Bustling through Britain (2008-03-27 - 11:49 p.m.)
Greetings from Newquay. Yes, that's right, I've ended up in Cornwall after a long and fantastical week of journeying with the Jaguars (aka my parents, grandmother, aunt and uncle... we form quite the procession). We started in Bangor, where we raced around seeing three castles in three days (Conwy, Caernarfon and Beaumaris). Then we set off to Holyhead on the train, only to find upon arrival that the weather was so bad that all ferries had been cancelled. They had started running again, but were completely booked with people who should have been on earlier ferries. So, after a frantic consultation with the very helpful lady at the tourist info booth, we returned to Bangor and hung out for the afternoon before attempting to catch the 2.00 ferry. That would be 2 A.M. I didn't think my 78-year-old grandmother would think much of that idea, but she was extremely game... and so was everyone else. After a very soggy visit to Bangor's cemetery (my mom likes graveyards) we fortified ourselves with macaroni and pie and headed for the train station at midnight.
Having arrived in Dublin at 6am, I was all for a very long nap. But the Jaguars were having none of that, spearheaded by my grandmother who declared that she hadn't come all the way to Ireland to sleep the day away. So we headed off to the excellent Decorative Arts museum (did you know calfskin gloves were made of the skins of UNBORN calves, and were so thin they could be sold in a walnut-shell?) and then to the Book of Kells. The Book of Kells is my favorite thing to see ever, and I'm happy to pay eight Euros everytime I'm in Dublin to see it again. Besides, it's open to a different page each time! For the uninitiated, Kells was the site of a monastary, and the Book was an illuminated manuscript written by several scribes and illustrators. It is beautiful - the drawings are gorgeous or hilarious and the colours just leap off the page. Plus there is an excellent exhibition about book-binding, which is something I fully intend to learn to do.
The next day was Easter Sunday, so we went to church at Christchurch Cathedral. I later saw the service again on the news, as they filmed it for some reason! There was a family of small kids in front of us who were extremely well-behaved the entire time, until the service ended - then the little girl jumped up on someone's tomb in one of aisles (it was the kind where there is a statue of the dead person lying over the grave) and straddled the poor guy. Wish I'd had my camera.
We were invited to coffee in the crypt after the service, which was lovely. Don't often get offered coffee in a crypt. The crypt was interesting and mildly creepy. The best part was the mummified remains of a cat and a rat, found in one of the pipes of the organ. One had presumably been chasing the other, and they were both entombed. Fascinating.
That afternoon we wandered over to the Museum of Archaeology (er, or something). I have never seen a museum more full of bodies. They had three or four bog people lying in glass cases, plus some poor Viking's skeleton laying around. Oh, and the skull of a Roman slave. The bog people were particularly interesting. They were completely preserved, though their skin had turned a strange bronze-green colour. One was squished flat, and another had had his legs taken off by a peat-cutting machine, which is how he was discovered. The third had only a torso, but it was incredibly well-preserved. His hands, in particular, looked as if he could be alive today - every vein and fingernail perfectly preserved. The latest theory is that people were sacrificed to mark the boundaries between territories, and thrown into the bogs. All of them had well-manicured hands and hadn't done manual labour, so presumably they were quite high-status. Interesting stuff.
Back from Dublin on Easter Monday on the Jonathan Swift, and I have never come closer to being very ill indeed all over my family. It was a rough crossing and I felt quite peculiar during most of it. Luckily I didn't see this (or all would have been lost), but Lisa tells me she saw people being sick into their handbags all around us. Horrible.
One quiet night in Bangor, then we hit the road again, this time to Stroud to stay with relatives on a farm in the Cotswolds. Here are my notes from yesterday:
"Currently holed up in the Cotswolds, in a farmhouse made of honey-coloured Cotwold stone. The old part is 150 years old and a strange sort of octagonal shape. We're staying with relatives of dad's for a couple of nights before heading to Cornwall.
Today we checked out Cheltenham, which was apparently a spa town to rival Bath, back in the day. You can still take the waters (but I'll bet it costs a fortune). Turns out there's not much IN Cheltenham - posh people and unwed mothers, if the farmer we're staying with is to be believed. So basically, we just went shopping (and had a glance at the Regency architecture, which is indeed imposing). I was very excited to find they have a Primark. Also shopped in the posh shops and got a lovely coat marked down to thirty pounds from 100. Bargain!
Driving around these parts is a fairly interesting proposition, and although we didn't get lost (much) on the way to Cheltenham, mom suggested that we take the Park&Ride rather than try to drive in the city centre. This turned out to be a stroke of genius... until dad forgot his bag on the bus. Luckily there was a number for the bus company on the ticket they gave me, so I was able to call them (dad wouldn't) and find out if there was any way to get it back. In the end they had brought it back to the parking lot, and the bus driver saw dad waiting for him and took him back to retrieve it. Then dad went wandering off, but mom spotted him on the street and we were reunited. (Grandma and I, meanwhile, had gone shopping).
We then had a look through the museum, which was eclectic, and headed back. We managed to get within ten miles of Stroud before dad suddenly decided to take a side road, landing us somewhere called Upton St. Leonards. However, after much navigation we arrived at the farm, and had dinner with Grandma Ferrey's cousin Aileen. She's 92, hale and hearty, has excellent taste in hats and is an interesting conversationalist. So glad I got to meet her."
And today, of course, we roared down the M5 to Newquay. I am liking Newquay a lot - it has that lovely down-at-heel mildy tacky British resort town feel. Plus - ocean! Wish I had a few more days here to just hang around down on the beach. However, the itinerary beckons, and tomorrow we're off to find the origin-towns of some of Grandma Sivak's relatives....
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