British Invasion…Doug takes England

Dear Journal,

I realize it’s been awhile since I last wrote, I’ve been so busy! First I had to complete my tour of the United Kingdom.

I started in Cambridge. Which means I will be starting this entry with the most unbelievable story! Seriously, you will be tempted to think I am making it up…but even my imagination isn’t great enough for that! I spent my time in Cambridge doing a tour of the Universities, as most people would do. There are over 250 schools in the area, so naturally it took all day. Evening had fallen by the time I reached Sidney Sussex College. The plaque at the front gate stated that they had educated a male figure in English history: Oliver Cromwell. I knew the story of Cromwell (at least I thought I did) but in case you don’t here it is… Cromwell was the leader of the Revolution. He lead the charge that ended with King Charles I beheaded and the reign of the monarchy over. Cromwell ruled the country in a kings stead. When he passed away his body was preserved and buried in Westminster Abbey…but that’s is not where he remained. Without Cromwell as a leader the English people were lost. They turned ot the only person they could think of to take over: Charles II, son of the king they had dethroned. Charles took up the post as King, but did not forget what Cromwell had done. He had his body removed from the Abbey (a place of honor). But that wasn’t enough…no not nearly. He then had the body hung, beheaded and the head placed on a spike on the Westminster Bridge. It remained in that spot for 20 years. Quite the story, eh? I thought so…but little did I know, it was just the beginning…

After wandering the lawn & admiring the many fine structures at Sidney Sussex I decided to see the chapel. I was just going to stop for an exterior look but was surprised to find the door ajar. It seemed awfully late to still be open to visotors, but I thought I’d take advantage of my good fortune…my mistake to think I could actually have any good luck…

I mentioned that Cromwell’s head remained on display on the bridge for 20 years…well did you wonder why it finally stopped being up there? It turns out a storm blew it down. The wind was finally too much for the suprisingly well preserved head (remember Cromwells body had been preserved before it was buried) and it toppled onto the cobblestones below. The soldier on duty saw something fall and went to investigate. Can you imagine being this man and finding the object was a severed head? What would you do? I think I might scream, or run away as fast as my legs would take me. Whatever it is I would do it would not be the same as the soldier because he picked it up, wrapped it in a scarf and brought it home with him. The next morning though, when the head was missing, the man heard of the severe punishment they had planned for when they found the great head theif. Panicked, the man shoved the head up his chimney and never told anyone about it. That is until he recounted the whole crazy story to his grand-daughter on his deathbed. She, like any sane person, didn’t really want to have a disembodied head just laying around so she put it up for sale. A surprising number of people were interested in buying Oliver Cromwell’s head. This began a stretch of hundreds of years where the head was bought and sold.

If that were the story’s conclusion I still would have been in the clear, but there I was in the middle of a Cambridge University chapel watching 2 men dressed in black digging things up from below the floor! Well I am not too proud to say it almost scared the pants right off of me! I screamed and ran out of there so fast there was almost a Doug shaped hole in the chapel door. It seemed the commotion I made aroused suspicion and the authorities were called. Suddenly I was being credited for helping catch grave robbers searching for Cromwell’s head. It seems a buyer eventually donated the head back to Cromwell’s old school and they buried it in their chapel. The men would have already have found the head if it wasn’t for the fact that the school had placed a plaque that only mentioned the head was buried somewhere within the chapel, not it’s exact location. There had been enough issues with this head in the past, they didn’t want it to go missing again!

After that insanly frightening encounter I decided I should probably Lear to better defend myself scary people…like head grave robbers. And who better ot learn from than the man who battled the rich to save the poor for years…Robin Hood. I swung by Nottingham on the way to my next destination and got a few lessons. Here we are practicing our archery:

I thought I’d be safe in York. Their main attraction is a gorgeous cathedral called York Minster right in the center of town. I enjoyed the stained glass windows. That is always my favorite part of a church.

Feeling much more content I went to the Jorvik Viking Experience. It turns out the first inhabitants of York ha been the Vikings. There was an exhibit about their way of life, another about the artifacts that had been found from this time period and yet another about the archeological dig that had unearthed these treasures. I find archeology fascinating and read through this part thoroughly. I was immersed in the info board that I almost missed the shadow of a child run by. At first I thought it was a stray kid who had wandered away from it’s arena…but I was alone in the room. Then I saw it again and noticed it was wearing clothes that would not have fit in this millennia, let alone this decade. It was a Viking ghost! I am not proud of it, but for a moment I froze in terror. You don’t see ghost everyday! But then I realized it was not going to hurt me. I tried to converse with it but the few faint words I could hear were in a language I could not understand. It leaves me rather curious as to what the child wanted. I made sure to tell the staff about it on my way out. Hopefully they will call in a medium that can help the poor little boy out.

Heading south-east from York, I found myself in Chester. This is a city with a long, interesting history. It was first founded as the city fo Dewa by the Romans almost 2000 years ago as a military settlement. I repeat, 2000 years! Thats a crazy long time ago! Eventually the Romans Legionaries (which is what they called their soldiers) were told they could leave their station here, but many had married the womain the area and chose to stay. That’s when the military encampment became a town. Over time it grew, but also feel into a state of disrepair. Eventually Queen Victoria showed up and declared the place should be fixed up! She commissioned the building of countless Tudor style buildings’ those are the ones that are black & white (or two tones in neutral colors) with the exposed wood mounted right in the building walls. As I wandered about taking in the history I happened across an archealogical dig. Curious, I started talking the archeologists & volunteers’ ears off with all of my questions. Eventually, mainly because I think they wanted to quiet me down, they asked if I wanted to join them. I was thrilled and obviously jumped at the chance. I spent the rest of the afternoon digging through 3m of history, as that’s how far down the Roman ruins are located. On top of the Roman artifacts there are layers from the saxon, medieval and post-medieval eras. It was all very educational. But this was one educational experience I will never forget…definitely better than sitting in class trying not to fall asleep…

My next stop was Startford-Upon-Avon. My new interest in acting naturally drew me to the birthplace of the bard himself, William Shakespeare. After the experiences I’ve been having lately I wondered if perhaps I’d meet the man himself…if I was going to see a ghost I wanted it to be an interesting one! I decided I’d carry out my faux-ghost hunt at Shakespeare’s birthplace. This is a big Tudor style house. It was interesting to see how people lived back then. I can safely say I like being in this century, with electricity, running water & modern plumbing!
I didn’t run into any spirits but I did meet a nice troupe of actors. Their job is to perform scenes from Shakespearse’s vast collection of works (he wrote ????????? !) in the house’s garden by request. Kindly they let me try my hand at a few scenes. Shakespeare is not an easy thing to tackle and my memory is not as good as the professionals, but I muddled through. I even earned a few applause from the crowd, although they could have just been applauding the attempt and not the actual quality of the performance.

In the end this is as close as I got to meeting Mr. Shakespeare:
Oh and just for fun, here’s me and Hamlet:

Positioned coviently close ot Stratford is Warwicks Castle. It is a real medieval castle that has been converted into an almost theme park like attraction. There are exhibits and shows, and even a dragon encounter. I personally was interested in watching the castle knights at work. After a show of jousting the began to battle with swords, bows & axes. I cheered along enthusiastically with the rest of the crowd…maybe a little too enthusiastically… Before long they were asking for volunteers and I was being dragged up into the fray of the ancient style battle. My movie stunt training was not near enough to pull me through but my time training with Robin Hood helped a lot. In the end our side of the fight was victorious and I like to think that it was partially because of me. People tend to underestimate a man of my size!

Ater all that craziness I really just needed a break…a guy can only take so much! I found some peace & relaxation in Bath. This town was founded by the Romans over 2000 years ago…yes another ancient city. They built here because of the miraculous hot water that seemed to sprout from the earth. The hot springs they discovered have been used for thousands of year. Over a thousand years after the Romans left, the Kings & Queens of England decided they wanted to sit & splash in the natural hot water (and heal…they believed the water had healing powers). And if the royals were doing it, so was everyone else….and now so am I! Although you can’t still go in the original baths today, check out the green water…
…you can visit the Thermea Spa just down the road. After my visit I will be ready for any adventures life throws at me!

Keep Smilling,

Kittinminster is a funny word.

We didn’t have breakfast provided at the hostel so we treated ourselves to breakfast out. We set off in the direction of the old town figuring we would find somewhere along the way. Cafe Rouge was right near the middle of the walled area of town and had a delicious looking menu. We both had French Toast that was piled high with strawberries, blueberries and banana slices. It was adorable looking…and delicious looking…so delicious looking that we dug right in and neglected to take a photo…sorry!

We then caught a 10:30 walking tour of town. Walking tours are just the greatest things. They are informative, entertaining and take you to all of the hot spots in town. Chester is really the most lovely town!

You’ll learn about Kristin’s favorite era in history later on, but for now we’ll talk about Justine’s. She loves the Tudor era and Chester is full of original Tudor architecture…or so we thought. The gorgeous Black and White buildings were actually built during Victorian times because Queen Victoria enjoyed the Black and White Tudor buildings from the past more than the current Georgian Brick buildings. Justine wasn’t complaining! She wants to build a house Tudor architecture style for herself back home! Wouldn’t this house just blend right in to a Stony neighborhood?

Also on our walking tour we got to experience some of the Roman ruins. The Romans had built a fortress named Dewa at this location almost 2000 years ago. We saw the remains of the largest Roman Amphitheater in England and we got to walk along the walls of the city. The walls don’t date back to the Romans, but they were built in later centuries on the same location the Roman walls once stood. One of the most interesting Roman ruins we got to see was located in the basement of a fast food restaurant (we were told many of the fancier shops don’t let tourists down to see the ruins in their basements). In the basement of this baked potato shop we found the remains of a Roman bath house.
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After the walking tour we had hit most of the spots we wanted to see…So helpful! But we still had a short ‘To Do List’…

First we went to the Dewa Roman Experience. Kristin has a bit of a thing for the Romans…they are her favorite era of history, so this was an exciting outing for her! It was a little odd of an exhibit, but very interesting. It started with a couple of rooms of fake people talking to you that showed you what life was like for the Romans. Then we walked through some of the actual archeological sites of Chester. You could see the different layers that had built up over the millennia: starting with the Romans almost 3 meters below ground level, then the Saxon era (which had the least to see as this was the dark ages), then Medieval and Post-Medieval. Each was marked by different ground types and debris. Very neat to see!
Then there was a museum area of things they had dug up. Some of the most impressive things were the detailed coins and jewelry. It’s amazing the intricacies they could achieve two thousand years ago! Finally came the interactive area! This was the most fun! We build mosaics and arches, guessed roman numerals & god names and got to do some photo ops. We also felt how heavy Roman armor was…did you know the soldiers carried 40kg everyday?! Yikes!
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We then went back to the Chester Cathedral, which we had seen first on our walking tour, to actually go inside. We got both a student discount and a discount because of our tour in the morning so it ended up being super cheap!
The current Chester Cathedral was built off the Norman abbey of the 1100’s, in the 14th century. During the reign of Henry VIII the monasteries were shut down but surprisingly & luckily it was not destroyed like so many like it. Instead the abbey became a Church of England Cathedral. The Cathedral today is gorgeous and unlike the Cathedrals we’ve seen so far…this one was not as lavish but we were more impressed with it’s detail and how the different centuries of architecture were combined. The Gothic arches blended in perfectly with the Norman arches and the details in the wood carvings on the seating and decorative carvings was exquisite! The roof also had a wonderful wooden look that we were particularly taken with. The stain glass should also be noted…they were full of brilliant colors and shone extremely bright. Just gorgeous! We also enjoyed that you could actually see the stories they were telling.

We finished off our Chester visit with a stop at Subway (for a 6″ sub for lunch) and a grocery store (to pick up some food to eat on the train & snacks for the next couple of days). Then we hit the train station. The trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon is 3 hours, however that would be on a direct train…which there aren’t. So it took us 4 hours with 2 transfers to get there. but we are such train traveling experts that this was no problem! Because of the time we got out of Chester and into Stratford we ate supper on the train…here is a photo to make up for not having one of breakfast…
Not pictured are the smore cookies we bought. We had one for dessert. The most exciting part though was the milk! We shared a liter right out of the bottle 🙂

Upon arrival in Stratford we were ready to grab a taxi. Our hostel is kind of out of the way and the buses had already stopped running for the day. But then a nice old English lady offered to drive us. She was another frail looking thing that we trusted wouldn’t kidnap us. We just love helpful old English ladies!

Now we’re sitting in the hostel drinking tea and planning out the next 2 days. This hostel is so worth the distance from the train station…it is totally the nicest one we’ve been in so far. It’s big and clean and just all around nice!

Things we Learned Today:
– The English used to really hate the Welsh…to the point that they wouldn’t put hands on the clock tower side that faces Wales, because they were not giving the Welsh the time of day!

Highlights of the Day:
Kristin – Putting on a Roman soldier’s helmet and pretending I was marching off down an incredibly constructed Roman road (which thanks to my history class I can tell you all about) to add to the gigantic, ever-expanding Roman Empire!
Justine – When I walked up the stairs to the balcony of a Tudor architecture building the two guys playing a violin and keyboard on the side of the road started playing Titanic music…sigh…what could be more perfect!

Love, Luck & Legionaries (that’s what you call a Roman soldier!),

Was he even speaking English?

Welcome to another travel day post…hold back your groans because you know there is nothing worth reading below…and just read it anyway…because no matter what we are still awesome!

We started our day with a walk around Dublin as our ferry wasn’t until 2:30. It was either that or 8:30 and you have to be there half an hour ahead of time. This ended up being a very smart decision, but we’ll get to that when we come to it. Dublin seems like Nice enough place. It doesn’t make the top of our list, but we also don’t have anything to say against it. It’s really quite nice in some areas…but then you wander a little further and things get a little gritty & slightly sketchy. It’s not as inviting of a city, but it was still a good visit.
Below is a photo of “the tall pointy thing in front of us”…

At a little past noon, loaded with our backpacks (which we had stored at the hostel for the morning) we hopped on the stupid little tram headed towards the ferry port. Little did we know that an adventure was about it unfold…ok that makes it sound far cooler and more exciting than it really was. It was not epic in the least…instead it was a never ending maze!

We walked to the spot marked ferry port on our map. Here we found nothing. Well not nothing…there were a lot of roads, some with sidewalks, and a few very confusing signs that looked only meant for cars. Nothing with walking instructions or directions for foot passengers. Never has a ride on the BC Ferries looked easier! Faced with really no other choice we followed the driving directions. We walked through grassy areas under overpasses because there were no sidewalks. We squeezed onto the tiniest walkway. We walked and walked and walked through a very industrial, shipyard type area. The only things keeping us going were that the signs did in fact say the Irish Ferries were at Terminal 1 somewhere at the end of the road and that normal cars did keep driving by (not just trucks…though there were a lot of those too!). Eventually we got a spot where they mentioned foot passengers! Hallelujah! It was a miracle! We made it there with plenty of time to catch our boat because we had luckily left ridiculously early, but it was quite the experience. And after all of that the ticket lady had the nerve to be extremely rude and unpleasant!

Anyway, we got on the ferry. It was an Irish Ferry, which is a different company than the last ferry we took (it was Stena Line). It was not as grand on the inside but did have an exterior top deck! I was hard to stay out there too long though as we were on the express ferry that travels at twice the speed of the normal ferry. The journey was uneventful. Justine napped a little. Kristin played on her iPad. We split a sandwich.

The ferry arrived a little too late to catch the first train to Chester so we had to wait about 45 minutes for the next one. This was our wondrous 45 minutes in Wales! Hello country #5! Sorry we couldn’t spend more time with you!
Again the ride was uneventful. Justine has decided train rides seem very long and boring when you don’t sleep through them. At one point we had a pair of boys sharing our little quartet of seats. One of them had such a strong accent that if you didn’t really listen and concentrate on what he was saying you would have sworn he wasn’t speaking English.

Chester seems very nice so far and we haven’t even made it into the touristy old town yet. The hostel room is a little cramped but we’re getting used to that and can manage for a night. We went for supper at a place we passed when leaving the train station. Justine had a Chicken & Portobello Mushroom Pie that was all creamy & delicious! Kristin had, you guessed it, Bangers & Mash…and yes that is her side salad you can see in the photo. As much as she would like it to be, she realizes that sausage, potato & gravy do not make a balanced diet.

For some reason we both feel very happy to be back in the UK. Not sure why it comforts us so much…but we do know that we like how things seem cheaper here!

Random Observations:
– The want to see you passport when you enter the UK, even by ferry from Ireland…however they didn’t Want to see anything when we left the UK & entered Ireland.

What we Learned Today:
– They do make KD in the UK…apparently it’s just called Cheesy Pasta here…not that we’ve actually seen it anywhere yet…

Highlights of the Day:
1. Seeing the foot passengers signs at the ferry terminal!
2. For Kristin, supper…she was starving to death by the time we got to Chester!

Love, Luck & Leaflets (Justine is obsessed with them! Not that Kristin is complaining…she’s reading them to plan our day tomorrow right now!)