Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Two Days in Bath

I should warn ahead of time that I have now fallen a week behind in blogging and as a result, the first few entries from here on may not be as captivating as those previous (if those were at all) since it is hard to recall everything, due to each day being so heavily schedule (a good thing).
I last left off on Tuesday, the 7th. The next day we left Harlaxton around 8 a.m. for Bath, a city located in southwest England. Taking a charter bus, we had about a five-hour drive yet due to a law here in England that requires a break for bus drivers after a certain amount of driving, we stopped briefly in Stratford-Upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare. While there, we visited the church in which he is buried along with a number of his family members and also walked by the supposed “birthplace” of W.S. though as Dr. Sylvia reminded us, it is unlikely that anyone knew the actual cottage he was born in and that what we were seeing was more than likely a tourist trap of sorts. Nonetheless, it was an incredibly unique experience. Shortly after visiting these two spots, Ben and I stopped into a used bookstore. They had one shelf titled, “Local authors”. It wasn’t until I started looking at the titles did I make the connection that this was the only time I had ever witnessed a such a section comprising almost entirely of Shakespeare’s works. After purchasing a leather bookmark (inspired by Ben’s decision to) and the irony, I broke off and found a small café to sit in until our coach was ready to leave. It is worth mentioning here that since coming to England, I have fallen in love with an espresso beverage called a flat white. It is similar to a cappuccino but creamier. In fact, as I type this blog I am enjoying one at a Costa Café near Windermere.
Continuing, we left Stratford-Upon-Avon and proceeded on toward Bath. By two o’clock, we arrived and checked in to our B & B, the Brooks. After settling in, I grabbed the complimentary city map from our room and made my way into the city. The city of Bath was significant to our class because of Jane Austen’s stay there and the inspiration provided for her last novel, “Persuasion.” I walked up and past Queen’s Square in search of the tourist information center. After ten or so minutes I arrived. My main reason for searching it out was to ask about a good phone retailer since I wanted to get a cheap cell phone as well as inquire into the Roman Baths, a very popular attraction that is imbued with some rich Roman history (dating back to 52 b.c.-if I recall correctly-whenever they invaded). After a very helpful and informative talk, I headed towards a cell phone provider called Orange. I stopped in and got a cheap cellphone with 50 minutes and then headed to the Roman Baths, a very very old Roman site that dats back to the first Roman invasion (57 b.c.?). The tour lasted about three hours. Afterwards I headed back to our B & B to get ready for dinner. We didn’t have any formal plans but I was expecting to see Ben and a few of the others and then go from there. When I got back though I didn’t see any of my peers. As I was searching throughout the B & B, I came across my professors who, upon my asking if they had seen any of the other students and their saying no, invited me to accompany them for dinner. We ended up going to a small traditional English pub that also served food. We had a few drinks and some great food, making for a really enjoyable evening. Afterwards, we returned to the B & B and ran into the rest of the group who had also just gotten back from dinner. We all decided on going out to the pubs and soon got dressed to do so. That night we went out to a club a few of the other students were at. We had a few drinks and then returned back to Brooks, but not before grabbing some fast food at a Mr. D’s. With our stomachs full, we were all ready for bed.
            The next day we were all to meet up around 12 p.m. at the Jane Austen Museum. I awoke around 9, showered, and then set off for the city center in search of a good café. With no scarcity of cafes, I soon found one with a great view of the Roman Baths I had visited the day before. After a few hours of booking both a b & b and transportation for the following weekend, I headed back to the outskirts of the center to the museum.
            I arrived and soon after, the rest of the group showed up and we all entered. Inside, we walked throughout, observing various displays and then given a guided tour throughout Bathe that comprised mainly of its relevance to Austen. Following the tour, we sat down to a proper English Tea and had a few pastries along with it.
After our tea, we headed back to our b & b. I took a nap and then a small group of us went to get dinner at a local restaurant recommended by Dr. Sylvia. As our last meal in Bath, it exceeded expectations, providing great food and drink. Thereafter, everyone went back to Brooks except Luke and I. We decided to go in search of a good pub for a few drinks. After about a half an hour, we turned the corner onto the high street and found one that had open mic night. Once inside, we had a couple beers, all while I was antagonizing Luke to go up and play a song. After one of the songs, Luke jumped up and walked confidently towards the stage. He asked the guy in charge if he could play, to which the man replied happily by handing over his guitar to Luke, who then sat down and started to actually play in front of his first British audience. He finished his song and received a warm applause, I leading with a whistle and a shout. We finished our beer and then walked back to the b & b and then fell asleep.
I awoke the next morning, showered, and grabbed breakfast. The group went back to Harlaxton while I set off on foot for the train station to depart to my next weekend destination, which provides a great segue to my next blog, soon to come, I promise. (Pictures will soon be posted too!)


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Tuesday

We returned to our normal three-hour class Tuesday morning, in which afterwards we grabbed lunch and then prepared for a walk to Denton, the nearest village over. The walk was not required but I was excited to do as much walking as possible so I joined. A small group of us met outside in the courtyard and we left for Denton.
The pathway was much more varied than I had expected, traversing over cow pastures, narrow throughways, over stiles, and through farm land. After about thirty minutes, we arrived in Denton and stopped in at the Welby Arms, a well-known pub there.
After a drink, we left, and started back for the manor. About twenty-five minutes into our trek, most of us started realizing that we weren't in familiar surroundings and it soon became apparent to all of us, our professors included, that we had missed a turn. We doubled back about a mile to correct the mistake and were soon back on the right path for Harlaxton.
Arriving back around 4:30, we missed the bistro, but headed for dinner around 5:30. The rest of the evening was fairly uneventful, with only Luke and I deciding to head into Grantham to check out a bar or two. Only an hour or so, we came back and went to bed.
I should mention that, I forgot my camera (very upset at myself) and so, perhaps as an excuse, for the last few blogs that I have overloaded with photos, this one is lacking. The next two promise some great pics though, so not to worry.

Until again,

Thank you,

Keith

Travel to Stamford and the Burghley House

*(B/c I'm falling behind, just note that this post details Monday June 6th)
After returning Sunday, I focused on relaxing and preparing for our next day's trip to Stamford, a town about 22 km south of Harlaxton. The next morning we had a 45 minute class before departing, briefly wrapping up discussion on Pride and Prejudice. The drive was short and soon after leaving the manor, we were in Stamford. The trip to Chatsworth the previous Friday was relative in that it served as part of the location of Pemberley in the 2005 film whereas Stamford and the Burghley House were adapted as Meryton and Rosings in the film.
We were told to roam about the town and explore for a few hours until meeting back at the tourist information center around 2:15 in which we would then walk a little under a mile to the famous Victorian mansion.
Luke and I walked about town, taking in the scenery that was so nicely intertwined with rivers and nature as whole. After an hour or so, we met up with a group of our peer and began seeking out a good pub. After being unsuccessful at finding the entrance at two different locations, we managed to find one with an easily accessible door.
Once inside, we walked up a series of stairs only to be welcomed by a strange cloud of silence between our group of young Americans and the easily discernible local regulars. As we came atop the stairs, the quiet conversations gave way to confusing stares as each of our groups simply stood and looked across at the other. A strange air for sure (I've been reading Austin, give me a break-for you literary junkies out there reading this).
This strange atmosphere hung on as a few of us at a time approached a nearby table to take a seat.
"You'll have to come up here for service" the woman behind the bar said aloud. Sheepishly, we all slowly advanced towards the bar and picked up a menu. You could feel the study you were subject to as we stood, scanning the small laminated menus for something. One at time, we ordered our food and drink and then returned to our table.
Perhaps it was the newfound realization that we were bringing a good amount of business and/or that we were being respectful that finally broke that odd cloud surrounding us and found ourselves in easy dialogue with both barkeeps and the locals. We received the typical inquiries as to where we were from and what we were doing here but the simple fact of finally conversing with these natives was relieving and enjoyable. 
After some fish and chips and a few drinks, though I had tea due to my stubborn allergies, we bid the bar farewell and made our way to the tourist center to meet up with our professors. Once everyone made it, we departed for the Burghley House. We walked briefly throughout Stamford before coming to an entrance that opened up to a large estate, half filled with woods, the other with grazing. Continuing on throughout the estate, we soon came upon the Burghley House. 
Once at the entrance, we were told we could go and explore the gardens for half an hour since we would not have the chance to after our tour of the House. Just adjacent, the gardens were beautiful, as most are, yet, they also entailed some very contemporary art work, which at times really stuck out. Nonetheless, I explored small passageways, a mirror maze and other parts of the grounds, enjoying the carefully crafted scenery before me. Though in such a small window of time I was unable to see even half of the gardens, I was more than satisfied with the opportunity of seeing what small fraction I did.
Our group met back at the entrance, and our guided tour began. We were taken throughout the entire house, informed of the influences, figures, and changes made over the years and by the end of the tour, given an in-depth understanding of one of England's oldest manors. Though close to a two hour tour, the sheer magnificence of such a building was more than captivating enough to forget the time taken.
And yet, like every day so far, it came to an end, unfortunately. The upside, so far?  There is always another day to spend in England and another adventure to be had.

Bridge in Stamford
Stamford




St. John's Church
St. Mary's Church Up Ahead
St. Mary's Church
An engine exhibit at Stamford Museum (The next six pictures all from this museum, which I was informed is to close at the end of the month)





 Tea at lunch
 Our group at lunch
lunch
 Luke and I outside the pub
 The meadow before Burghley
 Walking toward Burghley
Burghley
 Exhibit in the Gardens








 Door to pathway through garden


 Before going into the Burghley House
 Another exhibit in the pond








After getting back, a few of us went downstairs to the bistro for a music session by Luke.
P.S. Due to the age of most of the exhibits, we weren't allowed to take pictures inside the House, in case you were wondering ;)

Until again,

Thank you,

Keith

Monday, June 6, 2011

Weekend Trip #1: to Hunstanton

Friday evening after getting back from Chatsworth, I started planning my weekend trip to Norfolk to walk the Norfolk Coast path, which is also included in the much larger National Trail, Peddars Way. The biggest obstacle was getting train routes mapped out and booked. Luke, my new-found friend and peer here at Harlaxton previously purchased a rail pass that was good over any 8 days, so he was just along for the ride.  After about an hour I had my route mapped out. We were to take a taxi from the manor to Grantham train station, from there to Peterborough, then connect to a train to Elly, and finally to Kings Lynn from there. We were set. All that was left was for next morning to come.
The day before, I had plugged in my external hard-drive I brought with me, since I was going to be doing a lot of video editing. Because the outlets are configured differently over here, I had to use an adaptor with every electronic device. Most of the time there aren't issues, from what I've been told but ever so often, there is. And who would guess, but that I would in fact have an issue with the one device I was relying on more than any other except my computer-my external hard-drive.  When I would plug in, it would begin to power up but after a few seconds shut off. I must have tried three or four time, and each time the same result. I concluded that even with the adaptor, there wasn't enough wattage coming through to satisfy the required amount. After seeking out online storage services (and none really working out) and trying to use my iPod as a portable (it decided to become corrupt and my computer won't allow me access to it until I restore it, meaning I would have to wipe all 8,000 or so songs off, which over here is an issue since I don't have my other hard-drive with all my music on it-I digress...), I went into Grantham just before our train out to purchase a portable drive. While in Grantham, Luke and I grabbed a full English breakfast, a staple morning meal here (pictures below). After breakfast, we made our way to the train station.
One cab, three trains, and one bus later, we were in Hunstanton, a small tourist destination about the size of Sullivan, IL (population anyways-about 4,000). When I say "tourist destination" I mean for the locals, the actual citizens. It is pretty rare, as we were told on multiple occasions that Americans find themselves in this small sea-side town.
Once we were dropped off at the bus station, we began walking toward the sea and the busier part of town.  As we did, we noticed a hotel/restaurant on our right. We hadn't eaten anything since morning so we took the opportunity to fill up as well as ask about accommodation. Luckily, the food was good and the rate decent (60 pounds for Luke and I-30 each, about $50 on a Saturday evening), so we managed to kill two birds with one stone as we say back in the States. After eating and booking, we went up to our room to prepare for our hike. We unpacked our unnecessary items and we left for the tourist center to get an OS map of the trail and find out where it began in Hunstanton. Only a few minutes from our hotel, the center proved more helpful than we imagined. The two women at the desk informed us that the trail, no longer than what we were walking, was well marked and as a result, did not require an OS map. They were also able to direct us to the start of the trail.
Around 3:45 Luke and I departed the town center and made our way down to the coastal front and started in. For about a mile, we walked between the North Sea and the cliffs of Hunstanton. After a short spectacular walk on the coast, the path ascended to the cliffs, which by this point had become more like hills. Though the trail itself wasn't difficult up to this position, it comprised of almost entirely sand, requiring more energy to walk. The trail went on for six miles, going through flat land that bordered a golf course before winding inland next to several canals and then further through a wildlife preserve before ending in the small town of Thornham.
Once in Thornham, we walked to the bus station to get a ride back to Hunstanton. After asking a local where it was and discovering our stop, we were unfortunate to find out that we had missed the last bus of the day by nothing more than a minute or so, or we thought. We had asked a few other locals walking by if what we saw on the timetable was correct and they confirmed it. Suddenly taken aback with a minor sense of despair at the prospect of now having to take a taxi, we walked across the road to a restaurant to inquire about taxi services. The female bartender gave us a few cards but told us that it wouldn't be cheap. Leaving the restaurant, Luke and I walked back to the bus-stop with our heads down. I, especially, was upset with myself for not having mapped this part of the journey out well enough. As we sat at the stop, preparing to call one of the taxi services, one of the local women we had asked earlier about the timetable came out of the restaurant to inform us that there was actually one more bus to come, around 7:08 and that the timetable we saw was old and did not include it.
We were relieved. So relieved. The outlook had not been looking good as far as our wallets were concerned. Waiting for this supposable last bus, we sat in anticipation.
7:08 came and went. 7:09, came and went. 7:10, also came, and went. I could feel the despair from earlier begin to descend as I cursed myself for not planning ahead. Just as I was looking down at the sidewalk, I heard a loud vehicle, looked up, and to my great pleasure, beheld our bus. It went by rather slowly and I caught the bus driver's attention as he looked at me, asking, visually, if I needed on. I earnestly shook my head yes and Luke and I sprinted across the street towards it and got on.
A pound and a half later, we were on our way back to Hunstanton, overjoyed that things had worked out.
Once back to Hunstanton, we went back up to our room and showered. Afterwards, we were ready for supper. I had asked Luke, with the weather having turned chilly, if he would prefer just eating at the restaurant inside the hotel. He suggested instead that we walk and find a fast-food equivalent joint and eat there. About five minutes later we found Chicken and Pizza (the actual name of the restaurant mind you).
We walked inside and began looking at the menu boards. Amongst many of the meals, there was one called the USA Special. It consisted of 4 pieces of chicken, 4 chicken wings, 2 cokes, 2 fries, and 2 apple pies. We couldn't help but laugh while at the same time feel a pang of guilt at our reception. Regardless, after skimming over the boards, we ordered our meals. As soon as we had, a gentleman in the corner of the restaurant yelled over at us and asked where we were from.
This had happened to us before so I replied, The States, and Luke, Illinois. The guy went crazy. He was ecstatic. He, as we soon were told, was from Canada. He was thrilled to see another North American. We ended up eating there and talking with him over the course of 30/45 minutes. Dan, was his name (another Dan). He asked us where we were staying and when we told him, he laughed. We were informed that his grandmother actually OWNED the hotel we were staying at. Dan, who had come over 13 years earlier when he was 18 for study abroad, decided to stay here. Because his parents were English he could do so without having to apply for any special documentation and as a result, he had been there ever since. He also told us that he had a permanent room in the hotel. Dan invited us to go back to the bar at the hotel for a drink on him and then to go look into a party at the town hall.
After generously buying both Luke and myself a beer, we walked across the road to town hall to find out about the party/live band. The only other issue aside from the slight anxiety of partying with locals who weren't use to seeing Americans, especially young Americans, was that it was ten pounds to get in. Thankfully, we decided to pay and had a blast.
The live band was doing covers of American songs from the 80s. Though it took both Luke and I a while to get in the mood, so to speak, we ended up on the dance floor by the night's end due largely in part to Dan knowing the entire town. He introduced us to many of his friends and we even met numerous people on our own. Talk about a true experience in England. We were able to assimilate half-way decently with the townspeople and go to bed with another great night spent.
The next morning, we got up, had another full English, though it differed a little from the one we had the morning prior, walked around the town a little while, and then to the bus station to depart.
Three trains and a cab later we were back at "home" with a great weekend spent in a beautiful part of the country and with great people.

 Our first full English breakfast in Grantham
 Lunch at our hotel
 Hunstanton (Coast-North Sea)
 Train station before arriving in Kings Lynn (took the bus from there to Hunstanton)
 Luke, just before our heading out on the trail
 The North Sea
 The Coast


 I'm the small person in the middle right,


 Trail marker
 Going inland


Looking back at Hunstanton and its lighthouse

 A few horses that walked by us on the trail

 Canal as we head inland



A small, marina? Just before Thornham


 Almost to Thornham



video
Movie of our waiting at the bus stop.

Until Again,

Thank you,

Keith