Monday, May 31, 2010

5/30 Off to Church and Trying Chiswick again!

Our church attendance might be considered dismal here but we have justified our absent Sundays with Evensong on weeknights at lovely cathedrals.  Well, really, we have been gone from London every Sunday but since we were in Hammersmith this weekend, we were determined to get to church.  When we came here in December for four days to learn all about Ellen and Phillip's house, we arrived on a Sunday morning from the airport, were served a delicious breakfast and whisked off to their church.  So, it being the only one we know here and having enjoyed it in December, we knew that was the church we would attend.  A 15 minute walk - and it's still cool here - in the low 60's - we were there 15 minutes early.  It gave us an opportunity to take some pictures and explore what we hadn't been able to see before.

The church is quite beautiful, cathedral like in its design, and like many English churches using every space available for different activities.  Since most of the churches don't have fellowship halls, coffee is often served at the back of the sanctuary after service, so there was a table with coffee cups and cookies set up and ready.  There was also an area set aside as a book shop and an area for the children who frequently play during the service in the back of the sanctuary.  Might be a good idea for our Session Room!

The congregation is diverse in race and age - lots of children, too.  The service starts with lots of praise singing with a band and words on a screen.  It moves into the children's singing time with guided hand motions.  One of the children took it upon herself to be on the stage with the adult leaders.   I apologize for the quality of this picture ( I took it!) but it was just so sweet that I am moved to add it.  It will bring a smile to your face.

After the service, during coffee and cookie time, we discovered another parishioner you would most likely not find in our churches!  

After lunch at home, we decided to try again and go back to Cheswick House, the English Heritage site we had visited a few days ago that was locked.  This time we were positive it was open!  From my point of view, it was worth the trip but I do recall John saying years ago after our second or third trip to England "The hell with the great houses and the cathedrals!  I want to go to the pubs."  So about halfway through the tour, John disappeared!  However, he got enough pictures to convey to you the feel of the house.  This house was built by Lord Somebody to house his art, not his family!  In fact, no one ever really lived here!  It did, however, change the direction of architecture in England because of the Palladian influence on Italian architecture that Lord Burlingon (There! now I remember his name!) saw in the city of Vicenza, Italy on his second Grand tour in the 1700's.  The villas Palladio did in Vicenza were by this time about 200 years old and somewhat forgotten.  Burlington brought this influence back to London and built this villa for his art.  Palladio, by the way, still influences architecture to this day and you can see more reference to his work and influence on Wikipedia.  Also, there is great information there about Chiswick there as well.  Not to draw this out too much, I am going to add several of John's pictures and then we'll go outside.

The octagonal foyer with its huge pieces of art meant to impress the visitors as they entered the villa. It does!

The ceiling of The Blue Room which was the Lord's office.  I don't think I could get much work done in here!

And can you guess the name of this room??  They weren't very imaginative, so I think you probably can.

The house does look like a typical Palladian villa from the 1500's.

Outside, the gardens are contemporary parks for locals to enjoy with their children and their dogs.  It has beautiful trees....

                          ......  for boys to climb in...

and lots of space for families to gather in and dogs to play ... altogether a lovely place for two legged and four legged children to bring their owners!

By the way, this villa may not have been lived in but we knew it was partied in and by evidence of what we discovered by going down another level - one the guide did not point out - it might still be!

That evening John went off to Royal Albert Hall to see Mark Knopfler in concert.  Not my cup of tea  especially with SRO, so I stayed home, ordered Indian food delivered and read my book.  Enjoyed by both!

If you would like to see John's pictures of the concert, you can go to his Facebook page under 'John L'Engle Graham' and/or on his SmugMug album <-just click here.

5/30 Check another one off my bucket list! The Ceremony of the Keys.

Yesterday, Saturday, was cold and rainy, a perfect day to stay home, read, blog, email, etc.  I did more "etc" than anything else.

However, we did have plans for the evening and I was excited.  We had tickets to go to the Ceremony of the Keys - the nighttime lock down of the Tower of London.  You have to request the free tickets months in advance because it's a very popular venue and they only allow a certain number of people in.  All we had to do was get there at 9:30 PM - on the dot - or we'll be locked out - and I wanted to be locked in.

We decided to go to The George Inn for dinner first.  This is probably my favorite place in London and since we discovered it we go every time we are here.  The George is the last coaching inn left in London.  As you might imagine, a coaching inn is where the coaches pull into the courtyard of an inn and deposit or pick up their riders, change horses (I have never figured out how that works - how DO they get their horses back?), get a drink or a meal and of course, since it's an inn, some sleep there.

It's off High Street near London Bridge and other than the pub sign high up on the building, you wouldn't be able to find it.  The entrance is narrow - wide enough for a carriage or a small car - and it is gated with tall iron gates.  Once in, you are in a large courtyard which in "the olden days" would have been much larger - large enough for several coaches to turn around, passengers to disembark.  The inn itself is on the right, the ground floor dark in color, the upper two levels which are partially balconied are white with lots and lots of flowers hanging. It's closely hemmed in on two sides by office buildings so you have this interesting contrast of old and new.  When we go in the afternoon, you can see people working in their offices on their computers while we sit where Shakespeare might have sat while computing with his quill pen.  Those poor folk who have to sit up there looking down on the George while they work!

The restaurant is upstairs in what used to be the sleeping areas.  The skeleton of the walls is still there and the fireplaces.  Downstairs are small rooms with fireplaces and higgledy piggledy furniture.  I remember a great afternoon we spent with our son in this room.  We had the place all to ourselves and it was sweet!

We left the house around 5:45 for our 7:00 dinner reservation.  We decided to take the tube to get to the George and then on to the Tower.  Wrong decision!  Unknown to us, we were about to encounter another London experience!  There was a big football (soccer to us) game that afternoon and the fans from the winning team - all 30,000 of them - were on their way home and they were happy!!  The Underground had not added any trains or cars and The fans were crammed into the tube cars so deep that you couldn't get on.  Train after crammed train went by.  Sometimes when the doors would open the fans inside would break into song - drunken song!  Finally, one train stopped and some got off opening up a bit of space so we squeezed in.  Mistake #2!  We only had to go three stops but after the first one, the train stopped between stations because the car in front of us with the drunken singers was causing so much ruckus that they stopped the train.  That meant they stopped ours, of course, and who knows how many more behind us.  We were crammed into this train and when you are that close to other people you begin to make many new friends!  This picture doesn't convey the warmth of the bodies that we were feeling at this point!  Nor the claustrophobic feelings I am sure some might have been experiencing.

One close to us, actually under John's arm as John was holding on to the bar above him, was Japanese and said this was nothing; in Japan, the conductors push you in to fit in as many as possible!  Another man and woman we were pressed against and began talking to (I mean, what else are you going to do?) were really nice and when the train finally moved enough to get to the next station only for us to be told that they were closing down the WHOLE line because of the rowdies on the trains, these two said "Follow us, we'll show you how to get where you want to go, it's only a 15 minute walk."  Everyone streamed out at once.  All the way through the station and up the escalators, these two kept looking back to make sure we were nearby because there were hundreds of us trying to get out and when we finally did and could breath, they walked us up the sidewalk a bit until they could point to where we needed to go.  We walked on to The George to enjoy our dinner only 30 minutes late for our reservation.  That means an almost two hour jaunt to get there.  Steak and mushroom pie with George Ale gravy and puff pastry on top, though.  Worth it.  Yummm.

After dinner we walked to The Tower of London via the Thames Walk which is a "pathway" along the Thames amongst the office buildings.  We knew we were headed in the right direction because every once in a while we could see the Tower's towers on our left and the river to our right.  But before we got on to the Walk, we had to cross the London Bridge and we saw an iconic British sight.  This is a shot of the Tower Bridge with the HMS Belfast in the middle of the river and a tour boat about to dock.  The Tower of London would be to the left of the bridge toward you.

The infamous Gherkin also seen from the London Bridge as we crossed it:

When we arrived at the Tower about 30 minutes early, many had gathered and you could feel the anticipation to observe this old tradition.  We could also feel the rain - cold and wet, no surprise - we are in England.  Precisely at 9:30 - as they said it would be - our names were called, our tickets shown and we were inside the Tower.

Now, I've been in the Tower several times and I'll probably go again on this trip but I'd never been there at night.  It's a bit spooky and I can't imagine being a prisoner there waiting for the day when my head would be chopped off!  This locking ceremony has been going on for over 750 years and not a single night has been missed - not one! Not even during the blitz in WWII when one was 20 minutes late.  This made me think about Princess Elizabeth who was imprisoned here in the 1500's by her sister Mary, the bloody Queen Mary. She may have been watching this ceremony from one of the windows above us wondering what her sister's plans were for her.  She certainly could have heard it.  That's just remarkable to me - 750 years - and so English.

We were escorted in by a Beefeater, a Yeoman Warder, one of 35 who guard the Tower and the Queen's jewels and now act more as tour guides than as guards. The Beefeaters live in the Tower with their families and have to have had at least 22 years of service to qualify.  In his booming and officious voice, our Warder got us all acting like privates in an army, under control and very quiet.  He gave us the outline of what we were going to see and what we should do.

About that time we saw a glow at the end of the dark lane near the gates to our left and heard the clop, clop of heels on stone walking toward us.  It was another guard in a red coat, wearing a squashed top hat and carrying a lamp lit by a candle and the keys.  He met a guard of 4 soldiers, one unarmed, and he handed the lantern to him.  Pictures were not allowed from this point on because of the Queen's copyrights!  This explains the lighting on this one that John snuck in and actually, this is how it looked to us.  I was in the front row right in front of these fellows so I really had a great look at it all - in the dark!

The five of them retraced the Warder's steps back to the first gate which was so far away from us we could hardly see it.  But we could hear it slam closed and the key turn - it's a big key, about 8" long and it is the original key, although the locks have been replaced several times - and then they marched closer to us and locked the inner gate.  As they began to march toward us again, another guard approached from our right and through an arch to demand "Halt, who comes there?"  The response was "The keys."  "Whose keys?" he asked.  "The Queen's keys."  Proceed, they were told and they went up the stairs in front of me toward the inner courtyard and the White Tower to be met again by another set of guards.  Just as those guards began to ask their questions, you could hear 10:00 being pealed by the Tower bells.  Somewhere the phrase "God save the Queen" was said and prior we had been instructed to yell "Amen!" which we did.  By 10:05, as we were told and right on time, the procedure was over, the soldiers had dispersed and we were allowed to leave.  We all wondered how since they had just locked us in!!  Well, just for this reason, small doors had been cut into the original huge gates so we could duck through and get out.  Whew!  But, oh, the price for tourism..

As we left, we could still hear revelers across the river celebrating their win, but whew, again, we had an uneventful trip home.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

5/28 Could have planned this one better!

We joined English Heritage when we first arrived in England, also The National Trust.  Both of these organizations buy and preserve, often restore, many of England's treasures - castles, great houses, gardens and the like, sometimes arranging that the owners and their families can continue to live there in perpetuity.  By joining, we support saving these treasures, but more selfishly and certainly more the reason we joined (have to admit!), we get in free!!

Chiswick House is one of these treasures and right in Hammersmith.  We decided to tour it today along with a visit to another area not far from here - Barnes - which had been described to us by another nice couple we met in another nice pub as a village within the bounds of London.  If we went, they said, we would feel like we were in a village out in the country somewhere.  We also thought we might visit the Fuller Brewery which isn't far from Chiswick but you need to sign up for that and we couldn't get a response from them, making our tour start later in the day than we had hoped.  No matter- both Fuller and Chiswick are a short ride on the same bus that we can catch at the end of our street and can be done anytime.  And so that will be! -  because after taking the bus and getting to the house, we found out that Chiswick is closed Thursday, Friday and Saturday!  Could have checked before we left but we didn't because most of the houses are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays!!   Oh, well, the trip was semi-successful for two reasons - the grounds are lovely and always open and there was a bathroom at the Cafe which was open!

It was a beautiful day so we enjoyed walking through the park and watching the dogs romp and play.  You know, that's one of the joys of England.  Actually, two - there are bathrooms (toilets, as they refer to them) everywhere (thank God!) and you can take your dogs just about anywhere.  In the parks, you are simply asked to keep your dogs "under control" and since dogs go everywhere here, most are very well trained and socialized to mind their owner and their own business.  Many are off lead even on the sidewalks and in the pubs.  There was one particular dog at Chiswick who just ran and ran and ran to the point he had us laughing.  He eventually got near us because his owner was walking toward us and we got to ask her about him.  His name is Gus and he is a working Cocker and runs about two hours a day!  Other than that, she says he is a very quiet dog, even on days he doesn't get to run and spends a good deal of time in her lap!  There were probably about 8-10 dogs there running after balls and Frisbees and swimming in the lake.  All well behaved and paying no attention to each other or the people in the park.

Well, so the plan was on to Barnes and on to Barnes it was.  We couldn't get there from Chiswick by bus but we could by train and John had researched the travel website and found that there was a train station near Chiswick that we could take to Barnes, only two stops down the line.  Everything around here that has to do with transportation is well marked and so we found our way to the station and had only a 15 minute wait for the next train.  There was some discussion between us about which stop to take - the first one, Barnes Bridge, or the second one, Barnes.  We took the second one.  Wrong!  After about a 15 minute walk into Barnes, we found Barnes Bridge right in the middle of town.

Our pub friends were right about Barnes - it is a village within the city and especially village-like with its village green and pond.

 Not all children are angels, but this little girl playing with the ducks plainly believes she is.  She has wings to prove it!

The two pubs we briefly visited were charming and not too updated.  None of the furniture matched.  My favorite kind of pub. 

The interior design shop we stopped in was very upscale and much more fasionable from my American point of view than most interiors that I have seen.  (I subscribe to a real estate firm's postings of English properties for sale and to rent just to see the pictures of the interiors; have for years)  Judging by the real estate postings in the windows in Barnes, this is an expensive place to live and reports are that the likes of Hugh Grant and others reside here.  No sightings, though.  Probably a good thing...

There were many shops here that did remind me of village life - a butcher, a baker, no candle stick maker, a shoe shop, small hardware and clothing to wear.  We stopped in one of the shops that specialized in bread and roasted chickens.  Dinner!  So with chicken in hand, we found a bus to take us back to Hammersmith Station and instead of walking home from there as we normally do, we took another bus to the head of our street.  Other than the brief train trip, we had been walking for hours and my feet were talking to me.  We got home early for us - 5:00.  Usually we don't get in until about 7.  Hardly knew what to do with ourselves.

Another interesting tidbit about London life - the Oyster card - your ticket to all available transportation except a taxi!  Don't ask me why they call it an Oyster card.  It's the size of a credit card and is issued to you in a plastic folder.  The card slips into one side of the folder and the other side is for your use.  The folder opens and closes like an oyster shell and that's the only thing I can figure.  Anyway, you can "top up" the card with any amount of money and when you enter the Underground system or a bus or a train, you slide the card over a yellow disk about 4" in diameter.  It reads where you are and how much money you have on the card.  If you're running low, it tells you and you top up right there at the station.  When you leave the tube or the train, you slide it again and it deducts the amount of your travel based on where you've been.  The only thing I haven't figured out is why you don't do that when you leave a bus.  Maybe the bus is just a flat rate no matter how far you take it, that must be it.  Anyway, it's wonderfully convenient and we had Ginger and Bill get theirs with about £10 on each for their 3 days in London.  You buy them at the tube stations and you can get back any money you don't use.  So when you are in London, get your Oyster card.  Ellen and Phillip keep two on hand for guests and we have been using those since we have been here.  Nice gesture on their part!

5/27 "Never was so much owed...... so many to so few."  Winston Churchill  

We returned from Oberammergau on Wednesday and decided on Thursday to tour the Royal Air Force Museum.  Our timing was appropriate since this past week was the 70th anniversary of Dunkirk when 338,000 English soldiers were cornered by the Germans and were rescued by a flotilla of hundreds of small boats captained by ordinary English citizens from across the English Channel, many returning several times.  It is also the weekend of our Memorial Day when we too thank our servicemen for their selfless acts of courage which have given us our freedoms and our futures.  Churchill's reference was to the airmen of the Battle of Britain who fought bravely with more courage than experience.  Their tenacity discouraged Hitler and was one of the turning points in the war.

It was also an interesting contrast to observe these killing and bombing machines just after returning from The Passion Play.  The story of Jesus, a Jew, being crucified by his own kind and the Roman establishment and hundreds of years later, the story of the Jews being obliterated by Hitler's followers and establishment - such a dichotomy with so much in common.  One man against many - one sacred, one evil.

The museum is about an hour and 15 minutes away by foot and by tube.  It's on the grounds of a WWII airbase and houses many original airplanes that were used during that conflict.  John didn't take many pictures because the buildings were so huge and dimly lit.  I couldn't even tell you which one this is because there were so many.

However, this one was the most fascinating for me - the flying boat!  We were able to walk through it.  It was a behemoth and I found it hard to believe that it could ever get off the ground, much less float!

We took a ride in the simulator of a modern day jet that performs aerobatics.  It could have been a disappointment but we were sharing it with a family that had two young children and we invited the youngest, a boy, to sit in the front row with us.  He just had the best time and made it all the more fun for these two jaded adults!

A walk home and a late dinner at the Ottoman, a  neighborhood Turkish restaurant that Ellen and Phillip recommended, rounded out a very much needed quiet day.

5/27 Oberammergau and The Passion Play

When I shared our plans to go to England for three months with a friend at church, she exclaimed that we had to go to the Passion Play at Oberammergau!  I had heard of the play years ago and knew it was only presented one season every 10 years but I had forgotten about it and lost track of when it was to be presented again so I was grateful to be reminded.  Getting John to go, though, involved a bit of arm twisting, however I do believe he is glad that we decided to go.

We arrived in the Munich airport on Monday, 5/24, about noon and boarded the bus with our group to go to Bavaria, Germany where Oberammergau is.  The trip was about two hours and brought us to the village which sits at the foot of the alps.  You can imagine how beautiful is was to see the Alps just suddenly appear over the horizon while on the bus.  In contrast, the approach to the mountains was very flat with small villages in the distance with their signature red roofs.

Oberammergau is distinctive with its winding streets and many homes and stores being decorated with very old frescoes, many dating back to the 1600s.  It is also distinctive because the main occupation of the villagers for hundreds of years is wood carving - the carving itself, the retailing of it, the marketing beyond their village.  So we went with great anticipation of what we were going to see and experience.  Maybe too much. 

We had several hours before dinner so we explored the village, enjoyed a German beer outside one of the many restaurants (not as good as English ale!), and went in many shops.  The carvings are extraordinary; the theme of most is the birth and crucifixion of Christ, of course, which wasn't surprising.  What was was the repetition of the same theme to the point of boredom and disappointment.  Most of the shops had the same merchandise besides the carvings - T shirts, beer steins, key chains, etc. - all with reference to Oberammergau, of course.  I was disturbed by the little creches carved and put into half a walnut shell - in plastic!  And they were everywhere!  I guess someone buys them but we weren't tempted.  The shops that were most interesting to us were the ones that dealt exclusively with the works of one carver and in some cases his workshop would be in the shop.  This house is "Pilot's House" and the fresco depicts Jesus as he stands before Pilot.  It houses working wood carvers and their creations, for sale and not for sale.  A living museum of sorts.

So anytime that we had free, John and I spent walking the village and avoiding the shops.  We spent Tuesday morning walking along the river and venturing Way up the hill towards a crucifixion monument installed in the 1850s that we could see from the village.

John made it and here's a shot of what he saw.  Isn't that beautiful?  He also met some very fine pigs along the way and some residents as well!  He only took pictures of the pigs.

I took the low road through a residential area and had my own adventure wondering where I was going! Trying to avoid the retail and crowded area of the village, I sook out the perimeter of town and walked through the neighborhoods of the locals which is of more interest to me.  The gardens and homes were neat and all very similar - white with red roofs, dark wood balconies carved with cutouts and colorful gardens.

I found a stream whose bed was "tiled" with stone all the same color, closely fitted together- a soft golden yellow.  The sides of the stream were even and made me think that even the streams in Germany - known for its efficiency - were uniform!  The fact that this one had obviously been "tiled" reinforced that perception.  The larger river John and I strolled along beforehand was also very straight along the edges although it had a natural bed.

The play began at 2:30 Tuesday afternoon with a three hour break at 5  (it resumed at 8 to end at 10:30). About an hour beforehand, large travel buses began to arrive and people began streaming down the streets to the 4,720 seat theater.  Now picture this - the play is presented 5 times a week (not on Monday and Wednesdays) and the theater is sold out for each performance.  Somehow, 4720 people are transported, housed and fed every two days, obviously overlapping somewhere!  We were housed in the village at a fairly new hotel, many were housed in village homes and apparently since they were arriving by bus right before the performance my question of where everyone else was "kept" - was answered by that -  somewhere else!  Since there are only 5300 residents in the village, everyone is involved in some way or another.  They are either in the cast, the chorus or the orchestra - that's about 1000 right there - or they are involved in staging, building the sets, sewing costumes, etc.  The rest of the town are housing guests, manning their shops and restaurants, etc.  This picture is of people either arriving for the afternoon show or leaving for the dinner break.  It's hard to tell but it gives an idea of how many people there are in the town for each performance.
I've been trying for a couple of days now to gather my thoughts and emotions about this experience.  My expectations were that I would be very emotional during the play and would need lots of Kleenex.  My experience was that I was really curious how they got the guy who was playing Jesus up on the cross and how they made it look so realistic.  I don't know whether to be disappointed in myself  or what.  It's kind of like when I decided not to go see the movie Titanic because I knew the ending and I knew that everyone was going to die.  I haven't seen it yet despite the number of horrified folks who can't believe I haven't and feel compelled to tell me that I must go see it.  I don't want to.  I know the ending.

Same with The Play - as much as I appreciated the production which was outstanding and truly extraordinary in its presentation -  I knew the ending.  I know that Jesus died for my sins.  I know that by His Grace I have a life everlasting ahead of me.  Maybe having that faith so firmly in place is what led me to more curiosity about the staging than the message.  Perhaps because it was in German and we had to follow along with the English "libretto"; perhaps it had to do with literally being in the dark during the second half and not being able to read the translation until John thought to use the lights on our cell phones as "torches" as they say in England.  At any rate, I am overwhelmed when I think about this village and its descendants of those who made the pledge almost 400 years ago keeping the vow their ancestors made.  The hope I have is that those who don't have the faith I have and who come to see this production will have their faith restored or made new or perhaps come to the Word for the first time.

We were grateful not to be housed outside of town, but right in the middle of town in the Hotel Kopa.  Not being tour-goers but sort of do-it-yourselfers when we travel, we found that the best part was getting to know others in the group that we saw each day, maybe at each meal.  Special people like father, daughter Howard and Mary from the States (she's working in England, he's visiting), Margaret the missionary who lives in Lincoln, David and Angela who live less than two miles from us and their friends Micheal and Diane, a retired physician who says the NHS is great and his wife who live in the county of Shropshire.  Hopefully, we'll cross paths with some of them again sometime.
I want to add a couple of shots that show our view from our hotel room - in the daytime and during the night. The first one looks out over the roofs  of the buildings next to us.  By the way, that's not the peak John climbed!  This next one is the steeple of the Catholic church from the same window whose bells rang during the night and especially at 6AM!  Because the steeple is sort of pink, it looks like it glows from within.  When I saw this the first time, I just put my arms on the sill of the open window and stared at it for awhile.  It was so peaceful. 

In contrast to the simple exterior of this church, the interior was Baroque Rococo and was a complete shock when we went in the first afternoon.

There is so much more to share about this short trip but I fear boredom setting in on the part of my reader.  The play runs through mid-October and then is not performed again until 2020.  Should you be traveling in Europe this summer, you might see if you can fit this in somehow.  I believe you need to do it through an agency because of the logistics I mentioned before and we used McCabe Travels out of London.  You could probably Google and find others.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Baa - Baa- Bahth May 18th - 20th

My title is supposed to get you in the habit of saying Bahth rather than Bath but Bath is the only place other than London where we haven't seen any sheep so it seems totally inappropriate!

We left Oxford around 1:00  Tuesday and arrived in Bath at 3:00.  We had a beautiful drive through the lovely English countryside - again - and I want to mention something that we have seen for many weeks but I've never really emphasized.  This is the season for rape - don't be shocked!  Rape is the plant from which we get mustard seed and it is in full bloom in the spring in England.  It is a brilliant yellow and the fields of it are breathtaking.  You see so much of it that you have to be careful not to get complacent about its beauty.  It really is everywhere when you are in the country.

So after our drive into Bath, we got Ginger and Bill to their B&B.  Fabulous location - on the corner of the Circus, the famous circle of identical buildings, columns, etc and their room overlooks the equally famous Assembly Rooms!   We then drove on to our B&B, Number 30 it's called, where our hostess Caroline spent a good 20 minutes introducing Bath to us with maps and brochures before taking us to our room.  That was a first for us and a very nice gesture.

We walked back to Ginger and Bill's and the four of us walked into the center of town where the Roman Baths and the Abbey are located.  The history of the baths and the discovery of them is quite an amazing story.  In about 60 AD, the Romans discovered a gurgling swampy area where the water was coming up out of a spring and was very hot, about 118 degrees Fahrenheit if I remember correctly, and over several hundred years built a very extensive set of rooms and baths and a temple.  The Romans withdrew from Britain in the early 400s and the baths went into disrepair and "were eventually lost due to silting up" (Wikipedia).  Medieval baths were built over the next many hundreds of years in the same spot but the original Roman baths were lost until about the late 18th century when they were discovered during a construction project.  Since then, archeologists have discovered (the latest being in 1975, I think, or around then) that the baths are much more extensive than they thought.  However, if they excavate further they endanger the buildings above them of collapsing and you can't have that!   More of this later.

The famous Pump Room where Jane Austen drank the waters is literally next door and the Abbey is on the other side.  We briefly peeked into all to determine our schedule for the next day and then headed back over to the Circus for dinner at a restaurant strongly recommended by Ginger and Bill's hosts.  On the way, we had to pass the Assembly Rooms and noticed several police cars and security folks standing around.  In asking what was going on, we were told that Charles and Camilla were arriving at 7:30 to judge some British best chef's competition (oh the things these royals have to do!) or something like that so we decided to stick around despite our 7:00 reservation and we did get to see them!  Camilla had broken a foot several weeks ago so she was still hobbling around but John did get a couple of good shots.  They had to pull up close to the entrance because of Camilla's temporary handicap so most of our pictures were of the back of their heads!  But here's one that's pretty good of Charles and you'll see it better if you click on it to make it larger.

We enjoyed an excellent dinner at the Circus Cafe and parted ways until the next day.

The next morning John and I took Caroline's advice and took the two hour City Walk.  The guides are all trained volunteers and our guide was probably about 78 years old.  We could hardly keep up with him!  This walk was an excellent way to get our bearings in the city and see the influence of the many different eras  of architecture.  The most influential era  on the city was Georgian - the time of the 4 King Georges - the 1700's to the 1800's.  I told John I didn't know whether to describe the city as boringly beautiful or beautifully boring!  What I mean by that is that the majority of the buildings look the same - stone from the same quarry, same roof lines, same doorways and cornices over the doors, same chimneys, same window styles, etc.  In fact, John, who loves to photograph buildings and skylines, etc. took very few pictures of the city which I think is indicative of all this.  The charm comes from the mix of other periods that are interspersed around the neighborhoods like this lovely arch framing a typical Georgian street.

HOWEVER - there are the baths and the Abbey and the Pump Room, all remarkably memorable because of their beauty and the powerful influence they had on their contemporary populations hundreds of years apart.  What amazes me is how the evolution of history has placed them side by side and on top of each other!  Certainly makes it convenient for the present day tourist who hasn't much time to explore!  You just go from one to the next because they are literally next door neighbors.

As we toured the baths after the City Walk, I was overwhelmed with the size and complexity of the rooms and pathways and it all seemed so ancient, even when I came to the source of the water which was captured in the first pool. This is a picture of it below that John took.  Don't ask me how he managed to get what must have been the one split second when there were no tourists in sight because, believe me, there were hundreds of us.  I know you can't see it but right in the middle of this pool there is a constant bubbling and this is the spring where the hot waters are surfacing to the top.  You could see the steam a bit, too.  Still it all seemed a bit surreal until I rounded a corner in one of the areas and there was a drain about 4' across with water just pouring out of it - over one million liters a day!!!!!!!!!!  Still!!!  I was truly stunned.  It all came to life for me right there.  What could those Roman discoverers thought 2000 years ago when they discovered this? 

After the baths, it was time to feed me - it was about 2:30 - and I wanted tea in the Pump Room just like Jane Austen!  John did not and it took some arm twisting to get him to go with me.  It is a bit of a feminine activity I suppose but he wasn't complaining when we got to the scones and clotted cream and chocolate eclairs.  The picture below was the view from our seat and the window you see to the far left is where the Pump Room serves water from the spring and where you can look down right into the Roman baths!  I kind of chuckle when I think of the Victorians in their showy clothes and the Romans in the nude in their mixed baths just below.  Interesting dichotomy, don't you think?

The Avon River flows through Bath and the Pultney Bridge is a beautiful structure that spans it.  There are shops on it and boats beneath it and a beautiful weir constructed to control the flow of water over the drastic drop.   We'll be coming up this river the last week in June in another canal boat with Ellen and Philip.  We won't be able to navigate this part of the river of course, (the canal goes around this part) but we may be able to moor in Bath at this spot and then turn around to head up the canal.

We will have to go through the second deepest lock in Europe on that trip.  We walked over to the canal to see it and it is a bit intimidating.  But that's for another blog!

Early, early tomorrow morning we leave for Oberammergau in the Barvarian Alps to see the Passion Play put on by this village once every ten years for the last almost 400 years.  I am sure it will be an exhilarating experience and I'll be anxious to share it with you when we return.  In the meantime, I want to close with what I think is one of the best shots John has taken this trip. 

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Oxford second time around !

After the quiet tranquility of the canals, off we went to return to the chaos of Oxford with all its bicycles, students and buses!  And for one reason only - to stay at The Bath Place Hotel which is right next to The Turf Tavern!  We fell in love with both places when we were in Oxford for May Day and decided it was worth a stop on our way to Bath after canal boating for a week.

The Bath Place Hotel is a conglomeration of cottages from the 1600's all higgledy piggledy together down an alleyway with a tiny courtyard in the front.  They were originally weavers' cottages built up against the city wall.  The history of the buildings can be read in the history portion of the hotel's website and is worth the read.
(   or just google it if that doesn't work.)

In the eighties, before it was purchased and made into a hotel by the present owner, Richard Burton and Liz Taylor rendezvoused in the pink cottage portion that is now the hotel lounge and I spent a wonderful hour in there by myself before bedtime reading the paper, enjoying a shot of Bailey's and feeling like Miss Rich Bitch!

The quaintness of the hotel is part of its charm.  So are these stairs from our room and while attempting to go down while carrying a suitcase I felt a bit like I was taking my life into my own hands - or feet, in this case.  My size 7s didn't even fit on each riser and I had to go sideways down each step.  Fun, though.

We discovered the hotel when we found the Turf Tavern on May Day.  During that trip, we had dinner in The Old Tom, another wonderful Oxford pub, and struck up a conversation with a group of young men at the table next to us as we always seem to do.   They told us that if we love old pubs, which we must have told them we do, we must find the Turf which is hidden down several alleys and unless you know it's there, you aren't going to find it.  We were in Oxford the next morning at 6AM  for the May Day celebrations and since the streets were still packed with students at 7, we decided the Turf would probably be open.  So we went to find it and it was! And still packed with revelers.  The entrance we found to The Turf is off the tiny courtyard of the Bath Place and upon spotting the hotel, we decided we had to explore so in we went.  We knew then that we just had to have the experience of eating and drinking at The Turf and going off to bed in the Bath Place.  Two rooms were available for May 17th and so were we, so plans were made!  This picture is from our room down into the inner courtyard of the Turf.  Fortunately, the pub closes at 11 and we didn't mind the hurgledy gurgling burble of conversation below our window.

Unfortunately, Bill's cold was pretty bad by this time and he and Ginger spent more time in the Bath than was ever planned sleeping off his cold.  So John and I were on our own that afternoon and the next day to explore the parts of Oxford we had missed a couple of weeks before.   First we took in the Sheldonian Theatre, an octagonal building built in the 1600's and designed by Christopher Wrenn, the architect of St. Paul's and hundreds of other projects.  The main room is absolutely dramatic, a circular arena decorated in marble and gild and the auditorium where each Oxford student matriculates and graduates.  The ceiling was an allegorical marvel which we unfortunately did not photograph but once again,you can google it and get a pretty good picture.  Google "Sheldonian theater ceiling" as I did to get a picture of it. 

Up more stairs we went into the cupola of the Sheldonian to get a panoramic view of the Oxford rooftops - rooftops being an understatement for sure!  What a sight.

And on our way up to the cupola, we also got to see the ingenious way Wrenn designed the building.  The room was to be round with a 70 foot span without columnar support and since there were no beams available that long and strong enough, it had to be done ingeniously which is what Wrenn did so well anyway.  Wikipedia has a great explanation of the theater's construction that is worth visiting. 

It was now time for the walking tour with Stuart, the tour guide, which you can catch across Broad Street from the Information Center several times a day.  It was pretty good because he took you into several colleges that you wouldn't have been able to enter and you could see the beautiful gardens and courtyards frequently closed to the public.  We took Stuart's last tour for the day and I would suggest an earlier one when he might have a fresher attitude toward his participants and his job than toward finishing his day.  The interiors of the colleges are magnificent and New College, which is ironically the oldest, is one of the prettiest and the setting for several Harry Potter scenes.

The next morning after a leisurely and generous continental breakfast at The Bath Place,  we toured Blackwell's Book store while Ginger and Bill went to the doctor's!  Blackwell's  has the largest room of books in Britain and Bill heard that it has "3000 miles of book shelves".   Getting John out of a bookstore is like getting him out of the hardware store but I think it was so overwhelming and our time so limited that he gave up before he got hooked.  Ginger and Bill are with us here in London (May 22nd) as I write this and Ginger said she was on the 4th floor in used books on our first visit to Oxford and Bill said he could have stayed there the whole day.  If you are a book lover like we all are, visit Blackwell's with trepidation for fear you may lose an entire day of your holiday or many hours in there.  But then, what are vacations for if not for doing what you want when you want and not having to judge the value of your activities!

Off to Bath - and American friends - that's pronounced Bahth!  Like bah, bah, black sheep......