Saturday, May 20, 2006

My second destination on my little travel excursion was the city of Norwich. I always wanted to see it, and I was not disappointed in my stay there. I got to see the coastline, which was a good thing, but I was rather tired of Great Yarmouth quickly, and I made my way to the train station (on a really bad side of town--worse than the rest of it) to try and catch an earlier train. Fortunately, there is consistant service from Norwich to Great Yarmouth and back all day long.

At first, I thought I was going to be disappointed by Norwich, too. The train station is outside of the city (in fact, it wasn't even on my town plan, which freaked me out at the beginning), and subsequently, not in the best of areas. When I arrived, it was just after school had ended and apparently a lot of students come from neighboring towns on the same line I was riding, which meant quite a hastle and the need to pull out my 'footballer'-like skills just to exit the train.

The hotel wasn't too far away, thankfully, and in a 'central' location--it isn't in the center of town, per say, but it is right by the Cathedral. The gateway with the tower behind it was right outside my hotel. Of course, those people had to park illegally in their Fawlty-Towers-style car before I took the picture, but so be it. The Cathedral was more of a complex--parts of the area within the gates had been updated, but you could distinguish between the buildings that were contemporary to it and those that had been added later or rebuilt. The area is called Tombland, apparently, and is one of the nicer, more historical, sides of town.

In addition to the Cathedral, there are 32 existing "parish" churches in Norwich. In their hayday, there used to be 61. Most of them are built in the usual "gravel" method, using smaller stones framed in something more substancial. All of them have some kind of bell tower on them. The tower you see here belongs to St. Andrew's which was nearby where I was staying in town. The reason I sought out this one in particular actually had to do with my previous job. The "congregation" of "pilgrims"--or the more religious sorts among them--were all minstered by one John Robinson. Robinson, before being ousted due to his "reformist" beliefs in the early 17th century, was a minister of the Church of England in Norwich, and this was his parish. The whole time I stayed in Norwich, this church was closed (hence the bright yellow sign on the doors). I returned several times there to no avail. However, I did explore the interiors of a number of other, similar parish churches nearby to get an idea of what it may look like inside. Behind it is the Bridewell museum, which is a smaller establishment that focuses on the manufacturing history of Norwich. It is very much like looking at the Lowell mills in Massachusetts, but with several types of exployments rather than just one. Regardless of some failed manufacturing trades, the city, unlike American cities on the east coast, is not dotted with large, hollow, empty brick mill buildings (New England could certainly take a hint).

One of the first things I did when I got to Norwich, regardless of my being exhausted having treked all around Great Yarmouth with my luggage before arriving, was take a walk around the city. There is a huge, mostly outdoor, shopping center there that is in the same place the markets were hundreds of years previously. In the middle of the market, going up a hill, is St. Peter Mancroft church--the outdoor archway is photographed here. According to information in the Bridewell Museum, the cattle market existed just outside of here at one point. In front of it is one of the BBC buildings and off to the right is the main courthouse. It really borders on the upper end of the center of town. Again, I was unable to go inside and take a look--this time due to a late afternoon arrival and the Sunday service on the following day. The original building was Norman, but it was rebuilt and reconsecrated in the 15th century, so that is the style you see here. It really is the largest of the "parish" churches in Norwich--built in the same syle, but approaching more "cathedral-like" architecture.

I saved my trip inside the Cathedral until last given it was on the way to the train station (at that point, I was hoping it was, and I turned out to be right--no thanks to the stupid map I was carrying. It is another Norman foundation--very Romanesque in style but moving in the Gothic direction.

You can see the inside of it here. I got there right when they were about to begin Evensong services, so I didn't get to go around as much as I would have liked. It certainly looks Norman--round, decorated arches and heavy pillars, but you can see the more complicated ribbing on the ceiling, which is more Gothic in style. It is also much lighter--unlike Durham, which is Romanesque through and through, Norwich, with its incorporation of Gothic techniques, takes on a slightly lighter feel. At the back is the organ, which obscures the view all the way down the nave. There is a cloister attached, too, and a few ruins of other parts of the monastery as well as a hospital. The tower is rather distinctive at Norwich, which is probably an identification point for more experienced cathedral-goers than myself.

One thing that I was impressed by was how the Castle dominated the landscape. It is on top of a hill across from the market, so would have been right in the center of town. The Castle was my first stop when I did tour the museums, and I wasn't disappointed. It is an art/archaeologial museum as well as a historical building in its own right. The Castle on the hill gave a great view of the city. I was fortunate enough to choose to take a tour of the prison vaults, which are inside the hill more or less, and had a fabulous tour guide who knew a lot about the city as well as the Castle. She showed me the vaults, explained their use over time, she knew the practices and what the Castle represented in the city itself over time. I was

more than impressed, and was fortunate enough to be the only person on the tour with her. The inside of the building you see pictured was used to house the "common criminal"--debtors, thieves, and the like--and they had a sort of "community" inside the walls there. Before that, it had been a Norman palace, but over time, the Castle was turned over to the city and upon that change of hands, it became a prison. This view is from the bridge crossing over to the Castle, and apparently in the Early Modern period, on Saturdays at noon, there would be an execution--or more than one execution--there. Those that were executed didn't stay in the prison "community," but were instead relegated to the vaults underneath the Castle. Later on, the Castle's prisoners became the subjects of phrenologers who made their death masks and explored the bumps on their head to try and determine if any signalled they would become criminals. In the nineteenth century, it became a museum, as it is today.

Accomodations here very much outclassed those in Great Yarmouth. I stayed in the Maids Head Hotel, which is a 13th century establishment added to and built upon over time. It was a great place--very clean, very nice rooms, and fairly affordable. It was right by the gateway to the Cathedral and the market wasn't a long walk away. I greatly enjoyed my stay there.

So, Norwich earns itself an 8 and 1/2, putting it in the lead over Durham, York, and Great Yarmouth at present. Let's see if it maintains that lead...

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

I'm home again after a trip across southeast England. I started in Great Yarmouth.

Great Yarmouth certainly defies its adjective--lacking in "Greatness" in any capacity. It's not much of a place for history-oriented people, but even though the history isn't readily apparent, that doesn't mean that there isn't any at all.

The shore itself is nice. Once you get past the tacky fun-parks and gambling establishments, you can walk for miles down the beach. I found that in comparison to New England beaches, the sand was far more glassy and there were an abundance of rocks smoothed over by the tide. It surprised me just how quiet the walk was--only a few other people, residents I suspect, were taking advantage of the nice weather and the beautiful scenery. Something I didn't know before arriving was the existence of a wind farm on the water. There is a controversy on Cape Cod over the installation of a similar wind farm off the coast in the Nantucket direction--apparently this will "wreck the view out there." Frankly, the wind farm was quiet and graceful--certainly the only power-generating system I have ever seen that is easy on the eyes.
On my second day, I took a walk around the town to get a look around. I came across the local parish church, St. Nicholas. It's kind of a Victorian "re-do" of the Norman Church. When you go inside, the arches are original, but the walls have clearly been rebuilt around them. It also "said something" that the nicest place in the whole town was the cemetery that spread out from the "nucleus" that is the churchyard. It was very quiet and well kept given that a huge town effort is focused on the maintenance of it. At least if you keel over while playing at a slot machine, you first, won't have far to go, and second, you'll be on a quality piece of real estate.

I was walking around on the "Quay"--and I have no idea what that means even though I am from a coastal area originally myself. I actually had stayed on the Quay, which is by the River Yare (on the other side of the town from the coast), but I didn't actually stroll down the street until after I made my seaside stop.
When I did, I came across a ruin of a Greyfriar's Abbey. It wasn't visible from the road at all. I turned down a side alley and literally walked into it while I was inevitably getting myself lost. Anyway, it would have been outside of the city proper in its time--about fourteenth century or so. The picture of the brick structure with what looks like a chimney protruding out of it is the ruin. On the other side you can see the arches a little better. It isn't very big, but you can still get a sense of the turns and almost tunnel-like network of rooms that would have existed there when it was a whole building.

It may sound odd, but one of the most interesting features of the town was the remains of the town wall. There isn't much of it around, but every now and then, you'll look at a row of houses and spot the tell-tale arches or tower remains. Apparently most of it came down in the 1840s, but there are still sections around. There is a whole section still existing in the graveyard with a very cool tower at the end of it. I was walking down a street, desperate for the Sainsbury's nearby, when I turned and saw the tower you see in the picture sticking out from a bunch of commercial buildings across the street. The curious thing about it was the direction it faced in--it was facing to the water. Today, the majority of the town is apparently outside of where the original town would have been encompassed by the old wall.

Well, the trip was worth stopping there for a day, but I certainly wouldn't recommend actually travelling there for a prolonged period of time. The few things I managed to capture is the city's history--and that's all there is. The rest of the waterfront looks like a British version of Atlantic City that is even more tacky. I visited in the "off-season" so I can only imagine what it is like down there during the summer. It is windy down there--putting the wind farm to good use, of course, but that makes it hard to sit for a long time by the water. I noticed a lot of the "in the know" folks had these odd reems of tarp that they posted in the ground around where they intended to sit in the direction of the wind to block it.

One final note--I stayed in a place called the Star Hotel. It wasn't that far from the train station, which was an advantage for me. However, I was reminded of the "Royal Imperial Windsor Arms" from the movie "National Lampoon's European Vacation." If you don't know what I am talking about, the movie is well worth watching. At any rate, for those of you who do, I got two TV channels, one of which was a 24 hour run of news (the "Cheese Show"), I got no hot water from the shower head, but I got as much of it as I wanted to take a bath (sans whistling robed stranger), to make the toilet flush, I had to hold down the weight inside of the back of the bowl (that has no specific equivalent, but is just typical), and the bed, a "double" was actually two single beds put together.
Thus far, Durham will get 7 points out of ten, York gets 5, and Great Yarmouth will get 3 and a half.

On to the next location...

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Letter to my Former Self

Dear "Former" Self:

The unfortunate thing about this letter is that you won't get a chance to read it. However, that does not defeat the purpose of this, my "Present" Self, composing it.

I know school is a pain in the ass. All subjects like Math and math-related Sciences seem to do is bring your overall grade down. And I know you look at your friends who can perform just as well in those subjects as the liberal arts and ask why you can't do that, too. Well, I don't have an answer to that question, but I can tell you that your seeming "deficiency" in those subjects didn't hold you back in the long run. Even when you got older, you still wished you could work out an equation with some reasonable assurance that it was somewhat right, but other than the GRE exam, you won't need to see those odd symbols, parabolas, sines and cosines again. Your staying up late nights doing all of your homework, reading and studying for those AP exams will pay off--in the long run you will be able to do what you can only imagine "in theory" right now: you will be able to go to the school that you choose as the best option for you, if not quite for what you expect at first.

There will never be a time when your parents aren't looking over your shoulder. What you will learn is that it is better to make it easier for them to do that. They'll never admit to you that they were more strict with you than with your siblings, no matter what you do, so just keep that knowledge to yourself. It won't get better, either--you'll see what your siblings will be able to get away with, things you would have been grounded for ages for, and you'll immediately feel the injustice of that. You'll hide that well, though. The only thing I can say is that as you get older, you realize that your parents are human, too. They made mistakes and they had to learn how to be "parents" just like you learn how to do anything else in this life. You will have to admit, though, that their strict upbringing impressed upon you the ability to choose well between right and wrong. Had they been more lax, well, you probably wouldn't have turned out as well.

Your parents will never like any of the guys you bring home--you may as well know that right now. It's true, some of your choices won't be very good, but it is impossible not to throw into the mix the fact that you are the oldest and that it is harder for them to part with you in some ways, especially your father. However, on the other hand, they will always be accepting of your friends, no matter who they are. You are going to realize that you tend to stay in relationships too long, especially when you feel like you don't have any other dating options waiting for you if you were to end what you are a part of. As you move from place to place, school to school, and job to job, your experiences will impress upon you that there are two classifications of things in life: things that are meant to stay with you and things that aren't meant to last. Once you learn this, you will be more and more able to distinguish between them. You will go through a process where you will have to do what you know inside of you that you need to do--you need to go it alone to be able to learn what "you" is. When that happens, it won't matter if you're on your own or not anymore. And, it won't be as scarey as you think. In the end, you will be content with your own company and more comfortable with yourself. Both of these results will help you build better, longer-standing and more stable relationships of all kinds in the future.

Secrets you'll have to admit to yourself:

You're a romantic. Just live with it.

You can throw a ball as well as any guy--don't let them tell you otherwise.

You'll always be a "big sister" no matter where you are or how old your siblings get.

The Indigo Girls will save your life more than once.

Relationships aren't always what you think they are, and love is going to defy conventions for you.

You'll always want to do dozens of things with your life. Narrowing that down is not necessarily a good thing.

Above all, relax. When you do that, you will invite more people to you. You're going to have to learn openness, and thankfully you will, but not without a lot of help. That means not shutting anyone out who has something to offer--and that means everyone.

Until your "Future" self comes along,
Your "Present" Self

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Visit to Durham

At the beginning of this week, I went to Durham. This is the first time I have ever been out there, regardless of having been accepted to the University there. I considered that offer first, actually, before I ended up at York. Therefore, I was all the more curious to see the place.

The "city" is built on a hill overlooking the River Wear, but unlike York and the Ouse, the surroundings have maintained a certain natural beauty, probably because of the high embankments as opposed to the low, flat lands that surround the river in York.

The first picture here is a view of the countryside from the top of Durham Cathedral. Lots and lots of narrow steps, twisting around in a circle, but once you get up there, as you can see for yourself it is certainly worth it. I liked this side because of the green fields you can see on the hill.

Here is the Castle, which is right next to the Cathedral on the top of the hill. Today, it is actually a part of the University, and there are students who get to live in the keep here. I went on a tour guided by a history student, and the University seems to be a lot more formal than the University of York--it's been around longer, so kind of maintains some old traditions, like formal meals and surprisingly to me, a lot of student religious services. The best part, which you can't see here, was this incredible old Normal Chapel that was walled up about fifty years into the life of the first castle, and then rediscovered in the 19th century as completely in tact as time would allow. It was made of sandstone, so the interor was brownish in color, almost marble-like. It was also very dark, and you could see just how thick the walls really were--about six feet. We didn't get to see the inside of the keep here because of the student accomodations, unfortunately. The main buildings of the castles are actually off to the left beyond a Victorian reconstruction of a medieval gate system.

This is a view of the Cathedral, but you can only see this side if you stand on the other side of the river, which puts you at a rather low angle. It is Romanesque, which makes its architecture rather large and clunky, but certainly Norman in style. The columns on the inside are huge and the archways are rounded. There are a lot of windows in the towers that you can see here, but not so many along the sides of the building--not like the large, spacious Gothic style windows that make Gothic cathedrals feel so much lighter. The key features of the Cathedral, however, are the tombs of St. Cuthbert and Bede. Bede gets a box to himself on this side of the building inside a chapel. Apparently, his bones were stolen from Jarrow by the monks at Durham in the 11th century. Go figure. Anyway, St. Cuthbert was also "moved" here, but his tomb is more like a shrine on the other side of the cathedral. He is buried on an upper "level" beneath the floor there. There is also an exhibit that they called "The Treasures of St. Cuthbert," which was rather misleading because I thought it meant that there was more from his burial that was going to be on display. Instead, most of it, although impressive, was just comprised of some of the Cathedral's artifacts, like seals, manuscripts, and vestments. However, there were a few things that were specifically Cuthbert-oriented, such as a cross with a garnet inlaid in the middle--found on his body even though the majority of his treasures had been pillaged years before. There were also fragments of some kind of Byzantine cloth that covered his remains and a once silver covered portable altar. Most impressive was his coffin, wooden, original, and carved by the Anglo-Saxons with pictures of the apostles. It was in fragments, but the museum had put it back together so you could see it as it would have looked in box-form. It was a great visit, and a very impressive place (and very tiring given the 250 stairs to the tower).

This is a view from one of the bridges over the River Wear. In the distance is another bridge--a footbridge--that allows you access to the level the Cathedral and Castle are on. It was the usual cloudy British day, but regardless, you really can see how beautiful it is there with all the trees--in fact, I think this is the largest concentration of trees I had seen to date in England. I took a walk on the right side of the river along a footpath there, and it was fantastic. I followed it past that bridge to another one around that corner of trees you see back there.

Although Durham is small--smaller than York, I really liked the city. If I had been a more efficient planner, I would have stopped in Newcastle first--only another 25 minutes up the road by train, and then stopped by Durham on the way home to York so I could have seen both places, but it gives me an excuse to hop off the train again and see this place under perhaps some more sunny skies. It was definitely worth seeing.

Well, thank you, Cuthbert and Bede, for showing me your final resting place. It may not have been your first, but hey, you could definitely find a worse one for your last.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Number Two: Emily

This is Emily.

Emily is Anne's sister, and my sweetest baby. She is smaller than her sisters--they are both longer, especially their necks, while Emily is a rather compact little thing. She is also oddly colored, as you can see. My father refers to her as having "calico ends" in the fur on her head, tail and paws, but nowhere else.

At first, she got into everything. I think she believed her name was "No!" when she was little. However, she had such a way about her that under almost any circumstances, she was able to "make friends" (this discounts Phoebe). She did this first with my roommate's cat--a huge Maine Coon named Geronimo who had the brain of a rugby player. As soon as she saw him, she nuzzled right into the bib of long fur under his chin, and he was hooked.

Her favorite friend, however, is Harriet. Harriet, who is notoriously difficult to get along with, has taken to Emily, and tolerates her company in ways she does with no one else, feline or otherwise. Harriet suffered from a glucose crash a few years ago, and she couldn't see or move for about a week while she recovered. We kept her in a laundry basket, lying on a blanket, and always put that basket where there was plenty of human and cat company. One night, Harriet was sitting there, sprawled out, at least partially blind, and Emily, perked up with a tiny mew, jumped right into the basket and sat with her. This action met with mutual purrs from both of them.

Emily expresses joy by rolling all over the floor when you pass by her. She'll purr whenever she meets up with anyone who may offer her some attention, and she was the only of my cats to like my last boyfriend, Matt.

Perhaps her sisters could take a lesson from her kindness....

Perhaps we all could. Posted by Picasa