11 June 2016

England Day Three: Gloucester, Bibury, Church Handborough

Jet lag is a pain.  I'm glad we're staying long enough to fully adjust because even on our third day I feel exhausted.  I'm looking forward to a good night of sleep tonight!

We did get a bit of a late start this morning, which did feel nice.  After breakfast we went directly into town in the direction of the cathedral.  The cathedral exterior was featured in an episode of Doctor Who, so, naturally, we had to go in search of the location they'd filmed.  This brought us stumbling upon a church called Saint Mary de Lode.  This is the oldest church in Gloucester (given that the cathedral was a monastery first).  I don't know that the church gets too many visitors since it's a bit off the path and the cathedral is so prominent - they were excited to have us.  The church itself was preparing for a wedding and had cakes and coffee for sale.  We got a personal tour of the facility with special attention on the organ, one of only two of its kind in the country.  It's an organ with origins in the mid 1700s. It was a pretty detour.

We arrived at the cathedral just in time for a tour of the crypt.  We couldn't see too much of the crypt - it's being used for a film at the moment (no official word on what, so we're taking that to mean Game of Thrones.)  The tour guide was excellent and gave lots of really interesting information on the history of the structure and its function.  I learned the origin of the term "upper crust" - bread used to be made over the fire, which meant that temperature regulation was nearly impossible, and very often the bread was burnt on the bottom and cooked nicely on the top.  The "upper crust" would be given to the wealthy, the lower pieces given to the poor.  She also pointed out an area that was used to stow some of the treasures of England during WWII.  Apparently, the government sent Gloucester a mysterious box and asked them to hold onto it for the duration of the war.  They found out later that it was the throne for the king/queen.  The humor of this story comes from Edward II, whose shroud was stored on top of the throne, something his son (Edward III) would have been quite pleased with, as he was always upset that his father hadn't officially been crowned king.  At last, after six hundred years, Edward II got an accidental turn.

Gloucester Cathedral has played host to many films, including Harry Potter.  I had a supreme sense of deja vu walking into the cloisters - suddenly I was in Hogwarts.  It's easy to see why they picked it - the stone work in the hall is unbelievably detailed and pretty.  The courtyard in the center is also beautiful - most that I've seen are relatively plain with grass and trees, but this one had stone pathways, a fountain, and flowers everywhere.  I really enjoyed it.

Before we left we were treated to a practice by the South Cotswold Choral Group, the Burford Singers, the Regency Sinfonia Orchestra and some soloists.  They were rehearsing for a concert of The Dream of Gerontius by Elgar being performed tonight.  We didn't stay for the whole thing, but it was quite the contrast from the off key "California Dreamin'" experience from yesterday - the orchestra and choir all resonating around the stone of the cathedral was a dream.  I can only hope we continue to stumble upon music experiences on this trip.  It's been so fun!

From Gloucester we drove to Bibury.  Bibury is "shut up, this can't be real" kind of cute.  It's almost saccharine.  It's the kind of look that I'm pretty sure men who hate Jane Austen imagine when they're dragged to what my grandpa calls "bonnet movies" - only instead of being a set, it's real.  Bibury has a row of cottages that used to house a thriving weaving market.  Now people still live there (seriously).  The trade off for living in heaven, it seems, is being surrounded by Asian tourists.  I've never seen so many Asians all in one place in England, ever.  I'd guess it to be a fluke, but one of the houses had a sign up that declared its garden to be "Private" in not just English, but what looked to be Japanese and Mandarin.  In spite of the insane tourism, though, Bibury was well worth the drive.  The drive in, the town itself, and the drive out were all so beautiful I nearly melted into a puddle of Anglophilia.

We ended today checking into our first Airbnb stay in a town called Church Handborough, about 20 minutes outside of Oxford.  It's a quaint little town and it's nice to have some space after being in hotels.  We have a private kitchen and living area, shared bathroom, and two bedrooms (I get my own room! Yay!!). We also have a private garden that I can't wait to eat breakfast in.  Our hostess is very nice and has lots of great advice on what to see in the area.  She's been a tour guide in a few of the major Oxford sites, so she knows her stuff.  It will be fun to stay.

We ended the day with a quick trip to the co-op for breakfast and bagged lunch options, then headed to the Hand and Sheers - the local pub.  Pub etiquette is something that Americans are often oblivious to.  You go in and pick a table, order at the bar when you're ready, and stay as long as you like.  Imagine my surprise, then, when we went into this pub to eat and went in with the intention of finding a place to sit when we were asked if we had a reservation.  Reservation?  It was already after 8:00 PM, and this was a pub.  Since when were reservations required?  Fortunately, they were able to "squeeze us in" (they had at least five empty tables), and the food was excellent.

Finally, things Britain does that America should do:

Digestive biscuits.  Especially the chocolate and caramel ones.  I know you can find them in the states, but they are so blasted expensive.

Cathedrals.  This is a little unique to Mormon-country, but I hate that there aren't places that are open virtually all the time for thought and prayer and worship.  Our churches are almost too functional and our temples dedicated primarily to the work we do in them.  Although both of these locations can (and should be) used for reflection and prayer, there's something different about having a house of worship that is beautiful and set aside for time to reflect.

Pub culture.  Pubs in Britain are places to hang out and chat and be together with friends and family.  In America, pub (or bar) culture generally stems from saloon culture.  I love hanging out in pubs.

And what keeps me from being an ex-pat:

My friend Evelyn linked me to the British road sign guide published by the government.  It was 149 pages long.  My Driver's Ed book couldn't have been more than about 40.

Every shower I've used here has some kind of "trick" to getting it right.  I don't need to experiment with any shower I've ever used in the States.

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