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,

Cause you’re Harry-Freaking-Potter!

Howdy Party People! Are you ready for another fun-filled day with Kristin & Justine? Well you better get ready, cause it’s comin’ at cha in 5…4…3…2…1…

Today we travelled to Oxford. We munched on muffins, nectarines & yummy hot beverages on the way! Oxford is nice. There are universities stuck everywhere and anywhere…seriously, at one point Justine looked down an alley, and there was another school! In reality there are only 2 universities and one college in Oxford. Whats gets confusing is that the University of Oxford is actually composed of over 40 self governing colleges with one central administration. All of the colleges are huge and old and absolutely gorgeous. And since the majority of the town is university buildings, the town is very very pretty!

We stopped to drop our bags at our hostel then went to explore. Our wanderings brought us to a souvenir shop and eventually a post office. The post office was a bit of an experience. We were worried all of our stuff wouldn’t fit into the large post box, but it totally did! Nothing even had to be squished up too much! Then there is the fact that it is really expensive to mail boxes across the ocean. We expected it to be expensive, but not that expensive! We are just poor backpackers! You people better appreciate these presents! Finally there was the fact that Kristin’s Visa card wouldn’t work there. This is the first and only time (she used it later in the day) that she’s had an issue. The guy told her she messed up his system, like it was all her fault that a place that also deals with international travel money can’t deal with a Canadian credit card. Luckily Justine’s work fine.

We decided the best way to see Oxford was in a tour. Kristin had been searching for one online about 2 months ago and happened across a site about Harry Potter tours. This tour is only offered once a month and it just happened to be on the one day we were in Oxford. Talk about fate! So we went “Pottering in Harry’s Footsteps”. Our guide was a nice older lady who gave us a nice tour of the colleges, while trying to tie everything back to & draw as many parallels as possible with Harry Potter. It was interesting & informative, and we got free entry into the colleges (or it felt like it…we do realize the cost is probably worked into the cost of the tour).

And now for the actual Harry Potter portion of this post! The tour started with a lot of places that weren’t filming locations and we know because we can notice a filming location faster than anyone else in the tour group. Frankly we were by far the craziest fans in the group…we answered all of the questions the guide asked the group and others started just copying where ever we took photos because they knew we hit the important spots.

Basically we were waiting with anticipation for the first recognizable site…so much so that we possibly squealed when we walked into the cloisters of New College and got a glimpse of the courtyard beyond!
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For those of you that can’t just immediately place what scene was filmed here we will list them for all sites. This very courtyard was used in Goblet of Fire for the scene where Harry goes to tell Cedric about dragons being the first task. That means that Daniel Radcliffe and Robert Pattinson both stood right where we were standing. And if you think that scene through you will realize that that tree in the back…
…is the tree that Malfoy just hops out of…Malfoy is then turned into a ferret and bounced around a bit. Unfortunately for us Tom Felton did not fall out of the tree while we were there (nor did Robert Pattinson suddenly appear…Justine found this unfortunate. Kristin did not.)

Our guide took us into an ancient lecture/examination room and told us all about it’s long history, including when there were no books or paper at the school and all tests were done orally in this room. She then pointed out that the room was used for 2 different scenes, 4 years apart in Harry’s life. The first was as the hospital wing in the Philosphers Stone. The second was the room where Professor McGonagall taught the boys and girls to dance in the Goblet of Fire.
We were sitting on the girls side…possibly right where Herminone sat?

We then visited the Christ Church College Great Hall. This is the one the Hogwarts Great Hall was based off of. They actaully built a larger version of it on a set so it could fit the large number of Hogwarts students…also so they could utterly destroy it in the Deathly Hallows Part 2.
A cute side note about this site: Lewis Carroll was the math/physics tutor for the 10 children of the headmaster of this school, one of which was a little girl named Alice. One day she asked him if he could write down some of the stories he would tell to her and her siblings. He did, and because Alice was the only one to ask for them they became her adventures…Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. To commemorate that great book the characters have been hidden in one of the stained-glass windows!

The best part of going to the great hall might have been the stairs leading in. We are talking staircases you see more than once throughout the series!
And at the top of the stairs was the place where in the Philsophers Stone Harry has his reunion with Tom & Hermione, following the life threatening events trying to retrieve the stone. If you’re a fan you’ll know the scene:
“Alright there Harry?”
“Yeah, Hermione?”
“Never better!”
We rushed to take pictures of this spot long before she had pointed it out as a filming location. People may have thought we were insane for being so excited about it…and maybe we are… We probably looked extra crazy as we basically acted the scene out right in the location it was filmed.

And now, here is the photo of the cool thing we ate today:
Justine keep seeing signs for Cornish Pasties and thinking they eat them in Harry Potter…in reality they eat Pumpkin Pasties and learn about Cornish Pixies. Anyway, we decided to munch on them today! They were super yummy! Lots of flaky pastry, meat & tasty onions.

Tonight is laundry, google mapping, train schedule looking & getting organized because tomorrow is…drum roll please…Paris! Yes we are about to disembark from the UK and venture onto the continent! It is both exciting and terrifying. We are so looking forward to Paris (especially Justine!) and all of our upcoming destinations. But we’re also nervous about leaving the safety of the English speaking countries behind and venturing into something new. There’s also a little piece of us that sad…we love the UK! We’ve been happy & comfortable here!

Anyway, new adventures to come tomorrow…and some of them in French…stay tuned!!!

Love, Luck & Leaving for the Unknown,

PS. Happy Birthday Kristin! Hope your day was filled with all sorts of shenanigans (it’s sure started out with them)!

Damn you Save to Draft!

Have you ever looked up at a tour bus and wondered who is on that thing? Have you ever gazed at it and though “what person wants to do that”? Well to answer your question, those people are…us. Today we tried out a whole new experience on a day long Stonehenge bus tour. It was really quite good…we enjoyed that we could turn off our brains for awhile and have someone just chauffeur us around, telling us where to get off and what to look at. Now don’t get us wrong, we’re not about to trade in our independent backpacking trip for a cushy bus tour, but we did enjoy ourselves doing it for the day.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves…back to the beginning of the day:

We started this morning off a little earlier so that we would be able to catch our bus. After stopping at Costa Coffee (the UK’s #1 coffee franchise) for a hot beverage & a muffin we were waiting with the masses for our coach’s arrival. Justine got a Gingerbread Latte & Kristin a Vanilla Steamer. They were so yummy we almost forgot about how cold it was this morning (and how it is 30 degrees at home). It may have been chilly, but it was not raining. In fact, the rain held out for the entire day…we even got a little sun in the afternoon!

While waiting for our bus we chatted with a nice man from Calgary. He and his wife always do bus tours (and not just the day ones but big long ones) and they apparently love it. It was interesting to hear that side of things, as we always just seemed to look at the negatives before. When our bus arrived it was not in fact a big, tackily decorated coach but a cute little white minibus. We were also pleasantly surprised by our fellow tourists. There were only 2 seniors, no over-weight people and a fair few people in our age range.

The first stop of the day was Stonehenge. Stonehenge need little introduction, it is one of the most recognizable sights in the world. Monuments have stood on this location for almost 5000 years. This was a time of no written record and as a result there are many questions regarding Stonehenge. It is known that Stonehenge has great religious importance to the people of that time. As well, it works as an astrological clock, keeping in time with the solstices.
This was the main attraction of the tour but we started there so we could beat the masses. It was still busy-ish while we were there, but noticeable busier by the time we left. Now Stonehenge is really just a bunch of big rocks with lots of people crowded around them…or at least that’s what a jaded person would say. Being our young optimistic selves we chose to see the wonder in the site…even if it was a bit smaller than we expected. You can’t help but be impressed and amazed at the skill, dedication and hard work that must have been needed to build this wonder.

Next we went to Avebury. Avebury is a much larger stone circle and henge. You might be asking yourself, what is a henge? A henge is composed of a ring bank and a ditch (like a castle moat) but with the ditch inside the bank (like a castle moat being inside the castle walls). For this reason it is believed henges served no defensive purpose, even though the original ditch was 9m deep with a 7m high bank!
Avebury is composed of a large stone circle and two smaller ones inside. Apparently Stonehenge would fit inside one of Avebury’s smaller circles; Avebury is that much larger! There are many differences between these two henges. First, unlike Stonehenge, Avebury serves no astrological purpose and it’s religious importance remains a mystery. Second, Avebury has fallen into a greater state of disrepair (somewhat on purpose as the church wasn’t big on keeping around such a large Pagan symbol). It also has much more of an up close and personal feel. You can just go right up and touch the rocks…heck you could climb them of you found the right footing!
The people aren’t the only ones who get up close to the stones…the sheep just graze around them. Kristin really likes taking pictures of sheep…she probably has as many of them as she has of the stone circles…but they’re just so gosh darn cute!

Along our route we had a lot of cool non-stops. And by that we mean things that didn’t need a stop so we did a slow drive-by of. Here’s a handy list:
Bronze Age Burial Mounds – These hills in the countryside are exactly what they sound like. Back thousands of years ago the important people in a tribe were buried with some of their prized belongings or important tribal objects in a large pit which they later covered with a large hill like mound. Often there was only one person in each of these mounds.

The Cherhill White Horse – This White Horse is from the 18th century and is based off the more famous Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire which dates back almost 3000 years. The giant horse was made by removing the top soil and exposing the naturally forming white chalk. It is a pretty impressive sights too see! The white chalk was so vibrantly bright that it didn’t seem naturally colored!
The Westbury White Horse was the original of the two White Horses in this area. We were able to get a closer view of this one. Its amazing that at it’s great size it still manages to look like a horse!

Cley Hill – This hill has had more UFO sightings than anywhere else in the UK. Spooky! However our guide said this might have something to do with the large military base next door. The military is often up to strange and mysterious things. As a side note, we saw lots of tank crossing signs today…and even one no tanks allowed sign…it was a serious sign, no joke.

Silbury Hill – This hill is actually a 6-tiered chalk pyramid. At 37m, it is the size of one of the smaller pyramids in Egypt. Now the pyramid is covered in dirt & grass to form a large and slightly odd shaped hill. Archeological expeditions have been able to uncover very little from this site. It was not used for burial purposes and it’s reason for existence remains a mystery. Odder still is why someone decided to cover it up?

Salisbury Hill – Yes, the one from the Peter Gabriel song. It was lovely and green and treed and rolling, but otherwise not too exciting. We did listen to the song on the bus though 🙂

Our lunch stop was the village of Lacock. It was originally owned by the Talbot family but when they could no longer afford it during WWII the village was donated to the National Trust. As a result, you cannot own your home in Lacock, you can only rent it from the National Trust. Because of this, if you wish to live here you must trace your ancestry back to a Lacock resident. This helps it keep its charm and from becoming too commercial. And it really isn’t! The village consists of one square of four quaint roads. There is a lovely mix of architecture stretching from the 1300’s to the 1600’s. It creates a very old worldly feeling. Parts of the Pride & Prejudice miniseries was filmed here. You could just picture Mr. Darcy & Mr. Bingley ridding down the streets or Elizabeth & her sisters going in and out of the shops.

(There would be a photo of the town here but Kristin left her camera on the bus and Justine’s camera memory card doesn’t work with the iPad jack for some reason. You’ll just have to wait till we are home to see the photos…but take our word for it: they are worth the wait!)

The village was very lovely but we were most interested in the old abbey…Harry Potter was filmed here!! The Lacock abbey was the original church in the village. When Henry VIII changed the religion if his entire country the abbey was permitted to remain standing as long as it did not remain a church. It was converted into a manor house and all religious objects were removed. This was done so effectively that when we entered we found it hard to believe it had once been a chuch. But back to the exciting bit: Harry Potter! We have visited a few sites where tv shows or movies we’ve seen were show and it has always been “that could have been shot there” or “I might recognize that” but it wasn’t like that here. We weren’t even in the door yet when we saw the first familiar sight. Then we squealed and ran inside. It was like stepping into Hogwarts! It was so amazing! For the HP nerds out there, they shot a lot from the first 2 movies here, including the courtyard where Harry walks through the snow with Hedwig, general school corridors and a lot of the class rooms, including McGonagalls. There was even a cauldron marking the potions room 🙂

The final stop of the day was Castle Combe. If we had thought the last stop was small & cute, then this place would have to be described as tiny & adorable! You seriously couldn’t take a bad photo here if you tried! In 1962 the press actually named it the prettiest town in Britain. It’s really just one street making it’s way down a hill for about 5 blocks. Both sides are lined with picturesque cottages with overflowing flowerpots and window boxes.
To top it all off there is an energetic little stream at the bottom of the hill with a cluster of benches. We sat here for some peaceful reflection on our awesome day.
At the top of the hill were the towns two biggest sights: the church & The Manor House Hotel. The church was really beautiful, especially for such a rural setting. There was bright stained-glass and a weird faceless clock. Kristin did enjoy how you could see the gears! The hotel used to be an actual manor until the wool industry collapsed and the town lost it’s main source of income. Now it’s a hotel that looks like rows of cottages we dream of having. However they don’t seem to be in our price range right now as a night at the hotel can run you a bill of up to £1000! It seems to fit though when you consider to buy a cottage on the main street will cost you £3 million.

It was a short bus ride back to town and then supper time! Being the crafty savers we are we returned to the Huntsman Inn (where we went last night) and used our wristbands to get 20% again 😉 Tonight we both rocked the Mushroom, Cheese & Pepper Pie:
We have to make sure we remember to take the photo right away when we get pies because this is what they look like 2 minutes after the picture is taken:
In our opinion this is the only way to eat a meat pie!
Alexa, are you having a heart attack about how we mixed everything on our plate together in there?

What We Learned Today:
– If a British village looks like it is stuck in a time warp and still looks like it did in the 18th or 19th century it is because it suffered an economic hardship (such as the stream drying up or the wool industry collapsing). As a result people would have left the town and economic development would have stopped. We’re definitely not complaining! The villages we visited today we gorgeously stuck in the past!

Random Observations:
– The roads are very skinny here! Today we drove down a road through the forest that barely seemed to fit our bus…then we found out it was a 2 way street! It would barely have passed for a shoulder at home! We understand that roads may have been built before cars existed, but it doesn’t make driving them any less nerve wracking.
– There are a lot of traffic circles in the UK. We drove through at least 20 today…Justine was counting (possibly as a way to stay awake while the van was driving?)

Love, Luck, Lambs & Large Rocks,

Oh we realize we never set a deadline for our last challenge. For those of you who haven’t submitted an answer you have until we post tomorrow! For those of you who have answered: How about another challenge!?
We went to Stonehenge today…you may remember reading about it…but just incase you forgot here’s a photo to jog your memory:
This place is one giant question mark! But that’s the fun…we want to hear your version of how to got there OR why it’s there OR what people used to do with it! You’ll get a point just for answering but get creative because you can earn up to 5 points if your answers really good! You’ve got until we post Sunday (so like 5pm Edmonton time)!