I wish, WISH the word 'Roman' had at least one more syllable to be more of a play on words of "Walk like an Egyptian", mostly so I could include that Aquanetted doozy of a music video in this post. Oh, what the hell; here it is anyway:
Okay, now that that's out of my system, I can move on. Since my last post about our upcoming move to the Great White North (no, not cocaine), things have been, as you can imagine, insanely busy. My mom and aunt came to visit for ten days, and we had a blast. We went to Paris one weekend and did a super fun Fat Tire bike tour around the city, took part in a wine tasting that I would HIGHLY recommend, had a drink in Hemingway's old stomping grounds, and had some great food and wine. I freaking love Paris, and could go on and on about it, but I don't have much more to add to what I've already said here and here. C'est magnifique! When we were back in London, we toured the State Rooms of Buckingham Palace, had tea on the Thames for my mom's 60th birthday, did the Prudential RideLondon FreeCycle and ate a crap load of meat pies (not a euphemism, actual pies with meat in them). It was so much fun hosting them, and El and I were sad to see them go.
Despite having seen a lot of Europe, El and I realized that we haven't spent as much time exploring the UK and that time was running out (cue giant hourglass with Jasmine in it). Our remaining time in Europe is pretty much spoken for, so we had to prioritize what we wanted to see. We ultimately decided on Canterbury Cathedral, Hadrian's Wall, York, and Cambridge.
Canterbury Cathedral is only an hour and 20 minute drive, so a quick day trip took care of that. I really enjoyed reading The Canterbury Tales in high school (shout out to Ms. Rabbers!), and was intrigued by its history with Thomas Becket's murder and how people responded with pilgrimages to the site. Much of the Middle Age-era church is under scaffolding, but its stained glass windows were stunning, and we saw the tombs of Edward, the Black Prince, and Henry IV, both remarkably preserved and still bearing a lot of its paint color. Definitely worth a visit.
Last weekend, we did an ambitious overnight trip up north. The plan was to visit Hadrian's Wall, spend the night in York and check out Cambridge on our way home the next day. Okay, so why those three places? If you know me, you know that my major was in Ancient Civilizations, and anything Roman or Greek lights my fire like Zeus spotting a mortal woman. Maybe not to that extreme, but I'm pretty obsessed with antiquity. Long story short, in the first century the Emperor Hadrian built a wall from the east to west coast of England that separated Brittania from the northern "barbarians". There were forts dotted along the route, and much of the wall itself is still standing.
Despite the 6am departure time and a ketchup explosion in the McDonald's parking lot that left me covered in tomato, we made it to Birdoswald Roman Fort in about five hours. Along the way, highway signs that just said 'THE NORTH' on them and rolling green hills made our drive entertaining. Because we were going north, I wore my I <3 Winterfell t-shirt and dire wolf pendant; Elliot took one look at me, shook his head, and said I looked like such a nerd. #blessed
Birdoswald Fort was kind of cheesy, with a guy dressed as a centurion (although I give him props for greeting people in Latin) giving sword lessons to kids, but the area around it was gorgeous. The weather played nice, and the sunshine made the walk around the fort ruins and surrounding grasslands very pleasant. We got to walk ON the wall for a bit, which made me super excited, and the stones seemed like they went on forever. I loved it so much.
We drove the short distance to the Vindolanda Roman fort, famed in the nerd world for the 1,400 wooden tablets unearthed there. New ones were recently discovered, and many contained references to a soldier named Masclas, a guy who had his priorities in check ("If you do not send beer, I cannot answer for my men"). I love this type of discovery because it really shows how little human nature has changed over time; it's a big reason why I love history so much.
The fort was MUCH bigger than Birdoswald, and it took us over an hour to walk around the ruins of the headquarters, grain houses, tavern, bathhouse, the excavation site, and through the impressive museum. Excavations are still ongoing, and the archaeologists estimate that it will take 100 more years of excavation and research before work there is finished. The museum was small, but impressive, with its collection: lots of leather shoes, jewelry, bones (including a skull that was on a post by a guard tower), the "gladiator glass", and of course, the famed wooden tablets. It was super cool, especially since you could actually make out the writing on some of them.
Newcastle was on the way down to York, so we stopped for a beer along the river. It's a pretty cool industrial city, with lots of bridges, street art, and warehouses; El and I wished we had the time to explore it more. York was only an hour and a half from Newcastle, and we made it there later in the afternoon. One of my coworkers used to live in York and recommended that we check it out, and I'm so glad we did. York. Is. ADORABLE. There are super cute buildings, including all the medieval shops on "The Shambles" street, bridges decorated with the York white rose, the imposing York Minster, Clifford's Tower (all that's left of the castle built by William the Conqueror), and stone medieval walls surrounding the city. In addition to its super cute aesthetic, York is a city with plenty of history to appreciate. Besides the above mentioned Clifford's Tower and York Minster, you can check out a Viking settlement and the Guy Fawkes Inn, where the hotel-pub's namesake was born in 1570. Definitely a ton to keep you occupied for a few days.
We spent the day walking around the city and checking out different pubs; while we did, we got the impression that the entire city was shitfaced. No joke, there were countless bachelorette parties, drunk gals singing and dancing with street musicians, and a bunch of people staggering through the streets and slurring their words. This wasn't at like 2am; I'm talking some serious 6pm boozing. On our own beer quest, we visited the oldest pub in York, Ye Olde Starre Inn, whose set up reminded us of Brazen Head in Dublin. In the Yorkshire Terrier, we chatted with a guy dressed in a yeoman warder outfit who told us all about how he dresses up in costumes when he goes to the pub because, "It's not as weird if a stranger comes to talk to you if he's wearing a costume." Uhh, not sure about that logic, guy. Elliot tried to quickly finish his beer so we could leave, but didn't manage it before the guy showed us pictures of his other costumes: Roman centurion, storm trooper, and a Dr. Who telephone booth time machine. We felt like there was a scam on the horizon, but we were fortunate to get out of there before he tried to sell us something.
Since we were in York, we grabbed some grub at the York Roast Co., a place that makes wraps with Yorkshire pudding. We watched the sun set over the bridge and city walls and visited another pub before calling it a night at the Middleton's Hotel. Because the entire city was drunk, we were awoken a few times that night by a loud group of girls and later a guy who was just running down the street, screaming. Sigh We're so old.
Our last stop on our mini road trip was Cambridge on our way home the next day. On the way, we drove past Sherwood Forest, which was kind of surreal because OMG ROBIN HOOD MEN IN TIGHTS. Or just Robin Hood. Cambridge was as cute a town as I expected: a big grassy University campus comprised of picturesque colleges, including the most well-known King's College, a river filled with Venetian style boats, and lots of little shops and restaurants that dotted the streets. The roads were packed with tourists, which made the streets difficult to navigate at times. We didn't go into any of the individual colleges but did have lunch at the 16th century The Eagle Pub, famed for its unique WWII history and being the place where Watson and Crick announced their DNA discovery. During the war, RAF servicemen would patron the pub and burn their names (with their lighters) onto the walls and ceiling. The space where they'd gather is now known as the RAF Bar, and it's now also decorated with military patches and signatures of famous military brass who've visited. Given our penchant for WWII history, it was a really cool experience to have lunch where so much history has taken place.
A walk with the Romans, a drink in a 16th century pub, and WWII history to boot, all in 24 hours? I guess you can say that we conquered the north...
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