Rochester at LAST!

Well, I can’t even comment on how overdue this is. It’s just way past the embarrassing stage at this point! Here, at last, are photos of what we did on our Saturday in England in 2007! At left is what remains of the original Roman wall in the earliest part of Rochester. It’s really amazing to see something this old.

We were out so late the night before after the performance at the Globe Theater that we nixed the idea of going to Dover and slept in. Our hostess told us that Rochester was a beautiful, charming place to visit, especially if we liked old castle ruins, vintage book shops, and a little Charles Dickens thrown in for good measure! So we ate a leisurely breakfast, then boarded the train for Rochester.

I hadn’t thought to check the railway updates that morning on the ‘net, or I would have seen that part of the line was down. We got about six miles from Rochester and then had to take a bus the rest of the way. That was fine — all we cared about was getting there! The ride there was beautiful almost the entire way. Some of east London isn’t very pretty to look at, but the fields and hills beyond were wonderful. The sky was a postcard blue — just brilliant. We knew something good was in store for our day!

The day was gloriously sunny and mild, and we walked up the hill from the bus station with great anticipation. Rochester is laid out with the main street running up the hill toward the beautiful Cathedral and the ca. 1067 castle (built by William the Conquerer) just beyond. We walked up the main street toward the castle, Lindsay taking pictures as we went. We spied a couple of the antique book shops our hostess had mentioned and mentally filed those away for later. Then we walked past a house that we’d marked down as a “gotta see it” on our list. This house was built in 1590 and features in two of Charles Dickens’s books: The Pickwick Papers and Edwin Drood:

Here’s the plaque from the house:

And here’s the house from another angle — it just screams “English!”

We continued on up the hill, stopping in at the cathedral on our left. This is a magnificent structure–breathtaking from every side. The interior contains some very old carvings and mosaics, and the front door is one massive piece of beauty. Here I am, standing in front of the door:

Here’s the view down the nave as you walk in:

And here are the famous stained-glass windows (which are some of the oldest stained glass windows in Britain, if I remember correctly):

We heard from a docent inside the cathedral that afternoon tea was served in the adjoining tea room past the ruins of the original abbey, so we decided to come back for that after exploring the castle up the hill. Onwards and upwards!

Here Sarah and I stand before the castle.

Looking down from the fourth “story” of the castle interior. You can just see the indentation
around the walls where the floors used to be. This was a huge castle with room for many people. My, it would have been cold in the winter, though! Robert the Bruce’s wife was actually kept prisoner here for a time.

Here I am, peeking through one of the arched openings across the huge interior.

It’s a little dizzying to look down!

There are several crumbling, winding staircases in this castle. In America, they’d be roped off with all kinds of cautionary signs and legal disclaimers. In England, you are free to walk up them at your own risk. Who could resist? Here’s Miss Sarah, coming down one of the windest, slipperiest passages:

Whew! And here I am at the very top of the castle, walking around the railing:

Here’s a view from farther away so you can see how high up we were:

And here’s the wonderful view of the river from the castle:

This is Rochester Cathedral seen from the castle:

Lindsay got a neat shot of Sarah silhouetted in a stairwell on our way back down from the top:

And Sarah managed to snap a fun shot of Lindsay, too:

I’ll come back later to share part two of what we did in Rochester — tea at the cathedral and book shopping in the adorable town!

And, since I forgot my camera Saturday, all photo credit goes to Deep South Images. Thanks, ladies!

Friday in London!

Well, we’ve now been back home for a week, and I think I’m mostly recovered from jet lag! Coming back is always much harder on me than going over. But now Lindsay has had time to sort through her pictures and share them, so I’m ready to post again!

We got up early Friday, determined to squeeze in our Dickens Walk before heading to Westminster to meet my friend Sarah and Erinn (a young Australian who is staying with Sarah’s family at present). We boarded a bus for Chancery Lane, thrilled just at the thought of being on the stomping grounds of Bleak House and other Dickens novels! After jumping off the bus, I realized I’d forgotten my camera back at the house. SIGH. Thankfully, Lindsay had hers and snapped lots of pictures! We passed the front of Staple Inn and proceeded through a small arched gate into its quiet courtyard, mentioned in The Mystery of Edwin Drood. This spot looks almost exactly as it did in Dickens’s day, and a sign still hangs there that hasn’t been moved for nearly two centuries: “The Porter Has Orders to Prevent Old Clothes Men and Others From Calling ‘Articles For Sale.’ Also Rude Children Playing and No Horses Allowed Within This Inn.”

Passing through the archway at the far end of the yard, we came into a delightful little garden and paused to look at an inscription over a doorway to our left: “PJT 1747.” In The Mystery of Edwin Drood, this door leads into the home of the kindly lawyer, Hiram Grewgious. Dickens wrote that Mr. Grewgious never “troubled his head” about what the inscription stood for, “unless to bethink…that haply it might mean Perhaps John Thomas, or Perhaps Joe Tyler.” LOL! We wound our way around the garden, Lindsay pausing to get this lovely photo of the fountain in the center and “Hiram’s” house beyond. After coming back out onto the street next to Staple Inn, we picked back up in our walking tour directions and headed for the haunts of Bleak House.

Below you see the Court of Chancery, which is near Lincoln’s Inn Fields. It was here that Dickens placed the interminable suit of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, droning on for years and consuming the inheritance of all involved.

Proceeding past this formidable edifice, we came into a lovely greensward called “Miss Flite’s Garden” in Bleak House. The darling gardener’s “shed” is still there (behind it are the columns of yet another imposing building in Lincoln’s Inn):

After scoping out the nearby church (also mentioned in Bleak House), we tried to find our way out of Lincoln’s Inn to the square beyond. It took some doing, since our directions were a bit muddled, but we finally emerged in a very quiet, somber park surrounded by a wrought-iron fence. This part of London is almost smotheringly silent! It was amazing after the bustle of the other streets we’d been through. Following our walking guide, we made our way down a side street to find a house that Dickens had once dwelt in, Number 15, to be exact (hmm… no photo from Lindsay–I’ll have to see if I can turn one up!). After checking the time, I realized we’d have to scoot to make it to Westminster in time to meet Sarah and Erinn for our tour, so we turned around to search for a bus stop. Easier said than done! All the twisty little streets we’d come down looked bewilderingly alike on the way back! We finally managed to find a stop and headed to Westminster, arriving only ten minutes late to find a smiling Sarah with baby Anna in her carriage and Erinn standing by.

Photos aren’t allowed inside Westminster, so I don’t have any to share, but we spent a good hour and a half poking around corners and reading epitaphs. The girls were enthralled with the thousand years of history at their feet, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing again the monuments to Henry V, Queen Elizabeth I, and so many other historical notables. My friend Sarah and I talked about the Church of England, and she noted that Westminster is really more a national monument or museum than a church. Though services are held there, more people come to gape at monuments than actually come for worship. After emerging into the sunlight, we took a quick detour through the gift shop, then headed over to St. James’s Park for a lovely picnic on the grass (complete with cheeky geese and pigeons!). Sarah had brought a wonderful repast of ham, cheese, baguettes, plums, and yummy cake. Hit the spot after our morning’s walk! We sat and visited for an hour before Sarah and her crew had to head home, and the girls and I hopped a bus for the British Museum!

There’s no bones about it: The British Museum is VAST. Just looking at the map is daunting, as you see floor after floor and gallery after gallery crammed with goodies! Tired from our morning’s perambulations, we headed to the cafe’ to get some tea and peruse the museum guide. We had only this one afternoon, so we “picked our poison” and decided to see the Big Highlights: The Rosetta Stone, ancient sculpture (Egyptian, Babylonian, Greco-Roman), the mummies, the British gallery (Roman times to present), and the Hebrew room. Unfortunately, the latter was closed the day we were there, so we contented ourselves with the “early gallery” that contains most of the finds the museum held when it first opened in the 1770s. Navigating all the stories and half-stories is quite confusing, and it is very easy to get turned around in the museum, but we managed to find the Rosetta Stone and admired it with a crushing crowd of fellow gawkers:
Behind this display were gargantuan Babylonian and Egyptian sculptures that cannot be done justice in photographs. All those pictures of smiling stone pharaohs in books cannot prepare you for the breathtakingly immense size of the things in person. One disembodied granite arm stretched out over fifteen feet, and one detached head smiled down from its lofty perch. But my favorite sculptures were the little ones, including the funny fellow seen here. This is Amenhotep, his legs drawn up under his tunic and his elbows folded over his knees. I chuckled when I saw this pose, because my children all do this nightly when they curl up on the couch in their jammies for bedtime reading! I guess this is a habit with an ancient heritage! We continued upstairs from this gallery, entering the mummy exhibit, which contains a staggering number of mummified remains, including cats, birds, and crocodiles! I made sure Lindsay took pictures of lots of mummies for my sons, who had begged me to see them. Many of the late mummies (first century A.D.) had elaborate shrouds painted with their portraits on top. Others were placed in ornate coffins within coffins, each painted more splendidly than the last.

We made our way down the long hall and into the British gallery, enjoying the many finds from Roman-occupied Britain, including this sculpture of a lady’s head from the first century:

I immediately thought of St. Paul’s admonition in I Timothy 2 that women dress themselves “with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing.” Those first-century women had some outlandish hairstyles! There were other, similar statues in the museum, all with elaborate (uncomfortable-looking) hairstyles wound with pearls and other ornaments. Whoa! Can’t you just see someone coming into church with a hairstyle like this and sitting in front of some poor short person, completely blocking the view? Well, it amused us to think about it, anyway! We continued down the gallery, taking in amazing finds from the peat bogs (many perfectly preserved), including piles of gold coins, Roman silver basins, women’s jewelry, and even the famous “peat bog man”–a grisly reminder of Britain’s pagan past. This unfortunate man was the apparent victim of a Druidic rite, forced to drink mistletoe brew before having his throat slashed. Ugh. Christianity changed many things for the Britons and the Picts!

We rounded up our tour of the museum and headed out the front gate to catch a bus towards Bankside, Southwark. I’d gotten tickets to see “The Merchant of Venice” at Shakespeare’s Globe, and we wanted plenty of time to arrive and catch a bite to eat before standing in line. Unfortunately, the outgoing bus line at the Museum had closed for repairs, so we had to walk through Soho in search of another bus. No go. We went blocks and blocks without seeing a stop! Finally, we found one near Trafalgar Square, and my poor swollen ankles thanked me for sitting down at last! After crossing the Thames and hopping off the bus, we walked down the embankment toward the Globe, passing the Tate Modern and several other tourist meccas on the way. We congratulated ourselves on reaching the Globe well before we needed to enter and glanced around for a place to grab a bite to eat. That’s when panic gripped me. I realized with a sinking heart that I had forgotten our tickets back at Suzi’s house in our rush to leave early in the morning! Argh! Nothing to do but hop a bus and try to make it there and back before 7:30 (it was now 6:20). I called Suzi to ask her where we’d find the closest bus stop, but it was still a good 15-minute hike. We started off, grimly determined not to miss our play–even if we had to miss supper.

We arrived at Suzi’s in time to grab the tickets and some protein bars, freshen up a bit, then head right back out to catch another bus. Unfortunately, no buses go straight to the Globe. The closest we could get was the St. Paul’s side of the Thames, which meant a walk down a few blocks, then across the Millennium Bridge to Bankside and the Globe. By now, my poor feet were declaring themselves dead and unable to move any further. I was ready to break down and hail a cabbie, but the only one we could find who took debit cards was on his supper break! So we pressed on, down to the bridge and across the Thames. We arrived, breathless, at the Globe at 7:33 pm! The guard at the back gate hurried us into the Groundlings area (great cheap tickets at 5 pounds each!), and we were thrilled to see we’d only missed a few lines of the play! The Globe is every bit as amazing as it looks in pictures–a faithful recreation of the theatre Shake
speare designed. And we truly found that the standing area makes the best “seat” in the house, since you are on eye-level with the stage and up close to all the players. Several characters actually elbowed their way through the groundlings to make entrances at key moments. It was pure fun! We thoroughly enjoyed every moment and, tired as our legs were, we were sorry when it ended. We recognized several actors from BBC and A&E dramas, including the man who played “Shylock” and one who played the priest. It was fun to spot familiar faces!

At 10:30, we made our way back up to London Bridge to catch a bus home. After walking without sighting a stop that had the right bus number for Camberwell Road, Lindsay spotted a bus with “Elephant & Castle” emblazoned on it. Instead of wisely checking the bus map to make sure this bus number did, indeed, take us where we wanted to go, we all ran to catch the bus. Ahem. Another lesson learned, this time late at night. Just because a bus has your destination written on it does not mean it is going there! Elephant & Castle is a borough–not just a rail/bus station! We went all over the place and freaked out when the driver skimmed past our stop and kept going. We entertained the rash hope that he would loop back around to the station and stop, but the bus ended up in Clapham Junction, stranding us far from Suzi’s. I sheepishly called Suzi to let her know our predicament, and she told us where to find a rail station that would bring us back to Waterloo, from whence we could take the tube to Elephant & Castle and the bus to her place. Suffice it to say, we arrived home two HOURS after we’d left the Globe, footsore and slightly grumpy. Bed never looked so good! I made the executive decision for all of us to sleep in on Saturday rather than rising at the crack of dawn to head to Dover. And next time I’ll tell you what we ended up doing with our Saturday!

In the meantime, here are some more fun shots from our first full day in London:

Here I am, windblown atop St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Lindsay snapped this shot as I stood against the railing. What a dizzying climb!

Standing with Miss Sarah in front of Wellington’s Arch at Hyde Park Corner.

Miss Sarah and Miss Lindsay in front of Buckingham Palace.

Day Two (written on Day Four!)

We have lived in a whirlwind of activity since Wednesday. We’ve walked until we didn’t think our feet could hold up any more. We’ve hopped wrong buses and ended up in parts of town we didn’t plan to see (but enjoyed the additional sightseeing anyway!). We’ve taken more pictures than we can count. It is now well past midnight on Saturday, and we’ve spent hours talking and sharing favorite books and pictures and patterns.I am quite ready for bed, but I wanted to post at least a synopsis of Thursday with pictures!

We got up early Thursday morning and headed out the door by about 7:55am, taking the bus to Tower Hill. I’d read that it is best to go right when the Tower opens to beat the lines. That was fabulous advice! We arrived about 15 minutes early, and I took this picture of Lindsay and Sarah waiting in front of the Tower for the ticket booth to open. The was overcast, making things just a bit on the cool side, but not unpleasantly so.

We spent two hours exploring the Tower complex (it’s really several towers within a castle wall) with no crowds. We made a beeline to the Crown Jewels right off–but no photos allowed…sorry! Then we headed to the White Tower, which contains the armory. I’ll have to post lots more pictures later. For now, here is one of the armor made for two young princes. Boys as young as seven learned to carry themselves and wield weapons in armor! The armory is crammed from top to bottom with weapons and armor (including horse armor), effigies of kings created for a great exhibition in the 1600s, and beautiful displays of gilded decorations from royal ships. I shot lots of photos for my boys!

After seeing the “Bloody Tower” and walking around the large green square (where several people were beheaded–ugh), we made our way to St. Paul’s Cathedral. No photographs were allowed inside, but I took many of the outside. Here is one that shows the immense towers on either side of the front entrance:
We’d heard we could climb up to the “Whispering Gallery” in the dome of the cathedral (156 steps!), so we decided to brave it. After navigating flights and flights of narrow, winding stairs, we made it, breathless and ready to sit down on the bench that runs around the wall of the dome! The view is quite beautiful from this gallery, and you get a close-up look at the paintings of the life of St. Paul within the dome. Once this high, we decided we simply had to climb up to the next level, which would take us to a walkway basically on top of the large dome (around the outside). After panting and puffing (and stopping for several breaks on landings!), we emerged into the windy air and marveled at the amazing 360-degree view. At right is a shot I took (hold your breath–I did!) At this point, I was more than ready to climb right back down, but it seemed a shame to have come this far and not complete the final 119 steps up to the “Golden Dome”–the very tip-top of St. Paul’s. So, it was onward and upward, our legs groaning in protest! After a very windy (and utterly amazing) view, we started our descent. Word to the wise: Wearing a full skirt to go down a drafty staircase is not the best idea–I had to fight my skirt to keep my feet in view!

At long last, after navigating a total of 840 steps (420 up then down), we made our way to the crypt, then back out into the daylight. I cannot do St. Paul’s justice in words. I wish I could give you pictures of the magnificent interior. It really does take your breath away. Sir Christopher Wren certainly knew how to stun and awe through architecture!

Now thoroughly hungry from our climb, we decided it was time to head to The George Inn over the Thames in Southwark (SUTH-ark). We wanted to see this, because it was one of Charles Dickens’s favorite haunts and figures as a coaching inn in The Pickwick Papers. We made our way down Queen Victoria Street and over the Millennium Bridge to Bankside. From there, I did my best as intrepid leader to follow the map we had to the George. Another word to the wise: London directions are never accurate, whether given by a person or a computer! We went this way, then that, trying to figure out what street we’d crossed and going down several blind alleys before we finally located Borough High Street. Obeying the map, we turned right and walked what must have been 1/3 mile before despairing of ever finding the inn! We finally turned around and headed in the other direction. One block past the street we’d turned from was The George–it was a left turn rather than a right! By now, it had taken us nearly 1.5 hours to walk to get our lunch, we were footsore and starved. Thankfully, the George does serve lunch! Here are Lindsay and Sarah enjoying a delicious luncheon:

Did I mention we were t-i-r-e-d?

After eating and resting, we were ready to take the bus back to St. Paul’s to start our planned “Dickens Walk,” visiting many points of interest from Dickens’s books and life. We asked a chap running a newsstand to tell us the best bus for St. Paul’s, and he gave us the number and pointed out the stop, reminding us to change at Liverpool Street for St. Paul’s. (Have I mentioned that directions in London are basically meaningless?) You guessed it: after riding for nearly 45 minutes, we ended up in Lewisham (far east London), nowhere near St. Paul’s. The bus drive
r stopped and turned off the engine, then called up to us (we were on the second level), “This is the end! The bus doesn’t go anymore!” We walked down the steps to ask him where we went wrong, and he said this number bus never goes near Liverpool Street. The newsstand man was quite wrong. We now needed to go back to New Cross and get the St. Paul’s bus. But the kind driver saw our faces and said, “It is very far to walk to the right stop. Wait while I am on my little break, then I will drive you to New Cross, since it is on my route.” Hallelujah! We sat for about five minutes until he was ready to go again, then headed back from whence we’d come.

By now, it was about 3:30 and sprinkling. The Dickens Walk didn’t seem like such a good idea, so we debated what to do next. We decided to go to Westminster Abbey instead and move the walk to Friday. So we hopped out at New Cross and found the right bus (checking the route ourselves this time, thank you very much!). As we headed toward Westminster, the sky cracked open, and all the low clouds of the morning poured down sheets of rain. By the time we reached our stop, it had slackened a bit, but London was quite soaked! We quickly walked over the square to Westminster, only to find it had closed at 3:45. Oh, well… Back to the drawing board. I remembered how to get from Westminster to Trafalgar Square, so I suggested we just walk that way, find some tea, then sit down and plan. By now the sun had broken through the clouds, and bright blue skies revealed themselves. It was glorious! We found a small cafe’, got some tea (hot chocolate for Sarah), then sat and scalded our tongues (boy, do they mean HOT tea over here!). Lifting an item from Friday’s must-see list, we decided to take the bus to Hyde Park Corner to see the Wellington Arch and walk back past Green Park, Buckingham Palace, and St. James’s Park. The weather had turned quite nice, and we thoroughly enjoyed our walk, though by now my left knee was very stiff (from our climb to the top of St. Paul’s). I limped along well enough, and we took some shots of Buckingham Palace and a darling cottage within St. James’s wildlife preserve:

Finally, we crossed in front of the Horse Guards headquarters and rounded the corner back into Trafalgar Square. From there, we caught a bus back to Suzi’s for a delicious supper of home-made stew and steamed broccoli. We sat up for a bit to share about our day, then crashed into bed, thoroughly footsore. Next time I’ll tell you about our visit to the British Museum and our rollicking good time in Shakespeare’s Globe!

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