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Archive for the ‘British History’ Category

Sometimes I get caught up in London life and forget to explore the rest of England and the UK. Of course there are the normal places that attract global tourists like Bath or Stonehenge, but the lesser known locales give you an opportunity to understand the region in a totally different way.

OK, I have to admit that if we hadn’t been out visiting Flora and Jam for the weekend, we wouldn’t have gone out of our way to go to Lyme Regis. But we were having ourselves a city break in that area anyway, so it seemed like a great place to explore.

The town is located on what is known as the Jurassic Coast and is famous for fossils. Some of the first dinosaur skeletons discovered in Britain were found here in the 1800s and today you can see people combing over the shores for a great archeological find. Or a lost contact lens. Whichever.

The town is a touch of kiss me quick with an arcade and sea side dining but interesting for a wander.

Seaside snacks

Colorful spaces for rent along the shore.

Docked boats

Lampposts advertise fossil heritage.

I watched several people head off to the waves with their wetsuits and surfboards from beneath my many layers of winter gear. Amazingly, surfing in the UK seems to be a well participated activity. I suppose the temperature is what creates a divide between the mild enthusiasts and the passionate. I love water sports, but there’s no way you are getting me into the UK seas in winter.

Crazy person enjoying water sports.

We shifted through rocks in a bit of our own fossil hunting. We came across loads of pieces of broken pottery, beautiful stones and a touch of asbestos, but nothing of which to make our millions by selling to museums.

Flora on the search

Hooray! I think we found a fossil?

Walking back through town, I seemed to be the only one interested in things like the door to the old lockup. It gave a very medieval and quintessentially British vibe to the experience. I’m always amazed at how small the doors are and hence how short the population was.

The door of the old lockup

Well Lyme Regis, it’s been fun. Perhaps one day we will meet again.

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I snapped this picture of a sink at a pub back in May. Wikipedia tells me that there is no correlation to the slang word crap and Thomas Crapper, inventor of water closet improvements and the floating ballcock. The similarities between his name and the euphemism are completely coincidental.

Thomas Crapper and Company

I guess this is the same as someone named John Singer growing up to be a musician. Some things are just your destiny.

I’m grateful for his inventions, even if its provided him with a legacy I wouldn’t particularly want to have. I wonder if he would mind or if he’d be proud.

We seem to have very little control over these things. You have to work hard at something to achieve, but you don’t always get to choose your genius. All one can do is focus and channel  effort. In the end we have little control over our creativity. If you manage to catch opportunity and inspiration at the same time, it would just be wrong not to take it.

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Josh was in town for a few days on his way to Germany and was planning a day trip to Bath. I needed a break from dealing with the damage the movers inflicted on our possessions, so a trip to Bath sounded perfect. Plus, I was in the midst of reading Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and becoming increasingly curious about what exactly a Pump Room is.

We took the train in from London. We walked the short distance from the train station to the center of town and I was pleased to see that Bath was a very pretty place.

Beautiful Bath

The city hosts free walking tours daily and Josh wanted to catch one. I was along for the ride so I agreed. We purchased some snacks from one of the covered market stands and ate them in the courtyard while we waited the 30 minutes we had before the tour started. I chose a Jamaican style empanada treat that was not good at all. I immediately scolded myself for not knowing better.

The courtyards around Bath Abbey have a rotating team of street performers. They were mostly musicians, but I did see an acrobat as well. The performances and rotation schedule were extremely organized, which makes me think that the town holds some sort of audition and regulation for their street art.

Courtyard with Street Musician

The tour began in the area around the Roman Baths and courtyard. The tour guide took us to the Abbey with its flying buttresses and pinacles and went into a short description of its history. One interesting item he pointed out was the creepy looking angels climbing ladders to and from heaven. Why would angels need a ladder? Isn’t that why they have wings? Major fail.

Creepy Crawlers on Bath Abbey

Bath has several natural spring bathing centers. The oldest are the Roman baths. They fell into disrepair and were eventually lost due to silting up. The Georgian’s had their baths as well. It was believed at the time that a quick dip in the water would cure you of what ails you. At first the baths were only used by the poor. They would hang onto the edges while people would walk by and throw trash at them. Later the aristocracy caught on. New and more private baths were built and it became a social thing to hang out in the waters. This is how Bath became a playground for the rich.

Today there is a new and modern spa you can visit if you feel left out of the Georgian times. It’s very sleek and owned by the local government.

Roman Baths - Sorry, not very appealing for a swim

Finally, someone was going to explain to me what a Pump Room is. The characters in Northanger Abbey are forever parading around it flirting and gossiping and it’s hard to visualize all the galavanting when you are lost for the reference.

Basically it’s a room with a pump in it. You can drink from the warm spring that fills the Roman baths. I’ve been told the water tastes disgusting. Today you can also eat in their snazzy restaurant.

Pump Room

Bath owes a lot to Jane Austen for publicizing its history and atmosphere. As we walked along and through the streets, she was constantly being referenced and her house was pointed out to us. Another thing that was pointed out was the oddness of the windows around town. Very often the window frames existed without actually windows in them or the windows were placed suspiciously close to one another. This is because in Georgian times windows carried a special tax. The citizens of the day found every loop hole they could to not pay the tax. The consequences of these loop holes are still visible today.

Window Taxes are for Suckers!

We cut through a walkway that was used by the Georgians to avoid peasants and horses. I could envision walking through here in a large hoop dress speaking very politely yet long-winded  to the lords and generals about the latest betrothing.

Taking a stroll away from the horses and peasants

We were led to the Royal Crescent where local kids were playing soccer and lounging in the sun. The unique and interesting architecture makes me want to dance along the roof from chimney to chimney Mary Poppins style.

 

Royal Crescent

We were then taken into a building and shown this spectacular ballroom. Once again being in the midst of Northanger Abbey put everything in perspective. I imagined Catherine Morland twirling about in dance while trying her best to avoid John Thorpe.

The Ballroom

The tour concluded so Josh and I made a quick viewing of the Fashion museum on our own. They were showcasing Princess Diana’s gowns and the evolution of her style. Although it wasn’t as extensive, this exhibit was the perfect compliment to the Grace Kelly Fashion Icon exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

We were then off to explore some more of the Roman baths. When we arrived at the entrance, there was a swarm of grade schoolers there for the tour as well. We took one look at the chaos in front of us and decided to save it for the next time we were in Bath. We poked our head into Bath Abbey instead and then headed off to dinner.

Inside Bath Abbey

Post dinner Josh wanted to check out the Bizarre Bath comedy walk. I was skeptical, but game. My skepticism was warranted as the £8 walk turned out to be comparable to an hour and a half long street comic you might see in any touristy town center. Good on them for being organized. I doubt most street performers are that lucrative and the people around me seemed to be enjoy themselves.

I did enjoy views of the River Avon as the comic performed a stunt involving a locked up stuffed rabbit toy being thrown into the water. Bath really is picturesque.

Along the River Avon

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www.themonument.info
Open Daily: 09.30 – 17.30 (last admission) 17.00
Phone: +44 (0) 207 626 2717

Ever wonder why there is a tube stop called Monument? I didn’t, but it didn’t surprise me to learn that there was an actual monument there. I don’t expect there to be a real Chalk Farm or an actual Elephant and Castle, but we all know there is a Tower Bridge and a Marble Arch. Sometimes tube stop names are still relevant, sometimes they are not.

Monument

The Monument was built in the 1670s to mark the rebuilding of London post the Great Fire of 1666.The structure, built by Sir Christopher Wren is 202 feet tall which is the distance between the monument and the location that the fire began.

Plaque on the Monument

Everything before the fire that wasn’t built of stone was a goner. The city must have felt so new and young in the years directly after the fire as a whole new generation of architecture made its way to the forefront. Wren built 51 churches after the fire. Would he have ever had such an opportunity? Would he be a common household name otherwise? What would the cityscape look like now if there had never been such a destructive event?

This type of opportunity intrigues me. I’m reminded of cities like Le Havre, France that were completely bombed out during WWII. The city now feels strangely overwhelmed by immediately post WWII design. If the whole city hadn’t needed to be rebuilt, would Oscar Niemeyer have found another forum for his googly hand?

Niemeyer's The Volcan in Le Havre

Anyway, for £3 you can climb the 311 steps to the top of the Monument and take in the views. Honestly, you can get better views in other structures around London, but it is neat to try and imagine where the fire started. If the monument were to topple over, there is a chance you would land there.

Views from the top of the Monument

Views from the top of Monument

While the climb up got narrow and uncomfortable, the climb down made me really dizzy and claustrophobic. Flip flops were a bad choice of footwear. At one point I lost a shoe and decided it was safer to make the remainder of the trip barefoot.

Dizzzzzzzzy.

As I exited, I was awarded a nice little certificate to show off that I had made the journey to the top. The certificate depicted how the Monument appeared when it first opened. Nice touch.

An engraving by Sutton Nicholls of the Monument in 1750

Drawing from Certificate, courtesy of http://www.themonument.info

Bottom Line: It’s a good way to contemplate the Great Fire of 1666. I am glad I did it once, but I don’t think I need to do it again. Wear appropriate footwear.

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It was the day of the Queen’s birthday parade and Joanna and I had been up the night before drinking too many bottles of wine and playing music videos which quickly turned into singing and dancing along to music videos. Our respective significant others were out of town, her kids were at grandma’s house and it all seemed a little necessary.

She was up early the next day to get her hair did and I was off to see the Queen. Kitschy yes, but I had to do it.

I put myself on the tube and headed down towards St James Park. I spotted some slightly hungover American girls across from me, and in British tradition, did not strike up a conversation or make eye contact during the ride. As soon as we were back in the sunshine and off towards the parade, I asked them if they were headed to see the Queen and if I could join them.

None of us knew where we were going but we figured anywhere with crowds was a good bet. Unfortunately, there were more crowds than we bargained for. We tried to position ourselves for the parade but had a very difficult time finding a place where we could actually see anything. We finally wedged ourselves into a spot with a partial view and waited. Every once in a while a horse or official looking person would march by and we’d get excited, but alas it was just a teaser.

“I’d pay about 10 quid for a cup of coffee right now” I moaned to one of the American girls. “Me too” she agreed.

Finally, some action.

Pomp and Circumstance

As we balanced from one tiptoe to the next, guards on horses, foot and with instruments passed by. “There’s Camilla!” someone shouted and I looked just in time to see her and one of the princes pass by in a carriage. Finally, the moment arrived and the queen was in sight.

The moment arrives.

I couldn’t help but be disappointed that she didn’t bother to wave or smile. She just sat there like a big grump being forced to be in a parade on her birthday when all she wanted to do was sleep in and eat pancakes.

I guess I can’t blame her – except that the birthday parade isn’t actually for her birthday at all. It’s a ceremony of British infantry regiments that has been going on since the 17th century. It’s held the second Saturday in June in St James Park and celebrates the beginning of the monarchy in it’s entirety.

The Queen’s actual birthday is April 21, 1926, making her a Taurus.

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