Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Our Trip to Europe: English Cities

We didn’t do as much exploring of English cities as we did of Swedish cities.  We did different things in different places, and enjoyed ourselves wherever we went.  We did get to a few of them, however.

The first one set the tone.  Cirencester (pronounced “SIRE-en-sesster,” not “SEAR-en-sesster,” the way I’d always pronounced it) is an old Roman town in the Cotswolds region where we were staying, and as is typical of that part of the world it is made up almost entirely of brown stones.

We spent a bit of time walking around on our way to lunch and the Corinium Museum, on a cool and rainy sort of day.  I’ve always loved stone buildings, and they have them in abundance there.  The thing about Cirencester is that, like every English town or city we visited, drove through or saw in the distance, the buildings come right up to the road, the way they do in those photos.  There’s very little wasted space in these cities, the way there is in American towns.  Britain is an island.  They use it all.

The other thing that amazed me about Cirencester and other English cities is the juxtaposition of old and new, grand and mundane, that you find there – especially with cathedrals and other such buildings.  This is the one in Cirencester:

And this is in Salisbury, where we went the next day:

Those cities have been there a long, long time.  Once upon a time the grand buildings were sort of off on their own, but over the years the rest of the town has crept up on them and now they’re surrounded by newer stuff.  They’re all like that, though.  You’re walking along the street, dodging the traffic coming at you from the completely opposite side from the one you’re used to and looking at the shops, and all of the sudden BOOM!  Cathedral!

They all have those clocks, too – the big black ones with the gold Roman numerals on them.  It’s as if there was a giant sale on them sometime during the Renaissance and all the bishops of England said, “Well, right, those would look smashing up there!” and bought them wholesale.  It must be admitted that they do look nice, though.

Salisbury also had another example of old and new – this is the main road toward the cathedral, which you can see peeking up over the left-hand shops.  Yes, this is an automotive thoroughfare, and occasionally the pedestrians do, grudgingly, have to give way, but the thing I was fascinated by was the old gate archway there, sandwiched by all the new (well, newer – some of them are themselves several centuries old) buildings.

The flags are left over from the Diamond Jubilee - they're not normally that commonly displayed.  Apparently waving the flag around is not generally considered mandatory in the UK.  This always comes as a shock for Americans, who live in a very different world that way.

Of course, not everything in Salisbury is grand and historic.

We also spent some time in Bath, which – as should be obvious by the stones – is also a Cotswolds city.

We found a parking spot on the edge of town, which is the standard British practice – most of these cities were built before the automobile was invented and are thus a) rather small and inconvenient for driving around and b) rather the right size for walking around – and we got ready to walk.

It’s a very nice place. 

This intersection just made us laugh.  I’m not sure how well the humor translates into the UK, but there you go. 

We spent some time in London as well, mostly traveling through it.  On the day we visited the Tower we took the train from Swindon, which is a town I can’t take seriously anymore, having read way too much Jasper Fforde.  We arrived at the train station in London and headed off down to the Tube.

If you’re going to be in a city, you really do need to use its public transportation system.  That’s how you get to know it – you’ll never really know a city if all you do is drive.

After we finished with the Tower we walked a bit through the rain, looking for a place to eat.  We found a nice place eventually, and sat there watching the rain fall and waiting for it to taper off.  At least the adults did.  The kids got into a debate over whether the proper pronunciation was “EH-volution” or “EE-volution,” and spent most of their time polling random customers on the matter.  Many of them confessed that they’d never really thought about it and now that they were on the spot they really couldn’t say, but enough gave them answers that they ended up with good results.  Ultimately, though, the kids decided that it was a matter of regional dialect and let the matter go.

We took the Tube back to the train after that, and thus did not see a whole lot of London – it was a long day, and we were tired.  Of course, this means that we’ll just have to go back. 

Most towns in England are not as big as London.  Well, most towns anywhere are not as big as London - most towns in England are not as big as Bath.  And we went through our fair share of tiny ones.

This is the town of Tormarton, where we had dinner one night at the Major’s Retreat, a pub that is not in this photo but whose sign you can see on the right.

And this is Pennsylvania.  All of it.

You’d think it would be bigger, but you’d be wrong.

1 comment:

Julia Lawrence said...

Actually, Bath is built from the stone quarried there, which isn't the crumbly, latered sort of limestone you get in the Cotswolds, it's actually (according to Wikipedia) an freestone (but still oolitic jurassic limestone). You can cut it into big blocks, which influences the architecture pretty strongly. It's also really expensive stuff, so you sometimes see it in the Cotswolds on fancy buildings.