Location: Canterbury , UK
An early start for us today, on the road by 10, for the long drive to Canterbury. After taking an age to find a parking building, we headed off to see the large Cathedral there.
Grabbed a quick bite for lunch at a street food seller, then to the cathedral. Its really big.
Ali got a guided tour handset, and off we went for a wander. Found the spot where Thomas Beckett was slain on the alleged orders of his ex BFF, Henry II. Apparently the phrase Who will rid me of this turbulent priest can be misinterpreted to mean stab him multiple times, cut him to pieces and cut off the top of his head. Who would have thought it. There is a series of large medieval stained glass windows showing the miracles that Beckett's body performed in healing the sick (hence his sainthood). Notably during the dissolution of the monestries Henry VIII had Beckett's jewel-encrusted sarcophagus (in which "the cheapest thing was the gold") broken up and added to the royal treasury, whilst Thomas Beckett's body was supposedly burned and scattered to the winds.
This week we've gone from seeing Magna Carta at Lincoln (negotiation was assisted by Archbishop Stephen Langton), and seeing Shakespeare's Henry IV at the Globe, to seeing the tombs of both Stephen Langton and Henry IV at Canterbury Cathedral. There was also the tomb of the Black Prince (Edward Plantagenet) as well as his armour on display. His epitaph is as follows:
Such as thou art, sometime was I.
Such as I am, such shalt thou be.
I thought little on th'our of Death
So long as I enjoyed breath.
On earth I had great riches
Land, houses, great treasure, horses, money and gold.
But now a wretched captive am I,
Deep in the ground, lo here I lie.
My beauty great, is all quite gone,
My flesh is wasted to the bone.
The cathedral was very impressive and took us much longer than anticipated to go through, but as it was the main event, no real problem.
We then visited the Roman museum, an excavation under the streets of Canterbury. Interesting, but not worth the price, IMHO. It costed £3 in our 12 year old Lonely Planet, £9 today. Inflation hasnt been that bad. Could be why we were the only people visiting.
Then to see an old monastery that Henry VIII had dissolved following the split from the Catholic Church. The site was Benedictine and quite large. I imagine the Kings coffers would have been nicely replenished with the value of that estate.
Drive home ended up having an unscheduled stop off at Fay and Robins house due to two accidents on the M25 causing over 1.5 hours delay. Thanks to them for putting on a short notice dinner for two unexpected guests.
Home to an annoyed kitten who hadnt been outside all day.
We just pootled about in the morning, but decided we should do something with the afternoon so we went to Crocodiles of the World. It has a lot of crocodiles, alligators, caymen etc, but we also saw beavers, tortoises, a fishing cat, a snake, and some noisy kukkaburras. So, an eclectic mix. There were some great signs, for exchange this one: "Be safe. Please do not stand, sit, climb or lean on the enclosures. If you fall, crocodiles will eat you and that might make them sick."
Interrupted by a phone call from the estate agent who told us that the viewers we showed around last Saturday had made a ridiculous offer. We turned it down there and then.
Location: London, UK
Today, not Roman but medieval. Went for a trip into London (after a late start to avoid both rush hour and extortionate train fares) to go see a play at the Globe theatre. The Globe is a reconstruction of the original Globe that old Bill Shakespeare used to have performances at.
Had a nice lunch at Williamsons Tavern, a building that was once the home to the Mayor of London immediately after the great fire.
Then, a short walk from there to the Globe to watch the play. Ali had us front row seats, dead centre on the first level, so we could sit and watch the Groundlings (the Globe has a standing only ground floor area that costs only £5) get drenched by the weather. It was not a sunny day.
The play was Henry IV part 1. If you want my opinion, it was slow and difficult to follow. The first act itself seemed to be interminable and I would happily have followed the lead of many other patrons and left in the intermission. However, Ali was keen to continue, so I stayed for the second act. Which was marginally better.
In terms of the Henry series, Henry V is MUCH better. Even King Lear is better (and thats a very depressing play). Id even say that I enjoyed King John more...
[Ali: well I liked it! And it was certainly an improvement on Cymbeline]
Back on the river ferry, then tube and train back to a wet Bicester and very annoyed kitten (who hadnt been able to go outside all day).
Location: Portsmouth , UK
Wet horrible day in Bicester, so off to somewhere sunny. In this case, Portsmouth.
We took a bit of a walk along the waterfront in the sunshine, up to the historic naval dockyard. Saw a statue dedicated to pioneer immigrants, and stopped for a bite on the way, which in hindsight took more time than we had.
Arrived at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Started with a wander through HMS Warrior, a 1860 steam and sail warship that never saw a battle. This took longer than anticipated, due in part to me getting distracted by the various things to look at. Ali was most interested in comparing it with the Corona (the ship the Clements emigrated in) which was half the size but also built in the 1860s.
This meant we didnt get to look over HMS Victory, maybe next time. We did have a look around the boat-making warehouse though. In keeping with the theme of this break, we didnt spend enough time here. Our tickets are valid for a year.
On the way back to the car Ali thrashed Jase in a tightly fought game of crazy golf. (He omitted to record that in this diary entry!)
Last stop off was the Naval memorial to sailors lost at sea in WW1 and WW2. It showed the effect of the battle of Jutland where the British lost 3 battlecruisers and over 3,000 men in a few hours. The list of names was huge, covering the mass of the memorial.
Back home, miserable weather in Bicester. Lit fire, cats and Alison far too excited by the flames. I think Panzer has melted into the carpet.
Today the weather forecast was absolutely filthy everywhere within driving distance, so we decided to give our National Trust membership a sound work out.
We started with the Whipsnade Tree Cathedral, an area of trees planted a century ago, in the shape of a cathedral, by Edmund Blyth as a legacy in memory of his friends who died in the First World War. The Tree Cathedral is formed of different varieties of trees and shrubs laid out to the plan of a cathedral, with a nave, transepts, chancel, cloisters and chapels. It was lovely, but wet!
We stopped for lunch at a pub, before going to Grey's Court near Henley. This is a large 16th century mansion and lovely walled gardens set out in 'rooms', and set amidst medieval ruins. At the moment there are also a number of sculptures dotted throughout the gardens and grounds.
Finally we headed up the road to Nuffield Place, the arts and crafts home of Lord and Lady Nuffield (founder of Morris Motors). It also has lovely gardens but the rain was so heavy we couldn't face walking around them. We'll save that for another day.
Location: Lincoln , UK
Off to Lincoln after a slow start today. Stopped on the way for a nice pub lunch, which meant we parked up a bit later than anticipated. We took a look at the Cathedral first, however as it was a Sunday and the church goers selfishly wanted to attend their services, we could only see the Nave. It was, nonetheless, a very impressive building. Well need to come back another day to see it better.
On to the castle, which was also close to closing. We did manage to catch the main sights, including one of the existing copies of the 1215 issue of Magna Carta. This version was rapidly broken by King John (baddie from Robin Hood), however it was amended and reissued in 1217 by his son Henry III. It was reissued another couple of times, mainly so Kings would acknowledge they would hold to it. Apart from Charles I, who famously pissed off parliament, thereby causing a civil war that resulted in his head being separated from his shoulders.
We also went through the prison that was built in Victorian times, as a separate prison - one where prisoners never had human contact with each other. Even to the extent that prisoners were separated by panels when attending church. Quite scary and apparently contributed to many prisoners being driven insane by the isolation.
We then walked the walls of the castle before being kicked out and driving back home.
We need to go back to Lincoln, we didnt do it justice.
Yesterday we just pootled around mowing the lawn and preparing for today's viewing. We also had to sort out a potential agent commission clash which arose rather carelessly. Katie and Eva came around for dinner.
Today we did a house showing (a couple who had been in the picture last year). After that we attended Armaleggan's BBQ, where Jason chatted up a superstar (in his field).
We took Jase's new car for a trip to the south coast, to see Fishbourne Roman Palace. It is a big complex with plenty of mosaics, although the destruction of the villa and subsequent farming activities have left them in a worse condition than the Roman villa we saw in Sicily.
We then drove to Uppark House to see a National Trust property. By the time we got there the house was closed so we had an afternoon tea and wandered around the gardens for a bit enjoying the sunshine.
Then we stopped on the way back and met Fay at the Newbury Watermill Theatre. First we enjoyed dinner and then a play: The Importance of Being Earnest. Ali studied it at school but Jase had never seen any Oscar Wilde. He enjoyed it!
Location: London, UK
Alison got up and took the train to London for an exciting day at the Oval, watching a thrilling game of ODI cricket involving New Zealand and Bangladesh (it is the Cricket World Cup at the moment). The crowd was friendly, the game was exciting, and New Zealand won in the final balls but made a harder job of it than it needed to. The perfect one day cricket match!
Jase went to Luton.
House stuff today. We spent the morning tidying, before showing one potential new estate agent around at 12. Then we showed another agent around at 4, before meeting with our existing estate agent at 5.
Finally we dashed off to Amersham for an Indian meal with Fay and Robin.
Location: Colchester , UK
Today we went for a day trip up to Colchester, the original Roman capital of the province of Britannia. Colchester was sacked by the terrorist organisation known as the Iceni, led by the vicious Queen Boudicca. Her barbarian tribe slaughtered the peaceful retired Roman soldiers and their families, destroyed their temples and burnt the town to the ground in AD60. The Norman invaders then built a large castle on the ruins in or around 1066.
The castle itself is well presented, with a museum occupying two floors. There is also a tour where you can see the other areas, undercroft and roof areas that arent open to the public.
We had a walk through the castle grounds, including a look at some of the original Roman walls. Ice cream at the cafe, then a walk back to the car via some of the side streets. Realistically, we could have spent more time here, but it was approaching 5pm and places were closing. Quiet drive back to Bicester.
Location: Cotswolds, UK
We are having a fortnight off, but rather then going away we are going to do day trips to random places that we think might be interesting.
Today we headed to Sudeley Castle near Cheltenham. It is a stately home with a chequered history. It was owned by Richard III and had some lovely banqueting rooms (now a picturesque Gothic ruin). Then it was in the Seymour family (owned by Thomas, Jane Seymour's brother). He married Katherine Parr an unseemly short period of time after Henry VIII's death, so she lived and died there. Lady Jane Grey was a ward there, and it is also the place where Thomas tried to seduce the Princess Elizabeth.
Katherine died in childbirth and is buried there. Thomas hot-footed it to London to try again with Elizabeth, not even waiting for his wife's funeral. Her daughter mysteriously disappeared aged about 2.
Thomas was eventually executed for plotting to depose his elder brother as leader of the regency council. He was apparently very pretty and charming, but wasn't the brightest spark.
In the civil war the castle was slighted by the roundheads. It was rebuilt during the 1800-1900s very sympathetically, and now has lovely rooms and gardens.
Location: Sicily, Italy
Last day in Sicily. Packed our bags, disposed of the rubbish (that was a bit of a trek to find the secret entrance to the rubbish dump) then in the car to Castelbuono (apparently it had a good castle).
Turns out the castle wasn't that good, it must have been once, but I would describe it as being more a shell keep than a castle per se. It had been turned into an art museum, modern art at that (yawn).
We then had lunch at a restaurant that we knew going into was a slow food restaurant. Didn't anticipate that meant slow service too. Oh well, we had time.
Then, a drive back to Catania to catch the flight home. The plan was to go the scenic route and we definitely did that. The road kept going up, with the tree type changing markedly and the temperature going from 23deg at sea level to about 11deg at 1,450m - the peak of the ascent. Unfortunately we were in cloud there, so no view. We did catch a view of Etna on our descent.
Easy flight back, before getting to bed at home around 1.30am. Two weeks went very quickly. Back to the real world soon.
Location: Sicily (Sant Ambrogio), Italy
We had a nice quiet day today, just reading books in the sun, whilst enjoying our seaview.
In the evening we revisited a restaurant in Cefalu, where we had a tasty lunch last year. It has a great view from its terrace over the sea. Lucky for us we arrived relatively early by Italian standards and we got a ringside seat and watched the sun go down over the sea.
Location: Sicily (Santo Stefano), Italy
Quiet morning before Ali decided that she needed to undertake some retail therapy. So off to Santo Stefano for a continuation of the search for ceramics.
First, lunch at a creperie. Ali, very excited, bouncing up and down in the car seat, asking, every few minutes if we were there yet. Finally, we arrived and took a seat. Only to find out they werent serving crepes until the evening. At a creperie. Oh, the tears. Proper tantrum thrown. Fortunately they had arancine, so tragedy averted. Poor waiter, didnt know how to deal with a near hysterical adult woman.
Visiting several shops before Ali saw something she quite liked. She then asked the shopkeeper if they could put it aside while she visited other shops to see if she could find something better.
I suggested that if she liked it, why not buy it. Ali realised that her husband was not only wise, but also 100% correct.
We then visited the other shops anyway.
Back to the house for a evening relaxing by the sea.
Location: Sicily (Tindari), Italy
Our tourism today was to the Greek Theatre of Tindari, and the Roman Villa of Patti.
Starting with Tindari, we paused at the local café for some indifferent, luke-warm aranchine for lunch. The archeological site is actually much more than a theatre. There was a basilica, various residential ruins, the theatre and some archeological finds. There were wild flowers everywhere, it smelled gorgeous, and there were lots of very happy bees buzzing about.
Driving back down the hill, we headed for the Roman villa. It is a small site compared to the 'del Casale' one that we visited last week, but it had an interesting mosaic all around the atrium.
The motorway turning for home was blocked off so we had to go another one onward to Cefalu where we stopped for some groceries. At the supermarket, for the first time they seemed to have barriers down. We weren't sure whether they had been there before, but the till lady didn't offer us a token to get out, so we had to re-park and go back in to ask for one. Note that we re-parked. Unlike several Italians in the lengthy queue, who just left their car in the queue and ducked back in to get one. That led to quite a lot of hooting.
One driver in a 4x4 parked up and got out right at the barrier, so nobody could go anywhere. Then when he arrived back with his token, he took so long getting through barrier 1 (hitting the barrier post with his car in the way out) that he failed to get through the 'barrier / airlock / 2nd barrier' sequence that some genius had devised, so then got stuck in the middle between barriers and nobody could move. Driver then ducks back into the store (gnashing teeth en route about the mess he'd made of his wing against the barrier post).
Comes back, puts another token in, and at this point a member of staff comes out to help, putting each barrier into the up position in turn for him. The system then goes bonkers, with barriers going up and down like yo-yos and cars desperately ducking underneath them, waiting in the airlock, then diving for freedom when the second barrier went up. Staff member stayed to feed everyone's tokens into the machine for them, and hopefully clear the carpark of hooting cars and gesticulating Sicilians. We were having hysterics!