Swan Song

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

We took our last walk at Riverside Park today. Yesterday felt more final somehow, though; we hadn’t been since before our Scotland trip, so we had one or two things to catch up on in our wildlife watching. Mainly, a pair of swans with five new cygnets. They were adorable. It was Johnny’s very last walk. He cried some over the thought of never seeing the lone black swan (christened Dodo by Johnny when it appeared a few months ago) again, and the tide was the lowest we’ve ever seen.

Dodo the black swan

Dodo the black swan

Anyway, it’s weird that it’s our last day here. We’re flying our early tomorrow morning and we’ll be back in the States by evening. Partly I’m really, really excited to go back, but partly I don’t want to leave. The idea that we’re probably never coming to Southampton again, and definitely never to this apartment, is kind of sad. We’ve made some great friends here.

So, the verdict on England: it’s a great place with great weather and lots of beautiful scenery and an unbelievable amount of history. Everyone is a little more aware of the other countries and cultures beyond their own borders. The people are often very reserved but can be as silly as Americans; they say “fab” and “bril” a lot, and make just as much noise at youth group as American kids do. They let their dogs off the leash, so all the parks are filled with canines running wildly around, fervently exuberant about life. But I miss my American friends, church, dog, piano, choir, school, prices, and town. And the temperature change throughout the year, odd as that sounds. And my own room. And many, many other things. It’ll be a relief to hang out with other homeschoolers again, too. And to be honest, going on tourist adventures every weekend is getting old. We’ve got the drill down pat. Driving places isn’t even miserable anymore because we’re so used to it, though I’m very tired of it. We’ve put almost seven thousand miles on the car. We joke about having mastered three things during our time in England: the Sandwich Lunch, the Camera at the Ready (look, it’s a seagull! Picture time! I’ve literally taken six thousand pictures since we came), and the Car Trip Stupor, where everybody phases out and stares out our various windows for hours on end.

Anyway, though, getting back to America is going to be a big change. Lindsey’s going to college, or ‘uni’ as the Brits call it, since what they call ‘college’ is equivalent to our eleventh and twelfth grades. The rest of us will be going to public school for at least half the day. I’ll be an upper classmen and Christian will be in high school and Johnny in third grade.

But to be as cheesy and English as possible, I’ll end with the conjecture that whatever happens we’ll just have to “keep calm and carry on.”

Thursday

We made it home safely, stopping in the same airports with no major mishaps.  We’re now back in our house, moving in again.  This is the end of this blog, since our trip is over, but I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it 🙂

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The Great Cross-Country Last Hurrah

June 9-13, 2014

On Monday we got in the car and drove. It was a long way, but we stopped just before the England-Scotland border at a castle called Carlisle. Since it was raining and a weekday, and the castle isn’t famous, we got the whole place to ourselves, though we only had twenty minutes before it closed. It was enough. The empty hallways and staircases were ancient, from the eleven hundreds, and though there was not a whole lot to see I really liked it. It was amazing to be in a castle alone even with the rain outside.

Carlisle Castle

Carlisle Castle

We reached Edinburgh, Scotland, while it was still light. It was about seven when we arrived at our apartment. It was a lot like the golf lodge where we stayed in Dover, with two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a living room, though only one bathroom. It was tucked behind a privately owned house, all by itself.

We stayed the night there and then got up to go to Edinburgh Castle. We weren’t as thrilled with it; it was raining again, and very crowded, and we didn’t see very much. We did see Scotland’s crown jewels (or ‘honours’) though.

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

After the castle we went up to Calton Hill, a hill with some monuments on it. We’d seen some of them from Edinburgh Castle but we didn’t know what they were until we drove up. There was an amazing view of the city from there, and the monuments were amazing—the main one, a Parthenon-like structure, was huge, but only partway finished. We found out it was originally meant to be whole, but the city ran out of funds before it was done and so it was left with only one full side, no roof, and no floor. Also on the hill were several other memorials, including a tower which cost money to go up (so we didn’t).

Monument on Calton Hill; you can see it's not finished

Monument on Calton Hill; you can see it’s not finished

Calton Hill

Calton Hill

We found a teashop on the way down and had tea, and then walked to the Scott Memorial for Sir Walter Scott, which we’d been eyeing all over the city. It’s massive (to use a word English people like a lot, though they use it in other ways—massive thanks, massive strengths, etc.) and almost black with dirt, so it looked like a witch’s castle. We didn’t go up because it cost money, though.

Finally we browsed some shops and then headed off to our lodge for the night. All the hotels in Aberdeen were extremely expensive, so we stayed in a tiny town called Blairgowrie and Dad had to drive fifty miles to speak at Aberdeen. But our lodge was nice. It was in a cozy little trailer park with a playground just feet from our door and lots of rabbits. And not enough bedding for the six of us. For some reason the owners were expecting four, so we had only four chairs and a stool for a desk (and the arm of the couch, which we pulled the table up to for the last unlucky person to sit on) when we had dinner. It was certainly a tight squeeze. It was only for two nights, though, and we made it.

The second day in Blairgowrie we had to check out and go with Dad to Aberdeen. I’m still not sure what it’s famous for; because of Dad’s work, we needed somewhere to go, so we camped out in the shopping mall all morning. We didn’t even go in any stores except for two or three minutes. So, I am no expert on Aberdeen, though we did hear one or two amazing and almost unintelligible Scottish accents by shoppers passing by.

Then we made our way to Liverpool, with a stop at Hadrian’s Wall on the way. The wall is really pretty. There was some lovely scenery around and a few cows and sheep. Scottish landscapes are just a little different from English ones—there are high, gorgeous green hills all around, and the forests are made up of uniform evergreens, each the same height, width and breadth. The low stone walls and hedges and sheep and patchwork fields are the same, though.

Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian’s Wall

We got to our apartment on a shady street in Liverpool, back in England, after dark—quite a feat considering how late it stays light so far north at this time of year (sunset after ten o’clock, no total darkness till almost eleven)—and left relatively early in the morning, so I know less about that city than I know about Aberdeen. My short impression of it was not very nice, though.

Then it was on to Wales.

Dad wanted to see both Conwy and Carnarvon, but I had to get home and bake cake for our youth leader’s wedding on Saturday, so we only got to see Conwy. I didn’t mind, though; Conwy Castle was perfect. It’s exactly what we expected of castles before we came to England: a ruin, never renovated as far as we could tell (except for the concrete stairs, which were much safer that way so I didn’t mind), with no locked doors—in fact, no doors at all. Every tower was open to go up. Every wall could be walked upon, unless it had a sudden fifty-foot drop, which several did. They were all barred, though, so that was okay. We could explore the rooms and the eight towers and the cellar. The castle is beautiful, set over a river, with amazing views from all sides. I loved it. I think it’s my favorite castle we’ve seen, though it’s hard to judge since they’re all so different. Dover was great, too, in a very different way. And Windsor in a different way altogether.

P1170063

P1170018

At about eight we got back to the apartment in Southampton, giving me plenty of time to bake.

Winchester–Again

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Today we had our first high church experience at Winchester Cathedral. For most of us it’s the fourth time being there—on Monday we attended a lecture on the Common Book of Prayer, which Dad found to be fascinating, though the rest of us were not enthralled, and I’ve told you about the other two times—but Lindsey’s only been once, so we showed her Jane Austen’s grave and told her a little about St. Swithun. The service was beautiful. The hymns sounded ethereal (don’t have a chance to use that word in conversation much!) in the space, though none of the tunes were familiar and the hymnals only had the words so it took immense concentration to sing along. The homily was short, about how Pentecost—today—is the birthday of the Church. It was interesting to have such a modern-sounding sermon in an almost thousand-year-old cathedral, with the words echoing impressively around the walls and the choir standing up at the front in robes and everything. During the hymns there was incense, too.

Winchester Cathedral again

Winchester Cathedral again

After that there was a baptism and the Eucharist. Both were long and structured, the president (the lady who preached the sermon) and congregation reading and praying, but they were really cool to see.

Next we came outside, changed our shoes and walked down to Jane Austen’s house a few minutes away. There was a plaque above the door about how she lived the last few years of her life there, and died inside too, but to our surprise it’s still just used as an apartment—and has a sign in the window making sure all tourists know so.

The door to the apartment where Jane Austen lived for the last few years of her life

The door to the apartment where Jane Austen lived for the last few years of her life

The plaque above Jane Austen's door

The plaque above Jane Austen’s door

We walked on and came to Wolvesy Castle. It’s a lot like Netley Abbey—low walls, no ceilings, exactly what you’d expect of a castle—but it’s not beautiful in the way Netley Abbey is.

Christian climbing Wolvesey Castle

Christian climbing Wolvesey Castle

Wolvesey Castle

Wolvesey Castle

We hung around and took pictures until we got hungry and went back to the Winchester Cathedral lawn for lunch (the third cathedral we’ve eaten outside of: we’ve also had sandwiches on the steps in front of St. Paul’s and on the lawn at Salisbury).

A tombstone we found after lunch that amused us.  Read it.

A tombstone we found after lunch that amused us. Read it.

Second Times

Saturday, May 31

Mom’s friend from Belgium, Linda, came to stay with our family for a couple days this weekend, so on Saturday we took her to Winchester Cathedral in the morning. We took a tour around it, seeing Jane Austen’s grave and learning about the local saint, St. Swithun. As far as I could tell, he was mostly just made a saint because the local people wanted one, and he constructed the first stone bridge in Hampshire or something like that (we’ve stood on this bridge, over the Itchen River near our apartment, but it’s fallen and been rebuilt since he constructed it). Wikipedia says he is most famous for ‘posthumous miracle-working,’ more so than being a bishop.  Nobody is sure where he’s buried since someone hid his bones during the Reformation to save them from being destroyed.

The nave

The nave

Part of the cathedral--I couldn't get back far enough to get the whole thing, though; it's massive

Part of the cathedral–I couldn’t get back far enough to get the whole thing, though; it’s massive

It really amazes me how old the Cathedral is, and how huge and beautiful. It was completed in 1127 and has the longest nave of any church in Europe—though there was a period where it was close to falling down until a diver, William Walker, spent six years digging out the soft earth underneath and putting bags of concrete down instead. You can see clearly where the floor was falling in, since there are definite dips and things in it, and if you look down one hallway it gives a disorienting fun-house mirror impression because the lines aren’t quite straight.  One other interesting thing about it was the huge stained glass window at the end: it looks abstract.  Like something from the last twenty years rather than the 1600s, which was when it was put in.  The tour guide explained that all the stained glass had been smashed in the Reformation.  People had saved it and put it back, but there wasn’t enough to piece together any kind of picture, so it’s just a bunch of shards stuck in place now.

Shards of stained glass salvaged and put together make up this abstract window

Shards of stained glass salvaged and put together make up this abstract window

After that we drove to the New Forest and had lunch on the rocks where we ate last time. It was nice but a little cold. Then to celebrate Mom’s birthday coming up we went back to Braxton Gardens and Mom, Linda and I had afternoon tea while the boys went to the park (Lindsey’s visiting a friend in Italy right now). It was delicious, and without the seaside wind, a beautiful day.

Afternoon tea

Afternoon tea

The Last Hurrah in London

Monday, May 28

Monday was a bank holiday, so we grabbed our chance and went to London one last time (at least, we assume it’s the last, since we’re leaving in less than a month).

In the parking garage at Richmond Station we saw a fox. We’ve seen one before, crossing the road, but this was in the parking garage and it looked bedraggled and very lost. We sat in the car and watched it for a few minutes until it found its way out. Then it ran into the trees and was gone.

After this short interesting happenstance we left the garage and rode the tube to Tower Hill Station. It was wet; not pouring, but very cloudy and threatening, and there was not a huge crowd of people like there usually is—nobody was going to work because of the bank holiday (it was also Memorial Day, but I guess that’s unconnected because it doesn’t seem to be a thing here) and I think the tourists were, for a large part, discouraged by the rain. So for three or four stations we had a whole car in the train to ourselves. Lindsey and I put in her earbuds and sang, just for the novelty of not being heard, and we took a lot of pictures of the empty car because it’s never happened to us before. It didn’t last more than fifteen minutes, though; before long a bunch of other people got on, and then we had to get off and go to the Tower of London.

The Tower of London

The Tower of London

The empty underground car

The empty underground car

The Tower is a castle actually consisting of a lot of towers, with a morbid, bloody history, including countless imprisonments and beheadings and tortures. We went on a short tour with a beefeater, or warden, who had a great sense of humor. The crowd was large and difficult to move in, so it was hard to hear what he said at the first two stops (not that it was all information I wanted to know, anyway, since it was all so unbelievably gory), but after that we pushed our way to the front. We heard about the ravens—which are kept at the castle, because of some prophesy several hundred years ago claiming that the day the ravens leave the Tower is the day England falls into destruction, or something of that ilk—and saw a few of them; and went into the chapel and heard about the massive amount of bodies, many of which belonged to criminals, buried there (they’ve now been excavated, identified, and put in coffins, because there were no grave markers when they were buried).

After the tour was over we went into the main building, the White Tower. It wasn’t really thrilling. It was an exhibition of armor and other random stuff. I think it said it was the oldest tourist exhibition in the world, which was interesting; and we saw Henry VIII’s armor, which was really as obese as all his pictures make him out to be; and we learned about the British coin system, which has always confused me. It sort of made sense though. The reason there used to be 270 (or whatever ridiculous number it was) pennies in a pound was because 270 silver pennies equaled the weight of one gold pound. Those 270 pennies are gone now, replaced with a more reasonable one-hundred-pennies-in-a-pound system, but it was interesting. We also learned why the current twenty pence pieces have only the back halves of lions as decoration: if you put the five coins less than a pound together, you get the Royal Shield, which is on the one pound coin.

The White Tower

The White Tower

The British coins arranged on the Royal Shield

The British coins arranged on the Royal Shield

Next we had lunch on a bench in the courtyard (it had stopped raining, though the sun had still not deigned to show its presence). A raven came over and sat on a box next to us, and it put on a show making abnormal noises and attracting tourists to our corner. The ravens are huge, bigger than crows, and they’re black and evil-looking. But it was fun to see it so close up since it belonged to the Tower of London.

A Raven in the Tower of London

A Raven in the Tower of London

Once we’d finished eating we headed to the line to see the Crown Jewels. It was really long, but it moved fast, and we were glad we got in when we did because no matter how fast it moved it never got shorter—on the contrary, when we’d gone through the exhibit, having seen the unrealistically huge jewels set in the elaborate crowns and solid gold scepters and swords which it contained, it was way longer than it had been before. The exhibit was incredible, since they were the kind of diamonds that are supposed to exist only in fairy tales, but we couldn’t stay in it long.

Then we went on a tower walk and learned about the different kinds of animals kept at the castle, and stopped at a little fairground set up in the walls. There were booths about various things—armor, games, food, bookbinding, embroidery—and it was way better than the Renaissance fair at home. We pulled ourselves away at 2:45 and walked up on Tower Bridge, because Johnny’s been dying to and the rest of us were curious, and then came down to have tea at the Westminster Abbey Cellarium. Mom and Dad let Lindsey, Christian and me have afternoon tea: a level up from cream tea. It involves a tower for each person, with two scones at the bottom, lettuce and fancy little sandwiches in the middle, and tiny pastries at the top. It was really good. The top of the tea scale is high tea, which is all-you-can-eat of all of those, but you have to go to a hotel to get that and it’s ridiculously expensive (fifty pounds is a good price, for a very good tea, but some of the really famous hotels charge a hundred pounds. Which is about a hundred and seventy dollars. Per person).

Finally we went to the Evensong service in Westminster. It’s a beautiful cathedral, though by now we are undoubtedly in the throes of JACCCS, or Just Another Cathedral/Chapel/Church Syndrome, so we didn’t appreciate it as much as we did St. Paul’s. Or Winchester. Or King’s College at Cambridge. Or Salisbury. Or Sacrecoeur. Or the countless others we’ve seen. We did pass Isaac Newton’s grave, however, on the way out, and that was really something.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

We thought it was fitting that our (most likely) last act in London was worshipping God in Westminster. And somehow the rain, coming down hard again, fit too. It was kind of weird to drive out of Richmond for the last time.

More London Adventures

Saturday, May 24

First, sorry about the pictures.  My blog suddenly decided to put links in instead of the pictures so you have to click to see them, and I’m not sure how to fix it.

Saturday we went to London again: our fifth time. We met up with Aidan and Pawda there, and they took us around to a bunch of places we hadn’t been before; starting with the place Aidan works as a barrister, the Temple Court Area and Royal Courts of Justice. It’s also the place where the TV show Silk, which Mom and Dad have been watching lately (mainly because of Aidan, since he recommended it), is filmed. We saw Aidan’s ‘chambers,’ which is a barrister’s version of an office, and ate our sandwiches in them, squeezed around a table with a view outside—naturally very warm and sunny as soon as we’d evacuated our plan to eat out there. The weather was not optimal besides the sun while we ate. It drizzled a lot, and poured a little; but as Dad pointed out, it could rain every day from here on out and we couldn’t complain—we’ve had so much beautiful weather already. We’ve only been rained on a couple times in all our many adventures. And we were inside for the worst of it on Saturday anyway. That came right after our lunch, while we had coffee at a little Austrian coffee shop Aidan likes. I’m not really a coffee person, so I had hot chocolate instead, but that was delicious. Maybe the best I’ve ever had. I think there was real melted chocolate in it.

The Royal Courts of Justice

We waited out the rain inside the coffee shop, and talked. When it finally let up—mostly—we took our chance and headed to the National Portrait Gallery, portraits and all. It was very interesting and very much more what we’d expected. We saw Shakespeare, Handel, the Bronte sisters, Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Victoria and many other monarchs and famous people from the last five hundred years of England’s history. We never did see Daniel Radcliffe, though. I didn’t really care but I think Lindsey was slightly disappointed.

Next Aidan decided to take us through Chinatown. It was packed with people, but it was fun, and we hadn’t seen it before so it was new to us. We didn’t have time to look very thoroughly because Aidan tends to charge everywhere he goes, though. The rain had stopped entirely but it was still grey out.

When we got to Regent Street we stopped in three stores, starting with Hamleys, a jammed, chaotic store with about five stories of toys. Johnny liked it, but none of the rest of us really did, since all the employees were yelling or throwing boomerangs or flying helicopters or hitting those drum things that spurt air at everybody, and it was expensive. An experience, though. On the very top floor were life-sized Lego figures of Prince William and Princess Kate, with two body guards, and a life-sized telephone booth not far behind them.

The second store we went in was Fortnum and Mason. According to Aidan, that’s where the Queen’s groceries supposedly come from, and I can see why—several of the floors had red carpets and chandeliers, and everything in the place was EXPENSIVE. Pawda told us she’d once found a lemon for three pounds there, which, to all you Americans, is somewhere about five dollars. Dad secretly bought a bag of six marshmallows—no more—for four pounds. He didn’t distribute them until we had left Aidan and Pawda and were going home on the tube, or tubing as Aidan calls it (making us think of black rubber doughnut-shaped sleds rushing down snow-covered slopes, which don’t seem to be a thing here), and they were very good. They’d better have been for that much money. Marshmallows! All six were different flavors, so we each started out with one but then tried all the others too. They were more like candy than the puffy white things you roast over campfires.

The ground floor of Fortnum and Mason

Large British stores often have everything in them: a big grocery store like Sainsbury’s will always have a clothing section, and even high-end stores like John Lewis, maybe the highest-end chain store in England (it’s got high prices and an ambiance like Macy’s and several floors), has only one floor of clothing while the others have everything else—craft supplies, fancy dishes, lawn furniture, whatever. Marks and Spencer is even more like that. Half of it is an expensive grocery store and the other half has good-quality clothes, though there is also bedding and other random stuff there. But anyway, even Fortnum and Mason has a wide array of stuff besides extravagant candy and lemons and groceries. One floor has a bunch of cool random useless trinkets like hourglasses and beautiful paperweights and quill pens. There are hats. Razors. China. Perfume. All unbelievably expensive, and all of the highest quality. It’s amazing that people actually have the money to shop there. But I guess the Queen does.

Looking down the stairs in Fortnum and Mason

The last store we visited on Regent Street was called Liberty. It’s a five-floor department store, and, unsurprisingly, very expensive (Aidan told us London is the second most expensive city in the world after Moscow. There are a lot of unfathomably rich people there, the kind of people who buy up apartments—at London’s astronomical prices—and leave them empty. And go to this restaurant he mentioned which doesn’t show prices on its menu. And buy lemons at Fortnum and Mason). We only went in two sections: a room full of greeting cards and notebooks, and the scarves. We didn’t buy anything, but it was cool to see.

After that we had dinner at a Moroccan restaurant for dinner. By the time we were done eating it was nine o’clock, so we had to go home. But we stood in the Underground station saying goodbye for a long time, since we won’t see them again; we’ll miss them.

Churchill, Buckingham, and the National Gallery (Without the Portraits)

Tuesday, May 20

Tuesday was our last day of frantic sight-seeing with Aunt Jane and Uncle Jerry. Dad had to have a meeting with somebody at his work, so he drove us to London in the box bus through some horrible traffic and dropped us at a station on the outskirts (Richmond, where we usually park.) Then we rode the Tube—our first time without his help—to James Park, where we had lunch, composed mostly of the ordinary elements (except the soup, Dad’s specialty) but carried by each of us individually instead of in Dad’s huge black backpack. So it was a little different without the usual passing-around-of-everything. It was still the same in the perching-of-ourselves-on-a-bench-in-an-extraordinary-location, however, because we were just a little ways down the park from a view of Buckingham Palace, and there was lots of wildlife to see. And French school groups. That’s another thing we run into a lot while we’re eating our lunches.

Back to the wildlife, one bird in particular stood out. It came right up close, and had enormous not-quite-webbed feet, a white beak and forehead, and a pigeonish way of bobbing its head with every windmill-like step it took. Later as we walked along the park we found more of them, including a couple with babies, which were the ugliest baby animals I have ever seen. One rare case where the adult bird is more endearing than the child. They shared the huge feet, though. When they sat and stood they looked like they were on those frame that mechanics use to lift cars.

The strange windmill-footed bird, with its baby

The strange windmill-footed bird, with its baby

After the park we went to the Churchill War Rooms. They were a little like the tunnels under Dover Castle, but right in London, and Winston Churchill worked in them secretly with a group of secretaries and officers. One lady who worked in them didn’t tell her family she had done it until thirty years later; and they were only opened to the public in the last few years. They consist of a bunch of rooms, containing the original furniture, maps, papers, telephones, and even a sugar ration an officer stuck in a drawer and forgot about (which wasn’t found until 1980.) Besides all the original rooms—kitchen, bedrooms, war cabinet room, transatlantic telephone room, map room—there was also a whole museum of Churchill’s life. It was organized sort of chaotically, so I didn’t get a whole lot out of it, but one thing Mom and I watched that was really interesting was a video, running in a loop, of four different interviews of people who worked in the War Rooms with Churchill. We stood there for the whole thing. There was a lot in it about his life and habits, like how he always wore siren suits (zip-up suits, very reminiscent of onesies for adults; we’ve seen them in a Southampton market) for air raids, and wore pajamas at all other times unless he had a meeting, and took two baths a day.

It took a while for everyone to get through the tunnels and museum, but afterwards we walked down to Buckingham Palace. The queen was there, we could see from the flag; but again we didn’t actually see her (not that we were expecting to since we couldn’t even go inside the gates). We did see a couple people walking out, though, and a carriage drove in and dropped someone off.

Buckingham Palace!

Buckingham Palace!

As close as we got to Buckingham Palace

As close as we got to the Palace

After that we had cream tea at a little coffee shop. The shop was adorable, with a teapot tower and mismatched chairs and mirrors on the walls, and the tea was fine, but the scones were lacking (the ones I made were better, though of course the Braxton Gardens ones were best). The clotted cream and jam were also sub-par. It was nice, though, and Uncle Jerry and Aunt Jane hadn’t been out to tea yet.

The last thing we wanted to do was the National Portrait Gallery, which we’ve heard about from several different people. When we got there we were expecting portraits of the famous people in England’s history; so we were a little surprised to walk in and find portraits of lots of random unheard-of people, and horses, and some landscapes which couldn’t be presumed to be portraits at all. But we decided maybe we’d heard wrong.

It was cool, though. We found several paintings we recognized, including a couple of Monet’s bridges, two paintings or drawings of dancers by Degas, and Vincent Van Goh’s famous chair. After maybe an hour of browsing Lindsey, Christian and I bravely went up to an attendant and asked where the more recent paintings, the ones we’d heard about (especially the one of Daniel Radcliffe though she didn’t mention his name), were. The attendant said the most recent ones were from 1900. We got suspicious.

“Are there none from the last century? Like portraits of famous people?” Lindsey asked.

“We have those in the National Portrait Gallery,” the attendant said. We looked at each other.

“Wait, so where are we?”

“This is the National Gallery. The National Portrait Gallery is down the street around the corner to the left.”

So much for that! It wasn’t a waste of time, though. We’d enjoyed the National Gallery, portraits or no. The museum was closing shortly anyway, so we didn’t have time to go over to the National Portrait Gallery, but I think we will soon.

Finally we departed from our relatives in Trafalgar Square and rode the Underground back to Richmond, where we met Dad. Then we got dinner from the local Sainsbury’s and headed home.

Salisbury and Stonehenge

Monday, May 19

On Monday morning we went to Salisbury Cathedral, a huge, beautiful cathedral near Stonehenge. It was really breathtaking, as are all cathedrals, and we stumbled upon the best-preserved copy (out of only four) of the Magna Carta in the world. It feels like everywhere we go we come across something famous we’ve heard about all our lives, whether we were meaning to or not—it’s awesome.

Salisbury Cathedral

Salisbury Cathedral

P1150995

We looked around for a while inside and then had our trademark sandwiches, chips, soup from a thermos, clementines and cookies on the cathedral lawn. And after that it was on—to Stonehenge.

Mom reserved tickets about a month ago so we could be sure to get in. The whole surrounding area has very recently been re-landscaped and redone so you have to park at the visitor’s center and then take a shuttle out to the rocks, but Aunt Jane told us that when she went years ago everything was a mud slop when it rained, so it’s a big improvement. There were construction vehicles and things around, but we were able to see the rocks perfectly well. The audio guides led us along the path so we saw them first from a distance. We worked our way around slowly, learning about the many barrows around, and theories about why the henge was built. And what a henge is: an archaeological term for a ditch dug inside a circle. So technically Stonehenge isn’t even one, since the ditch is outside the circle.

Stonehenge from afar; the tiny bumps on the right are people, not rocks

Stonehenge from afar; the tiny bumps on the right are people, not rocks

It was amazing to be there, though, henge or not; five thousand years standing straight is a long time, for anything, even rocks.

The last stop in our tour around the stones was really close up. We couldn’t go between them, because of ‘fragile archaeology underground’ or something like that, but it turned out to be kind of good, since as Lindsey pointed out nobody could wander into our pictures. We took lots of those.

Close-up

Close-up

Me and Stonehenge

Me and Stonehenge

That was it for the day, once we’d scoured the gift shop and purchased postcards, T-shirts, and the raspberry curd English Heritage makes that’s reaaaalllly good (like jam, but ten times better).

A Little on Henry VIII

Sunday, May 18

Sunday was Hampton Court Palace. We didn’t get to go to church, which was disappointing, but we wanted to make the most of our time with our aunt and uncle in town. The palace took several hours. There is a ridiculous amount of palaces and castles in Europe, and I’d never heard of Hampton Court, but it belonged to Henry VIII so that probably has to do with my lack of history knowledge and not the palace’s lack of fame. It was, as almost everything has been since we came to England, extremely interesting (I’m learning more history this year than I ever learned from taking a course. Though courses are a little cheaper and more practical than world-traveling…)

A bit of Hampton Court Palace

A bit of Hampton Court Palace

And another bit

And another bit

Henry VIII is one of the more famous monarchs in England’s history. Mostly because he was very extravagant, had six wives, and started the Church of England.

After a lunch in the extensive, beautiful gardens, we walked through the kitchens on Johnny’s request—a very interesting tour; the Tudors ate meat obsessively, in all forms, but especially roasted. This only because it was horribly impractical to roast things and all visitors to the palace wanted the very best and most expensively cooked meat they could have—so Henry’s staff stood at huge fireplaces for hours on end turning spits as heavy as they were, usually more than one at once. Another form of meat consumed at Hampton Court was in pies. The crusts, bowls made of flour and water, would be thrown out at the end, unlike our pies now. Besides learning about the meat, we also saw the wine cellar, the pewter store and the accounting room.

Hampton Court Palace from the gardens

Hampton Court Palace from the gardens

Next we went through a display on Henry himself. There was a very Hogwarts-like great hall with Henry and Anne Boleyn’s symbols, a waiting room with Henry and Jane Seymour’s symbols, and a hallway said to be haunted by Kateryn Parr. As the audio guides pointed out, you could in some places track Henry’s palace’s growth by which wife marked each room.

Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII's Great Hall

Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII’s Great Hall

Then we went to a brand new exhibit on the Georgians, who came after Henry VIII. There are no audio tours for it yet, so it was all reading, and I didn’t get as much out of it as I did in the other places; I’m not sure how I missed so much, but when I got out I realized I remembered very little from it. So I don’t have anything to tell, except that there was a display of napkins folded in amazing shapes (a fish, a horse, a rabbit, a turkey…)

Napkins!

Napkins!

When we were tired of looking around the inside, we went out and through a hedge maze on the property. It was not extremely difficult or time-consuming; I think we were out in about fifteen minutes; but it was kind of fun to wander around in the skinny rows, bumping into family members occasionally and probably going in circles (it was hard to tell.)

We found the maze center!

We found the maze center!

Finally we went home.

The Baths and Bath

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Saturday was dedicated to Bath. First the Roman baths there–the Aquae Sulis (or waters of Minerva)–and then a Jane Austen exhibition. The Roman baths were extensive: room upon room with pool upon pool of water, all ancient and different from each other and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I tried to read some of the Latin on the tombstones which were displayed, my first chance to try my skills at actual ruins written by Romans, but failed miserably; they liked their abbreviations, random ones short for words I never would have guessed, and the letters were hard to read. And my vocabulary is rather lacking, too. However, I did find that the most interesting part—not that it wasn’t all interesting, but I liked this best—was a quote of Seneca’s from about 1 AD, translated into English, which said something to the effect of “The picture would not be complete without the thief being caught in the act, the man who likes the sound of his own voice and the man who jumps in with a big splash.” Which shows that, even two thousand years ago, people were the same as they are now.

The Great Bath

The Great Bath

Another proof of this was the display on the Pool of Minerva. Here people would throw coins in the water, and also little metal sheets with curses carved onto them; curses crying out to the goddess for revenge on whoever stole their pots, cloaks, or whatever. Some of them were very detailed and gruesome. But it gave us the same picture as the Seneca quote: these people were—well, people too.

The Jane Austen house came next. It wasn’t actually her house, but it was similar, built just down the street. I’m not exactly sure what to call the exhibit; it wasn’t really a museum, though there was a display downstairs, because we were given a lecture first. It was interesting, though, and we learned a lot about Austen’s life and writing especially in Bath. We tried biscuits, read about the hobbies of the people there (cards, dances, parties; sound familiar?) and learned a lot about the time period, including a very interesting chart of how much yearly income was considered enough to get by on (400 pounds) and how much was an exorbitantly impossible-to-spend-without-gambling amount (2,000 pounds). At the end Lindsey and I got to try on some dresses from the time period.

Mom with the statue of Jane Austen outside the house.

Mom with the statue of Jane Austen outside the house.  The picture of Lindsey and me refused to download onto the blog.

Finally we went to the Circus, a circular lawn which is apparently kind of famous but was not much to look at, and the Royal Crescent, an enormous crescent-shaped building around a huge impeccable lawn. We didn’t stay in those places long. On the way home we went to a pub for dinner called the Horse and Groom.

The Royal Crescent

The Royal Crescent