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…
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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:
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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.
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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.
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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…
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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!
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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:
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Oh and just for fun, here’s me and Hamlet:
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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!
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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…
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…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,
Doug

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Are you one of Jace’s fathers?

Hello all! Sorry this post is a little late…you can blame it on WordPress technical difficulties and our extraordinary ability to get distracted! Here’s our post for yesterday (written like we wrote it yesterday because that’s how we usually write…)

Our day began much the same as every other day…get up, get ready, eat breakfast at the hostel (and a rather massive breakfast at that! We definitely got our money’s worth) then waited around until it was time to catch the bus. It was packed for the ride into Stratford so we had to stand. Let us tell you, it is an ab workout trying to balance with that weight on your back while the bus weaves crazily about…because that is just how buses drive here…

On our way to the train station we stopped off at the Tudor World Museum. For those of you who don’t recognize the name, that is where we went on the haunted building tour the other night! Justine commented that we probably should have done the museum first then the ghost tour and Kristin couldn’t help but agree. We were a little freaked out the whole time and probably would have enjoyed ourselves more if we weren’t constantly checking over our shoulders and sneaking peeks into rooms before we’d actually enter. We practically ran through the room where Kristin had stood in the ghost. In the end though it was exciting and interesting. The exhibits had some interesting tidbits (mmmm that just made me think of Timbits…) about life in Tudor times and the whole setup was quite neat to walk through.

Next we made our way to the rail station where we waited an hour and a half for the perfect train to get us to Bath…other trains had a million changes or involved us walking halfway across Birmingham to change trains. By 4:00 we arrived in Bath. The train ride was pretty uneventful as always. One of the trains was freezing so we got a hot beverage at one of our train changes. We walked to our hostel which was really close to the train station. This hostel us pretty nice, painted with lots of bring colors! We’re in a bit of a squishy 8 bed room with 5 roomies (for one of the first times since London some are boys).

Since we didn’t have any lunch we left the hostel with plans of finding a place for an early supper. We wandered for awhile looking for the perfect spot and got a really good first look at Bath. The city all matches with pretty much every building being made a elegant white limestone. For supper we found an little Irish Pub which we’ve been to before. This time Kristin had a chicken and mushroom crockpot pie. Justine had a cottage pie of beef, peas and mashed potatoes. Since the meals were £3.99 each we also got a pint. It was yummy & filling…but not too big…perfect!
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During supper we scouted out all the brochures we had picked up and planned the tours we want to go on in the next couple days. It’s nice knowing we have our next couple of days all worked out.

We walked back to the hostel where we had a pretty uneventful night. We did however distract ourselves very easily on YouTube for almost 3 hours…we are so good at doing things like that…

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That’s all for now…
Love, Luck & Limestone,
K&J

An Electrifying Day Out!

Hello all! Kristin here…it’s been awhile since Justine’s injury (she’s feeling much better!) brought us to the ER so I figured it was about time I created a little drama. About halfway through enjoying our awesome day out I started getting the funny vision changes that are usually associated with my migraine aura. Admittedly this freaked me out a bit but I figured I’d just wait it out and see what happened. Justine drugged me up (luckily you can always count on her to be carrying some Tylenol) and we went on with our day. Eventually my vision returned to normal…Yay! But then about an hour later my hand went numb, which is my second migraine warning sign. At this point I panicked a bit but we quickly left and went back to the hostel. In no time at all I was able to turn out the lights, put in my earplugs and go to bed…the whole thing had been very slow moving compared to how my migraines used to progress so I was asleep before my head even really hurt. After 4 hours of sleep I am feeling a little shaky but much better! I didn’t even got a full migraine in the end, but it was nice to be able to sleep through anything that did happen (& the general stress of the situation). So to wrap up, all is well again!

Now on with our day…

After a delicious warm breakfast at the hostel and waiting around for an hour for the hop-on hop-off bus, we were off! The bus tour ticket was actually good for 48 hours and two different tours. Yesterday we did the in town your and today it took us in a loop around the countryside. We saw a nice estate and a place Kristin would have visited if she were with her Daddy…the Heritage Motor Center.
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We however were on our way to Warwick Castle…described on more than one occasion as an electrifying day out!

Warwick Castle was built in 1068 by none other than William the Conquerer. The castle traditionally belonged to the Earl of Warwick and it served as a symbol of his power. The castle was taken in 1153 by the future king Henry II. Later, under the ownership of Richard Neville – also known as “Warwick the Kingmaker” because he had so much influence over any royal decision – Warwick Castle was used in the 15th century to imprison Edward IV. It was used as a fortification until the early 17th century, when it was converted into a country house. Presently the castle is open to the public and is pretty much an awesome theme park!
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The castle almost doesn’t seem real! It’s large and imposing and made of grey bricks like all fairytale castles should be.

When we entered the grounds there was a demonstration going on at the entrance to the castle. The men of Lancaster under Henry II wanted into the castle to prepare for battle with the evil people of York. The two sides of the War of the Roses. The Wars of the Roses were a series of civil wars for the throne of England fought between supporters of two rival branches of the royal House of Plantagenet: the houses of Lancaster and York.

Entering the walls of the castle we were greeted by a wide open green courtyard and so much excitement and things to see in every direction. Worth noting and probably the cutest thing ever was the numerous children dressed as knights with swords or princesses. Adorable! Just like how kids dress up at Disneyland.

First we entered the gaol. Here prisoners were kept and tortured. We made our way into the gaol through some old narrow stone stairs. On display were torture devices from the 1400’s. Not pleasant in any way. There was also a small window which led to a hole in the ground where some of the worst prisoners were kept and forgotten about.
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The next area contained displays on how the people of Warwick prepared for the Battle of Barnet against the people of York. There were many very real looking fake people in this display. There were many very real looking fake people in all of the displays! Like seriously real looking! Like you jumped when there was actually a real person because the fake people looked so real you couldn’t tell them apart! We got to see the Warwick folk making weapons & armor and rallying the troops.
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The most exciting exhibit was Royal Secrets & Scandals. The premise of this exhibit was you were attending an evening party at the castle when it was the home of Daisy, Countess of Warwick in the late 1800’s.
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As you walked through her lavish rooms you were introduced to her distinguished guests. There was a write up about each person that described who they were and why they were famous and the scandalous gossip of their lives. Basically we learned that affairs were ok as long as no affection was displayed in public. For example, Daisy herself had an affair with the Prince of Wales, two illegitimate children each with a different father who was not her husband or the Prince. Winston Churchill’s mother was also a harlett, also involved with the Prince of Wales and a man 20 years her junior. Scandalous!
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Finally we got to walk through the lovely state rooms. Every castle and palace has staterooms and all of them are wonderfully elegant and extravagant. In one of the staterooms there was a display of Henry VIII and his many wives. It was kinda funny to see them all in wax person form. It was also kinda funny how difficult it was to get a picture containing all 7 of them…there’s just too many people to fit in!
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Queen Victoria and some of the monarchs to follow once dined here in the wonderfully large great hall. All of the decorations in this room were old weapons and military equipment. It seemed a style of the day to decorate your grand rooms with weapons of the past. We saw this previously at the Edinburgh Castle. Kristin thinks this is how Justine should decorate her Tudor style cottage.

After all of the exhibits it was time for our entrance to see the Merlin and Dragon of the Tower exhibit. Merlin is a BBC TV show that was then picked up to play on Canadian networks which, naturally, focuses on a young Merlin discovering his powers and a young Prince Arthur destined to be King. We climbed the tower and met a young man working in an apothecary. When one of us apparently showed our magical ability we were sent off to visit the one and only dragon. This was adorably carried out with the use of a young girl who was the one to make the torch light and became the leader of our group. Meeting the dragon was slightly anticlimactic, he was only a 3D image on a screen. The dragon at the theatre in West Ed is more believable! Again there were adorable little kids given important parts to make it all really cute. On the way out we saw some props that have actually been used in the show. Kristin’s seen the first season and now Justine wants to watch it when she gets home.

Once we left here we climbed the mound on one side of the courtyard. The mound is pretty much a big hill incorporated into the side of the castle. At the top of the mound was peacocks….random! It became slightly less random when we discovered there was a bunch of peacocks roaming around the grounds. From the other side of the mound we got a great look of the river and water mill driving steam engine beside the castle. We also got a decent view of the jousting!!! Actual jousting on horses with a lance. Our view from up here was slightly limited due to the trees but we got to see the main idea. It was like you would see in the movies…very A Knight’s Tale. Unlike the movies, they were not trying to dismount each other from their horses or injure them in any way. Instead they simple just aimed for their shield. Still, how often do you get to see live jousting???
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After the jousting was finished we wandered out of the castle walls down towards where the show had occurred. On the way we spotted people learning archery, children learning to become a knight and where kids could decorate their own shield. We saw a people trying to remove the sword from the stone. Many men failed! But finally a little boy, naturally named Arthur, stepped up and removed the sword, becoming Arthur the Once & Future King.
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Along the way we spotted a place called Waffle and Ice Cream. Justine could not believe it was actually referring to real warm breakfast waffles…but it was definitely referring to real warm breakfast waffles. Needless to say, we enjoyed a waffle with a scoop of caramel and a scoop of strawberry icecream on top. Yum, Yum, Yum…Delicious!
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Making our way back into the castle we noticed everyone sitting around the central courtyard. Curious, we joined in. It turned out to be story time! One of the castle’s knights recounted the story of Guy Warwick and the dragon who once plagued these lands. He was extremely into it and the story was pretty gruesome for it’s audience of young children. As you may have predicted, Guy won out in the end and slayed the dragon.

Story time was followed by a demonstration by the Warwick Warriors. This began with a sword fight between two people from Warwick and the evil villain from York. The show went on to inform us of the differences between a real fight in the 15th century and what Hollywood has made us believe about sword fights. For example, real shields were not made of metal. The shock of metal hitting metal would have resulted in vibrations that were likely to injure the holders arm. Instead they were made of wood. As well, real sword fights did not last for 10 minutes and involve sword clashing. The swords were razor sharp and the clashing would instantly ruin them. In this time you were not aiming for the other persons sword, you were aiming for the other person. Aiming to kill them quickly.
They showed us how swords have progressed over the years and became bigger and bigger in the 14th and 15th centuries. We also saw a really big axe.

It was at this time we decided to quickly leave because Kristin was not feeling well. We grabbed a taxi right outside of the castle. The hop-on hop-off bus had just left, but it was probably better we grabbed a taxi. It got us back quicker. While Kristin slept Justine was able to entertain herself. She had nice long chats with her parents and sister. She’s also very good at getting distracted on Wikipedia.

Once Kristin woke up, which Justine was very glad to see her still alive we realized supper had long passed. Being our crafty selves we turned our leftover crackers and cheese into nachos (and added some treats from the vending machine). And that brings us up to now!

Love, Luck & Lances,
K&J