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Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

I was given a tip to stop by the York Sculpture Park while traveling from Leeds back to London. Husband and I had some time to spare and thought, why not?

I wasn’t expecting anything major, maybe something along the lines of the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas. I was surprised to find that this place was so expansive and impressive. We ended up spending the whole day exploring the grounds and exhibits.

 

York Sculpture Park is just one mile from Junction 38 of the M1 and is open daily except 24 & 25 December. Admission is free, parking is £5. 

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Leroy and Mariah were both in town visiting. We were at a pub looking through our travel guides  and trying to decide what exactly it was we wanted to do with our week. The contrasts were stark.  Husband was completely embarrassed by our public display of tourism. Mariah, ever the planner, had her wheels spinning. Laid-back Leroy was agreeing to every suggestion without too much enthusiasm. That is, until we mentioned visiting a few monoliths. The Discovery Channel buff in him suddenly perked up and Mariah and I knew we had to make it happen.

Since Stonehenge is a little cliche and Mariah and I had already been there, we decided to visit Avebury. Word was that it was better and the oldest stone circle in Europe. The stone circles are multiple in number, more accessible and integrated into the town. In fact, the town is built inside these massive stone circles.

Luck was with us as the sun was shining for our drive out to Avebury. We parked the car and quickly found the main attraction: strategically placed large stones. Although Avebury does not carry the iconic image that Stonehenge has blazed in our collective consciousness, the sheer number of stones and organization was much greater than that of Stonehenge.

Avebury

After a bit of walking around the stones we headed into the museum. I needed context for what we were viewing. The staff at the museum was a breathe of fresh air. Tourist sites have a tendency to make one feel like cattle. The people at Avebury seemed generally excited to have our company. It was a bit like dating the sister of the prom queen.

A walk through the stones.

Let’s consult Wikipedia for historical background.

Constructed around 2600 BCE, during the Neolithic, or ‘New Stone Age’, the monument comprises of a large henge, surrounded by a bank and a ditch. Inside this henge is a large outer stone circle, with two separate smaller stone circles situated inside the centre of the monument. Its original purpose is not known, although archaeologists believe that it was most likely used for some form of ritual or ceremonial usage. The Avebury monument was a part of a larger prehistoric landscape containing several older monuments nearby, including West Kennet Long Barrow and Silbury Hill.

In the Late Mediaeval and Early Modern periods, locals destroyed many of the standing stones in the monument, and a village was built in the centre of it. The antiquarians John Aubrey and William Stukeley however took an interest in Avebury, and recorded much of the site before its destruction. Archaeologists proceeded to excavate at the site in the 20th century.

It’s wild to think about someone chopping down this ancient stone arrangement to build onto their house. I guess it felt silly to go in search of new raw materials when these had been delivered right to your doorstep. Plus, the historical nature of the stones may not have been widely understood or respected in the Late Medieval and Early Modern times.

Stone Marked Road

One thing about Avebury that I absolutely can not recommend is the Red Lion Pub in the village. The service was more than atrocious, it was comical.  The food was just plain bad. They were out of half the menu. I don’t know how you mess up fried food that badly but the chips were terrible. We were treated like an annoyance by the kid behind the bar. They forgot to bring our dessert. They were out of coffee cups. Not out of coffee, just out of vessels (for there or to go) to hold it in because they had a rush of visitors a few days earlier. Not that morning. Not yesterday. A few DAYS earlier. Yeah, it didn’t make sense to me either.

Do not eat here.

Constructed around 2600 BCE,[1] during the Neolithic, or ‘New Stone Age’, the monument comprises of a large henge, surrounded by a bank and a ditch. Inside this henge is a large outer stone circle, with two separate smaller stone circles situated inside the centre of the monument. Its original purpose is not known, although archaeologists believe that it was most likely used for some form of ritual or ceremonial usage. The Avebury monument was a part of a larger prehistoric landscape containing several older monuments nearby, including West Kennet Long Barrow and Silbury Hill.

In the Late Mediaeval and Early Modern periods, locals destroyed many of the standing stones in the monument, and a village was built in the centre of it. The antiquarians John Aubrey and William Stukeley however took an interest in Avebury, and recorded much of the site before its destruction. Archaeologists proceeded to excavate at the site in the 20th century.

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Photo not mine.

I have two modes when it comes to making it to the airport for a flight. I am either extremely early or barely make it. The other weekend I happened to be extremely early.

Husband and I went to our usual Gatwick pub for a pre-flight beverage and sub-standard reheated frozen snack. I approached the counter and made my order. The bartender squinted. “Um, can I see some I.D?”

The legal drinking age in the UK is 18. I am no longer anywhere near 18. I call bullshit on anyone who wants to tell me I look younger than 18. Nonetheless, I’ll take this as a compliment. I know bartenders in the UK are trained to I.D. anyone who doesn’t look 25. I like to believe that I can pass for 25.

I go to retrieve my passport and make it back to the counter. “Ah, American” he says when he sees it. “You know, I love some American accents. Some of them are really nice. Yours is really nice.”

“Thank you,” I reply. This is a nice surprise. I usually get told that American accents sound like a British person with a mouth full of bubble gum.

He feels the need to go on. He’s compensating with friendliness for having asked for I.D. “Some of them are really bad. Like Texas accents. I hate Texas accents. They are awful.”

I thank him again as I grab my beer.

“Where in the U.S. are you from?” he asks.

“I’m from Texas,” I reply as I prepare to walk away.

His face goes blank and he lets out a stutter.

Awkward.

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picture not mine

Sorry for the lapse in posts. I’ve been in the U.S. waiting on my visa and it’s taken much longer than expected. I spoke to an immigration lawyer before I left to find out how to streamline the process. Frankly he didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. There goes a wasted 100 quid.

I’ve had a great time in the U.S. but it’s gotten quite frustrating as I’ve been doing some couch surfing and the visa office does not provide you with any kind of status update. I don’t think my friends that said I could crash with them realized it would be 2 months, and 2 months in the U.S. without a car or job can start to get pretty brutal. I’ve gotten really good on the road bike and I’ve gotten to travel around a bit via train, hitching rides with friends, borrowing cars (and wrecking them – oops, sorry M) and cheap airlines. I had to. Otherwise I was going to go crazy wondering how long this was going to take.

Well lo and behold I return to Austin from a week in New Orleans and my visa has finally been approved. I guess all I needed was a touch of the voodoo. For those of you wondering, I got off light. Only 34 working days to process instead of the predicted 50. I’m now a filthy immigrant on her way home. To her new home. Well, her old home that is new again. Confused? Yeah I’m having a bit of an identity crisis too.

I’ve been told I’m lucky to apply now, that the immigration environment in the UK is changing very rapidly. I’ll take my breaks where I can get them.

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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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Back in May as the summer began, Boyfriend and I decided to take a day trip down to Brighton to check out the scene. We hopped on a train from London full of other beachgoers. The weather had just begun to get warm and nice and everyone around was buzzing with the promise of summer. Coming from a climate where summer constitutes two-thirds of the year, I tend to take such things as a day at the beach for granted. The whole of Southern England was fully taking it in.

Brighton Pebble Beach

We dipped our toes in the freezing water and I immediately felt awe for those brave enough to swim. After an hour or so of laying around and having someone’s child throw pebbles at us, we decided to have a walk around and check out the rest of what Brighton had to offer.

But where do I fit my beach towel?

The beachfront was simply overwhelmed. The ice cream stores were packed and the restaurants were drained of menu items.

Hope you wanted tiger prawns for lunch.

Thankfully, there’s quite a lot more to Brighton than the water. We stumbled upon a park, cute homes, groovy looking shops and restaurants. Once away from the droves of people on the icy beach, I was really digging it. I’ve been told the nightlife is quite the scene. As we embark upon Fall, I’m thinking this is a good thing.

Brighton, not all beach.

Groovy looking shops abound.

The excitement and crowds over what I considered to be a mildly warm day scared me. It’s occurred to me that although I have traveled quite a bit and have spent months at a time away in Europe or mountain climates, I have never fully experienced the seasons.  I have only been a visitor, popping in for a while and then returning to my natural habitat. I imagine how odd it was for explorers or immigrants before today’s globalization. It must have been difficult for them to wrap their heads around their new home and the weather. Humans adapt, but it’s not without effect.

As for me, I am learning to recalibrate what warm is and trying to soak up the sun while it is around. I’ve developed a plan for my impending Seasonal Affective Disorder that involves lots of trips to the Mediterranean and vitamin D supplements but I think the best plan is to learn to embrace it.

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