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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…Distracted…

Good morning dedicated readers! We are currently speeding across the English countryside on our way to Edinburgh and I should be writing in my journal as I’m still a couple of days behind. However instead I am compelled to tell you a little about the view out my window…

To the left there are these great rolling hills. Not big ones, just little mounds that keep the ground from being too flat. They are so vibrantly green that it’s hard to believe it’s real grass and not some phony AstroTurf. The trees are a darker shade, but still just as green as the grass surrounding them. Every once in a while we pass a farm with a few golden fields and pastures of cows or sheep. They’re like fluffy little pillows and make me smile every time we pass a flock of them! Right now there is a rough stone wall that looks like it could have been there for hundreds and hundreds of years running through the middle of everything. Fences like this seem to be everywhere. Some are even ivy covered. It’s brilliant!

On the right is the coast. It’s green grass, a strip of brown sand and then blue water. It’s the kind of beautiful deep mixed mixed-up blue that you get when you look out at the ocean on the west coast. There’s even lighthouses occasionally. I know that shouldn’t come as a surprise, but I’ve only ever really seem lighthouses in Oregon before, so it’s fun to see them on an entirely different side of the world.

When we happen to pass through a town every one of them has either an old run down wall, all crumbly and ancient looking, or a huge cathedral in the distance. How many massive churches were built over this countryside in the past millennium? A number too large to count on this train ride to be sure!

Oh, Justine’s waking up! Time to go!
XO Kris

But where are the Dragons?

If time travel were possible we think it would be a lot like going to York. This place has the most diverse past. From Roman walls to Vikings towns, Tudor architecture and historical figures this place has it all…

We started the morning with a nice walk. Our hostel is up away from the city center so it takes about 20 minutes to get to the tourist area. However today we were told about the river walk. It seems the uphill climb along the motorway we took yesterday is not only the less scenic route but also the long way. When we reached the center of town we went in search of a breakfast spot. On the way we passed the birthplace of Guy Fawkes (it’s now a restaurant & inn…but we didn’t go there). We ended up in a little cafe having the most gigantic & most delicious french toast. Justine also had an absolutely huge cup of coffee & Kristin had a whole pot of tea.

The first planned destination of the day was York Minster Cathedral. This church is a great example of what we were saying about York’s widespread history. The Romans first built a church at this location when they invaded. In 627AD the Normans built the second church on top of the Roman ruins, hoping this would inspire people to look at them as strong like the roman empire. Finally in approximately 1200AD the present day cathedral was built. We first toured the main floor, being the nave, the quire and the transepts (where all of the plaques and memorials are located). There was a really beautiful pipe organ placed above the altar…and seeing as Kristin is trying to be a pipe organ enthusiast this excited her. The highlight though was probably the stained glass. There was so many huge windows depicting scenes from the bible, conation scenes and other general pleasantries. There was also a small sort of exhibit that told about the windows and restorative efforts being made to keep them whole & in place.
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The church also featured a treasury & crypt. Down below we saw many old artifacts including the remains of the roman church as well as the chalices & other pieces involved in the offering over the centuries. We also saw how the boundaries and layout of the churches which stood here evolved over the years.

Next was the Vikings!!!!! We had read about this place and were excited about it, but the descriptions hadn’t done it justice. The Jorvik Viking Center was built when they discovered Viking ruins beneath the town in 1972. The center started with a large room with a clear floor. Under it you were able to see the excavation site of an old Viking house and street. We saw the hearth and the toilet out back. Also an old comb and brooch and even old dice. The next section of the center was the best part! It was a ride! A very educational & informative ride, but still a really badass Disney-like ride. It took you through scenes of Viking homes and workshops and markets and allowed you to see what their lives were really like. Finally we walked through the museum portion which had artifacts & skeletons & lots of informative displays. Being so wrapped up in the Viking world I think we read every single sign and watched every minute of film they had in the place! Basically we learned a lot, had a lot of fun and reinforced the fact the Vikings are just the coolest! (although Kristin was disappointed the didn’t actually ride dragons…wasn’t How to Train Your Dragon a historical accurate animated film?!)

The National Rail Museum is a place that would totally rock if you were into trains. If your not, it’s still really cool…there’s just A LOT of information about trains here….really, a lot! We liked walking along and looking at the big, old trains that were parked everywhere. The Royal Carriages were on display. From this we learned Queen Victoria travelled in style! Queen Elizabeth however kept things pretty simple. The displays on obscure things like how the mail was sorted on trains we kind of skimmed over. We had already done so much learning at the Viking Center that it was hard to process any more new facts. Hidden away in the back corner, where we never would have seen it if we didn’t know to ask, was the Hogwarts Express! The actual one from the movie! It was all red & black and shiny!
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Lunch was late…so it was kinda lupper. (Don’t worry moms we are eating enough!) Lunch was also wonderfully British! We once again hit up a traditional type pub. Justine had breaded scampi & Kristin had a Yorkshire pudding wrap.

In the afternoon we took a break. We laid in the park by the cathedral and did a word search & a word ladder (our new favorite word game app!). We were serenaded by a chorus of bells chiming for almost half an hour…we’re not sure why they were chiming as it went from about 4:45 till 5:15…??? When we felt all rested and renewed we went for a walk on the old town walls. They were built by the Romans as a form of protection from invaders…they would work well as both a lookout and an attack platform.
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As evening approached we got a hot beverage before departing on another ghost tour. We hadn’t planned on doing a ghost tour in York, especially since we had just done one in Cambridge but there are so many here that we figured there has to be some good stories. Plus we saw one go by us yesterday while we were trying to find wifi to post last night and it looked so good that we searched and searched today to find the right one! And we did! The guide was an old man dressed in a top hat and and old fashioned coat (the ones with the little cape on the back). He was possibly the most entertaining person we’ve ever had the privilege to see! He was funny and clever and had a awesome tour planned out. Oh, and the ghost stories were good too… But mainly it was worth it just to follow this wonderful actor around and see what he would get up to next. At one point he had our entire tour group (and this was a big tour of maybe 75 people…although it didn’t feel that huge) waving and making faces at people in restaurants. Then he was doing some illusion that pretty much had everybody convinced he was cutting off his hand. Then he was getting people to grope each other. Then he was telling a really terrible tale of the ghost of a little girl who was trapped in a plague ridden house. Anyway, we could go on and on about him…to sum up, he was incredible! Best tour ever!
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Random Observations:
– Cats! There are little cat statues everywhere in York. We had the option of going on a tour to see them all this afternoon but we passed that up…

What we Learned Today:
– Lots of things about Vikings…did you know they never actually had horns on their helmets?
– Some things about trains…or maybe nothing about trains as we can’t think of an entertaining fact to put here…

Highlights of the Day:
1. Viking Ride!!! So awesome!
2. French Toast!
3. The Best Tour Guide Ever!

Love, Luck & Lupper,
K&J