I’ve been in Ireland for nearly two months, and my blog has still only covered my trip to England. So, I’m going to fast forward a little to the present, and then go back and fill in some highlights in the coming days.
Last year, I started planning to leave Vancouver and head to Dublin, Ireland to work with a friend from back home, who has been living and doing community work in Dublin’s inner city for over ten years. She recently started up a non-profit that aims to build community through creativity. I had heard about what she was doing, and was immediately drawn to the creative and unscripted aspect of her work. And so, with lots of help from friends and family, and amid much chaos, I finally left Vancouver, then left Canada.
It’s definitely been an amazing time for me. I’ve never lived anywhere except for Canada, and Dublin has been one great experience after another. The people here are wonderful and very friendly, and the city itself feels so much more lively than I experienced in Vancouver. Even during the week, the streets are full of people enjoying the good weather and craic, and music can be heard around every corner. Dublin is a big small town, where you are very likely to run into people you know, and everyone seems to be connected by a-friend-of-a-friend.
Over the past weeks I’ve been learning lots about Irish culture, getting connected with creative groups in the area, and generally having fun and making friends. It’s been loads of fun and very busy. I love the non-schedule, where every day is different from the last, and learning the secret language of Dubliners has been endlessly interesting. Dublin is all about relationships, and I learned very quickly that the only real way to get under the skin of the city is to already be under the skin, or to know someone who can get you under. I’m not under yet, but I’ve been glimpsing it, and digging hard in my own spheres. The first part of my time here was mostly spent exploring and learning, but now I’m in the swing of things and helping out more with events and design work for various people and groups connected to the organization I’m working with. There’s lots to do, but I’m also making progress on some personal projects, including a new sci-fi horror comic.
All told, it’s been a blast, and such a valuable learning experience for me. I have two more months here, and the best is yet to come!
Thursday: Everyone got up before the sun so we could leave the house at 4:30am, which means that my friends back in Canada had only just finished their dinner from the previous day, which means that this is too early. But, it means that the roads are fantastically free of other drivers, and we arrived in Derby in time to help my cousin’s kid get to school. We had a very relaxing day with the other kid, who is walking but not talking, and we went to the park for a picnic lunch and some play time (and an icecream!). Home again in time to pick up from school, then hanging out and playing and dinner and bed.
Friday: My cousin didn’t work today, so she, her brother, and I hung out and sorted out the kids for school and play time. Her kid was supposed to have a sports day at school, but it got cancelled.
Saturday: Today we went to Sudbury to see the Museum of Childhood and Sudbury Hall. After we arrived, we discovered my cousin had left her pass at home, so her husband drove back and got it while we waited. Eventually, we made it inside and toured the museum. It’s very obvious you are getting older when toys you still own are showing up in museums.
After lunch in the cafe, we walked around the corner to Sudbury Hall. It is a very ornate stately home, and the ceilings are so high, that in some rooms, the room is several meters taller than it is long or wide. Most of the rooms have period furniture in them. My favourite room was one on the second floor that is as wide as the entire house, called the Long Gallery. It is 51 meters long. Sudbury Hall appeared in Pride and Prejudice (1995).
After seeing the hall, we walked through the gardens and over to a small church. It was exactly what I think of when I think of a small country stone church, and I loved it.
Sunday: My cousin wasn’t feeling well, so her husband, her brother, the kids, and I went to a farm where they make delicious ice cream, and have some animals for people to feed and look at. They had an enormous rabbit named Arthur, who is a Continental Giant rabbit and was almost a meter long stretched out. There was also a new calf, and a monstrous goat as big as a donkey. After we got home and had some lunch, my cousin’s husband took her brother to the train station. We played in the sprinkler in the backyard during a brief window of sun.
Monday: Sports Day! We went to the school to watch (I mostly ran around with the other kid), and then home for lunch. After lunch, it was more fun times, playing in the garden and eating raspberries off the bush.
Tuesday: Caught a lift with my cousin into town, and walked to the bus station. While waiting there, I received a marriage proposal. Apparently, because neither he nor I were married, it was “no problem.” I eventually excused myself to check on the bus times, and when I returned I stayed hidden behind the bus shelter. I attached myself to a young lady who was also traveling alone, and we looked out for each other until we parted ways at Birmingham bus station. The next part of my travel was to Birmingham airport, where I caught my flight to Dublin. I arrived around 4 pm, and my landlady picked me up.
Today we got up early, and headed for the city of York, which has a history that goes back at least to Roman times, and evidence suggests thousands of years further than that. After crossing the Humber Bridge, we parked and rode the bus into the city center, and missed our walking tour by mere minutes. Sadly, the Minster (the big cathedral in York) was closed today. So we wandered down the Shambles (the very famous butchers’ street) and over to the York Castle Museum, which has a fascinating exhibit about fashion over the last 400 years, and a full sized recreation of an old Victorian city street that you can walk around, which has exhibits inside the shop windows. On the other side of the museum is a section that used to be a prison. Two prisons in two days – not bad! This one had an exhibit about World War One, so I’m now brushed up on my World War histories.
After the museum, we went to a grocery store and bought sandwiches, and ate them next to the fountain where the next walking tour would be starting. At 2:15pm, we began a wonderful free tour of York, with a knowledgeable guide to lead us through what’s left of the Roman fort, St. Mary’s Abbey, the King’s Manor, over the walls that still surround the heart of the city starting at Bootham Bar, the North-Western gate. We walked along the top of the old Roman walls, and back down at Monk Bar, the North-Eastern gate.
We left the tour before the end because we had to head home for an early night, and hit traffic of course. Home and to bed for a very early start tomorrow!
Near Louth is a town called Lincoln, which is (like almost everything in England seems to be) historically significant. But this is especially true of Lincoln.
One of its main attractions is Lincoln Castle, which was built by William the Conqueror on top of the site of an old Roman fortress. It is also the home of one of the original copies of the Magna Carta, of which only four remain today. Much later in life, the castle grounds served as a courthouse (which is still active) and a prison (which is not). I had already been here once before, over ten years ago, and it was extremely cool to go back and recognize certain areas. Unfortunately, the Magna Carta was absent because of trouble with humidity.
The prison also had a lot of information about the Great War, and Lincoln’s role in it as the “birthplace of the tank.” World War One would have gone on for who-knows how many more years without the introduction of the tank, and Lincoln is where the first ones were built. Yah, history!
Another amazing thing that Lincoln offers is a spectacular cathedral. I love stone churches, and just being in them is glorious. I think it would be especially cool to attend one, knowing how many people have been there and all the history it’s been through.
After leaving Lincoln, we headed for Newark to pick up my cousin from the train station, then had dinner there. Pizza was great, service was slow. Oh well!
Had a very relaxing day in Louth. My uncle and I walked around the town and through some lovely parks, and saw St. James’ Church.
My aunt and uncle have a beautiful garden, tucked away behind several other houses. They grow vegetables and fruit, but my favourite part of the garden is the pond. It’s raised above the path, so you can sit on the edge and look at the snails and tadpoles swimming around, and if you look closely you’ll see several resident frogs. Some of them seem to like to sit in a pile. I spent some time terrorizing photographing them, and even managed to catch a few.
Monday: After spending most of the morning and early afternoon at my aunt and uncle’s house (and eating their food instead making my own), we had a lovely stroll around Reepham. One thing I love about England is the old walking routes that still exist, tucked away between tall hedges, walls, and buildings. Walking through a veritable tunnel of greenery, it’s easy to imagine emerging into some kind of fantasy world. Went back to my cousin’s house to greet the triumphant heroes (and their friends) and have homemade macaroni and cheese. Went back to my aunt and uncle’s house to sort out a video chat with my family in Canada.
Tuesday: Went back to my aunt and uncle’s for breakfast, and they kindly took me to a town called Blakely, which is on the ocean. The surrounding area is mostly marsh and estuaries, and is a favourite spot for birders looking for water fowl. We walked along the path towards the sea, and returned to have a delicious lunch in the town. I had local crab sandwiches, and got to sit in a bay window during our meal. Back in Reepham, I went back to my cousin’s, and later we all went over to her parents’ place for dinner.
Wednesday: My cousin was only busy during the morning today, so we went to Norwich to meet one of her friends for lunch. We brought home some fancy cake from the cafe to eat for dessert. The plan originally was to go to Wells for the evening, but the weather was (unsurprisingly) terrible so we decided to stay in and watch a movie and eat our fancy cake.
Thursday: After I woke up, we got a call from my aunt inviting me over for lunch. So, after I’d seen my first-cousin-once-removed off on his adventure for the day, I walked over and had tea, while my aunt and uncle showed me photos and told me stories about my grandparents, most of which I’d never seen or heard before. After lunch, I borrowed a bicycle and rolled off in a roughly northerly direction, until (two minutes later) I came across a public footpath called Marriott’s Way, which used to be a rail line. Came across two bridges, a pond, lots of stinging nettle, and a pheasant. Didn’t make it very far (the Way goes all the way to Norwich) because I kept stopping to take photos of bugs, and I had to turn around because I hadn’t brought any water.
Friday: HAPPY CANADA DAY! I slept in and hopped on the bike again around 11am, this time heading in the opposite direction and turning down any old path that struck my fancy. I found some old cars, cycled a big loop back to where I’d already been, found a small wood along Smuggler’s Way where the trees had been planted in rows, and eventually made it back to town, where I ran into my aunt on the street. It felt almost like I was a local, bumping into people I knew! Went home, thought about going to a cafe, decided to stay home and draw. After my cousin came home and her boy went off for the weekend, some of her friends came over and we had a campfire in the backyard. Having a fire in the summer is such a treat, and totally not an option where I’m from. We had pizza, garlic bread, chocolate, and veggies. And we only got rained on a little bit.
Saturday: Today was a day to get a lot of things done! First, we swung by aunt and uncle’s house for tea and a last goodbye. Then, we wandered over to the local real estate agent to get some info for my cousin, and hightailed it up to see her new house. About two minutes after we made it home, torrential downpour yet again! Had lunch (and I bored my cousin and her friend by explaining what I do for work), and nipped over to visit her friend’s mom, whose house is in a little copse of trees that act like walls and a roof over a magical secret garden. Tea again, then off to Wells, a seaside town, where we had delectable fish and chips for dinner. Later, we walked along the beach, took silly pictures, and had a marvelous time. On our way home, we stopped at the grocery store to buy a picnic lunch and travel snacks for tomorrow.
Sunday: Woke up early to miss the worst the of the traffic on our way to Louth. My cousin and her friend generously gave me a ride all the way there, partly so they could visit with our aunt and uncle, but also because the bus there would have taken seven hours, instead of three by car (and also would have cost me around $55). We arrived with no trouble (even though we forgot to bring their address or phone number) thanks to their very clear directions. Delicious picnic lunch in the garden, visiting, hugs, thanks, goodbyes, and then cousin and friend made their way home. What a great week!
Slept great, my cousin made let me sleep in her room, while she is sleeping in the living room. My aunt and uncle came over for coffee and leftover cake from last night. Then they went back to their place to get ready while we made cheese sandwiches for a picnic, and got ready ourselves. They came back over and we all piled into the car and headed for Felbrigg. It was a fair drive, on narrow lanes between fields with thick hedges on either side. Brief glimpses of the countryside could be caught in flashes between gaps in the bushes.
Felbrigg was a large manor house, but the house and lands now belong to the National Trust. There was a lone sheep wandering through the parking field. After using the washroom, we went out into a field along the path a little ways, found a spot in the grass with no sheep poop, and settled in to eat our lunch. On our walk through the grounds, we saw a tree you can crawl into and stand up inside, tiny little frogs that are the same colour as the ground (so you have to watch your step!), swans and cygnets, dragonfly wings, a curious herd of cows, lots of muddy paths, and a small church built with a lot of flint (like many of the buildings in this area).
A few minutes after we got back in the car, the heavens opened up and there was much rain. We headed for Sherringham, and a few minutes off the main road, the rain stopped. Sherringham is a seaside village, and we had fish and chips for dinner there.
The market in London’s Camden Town is a riot of interesting shops, colourful people, and delicious street food. We arrived in the late morning, and met up with some assorted family members before wandering around and checking out what the market had to offer. My wonderful family treated me to a toasted bagel with pickles and meat (amazing good!) in the food court, I taught them about the word “hangry” (hungry + angry), then we poked around stalls and shops in the horse tunnels. I ended my time with them in a cafe, before heading back to the car to pick up my suitcase.
The London Underground is famous for its “Mind The Gap” slogan, and I have to say that there is something very cool about taking a transit system that has existed in one form or another for 150 years. I took the tube to Victoria Station, and walked to the bus station where I caught the National Express bus to Norwich. On the way to the station, in a shocking twist, I got asked for directions! What a change from my norm. I enjoyed looking out of the windows as we drove out of London, and I got to see the London Eye and Big Ben once more. Unfortunately, I fell asleep pretty soon after that and didn’t wake up again until we were already out in the country.
The drive up was uneventful, and the bus mostly empty. It rained quite heavily for part of the way, and dark clouds squatted on the horizon the rest of the time. I arrived in Norwich according to plan, and my next cousin was there to pick me up.
She made spaghetti for dinner and we had cake for dessert. And so begins a week here!
After my first full day in England, which consisted of lounging around the house, grocery shopping, and visiting, day two was full of sightseeing and playing tourist. I took a bus out to Oxford University, where I wandered through the narrow streets and between buildings that are hundreds of years old. It must be very interesting to attend school here, and not just because of the history and famous alumni, but because there are throngs of tourists roaming the campus (myself being one of them). That being said, if you do get a chance to visit Oxford, do, because it really is amazing, and even if you’re on a budget (like only paying for the bus there and back like I did) there’s still quite a bit to see.
Another interesting thing I saw was in a neat little museum about old science and technology. There was a globe there old enough that North America was half blank! On my way home, oddly enough, I had the same bus driver to and from Oxford, and even sat behind the same pair of women (who kindly let me use their phone to make a call). I also fell asleep and would have missed my stop, if the bus driver hadn’t remembered where I was getting off. Great people make for great travels!