All entries for December 2004
December 20, 2004
Well, Norwood and I have just had our last Indian takeout meal in England. I was so sure that I would start to miss having really good Mexican food part-way through our time here but it never really happened and I think that is because there was so much good Indian and Kashmiri food around here. Since we can't afford to go out much here on campus, we've esp. enjoyed getting Indian takeaway meals at the supermarket or getting a Kashmiri dish called balti, which is especially popular in this part of England and very very good. I think it is one thing that we will really miss about going back to Austin. We've been spending today and tomorrow tying up loose ends, saying goodbye to friends, leaving Christmas cards for those we won't get to see, and cleaning the flat and packing. We will be spending Wednesday in London and fly back to the states on Thursday so I'll try to write about our last day in London when I'm back in CA. I also wanted to mention one esp. fun thing we got to do last week.
My friend Diana came to visit from CA for a few days before going on to Edinburgh to visit another friend. Since she was flying in to nearby Birmingham we took her bags to the left luggage counter and showed her around Brum for awhile. It was especially nice bec. the sun came out temporarily and they have a German Christmas Market set up in the pedestrianised shopping streets. We had been to Brum once before and it was fun, if a bit wet. There is a huge complex of malls and other shops, one of the biggest of its kind in Europe and people come from all over Europe to go shopping there bec. everything is all in one place. The German Christmas Market was set up a few years ago bec. so many German stall owners in Frankfurt couldn't get stall space in the highly competitive and packed traditional market there. Instead they have been coming over to Birmingham and setting up an alternative market that has been very popular. Apparently there are some older German women who married British soldiers after the war and they haven't had many chances to speak their native language so they enjoy going to the market every year and talking to the vendors in German. I was really looking forward to seeing the market bec. it is the biggest of it's kind outside of Germany and Austria and I'd heard so much about them from my Uncle Don. It was a nice market but somewhat limited in what they sold--I was hoping to see more handcrafted ornaments and nativity scenes, there were some but not a lot and some vendors seemed to sell the exact same things just at different ends of the market. Still it was fun to look around and toward the other end of the market were lots of food stalls. I tried the Kirschwein, a sort of mulled wine with a strong black cherry flavor to it--very good. And I insisted on trying one of the German sausages on a roll with mustard. They were grilling regular bratwursts and 'red' bratwursts which were a little spicier and seemed to be a special sausage sold for the British market. I got a red one and after Norwood and Diana tried a taste of mine, they both quickly caved in and got some red sausages too. Norwood liked his so much that we decided to chip in and share a regular Bratwurst which was possibly even a bit better than the red ones. We eventually moved on to the regular shops and malls in the area, but I think going to that Christmas market made Norwood and me just want to go to one of the really big ones in Germany or Austria even more.
December 19, 2004
Last weekend Norwood and I went to visit his uncle Tim in Port Isaac, Cornwall in the far southwest of England. Cornwall is, in many places, one of the most remote parts of England and getting down there was a bit of a trial, about 8 hours of combined train, bus, and travel by cab, but definitely worth it. It's a beautiful place and maybe even more so now during the winter when things are much less busy. We arrived at Tim's house on Thursday evening and he was very welcoming and immediately set up pre-dinner cocktails for us. We had dinner at home and talked for a long time, but Tim was feeling pretty poorly after a trip to the dentist and couldn't eat much. The next day Norwood drove us (in Tim's car) to the inland town of Wadebridge so Tim could see the dentist and get a shot for the pain. Norwood and I spent some time looking around the town and going into the various shops. Later we met Tim for lunch at one of his favorite pubs, The Swan. One of the things I was most looking forward to was having really good, fresh fish in Cornwall, so I opted for the fish and chips which were very good. However, Tim got the special—fish cakes made from haddock, cod and salmon. I got to try a little bit of it and it was wonderful! As much as I liked my fish, I began to wish I had ordered the special instead it was so good. Unfortunately Tim's toothache was still too bad to eat the cakes, and the greedy kid inside me hoped to get his fishcakes but nothing doing—he saved them for later. We got a few groceries for dinner and headed back to Pt. Isaac. When we got back Norwood and I decided to look around the harbour.
Pt. Isaac is a really neat town, it's not very touristy, even in the summer and is very very small. It is also has very windy, steep streets that lead down to the harbour and the center of town so you definitely get into good shape with all of the walking. The houses and shops are all made from the local granite and slate and many were clearly not in use during the down season. We went into a couple of tourist shops that had some very cute things, esp. Cornish fisherman's sweaters made from local wool with a cable knit and died a dark blue—really pretty. I also looked at the lunch menu of a pub that we thought we might go to later, everything looked delicious. Pt. Isaac still makes a big part of its living from fishing, especially, crab and lobster so this pub had lots of great sounding dishes including a great sounding crab soup with bits of crusty french bread. We moved on to walk out onto the harbour. During low tide the harbour is completely dry and whatever boats are in there just lay on there side in the sand. We poked around looking for shells and looking at a deep cave, typical for the Cornish coastline the had been carved by wind and water into a tunnel in the cliff. For a long time a lot of Cornwall's secondary economy came from smuggling and caves like these were very convenient. People also lured large ships in storms too close to the jagged rocks to purposely sink them and collect whatever things washed up on shore. We went back to the main street and up a steep hill along the other side of the harbour and into a local pottery that had lots of bowls, cups, and plates with sea themes. Further along and out of town the street ends and turns into the Coastal Path. There are numerous walking paths that cut all over England often through farmland and pastures. The coastal path is one of the most famous and goes along the Cornish coast for many miles. We went just a little way before finding spot to sit and take a picture of the town.
A little further along we ran into a herd of cows on the path but they didn't seem to mind us much so we went a bit further before deciding to head back and join Tim. Tim used to live in West Winds, a house outside of Pt. Isaac, but has recently moved to a new home closer into town. At West Winds he had built a Finnish sauna (he is a retired professor of English from the University of Helsinki in Finland so he's used to having a sauna) and when he moved to the new place he dismantled the sauna and rebuilt it in the new house. It was wonderful to use it each evening after walking up and down the steep hills and along the paths. You can see more pics of the town and the scenery in the Pt. Isaac gallery.
The next day we puttered around Pt. Issac again and then met Tim and his friend Betty for lunch at a pub with a beautiful view of the coast. After lunch Norwood and I went further along the coastal path, this time going north, toward Tintagel castle and enjoyed looking at the dramatic cliffs and coves around each new turn.
I should mention another highlight of the trip was getting to see British TV. We decided not to buy a tv while we were here since it was for such a short time and you have to pay a tax of about $100 dollars when you get one. But to some extent it would be nice to know more about the culture through the television they watch here and to see the news, although we read the newspapers. Each evening at Tim's I watched a little tv before going to bed and on Saturday night they showed Notting Hill. As I mentioned in a previous post, not a very good film but it was fun to see some of the streets scenes of places very close to the house we stayed at and the pub we had drinks at as well. Sunday morning morning we had to leave pretty early and despite having a truly obnoxious taxi driver who seems to think all Americans are Nazis (pretty much the only time we have had some be really rude like that on this trip, people are often critical of american politics and Bush but not personally offensive at all) on the way back to the bus station we did have a really nice time and hope to spend more time seeing more of Cornwall the next time around. Thanks Tim!
December 16, 2004
Last Wednesday, the 8th, we took a day trip down to Woodstock and visited Blenheim Palace. (This wasn't as easily done as we expected. Our plan, actually, was to save a little bit on fares by taking the regional commuter buses down. We wound our way from Leamington through the town of Warwick, past the famous castle, and through various small villages and suburban developments, until we got to Stratford — where we found out the connecting bus wasn't coming that day until mid-afternoon. We had to give up and take the train — which took us all the way back thru Warwick and Leamington on the way down to Oxford.)
Anyway, by mid-afternoon we finally arrived at the Blenheim Palace gates, and walked up the road to the palace itself. It was a cold, gray day, but we were still awed by the extravagant beauty of the building and its far-flung grounds.
After hiking the paths through the woods and gardens on both sides of the building, we walked in through the grand entrance and took a tour of the building itself. We expected grandeur, but were impressed nonetheless. Inside the front portico is a great hall, three stories high, with balconies and high windows letting in — well, not much light, on a day like today, so some spotlights were on, casting pools of cold white light here and there across the hall. We were shown a succession of staterooms, and a succession of portraits of dukes of Marlborough. There was a grand dining room decked out for a festive holiday meal, which is actually served on Christmas day to the duke and duchess and their extended family. The library room, at the end of the tour, was also splendid and vast. Kerry recognized it, and a few other interior sites, from Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet.
We also saw the small bedroom where Winston Churchill, son of the 8th duke's second son Randolph, was born in 1874. Apparently it's been arranged as it was then, with a little bed and a table (and a typed note from Randolph Churchill, thanking the doctor for his help that day). Nearby was an exhibit of Churchill memorabilia, but our time had already grown short. We stepped back outside into the darkness, and actually walked down the road to the entry gate, only to find that it had already been closed and locked. We had to hike a very long distance to get out through another gate on another side of the property (then all the way back to our bus stop outside the original gate). It's almost as if the palace was designed for visitors with cars.
Still, it was every bit as magnificent as we had hoped. It's now closed to visitors until the spring, so we're glad we managed a holiday-season visit while we could.
I'm writing this entry a bit belatedly, but still hope that it's interesting. Possibly my favorite single thing we've done so far. Norwood had to go into London for a conference about three weeks ago. After the conference he was planning to spend the next whole day at the Public Records Office, the equivalent of the National Archives in the U.S. Since Kew is right down the street from the archives (both are out in suburban London) I knew this would be my one chance to go see the gardens. A friend of ours has been housesitting in a really nice house in Notting Hill and invited us to stay there for the two nights that we would be in town. It was fun to explore a new neighborhood in London, Notting Hill has become pretty posh especially since the movie came out a few years ago. The first night we found a cheap little Carribean food place and had jerk chicken and salted cod and ackee with rice and fried dumplings—it was really delicious. The next day Norwood went to his conference and I did a little Christmas shopping and went back to the house to do some work I had brought with me. But before I did I made a quick detour around the corner from the house and went to a bookstore called Books for Cooks, which was nothing but cookbooks and a small cafe. Pretty much every conceivable topic in cookery was covered there but surprisingly most of the books there you could find at any really good Waterstones or Borders in the UK and the US. I was hoping to find a used section that I had heard about that might have some more unusual stuff but never saw anything. Maybe I missed it somehow. As I was leaving I noticed another bookshop across the street the Travel Bookshop which is the one from Notting Hill if you've seen the movie. Our friend, the housesitter, says that American tourists are always coming up to her on the street and asking "Where's the bookshop?" which I find strange since it is a terrible movie and doesn't seem worth bothering with. Also nearby, actually just one street over, is Portobello Road. I have to confess that I'm constantly thinking of references to books, movies, and sometimes nursery rhymes based in England, and being on Portobello Road made me think of the scene and the song from Bedknobs and Broomsticks (movie). Because it was the middle of the week I didn't see much out—there were some stalls with jewelry, cheap clothes, baked goods and produce, etc. but it was still fun to look for awhile. Later, after I had gotten some work done, I went over the the V & A museum where a friend of ours works, because she let me in to see one of the the special exhibits for free. It is called Encounters and is about the early interaction between Europeans and the Far East, with a primary focus on Japan, China, and India. There were some many of the pieces of clothing, furniture, and exotic diplomatic gifts, reflected an early mixing of the cultures and traditions of East and West in ways I hadn't seen before and many of the pieces were really beautiful. You can see some of the pieces here.
The next day Norwood and I went down to Kew. He headed to the archives and I went to the gardens. It was one of the few times I've paid to see something here, since we are on a tight budget, but it was well worth the fee. If you come here and you like gardens and gardening you'll love it of course, but even if you are not normally that interested in that sort of thing I think most people find it to be really interesting and a very nice day out. Although it was chilly and not as much is in bloom right now, there is always something to see at every time of the year. When I went at the beginning of December there was still gorgeous fall color everywhere and really beautiful trees full of berries of all shades.
The Palm House was also wonderful bec. it was the first time I had felt warm and humid since leaving Austin—I was a little reluctant to leave for that reason but the variety of palms are amazing, they have almost every known variety there.
Another highlight was the beautiful Japanese Garden with large shaped cedars a pagoda tower and small rock garden. Later along the path I came to a large redwood grove that mixed coastal and mountainous varieties together. It's funny how smell can evoke a place so strongly and being amongst the redwoods reminded me so much of being in California, esp. since no one was around and it was very quiet with just the sounds of bits of redwood branches (needles?) dropping to the ground was so like going camping in the Sierras. There were so many great things to see there, I just can't describe them all but here are a couple of others briefly: The Princess of Wales Conservatory, the newest of the three large conservatories, it has mutiple rooms with several different microclimates housing the most beautiful plants. If the redwood grove reminded me of CA then the Cactus and Succulents in one of these rooms reminded me so much of TX, not simply the plants, but something about the fresh, sandy,dry smell immediately made me think of being back there.
The Orchid room and the Cloud Forest Room were also not to be missed. Just outside of the Princess of Wales was also an amazing rock garden. Not like the Japanese style ones where there are lines raked over in swirls in the sand but terraces that are sort of built out of rocks and had plants from Spain, the Himalayas, Japan and the U.S. cultivated on them and running streams cutting through different sections. Unfortunately my camera batteries started to wear down and I got one average-looking shot of it which I'll try to post.
Unfortunately, completely missed the fact that there was a bonsai exhibit there, even though I was wondering how a botanic garden could not have one—sorry Dad!
Norwood and I arranged to meet at 4 pm for tea at the Original Maids of Honour across the street from Kew, my nomination for best tea shop in England! Although I've only tried three. It was great, really cozy with a small fire in the fireplace, boughs of fir and holly draped everywhere for Christmas (I now think of everything to do with Christmas in England as "Dickensian") and wonderful scones, clotted cream, jam and a pastry each. Norwood picked out a yummy eclair and I had the Maid of Honour, a mini-tart filled with custard and served warm. It felt like the perfect end to a fun day out!
December 05, 2004
I'd like to try to convey something of our daily routine here on the Warwick campus this fall. Here are some images from the last few days. Thursday, the 2nd, was a cold morning with a hard frost, but the sun came out early on. Our accommodations here in the newly built section of Heronbank Apartments are pretty institutional, but we look out the kitchen window at fields and pasture land dotted by sheep. In the pale light of the morning, with the frost still out, I thought it looked like a dreamscape.
Since then, it's clouded over again and warmed back up a bit. Yesterday (Sat.), when we walked to Coventry, we started along a footpath down past the center of campus and through a restored woodland with a recently built lake. Apparently it doesn't take long here for serenity to settle back in.
Here among the newly built flats at Heronbank, though, it's still pretty early in the process. Today we ventured out to get the paper and some groceries, along the path we've been trudging every day these last couple of months.
As you can see, everything's been planned out and we have a nice little trail that leads along a lake and over a footbridge, but things haven't exactly grown in yet. Still, even though they weren't around this morning, there's a flock of Canada geese and some swans who live here with us, and they don't seem to mind the surroundings.
It's hard to believe the autumn term here has ended — it seems like just a few days ago it hadn't begun yet, and the students were just arriving. Yesterday they were pulling their suitcases along the sidewalks, and today it seems they're mostly gone. The center of campus seems pretty much cleared out. We'll be leaving, too, all too soon.
We took the day off yesterday (Sat.) and walked the three miles from campus into central Coventry, along the Kenilworth and Warwick Roads. Many people think of the city here as a grim place, with wartime damage compounded by postwar planning and the dying out of local industries. It's clear Coventry has known hard times but, as Kerry pointed out in our entry from a few weeks ago, we like it here. Also, Kerry's mom linked us to an outstanding site that told us a lot about historic Coventry that we didn't already know and helped guide us around town.
We first saw the cathedral here a few weeks ago, and we were drawn back yesterday for another visit. It's like no other church we've seen. The old cathedral, St. Michael's, was left in ruins after the Luftwaffe raid in November 1940, and the remains of the building still stand — with a cross of burnt timbers placed up on what used to be the high altar. It's a sad, eloquent, haunting place.
Then, you turn and walk through what's left of the old cathedral transept, and it opens out into the entrance to the new cathedral.
We've read that the new cathedral is said to be one of a very few much-loved 20th-century churches. We can certainly understand this. It's a majestic place, but mostly peaceful and consoling. I took several more pictures of the outside of the building, although I don't think they capture its most special qualities.
We visited several other sites, too. Near the cathedral is a beautiful gothic church, Holy Trinity, which survived the air raids. We borrowed field glasses from the shop counter and looked up at the wall above the ceiling arch, over the sanctuary. There we saw a newly restored early 14th century mural, known as the Doom painting, which is extraordinarily vivid and disturbing.
There are quite a few other things worth seeing in the center of the city. The site of the medieval priory cathedral, which predated St. Michael's, has been excavated and turned into a kind of open-air memorial, with its own museum. We spent some time there, and also over on Spon Street, along which various 15th-century houses, pubs, and other buildings have been rebuilt after being disassembled, or deposited after being towed.
Just behind Spon Street is something called the Coventry Skydome, which includes a sports arena, a giant new Odeon cineplex and a number of freakish-looking theme restaurants (including one called "Old Orleans"). We were really hungry, but we thought better of it and ended up at the Tudor Rose, one of the local pubs. Later we joined the crowds milling under the Christmas lights in the glass-covered Lower Precinct shopping area, and made a couple of stops: Lush, Ottaker's bookstore, Marks & Spencer. Then, with darkness falling quickly, we set out on the march back home.