Saturday, May 28, 2016

Southampton

In the last few days, I've made a pair of day trips for research: a day in Southampton (two train stops away), a day at home in between, and then a day in Winchester (one stop away). In both places, I did my archival research in the library in the morning, and after lunchtime, was able to spend the afternoon sightseeing. As it turned out, the day in Southampton was exhausting, so much so that my day in between was extraordinarily unproductive and was mainly a day of rest (for which I feel no guilt whatsoever). Yet the day in Winchester was energizing. What was the difference?

I've come to a few conclusions, all of which are interesting and important things to learn about myself. First, Southampton doesn't have a cathedral. While I did see the ruins of a church, it was nothing like my afternoon in Winchester Cathedral. Churches, it would seem, cost me less energy than other forms of touristing. Second, the nature of the train tickets actually lent to very different experiences in each city. My ticket home from Southampton was for a particular train, leaving around 8:30 at night. From finishing lunch around 2 pm, it felt like I had to kill six hours. In contrast, my return ticket from Winchester was open-ended ("off-peak day return"): I could take any train back. This meant that I could spend as long as I wanted in Winchester, and return home when I was ready. Psychologically, this made a real difference. Finally, my afternoon in Southampton was almost entirely outdoors, and it was a cold, grey day. Only occasionally did the sun peek through the clouds. The damp chill got to me, and in fact I spent most of the next day wrapped in sweaters and blankets, trying to feel warm.

This is not to say that I didn't enjoy my time in Southampton. It was an easy city to get around - I had very cleverly bought a day pass for city buses when I'd purchased my train ticket (which I'd then forgotten about, which meant picking up the transit tickets for the day held a nice surprise). It was easy to get around between the train station near the city center, the university two miles north, and "Old Town," the neighborhood containing most of the memorials and interesting historical sites. The folks at the university library were friendly and helpful, as I've come to expect, and my research there was straightforward.

I found some lunch at a university restaurant: two kinds of pie! (Shepherd's pie and apple pie with custard. Delicious!) It was nearing 2 pm, and I wanted to see at least a little bit of the local art museum before it closed at 3. I wandered through a park to see a few memorials on the way to find the museum:

A memorial to the engineers of the Titanic, "who showed their high conception of duty and their heroism by remaining at their posts"
The Cenotaph. I confess I never found an explanation for what it memorializes.
Memorial to Isaac Watts, whom I know as a hymnwriter

When I found the art museum, I greatly enjoyed an exhibit on British Romanticism, which focused on the ways that modern artists are still inspired by romantic ideals. My favorite was a painting showing dark, misty hillside with a single power line pylon. I just wish I'd had more time to contemplate the exhibit (and the others, which I sped through) longer.

The Southampton City Art Gallery is in the same building as the public library; isn't that cool?
The city of Southampton has two major genres of attraction for visitors: it was a medieval town and many of the original walls and buildings survive, and it was (and remains) a major port; the most famous ship to have departed from there is the Titanic. Two self-guided walking tours are available, one for each theme. I hadn't been able to print them out, though, so I was trying to wander around in a vaguely purposeful manner using only my cell phone map (while simultaneously trying not to use too much data, since I'm on a pay-as-you-go plan). And, you'll recall, I had fully six hours to kill. How was I to fill them?

This is where my trip to Southampton became magical. At the Titanic engineers' memorial, I'd swapped photo time with another pair of tourists. I ran into them again at Holyrood Church. We got to talking and it turned out that they too were on the trek through the city to see the memorials. And they didn't mind me tagging along. So that's how I ended up spending my afternoon in Southampton hanging out with a gay couple from Texas who are some of the kindest and most interesting people I've ever met. Together, we saw so many fascinating things, stopped for drinks at the pub featured in the Titanic film, and had dinner at the twelfth-century pub that was the scene of the trial of those who conspired against King Henry V. These guys are world travelers, and have so many amazing stories about the places they've been and the sights they've seen. I was grateful and delighted to spend the afternoon in their company.


The anchor from the Queen Elizabeth 2, an iconic ocean liner and troop ship based out of Southampton

The ruins of Holyrood Church, bombed in WWII and now standing as a memorial to the sailors of the Merchant Navy



This fountain inside Holyrood Church is a memorial to those who lost their lives in the sinking of the Titanic

Medieval(?) ruins can be found throughout Old Town

The remnants of this church went unidentified, though I looked for a plaque of some sort

Everyplace in England that can consider itself affiliated with Jane Austen is so excited to announce that fact. I saw at least three plaques like this one throughout Southampton.

God's House Tower was built in the early 15th century to protect the sluice gates for the town moat. It was designed for use with artillery and was the headquarters of the town gunner.

The Queen Mary 2 cruise ship coming in to port. It was cool to see it - I'd already decided that some day, instead of flying home from England, I want to take a ship (this ship!) across the Atlantic.

This is the pub that features in the Titanic film. It wasn't a random choice on the part of the filmmakers; it was a favorite of the sailors of the Titanic. 

The Wool House was built in the 14th century to store wool. The wool trade was apparently the source of medieval Southampton's prosperity. From 1966-2012, the building was the Maritime Museum. Now it's a pub.


This is a memorial to the Mayflower, which departed from Southampton in 1620 for the New World.

Dinner at the Red Lion



My fabulous bangers and mash



Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Guess who came to say hello?


Not too far from the house is the common, a fenced-in set of fields that function sort of like a park. It's the perfect place to take a dog for a walk, and indeed, for the past few mornings I've been taking my host family's dog there after Morning Prayer. The common is absolutely stunning, outlined by trees and carpeted with buttercups.



The next field over has horses and (at the right times of day) rabbits, none of which come anywhere near the path the dog is accustomed to take on her way back home. I'd admired them from afar. But today, look who came to say hello!


He walked right up to me and licked my boots!
Unfortunately, the dog promptly decided her walk was over, and I had to take her home, but I came back in the afternoon in case the horses were still there. They were, and I couldn't stop smiling.

Three horses and two babies were in the first field, exploring and grazing and (in the case of the babies) napping on the ground. None of them seemed startled to see me, not even the nursing babies, and two of them (including one of the babies!) came up to me and allowed me to pet them! It was a miraculous moment. I realized that I don't think I've ever touched a horse before. The baby in particular kept nibbling at my hand, hoping I had something delicious to share.






What beautiful animals, so sweet and gentle and curious. I found myself quite lost for words, other than "You're so pretty!"

Monday, May 23, 2016

The way to the pub

First, walk right past the closer but more expensive and (I'm told) less friendly pub.

Go past Basing House, the Tudor palace that was destroyed in the seventeenth century during a Civil War siege. I haven't taken the tour of the ruins yet because I'm waiting to do it with Husband.

Turn off the road onto the footpath along this field.

There are usually sheep in the field, but today, just a passel of these (blackbirds?).
 
Follow the path...

...along the stream...

...and under the railway bridge.

The pub is right up ahead, in what used to be a mill.

The footbridge is a fantastic place to feed the ducks. No goslings today, though a few weeks ago I saw nearly twenty of them out for a swim with several sets of parents.
 
And having come all this way, one must of course stop for a drink!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Returning from Wales


Morning Prayer in the St David University Chapel 
 After one last morning in Lampeter, I caught a bus back to Aberystwyth after church, by way of the bakery, where I bought a custard-filled donut...my resolve to save it for later didn't last very long, and I enjoyed it while waiting at the bus stop, accompanied by Neil Gaiman's The Sleeper and the Spindle.

I had several hours to kill in Aberystwyth, and I stopped in a charity shop (still no woolen jumper, but I'm now one dress and one shirt up) and a Costa (basically English Starbucks, but I suspect the coffee is better because Husband actually drinks it). When I made my way over to the train station, the staff person informed me that no, I couldn't take the earlier train, but why don't I spend my two more hours by walking that way?

I did, and "behold, the sea itself!" (Walt Whitman for Vaughan Williams' Sea Symphony). I walked a few blocks further than Costa and there it was. Absolutely stunning. Because I was carting a suitcase, I wasn't able to take off my shoes and socks and run into the water, but the views alone were amazing.





And the thing about the UK is that if you wander through a city (or along the oceanside walk, in this case), beautiful old buildings just appear. Sometimes they're well-labeled; sometimes not...and somehow I love the unlabeled ones more because they're taken for granted as just a part of the community.

Not sure what this building is, but isn't it splendid?

Anther view of the mysterious building. What beautiful windows.

St Michael's Church
 
The inside of St. Michael's. I found the juxtaposition of old and new (drum set, television monitors) to be quite jarring and actually uncomfortable.

The remains of a castle! And this isn't a tourist spot--there were no signs explaining the history of these tower ruins. I felt ridiculous trundling along the pathways with my suitcase, but I didn't want to miss out.

A playground and a mini-golf course on the castle grounds!

I took the train station staffer's advice and bought some ice cream at the seaside. And I swear I'm not making this up: as I walked out of the shop, a seagull flew straight at me and my cone and stole a bite! He landed a few yards away, looking very pleased with himself, as I stared at him in disbelief for a moment and then admonished, "That's unacceptable!" Ah well, it was a delicious treat in spite of that.

Finally, I could hop on the proper train from Aberystwyth back to England. It was the first of two long train rides, and I confess I got rather bored. That day, I finished Gaiman's Sleeper and the Spindle, started and abandoned Ray Bradbury's Farenheit 451 (why have books been outlawed? It's all the minorities' fault for wanting equal representation. Ugh.), and read A.A. Milne's Once On a Time (really cute, and put me in mind of Elizabeth von Arnim's Princess Priscilla's Fortnight). Plus a bit of dissertation work, though not a lot, because my body was a bit worn out from traipsing around Aberystwyth with a suitcase and heavy backpack.

Finally, as my second train was pulling out of Oxford, a double rainbow:


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Wales

It takes a long time to get to Wales from England via train (especially if you buy the cheap seats) and even longer to get to a small town from one of the larger cities with a train station. I left the house in Basingstoke around 1 pm, and finally settled into my room in Lampeter around 9. In between came two trains and two buses. This trip's travel was by far the most stressful for me because it was the least prepared. I could only plan my trip in advance as far as Aberystwyth, and I counted on being able to find help locating the proper bus to Lampeter. Luckily, everybody in Wales is so nice. A helpful bus driver told me exactly what I was doing, and during the two bus rides, I chatted with a computer science professor headed in the same direction as me. We spoke about the Welsh language, the Welsh countryside, the tragic and disastrous reorganization of the University of Wales system, the history of railway and ship travel in Wales, how he ended up in computer science after majoring in Welsh, and many more fascinating topics. I've always dreamed of having an evening in the UK to just listen to an elderly gentleman talk about his life and his experience of British culture.

Wales is stunningly beautiful, and rainy (currently), and full of sheep. The gentleman on the bus told me why there are so many sheep everywhere: they can't really grow crops here. Rolling green hills divided into fields by hedges; bushy trees; and sheep everywhere. Here are some photos taken from the train window:

 




 Finally I arrived in Lampeter, this "quirky college town," as my contact in the library described it. It was a little eerie to walk away from the train station towards the university. My phone couldn't get any internet, so I was reliant on the instructions the bus gentleman had given me. None of the shops were open, and there were very few cars and people. The street felt deserted, as did the campus. It took me a while to figure out where I was supposed to go to check in for my stay at the university. Yet again, a friendly passerby came to my rescue! And once I arrived at reception, everything got easy. The folks who work here are among the cheeriest I've met; the dorm room is really cozy; the library is right across the way; and in the daytime, there are plenty of shops, bakeries, and cafes.

The original college building, which houses all kinds of things including the room I stayed in and the university chapel.
A view of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David Lampeter campus
Another view of campus
They take their rugby seriously here. Rugby was introduced to Wales from Lampeter.

In a way, Wales feels like Montreal: every sign is bilingual, with the non-English language given precedence. In theory (though not always in practice--occasionally the order is reversed), every sign is supposed to be in Welsh first, then English. The government has mandated this, although the bus gentleman told me that only about 1 in 5 Welsh people actually still speak Welsh. I've no idea if this statistic is true, especially since I've heard a lot of Welsh being spoken around me. It's a beautiful language. I still can't figure out what it reminds me of (German, maybe?), and I've no idea how to pronounce any of it. Written Welsh all seems to have either too many consonants or too many vowels.

After a solid day's work at the archive, I had a bit of time to wander the town. By now, of course, as is usual in Wales (apparently), it was drizzling, but I didn't mind a bit. I didn't have anywhere to be, and I didn't need to be all that presentable. I popped into several charity shops, looking for a wool jumper (with all these sheep around, surely they've got properly warm sweaters here?). I didn't find one, but I did walk away with a book. (Typical.)

I am drawn to churches like a moth to the flame. This one, the Roman Catholic St Peter's Church, wasn't actually open, but it was still worth walking around.
St Peter's has a sizable churchyard
You can't actually see them in this photo, but the far hill is also dotted with sheep.
A view of Lampeter from the churchyard.
A view of Lampeter from the top of a hill. Wales is so pretty!
Seriously, sheep are everywhere, even in town!
My brain is a little fried from the archival work today, so I plan to settle in for a movie night and dinner of  a crusty roll, a ball of mozzarella, a whole thing of strawberries, and a pair of mini custard tarts. In the morning, I'll attend Morning Prayer at the university chapel, check out, and catch one of the hourly buses back to Aberystwyth. I'll have plenty of time for lunch there before catching the first of my two trains back to Basingstoke. It's been a wonderful trip to gorgeous and charming Wales, and I sort of regret doing such comprehensive photo-taking that I shouldn't need to return to Lampeter to view these books again!