Saturday, June 1, 2013

British Tea Time

Castle Comb, Cotswolds
My study abroad experience in St. Petersburg may have ended, but I know I have many more adventures in my horizon. So, I decided to continue writing this blog to chronicle my travels after my time in St. Petersburg and even in the far future. I am mostly continuing to write this blog in order to preserve the memories of my travels for years to come, however I hope many of you will read my blog in order to consider how to best conduct your own vacations from my experiences. And now to begin...

After flying out of St. Petersburg, I met my parents in the London Heathrow Airport in order to board our 2 week long cruise Baltic Cruise aboard the Holland American ship The Ryandan. Before our cruise ship’s departure, we had a full two days to explore the quaint English countryside. We loaded our rental car and made the hour trek to Stonehenge. Without a doubt the English countryside was magnificent. On the road, hundreds of fields covered with bright golden yellow flowers dotted the landscape and magnificent trees with white and pink flowers bloomed throughout the countryside. Immediately before arriving at Stonehenge, we ate the obligatory fish and chips with malt vinegar before driving up one last hill and gaining our first glimpse of the towering gray rocks of Stonehenge. At first glance, the rocks simply seem like large stones set in a gorgeous field landscape. However, I really enjoyed listening to the unknown history of these mysterious stones. Apparently sometime between 3500 and 1000 BC, the residents of the southern British region transported many of the Blue stones found at Stonehenge from mountains 300 miles away in Wales. They then placed these rocks in a ring formation that perfectly reflected the summer solstice. The rock formations were even used as a calendar; one could tell the month of the year depending on the which rocks were covered with rays of light. My mom joked that maybe Stonehenge was used for witchcraft, but nobody knows and the rocks remain as mysterious and beautiful as ever.
The Roman Baths in Bath

Next stop on our English country tour: the city of Bath. I really enjoyed our short stay in this city. At first glance, Bath is a medieval English city. Cars wind between stone buildings on narrow cobblestone streets, spirals are readily visible towering about the city rooftops, and gothic styled churches appear around many corners. Even though simply strolling through the parks and winding alleyways of the small city is pleasant, the highlight of any trip to Bath is the archeological site - the Roman Baths. Discovered a few centuries ago, this Bath that dates back to the Roman empire is amazing to behold. The baths are formed from hot water springs, and they were considered by the Romans to be a sacred place. I was surprised to discover that the Romans dedicated the baths to the goddess Minerva, and even wrote letters and curses to the goddess on thin lead parchment, which they flung into the hot springs, hoping their desires were granted. At the site, there was even a small archeological site with Roman archaeological finds on display. The greatest of these being the Gorgon, which many archeologists believe to be an emblem that infused Celtic traditions with those of the Romans. The Baths were not only a historical lesson on the influence of the Roman Empire in present-day England, but it was also quite the experience to see the classical Roman architecture juxtaposed with the grand medieval architecture of the city of Bath.

After our morning in Bath, my parents and I drove north to the quaint English region known as the Cotswolds. In the Cotswolds, you will find idealistic English villages. The regions is filled with small english villages where thatched roof houses, gardens, small doors, and beautiful fields. Since we only had a half a day in this tranquil location, we only had time to visit two of the Cotswolds most beautiful villages: Castle Comb and Bibury. For a quick lunch break, we stopped at a local farm in the Cotswolds- Allington Farm. Tripling as a farm, store, and restaurant the place was packed with locals. And I think I know why- the food was delicious. One of the best and unique burgers I have ever tasted: goat cheese, beets, caramelized onions. The burger literally melted in my mouth. Then it was off to Castle Comb. We simply strolled around the town, taking pictures of the cutest little house I’ve ever seen and listening to the birds chirping. The town had a running brook through the central square. The entire experience reminded me of England’s own Shire (but for normal sized people, not hobbits). Then it was another 45 minute journey north-east to my favorite Cotswolds city (well at least so far my favorite): Bibury. Bridges, walking trails, quaint cottages, gardens filled with vividly colored flowers, and an ancient church- This was the magic of Bibury. It’s hard to describe the truly idealistic nature of this village. My parents and I spent an hour or so in complete bliss, eating ice-cream cones and marveling at the wonders of the English countryside before making our way to our hotel closer to Dover. The Cotswolds might not be the most exciting destination in the world, but simply relaxing and enjoying the scenery of the quaint English villages in the region will forever be ingrained on my memory. The region is simply magical. 

Dover Castle and the beginning of the White Cliffs
Our final day in England before embarking on our cruise ship involved a brief exploration of the wonders of Dover. The city can only be described as an English sea port town. Board walk, fishing villages, and British flags abound. What really puts Dover on the map though is the White Cliffs and Castle. The city of Dover itself is situated below the infamous White Dover Cliffs. And sitting on top of the cliffs is no other than the imposing figure of the Dover Castle. Before boarding, my parents and I explored the grounds of this 12th century Castle famous for its secret wartime tunnels and strategic significance for defending the borders of southern and eastern England during the medieval ages. The most memorable image of Dover occured when we said Bon Voyage to the city on our cruise ship. When we left the port, we were graced with a view of the white cliffs stretching along the shore for miles with the Dover Castle perched upon the edge. I immensely enjoyed my brief stay in the countryside of England. My parents and I were reunited after 4 months, ate delicious English food, and laughed at our impaired sense of direction. However, I know that I must return someday to London and the English countryside. There’s just so much more history, landscape, and culture to appreciate in the country of my ancestors.

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