Happy Saturday everyone! I hope wherever you are, the skies are blue and the birds are singing and your heart is filled with monuments joy!
Today brings us to the fifth installment of my Transatlantic Cruise series, wherein I share all my adventures from my trip, including pictures! These posts all stand alone and are about the places I visited, but if you’d like to read some of these others, please do!
Our third port of call was Portland, England! Portland is actually an island, located in the English channel. Chesil Beach joins it to mainland England, and our tour guide told us a fun story wherein sailors would bring contraband goods to the port, but when they spotted the authorities coming, they’d toss the goods into the bay and retrieve them later. At one point, she claimed, a group was caught with some forbidden wine and tossed the casks in the sea. However, the action was noticed and the authorities raced the sailors to get them back. Fortunately for all involved, an arrangement was made between the two parties and everyone went home with wine.
If you’re even been to Portland, Oregon or Portland, Maine… Wikipedia claims they’re named after this port town. I go to Portland, Maine nearly every summer (I love Portland, btw. Such good food and shopping) so this was a fun tidbit of history.
From Portland we traveled along a great expanse of highways. While we were in England and France, we were able to see the beautiful rapeseed fields in bloom. I know that’s a horrible name – rapeseed is used to make what we call Canola Oil here in the States, fairly good for you as far as cooking oils go, though not as good as olive oil. That name, though!
Isn’t the yellow so pretty? I live in an agricultural area, and I’ve never seen fields of yellow like that. Then again, I also live in New England, where only the hardiest things grow… so we mostly export corn, berries, and of course lots and lots of apples. Plus there are plenty of cattle farms and anyone who argues that only needs to step outside at 5am in the morning to the unfortunate aroma of manure.
On the drive, we also drove through the New Forest wildlife preserve. The guide told us all about New Forest ponies and warned us we probably wouldn’t be able to see very many of them, if any at all. Retrospectively, I wonder if she was joking, because we saw probably thirty total. I was only able to get this one picture, though.
After that, there was nothing particularly exciting that was visible from my side of the bus, but that’s alright. The landscape was interesting and beautiful and I enjoyed it.
When we got to Winchester, it was beautiful and sunny. The moment we got off the bus, I knew I was going to like this town. Do you ever get to a place and feel immediately like you belong there? That’s how I felt in England, but especially in Winchester. We got off at Abbey Park, right near the Winchester Cathedral.
Small clarification here, because before we went on the trip, I confused everyone. Winchester Cathedral, not Westminster Cathedral. I did see Westminster as well, but it was just through a bus window in London, two days later. Winchester Cathedral is not as grand, but it’s still an amazing work of art and now I’m going to tell EVERYONE to visit this town, because <3.
Winchester Cathedral, like all beautiful buildings in Europe, apparently, is plopped right down in the middle of the city. The one we see not the original cathedral – the original was built north of the site in the 600s, but demolished after the new (current) one was opened in the 11th century. Parts of the current cathedral still have the base of the 11th century building, including the crypt (where we didn’t get to go) and some of the foundation. For those doing the math, that means that there are parts of this cathedral that are 1000 years old, no exaggeration. And it’s still an active church, holding regular Sunday service, etc.
I cannot begin to express how beautiful the interior of this cathedral is. It’s the first proper cathedral I’ve ever been in (I don’t feel like the ruined Rock of Cashel counts). If you want to see true culture and the greatest works of art in human history, get yourself to a place of worship. From the Grecian temples to the Sistine Chapel in Vatican city, humanity pour its lifeblood into churches. They are far, far more resplendent than any ancient castle you will ever see.
This is something I’ve known from my studies, but despite all the courses I had to take on the medieval world, I was never able to take a semester abroad and truly experience it. That is something I have regretted my entire life, though I don’t see how, financially, I could have done it. Now that I’ve seen this country … I am in love.
These stained-glass windows were the first thing I noticed when I walked in. A quick inspection of them reveals that they are a mess – in most churches, stained glass resembled saints or scenes from the Bible… these windows were a colorful mosaic. During the Civil War, the front of the cathedral was attacked and the stained glass shattered. Rather than commissioning new windows, the pieces were picked up and put back together haphazardly. There are spots where it looks a little less abstract (there’s a window at the very top of the picture, near the left, where three images together match), but for the most part this is a serious puzzler’s dream. I think if you could put all these back together in their original images, the church would give you a medal.
Everything, everything in this cathedral had a story, and I’m so eager to share EVERYTHING with you, because this is my other passion. Like books, history is made up of stories. The difference is: these are the stories of humanity, not imaginings. History is so much more vibrant and alive than even the best non-fiction.
Rather than give you all the stories I learned in this cathedral, I will give you the promised book-related one, since this is primarily a book blog!
In 1816, Jane Austen’s health was beginning to decline, but she stubbornly ignored it. By all account, Austen made so little of her illness that she never even saw physician, complaining it was likely rheumatism and nothing more. In 1817, twelve chapters into writing Sanditon, she set her pen down and never picked it up again. In July 1817, Jane was dead.
There is some disagreement about her true cause of death – a retrospective diagnosis cites Addison’s Disease, although there have been conversations that it could have also been Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Her brother Henry had connections with the church and was able to get her body buried in the nave of Winchester Cathedral. Her stone plate, however, speaks only of her personality and piety, with no mention of her writing. Her funeral was attended only by four people; during her life, she wrote anonymously and did not enjoy the fame she has received postumously. Durning her life, her writings were published simple by “A Lady”. Her name became known after 1883 when her novels were re-published.
In 1870, her nephew paid for a memorial plaque, which rests on the wall beside her grave. In 1900, the public raised money for a memorial window. Both of these memorials pay greater respect to her writings, which are now beloved across the world. After all, who doesn’t want a Mr. Darcy?
I could say so much more about the cathedral, I really could, but this post is already getting terribly long, and I’ve barely scraped the surface of Winchester!
After the cathedral, we were given an hour to do as we wanted. The tour guide recommended a pub to us called The Royal Oak just down the street a bit, and we headed there. The one thing my mother said to me when she found out we were going to England was that I wouldn’t like the food. I have no idea why she would think that, since I’ve been eating toad-in-a-hole and devonshire splits and any number of English dishes since I could cook for myself, but there you have it.
My loves, this pub knows how to cook.
Matt had fish and chips (of course) and I had bangers and mash. Quick translation for the Americans not well-versed in English food: fish and chips is fried fish and french fries, and bangs and mash is sausage and mashed potatoes with caramelized onions. This is pub food at its best, my loves.
If I lived in Winchester, I would be at this pub all the time. Th gravy on my bangers and mash was perfection and I would have guzzled it like a beverage. SO SO GOOD. Also, I have learned that English cuisine is big on peas. I’m okay with that. I love peas. Matt even at some of his mushed peas, even though he doesn’t like them. He proclaimed that mushed peas are better than regular peas, so that’s progress!
After lunch, we wandered through the street vendors and resisted buying all sorts of snacks. There was a South African stand and I was sorely tempted to try something. I have a friend who is originally from South Africa, and every once and a while she mentions a food I’ve never heard of… so I was tempted, but resisted! We did end up buying a lot of chocolate, though. I LOVE English candy. I find it superior to American chocolate and I will argue with anyone. If it wasn’t superior, how come we have started selling Aero bars and Maltesers in the US in the last few years! Haha, take that.
Once the group all met again, we headed up to Winchester Castle. All that’s left of Winchester Castle (at least that we saw) was the great hall.
This hall was enough to pull at my historical fiction heart, though… because the place was entirely redone by Henry VIII so I found myself looking at his memorial window and going, “Oh! I know about Sir Henry Seymour!” and so forth. Many thanks to Philippa Gregory and her Tudors series. The Other Boleyn Girl has taught me well.
The centerpiece of Winchester Castle isn’t the Tudors window (or any window). It’s not the wall of knighthood or the beautiful brass relief of Her Majesty.
The centerpiece of Winchester Castle is a sixteen-foot wide table hanging on the wall.
This, ladies and gents, is the round table of King Arthur.
Or, at least, that what Henry VIII claimed when he was “refinishing” it for a royal visit. The table has actually been dated back to the 13th century, far later than King Arthur would have been alive, if he is more than legend. The table was repainted in the Tudor colors during Henry VIII’s reign, and his visage given to Arthur at the head.
Seats are assigned to the various knights around the table. Directly to Arthur’s right is Sir Mordred, a villainous persona if you know the stories. To his left is Gallahad, one of the three knights to achieve the Holy Grail. To Gallahad’s right is Lancelot (whom we all know) and beyond that, I cannot read the text well.
Legend or not, I adore anything having to do with King Arthur.
Next week, we shall travel to Paris! Another city that took my breath away. I’m afraid my pictures in Paris aren’t very good, as they were all taken from a bus or a boat… but the city is so beautiful and so remarkable, I’m really excited to share it with you.
There are only three installments of this series remaining: Paris, London, and Iceland. Then we’ll go back to Saturday’s being a bit more low key. I hope you al have enjoyed what I’ve share so far! All I can really say about it is that if you love culture and history and have not been to some of these sites, I recommend them with all my heart.