Castles, Cliffs, and Charles

On the 27th of July we took the train to Leamington Spa where our host Nick’s family lives. It is a station near Warwick Castle, which was one of our weekend’s destinations. We were picked up at the station by Dan, Nick’s brother, and his dog Vesta. He drove us the short distance to his parents’ house where we enjoyed a nice cup of tea in the backyard with him and his mother, Sue. At about 10 o’clock, they drove us to Warwick Castle, which is one of England’s famous tourist attractions. Mi had been there years ago and was excited to revisit the rooms full of armor, weapons, and historical artifacts. We would soon learn, though, that Warwick Castle has been recently transformed into a tourist attraction with shows and exhibitions geared toward children.

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The very first thing that we did once we passed through the castle gates was find a spot as far away from other people as possible to have our picnic lunch. We chose a place beside the river, under some tall trees.

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Next, we climbed up to the ramparts for a view of the whole grounds. From the top we had a great vantage point so could see the city and watch a few groups of folk dancers.

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The first exhibit we saw was called Kingmaker and it was all about Richard Neville’s preparations for battle. He was appointed Earl of Warwick by King Henry VI, and it was his responsibility to protect the south. During the English Civil War, however, Neville, supported the opposition because his family connections made him a Yorkist. His prowess in the battle of St. Albans in 1455 led to the overthrow of King Henry and allowed for the ascertain of Edward, Duke of York, to the throne. Neville played a role in the overthrow so he earned a position of great power and the name Kingmaker.

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One of the more interesting parts of the exhibit was the apothecary corner where herbs were drying that would be used to heal wounds inflicted during battle.

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There was a jousting tournament which we watched from a nearby hillside. Kelly napped through it. The performance was very showy and definitely directed toward the children in the audience. The knight in red and yellow won the joust and melee.

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The next section depicted another part of history, hundreds of years later. It was the home of Daisy Greville, who was a British socialite and became Countess of Warwick in 1881 when she married Francis Greville, the eire to Warwick. The moved to the castle in 1893. There she held many lavish parties and was purported to be the most beautiful woman in the world. She was known to have had many affairs with powerful men, including a longtime tryst with Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VII.

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This is the gentlemans’ smoking room.

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The Great Hall was the only part of our visit that resembled what Mi remembers. The suits of armor and weapons fanning the walls are some of the most memorable parts of medieval life.

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The tiny suit of armor (fourth from the left) was made for a child. Although he would not have fought, this ceremonial armor would have been very heavy for a 6 year old.

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After the Castle, we wandered around the town for a while. We found the castle to be pretty disappointing. It was gimmicky, commercialized, and seemed to be distancing from the actual historical wonder of the place. Sure, there were costumed greeters and performances, but we would have much rather walked through the castle as it was, rather than as it is separated into exhibits, many of which are not included in the price of the ticket.

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There was a folk festival with booths and a parade. We walked the length of the parade to see the dancers, singers, and musicians.

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After wandering around for a while, we stopped for an afternoon snack of cider, bread and olives.

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We have been eating olives on a daily basis since getting to England. Whilst in China we only found canned olives stuffed with anchovies, so eating fresh olives was a treat.

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Soon after our snack, we met Dan and went to his house for dinner and a movie. We were exhausted from taking the train so early that morning that we quickly got to sleep at his mother’s house a few hours later.

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The following morning Dan and Sue drove us to Stratford, Shakespeare’s Hometown. Of course this town is a tourist hot spot, but profiting from the popularity of Harry Potter never hurt any store owner.

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After spending an exorbitant fee to enter Warwick, we weren’t too keen on spending more money on entrance fees so we decided to skip entry to Shakespeare’s house, but we visited his grave instead. Each seat in this church (which are not actually made for sitting but rather for leaning on when you get tired of standing) is decorated with lurid depictions of daily life.

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We then went to the nearest park to use the bathroom and happened to find actors performing one of Shakespeare’s comedies, “Much Ado About Nothing.”

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We only caught the last 15 minutes and didn’t have time to watch the next performance a few hours later but we had a good time watching what we did. Plus, it was yet another beautiful warm day so it was pleasant to sit outside.

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We found a pub, The Dirty Duck, which had a beautiful patio and a special deal on cider so had to have a drink. The strawberry lime Rekorderlig was particularly tasty and refreshing on a summer day.

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We then visited the school Shakespeare attended, which is called King Edward VI. Our guide was an 11th grade student at the school and showed us where it is believed Shakespeare saw his first play, the classroom where he took his classes and the desk he used, with his initials carved into the wood.

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It was a short tour but well worth it because we learned that the school opened in the 16th century and generally had an average of 40 students but one year they only had three after an especially severe outbreak of smallpox and the plague. Their initials are carved above the clock in the classroom where students still have classes today. The school now is attended by approximately 500 boys and will introduce coed schooling next year.

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Although neither of us are staunch Shakespeare fans, it was really special to visit the places that shaped a career that is still remembered and revered hundreds of years later. The schoolboy who sat at his desk in this room would go on to shape literature and theatre but also wrote lines that are commonly used now. It could be argued that he is quoted more than any other writer.

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The town is full of quaint picturesque shops and Inns that in buildings that are centuries old. The candy shop below reminded us of the Willy Wonka candy shop and even had Wonka bars.

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The topiary bookworm in a roundabout in the center of town is especially appropriate in Stratford and also very adorable. We think we will trim a bookworm topiary in our next garden.

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Mi found Star Wars: New Hope written in a Shakespearian style very amusing. We almost bought it but then decided it would only be worth it if we were to act it out.

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Late that afternoon we were shuttled in Sue’s car from Stratford back to the Leamington Spa station to catch our train back to London. This is Vespa, the incredibly well behaved and lovable service dog. Dan demonstrated a few of the commands that she knows and bragged about her achievements. She is even in the Guiness Book of World Records for taking items off a clothesline and putting them in a basket in the shortest amount of time without any guidance from her owner and teacher, Dan. She is such a sweetheart and gave us a little of k9 love that we have been desperately deprived of.

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The train takes about 1.5 hours to get back to London so it gave us an opportunity to read the books that we have neglected during our visit to England. Once we got into London we had to wait another 45 minutes for our next train so we split a cider at the nearest pub to kill time.

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That night we went to bed as early as possible because we had to wake up early to pick up a car we rented for the last two days of our visit.

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After working out how much it would cost to take trains to the places outside of London that we wanted to visit and the cost of a taxi to the airport we found it was significantly cheaper to rent a car. We took a train out to Gatwick Airport and picked up the car with full insurance coverage because it was Kelly’s first time driving in England and on the left side of the road. She quickly got the hang of it and was very proud of her achievement.

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Our fist destination was Whitstable, a quaint beach town famous for its seafood, especially oysters. We first heard about this town in one of Kelly’s favorite gay movies, “Tipping the Velvet” and decided it was a must see. Additionally, it can be argued that oysters should not be classified as fish, or even as animals, and are actually vegan. To read more about this, Click Here.

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Kelly was able to convince Mi, who had never tried oysters before, that it was important to be adventurous and try the food that makes locations special. Mi ate two oysters and did not enjoy either one. Since we became a couple, Mi has become more daring and adventurous in many ways which makes Kelly very proud. Kelly thoroughly enjoyed the oysters and ate the ones that Mi couldn’t stomach.

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After lunch, we explored.

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Fisherman Mi proudly displaying an oyster shell, which we kept to commemorate our time in Whitstable.

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Another reason we decided it was okay to eat oysters was the fact that they are actually good for the environment. Animal farms not only need an abundant amount of land to grow food for the animals, but the animals produce an extraordinary amount of methane. Factory farms produce a huge amount of pollution.  Oysters on the other hand are very sustainable and have many positives benefits. For example, oyster shells protect shorelines from erosion (if recycled), and oysters filter and clean bay water and create oxygen. We can farm oysters in the ocean and create oxygen instead of methane!

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There are castles all over England so we visited the Whitstable castle and watched some people bowl. English bowling is much like bocce ball except the stance is different.

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We got back in the car at about 4:30 and started to drive south towards the Cliffs of Dover. There is a £3.50 parking fee but we parked just outside the entrance and entered the area. Dover is a major ferry port which is used for people to travel to France, which we could see across the narrow English Channel. The noise pollution is obnoxious but walking into the park about 20 minutes will leave the noise behind and the chalky cliffs come into view.

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A friendly woman took this picture. She saw us struggling against the wind to take a photo of ourselves and ran up to help. She said that she had been vegan for about 11 months and couldn’t be happier with her decision.

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The seagulls noisily nest on the side of the cliffs. While we were standing on the edge, scores of birds flew back to their nests.

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It was very windy and could be a bit dangerous getting too close to the edge. Large chunks of the cliffs are also notorious for falling into the ocean below which make people even more wary of venturing too close to the edge.

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We really wanted to see where the seagulls nest so we found an area where we could go down a crack of the cliffs. It was shielded from the wind and we could carefully peer over the edge. One man started filming in hopes of capturing our tragic ending if a piece of the cliff fell while we were exploring. Unfortunately for him we walked away safe and sound.

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The Dover Castle was very beautiful from afar but we arrived too late in the evening to get a peak inside.

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Around 7 the Dover park closed so we got back in the car and started driving along the southern coast. We hadn’t had anything to eat except a few oysters so once we got to Hastings we had to stop for food. We had Indian food then continued driving on the coast.

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Around midnight Kelly was too tired to drive so we stopped in Portsmith and looked around for a hotel. All of the places in the area were booked so we slept in the car in a hotel parking lot. At sunrise we resumed our trip towards Salisbury and Stonehenge.

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We arrived at stonehenge at 7am but we couldn’t go into the park until 9am so we parked very close and waited. While we did we watched the birds.

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At 9am we got out of the car with our sweaters and umbrellas. It was the first and only day that rained for the entirety of our stay. It seemed appropriate to visit Stonehenge in the rain because it makes it more etherial and mysterious. When Mi was there the first time it was also pouring with rain.

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Stonehenge is described by English Heritage as an “unforgettable experience.” While we will never forget our experience, it may be for reasons they did not anticipate. Mi visited stonehenge 13 years ago and remembered it as being completely different. Back then, it was in the middle of nowhere and Mi remembers it being quiet, serene and almost magical. Now there is a noisy thoroughfare only a few hundred meters from the site and visitors are given audio guides which we found distracted us from imagining the possibilities of how this site came to be. The audio guide was externalizing the experience, resulting in everyone having the same ideas of how it came to be and lessening the unique experience we all yearn for when exploring. The site is still worth seeing but we recommend in this case to skip the audio guide.

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Another reason we were a bit disappointed with our visit is the fact that some people were doing some sort of survey while we were visiting. You can see them to the right of the stones in the photo above. We could not understand why they could not do their work before and after the opening hours considering there is over 5 hours of sunlight when no visitors are around. It was hard to get photos without them in it.

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Though our visit was not exactly what Mi remembered or what we expected, we were overall happy that we were able to visit such a mysterious place. We even purchased the hoody below. Now we have Utah Rocks and Stonehenge Rocks apparel.

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This photo is taken from the thoroughfare that we explained earlier. We find it odd that this monument, which was built about 5000 years ago, can be seen while whizzing by in a car. From Stonehenge we made our way back towards Downe to visit the house where Charles Darwin lived for the last 40 years of his life.

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Once we got to Downe, which is just outside of London and is named “The garden of England,” the roads leading to his house became very narrow one lane roads lined with trees which formed tunnels. These pictures do not do the tree tunnel justice.

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Charles Darwin’s house was one of our favorite places we visited in England. We learned about Darwin’s early life and how he became one of the most revolutionary scientists of all time. The first floor of the house has a narrated an audio guide that we highly recommend. It is narrated by David Attenborough (who Mi describes as “dreamy”) and paints vivid verbal pictures of the house while Darwin was living there. Quotes from his children, wife, supporters and critics are read by appropriate voices and interesting details help to bring the place to life. We could imagine children scampering around and a bearded Darwin bent over his microscope.

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Though many people think that Darwin formed his theory based solely on the data he collected on the Galapagos Islands, he actually traveled all over the world for 5 years abord the HMS Beagle collecting specimens and data, then did most of his theorizing upon his return to England. His extensive travels were made possible by the support of his wealthy parents. His grandfathers were prominent abolitionists and on his mother’s side was Josiah Wedgwood, the famous potter and founder of the Wedgwood company. Originally, his parents encouraged him to study medicine like his father and then theology, but he neglected his studies because he was more interested in riding horses and shooting, which greatly annoyed his father. These interests led to his studies of biology, geology, and natural history.

Apparently, Darwin had a very hard time releasing his theory to the world because he knew that it would be met with harsh criticism, especially from the religious community. He would often take long walks in his garden and play billiards to escape from his thoughts of natural selection. He often played with guests or one of his servants.

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He had his own rookery which helped him understand the difference between selective breeding and natural selection. His rookery contained many varieties of pigeons, but he is perhaps more famous for his work with finches.

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Darwin and his wife, Emma, who was also his first cousin, had 10 kids. Two died in infancy and one died at the age of 11 which was very devastating for Darwin. This event in his life solidified his opinion that humans could not be made in God’s image but from evolution. He could not believe that God could be so cruel to take the lives of innocent and kindhearted people like his beloved daughter.

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Perhaps one of the house’s most historically important rooms is Darwin’s study, where he was able to close out the noise of the lively house and get his work done. Charles and Emma believed it was important to raise their kids in an open and carefree environment and not pressure them to become anything but what they wanted to be. Though they did not expect their children to follow in their footsteps, their children loved to help Charles with his studies. They respected their father and loved to be around him so they eagerly volunteered to collect data or transcribe, among other projects their father was working on. In this room he wrote what is arguably the most important scientific book of all time. This room contains the black leather chair where he would sit for hours with a lap desk. In the corner of the room is a privy with a hip bath. Darwin was often sick, perhaps from Chagas disease which he probably contracted on his travels from being bitten by Rhodnius prolixus, or “kissing bug,” of South America. It is often said that Darwin was one of the world’s most famous invalids. The room also contains many of his books and journals, which were precisely organized to best fit in a small space, a habit he probably picked up from living onboard the Beagle. His microscope and many specimens are also present. Darwin fastidiously studied many specific species, including barnacles which he wrote extensively about for 8 years, in order to catalogue their adaptations and relationships to other species.

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Charles had a routine. Every day he would walk for an hour before breakfast, at noon, and after dinner. After breakfast he would work in his study and sometimes after lunch as well.

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We walked around a small portion of the property to see where Darwin did a lot of his thinking, including in his greenhouse where he conducted some of his experiments.

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This mulberry tree is over 100 years old and was very important to the family because the children could almost touch it from the window of their nursery. The family adored this tree and often their outside life revolved around it.

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After Darwin’s house we headed back to Blackheath to pack our bags for the flight the next day to Bergen, Norway. We were concerned that something would happen to our rental car in the parking lot where we left it overnight so we took pictures, just in case.

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That evening, we were able to squeeze in one last meeting with Sophie, David and Aiofe. We went to a pizza place in Peckham that is situated underneath the railroad. On Tuesdays they have a special of 2 pizzas for £10. Ours had mushrooms, olives, caramelized onions, and sun dried tomatoes. While we were there, we taught Aoife how to cheers. We were impressed by how quickly she learned this important drinking etiquette. She repeatedly offered her sippy cup to clink glasses.

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Of course she became obsessed with cheersing and wanted to clink cups every few minutes. Kelly was happy to oblige and hope it doesn’t become a problem at home. We really had a good time talking with Sophie and David and wish we had more time to spend with them. At about 9 we said goodbye and promised to see each other again and hoped it wouldn’t be so long between visits as last time.

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The next morning we got in the car, drove to Gatwick and boarded a plane to Bergen, Norway. Now we are sitting in Mi’s uncle Stephen and aunt Gerd’s house. We will be posting about our time here soon. We have spent the past few days getting organized and buying supplies for Mi’s apartment. Tomorrow we will spend the day unpacking and setting up. Until next time!

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One response to “Castles, Cliffs, and Charles

  1. Pingback: Religious Art or Closet Pagans | Auger·

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