Friday, June 13, 2014

The Last of My Days in England

The day we traveled back to England from Ireland was the day that felt like it might never end.

We woke up at around 3:00 that morning and loaded the car up, before making the three-ish hour drive down to Dublin to meet our 8:30 ferry to Holyhead, Wales. We made good time and arrived with nearly an hour to spare before boarding, an hour we filled with caffeine and blank stares. The ferry itself was all right, if a bit rougher than ithe way over had been. Once again we had booked premium tickets, so I interspersed cups of tea with naps curled up in my little armchair.

Upon arrival in Holyhead, we made our way across Anglesey Isle and up the coast a little, to Conwy Castle. We parked on the far side of the city from the castle itself and walked most of the way on the old city walls. The castle was really interesting, although mostly an empty shell of stone at this point. The views of the sea from the towers were beautiful, plus I found some remaining stained glass in the chapel!

After leaving Conwy, we drove back down the coast a bit and made another stop at a castle. This one was Caernarfon Castle, and it looked to be in slightly better shape than Conwy, at least from the outside, and we did not actually end up going in. Instead, we took a few nice pictures of the outside, and of the surrounding town, before finding someplace to eat. We all know that, no matter how beautiful, historic buildings must be found wanting when compared to food (especially considering that we were all absolutely starving). We ate at the Black Boy Inn, just down the street from the castle; I'm not sure if the lamb shank (my second of the trip) was actually a delicious as I thought it was, or if I was just so hungry that anything would have tasted amazing.

After those two stops, we pretty much just drove continuously on our way down to Exeter (which our handy GPS estimated would take us at least another five and a half hours). On the way we did drive through both the Snowdonia National Park (Doesn't that just sound like thename of a made-up kingdom for Barbies?) the Brecon Beacons National Park, which were both beautiful. 

I was thrilled when we finally made it to Exeter. We parked the car, dumped our bags in my flat, and walked down to our hotel. Michael spent the night in my flat, as our hotel would only sleep two, while Mom and I spent the night at the Royal Clarence Hotel out on the Cathedral Yard (we had a view of the Cathedral from our window). That night was the best sleep I have had in ages, bar none.

The next day I introduced my mom to the wonders of the Exeter Cathedral, which I think is the most beautiful we visited (not that I'm biased or anything), before grabbing breakfast and heading out on our trip for the day.

We decided to head out, driving through Dartmoor on the way, to Tintagel, on the coast of Cornwall. Tintagel is the legendary birthplace of King Arthur and the town definitely banks on that connection. Everything that possibly could had a name that referenced some aspect of the Arthurian legends (in fact we had lunch at the King Arthur's Arms after we walked back from the castle).

The castle itself, mostly ruins, was on a rocky outcropping into the ocean and the views were spectacular. First we walked down to the beach and into Merlin's Cave. We chose wisely, because when we came back from our adventures on the higher ground of the castle, the tide had come in and the cave was inaccessible. But my favorite part was the rocky cliffs jutting out above the ocean. I was glad to get some gorgeous pictures in, but mostly I just enjoyed sitting there.

The uphill trek back into town was a little unpleasant; it was a fairly hot day and we were probably still a little tired from our long journey the day before. Once we got back in town, we found the first place that looked appealing and sat down to lunch. I had my last fish and chips of my study abroad.

We left Exeter the next morning; it was sad to say goodbye to the town that had been my home for e last five months, but luckily I had gotten the chance to say some last goodbyes already (I had run into Jen, Lucy and Simon the night before).

Our first stop of the day was Bath. It was just as beautiful the second time around, although we walked around a different part of  the city this time. We saw the Jane Austen Centre, the Circus (large town houses arranged in circular around a little park, and apparently inspired by the Colosseum), and some generally good examples of the beautiful architecture in Bath. Our one real stop was in the Fashion Museum, which Michael suffered through admirably. I loved looking at the clothes, but the best part was definitely trying them on. We were given the opportunity to try on a few different Victorian gowns and bonnets, as well as corsets and crinolines. I think I tried on all of the gowns that would possibly fit me, and the corset made my waist look amazing (although I will admit to some, by which I mean so so much, difficulty breathing while wearing it).

We continued our journey towards London and, on the way, visited Stonehenge (the second time for Michael and me) was still rather awe-inspiring, and once again the weather was perfect for the visit.

Although that was our last real stop, the day was certainly not over. Once we arrived at our hotel, a Jury's Inn near Heathrow, we unpacked the car and headed out to the rental lot to return it. I think we were all glad to be done driving on the opposite side of the road, and it was kind of relaxing taking the tube back to the hotel.

This morning we headed into the city, heading first to see the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge. Mom was especially excited to see the Tower Bridge because on her first (and only before now) trip to London there had been scaffolding covering it.

After that we headed over to St Paul's, which Michael was particularly interested in seeing. We walked around the church, enjoying the amazing mosaics and the neoclassical architecture for a while. We also climbed up the many stairs to the Whispering Gallery and the Stone Gallery, although we did not continue all the way up to the Golden Gallery, a decision my legs much appreciated. We had lunch at a nearby Pizza Express, before Michael left to grab his bags from the hotel and make his way to the airport for his flight back home.

Mom and I continued on to Westminster, where we saw the Houses of Parliament, as well as Westminster Abbey. The abbey was beautiful as well, although I will admit to a preference for St. Paul's versus the gothic architecture of Westminster (Mom had exactly the opposite preference, but to each their own). However it is still a close call, and I absolutely adore the stained glass windows, the detailing in the stonework, and the arches of Westminster.

The last thing on our agenda was to pay a visit to the National Portrait Gallery, although first we stopped into their cafe for afternoon tea (or coffee in my mom's case). The gallery was a wonderful as ever, and I could have spent at least twice the amount of time there than we were able to.

For dinner I introduced my mom to one of my favorite chains here, Wagamamas; then we headed back to the hotel, where I proceeded to pack frantically (this is always how I would characterize my packing, no matter how much time I spend at it, because I loathe it so very much) and then to write this very blog post. See: I can write posts in a timely manner. 

Tomorrow morning I will be leaving the UK and returning to the US, for the first time in more than five months. 

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