Nothing like a thunderstorm…

to motivate you to work inside for a while.  Well, this (the month of June) has been quite a month.  In many ways it’s been six months compressed into one.  And the telling of the tale will doubtless take me the next month (ie. July).  So I’d better get started!  I do think that the nature of the tale lends itself to telling in one elongated post.  That said, I will post this immediately in order to get things underway… but check back in here occasionally for additions.  When I’ve finally exhausted my account (and my reader), I will place a blue asterisk ( * ) under the title above to signal completion.

Inception

The new year (2012) prompted me to reflect on the fact that this year Jane and I would be observing our fortieth year of marriage A significant milestone, I think.  But it also reminded me of the rather modest honeymoon which began our marriage.  With limited funds and time (me starting my teacher training and Jane a new job)  we spent two days in the Collingwood area before settling into our London apartment (conveniently adjacent to a funeral home).    So I started to formulate a celebratory trip for our anniversary.  Two alternatives emerged… one, a ten-day guided tour of major cities in Italy… or two, a quick rail tour of Ireland (our previous visit had centred in the Dublin region) followed by a short ferry crossing and a rail tour of the northern Wales.  There were issues, however.  First, neither of us was especially inclined to deal with the constraints of a formal tour.  Second, both scenarios failed to incorpate two interesting side trips.  With Jane finishing a thesis which focussed on the writings of Karl Barth (a theologian which an especial fondness for the Isenheim Altarpiece located in Colmar, France… a fondness which my wife shared) and my preliminary online investigations which had revealed a unique one-day tour which would take participants to Avebury, Glastonbury and Stonehenge (for a sunset special access visit),  I tried to tack each to the prospective scenarios with limited success until I realized that the solution was to forget about those scenarios entirely and create a trip which would incorporate our real “favs” and allow us to set an agenda which appealed to our particular (some would say peculiar) interests.  The result was a holiday hatched early in the new year, hinted at in my ongoing puzzle and honed in subsequent months.

II The Plan

Our preferred holiday scenario has always involved a considerable amount of walking, using a single accommodation as home base and exploring the area until we gained some appreciation for and familiarity with its character.  Our chosen destinations shared a rich and lengthy history (and prehistory),  cities that were best explored on foot and transportation links which would connect the centres.

As it began to take shape, the trip looked something like this-

  • flight to Gatwick Airport from Toronto
  • train from the airport to Salisbury, our locus for five days
  • day tour of Avebury, Glastonbury and Stonehenge* on June 3rd
  • train/bus from Salisbury to Heathrow
  • flight from Heathrow to Strasbourg, our locus for the next five days
  • a day trip by train to Colmar during this period
  • return by air to Heathrow, this time taking a bus to Winchester
  • Winchester for two nights
  • train to Chichester for one night
  • train to Gatwick and flight home

* The tour became the determinate for the timing of our trip.  Although our anniversary is in the fall, the only date on which this tour was offered was June 3rd.  Hence, a trip in early June…

In theory (we postulated) all this should work.  And (providentially aided) it really did!  Here’s how it all unfolded…

III And they’re off…

May 30th and 31st, 2012

Grrrrrls to the kennel.  Drive to Toronto.  Shuttle to Pearson International.  Baggage and security check.  Wait…

We gained considerable experience at…

waiting in airports…

Finally, at about 10:00 p.m. (our time) we were on our way.  We landed at Gatwick Airport around 10:00 a.m. (their time).  By mid-afternoon we had arrived in Salisbury by train and checked into our room at The Milford Hall Hotel.

Milford Hall is a grade II listed property built in the 1800’s

We were tired (overnight flight/no sleep) but also eager to see Salisbury and its famous cathedral.  And so, a walk.  A few things immediately re-inforced the fact that we were in England.  Drizzle… roses… reversed (for us) traffic patterns…older architecture…

Enormous rose blossoms found along the pathway beside our hotel…

Buildings from the 1700’s (and earlier) are quite common in the city’s centre…

I had understood from my reading that the cathedral dominated the city’s skyline.  And it’s true…

It really does dominant the landscape…

After a fifteen-minute walk we found ourselves in the close (the grounds surrounding the cathedral, the largest close in England).  The cathedral boasts the country’s tallest spire and largest cloister as well.  It is unquestionably an impressive sight…

Impressive in height…

Impressive in detail… (that’s St. George and St. Christopher, by the way… two of sixty-nine statues on the west face of the cathedral)

The interior tour (for which there is an admission charge) would wait for another day when, with a modicum of rest, we would be better able to appreciate the architecture and history of the edifice.  Meanwhile, “teatime” in the cloisters was in order for this first day on English soil…

Teatime in the cloisters…

A little further exploration of the city centre and an excellent dinner at Da Vinci (a great Italian restaurant near our hotel) and we were more than ready to pack it in for the night.  After all,  the new day would mean the beginning of a new month (June) and our first full day in Salisbury…

IV Getting Serious about Salisbury…

June 1st, 2012

The next morning, bolstered by a comfortable bed and good breakfast we visited the tourism office and took advantage of a guided tour of the city centre.  Elizabeth, our guide, was a knowledgeable and enthusiastic shepherd who led one other couple and us by a number of sites which we might have otherwise overlooked.  After a leisurely and informative two-hour stroll we took a lunch break (at the Boston Tea Party, a cafe housed in the Old George Inn which dates from 1314 [typical of buildings cited during the tour]).  The afternoon saw us return (more rested) to the cathedral and tour its interior.

As with the exterior, the interior draws the eye upward (heavenward, so to speak)… the intent of the builders.  It also has a feeling of light resulting from the design (Early English Gothic), construction materials (Purbeck [marble] and Chilmark [limestone] Stone) and numerous (365?) windows.   Unlike so many of its fellows (which were constructed over generations), the main structure of the cathedral was completed in just 38 years, between 1220 and 1258.  This compression of construction time gives the structure a more unified appearance.  The cloisters, chapter house (which now houses the Magna Carta) and spire were added by 1320.  In spite of dubious renovations made over the years (the most infamous by James Wyatt circa 1790… amongst other things he tore down the medieval bell tower and removed the original rood screen) the cathedral retains an elegance which is unmatched by any other cathedral I’ve seen to date.  So… here’s the tour (no charge for you)…

Some of the estimated 8760 pillars found in the cathedral…

This working medieval clock, the oldest in Europe (1386), was relocated in the church nave aisle after the demolition of the bell tower in 1789.

Recent stained glass window which recognizes the ongoing work of Amnesty International.

Not everything is old… this contemporary font is situated in the centre of the nave.

The eye is always drawn upward…

As we are taken around the cathedral our guide is only too happy to relate some of the church’s peculiar tales… One example…

The tomb of William Longspee, one of many in the cathedral…

William Longspee, third earl of Salisbury (c. 1176-1226), was the illegitimate son of England’s Henry II.  He was well known for his physical stature, his military prowess and his loyalty to King John.  On a return voyage to England in 1225 his ship was wrecked and it was presumed that he had drowned.  His widow (Ela) decided to remarry shortly thereafter, a plan thwarted by the unexpected return of her “not-deceased-after-all”.  A  short time later William really did die.  The quirky postscript to this tale came in 1791 when Longspee’s tomb was opened and the well-preserved carcass of a rat was discovered in William’s skull.  The discovery was all the more remarkable because closer examination of the rat revealed that the corpse contained traces of arsenic!

People are not the only creatures commemorated in stone…

A visit to the adjacent Chapter House to see the Magna Carta was followed by another trek through the cloisters…

This time we asked about the huge trees planted in the centre of the cloisters and were told that they are “cedars of Lebanon” planted in honour of the ascension of Queen Victoria to the throne in 1837.  A fitting anecdote for the weekend in which Victoria’s descendant, Elizabeth II, would be celebrating her diamond jubilee… and the celebratory mood is evident in the streets of the city…

Flags adorn the streets of Salisbury in honour of the Queen’s jubilee…

By this point in the day we’ve been sufficiently “detoured” and return to our hotel for a quiet evening…

Triangulation

June 2nd, 2012

Three things dominated this Saturday expedition.

One

A visit to the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum… notable for its Neolithic artifacts (including many from the area around Stonehenge, especially the Amesbury Archer), its Roman antiquities, its medieval collection and the (dead) Longspee rat (see previous day).  After that a little break at the museum’s outdoor cafe… in the shadow of the cathedral.

Nothing better than a cup of tea…

…and a cathedral view.

Two

A visit to Mompesson House.  Operated by the National Trust, this summer home was built in 1701 for Charles Mompesson and is located on the edge of the cathedral close.  It was featured in 1995’s Sense and Sensibility.

The house faces the cathedral across the close…

One of the house’s better known tenants was Barbara Townsend (1842-1939) who spent much of her life at Mompesson and effectively captured the cathedral’s essence in her  watercolours.

Townsend’s work is on display at Mompesson.

Her preoccupation with the cathedral isn’t surprising… considering the view from her bedroom window!

Before we left we visited the lovely rear garden and snapped a quick pic…

Using the camera’s timer…

Three

Once we had established that our visit to Salisbury would occur in early June (because of the tour) I was pleased to discover that it would also coincide Salisbury’s International Arts Festival.  One of the featured events (the Festival was also celebrating its fortieth anniversary!) was an evening concert at the cathedral with Ex Cathedra (a highly regarded Birmingham choir).  The program included works by Thomas Tallis and contemporary composer Alec Roth.  You can imagine the magical intersection of choir, material, venue and acoustics that night.  I can’t recreate the unique spirit of that evening but… if you have headsets, put them on and use your imagination.

An evening of song at the cathedral…

 Sol Justitiae performed by Ex Cathedra, written by Alec Roth

VI  A Journey Back in Time…

June 3rd, 2012

So… how do you top a concert at Salisbury Cathedral?  You don’t even try… you just go in a different direction.  Back, in this case.  Our “gang of fifteen” met up with Pat Shelley, our guide, and the bus driver (and his vehicle) at the Guildhall promptly at 9:30 a.m.  And, although there were many elements to the tour, I’m choosing to highlight those for which I have a photographic record.

After passing Old Sarum (the earlier version of Salisbury) located on the outskirts of the city, we travelled for a while before a we made a quick pitstop to look at (and photograph) one of the eight Wiltshire (chalk) Horses still visible on hillsides throughout the region.  This one dates from 1815…

One of the Wiltshire White Horses…

Further travel brought us to West Kennet Long Barrow (a burial chamber dating from about 3500 B.C.) and Silbury Hill (a manmade mound [the largest from the late Neolithic period]).  Here, for the first time that day (and not the last) Pat informed us that the hill was built “for ritual and ceremony”… translation:  they don’t know why it was created.  But… it makes for a good picture…

Silbury Hill… constructed for ceremony and ritual (and to entertain the cattle)

Our first major stop was at Avebury, a picturesque village in the Wiltshire countryside.  Ironically Avebury has the largest stone circle in Britain… ironic because the site enjoys only a fraction of the attention given to Stonehenge…  perhaps because the stones are spread over such a large area and lack the visual impact of its famous cousin.  Nonetheless it shares with Stonehenge status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Pat Shelley, an expert in the prehistoric record of the Wiltshire region and our guide for the tour, provides an overview on the history of the Avebury site since its construction during the Neolithic Period.

One thing we can confirm… some of these stones are big!

… and there’s lots of them spread over the countryside by the village.

Now it was at Avebury that we began to do something odd which we would repeat at Glastonbury and Stonehenge.  We wanted to bring back a bit of the spirit of these sites to our family… so we earlier purchased postcards of Stonehenge, propped them up in each venue and photographed the collection as evidence of their “visit” to the site.  And now, as evidence of our faithful completion of this task, I give you exhibit A, B and C…

Exhibit A… postcards at Avebury

Exhibit B… postcards among the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey

Exhibit C… at the foot of Stonehenge

And, from Avebury, on to Glastonbury

and, first stop, Glastonbury Tor.

Tor is of Celtic origin and means “rocky outcropping” or “hill”. Definitely a hill…

Archaeological evidence at the tor suggests that it has been visited or inhabited since the Neolithic period.  Roman, Celtic and medieval artifacts confirm the tor’s pivital place in British history.  Because the tor was, in its earlier life, surrounded by water (a peninsula at low tide), it was called Ynys yr Afalon (the Isle of Avalon) by the Britons and was believed by some to be the Avalon of Arthurian legend.  Another legend has St. Patrick leading a group of hermits to the tor’s summit where they found a ruined oratory.  There is evidence of a fort dating from the fifth century and certainty of its later status as a church.  The last abbot of Glastonbury Abbey was executed, drawn and quartered on the site in 1539.  St. Michael’s Tower was restored in the early 1800’s.

St. Michael’s Tower… at the summit of Glastonbury Tor

For those of you who like to experience the “real thing”… here’s another view… complete with lots of wind…

A long way up…and a long way down…

From the tor, we entered Glastonbury proper and were given some free time to visit the Abbey and have an early supper.  Glastonbury Abbey was one of the most evocative sites we visited… it might have been the weather- dark skies and threatening rain (achieved later in the day) or our disposition after visiting the windswept tor.  Whatever the reason, there was sense of tranquility among the ruins which remains difficult to comprehend.  Difficult because the abbey was ruthlessly demolished by Henry the VIII in his split from the Catholic church.  Difficult knowing that the last abbot was gruesomely executed at Henry’s command.  Difficult because the wealthy and powerful abbey, in a quest for notoriety with pilgrims, fabricated its site as the final resting place of Arthur and Guinevere.  But the serenity was real nonetheless.  Perhaps the mood is better conveyed visually…

Legend has it that Joseph of Arimathea founded the abbey in the first century. He was also reputed to have thrust his staff into the ground from which a hawthorn tree grew.

Oddly appropriate to have plants growing upon the abbey ruins.

One is left to imagine the monastery as it would have looked in the fifleenth century.

From the abbey we went the nearby Chalice Well and Gardens.  There legend has it that Joseph of Arimathea (who also brought the Holy Grail to England) placed the chalice at the well site.  Water from the well (which has been in use for several thousand years) has a decidedly red hue owing to the ferrous oxide content of the water.  The garden itself is quite lovely but I was amused by the cautionary sign placed by the nearby pool…

Lovely gardens…

But…

Be healed at your own risk…

And so, as the evening approached, on to Stonehenge…

Of all the things we did on this trip, the visit to Stonehenge remains the most unreal, the most surreal.  Were we really there??  Photographic evidence suggests yes, we were.  As we rolled into the parking area nearby and caught our first glimpse of the site, the threatening skies finally gave way to  a light but steady rain.  Eager though we all were, there was protocol.  Washroom breaks.  A coffee for some.  Our guide led us, not to the stones, but away in a circular route away from the henge (and yes, Stonehenge is not a true henge).  We walked a considerable distance through the sodden grass until we reached a point where he could put the site in the larger context of distant burial mounds, speculated prehistoric encampments and the unseen but nearby river Avon (one of several Avons in England!).  He also pointed out the ditch and bank formations in the landscape which would probably have formed the avenue by which stones were dragged and people travelled to the site.  We were asked to follow the avenue in the footsteps of our ancestors.  As we did we caught sight (as they did) of the remnant of this marvel of prehistoric engineering.

As we walked the avenue it was easy to imagine how it appeared to those who came upon it four thousand years ago.

I really was there… we really were there!

We really were there!

The rain continued to fall… we didn’t really mind as we listened to Pat talk of the construction (largely between 3000 and 2000 B.C.) and possible function(s) of Stonehenge (yes, ritual and ceremony again).  Bluestones and sarsens.  Mortise and tenon joints.  Burial site?  Worship?  Astronomical monument?

We walked among the stones…

The sun began to set…

…behind cloudy skies.

We stayed as long as we possibly could…

…before boarding the bus and making our way back, arriving in Salisbury by about 10:30.  A full day?  Yes… and an unforgettable one too.

VII   Final full day in Salisbury….

June 4th, 2012

After a day like our previous one, we were content to wander and spent much of our time shopping for birthday presents and small souvenirs for family.

An aside…

One of the places we encountered several times over our stay in Salisbury was the Church of St. Thomas a Becket. The first occasion was the accidental discovery of the church on our day of arrival.  The second was as part of the tour taken on June 1st with Elizabeth (not that Elizabeth).  The third was as a backdrop on the 2nd as we partook of an early supper of fish and chips on the patio of an adjacent pub before the evening concert at the cathedral.

Becket, then Archbishop of Canterbury, was murdered in that cathedral (1170) by supporters of Henry II. He was subsequently canonized by the Catholic Church and this church is a testament to his postmortem popularity.

The church has the distinction of being the first place of worship in New Sarum (Salisbury) before the completion of the cathedral.  It was said to be constructed, in part, from the “unusable bits” from the cathedral as it was being erected.

Note the carved wooden ceiling…

…and the “Doom Painting” over the front arch. The painting, thought to be done by a religious pilgrim upon his safe return, was completed in 1475 but whitewashed over in 1593. It was re-discovered in 1819 and later restored.

Under the heading of Funny Things That Happen While You’re Having Fish and Chips Beside The Thomas A Becket Church, here is an example…

The bells continued like that for about ten solid minutes as the wedding procession strolled down the path right beside our table.

We ended this final day by revisiting the cathedral (including its gift shop) and having dinner in the backyard patio of a pub which overlooked the cathedral grounds.

One final visit (and this day the sun actually shines)…

For the present, farewell to England…

…and to Salisbury.

VIII  Transition

June 5th, 2012

The other reason for a less frenetic day on the 4th (Monday) was that we knew that the 5th (Tuesday) would be hectic.  We left our hotel shortly after 6:00 a.m. and made our way to the train station.  The train took us as far as Woking and, from there, we travelled by bus to Heathrow.  We caught a  12:45 p.m. flight to Paris, and another from Paris which brought us to Strasbourg around 6:00 p.m. local time.  Near disaster was averted… our luggage did not appear on the conveyor initially… Jane’s piece eventually showed up but mine was nowhere to be seen.  Several other passengers experienced the same loss and we collectively went to the arrivals office to explain the “no shows”.  Fortunately my bag was sitting in the office beside the desk for some still unknown reason… unfortunately some of those other passengers with lost luggage were having to fill out forms regarding the disappearance.

One good thing about Strasbourg’s airport… the rail line is immediately adjacent and, in about ten minutes, we had arrived at the city’s train station.  This was important because our hotel (BW Metropole Monopole) was only a block and a half away from the station.  The question was… in which direction?  Fortunately we eventually saw the (Rue Kuhn) street sign and dragged ourselves (we were, by this time, whipped) and our luggage into the hotel’s reception area.  Our room was not large but very efficiently designed.  Once we collapsed on the bed we had little desire to sally forth in search of supper.  Jane suggested (and, after consideration, I concurred) that it might be good to get room service.  Our previous room service experience (last time… on our honeymoon?) had been minimal and certainly not memorable.

But this was France…  We ordered and, after a fairly short wait, a knock came to the door.  The delivery man produced two sizable very nicely cooked steaks, a large platter of hot french fries, a huge bowl of garden salad and two of the most decadent desserts you could imagine (let’s just say that dark chocolate mousse in a berry coating, whipped cream and a custard sauce figured prominently).  By the end we were stuffed and exhausted (not just exhausted).  And the price for this repast was not unreasonable.  There was hope for the morrow…

IX Getting Our Bearings…

June 6th, 2012

Things you should know about Strasbourg-

  1. They speak French.  Not altogether surprising in France.  However it should be noted that German is also widely spoken, as is English.  And we do speak French… Jane quite well… moi?  Comme ci, comme ça. 
  2. Strasbourg… the old city (the UNESCO Heritage part) is surrounded by waterways (rivers, canals and such)… making it sort of an island (Grande Île).
  3. The streets are often narrow and almost never quite seem to intersect at right angles.  Usually street signs help if you can find them.
  4. The buildings along these narrow streets are quite tall, often five or six stories in height.  Difficult to look over to get your bearings.

Houses built for height, not breadth, predominate the streetscape.

It soon becomes apparent how the city centre achieved its World Heritage Site status.

After a delicious buffet breakfast (especially good French bread, cheeses and bacon) at the hotel we set out to do just that… get our bearings.

Our hotel was located about two blocks from a bridge connecting the old city with newer sections and soon we were crossing into the heart of Strasbourg.

A river runs around it…

Because of the narrow streets, the tall buildings adjoining and our unfamiliarity with the city, it took us a while to locate the dominating feature of Strasbourg… not surprisingly, another cathedral!  This one, however, is surrounded only by a square, not a immense close like Salisbury.  Tall as it is, Notre Dame Cathedral just pops up when you find a connecting street.

And suddenly, there it is…

So we approach…

The first thing that catches your eye is the spire, both impressive in its height and seeming delicacy.  It seems, however, visually lopsided… until you discover that the original intent was to have twin spires.  A second was never undertaken.

The single spire of the cathedral… at the time of its completion in 1439 it became the tallest building in Christendom.

Although a cathedral church has stood on this site since the mid-700’s, it has been damaged or completely destroyed by fire over six times (I lost count)… and to that you can add an earthquake in 1289, damage from two bombs in WW II, political strife as Germany and France vied for pre-eminence in the region and religious struggle as Lutherans and Catholics jockeyed for control of the cathedral for a period of about 300 years.  That the cathedral exists today is a testament to the determination of the city’s inhabitants.  For me the ambience of the interior was much darker than Salisbury… but, at the same time, it displayed a particular richness in its stained glass, carving and architecture.

Richness in the ornate ceilings and stained glass…

Richness in the apse…

...and in the nave.

…and in the nave.

The richness is not restricted to the interior.

The magnificent rose window which graces the west entrance symbolizes the timultuous history of the church.  Built at the end of the thirteenth century, it was destroyed in a storm in 1840, rebuilt and damaged again during the Franco-Prussian War.  It still contains some of its original glass.

The outer diameter of the rose is about 15 metres (48 feet).

And then there’s the organ…

The great organ was rebuilt about thirty years ago although the first was constructed for the cathedral in 1292.

Unlike its English counterparts, there was no cost for visiting the cathedral (per se)… but a fee is charged for seeing the astronomical clock in operation or taking the “platform tour”.  Across the cathedral square was the tourism office… so we took advantage of its proximity and investigated its resources.  We seemed to have brought the English climate (drizzle) with us so we sought out a covered patio and had some lunch.

Waiting for it to end…

Lunch ended… the rain didn’t.  We decided to revise our afternoon plans (heading indoors) and paid a visit to three museums housed in the former Rohan Palace (Palais Rohan) located on the other side of the cathedral square- the Archaeological Museum,  the Decorative Arts Museum and the Fine Arts Museum.  The baroque period palace itself was built for the Bishop of Strasbourg in the early 1700’s.  Its guests over the years included Marie Antoinette, Napoleon, Josephine and Charles X.  Napoleon’s brief tenure in the residence is the focus of many of the Decorative Arts Museum’s displays.

Napoleon was here…

The Archaeological Museum confirmed the site of Strasbourg as a place of importance to prehistoric peoples, the Romans and the Franks.  The Fine Arts Museum contained a substantial collection of works dating from the 1300’s to the 1800’s.

Not surprisingly, many of these have a religious theme… such as the raising of Lazarus…

…and Pentecost.

Before we returned to our hotel for the evening, we visited the train station… this time to purchase tickets for our planned excursion to Colmar the next day.

Day Trip to Colmar and the Isenheim

June 7, 2012

We arose in good time (our sleep patterns were, at this point, screwy anyway), breakfasted and headed over to the Strasbourg station with our tickets in hand… only to discover that our train to Colmar had been cancelled.  Not a serious problem, however.  Another train would take us there a half-hour later (and five Euros cheaper).  We found that the trains of Europe (France and England anyway) were more akin to a subway (above ground, of course) in their speed, frequency and punctuality.  We exchanged our tickets and waited (a skill refined by air travel)…

Waiting at the Strasbourg station…

Soon we were in Colmar and walking to the Unterlinden Museum.  The traditional Alsatian style of architecture was evident here as well.

Many of the buildings of Colmar share the same architectural pedigree as those of Strasbourg.

Arriving at the museum, we were greeted with banners reminding us that we were not alone in celebrating an anniversary this year…

The altarpiece was also celebrating an anniversary… not its 40th, however. It was created five hundred years ago in 1512

Once inside, we bypassed many of the museum’s works on display in order to get to our destination… the Isenheim Altarpiece.

The altarpiece viewed from a balcony in the museum.

We spent the greater portion of our time viewing and reviewing the panels on display…

Annunciation and Ressurection.

John the Baptist and his “impossible” pointing finger (towards the crucifixion).

And…

Jane’s favourite panel (and mine too, incidentally) is the Ressurection. Amazing in its contrast of darkness and light and in its sense of movement…

This is the “subtle” base on which the altarpiece originally stood.

We discovered many other works of the period as well once we began to explore.  Some unexpectedly reminded us of home.

The grrrrls were always sending their subliminal message… come home!

I found this mobile statue interesting…

Easy to picture this medieval “float” being used to commemorate Palm Sunday.

After our lengthy visit to the museum we set out to see the town and eventually had a (very) late lunch before returning to Strasbourg.

At the train station, we noticed this poster and thought of Peter (our youngest) and his wife, Aleks- both big fans of Radiohead.

This one’s for you, P and A…

Another aside…

P and A had purchased tickets to a Radiohead concert in Toronto which, due to a stage collapse, had to be cancelled.  So… here’s another possibility!

Yet another aside…

On the evening of our arrival in Strasbourg, we turned on the television with (supposedly) three English channels available (in addition to the French and German options).  There was in fact only one- BBC World News… which we watched as it recapped the celebration of the Queen’s Julibee.  When we turned on the set the next night we were greeted with largely the same material… and so opted to view one of several English movies available as pay per view.  It happened to be Sherlock Holmes II: Game of Shadows.  Now this would not be noteworthy in itself except that the movie (as we discovered) opens with a bomb explosion… in Strasbourg!  Shot on location, the places we had visited near the cathedral formed the backdrop for the opening scene.  Cool!

XI   and more of Strasbourg…

June 8th and 9th, 2012

I’ve chosen to overview both days… partially because, at this point, I’m wondering if I’ll make it to the conclusion of this adventure, at least in print.  There are other reasons… as in Salisbury we planned to do some shopping on our final full day.  However, as it happened, some of the shopping occurred on Friday (8th) and thus the agenda for the two melded. 

The weather had become decidedly pleasant and, after breakfast, we revisited the tourism office and purchased two Strasbourg Passes, booklets which offered free or reduced rates for city attractions.  One of those offers included reduced cost for an audioguide (digital player) which would allow us to (with map) walk throughout the old city at our leisure while the audioguide elaborated on points of interest.  That activity (with a lunch break) took the next four and a half hours.  Among the many things we discovered…

Lots of older buildings which give the Grand Island its distinctive character…

Mozart performed here (at one of the city’s churches) on the organ… a bit hard to see because there was a service in progress so I was shooting into a dark sanctuary through glass (no flash). Good excuse…

Albert Schweitzer ministered at this church…

A city which was home (for a time) to the likes of Goethe and Pasteur…

A street sign in Strasbourg. Even if you don’t speak French, the message is clear… the grrrrls are contacting us.

…and Johannes Gutenberg. This statue was erected in the square which bears his name.

Appropriately enough, an outdoor book market operates twice weekly in the square.  On Saturday we stopped by to check out the offerings of the many stalls.  In addition to the expected melange, several of the booksellers had older books for  sale and it was there that Jane purchased her official trip souvenir… a 1689 copy of Traduction des Quartre Premiers Titres Du Quartrieme Livre Du Digeste… essentially a law book with side by side translation from Latin to French.  It has the distinction of being the oldest item in her small collection of antique publications.

One of the ubiquitous elements during our walk was the sound of performing musicians in the streets- some individual, some in small ensembles- all adding to the ambience (or, as they say in French, ambiance) of the city.

Regardless of weather…

…playing for tourists and the city’s inhabitants.

After completing our walking tour and a visit to yet another museum (Musée de l’Œuvre Notre-Dame) we were ready for a “sit”.  Fortunately one of our pass items was a free ride around the old city in an (air-conditioned) glass covered boat.  By that time (about 6:30 p.m.) the many tour groups had departed the scene and the next hour or so was a tranquil journey for a handful of passengers.

Tour boats are kept very busy during the day… choose an off-peak (or evening) voyage!

So… we’re about ready for supper by this point.  One of the well-reviewed restaurants in the city (Tripadvisor) was S’kaechele.  After a bit of exploration we finally found it… a relatively small building a bit removed from some of  the busiest streets.  Now the food itself was quite good… but the beautiful evening on a quiet patio in this French city made it especially pleasant.  We were fortunate to have a table in that most of the potential customers following our arrival were turned away because a large reservation had booked most of the (limited number of ) tables inside the restaurant.  Our hostess/server/owner was friendly and helpful as we sampled some typical Alsatian fare.

Good food in quiet setting on a beautiful evening…

…at the end of a long day. Does it get any better?

Saturday was (other than the purchase of the book) a fairly gentle day with some shopping, some walking, a return to some of our favourite spots in the city (including the cathedral) and preparation for our departure the next morning.

Adieu from Strasbourg…

XII And we’re back…

June 10th, 2012

In England that is… but it takes a while.  Things in reverse… check out of the hotel, to the train station, ride to the airport, baggage, security, wait… flight (this time to Amsterdam)… security, wait, flight… land at Heathrow.  About mid-afternoon (actually earlier than scheduled).  Bus (only) this time… to Winchester!

King Alfred welcomes you to Winchester.

How to prove we’re back in England…

Massive rose blossoms and rain… ah, we’re back.

Our first task was to find our bed and breakfast… Cathedral Cottage.  The map showed it as through the Cathedral gardens, just around the corner from the cathedral itself.  Yes, there…

At last we discover Cathedral Cottage (it says so). Through the front door… through the house…

…into the back yard…

… where we enter Cathedral Cottage.

The accommodation may be a tad bijou… but the back garden was lovely (as seen through the rain) and we’re about as close to the cathedral as one can be.  In fact, after we freshen up, we’re off to see it.

And there it is… Winchester Cathedral.

It had been (another) long day of travel.  So, after a short stroll around the centre of the city we made our way to another well-reviewed restaurant… The Chesil Rectory.  A good sign… the manager was a Canadian (from BC…he’s been in Winchester for about 15 years).  The staff was friendly and the food was excellent.

The Chesil Rectory… fine dining in Winchester in a building dating from 1450.

And, once we had settled into our cottage for the evening, there was more than one English-speaking television channel available (lots of BBC, ITV etc.).  An Inspector Lynley Mysteries episode seemed an appropriate choice to underscore our return to British soil.

XIII  With the benefit of rain…

June 11th, 2012

I wasn’t kidding about the rain… if you investigate this time period you will find that there was fairly serious and extensive flooding in the southern part of England.  In fact, when we arrived at Chichester (on the 12th) the hotel receptionist there indicated that a number of people south of the city had been flooded out of their homes on the previous day (11th) and had come to Chichester in search of accommodation… and that, unfortunately, the hotel had been forced to turn people away because it was fully booked.

Now I mention this only because the rain in Winchester, although not as severe, was steady throughout the day.  Any plan for a long, leisurely walk by the river or along the many footpaths (Winchester has several famous walking tours) was going to be impractical.  The benefit of the rain was that it focussed our activity on the cathedral and its environs… and that made for one of most enjoyable days of our trip.

Winchester was the ancient capital of Britain and it is packed with history. (A series we have been reading before and since the trip is by Sharon Kay PenmanWhen Christ and His Saints Slept/Time and Chance/Devil’s Brood.  The books are well written, meticulously researched and wonderful preparation for a visit to Winchester.  The central characters- Stephen [grandson of William the Conqueror], Empress Maud [or Matilda, daughter of Henry I], Henry II, Thomas a Becket,  Henry of Blois [brother of Stephen and Bishop of Glastonbury, later Winchester] and Eleanor of Aquitane all figure prominently in the history of the city… even as the city is the backdrop for many of the events in this tumultuous period.)

There was so much to take in… and with the benefit of an especially generous guide, we were able to bask in this bastion of English history.  A few highlights…

The church boasts the longest nave of any Gothic cathedral in Europe. (You are only seeing a portion in this picture.)

The original Saxon church built in 642 was replaced by this Norman structure begun in 1079 (and consecrated in 1093).

As with most cathedrals, the structure was added to and modified over the centuries.

The cathedral is the resting place of kings and queens, and of religious, political and military figures. It is also the site where Jane Austen was entombed following her death in Winchester.

The crypt is one of the oldest portions of the present cathedral- built shortly after 1079. The sculpted figure, fashioned from lead, is a recent addition by a contemporary artist. In the winter, he is often up to his knees in water…. which brings us to…

William Walker. The cathedral had originally been built (in part) on a peat foundation using logs to support the base. Over the centuries the foundation began to sink and the cathedral was in imminent danger of collapse. Walker, a diver, spent six hours a day over a period of almost six years (1906-1911) working in complete darkness in water to a depth of six metres shoring up the foundation. Over that period he used 25 000 bags of concrete, 115 000 concrete blocks and 900 000 bricks. His achievement is worthy of a visit to Wikapedia!

Our guide told another interesting tale… this time about a small carved figure under one of the pews in the quire. Apparently, when touched, his tongue wiggles… and apparently that fact intrigued Colin Firth enough to come in to film the little fellow in action.

Speaking of carved figures… the cathedral is endowed with a number of carved “Green Men” (mythical figure). Jane had seen a picture of this fellow but had been unable to find him during our wanderings. We decided to attend Evensong in the cathedral and, as we left, who should we see but our little friend at the end of our pew… serendipity, eh?

We needed to locate the train station and so, at one point in the afternoon, in spite of the rain, we walked over to it.  On the way back we passed Winchester’s Great Hall (completed 1235), the only remaining portion of its famous castle.  We stopped in for a look (also home to the Round Table [claimed to be the Arthurian treasure, but actually built about the time of Henry III]).  In 1141 Empress Maud (Matilda) escaped the clutches of her cousin Stephen who had laid siege to the castle.  After The Anarchy the castle served as occasional Royal residence to Henry II (and prison to his wife, Eleanor), Richard I (the Lionhearted) and King John.  It was destroyed by Cromwell’s forces during the Civil War (demolished in 1649).  Charles II sought to have it rebuilt and commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to design the new palace.  Charles died while the project was in its preliminary phases and the work was never completed.

Winchester’s Great Hall, the last vestige of its historic castle.

At the end of the hall you can see the “Round Table” on display.

We did manage to get back to the cathedral in time to look at the Winchester Bible, on display in the south transept (before the room closed at 4:00). The bible was created between 1160 and 1175, probably commissioned by Henry (of Blois). It is the largest and finest of surviving 12th-century English bibles.

The nave of the cathedral, viewed from the quire where we participated in Evensong.

Most of the stained glass in the cathedral is more recent, owing to the destruction of the medieval windows by Cromwell’s troops during the Civil War.

After Evensong, we retired to a nearby pub for a relaxed supper before “calling it a day”.

XIV And the next day…

June 12, 2012

We went from outright rain to misty and threatening… a step in the right direction.  We were, unfortunately, leaving Winchester before lunch and had time only for a short walk before departure.  We did venture alongside the swollen river for a minute or two… and then veered off to see the ruins of Bishop Henry’s (of Blois) palace.  It must have been a rather magnificent sight in its day because even these remnants hinted at a great building.

Strolling by the swiftly moving river…

…we came to the ruins of Bishop Henry’s palace.

It was put under siege by Empress Maud (Matilda) during The Anarchy…

… until King Stephen’s wife (also named Matilda)…

…liberated the Bishop and then put Maud and her forces under siege at Winchester Castle. (Confused yet?)

Our reconnaisance to the train station the day before enabled us to make a prompt departure from Winchester just before noon and an arrival at Chichester around 1:30.  Because the Premier Inn (where we were staying) had experienced a harried night (see flooding issue) our room wasn’t quite ready… so we went to a nearby restaurant for lunch.  We then officially checked in and then wandered off to find Chichester’s very own cathedral… yes, another one!  Like its fellows, it dominated the city centre.  It was, however, a smaller building and had required significant reconstruction over the years.

Although the cathedral dates from about the same period as Winchester and Salisbury, its spire (completed 1402) collapsed in 1861 and had to be rebuilt.

The cathedral still possesses Norman and Gothic architectural elements.

The adjacent bell tower (built in the 1400’s) felt more authentically “old” but was wrapped in a black net to prevent falling stone.

Some amazing architectural detail…

…and a beautiful recently constructed font.

One of the cathedral’s distinctive features is a stained glass window designed by Marc Chagall.

As compensation for our abbreviated cathedral visit, we had time to wander through the Bishop’s gardens.

Gracious old trees…

…and plants not common in our climate.

With a very full agenda in Winchester earlier and an anticipated busy day of travel lying ahead, we opted to return to the hotel for supper and a quiet evening.

Jane faithfully emailed reports on our daily activities to family and friends on most evenings (including this one). I was able to use these to help construct this post.

XV   Return

June 13th, 2012

We rose early, had breakfast at a nearby McDonald’s (preparation for return to North American cuisine) and departed by train for Gatwick… and home.

On our way home…

XVI  Postscript

It had surely been a memorable trip… but we were also relieved to be back.  We had received disturbing news just before our departure on May 30th.  We were informed that Jane’s uncle (with whom she has a very close relationship) had been diagnosed with an brain tumour.  He insisted that we should go ahead with our trip but that we should also pass along details of our adventures.  His encouragement provided part of the motivation for Jane to send her regular email updates.  After a few days at home to put our domestic life in order and to attend to several appointments/commitments we determined that we would head off to Nova Scotia to be with Uncle Ted (who was in hospital) for a few days.  So on June 21st we were off again.  We spent the next five days visiting with him.  At that point his appetite was good and he was disposed to talk.  Before we said farewell on the 25th we were able to wish him (in advance) a happy 95th birthday.  We then headed back to Ontario to prepare for a visit from our children and their children on the Canada Day weekend.

Uncle Ted had many stories to share…

…and we valued our visit with him.

Back to Ontario to celebrate Canada Day (and at least four birthdays)…

…with family…

…and music…

…gifts…

…and good times!

And now it’s July.  We’re still adjusting after all the travel, time differences and changes in routine… and thus hoping for a somewhat more uneventful month.   Meanwhile, the month of June has been grist for my longest post to date.  And, if you’ve made it to this point, congratulations… because I’m done!

For now…

Well, not quite… a further postscript

July 19th, 2012

We are just returned (again) from Nova Scotia.   Uncle Ted (subject of our previous visit) passed away on July 14th.  We flew out again to attend his funeral.  He was a man with a great passion for life and had just reached his 95th birthday.

A wartime photo of the three brothers- Harold, Richard (Jane’s father) and Ted. Their mother can just be seen sitting in the car.

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