It has been almost two weeks since my last blog, the delay in my blogging is due to the fact that but for my first night in London I had little to no access to the Internet. I sent quick e-mails to my friends at the Internet cafes in Bath and at Heathrow.
I left for London on Thursday Oct 8th and arrived there about 4:15 PM (16:15) on October 9th; the flight itself was fine and I sat with a couple of nice ladies a little bit older than my Mum so I didn't feel so lonely. The flight was a connector which went to Amsterdam and then I took another plane from Amsterdam to London. The Schiphol Airport is quite nice; it even has an auxiliary gallery from the Amsterdam Museum of art which has changing exhibits which I visited while I waited two hours for my forty-five minute flight to London. I had intended to see The Mousetrap when I arrived but I was so exhausted and didn't feel like taking a cab halfway across the city to the theatre so I decided that I would let that $60 Canadian (£35) go and just relaxed in my hotel room. After dinner I went back to my room and turned on the TV and watched the repeat of the first episode of the new BBC production of Emma with Ramola Garai; it was very good.
The next day I left London around 10:00 AM and took the train to Bath where I promptly checked into my hotel. I admit it wasn't the largest of hotels, but I had no issue with that as I have been to Europe several times before and in smaller hotels than that, it was central and safe being about two blocks up from the rail station and one block up from the police station. After checking in to the hotel I wandered around Bath, taking in the sites and looking at the soon to be opened new shopping promenade which was a construction site two years ago when I was there. I had a low key night and ate at the hotel before retiring as the next day I was going to be up early.
The next day I skipped breakfast at the hotel as I needed to be at the railway station early and intended to eat on the train. I arrived for the 7:45 AM train for Reading and waited at the platform, they came on and announced that the train was going to be late four times before finally stating that the 7:45 AM train had been cancelled and that 8:22 train would be late. I was getting very anxious as I had another train to connect to once I reached Reading and then I had a taxi that would be waiting for me once I reached Basingstoke to take me to my final destination: St. Nicholas Church Steventon for the 11:15 service. The Reading bound train arrived at 8:28 AM and I quickly hopped on board and took my seat and once it started going, as I was in the adjacent carriage, I quickly went to the dining carriage and bought my breakfast. I alighted from the train at Reading (the train itself carried on to London Paddington) and waited a few minutes before I caught the train for Basingstoke where my taxi would be. When I arrived in Basingstoke I was ten minutes early for my cab and it was starting to lightly rain; my cab came a few minutes early and I hopped inside. I arrived at St. Nicholas Steventon at about 10:45 and looked around the grounds. I took several pictures of the church itself as well as its grounds. I had been there about ten minutes when the rector drove up and introduced himself to me and invited me to come into the church itself. The church exterior looks much like it did when Jane Austen would have been attending services but the interior, is slightly different. The private sitting area/box that the family who owned the estate to which the church belonged would have sat has been moved to the entrance area as opposed to being close to the pulpit and the pews that are there are from the Victorian area. As an Anglican I found the opportunity to partake in the service and communion quite memorable. When the service ended I purchased a few little souvenirs and then donated my change to the church; I was also offered by one of the parishioners to come back and join some of them at their house up the road for a sherry, alas I had to politely decline as I knew that my taxi would be there within the next five minutes. I spent the remainder of my time looking around the church and its grounds before taking my leave and getting into the cab for my journey back to the train station. I returned to Bath at about 3 PM and walked around looking at shops and then had the delicious Jane Austen Tea in the gorgeous Pump Room. I spent the rest of the day just enjoying the sites of Bath stopping off to buy a few little trinkets to take home with me before I went for dinner. After dinner I enjoyed the second episode of the new BBC production of Emma before retiring for the night.
The next day I awoke and had a light breakfast before I caught the train to Wales for the day. While I was in Wales I visited Cardiff Castle which unlike many old castles in the UK belongs does not belong to the National Trust, rather the family who owned it, shortly after WWII for financial reasons (this was merely a holiday home for them) chose to give the castle and its lands to the people of Cardiff as opposed to the National Trust or some other conservation organization. The family did this so that the lands could not be sold off. After my day in Wales I returned to Bath around 6:00 PM and had a light dinner in my room as the only restaurant close by was KFC and as I am Canadian and it was Canadian Thanksgiving I wanted something a little nicer. Dinner was being served in the bar at the hotel and they were already fully booked so, as I was not wanting to walk all the way across town in the dark and there were not any take-away meals that I fancied at Boots or Marks & Spencer's I was resigned to ordering room service (which the cook grudgingly agreed to do) of hamburger and chips, the hamburger was covered in fat and I soon wished that I had gone with KFC. I made sure that all of my stuff was packed except for my clothes for the next day before I went to bed and fell asleep to the X-Factor.
In the morning I checked out of my room and, leaving my bags at the hotel, I went to have a gander around Bath and take a few pictures of the town before I collected my things and proceeded to my next destination Alton. I walked all around Bath and went to The Circus and looked at the exterior of some of the houses that Jane Austen lived in while she was there. I strolled the streets, unfortunately I did not have time this trip to visit the Assembly Rooms as their opening times were listed as 9:45 AM and my train was scheduled to leave Bath at 9:22 AM. I returned to my hotel and collected my bags before I strolled down towards the rail station and, with the assistance of a kind gentleman, I climbed the stairs to the platform and boarded the first of my three trains that would eventually result in mine being in Alton. I lucked out at my train at Ashfield to Alton where I was able to get the 11:50 AM train as opposed to waiting until the 12:20 PM train; the result of this was that I was at my hotel by the time the later train would have been leaving. I was not able to check in to my room when I arrived but was told that I was free to leave my bags and go explore the town. I left my bags and hopped a taxi to take me to Chawton, Alton.
It took the taxi driver about five to ten minutes to deliver me to Jane Austen's Chawton home; as was the case when I went to St. Nicholas Church in Steventon I am very glad that I did not walk, despite Google's assertion that I could, as I would have been on the A26 and likely would not have lived to recount my journey. I paid the driver and then I followed the signs to the entrance. I paid my fee and bought an info guide, knowing that I would be buying more mementos at the gift shop when I finished the tour. I took pictures of the exterior of the house and, after asking permission the garden as well. The gentleman who assented to mine taking pictures of the garden stated that so long as I did not use a flash that I was more than welcome to take pictures inside the house as well. I took pictures of everything that I could see from Jane's bedroom, hair and Pelisse coat to her first pay cheque and Last Will and Testament. I spent almost 2 hours at the Jane Austen House Museum, including purchasing a collectible bone china teacup to fountain pens, pictures, postcards and a copy of Emma so that I could finish the novel before I returned home. After I left the museum I ventured about five or so minutes up the street to St. Nicholas Chawton church where Jane's mother and sister are buried. After taking pictures of their graves and the exterior of the church itself I walked back to the museum and called a taxi to take me back to the hotel.
After I finished checking in I carried my suitcases up the large staircase, the main part of the hotel is from the 1500s so there is no lift, and down the never-ending hallway to my room located at the back of the hotel by the fire escape. After dropping my cases of in my room, and figuring out how to lock the door, I returned downstairs and took an early dinner in the pub of steak and chips which I hurriedly gobbled down in a matter of minutes. After finishing my dinner I went out to roam the streets of Alton. The following day would see me going to Winchester and I needed my beauty sleep so I went to bed early.
I awoke early the next morning and, after freshening up, I went downstairs and enjoyed a lovely full English breakfast before I walked the ten minutes to the rail station to board the train to take me to Winchester. I arrived in Winchester about 11:00 in the afternoon and, after taking public transit down the hill, I alighted as near to the cathedral as I could. I entered the cathedral and paid for my entry to the cathedral as well as the tower tour. I wandered around the cathedral and took a picture of Jane Austen's tombstone and the monument with stained glass window honouring her. I looked around the cathedral and its grounds for about an hour before I decided to go and look around the rest of town, as much as I could including having lunch, before I was to return for my tower tour at about 2:00 PM. I looked around Winchester at the buildings and took a tour of a museum of Winchester through the ages stopping only to have a look at the cathedral shop and the lawn of the cathedral to have a warm pasty and a Ribena for lunch. I took the tower tour, forgetting that last time Mum held both my coat and my big purse; I made it up to the top and took some awesome pictures before I very carefully climbed back down again. At the end of the tower tour we were handed a certificate to confirm that we had successfully ascended and descended the tower (this will go in a frame alongside my certificate attesting that I have completed the climb of York Minster). After I finished looking around the cathedral a little more, including the gift shop, I decided to go in search of Jane's last residence on College Street where she breathed her last breath. I had just given up hope of finding College Street when I looked up at the street sign and noted that I had reached College Street. I ventured up the street and found the house, a private residence, the notation of this being Jane's residence is noted in a plaque halfway up. I took a picture of the house and the plaque before I made my way back to the bus station where I boarded a bus to take me back to the rail station. I arrived back at the hotel exhausted and again took dinner in the pub where I enjoyed another order of steak and chips before retiring to my room for the night and washing my jeans, before I fell asleep to the TV.
The morning saw me up early and having another full English breakfast before I wandered around the Alton waiting for Boots to open so I could procure some necessities for my travel to Canterbury and, the following day Dublin. I checked out of the hotel, having booked a taxi the night before; as I did not relish hulling my heavy suitcases up the slight incline towards the station. I arrived at Canterbury around 1:00 PM and leaving my bags at the hotel, with my gate pass in hand, I went to explore the cathedral and then the city outside its walls. I was advised that the gates themselves are closed by 9:00 PM but so long as I hold tight to my pass that I would be able to come and go as I pleased. I looked around the cathedral, slightly awestruck and then confirming the time for Evensong services I went to look around the town. Canterbury was very beautiful, its cathedral is lovely and they are raising money in order to help save the structure which is partially covered in scaffolding as parts of it are structurally in need of repair. I switched rooms as I was uneasy with being in the room that I had been given initially and said that I would rather pay the extra £ and feel safe, I was the only person in the other building, than not pay it and be unable to sleep the entire night; the front desk manager was very understanding about this and had no problem this. The second room I got looked directly out at the cathedral so I was quite happy with the view and very comfortable with the room itself. The hotel itself belongs to the cathedral there is even a picture of the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams hanging in the lobby.
The next day, after a light breakfast and a few minutes to stroll and take some early morning shots of the cathedral, I took a cab from my hotel back to the rail station and boarded my train for London. I read on the train and snacked on cookies with my suitcases in one seat and me in another. I arrived in London and, after getting some £ at the cash point I took a taxi from London Victoria to London Paddington to catch my Heathrow Express to take me to the airport and then on to Ireland. My flight from London to Dublin was delayed an hour and a half during which time I ate lunch and wrote in my travel journal that I had brought with me, as it was then that I realised that I had forgotten to take Emma out of my outside pocket of my suitcase before I checked my bags in. During my seventy minute flight I jotted down my thoughts in my travel journal and munched on cookies.
My plane landed in Dublin around five thirty in the afternoon and after I cleared customs, where I added another stamp to my passport, I went out into the cool breeze and joined the taxi queue. Mt hotel in Dublin is located right at the end of the Temple Bar area across the street from Christ Church Cathedral. Exhausted as I was, despite having several pubs literally on my doorstep I chose to dine at the pub inside the hotel so I wouldn't have to worry about trying to find my way back to my hotel late at night. I relaxed with a nice warm bath before watching a little TV and going to sleep as I had a ton of things I wanted to see the next day.
I awoke early the next day and headed downstairs around seven to be one of the first for breakfast. After having a fuel English, sans black pudding, I headed out to see and experience Dublin. I decided that I was going to go to Trinity College first since I would be able to go to St. Patrick's and Christ Church for services later if I could not make it there during the opening/ touring times. I loved Trinity College; the grounds, the Book of Kells (I studied Art History beginning in high school, one of my BAs is in it too, so as was the case last year with the Louvre I thought it was neat to see something up close that I had only seen pictures of, it made it more real somehow), and the long room (gorgeous library of ancient texts). After walking at a snail's pace up and down the long room I descended the stairs and perused the gift shop for about an hour. Having finished there I decided that my next stop would be at the Guinness Storehouse, I had made my way back down the street from Trinity College to my hotel and the front desk clerk was good enough to provide me with a Guinness map of Dublin where she marked out where the hotel was and where the storehouse was. I asked how long it would take to walk and she advised me it would take about fifteen to twenty minutes to walk there. I decided that I would try walking there and after walking through a less high-end commercial part of town I finally made it there. I spent a good two and a half hours at the Guinness storehouse, during which time I learned more about how beer, and Guinness in particular (obviously), is manufactured from the cultivating and harvesting of the hops and barley through to the pouring of the perfect pint.I went to the tasting lab to tru Guinness draught and then went up to the bar at the top of the building for my complimentary pint stein full of the golden brew. After finishing three-quarters of it I left and went down two levels to the restaurant and had a lovely braised beef with a cola. I looked around a bit more after my meal including having my picture taken and becoming a Guinness apprentice and buying some mementos before I exited. I decided that I did not relish walking all the way back to the hotel so I hopped aboard the hop on/hop off bus whose tickets are now valid for 24 hours and not merely the one day as they had been before. I purchased my ticket and took my seat as it would let me of across the street from my hotel. I decided to get off the bus at the Kilmainham Gaol and taker a tour of the former prison. The prison is key to the Irish Republic's history and it was very interesting to hear the history of the building and its former residents. After the prison I got back on the bus and took it to the beginning of Temple Bar which was its last stop. I got off and walked back towards my hotel, passing the Clarence Hotel whcih is owned by Bono and The Edge (my brother stayed here before for business and said it was quite nice); I stopped off at the small bookstore Books Upstairs before continuing up the street in search of a place to eat. I found a neat little pub called The Bank which was a Victorian era Bank [Belfast Bank to be exact] which has been sympathetically converted into a gastro-pub; the food was very good and the decor was fabulous.
That night I watched Morse and relaxed while I contemplated how I was going to be able to get the most into my day in the morning as, since it was Sunday, almost everything was not open before noon.
Sunday morning I watched Jeeves and Wooster and one and a half episodes of Heartbeat before I went down for a quick breakfast. I ate and then I made it my mission that I wanted to ensure that I got myself an Irish Aran sweater, this was the one thing I wanted to buy myself from Ireland and I did not want to have to leave without it. In-between my seemingly futile searches for my sweater I took in the Dublinia exhibit in the old Synod building of the Church of Ireland which is adjacent to Christ Church Cathedral, it is joined by a walkway. I had hoped to attend the morning service at Christ Church but was halfway through the Dublinia exhibit and did not make it; when I had finished exiting the church I was told by the verger that the church would not be open for visitors for more than an hour so I decided to take another look around the city. With my hop-on/ hop-off bus pass still valid I jumped aboard and took the bus around the city getting off at the Dublin Writer's museum which is housed in a Georgian Era townhouse. The museum was very interesting and included displays of famous Irish writers from Jonathan Swift, to Oscar Wilde to Samuel Becket just to name but a very few. After looking around the museum I decided I really needed to find my Irish Sweater as it was getting on to two-o'clock, so after consulting the receptionist there I set off in search of my woolen prize. I had almost given up hope when I saw the sign for the Irish Celtic Craftshop and I walked in thinking to myself as I did that if they didn't have it I would be resigned to going home without my sweater. I entered and out of the corner of my eye I saw a small display of souvenir shirts and beside them a small sampling of sweaters both cardigans and jumpers(pull-overs); like a moth to a flame I made my way through the two small aisles towards my celtic collectible. I looked at a greyish-cream coloured cardigan and a similarly jumper, I finally decided on the cardigan and eagerly made my purchase choosing to pay for it in Canadian so I would not have to worry about exchange rate fluctuations. With my self much calmer I walked up the street towards Christ Church Cathedral and went inside. The church was beautiful and sacred. After strohling through Christ Church I walked up the street towards St. Patrick's and looked around inside, I saw the monument to Jonathan Swift and its lovely interior and stained glass before I took my seat and enjoyed the Evensong and Matins service. I then, seeing my cash was low, went in search of a cash point so I would be able to pay the taxi driver in the morning. I searched and I searched as the one located in the corner store beside my hotel was out of service. I went into the heart of Temple Bar and eventually found one at the grocery store. With my cash in hand I went in search of someplace to eat. I looked around and finally decided that I would take room service instead of trying to deal with trying to find a pub that I liked. I ate my dinner while I watched the third episode of Emma and then finished packing for my flight home the next day.
I awoke early the next day in order to make sure that I did not leave anything in the hotel. After packing I went down to have a nice light breakfast before I checked out and made my way back to the airport to my flight home. Durring my flight home I was able to finish my last few pages of Emma, and I watched Mama Mia (it was very hard for me not to belt out the songs on the plane). My flight touched down back home at about four in the afternoon where my sister and mum were waiting to great my flight.