vinceconaway: (Default)
Whew. That was intense!

I made a bad decision and we ferried to Wales, rented a new car, and drove
down to the Midlands of England. In hindsight we should have just flown;
the way we did things ate a day that turned out to be quite exhausting.
But now I can say I've been to Wales!

Wales was...different. Boy did I miss driving in Ireland! The signs in
Ireland are fantastic, they point your way to the nearest big city, which
gives you something to navigate by. In Wales they point to the next city,
no matter how rinky-dink, so it's impossible to keep a firm eye on what
direction you're headed. Add to that the fact that Irish road signs have
both English and Gaelic place names (and with my background I can figure
out which place is being referred to in Gaelic anyway), but all the Welsh
place names are in Welsh. That made things tricky. Then we also had a
standard transmission this time, and it all adds up to merry chaos! But
we made it, and yesterday was fantastic.

Our first night in England, lost in the dark, we tried to find Stonehenge
(it's about a mile from our hotel). We found the parking lot signs, but
it was closed. First thing this morning that's where we headed, and I
almost got us into a head-on collision when I saw that it's about twenty
feet from the road. I'd driven past it no fewer than four times in the
dark without a clue it was there.

Needless to say, it was amazing. And we were there on the Equinox, to
boot, which made things doubly cool. My dad was a bit disappointed that
there wasn't anything special going on for the holiday, but there is no
way Stonehenge can not inspire. I'm so thrilled my mom replaced my camera
because I've got about thirty shots of it - every ten feet I'd take
another one from a new angle with new light.

From there we headed into the neighboring town of Salsbury looking for a
rumored laundromat. On the way I looked at the horizon and said "there is
no way that is a natural hill". Turns out that it was an iron-age fort
cum Roman garrison cum Saxon stronghold cum William the Conqueror castle
cum Eleanor of Aquitane prison cum King John's ego stroke cum 14th century
ruin cum source of building material under Henry VIII. Not much remains
of the castle, but the pure motte design alone was stunning, and just
enough was left of the walls to give an amazing impression of what was
once an absolutely stunning fortress. I love tooling around the
countryside!

From there we headed to Oxford, which I've always wanted to see. It did
not disappoint. We spent four hours wandering around town, which was an
amazing combination of two of my favorite hobbies - exploring medieval
cities and modern college campuses. It's a really crazy mix of the two,
with every back alley crammed with gorgeous architecture.

It has been an enlightening trip. My dad has recently quit smoking (go
dad!) and he's been using Altoids to help fight the cravings. He brought
a box with him but is starting to run low so we went on a quest, only to
find that There Are No Altoids in England. Or Wales or Ireland, for that
matter, based on our experiences. We asked a check out girl last night,
who was from Canada, and she said she'd never seen them here (at first she
thought they were medication and told us to check in the pharmacies). A
local had never heard of them. Curiously Strong, certainly, but English
Peppermints they are not, "made in Great Britain" notwithstanding! It's
like going to Ireland and being told "Guinness what?".

It was a fantastic day, all around, and then today we hit the road again.
We spent as much time trying to find the hotel in Bath as we'd taken to
get here from Amesbury, near Stonehenge, and I got lots of practice with a
stick shift and slow traffic and hills and stress. Thankfully the locals
were patient about my having to restart in the middle of intersections;
once I'm out of first gear I'm OK, but until then everything's up in the
air! Bath is gorgeous, with an abbey church done in spectacular English
Perpendicular Gothic style (which I never quite understood until I stood
underneath of it). The Roman baths are stunning - I've seen a lot of them
(between Rome, Ostia, and Pompeii), but these were exceptional. Very well
preserved, and a fantastic design built around the natural spring water.
Knock your socks off stuff!

So next we're off to the laundry, and the adventures continue tomorrow in
London town!

August 2017

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