We've slowed down this week so I finally have time to bring you up to date. Last week was quite a rush (in both senses - thrilling and zoom-zoom!)
As I mentioned, the weather has not been as glorious as Italy, but instead is rather on-off. We hardly know what to wear each day! One minute hot and sunny, the next is a rain shower. And the air cools suddenly when the sun is covered by a cloud (unlike in Nova Scotia where the air temp remains fairly stable in the summer whether sunny or not - although I know some would argue with me on that!) Fortunately we missed the torrential rains in the Southwest. When I say fortunate, I mean it quite literally! I may have mentioned this last post, but after we returned from our overnight trip to Stonehenge/Bath, we learned of people stranded in their cars for 20+ hours on the motorways very near where we'd been! Actually the road we took home had been closed due to flooding on the previous day. But somehow we manouvered our way through with relatively few delays. And no signs of flooding in the Suffolk area, thank heavens.
Ok, so let me back up and see if I can fill you in on what we've done thus far in England.
One day we started out to visit Blickling Hall (which has some connection to Ann Bolyn so I still want to see it if have time) but ended up in Norwich instead. (As I was looking at the map, I noticed we would be close to Norwich and had heard about its cathedral, so our plans changed en route.) The Norwich cathedral is quite stunning. I love the ancient feel of these places, and this one is full of beauty, from the gorgeous carved choir stalls (or quire as they seem to be spelled here), to the radiant stained glass windows, to the labyrynth (sp?), the 14th century medieval painting that was saved from destruction during the Civil war by being used as a table with the painted side upside down. The girls and I walked the labyrynth (don't know why I can't recall how to spell that word!) What a fabulous experience - MN skipped through full of joy, while TG and I strolled around at a more contemplative pace. An unexpected treat in Norwich was the Castle. Standing in the castle chapel where the Norman kings worshipped - very cool!
Next big event - LONDON!! Up at 5:45 (blech), but didn't wake the girls for another hour or so and we hit the road around 7:30. We drove for about 2 - 2 and 1/2 hrs to Wanstead, left the car at Maggie's niece's, and took the underground the rest of the way (close to an hour to historic London). Our first stop was Westminister Abbey - TG very much wanted to see Poet's Corner, being an avid reader (who has squirrelled away all my anthologies from university up to her own room). Very awesome to view the tombs of people like Elizabeth 1, Mary Queen of Scots, Tennyson and Handel (and so many others...too many to list). The sense of history was nearly breathtaking. After the Abbey, we met my younger 1/2 brother for lunch (a place called Giraffe, where we had a tasty albeit pricey lunch - it seems very expensive to eat out in London, and England in general for that matter.) We then had a speed tour through part of the city, walking and riding the double decker bus, seeing sights such as Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Picadilly Circus (yes Lynn, I took a photo for you but I fear it's not actually much to see), Harrods, Soho, Drury Lane, etc. Dad said only Alec would be cheeky enough to fit that much in but it was actually at a very enjoyable, if brisk, pace.
And that was just on the way from Kensington to the British Museum! Seeing the Rosetta Stone was a thrill for MN since she learned about it before we went. We saw only that and the Elgin Marbles - I thought best not to even try to see everything in one visit. I'm sure I could spend a month in the British Museum and still find new things! It is amazing!! I must go back! The Elgin Marbles (actually not called that in the museum - the sign says simply the "Parthenon Room") anyway, these are beautiful. It's incredible to think that such talent existed so long ago. I was especially thrilled by the folds of the gowns on the Aphrodite statues...they look diaphynous and semi-translucent, just like a sheer fabric. Just beautiful.
Back on the Tube and over the the London Dungeons. This experience will remain MN's highlight of the entire trip, I think. She was utterly spellbound, entralled, terrified, excited, scared out of her wits!! TG did not enjoy herself, it was a bit too gruesome for her. What a fun thing to do, although it isn't anything like we'd expected. We though it was real dungeons, but it's more of a performance. Good thing we'd left this to the end because anything else would have been a let down for MN. We topped off the day with dinner in a Chinese restaurant in Soho (Peking duck was yum-yummy!!) Back on the Tube, back in the car, and home to bed...zzzzzzzzzzzzzz
The next day was spent lounging around the beach hut to recharge our batteries. The girls and I hung out while dad and Maggie caught up on the routine daily things.
I mentioned about Stonehenge in the last post so will simply repeat that it was awesome in the literal sense of the word. If anyone is going, definitely arrange for the Stone Circle Access tour so you can get right in amongst the stones.
Winchester Cathedral is a gorgeous old Norman cathedral. Again, as mentioned, the highlight is the beautiful illuminated bible - even if you haven't a religious bone in your body, you can still appreciate this work of art, which is certainly is.
Bath is a lovely city, quite hilly which was unexpected (just what I was expecting, I can't say though.) The Roman Baths are all that and more! Thrilling to imagine that the waters of the sacred spring are considered to predate the Romans, and in fact flint arrowheads, etc suggest that this spot was used as early as 5000 BC - imagine 7000 years ago!!) The waters smell of sulphur (and taste of it too - we had a glass from the King's Spring on the way out). No wonder this is a top attraction, it's completely fascinating and very well "done". The audio guide (free with admission) is great since you can just listen at those places you are interested in (and hopefully one day I'll get back to hear the rest of the stories I didn't hear this time!) TG wanted to see the Fashion museum, so that was next. It is located in a beautiful building with Assembly Rooms to be toured in addition to seeing the costumes.
On Sunday, we went to church at St. Margaret of Antioch in Reydon. I'd never attended an Anglican service before and was expected it to be very similar to a Catholic service, but it was surprisingly much less formal and not terribly dissimilar to our United church services. The Vicar was a fairly young man and had a phenomenal rapport with the children. They were celebrating the Feast day of St. Margaret, so martyrs and dragons were involved and the children dressed up as a dragon (similar to how the Chinese do - all piled under an undulating sheet with a dragon head up front.) Afterward was the Dragon Feast held in the Vicar's garden, where we were shown off an introduced around as the Canadian contingent. Lots of bbq'd beef and lamb burgers, salads, puddings (although nothing in sight that resembled what I'd call a pudding - this is apparently the generic English term for dessert), wine, beer and soft drinks.
MN and I spent nearly the entire next day (a rainy one) playing various board and card games, while TG devoured the latest and last Harry Potter book. Dad had a friend who was going to the bookstore at midnight to pick up a copy for her son, so he arranged for her to get a copy for TG as well. So she now has a copy of the last HP book, bought in England shortly after midnight on day of release, and in a town quite close to Bungay where the books were printed. How cool is that?!
Last night Dad and Maggie hosted a dinner party, where we met more friends - a couple from Reydon and their 2 sons, and another couple from South Africa. After supper we played some games, much hilarity ensued and then off to bed.
(Nearing the end, I promise!!)
Yesterday, Maggie took us to the nearby zoo, Africa Alive. What a fantastic day out for a family! We saw lions and rhinos and snakes, oh my!! They have everything from viewing platforms, to feeding talks, to a petting zoo, to a fabulous live performance of tribal song and dance by a troupe of real Zulus from Africa (who mostly spoke Zulu so limited conversation after the show but they did pose with MN and TG for me to take a photo). I also really loved the giraffes and was very astonished at how graceful and gentle these ungainly looking creatures appear to be!
Today, we drove to Lavenham and Bury St Edmunds. Oh my, those crooked medieval houses in Lavenham really are everything they're cracked up to be! How funny to see them all higgledy piggledy leaning this way and that, cantelevered out over the road even. We toured the Guildhall and learned about the town's history and the wool trade.
The cathedral in Bury St Edmunds is another gorgeous building! And beautiful formal gardens filled with the remains of the old abbey (I think - didn't have any info with me so will have to check it further when have more time). Then home to a supper of fish and chips and beer (well ok, the girls had milk...)
And that's my story and I'm stickin' to it! Not a lot planned for the rest of our time here. I want to visit Framlingham and Orford castles, the girls want to do the Maize Maze, and we plan to visit Dunwich and see both the remains of the town (most of which has fallen into the sea over the years) and have the famous Dunwich fish and chips (supposed to be among the best in the area, if not the country!)
Take care and we'll be seeing you fairly soon!