Peter M Howard ::

England, Holiday the Third

31Jul2005 [france]

OK, the oft-promised holiday report... Complete with photos in various albums that I'll link to on the way down. I visited from June 18th, having made a daytrip to Paris on the 15th to scout out the area. Was in England for a week before family from back home rocked up, then a couple weeks with them in England and finishing up with 3 nights in Paris before they went back to England and I came back to Reims... And a week later I was back in Paris with friends visiting Versailles... It's really, really long, so, starting at the beginning:

Paris, Recon (15th June)

Tripped into Paris (photos) for the Wednesday morning. Had to scout out the accommodation Dad had booked, plus wanted to find a couple sights and how to get around... Visited Sacre Coeur, a beautiful and relatively modern church; stayed for mass -- was slightly thrown because the mass was closer to what I'm used to in English, while the masses in French in Reims follow slightly different patterns... I discovered that there were whole prayers I didn't know in French. From there headed across town to St Germain; checked out the location of the accommodation in St Sulpice -- wandered around a little before finding it exactly where it should have been, but having missed it as it's just a little doorway. Had lunch at a Thai place round the corner, and in typical French fashion it was just non-descript 'Asian' with a range of dishes. Walked up to the Seine and along it to Notre Dame. The cathedral is massive, but doesn't have a lot more going for it. By this stage it was starting to rain annoyingly and I'd seen enough so got back home for dinner.

England, My Way (18th-24th June)

Saturday I took the train over, was a nice afternoon one so had a casual start... Walked out of my door in Reims at 0930, was in Salisbury in time for dinner (gained an hour to timezones but still very easy). Most of this week was to be pretty relaxed, I just had to get out of town... Sunday most of the cousins were out all day; Sophie had work in Wilton (photos) the afternoon so I spent a couple hours wandering around there. Looked at a couple old churches and the gardens at Wilton House. The gardens are kinda pretty, and very stereotypical English manor house gardens, but paying for something public-park-like seemed a little weird. Wandered over to the little shopping 'village' where Sophie was working, bought a couple books on sale -- Dan Simmons' Ilium and a trashy Peter Hamilton.

Monday I discover is the day before the Summer Solstice (photos), and there's going to be an event overnight at Stonehenge... I'm a bit sceptical of any dodgy "historical" re-enactment, and druids marching around old rocks fall squarely into that. Further, I have a short list of sights I want to see before family arrive and am not sure I have the time. So I go visit Avebury for the day... Involves a _long_ bus ride, during most of which I'm the only passenger, but I get there with a few hours to wander around before having to catch a bus back. Avebury is a small village that was built inside of an ancient stone circle, parts of which are old than Stonehenge. The whole thing consists of a massive henge (on which the village is now built), surrounded by massive stones on the ridge, two smaller circles inside the large ring, and a long avenue marked by more massive stones. As well, there are smaller circles in the surrounding countryside and a large and ancient (and open, though I didn't have time to visit) barrow at the end of the long avenue. The village was built in the larger circle (even putting the Chapel in one of the smaller circles!) and over time many of the rocks were removed and/or buried, though rarely broken. A number of stones were put back in place in the 1930s. Wikipedia has a lot more information on the circles and the village...

Anyway, being the eve of the Summer Solstice, Avebury is chock-full of hippies, and I'm starting to think that the atmosphere at Stonehenge might be quite interesting. By the time the bus gets back to Salisbury I've decided, so I grab a few power-naps over the course of the evening. Alex and I bus there soon after sunset. The road is closed toward Stonehenge, so we have to walk through a field, in near-total darkness, past the henge and the visitor centre, then doubling back up to the road and across to the site. As we get closer to the stones their presence in the darkness, combined with the waves of people walking toward the stones, and the huge crowds already present around the ridge and inside the circle itself, reinforce the power the henge would have held (and still does) over the imagination. We take the opportunity to wander up to the stones; standing under the outer ring and looking up is amazing. The wind on the plain is freezing and we wander around trying to find shelter, which just doesn't exist up there, until we meet some of Alex's school friends who have come out for the night. Eventually we stake out a spot and I don't move for a few hours. Over the course of the night most people are sitting or sleeping around the ridge, while a large group parties inside the stone circle. Fortunately the annoying a-historical bits are limited to a small group of 'druids' marching around somewhere, but they don't take over the stones or get in anyone's way. There is also a far smaller proportion of hippies than at Avebury, with a large proportion of young people enjoying a night out; the hippy mentality keeps the crowd peaceful though -- no drunken outbreaks seen... Eventually the sky lightens and people start to stir, but it is only teasing, the sun still won't be up for over an hour. As if to torture us more, what little warmth there was is sucked out of the air, and my only movement is to shiver vigorously. With fifteen minutes to go everyone is on their feet watching the horizon expectantly... The sun starts to show its rays as people cheer, then silence as it rises above the horizon. The sight is amazing, and the atmosphere of the crowd encircling the stones awe-inspiring. Finally it is a new day, and the crowd disperses... The school people must work, and go to classes near sleepless; I go home and sleep in till midday. Tuesday is written off.

Wednesday I travel to Cardiff (photos) by train -- tick Wales off the list. Most of my time is spent visiting Cardiff Castle, and I spend a little time wandering around town as well. The Castle consists of an old Norman keep on a massive mound, with the usual defensive layers built around. A large section of the outer castle is the Apartments, the living quarters. These were renovated in Victorian times by the Scottish nobleman who inherited the place. He was a Catholic, a scholar, and a bit of a medieval romantic. The decoration reflects this -- it has been designed to be "medieval", and there are various religious motifs throughout.

Thursday is another day off, just reading, a tiny amount of which is reading for my UTS project, most of which is reading the aforementioned Ilium. Friday I go into London and visit Tate Modern, which is both an amazing gallery and contains some amazing artwork. I spend a few hours there (could easily have done it all over again) and return home.

England, with Family (25th June - 5th July)

Some of the locations in this section contain dedicated photo albums, in which case I'll link to them as they come up... The others may or may not be found in a general Touring with family album.

Mum, Dad, Stephen and Natalie arrived in England on the 24th, and in Salisbury on the 25th. Over the weekend we visit locations nearby -- Stonehenge, Old Sarum, Salisbury. The Monday we head north to The White House, Dad's boss's place, where we are based while visiting London. On the way we visit Hampton Court Palace, where we manage to explore most of the major areas by skipping the boring parts of the audio tour and eventually deciding that we can move faster without the tour altogether.

Tuesday into London. We visit Tussaud's, but none of us are big on photos so the visit seems almost wasted, seemingly the only point of Tussaud's being that you can get a photo with a celebrity... We then take one of the hop-on-hop-off tour buses to knock over a few locations and get an idea of the city, which is made difficult by the maze-like path that the bus follows. Finally we take a cruise down the Thames to Greenwich and visit the observatory there, which has some amazing old mechanical tech and an extremely tempting gift shop full of old time-pieces. Having got an idea of what we want to see, we return Wednesday and Thursday, seeing Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery, the changing of the guards at Buckhingham Palace, and shopping up and down Regent Street. We visit St Paul's, the cathedral and the crypt are both amazing. We leave Mum in the crypt and climb the domb; leaving Dad at the halfway mark, Natalie, Stephen and I climb all the way to the top, with spectacular views over London.

On the Friday we return to Salisbury via Arundel Castle (photos), the old and current home of the Dukes of Norfolk, who happen to be both Howards and Catholics. Arundel is an amazing castle, as it's both a defensive castle and a stately home. It's also exactly what a castle is supposed to look like. And on the castle grounds is a small Catholic chapel, the family's burial place; it's attached, though separated by a huge glass wall, to the town's Anglican church. And down the road is a large Catholic cathedral, built not long ago by a previous Duke, housing the body of St Philip Howard, and dedicated to him and Our Lady.

Saturday we left Stephen with the cousins as he'd had enough of old things, visiting Winchester and Jane Austen's adult home. Winchester was the capital of Wessex, the old English kingdom. There we visited the Cathedral, and the old Great Hall with its King Arthur's Round Table, which was actually built in the 14th century by some noble trying to link himself to Arthur.

For more dubious Arthurian links we visited Tintagel, travelling to Cornwall (photos) on the Sunday and staying a couple nights. We stayed at Boscastle, just along the coast from Tintagel, and over the next couple of days explored Tintagel and walked the cliff paths around Boscastle. Tintagel is the legendary birthplace of King Arthur, and officially, that's where the link ends. But it's been connected to him throughout the centuries, and the location is rich with mythology. The beach below Tintagel Head is magical, riddled with caves. The Head itself features the ruins of an old castle built by the Earl of Cornwall in the 12th century, clearly trying to link himself to the Arthurian myth. But as well the windswept Head is littered with foundations of various Dark Ages buildings, and the line between history and myth is blurred.

Paris, with Family (6th-9th July)

We Eurostared to Paris on the Wednesday. Fortunately the border-control people just glanced at my passport as I would have had some explaining to do if they'd discovered my expired carte de sejour. We stayed in a little apartment in St Sulpice. We took a couple of days to see the standard sights: Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower (which I hadn't bothered seeing earlier). Visited the Louvre; after a few hours Dad and Stephen went home while Natalie, Mum and I kept going for hours more exploring the ancient wings -- old Egyptian, Mesopotamian, &c. The Saturday I got the family back to Gare du Nord for the Eurostar, then doubled-back to Gare de l'Est for a train to Reims, glad to be finally heading home!

Paris, Versailles (16th-18th July)

Tiara and Liz made a brief return to Reims to move house over the 15th and 16th and I chipped in; all told they were in to Reims, moved, and back to Paris in a 24-hour period. When they returned I went with them to Paris, where we crashed in small studio made for two with eight other people. The Saturday night we all went to Versailles, the gardens being open and all the fountains running for the evening. As the sun set we wandered the gardens, finishing with fireworks, before running to the train station with way too many other people to catch the last train to Paris. The group got split up by sheer necessity -- we could only fit a couple of people onto each carriage, and agreed to meet back at the apartment. As if to prove the small world hypothesis, I bumped into one of the girls at a station in Paris, then we met another four on the very metro carriage we got onto, but who'd got off the first train on the other side of Paris. We met the rest of the group at a fast-food joint a couple metro stops short of the apartment, who'd been similarly split up.

Now that I was in Paris I wanted to stay, so Sunday explored the Paris Catacombs before meeting the girls for 'breakfast' at an American diner. That afternoon we saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, followed by a spectacular Thai dinner (where I shocked everyone by eating lots)... Monday people went their separate ways, so I went to Colette to purchase some Perplex City puzzle cards; the store was amazingly artsy, so while I was there also bought a couple of design journals and could easily have bought more.

The End...

Since this spot of travelling I've been hanging around Reims getting things sorted out, and preparing for the next trip: I'm off to World Youth Day soon. Meeting a Sydney pilgrimage group in Paris in a week, with them in France for a week, then in Cologne for a week, after which I say goodbye and head to Spain with Liz, visiting Santiago de Compostela and A Coruña, then Pamplona for a brief pause. Still not sure what I'm doing after that; I might go to Barcelona for a few nights, and I might be heading back to England for either the weekend of the 3rd or the 10th for a Perplex City players meet-up -slash- mini-ARGfest. For most of the upcoming trip I'll be near-Internet-less, but I'll try post status info here or get to email when I can, and I'll be receiving SMSs from wherever I am...

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