Saturday, 25 January 2014

Winter Break: Southern England

Done with exams! Done with exams! Done with exams!!! I had my Polish exam on Tuesday, and just got back from a trip to Cambridge last night. Hopefully I can get the rest of my break into one blog post!

Jan. 1: Of course my car on the 6:30am Tube was the one where a rude drunk man got jumped… of course my coach on the 6-hour, 7:30am train to Penzance had the eight loud, rude, still drunk, still singing, still shouting drunk men… of course I forgot train candy whilst the man next to me had train shortbread… #soberandunamused2014 I made it to Penzance though, dropped off my stuff, and walked about the 5 miles (round trip) coast walk to see St. Michael’s Mount. You can reach the island by foot at low tide, but I was tired and hadn’t planned it out right anyway (it wasn’t open, anyway). It was such a cool experience to be at the ocean! I think it’s one of my favorite things about England—I literally never go to the ocean at home, and here there’s just so much of it! I managed to get absolutely drenched by some waves by a part of the walk (despite the barriers). Again, “I am cold, and I am wet.” Got kebabs, walked back to my hostel (it had, of course, started raining. Honestly though I was so wet it really didn’t matter), put on dry clothes, did laundry (!!!!), and went to bed before 9:30pm. I was tired.

Jan. 2: I had a wonderful bus ride to Land’s End—up and down hills and through the countryside. Part of the route was on one-way country lanes, so whenever there was another car the bus driver had to get creative. I was impressed. I was one of the first people at Land’s End that day, it was pretty deserted early in the morning. It rained a bit, but then I saw a rainbow. It was incredible. Being that far west was such an amazing experience! I felt like I was at the end of the earth and it was awesome. I saw the First and Last House, the iconic sign (Minneapolis was 4191 miles away, but I didn’t want to pay the money for a picture), pretty sure I saw the Scilly Islands in the distance, and I didn’t get blown into the ocean. Success. I went back to Penzance for the rest of the afternoon, since there wasn’t too much to do and I didn’t want to get too far from my bus stop. Ate Cornish pasties in Cornwall. So so good.

Jan. 3: Here’s what was supposed to happen:
I was supposed to take one train at 9:40 from Penzance to Exeter and arrive around 1:00.
Here’s what actually happened:
Due to a lightning strike (that also conveniently knocked out power in my hostel in the morning), my train was delayed. First I sat on the train for 20 minutes, then I got bussed to Plymouth, which was a dumping ground for everyone and I ran around asking everyone where to go to get to Exeter, then got on a bus to Newton Abbott, and then from there switched to a train to get to Exeter. I got there a little after 3:00. I was not amused. I got kebabs (perhaps you are now sensing a common theme?) after checking in my hostel and wandered around, and then went to bed early. #unamused2014

Jan. 4: First real day in Exeter, got a library card so I could use 15 minutes free internet, then headed to Exeter Cathedral! It is a beautiful place, it has the longest unbroken medieval vaulted ceiling in Europe (or the world?), has so many quirky stories, and it was well worth the trip to Exeter. I saw the castle, walked across the Roman bridge and through the ruins, then went out with a girl in my hostel, Tamara, and had so much fun! I met a ton of great people and had a blast.

Jan. 5: I woke up early to go on an adventure to Dartmoor National Park. I took a bus to the small town Ivybridge, and as soon as I got off the bus it started raining. I walked through to the national park in the rain, went up and saw the moor, then decided that it was pouring rain and I was wet and freezing, and decided to leave. However, the next bus back to Exeter wasn’t for four hours, and literally nothing was open on a Sunday afternoon, so I went to the one pub that was open and got a coffee and watched Nottingham Forest destroy West Ham. Jamie Paterson had a hat trick and might be taking over as my favorite British soccer crush. Eventually got back to my hostel and I was soaked through and miserable. A couple girls in my room and I ordered Dominos, and I hung out with friends I made the night before.

Jan. 6: I got up early to get to Portsmouth, dumped my stuff at my lovely B&B and headed out to the seafront. It was gorgeous! Fairly windy, but you can see the Isle of Wight and it felt so awesome to be so close to the ocean. Unfortunately Southsea Castle (built by Henry VIII) is closed in the winter, but I went to the D-Day Museum and that was very interesting. It was so nice having a single room to myself! I even had my own shower, so after I got kebabs (again, common theme…) I had a luxuriously long hot shower and watched TV.

Jan. 7: Walked through Portsmouth to get to the Historic Dockyard, the main tourist attraction, so I could see the Mary Rose Museum. The Mary Rose was Henry VIII’s great warship that sank in Portsmouth in battle in 1545, and was raised from the ocean in 1982. It is incredible how well preserved everything was and how much was on board the ship!!! And it was very personalized, which was a nice touch. Everything from cannons (with Henry’s logo), to a complete skeleton of the ship’s dog, to tiny dice that the sailors used for gambling, they had everything. Next stop was the train station for Winchester, to see that cathedral. Winchester Cathedral is beautiful!!! Mary I married her husband, Philip of Spain, here in 1554 and the cathedral is steeped in history (Jane Austen is also buried there!). The other things I wanted to see in Winchester were, of course, closed. #unamused2014

Jan. 8: Checked out pretty early and got to my hostel in Canterbury with the help of some train candy. I literally threw my stuff on the floor and ran out again to finally see Canterbury Cathedral. I’ve been dreaming of going there for so long, and it was well worth the wait! A spectacular cathedral, and well-deserving the title of one of the most beautiful cathedrals in England. Famous because of Thomas Becket’s martyrdom in 1170, it was very touching how they set up his shrine, as well as having a candle lit in the middle of the floor to mark the site of the previous shrine. I also got to see the crypt, which was silent and dark and creepy and awesome, the oldest part of the cathedral (built in the 1100s). I saw the Norman Castle and then headed back to the hostel for free internet and free lemon cake!

Jan. 9: Got to sleep in and was well stocked with train candy for my trip to Rochester. Originally I wasn’t even planning on going there, but I am so glad I did! The high street is so quaint, and Rochester Cathedral was free for visitors and beautiful. There was a statue of my guy Bishop John Fisher, and the west door is great. Rochester Castle, the site of the infamous meeting of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves, was partial ruins, and you can just wander around each level and make your way up to the top of the keep. It was pretty windy on top but had a great view! I bought used books even though I shouldn’t have, and got new headphones at Poundland.

Jan. 10: Literally lived the dream in my adventure to Leeds Castle today. I took two trains to Hollingbourne train station, then walked 2 miles to the castle. It was a perfect day… blue skies, no rain, so much sun. A miracle. The gardens and lawns had too many birds for my taste, but it was beautiful. Curving around you finally get to see the castle, on an island in the lake/moat and it is simply magnificent. They say Leeds Castle is the most beautiful castle in England, and after finally seeing it I’m inclined to agree. The castle itself was redesigned in the mid-1900s so it was all very new. But it has a rich history of queens: Eleanor of Castle, wife of Edward I, was the first queen to really start the castle, as well as my girl Catherine of Aragon, and I got to see the Catherine of Aragon Bedchamber which rocked. I went through the maze and sat on a bench by the lake, basking in the warm sun and drinking it all in. I slowly made my way out and the weather stayed beautiful, walked the 2 miles back, waited almost an hour for my train back, and then crashed hardcore at the hostel. It was such an amazing day, I got to live out my dream! I’ve been dreaming of going to this castle for so long, and now I finally got to see it!

Jan. 11: Living the dream part two… I saw the White Cliffs of Dover on the most beautiful day I could have ever asked for. Dreams really do come true. I walked all the way up through the harbor to get to the Cliffs, and then wandered 2.5 miles along to see the lighthouse. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, the temperature was perfect, and I got to see France. The White Cliffs of Dover are my favorite symbol of British strength and resilience, such a significant representation of England. Walked down the hill, and then walked right back up another hill to see Dover Castle. I got to go on the underground tunnel tour, which was really focused on the evacuation of Dunkirk, which I hadn’t known a lot about. My favorite part is all the “Little Ships,” the merchant and civilian ships that risked German fire to bring the boys home. Cried a lot. I saw the Roman Pharos (lighthouse) and the keep (c. 1189), and then crashed hard in my hostel after so much uphill walking.

Jan. 12: Left early from my hostel, and trained it back to Nottingham. I have never been so exhausted and needed to do laundry and missed my flatmates and in general missed being home.

Final score:
            Castles: 14
            Cathedrals/famous religious places: 11
It was a close one.

Okay, this blog post is super long and I am so done for now. Exams are over and I had great trips to both London and Cambridge! Tonight we’re having an overnight sleepover at Tutbury Castle, and I’m so excited!

Rainbow at Land's End
Exeter Cathedral
Canterbury Cathedral
Living the dream at Leeds Castle
White Cliffs of Dover

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