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



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