10 June 2016

England: Day Two - Salisbury, Stourhead, and Gloucester

Day Two: Salisbury Cathedral, Stourhead Gardens, Gloucester

We got an early start this morning.  With lots to see and an early night to help us out, we were up and ready to go by 8:00.  Our hotel provided breakfast so we got the full English breakfast experience.  English breakfasts really do need to be experienced, but not every day.  They generally consist of a fried egg, sausage, bacon (thick Canadian style bacon, not thin American slices), fried toast, hash browns, tomato, and some beans.  Sometimes (like today) some mushrooms and black pudding are thrown into the mixture.  Black pudding has been hailed as a "superfood" lately, but I think it's nasty - it's a kind of sausage but it looks like. . .oh, I don't know.  A burned slice of spam.  Most of the places we're staying on this trip will have self-catering breakfasts, though, so today we gorged ourselves on an unhealthy selection of grease.  Delicious!(?)

After breakfast we walked over to the cathedral.  We went last night but were too late to tour the cathedral properly - they were having a service, though, and from outside we could hear the organ blaring and the congregation singing while we walked the grounds.  It was stunning.  We were lucky enough to hear the organ from the inside today - the Salisbury school was holding a special service for their students to honor the Queen's birthday and to acknowledge the work of their upper students who are finishing their exams. (They have five more weeks of school, poor sods.) Having the students there meant we were treated to more music as we were wandering the beautiful halls of the cathedral.  (Did you know that "Pomp and Circumstance" has lyrics?  When the students were leaving and the organ started playing the song, all of them - even the youngest students - started unofficially singing along. It wasn't a ritual, they just knew the song.)

Salisbury Cathedral is a bit of a marvel - it was built in a mere 38 years (more impressive when you remember that it was completed in 1258).  It contains what is believed to be the world's oldest working clock.  Said clock has ticked more than 8 billion times since it was installed. Wild.
The back of the cathedral has what may be my favorite stained glass I've ever seen.  It was my favorite back when I first visited Salisbury and has remained so since.  It's a deep blue glass known as the "Prisoners of Conscience" window, dedicated to anyone "imprisoned because of of their race, sexual orientation, religion, or political views or beliefs."  From a distance it is primarily blue with flecks of color - up close those flecks of color are faces.  They remind me of a painting of Christ by Minerva Teichart called "Rescue of the Lost Lamb".  I love this painting for many reasons.  In it, there are innumerable white sheep.  Christ holds a black baby lamb.  I love this because of what it could represent to others of color who often feel lost in a world that seems to favor those of us who are white.  I also love what it means to me personally, since I often feel that my views and beliefs are at odds with the culture I'm surrounded by.

There is a definite message of the power of freedom of speech within the Cathedral.  This seems appropriate since it houses one of the remaining original copies of the Magna Carta. There was a wonderful exhibit on the history and power of the freedom of speech.  Given the upcoming vote in Britain on whether or not they should stay with the EU, there does seem to be a good deal of discussion on the responsibility and blessing of freedom of speech.  That in mind, I will use mine to say that both of our presidential candidates are insane.

After leaving Salisbury we went to Stourhead.  The last time I went to Stourhead it was nine years ago, and after I'd gotten up at 4:00 in the morning to see Stonehenge.  I was beyond tired and in real need of a bathroom, so I didn't see much of it (which was foolish.) We made up for it on this trip by exploring for about two hours.  The gardens of Stourhead are so wonderfully English - they are manicured to look like they haven't been manicured at all.  Rolling lawns and endless rhododendron, lush trees and a beautiful lake - this estate has it all.  It also has great Romanesque temples, referencing the early 1800s when the British were obsessed with the ancients.  Speaking of which, Pride and Prejudice was filmed here.  Back when I was there with my study abroad companions, we took many "longing for Darcy" dramatic pictures.  This time around, I took "suck it.  I don't need a man!" happy pictures.

From there, we traveled to Gloucester.  Gloucester is steeped in religious history and has lots of connection to America, at least according to our hotel concierge.  There used to be a foundry that made bells, for example, that built the first set of church bells in America (found in Boston).  Methodist and Unitarian branches of faith in America both have roots in this city, and the cathedral is impressive.  It's one of the oldest in England, with the foundations having been commissioned as early as AD 678 and officially finished sometime in the 1300s.  The stained glass contains what is thought to be the earliest images of golf (several hundred years prior to golf showing up in Scotland.  Scandal!), and there are carvings that represent men playing some sort of game with a ball - assumed to be football (naturally).

We didn't get to see the cathedral properly (we got there too late), but we did get the delightful treat of hearing an amateur local choir perform for their families.  They performed some hymns, but mostly a motley collection of pop songs, including "California Dreamin'", "Happy Together" and "Fernando".  Let me tell you something.  American choirs spend a huge amount of time trying to learn to sing like the British in more formal songs, but Brits could learn a thing or two about letting go on pop songs.  It was delightfully and adorably hilarious, bless them.

We stopped at a Tesco on the way back to the hotel to pick up some snacks for the road.  I had to refrain from buying ALL THE THINGS.  We've still got three weeks before we need to stock up on food to bring home, after all.  I settled on caramel digestives, a pack of Galaxy Minstrels (basically M&Ms but with way better chocolate), fruit pastilles and, of course, a Müller yoghurt corner.  If you've talked with me about Europe ever before, you know my feelings on European yoghurt vs. American yoghurt.  So, that said: today's round of "things the British do that Americans should do too":

1. Yoghurt.  It's less sugary here.
2. The motorway (interstate/freeway) often has chevrons painted on the pavement.  These are designed to tell you how much distance should be between you and the car ahead of you (two).  This would be crazy useful on I-15.

In the interest of fairness, these are "things Americans do that keep me from becoming an ex-pat":

1.Clear street signs.  It's probably because I'm a novice navigator to the British motorways, but the signs here have no logic that I can work out.  I'd die without google maps.
2.Showers large enough for even a person of my size to bend over in (we have newer plumbing systems, so this is a bit unfair since the British can't help it, but all the same.)
3. Less change.  Americans have the penny, nickel, dime, and the quarter in basic circulation.  (Granted, the nick names are useless to foreigners and we don't put how much each coin is worth on the coin, but at least there aren't many to learn.). The British have the penny, two pence, five, ten, twenty and fifty pence coins, as well as the pound and two pound coins.  That's seven different coins to heft around.  Bills are so much easier to deal with (and probably cheaper to produce) and having an enormous collection of change only encourages me to get rid of it, which means spending far too much money on sweets.  (Wait. . . Maybe this isn't a bad thing. . . )

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