not being sanitary. Sanitary? How’s that? As far as I knew, the newspaper had no print on it, so no need for ink poison worries; my guess is that unless one eats more paper than fish and gets a belly ache as payment for their stupidity, then maybe the fuss is really about saving a tree or two? Well, the fish and chips were great, topped with a bit of malt vinegar (although I hear that the added taste of paper gives it an extra kick).
Brighton_lanes_PC.jpgHaving laughed and stuffed ourselves silly, a good walk was in order, so we headed off the pier, past the New Age weirdoes and the fish and chip shacks (ahem, serving them in NEWSPAPER!), across the street and over to The Lanes. The Lanes were mostly narrow pedestrian streets filled with street musicians, shoe shiners, artists and boutiques in 18th century houses (antique shops, artsy fartsy shops, jewelry shops, Chocolate shops, clothing stores, and souvenir shops) and pubs. Oh, and of course a handful of New Age shops; we did a double take when we saw a sign advertising the sale of Mexican Magic mushrooms. Hmm. Maybe they cater to vegetarians? We got a good laugh from that, but they made no sale with us…
Brighton_Pavillion_PC.jpgOur next stop was the Brighton Royal Pavilion, built in the 19th Century as a seaside retreat for the Prince Regent (Victoria’s uncle, who later became King George IV) due to his gout. Indian on the outside, Chinese interior; it was very exotic, very extravagant. We were not allowed to take photos inside. A kind guard told us that he was supposed to tell us we could not take photos because many objects had just returned from Buckingham Palace, but in fact it was because there was a gift shop at the end, he said with a wink. Well, if the Royal Pavilion could be cheap, so could we; we used our student IDs once more for a £3 discount each…
Brighton_P..room_PC.jpg ‘Extravagant’ is too kind of a word. Gaudy, bizarre, excessive, even ridiculous are more appropriate words. The rather small dining room sat a mere 50 people. A lot of red rooms, a lot of dragons here and there. There were the obligatory smoking room, card room, breakfast room, and music room. The king’s apartment had so many patterns going on it made me feel nauseated. I do admit that I loved the kitchen with its 4 cast iron column-palm tree trunks with painted copper palm leaves.Brighton_P..England.jpg
Queen Victoria reportedly said the palace was strange when she first saw it. She gave the pavilion to Brighton (got rid of it; pawned it off…) as a gift early on in her reign; her apartments are still kept. Of interest in her apartments were her 4 poster bed with the sheets pulled back to reveal 6 mattresses (okay, so they were only like 3 inches thick each, but still seemed a bit Princess and the Pea), and her Water Closet. They had cleaned that up for the tour, but sorry- no photos allowed!
On the upper level was the Queen Adelaide Tearoom; we stopped to have a proper tea with scones on the veranda. My scone was positively awful; Vidal had chosen a brownie that came with a free strand of hair. He exchanged it for a hairless fruitcake. The tea, however, was very good, and the perfect way to end our day trip to that charming 18th century seaside resort.
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Posted by tacoinusa 00:10 Archived in England Comments (0)

10 ENGLAND: Ascot

A Day at the Races: My Fair Lady Hits Royal Ascot, or Tailgating British Style

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View Sandy & Vidal's European Adventures of 2004 on tacoinusa's travel map.

8:30am, June 18, 2004. When Naomi had invited us to their annual Ascot outing, I was very excited. Had I heard about Ascot? Did I know anything about horse racing? Of course! I was well-bred- I had seen ‘My Fair Lady’ dozens of times on TV and the play just about as many; the modern day version in the form of ’Pretty Woman’ had Julia Roberts, in her classic brown dress with white polka dots, shouting in a California race track in homage to Eliza Doolittle’s verbal blunder at Ascot. I had grown up watching horse racing, recalling fond memories of sitting as a kid with my dad by the TV, with race forms in hand (given away by the local grocery store chain), hearing the ‘Ding’ and the announcer, “And they’re off! Here they come…” Growing up, I lived not far from 2 race courses which I had been to about a few dozen times in my life: Arlington Park for thoroughbred racing, I had also worked nearby for a couple of years and enjoyed their Friday afternoon ‘Party in the Park’, which always included a Blues band. I had also been several times to Maywood Park for harness racing (mainly with friends; back when you would drop a business card in to be chosen for free entrance for you and 20 friends with 1 drink and a 1 hour buffet), and once to the Hawthorn racetrack (for Viva Chicago- that counts as a visit!). Okay, truth is I knew slightly more than diddly squat of horses or horse racing; I couldn’t tell you if the horseracing I watched with my dad was thoroughbred or harness, but I have always enjoyed the excitement. My race track bets consisted of the minimum ($2 USD, if I recall correctly-never one to bet more than I could afford), my picks to click were made not by the silly way of jockey choice, but intelligently, scrupulously studying race forms and choosing the horse with the funkiest name. Vidal’s trips with me to Chicago had always been too jam packed with visiting family & friends for me to take him to Arlington Park, so he was clueless when it came to horse racing. Friends of ours lent us their ‘Seabiscuit’ DVD, this was my sole tool for teaching Vidal the finer points of racing before our trip overseas. We were ready!
Ascot_Naomi_Sandy.jpgActually, Vidal had the coat (and tie), I would be wearing the hat-to-be-announced-later; the bus was really Mike’s car that would take us to Naomi’s at 9 AM, the meeting point for our Day at the Races. Tradition was that we leave early for a picnic before the races. Picnic? Cool! I can dig it; I love tailgating before the game! Vidal was handsomely decked out in his black suit, black shirt and olive tie; once he donned his black shades, he could have passed for Mafioso. I put on my ‘Julia Roberts polka dot dress’ (brown instead of black and minus the white gloves); and we were off to Naomi’s house to pack up for our Day at the Races: Ascot! I had expected to purchase Italian shoes during our jaunt to Venice ad Florence for the occasion, but unfortunately everything I had found was too uncomfortable… The comfort of my tootsies was much more important than looking chic, so when Naomi’s friend Ange said we wore the same size shoe and that she had a collection of shoes that rivaled that of Imelda Marcos and I was more than welcome to borrow a pair, I gladly took her up on the offer. We arrived at Naomi’s; Ange was there with a collection of black shoes (although she did have an Italian pair, I chose a more comfortable less sexy pair), black hats what the hey-I chose the Mad Hatter one)
Ascot_the_..to_wear.jpg-Just kidding! My Mad Hat wasn't quite THAT mad! Ascot_Sand.._Hatter.jpg(and black purses (no contest: I chose the furry one). We were introduced to Naomi’s friends Sue, Paz and Glenn the Paramedic who would be our designated driver of the rented van. They had already packed the van before we arrived; it was just a matter of putting a few coolers in Mike’s trunk. Gents in jackets and ladies in heels, this Mad Hatter got in the car with them; we were off to the races!
Why a van and a car, as there would only be 8 of us and Mike could easily fit 5 comfortably in his own car? After all, it was just a picnic in the parking lot before the races; sounds a lot like our American tradition of tailgating before the game… Not even close; I had no clue what we were in for. My mouth dropped when we helped start unpacking; out came a gazebo tent. We were going to have a proper picnic before the races, and we had needed a large vehicle to help cart along the gazebo, tables, chairs, food (shrimp, etc), champagne, ice, silverware, crystal stemware, fine linen, serving platters, 2 sets of fine china and a partridge in a pear tree; let’s don’t forget the tea and cakes afterward. Besides these differences of English vs. American styles, there was the parking lot – excuse me- the Car Park-itself. We were about a half mile from the race track, parked on beautiful grass with lovely woods as a backdrop, like being in a forest preserve. There were a few other picnickers already parked, with plenty of space in between. This was no bumper-to-bumper pack ‘em in like sardines and who cares about nicking your neighbor’s car door parking lot; at no point did the lot get crammed with cars. There seemed to be an unwritten law that one must park no closer than 50 feet from the nearest picnickers.
Ascot_taligate_party.jpgWe set up the finery; Mike’s bookie, Sharon, and another friend joined us. A limousine pulled up not far just in time for us to take group photos. We sat and enjoyed a leisurely picnic, starting with champagne and strawberries; the champagne was not the cheap Andre’s that I was used to spitting out on New Year’s Eve by my second sip- it was real champagne, and it was divine. We sat down to eat our meal; no burgers, no hot dogs or brats, no messy grill. Aside from the gorgeous shrimp there were cold cuts, several types cheese (always a delight for this gal), breads and salads. And no disposable anything! First class, all the way. Just like our tailgates at White Sox games, or day at the river outside of Zihua… I tried to sit gracefully in my pretty dress but my clumsy butt would have nothing to do with that, and I oh –so- gracefully broke a chair. Yep, you can dress me up, but… The food was absolutely incredible, the weather was a bit chilly, the sky was gray, but when the sun did manage to peek out for a bit, it was perfect. Ascot_the_..s_Vidal.jpg
Ascot_carr..collage.jpgAfter putting away the food and dishes, we headed towards the racetrack at 1:00pm. We wanted to be there for the Royal Procession, which was to take place at 2pm (first race at 2:30); the queen would surely be waiting for us to wave at. We started off with the crowd, having good conversations with Mike, Naomi and Paz, when a horse and carriage came by. We asked how much for kicks, it was 60 quid –that’s like $120 USD! No way Jose! All of us but Mike kept walking, but Mike stopped at the carriage, paid the driver and told Naomi and I and the guys to get in, his treat! Big hugs and thanks to Mike first, Naomi and I got in with Vidal and Paz and we rode in style…
As we were passing by Ange and the others (who had been walking about half a block ahead of us), they turned and waved as we called out, the look on their faces was priceless as it dawned on them they were waving to us as they yelled out “Hey! That’s not fair!” We smiled in return and gave them the Queen’s Wave… They did end up passing us up, as it took us 20 minutes in traffic. But we were, after all, the ones who arrived in style! We passed by a very crowded car park much closer to the racetrack; it was full to the gills with cars having picnics, which were more like the tailgating I was accustomed to. Funny, the whole carriage ride I swore I had heard people running behind us, a man yelling “I say, stop this nonsense, come back right now! Stop, I say, Stop!” and a woman’s voice screeching, “Off with their heads!” We arrived to the stares of the onlooking crowd and we smiled; we were about to enter the park when Naomi got a call from Ange: Naomi had Ange’s ticket in her purse and could not get in. Vidal and I did not want to go in without her; so we all went together to find Ange; 3 gates and 15 minutes later, we entered.
Ascot, founded by Queen Anne in 1711, is not England’s oldest racecourse (that would be the 16th century Chester Racecourse). The centerpiece of Ascot’s year, Royal Ascot, which started in 1711, is not England’s oldest horse race (that would be the The Kiplingcotes Derby of 1519), but it is the world’s most famous thoroughbred race. It is a public racecourse, although owned by the monarch, adding to its fame. The Royal Family attends each day at Royal Ascot, arriving in a horse drawn carriage… which Mike had hijacked for us and therefore they were forced to walk.
Royal Ascot is a major social event with loads of press, a sort of place to see and be seen. The dress code is very strict, but mainly for the Royal Enclosure: Shirt, shoes, top hat and tails required for men complete, gals not allowed to show midriffs or shoulders and must have their headgear as well. See for yourself, straight from the horse’s mouth (or at least, the official Ascot website):

Royal Ascot Grandstand Admission Dress Code
Ladies are required to dress in a manner appropriate to a smart occasion. Many wear hats although this is not compulsory.
Gentlemen area must wear a shirt and tie, preferably with a suit or jacket. Sports attire, jeans and shorts are strictly forbidden.
Royal Enclosure Dress Code:
Her Majesty’s Representative wishes to point out that only formal day dress with a hat or substantial fascinator will be acceptable.
Ladies: Off the shoulder, halter neck, spaghetti straps and dresses with a strap of less than one inch and / or miniskirts are considered unsuitable. Midriffs must be covered and trouser suits must be full length and of matching material and colour. Gentlemen are required to wear either black or grey morning dress, including a waistcoat, with a top hat. A gentleman may remove his top hat within a restaurant, a private box, a private club or that facility’s terrace, balcony or garden. Hats may also be removed within any enclosed external seating area within the Royal Enclosure Garden. Overseas visitors are welcome to wear the formal national dress of their country or Service dress.
Ladies and Gentlemen not complying with the above dress regulations will be asked to leave the Royal Enclosure and relieved of their Royal Enclosure badge.

We were supposed to have been invited to the Royal Enclosure, but somehow, our invites got lost in the mail… That is a hard invite to be got, and nothing to sneeze at once gotten. To be admitted to the Royal Enclosure for the first time one must be a guest of a member or be sponsored for membership by a member who has attended at least 4 times. And that member must have a blood test which results must be personally delivered to the Queen for her Royal Stamp no later than 45.3 hours prior to Race Day. Oh, well. As it was, my dress was sleeveless, so good thing our invites never arrived… All the same, the loss was theirs, not ours; we were already in the company of the ones we considered Royal Family, whose company we had crossed the ocean to be with. Ascot_host..nd_Mike.jpg
The crowd was huge with over 60,000 people, most with hats, in attendance. I was a bit shocked at the appearance of the grandstands; I had expected something more, I don’t know- royal, old, maybe made of brick or stone- but it was all steel and glass, looking very much 20th century boring- no character. We took our time getting to the Champagne Bar (where we were to meet the others before the 1st race), enjoying the bands and other entertainment.
Ascot_the_..gne_bar.jpg The girls had told me it used to be more of an event for the ladies to look their best, but now many younger women dressed in less than-the-required smart code, not taking the event seriously at all. Many knew nothing about racing, but were there to be gawked at, purely for the social side and to drink large quantities of champagne. I think that can be said about any major social event, sporting or other. We made a pact, all 10 of us (that includes Mike’s friends who met us there), to meet at the Champagne Bar at the end of the race, as it would be silly for us all to try to stick together.
Ascot_amigos.jpg We had a champagne toast, then Vidal and I went to place our first bets, before Naomi took us out to the grandstand. We missed by a few minutes the Royal Family parading by in our carriage, but since they had neglected to reissue us Royal Enclosure passes, it did not bother us. Besides, we had already had our own carriage driven parade!
I had been used to the Chicagoland racecourses with the betting windows inside; I was pleasantly surprised that at Ascot, there were betting kiosks all around the racecourse, below the grandstand, on the concourse, everywhere. Vidal and I each bet the £5 minimum, and the 3 of us went up in the grandstand to watch the first race. Even when we later moved to the lawn, the track was always visible from the kiosks, as well as the massive screen for closer looks.
Ascot_Naom..ndstand.jpgOur adrenaline was going, the first race was about to start; Naomi found us seats up in the grandstands not too far up. We breathed in the excitement from the crowd; some nervously clenching their programs, others like us just plain excited to be there. Ding! And they’re off! Naomi gave us commentary on the first race, we each cheered on with the crowd for our horses. Vidal had placed Jewel in the Sand to win; he won £50! My horse, Salsa Brava, came in 3rd; I had wanted my usual safe bet to ‘Place’, but when I had gone to make my bet, I had no idea English betting terms were different than American terms. When I was asked if I wanted my horse to Win or Return, I did not want to seem like a silly blonde, so I simply said, “To Win, of course!” Naturally I knew the horse would return to the gate, how silly was that? Naomi later explained to me that our American term, to Place, was the English term, to Return… Oh, well. Vidal’s win was my win, too, right? We went back down to the Champagne tent to celebrate Vidal’s win (and let him gloat), went to collect his winnings and place our next bets. The line was not long, and we saw an opening right at the fence ahead of us… with a view straight ahead of the giant screen! After his winnings were safely tucked away in my furry purse, Vidal and I quickly rushed up to grab our spots for the next race; within a few minutes there would be no open spots to be seen. We couldn’t believe our timing!
Ascot_view..e_fence.jpgOur spot was perfect; even though we did not have a view of the finish line (the Royals had that privileged view), it was nonetheless perfect in our eyes. Such excitement! Ding! …And they’re off! The cheers of the crowd rose as the horses got closer; the sound of the horses hooves pounding the dirt resembled thunder to our ears as they whizzed by us in seconds flat; we were so close I swore we could feel the breath of the horses as they flew by us… -Neither of us won on the second race, but we were so excited about our luck in finding our spots, we did not care. We decided it was best if we staked our claim (we weren’t about to give up our spot for any of the remaining 5 races); I was flying high with so much adrenaline, I wanted my dear husband to savor every moment of his first horse race, so I volunteered to be the one to go up to place our bets and tell the others where to find us. So up I went in my heels, which at that point still felt comfortable; due to my adrenaline rush the fact that I had not had to walk from the parking lot, and had worn my more comfy shoes at the picnic before heading to the racetrack. I was waiting for the next race, the Coronation Stakes: The race Attraction had to win.
Mike had done his best to prep us on horseracing from his side of the Atlantic. When we told him we had watched ‘Seabiscuit’ a couple of times to get ourselves properly excited (I had also read the book), he was more than happy to fill us in about Attraction, the British racehorse who was being compared to Seabiscuit. The ugly duckling-filly born with wonky legs that nobody had wanted to touch had already in her short life of 2 years seen setbacks which included 2 injuries, and who would be racing, just for us of course, at Ascot. Always one to root for an underdog, my heart was with her and I knew who I would be supporting. I was bouncing out of my heels in line to place our bets, but in the end, Safe-Bet Sandy took over and I only placed to return. A quick stop at the Champagne Bar to see who was there, but all had comfy spots and decided to stay put. So with bets in hand, I returned to Vidal and waited for the bell… Ding!.. And they’re off! Attraction took off and never looked back; I watched the screen with intensity before she came whipping by us, screaming my support the whole time! She finished the race 2.5 lengths ahead of the runner up! I screamed my excitement (and apologies for not betting to win), kissed my husband for being a good loser (next race is yours, honey), took his betting order down in my head and went to congratulate Mike, certain that he was a bigger winner than I. Turned out he lost, he did not bet on Attraction at all…
I did not stay to gloat, flying off to collect my winnings and place our new bets… and realized I had forgotten who Vidal said he wanted! I did the most intelligent thing I could think of, closed my eyes and pointed at the page, placing his bet on whatever name my finger landed on- horse #6. By the time I got back to Vidal, my feet were starting to really hurt. He was not sympathetic, as he wanted #3; I had chosen the wrong horse to win. Or so he thought, as #3 did nothing, #6 won! Before the 5th race, I hobbled up to collect money and place more bets. As my other motive was to search for souvenirs, I told Vidal he could stay and keep our spot. After winning again in the 5th race, we both left so Vidal could place the bets and I could go to the restroom (30 minute wait in line, felt like I was at a baseball game).
For the last race our spot by the fence was already taken by someone else, which was a blessing, as even though the walk down was in grass, my feet were by then hurting so much I needed to sit. Naomi and Paz had wandered off and ended up in the Royal Enclosure (I said above that she was part of our Royal Family, did I not?), but Mike and a few others had staked out a picnic bench in the Champagne Bar, so I was able to sit with them and watch the last race on the TV screen above. By the end of the day, Vidal and I had won a collective £131; at £5 minimum per bet and 2 of us betting=£10 per race; x 5 races = only £50 spent- or £81/$162 Take Home - Better than Vegas… at least, for us!
Ascot_tea_..r_race_.jpgAs much as Naomi had tried to keep a plan, best intentions do not always work. Ange had realized an important soccer game was on, and grabbed Paz to go watch it. Glenn walked one of the other ladies to the train, as she was not feeling well. Meanwhile, Naomi had wanted us all to return to the cars together for thoughtfully prepared tea and cake, which ended up to be just half of us. While she was disappointed, feeling it was not the perfect plan she had meticulously drawn out, Vidal and I agreed with evryone - it was a perfect day; by far better that Vidal and I had ever dreamed of.

For more information:
Ascot website: http://www.ascot.co.uk/

Posted by tacoinusa 00:04 Archived in England Comments (0)

11 DENMARK, Day 1: Århus To Snedsted

Tracing My Roots in Denmark: Meet the Family

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View Sandy & Vidal's European Adventures of 2004 on tacoinusa's travel map.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004. Our trip to Denmark was from the beginning along with England a MUST; never at any point was it a ‘well, if we can manage to fit it in or afford it…’ Denmark is where the Thompson family came from; even though the good old USA forever changed the spelling of our last name from the correct Danish spelling of ‘Thomsen’ to the English ‘Thompson’ when my great grandparents landed on Ellis Island, sometime in the 1890’s. My dad had done much research over the years of the Thompson family tree: my great grandparents had 12 children, brought the first six born in Denmark over with them and then had six more; my grandfather was the youngest. The family tree Dad put together stretched for miles (big family) and rivals that of any Mexican family tree, which happens to be my mom’s side.
I had spent many years exploring Mexico and the heritage of my maternal grandparents; I’d moved there in 1993. My mom had taken me on my very first flight when I was 6 months old and I haven’t stopped traveling since, but I had yet to explore the lands of my dad’s heritage. This was my chance to make things right; this was my chance to do something for my dad. And as it turned out, it would be my last, as sadly my dad passed away six short months after that trip. But even though I write this five years later, I find comfort that I was able to share the photos, the videos and my Denmark experiences with him. My mom may have taught me to travel, but my dad gave me the Thompson name, The Thomsen blood and Thomsen/Thompson traits that have enabled my travel stories and photos to live on.
My parents had been contacted 10 years back by a distant cousin in Chicago, Lois, who introduced them to another distant cousin, Anette. Anette had moved to Indiana from Denmark, and brought with her more family history from Denmark, translating it to English. Unfortunately, Mom and Dad had since lost touch with Lois, who was our only link to Anette and Denmark. We were not sure if Vidal and I would be going in blind to Denmark, or even if we would be able to track down my relatives once we were there. All I had with me in Mexico was a copy of a page of our family tree in Denmark… all in Danish; I had no idea where the English translation was. I had the name of a town, Thisted; but that was about it, and I had no idea if any family actually still lived there, or what their last names would even be at this point. I emailed the local tourist board in Thisted and got in touch with a very friendly gal who recommended hotels for us and who offered to contact my cousins if we found their names. Fortunately, my mom found Cousin Lois’ number, and she was able to get Anette’s mother’s name and address in Denmark to contact; Anette had moved back to Denmark. I immediately wrote to my new friend at the tourist board who looked up my cousin’s local phone number, called her up and let her know we were coming to town. From there, it was a breeze; even more exciting was that we were invited to stay with them.
I had asked my dad to get a good driving map and plot our route from Århus and just advise us when we made our brief pit stop in Chicago between Mexico and Europe. My dad wasn’t one to show too much emotion, but I knew he was really excited about this trip. It meant a lot to him; having him be a part of the planning meant a lot to me as well. I booked a rental car and a cheap flight from London; we were all set! Dad gave me a copy of the family tree he had made to take with us. 10 years prior, Dad had sent a copy of the family tree he made to Anette, which had filled in the missing blanks for them for the Thomsen Family Across The Sea. Dad also pointed out to us before we left how we were related to whom, etc. I called Anette; she and her mother Merete would take the train to Århus, meet us and drive back with us in our rented car to Merete’s house to make things easier. We said we would recognize each other easily, I would be the 5’6½’’ blue eyed blonde (which I was sure was rare in Denmark) standing next to her very dark, very Mexican husband (certainly there were many in Denmark). Anette said we would recognize the two of them, as they would be waving Danish flags.
I of course had done my homework, our flight from England to Denmark was purchased, as all the other flights, fairly inexpensively; flight departure time at a somewhat decent hour of 7:45am. But of course that was way back when we thought Stansted Airport was actually on the island of England. On Tuesday, June 22, we got up at 2:15am, had showers and coffee and called for a 3:15am taxi to take us to Gatwick airport to catch a bus to Stansted airport via Heathrow airport, £100 pounds later. Vidal slept like a rock for both of us, both in Mike’s house in England, then in the taxi, bus and plane. Just into 3 weeks of our Euro trip, I had still rarely gone to sleep before midnight, and yet continued by the grace of God to always have plenty of energy.
Denmark_DA..rom_air.jpgThe flight was beautiful, flying over big fluffy clouds; I could imagine birds and angels singing along the side of us. Reflecting on the flight between England and Denmark - would I automatically understand Danish through my bloodline upon landing? I had taken a Danish language course about 15 years prior; I had hoped to learn enough to at least translate the copy of my family tree in Danish (even though I had a translation, I wanted to figure it all out on my own). But…I was mistakenly put into an advanced course and strangely, I understood NOTHING. Apparently my counselor had assumed that my having been on the Dean’s list along with my last name that I could master the course with ease... I had to drop out after the second class, so my Danish was still at Square Zero. I was not sure how far I would get with my or Vidal’s fluent Spanish; so I had ripped out a few pages of Danish phrases to assist. I hate to be the Ugly American Tourist, expecting everyone to try to speak my language while in their country…
Upon landing on time at 10:45am (2 hr flight- 1 hr time difference), we were thrilled that, unlike the other countries we had visited so far (after our initial landing in England), we did pass through immigration and got a Denmark stamp on our passports! Although it was an EU/Århus stamp instead of a Denmark/ Århus stamp, we were still excited. What, after all, is overseas travel if you do not have stamps on your passport to prove you’ve really been somewhere?
Denmark_Day_1_car.jpgOur first stop was at a bank machine to get our official Danish Kroners; although part of the EU, the Danes had voted against changing their currency over to Euros. We had absolutely no clue what the exchange rate was; no idea if we had withdrawn the equivalent of $200 or $2 US dollars! Second stop: the Budget car rental agency. I had my Danish cheat sheet out, just in case my Danish blood did not kick in in time, and not wanting to be the rude American… Fortunately, the Budget rental person greeted us in perfect English. Back in Mexico, I had done all the groundwork online; renting cars, reserving hotels and flights. As I was a bit rusty driving a stick shift, I had asked Vidal if he had a problem doing the driving, as the rates were significantly different. No problem, he had told me; my cats were witnesses to him saying so. I should have realized that he says ‘yes, dear’ to me for just about everything without having a clue what he just agreed to. So when we got to the Budget counter and I asked for us both to be put down as drivers, I didn’t even think to remind Vidal he would be the actual driver. When we got to the car and I handed him the keys… I got the whole ‘What do you mean, I am the driver?’ routine… Seriously, what was he thinking? I am the one who knows how to both read and fold a map, I thought to myself as my eyes rolled. “Fine”, I said; “I will drive”. I grabbed the keys, got in the car, amazed myself that I could get from reverse to first without stalling. We got about 1 block before the car proceeded to stall about ten times before Vidal, who was beside himself in laughter, finally told me he would drive. Aha! My ingenious plan paid off! He drove to downtown Århus where we would have a few hours to kill before meeting my cousins; they had gone the night before to Copenhagen and therefore could not meet us right away.
Our first impression of Denmark… SOOOO green, so beautiful! Lovely farmhouses, rolling hills, meadows, fields, funky windmills and beautiful horses were all around us.
Denmark_DA.._horses.jpgWe got to downtown Århus, drove around trying to figure out where to go. I figured out that ‘Centrum’ meant ‘downtown’ and followed the signs; my Danish blood had not kicked in any futher than that to be able to comprehend the language and the train station was not on the map. We could make out the harbor on the left, but could only see commercial freighters; we decided it was best to stop and ask for directions. For anyone reading this who does not know me, that was something I was NOT accustomed to doing, I did it solely for Vidal’s sake to stop him from glaring at me. Normally my built in Thompson GPS tracker works perfectly fine, but I had assumed the language would automatically change over, and my GPS was apparently that day still on US/Mexico Central Time, fast asleep. We spotted a cool looking place that said something like ‘Fisk afsætningsmarked’, which I safely assumed translated to fish market; I thought it would be fun to poke around and ask for directions at the same time. I was once again armed with my Danish sheets, and boldly went in to ask for directions to the train station. Well, sort of. I had neglected to check my Danish sheets in advance, and consequently had not noticed that there was no ‘Where is…’ translation at all. However, I did have the translation for ‘train station’. I memorized it first, repeating it to myself about 10 times before heading in. Once certain I had it correct, I headed in and asked the gal behind the counter, “Tog stationen?” ; minus the interrogative adverb, feeling very much like a small child forming her first words with the addition of acting out a Show and Tell by sheepishly pulling out of hiding my Danish cheat sheet, holding up to her and pointing to the words I was attempting to pronounce as if to say, ‘If I am mispronouncing, it is the cheat sheet’s fault, not mine!’ She smiled and gave me directions in PERFECT English… Or did I just think she answered in English? Maybe my Danish blood really had kicked in at that moment?
We drove over to the train station, only to realize we had Danish bills but no Danish coins to put in the slots for the parking meters. So we went quickly for a cup of coffee nearby, paid and ran back to put coins in- which covered only 1 hour. We headed up a few streets toward a giant parking lot… for bicycles. Hundreds of bicycles… And Vidal pointed out that only a few of them were locked! Could it be true that a place still existed where there was no fear of robbery? This was a city, small; but still a city, after all (second largest city in Denmark; pop. 300,000). We looked closer, and sure enough -there were no locks.
We walked down a lovely pedestrian street full of shops. We crossed a bridge over the river; we spotted a row of cafes on a lovely river walk below and we realized how very hungry we were.
Denmark_DA..estedet.jpgWe chose the Cross Café with a table near the river; it was sunny when we sat down. Our waiter came by (again, perfect English spoken); I ordered the house special, and Vidal ordered the Jack Thompson Special: a hamburger. My dad was noted for his taste in hamburgers; it mattered not which ethnic restaurant we would go to, the odds of Dad ordering anything but a hamburger were never good odds. I could not believe my world traveling husband had turned into my father right before my eyes! But in my heart, I knew my dad would be proud…
Immediately after we ordered, the sun disappeared and rain came hammering down upon us... We bolted inside; Vidal spotted the waiter to let him know we were there and to keep our eyes open for a table. By the time our food came, we had already been seated; perfectly timed.
After a great lunch, we wandered back along the pedestrian street, admiring lovely old buildings and a beautiful horse; snapped a few photos and headed back to the car.
We had wanted to park closer to the train station; for some reason, half a block away seemed too far. We drove around a bit and ended up taking the long way around ( ahem-Vidal got lost, not me!). We walked into the train station at exactly 4pm, the time their train was supposed to arrive. I was so afraid we may have missed them (having too much of my mother in me: MUST get there 10 minutes early!). Fortunately, their train was 15 minutes late. We waited by the doors, and suddenly, coming up the escalator towards us were two ladies smiling at us and waving Danish flags; Merete and Anette!
Anette offered to be the driver for our 2 hour drive to Snedsted to make it easier on us; we agreed. A great tour guide (what can I say, another Thomsen trait!), she pointed out things along the way and gave a bit of information- such as the vast number of islands, the fishing industry and the Danish power producing windmills from the North winds; Denmark being the world leading producer of windmills, how she loved the smell of the sea. We had just missed her two eldest boys, who had flown out of Copenhagen that morning to visit their father in the US, but we would meet her baby and her new husband later for dinner. She had taught Merete English, but Merete was still a bit shy to speak it (although we thought she did so wonderfully). Her father, Peter, was a commercial fisherman. Vidal was very excited to hear their biggest catch was oysters; the biggest buyers were the Spaniards. Peter would late surprise Vidal by bringing a dozen home for him to try. As Anette pointed out places and things of interest, we ‘oo-ed’ and ‘awe-ed’ at the beautiful countryside along the way, catching glimpses of more beautiful horses. She told us that she and her husband had recently bought a farm; she had always wanted a farm, and they had horses as well. Not only did that excite us to hear, but her next comment had Vidal ready to move to Denmark: We were invited to watch the big football/soccer final with the family that evening!
Denmark_DA..s_house.jpgWe arrived at Merete’s house, met her husband Peter before settling in to rest a bit. We had a lovely dinner of goulash, potatoes and Thy beer, after which Merete and I looked through some of her photos that had been sent from US relatives to her mother over the years; she also had an email from someone who only spoke English. It was exciting for me to be able to tell her that was our cousin Frances, who my great aunt Lily always talked about. Merete perked up and said “Lily Ziglis!” Lily had written often to her mother; we now had a more tangible link established between us. She showed me a copy of the Danish family tree and said our cousin Otto would come by the next day; he knew more about the family tree. Meanwhile the guys had snuck off to start watching The Game. Although being the first with my relatives, I must say that night belonged equally to Vidal: common ground Among Men is that there is no language barrier when it comes to mutual love for soccer. We watched Denmark in the deciding round against Sweden…2-2 tie which unfortunately eliminated them from the World Cup. Anette and her husband Bo had come by with their beautiful 18 month old son, Maarten. Although the mood was glum after the results of the game, Maarten’s antics of stealing beer from his grandfather perked everyone up, as had us all quite amused! We enjoyed coffee and fabulous cake before going to bed as it started to get dark: 11:50pm!

For more information:
Denmark general: http://www.visitdenmark.com/siteforside.htm
Århus: http://www.visitaÅrhus.com/international/en-gb/menu/turist/turist-maalgruppe-forside.htm

Posted by tacoinusa 00:00 Archived in Denmark Comments (0)

12 DENMARK, Day 2: Søvang-Sjørring, Thisted & the North Sea

Tracing My Roots in Denmark: Thompson-Thomsen Traits, a Bit of Heritage, Vikings, the North Sea & a Bonfire

rain 66 °F
View Sandy & Vidal's European Adventures of 2004 on tacoinusa's travel map.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004. Day two, our first full day in Denmark, we woke up at 7:30am to the delicious smell of coffee; breakfast consisted of cold cuts, cheeses, breads, jams and more coffee… I am full just writing about the delicious food we tried there! Anette had to work, so we were on our own with translations; but it was never a problem (my Danish blood finally having kicked in); then people started arriving to wonder at the New Thomsen From Afar. The first arrivals were more cousins, including Merete’s sister Eva… I must add here that I have about 1 million five hundred and seventy-three thousand six hundred and forty-eight cousins named Eva on my Mom’s side, so what was one more cousin Eva to this gal? Shortly after, cousin Otto arrived with his sweet wife Nancy, who loved to talk to us but did not speak a word of English. Otto however did speak a bit of English; he was to be our official tour guide, and better yet- our family historian.
Demark_Day..terview.jpgEva, Otto and Nancy were followed by the Press conference at 9:30am. What? Yes, the Press got wind of another Thomsen/Thompson in town with her Mexican hubby and an interview, with photographer and all, was to be held over coffee. The truth, Merete had called the press to put in an ad to inquire about any relatives on my non-Thomsen great grandmother’s side, but none had responded; the reporter however thought it would be a great addition to his CV and we interviewed away. Looking back, either he spoke great English or my Danish blood had kicked in (maybe it was the awesomely strong coffee?). I do not recall the name of the newspaper, but certainly it was something like the Danish coverage of Time Magazine…
Denmark_DA..ee_0004.jpgAfter our famous journalist left (to later win fame and a Pulitzer Prize on his Thomsen article), the cousins gathered around the dining room table to look over photo albums and the huge family tree that took up the entire dining room table - twice over- that Otto had done for a family reunion a few years back. I felt special there because of my dad; they all knew who Jack Thompson was, the one who filled in the ‘Rest of the Thomsen Story’ from across the Atlantic, and our misspelled surname was forgiven. As I looked on with my cousins at the photo albums filled with photos over a hundred years old and seeing how they were presented, a familiarity came over me; Vidal sensed it, too. It was not hard to see where I got so many of my traits from; I may not speak the same language as these Thomsens, I may spell our surname differently, but I saw in my cousins- especially Otto- so many of the same traits I remembered of my grandfather, my dad and my Uncle Fred. None of them had ever met; my grandfather, Dad and my uncle had grown up in Chicago and had never been to Denmark, so nothing could point to environmental learning. It was in certain mannerisms, humor, and most definitely in the photo albums and journaling that were so much a part of me as they were to them. Otto pulled out a clipping of the passing of my great-great grandfather; as we looked on (Vidal videotaped this as documented proof), I decided I would translate it; did a pretty decent job at figuring it out, I must say. That Danish blood thing really works, you know!
The Danish language-had really thrown me off. I had fully expected a guttural German sound, but what I heard took me by surprise; it was a beautiful language, sounding a bit like Scottish to me (Japanese to Vidal’s more untrained ear), other times like a Southerner speaking backwards. There had been moments when I understood, others when I got totally lost by focusing on certain unusual sounds made (i.e.: a gasp at the end of a sentence) and nothing on the words themselves.
Denmark_Da.._to_DMK.jpgThere were many photos and letters sent by the American Thompsons, two of such stuck out; Cousin Tom from Nebraska (which was how I had always heard him called), and Lily - my great aunt; my most favorite person growing up. Lily had passed away about 8 years back; she had still communicated with Merete’s mother until not long before that. They had lots of photos of Lily and Cousin Tom from Nebraska; it was a thrill for me to be able to tell them who was who in some of the photos and see once again photos of my grandparent’s old house, which had once been that of my great grandparents.
Denmark_DA..anish_2.jpgWe studied more in-depth Otto’s Danish family tree, the starting point of which was the first generation of Thomsens. Prior to that, the last names meant 'the son or daughter of the first name of their father' (i.e.: Grave’s son would have the last name Gravesen and his daughter would have the last name Gravesdatter). Otto told us that he himself had changed his name to Møller (Miller), as there were so many Thomsens in Denmark, and it was a way of keeping the Thomsen Miller tradition as part of the family. Interesting, my grandfather had pretty much done the same; although his name was never legally changed, he was known more as Harry Miller than Harry Thompson. My great grandfather, Peter Thomsen (son of Thom) was one of 7 siblings; that was how we were all connected, as Lois, as were the Denmark cousins, were descendents of my great grandfather’s siblings. In the family tree was a photo of a farm; the house that my great-great grandmother built; named ‘Søvang’, which interestingly enough, translated to ‘seawater’. Otto told us the story of how my great-great grandfather bought the land in Sjørring which included a lake, then he drained the lake, but nobody knew why. He then started to build a farmhouse, but fell in, then later died of pneumonia (I may have lost something in my translation); my great-grandmother then took up the task of building the family home (on an different part of the land). It no longer belonged to the family; Otto was the last to have owned it. He sold it in the seventies; but he was on friendly terms with the current owners who were more than happy to have us come by to have a look around! So, after a 12:30pm break for coffee and cake, we headed off by 1:00pm in the rain in a parade of 2 cars, not far away to see the former Thomsen land.
Vidal and I went with Otto and Merete; his wife Mary followed with Eva. There were the typical Danish (as opposed to Chinese) windmills all around, and it was quite windy. It was unfortunately raining heavily, and my photos turned out very poor as a reflection of that (and possibly a bad roll of film). However, we had the good sense to borrow a friend’s camcorder for the trip, and have those lovely memories on film… but as we had not had the good sense to inquire of our friends how to operate said camcorder, most of our footage has the lovely title ‘NUESTRO NUEVO BEBE’ -our new baby imprinted on it, as it was not until the second month of our trip that I figured to how to remove it!
Denmark_DA..RM_0005.jpgWe met the ‘new’ owner (very nice lady) who welcomed us with open arms and allowed us to wander the grounds.
Denmark_DA..rm_0001.jpgIt was strange yet comforting, as cold and windy as it was, to walk the grounds of where my ancestors came. Otto, who doubled as our tour guide, pointed out where the lake had once been- there had been an island in it; it was now just an open rolling field of green which seemed to go on for miles.
Denmark_DA..s_wife_.jpgMy great-great grandfather had started to build (or at least dig) a foundation for the house he was to build 100 meters from where the house my great-great grandmother actually built, but he was not sure exactly where that original foundation was.
He pointed out the two original milling wheels near the barn, then we walked to the rear of the house to see the garden, at which pointed Otto pointed out that the rear of the house was completely unchanged since my great-great grandmother had built it in 1880… I stood there shocked, his words echoing in my head; the realization of what he said sinking in: The original house still stood. I was shocked, as I had heard it had burned down in the 1950’s. No, I was told, only the barn had burned down, the house was still there, and we were looking at it.
Denmark_DA..RM_0003.jpgThe house was long; white painted brick; 2 stories high. I have no idea how many rooms, but I did count 10 windows across, whatever that tells us. While the new owner was very sweet and by no means did she make us feel anything but comfortable, I did not feel right imposing on her to see the inside. As it was, I had felt as if I were intruding by stepping into the huge barn with its doors wide open. So, I have no idea what the inside of the house looked like, and there was no sane reason to think it would be anywhere near the way my great-great grandmother had it, so best to leave it to my imagination. As t was, the rain was pouring down so hard we were drowning and it would not be proper to ask to be invited inside to drip upon their floor; the fact that I was able at all to walk the land once owned by my great-great grandparents and gaze upon their work was a thrill in itself.
Denmark__D..en_farm.jpgWe got in the cars and a mile or so down, stopped off the road to take a look at a mound. A sign in front of it claimed it was Sjørring Volde, the former grounds of an old Viking castle with a moat. Basically we were looking at a clearing with a large mound in the middle; it looked as if someone had dug a ditch all around it. The castle was now nonexistent (wood castles were not built to last long a thousand years ago), but what looked like a picnic bench sat on top where the castle once stood- or maybe it was the Vikings’ table- just made out of more sturdy wood? With a good imagination (which yes, I have been blessed with), one could visualize the moat where the ditch was (did my ancestors drain that, as well?) and a small but fearsome castle on the mound itself.
Denmark__D.._on_map.jpgThere was a sign in both Danish (imagine that) and English (for my benefit, thank you) which explained what we were looking at. Otto pointed out that the sign had a map of the immediate area showing 2 lakes, although both had been drained by 1878; one of which was the one my great-great grandfather drained. Guess they hadn’t updated the sign in 100 years or so? In the interest of time, I took a photo of it to study later, not knowing my film was bad; my internet research came up with a handful of sites in Danish, but my Danish language skills had sadly disappeared once I returned to the other side of the Atlantic…
Denmark_DA..urch_02.jpgDenmark_DA..rke__2_.jpg Denmark_DA..g_altar.jpg
Our next stop was the Sjørring kirke (church) dating from 1100AD with its small graveyard; perched upon a hill. I saw no town around it (although the pouring rain may have blotted it out on my glasses and I missed it); Otto pointed out where we could see our old family land from above (through the sheets of rain, that is). Amongst the famous people married in that quaint church were Merete and Peter, Otto and Mary, and my great grandparents.
Denmark_DA..nd_Otto.jpgOtto and Merete pointed out family grave markers such as their mutual grandfather Johannes; but the oldest ones such as that of my great-great-grandparents had been removed, and only more recent ones remained. The church itself was very simple but beautiful with wooden beams, painted pews and chandeliers.
Denmark_DA..etary_2.jpgTo the rear of the church graveyard was an ancient Roman granite grave marker, supposedly of a Roman bishop.
Denmark_DA..stcards.jpgWe made a quick stop at the very tiny village of Tingstrup (through the pouring rain, it seemed to have a grand total of something like 8 houses), where my great grandfather was born, and an old school that Otto said possibly my great grandfather attended. When Otto had heard I was coming to visit, he had researched to find out more about my great grandfather; our first stop in Thisted was to see the building which had been my great grandfather’s last residence before sailing to the USA.
Denmark_DA..sidence.jpgIt looked like an old building one might see in Chicago; I hoped that would have made my great-grandparents feel more at home when they arrived there.
We then walked over to the 12th century church, where many of our Thomsen ancestors had been baptized and married. The church was larger than the one in Sjørring, but similar in that its beauty was its simplicity.
We passed the 1st house Otto and Nancy had built. I did ask the favor of stopping at the local tourist board so I could personally meet and thank Anke, the kind lady who had helped track down my newly found family. Sadly, the rain was coming down too hard for us to truly see Thisted, so we said goodbye to the town of my ancestors and headed to our next stop…
Amazingly, on the street near my great-grandfather’s old apartment, I found a Mexican connection… In the window of a gift shop was a green clay Mexican pottery fish; the exact same type that Vidal and I had sold in the store we had owned and ran in Ixtapa a few years prior; we were well acquainted with the design. We of course went to inquire about it, the show owner had no idea it even came from Mexico, said she bought it at some market; she was happy to have new information for her purchase.
We headed to the North Sea for the last stop of the tour, Nørre Vorupør, famous for windsurfing now and previously for its boat building yard. There were beautiful dunes nearby; we parked in front of what looked like a cute pub. The shore was dotted with beached fishing boats, and we watched a huge boat make its way in. The rain was heavy, the wind was relentless. Even so, once we reached the beach I had to go touch the sea; not just to say I did it, but to see how cold the water was. Slowly, I made my way down the steep beach (only fell once!) and clumsily bent over to put my hand in. Cold, but not ice cold as it had been in Switzerland. The beach had big crab shells scattered here and there; the wind was so strong that I had a hard time walking back up from the beach, all the while wondering, “Did my Viking ancestors sail by or sail off from here? Did they adjust easier to the Windy City winters because of this climate?”
Back to Merete’s house by 5:00pm for coffee and cake and to get ready for the midsummer bonfire that would commence at 9:00pm… Two more of Merete and Eva’s sisters and their husbands were there to meet us and to join in the bonfire fun.
Denmark_DA..re_0002.jpgAnette had explained the bonfire to us the day before; but Otto refreshed our memory on the way over. If I got it right: ‘Sankt Hans Aften’, or St. John’s Eve, is an ancient tradition that has changed over the centuries. Since the time of the Vikings, each town built a great bonfire, put a witch made of straw on the top, and then burned the bonfire and the witch, sending her soul to her mountain in Bloksbjerg, Germany to bother them no more. So we went to see the local Snedsted bonfire. Lots of people had already gathered in the nonstop rain; the pile they were about to burn was about 12 feet high with the “witch” sticking out from the top. Mind you, it had been raining hard, nonstop all day long, and the pile had been there since the previous night. Vidal and I wondered - how on earth they planned to get the fire going? Minor detail; we Danes do not give up, we give no quarter; we push on. The crowds gathered; there were children running around; I thought to myself that if that had been in the USA, cops would be all over the place to shut it down for safety issues and people would be sued, skinned alive and thrown in a cell for letting kids get that close to a fire with no safety fence around them or fireproof clothing on their backs. A handful of kids of various ages had their own campfire going and were busy baking some sort of bread on a stick over their fire, a safe 30 yards from the Big Bonfire.
Denmark_DA..g_bread.jpgOtto did explain to me what they were doing and told me the name of the bread, but unfortunately by the time I wrote in my journal later that night, it had escaped me, as did the name of the beautiful bushes with lovely white flowers near the bonfire grounds which Otto told us were used to make tea and wine.
Denmark_DA..re_0003.jpgThe adults tried to start the fire ‘normally’, but it just wouldn’t take. Someone went off on a motorcycle, came back with a couple jugs of gasoline, and poured it onto the pile. They tried to light it again, but it just smoked. Someone else came up with another idea… When all else fails, bring out the blow torch! We are a DETERMINED people; we WILL get this fire going, we WILL send that witch away, she will NOT bother our town! The blow torch blew, the fire started with a WHOOSH and the pile started to snap, crackle and pop, but it was not enough to blow that witch back to Germany. So, out came a second blowtorch and with the Power of Two, the bonfire was ablaze and so was the witch, hissing and cracking and eerily whistling away with green smoke.
The deed was done; mission accomplished. We headed back to the house; Peter surprised Vidal there by bringing home some oysters he caught that day. Vidal put on a show for the family as he spent about 30 minutes trying to figure out how to open the oysters.
No one in the family liked oysters, so he was on his own; but all thoroughly enjoyed being amused by him trying to figure out how to open them!
We, all thirteen of us, gathered around the dining room table for a lovely candlelit family dinner. After dinner, we had our choices of coffee, local Thisted beer, wine, or akvavit, which could be best described as dill flavored gasoline. Vidal offered the oysters to everyone, I was the only taker; they were delicious. Merete’s sister Eva spoke a spattering of English, but the others did not; Anette, Otto and Nancy had left right after dinner, so we were about to entertain each other with really only Merete to translate. The cousins convinced Vidal to try the akvavit (the smell of which knocked my socks off), which made him sweat, giggle and start speaking Spanish to everyone. This got great laughs, as I reminded him that if they didn’t understand English, let alone Spanish... He threw in a few phrases in French as well, which just added to the laughter. Then the game was to teach Vidal Danish, as his Mexican accent was just fuel for the laughter fire… Eva taught us a cute little line from a Danish comic strip, something about Marmaduke, Logeluke and a dog named Ratatat, although I am quite sure my phonetical spelling made a mess of that translation! It was a very enjoyable, very memorable Thomsen evening… I recalled as a child listening to the sounds of laughter at family gatherings with my grandfather’s generation; this was all so familiar to me. After a last round of coffee and cake, we finally went to bed at 1:00am, thoroughly spent after such a wonderful day!

For more information:
Thisted: http://www.thy.dk/turistbureauerne/thisted/
Sjørring Volde Viking ruins: http://www.visitdenmark.com/danmark/da-dk/menu/turist/oplevelser/attraktioner/Oldtidsminderogruiner/produktside/gdk002587/en-gb/sjoerring-volde.htm
Nørre Vorupør: http://www.sologstrand.com/holiday-denmark/north-west-jutland/vorupoer.htm

Posted by tacoinusa 23:55 Archived in Denmark Comments (0)

13 DENMARK, Day 3: Klitmøller & Viborg

Tracing My Roots in Denmark: Farewell to the Thomsen Homeland - Back to the Sea and a Stop in Viborg

rain 63 °F
View Sandy & Vidal's European Adventures of 2004 on tacoinusa's travel map.

Denmark_DA..brother.jpgThursday, June 24, 2004. It was our last morning in Denmark, but our flight would not depart until 10:35pm; the plan was to spend the morning with Merete and Peter in Snedsted, then head to Viborg to spend a few hours with Otto and Nancy before heading to the airport. Merete’s brother Jens came by to meet us and join us for breakfast. He had the appearance of a very typical fisherman in a black turtleneck and a pipe; he had been working 48 hours straight (as a fish packer); so was unable to meet us sooner. He spoke no English, Merete had to work to translate; he was very sweet and obviously exhausted. I felt honored that he came out of his way to meet us.
Peter had the day off from fishing, so they took us for a ride to see Anette and Bo’s farm down the road. A beautiful farm; unfortunately they were both at work so we were only able to admire it from outside, and watch their beautiful horses at play. Afterward, we headed to see Eva at work in nearby Klitmøller on the North Sea. Driving along the North Sea coast, it was a scenic (and rainy!) drive past fields of rolling hills and dunes, with the occasional pine forest in between.
We made a quick turn-off at Nystrup to see a bit of the dunes and the sea but did not get out of the car; opting to spend at least a few more quality minutes with Eva. Klitmøller was the lovely seaside village where Eva worked as a candle maker in an artsy gift shop; naturally it was very exciting to us to be able to buy souvenirs for the Thompsons in Chicago from her store. The town attracted lots of German tourists, especially windsurfers and campers. There were lots of quaint cottages all around, which sounded to Vidal and I like an option for a return trip. We picked up a few gifts for the Thompsons in Chicago before saying our farewells to Eva, with promises to return soon…
Back in Snedsted, we stopped to pick up some other souvenirs: Danish blue cheese, pickled herring and dill flavored gasoline (AKA: Akvavit), before one more cup of coffee at the house. Otto had drawn us a map to stop at their house in Viborg, which was on the way back to the airport. We said our sad goodbyes to Merete and Peter (who had us follow them out of town to find the right highway!), and at 3:00pm, we headed off in the rain for Viborg…
Viborg is Denmark’s second oldest city, dating back to the 8th century. A charming town, Otto and Nancy had a very old house 2 story house right in the center. We found the house with no problem (naturally-we Thomsens are great at making maps, as well as reading and folding them). Otto and Nancy were waiting for us with coffee and yummy strawberry cream pie; after which we were given a tour of their lovely home. Their 150 yr old house was delightful; a few antiques adorning and adding to its charm, a lovely garden in the wooden fenced in yard. Although they were in the middle of renovating it, you could see their vision of restoring it to its glory. They followed this treat by taking us for a walk around historic Viborg, from which they only lived about 1 block away. We wandered around the historical center, going first to see the Viborg Cathedral.
Denmark_DA..org0005.jpgAlthough excavations showed that a church had been on that spot since the Viking Age (approx. 1130 AD), the Viborg Cathedral dated from 1876 AD and was one of the largest granite churches in Northern Europe. It was unfortunately closed when we were there (another reason to return!); it was supposed to be adorned with fabulous murals I would love to have seen. We wandered instead through the area.
Viborg’s historical center was full of quaint streets with lovely historical picturesque houses and shops; my favorite was an old bakery on Sct. Mogens Gade - one of Viborg’s unspoiled streets with houses from the Middle Ages. Above the old bakery hangs an amusing sign that says:

‘Bageren er desværre død - så nu bager han ej brød’.

Ha ha ha, get it? Shall my Thomsen/Thompson blood translate that for you? ‘The baker is unfortunately dead - so now he is not baking bread'. You gotta love that the humor carried over -and even rhymes!
The medieval architecture, the colors of the houses intrigued me; I felt I could wander for hours. It might have helped that the rain had lightened up for a bit while we were wandering! Otto and Vidal paired up for a bit a few yards away from Mary and I; Mary tried so hard to communicate with me, talking nonstop in the only language she knew (Danish), I understood about… 5 words at best. But her sincerity and sweetness had a profound effect on me, and I did not care that I did not understand the majority of what she was trying to tell me, she was just such a delight to be with. There were of course moments when between sign language and a few words that were similar in English that we did understand each other… Or at least, we thought we did! Anyway, they were an absolute delight to be with.
Denmark_DA..org0002.jpgThe town center also had a pedestrian street of shops; I was in search of souvenirs that said ‘Denmark’ on them, more specifically coffee mugs or at least a shot glass (traditional gag gift for my brother Rob), but none were to be found. In fact, the lack of any souvenir was incredible to me, yet comforting. The rain returned, so we headed back to the house. They had a huge platter of Smørrebrød -Danish open faced sandwiches- waiting for us… we didn’t have the heart to say we had already eaten plenty in Snedsted, so once again, we stuffed ourselves silly- they were so delicious! Although the sun had peeked out for a bit on our leisurely stroll through the streets of Viborg, the sky was once again very gray as we said our goodbyes; Denmark was sad to see us leave, as were we to leave it…
When we finally arrived at the airport, all signs were pointing that we should stay: No gas station along the way to refill the tank, we had to refill at the expensive airport station, which did not accept our credit cards and we had to go in to withdraw more Kroners. I took out 500 Kroners, thinking we would use the rest to shop inside for souvenirs… I was refused carry on of one of my bags (downside of cheap airline travel); naturally the one that she wanted me to check in was the one which we could not lock. After selling me a plastic bag to put my backpack in, she assisted me in taping it to death… Then we discovered there were NO SOUVENIR SHOPS, only one Duty Free shop to be found and we had waaaay too many Kroners left… HA! I said, as I bought a 12 pack of Royal Danish beer and loaded up with Danish marzipan and chocolates as souvenirs in my now existent carry on (plastic) bag. Still, we went home with over $20 USD worth of Danish Kroners…
Reflecting on our flight back to England, I felt a pull on my heartstrings as we flew over Denmark, the same tug I get when I am leaving Chicago or used to get when leaving Mexico, before I moved there. I felt such a tie to this ancestral home; I knew I would have to go back. My distant cousins there no longer felt distant; not even the language barrier seemed to be so big; we had felt so welcomed there. Sitting around the dinner table on our last evening, I had felt the presence of my own Thompsons who had passed on; my grandfather and my great aunt Lily amongst others. I could hear their laughter, their love of life echoing in my ears... In the 2.5 short days we were there, Anette, Merete, Eva, Otto and Nancy had become very dear to me, they took such effort to make our short stay so enjoyable, entertaining, educational and rewarding- and I looked forward to hopefully keeping that family tie a strong one. Yes, they were an ocean away, yes, they spoke another language, and yes- many, many branches of our mutual family tree made us all very distant, and yet we were all, in the end, family. Hadn’t our ancestors tried to teach us that that meant something?
In retrospect, my photos, videos and even my journal notes in general do not say much about the Danish towns themselves that we visited, unlike those of any other place we had been. It is easy to blame that on the short amount of time we had, combined with the fact that for probably the first time in my life, I spent more time paying full attention to the tour guides (in this case: my cousins) and not enough to my surroundings, compounded by the Weather Factor of the rain pounding down relentlessly on our sightseeing tours; obviously due to which we were not able to explore as I would have liked to, and one would think I would be more disappointed for that than I actually was. In fact, I was not; I am not. Getting to know my wonderful family was the highlight; truly more than I could have ever asked for, and that, after all, was really what our trip to Denmark was all about. Tak for alt!!!
…And of course I must add: I really do have a legitimate excuse for a return trip: Need Better Photos!!!

For more information:
Klitmøller : http://www.sologstrand.com/holiday-denmark/north-west-jutland/klitmoeller.htm
Viborg: http://www.viborg.dk/db/TuristUK.nsf/Alle/A46ABC24E2112173412569B5003424FF?OpenDocument

Posted by tacoinusa 23:52 Archived in Denmark Comments (0)

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