Glasgow – not so great – but I’m glad I visited


In thinking back on it – There was no way that Glasgow was going to compete with Edinburgh. Our new friends from last night had told us that we were going from ‘culture’ to ‘clutter’ – and they were of course correct.

Our Glasgow Air BnB is at best adaquate – and totally loses when compared to the palace that is Isaac’s and Derek’s pad in Edinburgh. It’s a tiny 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom flat in a forgetable building above a store that sells wall paper in an industrial part of Glasgow. The living/dining/kitchen space is tiny, and the only table is hogged by our host Neil’s computer. To add insult to injury, he’s ironing when we arrive – so there’s his laundry everywhere. I’ll give him credit for asking what food to buy for our breakfast, but he’s also clear that we are on our own. He works evenings into the night, and won’t be up in the morning. He also has no maps to give us, and can’t even make suggestions on places to visit. Still, he welcomes us warmly, and that’s a good start.

Our room is basic – a bed, a window, a tiny desk, and the best part – an en-suite bathroom. That and the location near the city center are the best parts of Neil’s place. Oh well – this is our 6th Air BnB in 30 days – I guess one had to be 4 star. And after Isaac and Derek’s place – I’m not sure what would be needed to be 5 star.

Surprisingly – Neil tells us that he’s fully booked – and the income from Air BnB pays his rent. Hmm.

Anyway – we make our selves comfy. After he leaves for work, we move the computer off the dining table, fold away the ironing board, and basically create a space we can at least enjoy dinner in! We walk up to a nearby grocery store, get the makings of a nice dinner – and decide to tour Glasgow in the morning. We’re done for today.

The next morning – our one and only day in Glasgow – we opt to start by finding me a place for coffee – and then decide to check out the Cathedral. After that – well – we’ll go from there.

Unlike all of our other locations, this one is mostly industrial and shopping – so no upscale coffee shop to be seen. We hike up hill towards the Cathedral, going thru the ‘university’ section – I’m thinking there is bound to be coffee for the students. And I’m right – there it is! A cute coffee shop, with take-away latte. Color me happy.

The tour of the Cathedral is wonderful. The guide (where do they find these people) is super knowledgable, and very easy to listen to, and the history is very neat. Our fellow tourists are a german choir – and at one point they ask to test the acoustics. Lovely – totally lovely.

We then walk across to the St. Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life and Art. Seriously – St. Mungo’s of Harry Potter Fame. St. Mungo was a real guy – and he’s the patron saint of Glasgow. The Museum is well worth a visit. There’s a fairly large section devoted to different religions, comparing how various religions treat the same ‘life’ events – birth, death, marriage, coming of age, etc. It’s fascinating. They do lump some religions into big groups – Jewish and Christian are just two groups, there’s no effort to distinquish between variances in these groups, and probably justifably. There is a lot more difference between Christian and Sikh say.

We then stroll thru the University Campus, and wend our way towards downtown Glasgow. We check out the bronze of the Young Queen Victoria in George’s Square, admire some of the truly incredible building designs – and we grind to a total stop to admire one building that features an absolutely huge abstract metal peacock running the entire city block. Naturally, we also visit the Lighthouse – Glasgow’s center for Architecture.

Soon enough, we’re back at our overly cozy pad for dinner, relaxing, and bed. Tomorrow we begin the long – and since I’m writing this after the fact – thankfully uneventful trip back home.

So ends our 31 days in the UK.

We visited at least 28 museums, stayed in 6 Air BnB’s, visited 7 cities (London, Oxford, Birmingham, Morecambe, York, Edinburgh, and Glasgow), met some amazingly interesting people, ate glorious meals, learned a lot of history, rode the tube, took the train, traveled on buses and even managed one uber taxi.

And we did it all UNDER our $3000 Canadian per person including all travel budget.

The Intrepid Traveler and the Soup Lady rock another trip!

Signing off until the next time there’s something to report – The Soup Lady and her sidekick – The Intrepid Traveler.

Edinburgh – A Perfect Day


Some days are simply the best – and when you say goodnight – you know that this will be a day you’ll be talking about forever. That totally describes our third day in Edinburgh. An absolutely perfect day.

It started off really the night before. We’d gone to Evening Services at the Roman Catholic Cathedral – a totally enjoyable meeting with a wonderful sermon all about how G-d is just waiting for you to do your part. It reminded me of the old joke – A man keeps praying – G-d, let me win the lottery, G-d, let me win the lottery. After years of this, he finally hears a voice – “Buy a ticket already!”

If you don’t participate – you will never know what you are (or are not in some cases) missing! Anyway – it was a lovely, clearly local event – full of reminders of things upcoming (they are having a cocktail/mocktail party to fund raise and ‘meet the neighbors’ for example). The Priest was clearly playing to a full house – and knew it.

Services over, we returned home and our hosts warned us before heading out for the evening – tomorrow we are having a ‘brunch’ party with some friends – but it should be over by 5:00.

So pre-warned, our plan is to stay gone all day. Shouldn’t be a problem – Edinburgh is such a cool city.

Our first stop is Gladstone Land, a National Trust House that dates back hundreds of years – and has guided tours. The bottom of the House is a retail shop full of interesting things (plaid and wool being very popular motifs), but it’s the upstairs that you can only see on the tour that is the real prize. Our guide is at least 90 – and he makes it clear that his knees aren’t up to going quickly up the narrow sprial staircase (not original, built by the NT). He’s probably our best guide ever. His knowledge is encyclopedic – not just about the history of the House (it’s amazing), but about what the NT does and doesn’t do right. We alternatively laughed and sighed with him. He’d walk into a room – and ask – “Any Questions”. We’d just have to pick out one item – and he’d have the bit in his teeth and be away! He talked about making Bannock – and showed us Bannock flippers. He described the real estate doings of Gladstone (he was a terrible business man – but amazing at real estate), and made the rooms and the furnishings burst into life.

Wow. The Intrepid Traveler and I agree, not for the first time, that the Canadian Museums have seriously got to up their game. The Brits and the Scots have totally got us beat.

We leave 2 hours later much impressed with the challenges of living in Edinburgh thru the ages, and completely amazed that any of these buildings survived at all – let alone is such good shape. They knew how to build in those days – seriously solidly! This particular building was at least 5 (walk-up) floors – and it’s not a unique example. Some buildings are known to have been 14 stories – this is pre-elevators of course. The top and bottom floors were for the ‘lower’ class – middle floors for the ‘upper’ class. You can guess why!

Next on our list is lunch at a pub (this and Fish and Chips were on the Intrepid Traveler’s must do list). We bypass Onik (with it’s roasted pig in the window), The Witchery, and The Boosy Cow to eat at Deacon Brodies Tavern. Delicious Fish and Chips to share works for us – and we chit chat with our fellow dinners before venturing out again.

Our next stop is The Real Mary King Close, but I keep seeing men in Top hats, morning suits (that’s tails and grey pants – just FYI) and carrying large wooden batons. We passed a group heading down hill on our way up to Gladstone’s Land earlier, and are spoting more groups heading back up hill now. Can’t be a wedding – they aren’t ‘groupy’ enough. So naturally – curiosity gets the best of us, and we stop a pair to ask – “who are you”. And are rewarded by meeting two members of the Society of High Constables of Edinburgh. Today they are mostly ceremonial, but once they were the police of the city. And they regal us with a bit of their history starting in 1611 by order of King James VI. The older man of the pair tells us that he’s the last veteran of WWII in Edinburgh. He fought in Germany for 6 months at the end of war, having just turned 18.

You never know if you never ask!

On to The Real Mary King Close. We know this is going to be touristy – it advertises heavily, and you can find it mentioned on every map and in every guidebook. But our hosts thought that it was worth doing, despite the rather ‘touristy’ feel – and I must agree with them. You are greeted by a young guide who plays (rather on and off) the part of one of the folks known to have lived in the Close. The Close itself survived in tact because in 1875 or so, the city condemmed it, and built the Council Chambers (where our friends the High Constables were meeting) on top of the close.

Eveyone living in the close had to move out, and the rooms were sealed. So while the Close is now underground, it wasn’t always like this. In the late 17th century – this area was a warren of living spaces – some upscale (on the higher floors – above the stench of Edinburgh), and some lower class. But all happy to have a place to call home.

The tour lasts an hour, includes some pretty neat talking pictures that give you a bit of a flavor of life in these spaces in those days – and a rather dingy and dark room intended to impart the flavor of life in these spaces during the plague.

It’s not at the incredible level of the Jorvik Viking Experience in York, and our young and very friendly guide did her best but didn’t have the wealth of knowledge, nor the freedom to deviate off the route that our other guides did – but I did find it an interesting experience. I’m glad we did it – but I’m also glad we did it last!

Tours done – we decide to walk down the Royal Mile – mainly because every guide book says to do it, but eventually run out of steam and knees. We hop a bus – planning to get off at the port and at least catch a peek of the Royal Yacht “Britannica”. But before we get all the way to the port – we spot a huge Tesco’s! Food – glorious food. So we jump bus and do a quick shop for dinner. We’ll need food for tonight (It’s just past 5:00 and surely the party is finished), and tomorrow because our journey is taking us to Glasgow and we don’t know the lay of the land there.

Shopping done (We have become incredibly fond of Tesco’s Roast Chicken – I admit it), we grab a bus back home. Walking up to our cozy home, we spot two young guys standing on our stair case. We take bets that they are from the dinner party – and are proven right when they greet us by saying “You must be Isaac and Derek’s guests!”

How did they figure that out so fast. Do you think Isaac and Derek were talking about us?

We walk up to the flat and are greeted by Derek who invites us to join the party. After saying no a few times, we finally admit to being totally keen to meet some locals – and join in.

One of their friends, a very good amateur chef, has made roast pork with apple sauce and potatoes – and two fabulous desserts. The Pavlova is a killer dish – she’s planning on submitting it to a cooking contest in the fall, and I’m sure she’ll do well. There’s wine (lots and lots), there’s chocolate, there’s cheese – and there’s delightful conversation.

We are easily as curious about their lives as they are about ours – and when one conversation lags, another one even more interesting begins. At around midnight – The Intepid Traveler and I admit that our stamina is not up to more of this – but our new friends delight in singing us ‘good-bye’.

Memorable day, memorable evening, memorable place, memorable people.

It’s been a perfect day.

But tomorrow we’re off again – it’s a bus to Glasgow this time – so we trade hugs and thanks – and say good night.

Signing off – The Intrepid Traveler and the Soup Lady.

Edinburgh Castle – another “Must Do” Tour!


Our list of “Must Do’s in the UK” is getting longer and longer. We’re going to run out of time before we run out of stuff to see, hear stories about, explore, and experience. But isn’t that the best kind of holiday? When you are sorry to leave – and have to promise yourself that some day you’ll be back.

But on to the Castle. Isaac and Derek warn us that pre-booking tickets is a seriously good idea, so we do so – and it’s a really good thing! We get to the esplanade where they do the Tattoo (sadly only starting next month) and there are two neat lines.

Did I mention that everyone here seems to love to line up? It’s quite the reverse from the Canadian and American tendancy to mush together if there’s no clear way to line up. Here they line up as a matter of course.

Anyway – two neat lines. Line 1 – less than 2 people long – is for those with pre-booked tickets. Line 2 – stretching from one end of the Esplande to the other – is for folks who didn’t pre-book. Lesson learned. Pre-book people! You get a 2 hour time slot, and surely you can estimate your time that closely, right?

Well – we manage to log in with 2 minutes to spare. Not sure what would have happened if we’d missed our slot, fortunately I don’t have to find out.

After the customary bag search, we enter the castle and line up (again) to pay for audio guides. That task done – we sit to listen to the history of the castle – and admire the view over the ‘New Town’. There has been something ‘royal’ perched high on this massive rock outcroping for at least 2000 years – but the current castle only dates back 1000 years or so in the very oldest sections.

Once again, the Intrepid Traveler and I marvel at history that goes back so very far. And trust me – a 500 year old slight is as good as yesterdays. The Scots refer to the times that Henry VIII attacked as if it was recent history. And the fact that Scotland and England were officially joined (by a perfectly un-war like treaty in 1703) just doesn’t appear as relevant as the ‘Rough Wooing’ of the 1500’s.

But Castle History aside – the Castle is a marvel of engineering, and there are 5 different museums within its walls to investigate. But we start with lunch – or at least a cup of hot tea to share. It’s cold up here – and the heat of the lower part of Edinburgh persuaded us to dress lightly. A mistake. It’s really cold up here.

After our warm-up, we check out the first of the museums – The National War Museum of Scotland. It’s a general overview – but very interesting. Unlike Canadians – the Scots seemed to have gleefully gotten involved in as many conflicts as they could. If they weren’t at war as a nation, they were fighting as mercenaries. And they were well respected and in fact feared. One guide reminds us that they were once refered to as those “Devils in Skirts” or the “Ladies from Hell” – a reference to both their fearsome fighting skills, and the Kilt.

After the over-view, we visit two smaller museums devoted to the history of specific regiments, for me the highlights of the entire tour. The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (also known as the Scot’s Grey’s for their Grey Horses) figured promently in the battle of Waterloo (1815). They captured the Eagle, Flag and Banner of the 43rd Regiment of the Grand Armee. Which was quite a feat. The French held the Eagles with high regard, and didn’t give it up easily. Most importantly – because it was captured, it survived the general melt-down and distruction of these objects after Napoleon I’s defeat. A great deal of the museum is given over to a discussion of the events on that historic day – and the Banner, Eagle, and Flag are given pride of place. I take lots of pictures, buy a postcard copy of a painting of the event – and even get my husband (shhh – don’t tell him) – a pair of cufflinks with the eagle.

The other regimental museum is devoted to the Royal Scots – and provided an over view of their history – and listed their regimental honors from the 17th century when they helped Charles I against the Covenanters. The exhibit ends with some current personal historys of members of this famed fighting force.

Another highlight were the displays on the Prisons of War. There were three parts to this facinating display – a fairly current ‘prison’ dating back only 50 years, a demo prision from the time of Napoleon I, and an exhibit of information on Prisons of War in more general terms. Worth more a quick visit for sure.

There are several parts of the castle open to a quick look-see – they are ok, but nothing to write home about. I did like visiting the room where James IV of Scotland and James I of England was born. Here in Scotland they never refer to him as ‘only’ James I – he is always refered to with both titles. Told you – really long memories!

Anyway – his mother is the infamous Mary, Queen of Scots – and finally after over 50 years of not quite getting it – The Intrepid Traveler and I finally figure out how Mary, Queen of Scots is related to Elizabeth I. We’d always somehow (ok – all Brits reading this – blame it on our lousy history courses) thought that Mary was Elizabeth’s Sister. And all the references to ‘Cousin’ to us was just another way of avoiding the awkwardness of ‘half-sister’. Wrong – completely wrong. Mary, Queen of Scots is the dauther of the Sister of Henry VII – Ie: Elizabeth and Mary, Queen of Scots share grand-parents in Henry VII and his wife. When Mary, Queen of Scots (not Mary – daughter of Henry VIII) was 2 years old, Henry VIII wanted to bethroth her to his new born son, Edward. The Scots saw this as what it was – a grab for church property – and said – no. Hence the ‘rough wooing’ series of invasions.

Well – now that I understand this – I am a bit clearer on why Elizabeth I picked James IV of Scotland to inherit her throne. He is the great-grand-son of her Grand-father – Henry VII. And at that point – her closest living male relative in a direct line.

We finish our tour with a mandatory glimpse of Scotland’s Crown and Septure, and admire the Destiny Stone that has, after hundreds of years, been returned to Scotland. (Don’t ask).

We hike back out of the castle, pre-book tickets for 2 tours tomorrow – and ride home. Dinner, some wine, and bed – a perfect plan!

The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler – signing off

On the road again – this time we’re bound for Scotland


We leave Liz’s place with much sadness – we had a wonderful time at her house – and we loved York. I’m not sure how Edinburgh and Glasgow can possibly compete – but I guess we shall find out.

We retrace our route to the train station, and as is traditional – arrive too early. Never mind – I shall have a latte while we wait.

We board the train – and again watch the scenery fly by as we head North. Wait a minute – we’re not heading North. My head is pretty sure of this – and when I check on the compass I have on my iphone – it agrees. We’re heading West. Why would anyone want to go West to end up North?

Looking hard at the maps – and thinking about the geography of the UK – I realize that the island of Great Britian doesn’t actually run North South – it’s slanted a bit towards the West. And York is not in the middle of the island – it’s actually quite close to the Eastern Beaches. So the train is heading away from the beaches before the track curves northward.

Whew. We really did want to get to Edinburgh tonight.

The scenery is pretty much the same as it was on our way from Manchester. No dry stone fences, lots of sheep and cow herds, and the occasional horse or three. After about 2 hours, we actually find ourselves running alongside the North Sea. Lighthouses, beaches – and the occasionally cement block house left from WWII – dot the sea side. Sometimes the cliffs plunge off directly into the sea, other times the land takes a gradual slope seaward – but this is an island – and finally – after 4 weeks of touring – we’re seeing the proof.

In Edinburgh, we are once again greeted by a monster of a train station – lofty glass roof and steel ribs clearly label it ‘Victorian’. They were really, really good builders for sure.

We get our luggage off the train (just a bit of help required this time), and find a lift, find an exit, and start walking towards our Air BnB lodging. Isaac and Derek have been emailing and messaging us non-stop – they want to be sure to be home when we arrive to make sure we have no issues with the keys. They also know that we are going to need help up the steps. Good thing they made sure to greet us – their over-the-top, most amazingly beautiful home is a giagantic flat in an A listed building dating over 230 years ago. And it’s up 3 very tight flights in a very small and very narrow spiral staircase. But Isaac grabs one case in one hand, one case in the other – and without stopping for breath fairly runs our cases up to the flat.

Wow. Oh Wow. Seriously Wow. No – really. Wow.

I’m speechless just walking into the entrance hall. This place is glorious.

Later in the evening, Derek explains the limits that being in an A listed building puts on a renovation – but right now – we are just simply stunned. The entrance hall is larger than my daughter’s flat in London. The bathroom (just for us – no sharing) is huge as well – and the ceilings seem to go up forever. We estimate them at 18 feet high, based on Isaac’s height of 6’4″. We’ve never seen spaces like this in the UK outside of palaces.

Isaac shows us our room, explains how the locks work – and excuses himself. He needs to go back to work – but he will be home tonight to make us welcome.

We quickly shop for dinner at the nearby Tesco’s – and then try to locate the Roman Catholic Cathedral. We know it’s here – it appears on both our map and on ‘Maps’ on my iphone, but we can’t spot it.

How do you hide a Cathedral in plain sight?

Well – it turns out that it is hidden on purpose. Religious freedom in the UK in general, and Scotland in particular has never been guaranteed – and at the time that the Cathedral was first built – Catholics were on the out. So the founder of the Cathedral squeezed it in on an anglular corner, squished between two houses and a series of shops. Today the Cathedral is much much larger – but it is still slightly angled to the street – and thus is only obvious from very certain viewing angles. Interesting stuff, eh?

Once we’ve gotten the basics out of the way, we decide to ride the tram and the bus to the Royal Mile, the ‘high street’ of ‘Old Town’ Edinbough. Our lodging is in ‘New Town’, built starting in 1750 – ‘Old Town’ dates back to Medieval days and there are parts of the Edinbough Castle that date back to 1000 AD. Of course, this location has been occupied for much longer, but much of it was originally built of wood – and Henry VIII wasn’t a fan of Scotland after they refused to allow his 2 year old niece Mary, Queen of Scots to marry his recently born son, Edward. The nerve of those Scots! So he invaded 3 times (refered to here as the ‘Rough Wooing’) – twice burning Edinbough to the ground – and leaving frustrated the 3rd time because the town folk had finally made their houses of stone.

We admire the beauty of Princess Gardens (former location of the sewer of Edinburgh as we will find out), and wander up the Royal Mile a bit. We check out St. Giles Cathedral (Church of Scotland) and luck into a story-teller in the Chapel of the Knights of the Royal Thistle. He entertains us by pointing out some of the more interesting wood carvings (Angels playing bagpipes among them), and explains in great length the details in the royal seal.

After learning about the Order of the Royal Thistle, we wander back out of the Cathedral and explore ‘Old Town’. We walk down one close, up another, visit the ‘Grass Market’ where cows and sheep were once sold, and finally quit for the day by catching a bus heading back towards Princess Street.

Everywhere you turn in the touristy parts there are Tartans for sale of all colors and prices, and the war like sound of pipers fills the air. It’s a beautifully warm day – hot almost – and the folks of Edinbough are taking full advantage of the high latitude (at 56 degrees – it’s light until almost 10:00 PM). Folks are picnicking on every grassy spot we can see.

Isaac and Derek’s place is perfectly located. Right at a tram stop, right across from the Roman Catholic Cathedral, and within easy walking distance of a nice sized grocery store. Color us happy. You can get almost anywhere in Edinburgh without getting wet!

We hike back up the 3 flights, and make ourselves a lovely dinner. Isaac arrives home – followed soon after by Derek (only 6’3″ tall) – and they invite us to join them in the living room. It’s another glorious space – huge paintings are carefully selected to suit the space – and the massive windows have shutters flung open so that the air and the view is easy to enjoy.

We sit and chat, and chat and sit – and suddenly realize it’s almost midnight. Conversation has flowed so easily, and so naturally – it’s a shock to realize it is so late.

Of great interest to us are Derek’s challenges with doing their renovation. The rules for A listed buildings (their’s is over 218 years old – for sure. Derek has looked up all the previous owners – and there are many) are complex – and unbendable. You can not touch any existing wall if the original moldings are still evident. Which means that the only rooms they could touch were the bathrooms (there are 2 – one upstairs for their use, one downstairs for our use), and the kitchen. So the kitchen is completely modern as per Isaac’s desire. They were able to put a gas fired insert into the main (huge) fireplace in the living room – and they could also replace the old radiators with new ones that fit better into their color and design scheme. I’ll bet they work better too.

They were also able to add ceiling roses and replace ceiling lighting fixtures. And of course all the electrical had to be torn out and replaced – but without damaging the walls too much please!

There are fireplaces in every room – including their double sized bedroom with it’s view over the Firth of Forth, and even one in our ‘guest’ room. The shower in our bathroom is our idea of heaven – a rain shower, and a shower wand. And large enough for two. One note – our hosts are very very tall – and everything is sized to suit them. So we have to stand on tippy toes to reach the sink in our bathroom, and can only get things off the bottom most shelves in the kitchen. Good thing the guys are so happy to help out! I think they think it’s pretty funny.

They have been working on this project for all 7 years that they have been living in Edinbough, and only deemed it mostly finished in Feburary.

Georgian heaven with a modern twist. Stunning.

We say goodnight – and upon advice from our hosts – shut the shutters. At this elevation, the sun (and most of the inhabitants apparently) get up very early.

Signing off amazed that we lucked into such a beautiful Air BnB – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

Vikings Explained – FINALLY!


Ok – we’ve done the Viking Experience – but are still left with so many questions. We’d assumed that the Vikings had mostly been a plunder and raid society here in the UK – and the evidence discovered in York – and dated around 975 AD clearly shows that this was certainly not the whole story.

So today our goal is to go to the other museum in York that’s been recommended – the Yorkshire Museum – and check out their exhibit on the Vikings. Note to the reader – this is not a permanent exhibit – it’s on loan from the British Museum in honor of the re-opening of the Viking Experience. Check to see if it is still on if you come to York. And just FYI – the Yorkshire Museum is in an amazing location – the former Abby of St. Mary – and it’s an outstanding museum in its own right – with or without the Vikings.

But we are into Vikings – so we skip past the wonderfully interactive exhibit on the Roman occupation of York (Check out the video on dating skulls by their teeth – so interesting) and go right down to the Viking Exhibit.

This is a multi-piece effort to explain the history of the Vikings in the UK – and starts with an overview of the extent of their lands. They truly conquered the world as it was known in their day – and towads the end their reach extended much further than that of Rome.

But tightening in on how the Vikings influenced the UK – the exhibit switches to a short overview of that history. The Vikings at first were – as we’d been taught – plundering and raiding – and going home every winter. But eventually they sailed an armada of ships across the North Sea and landed in the UK – at basically York from 866 – intending to conquor and stay. They made York (or Jorvik as it was known then) the largest city in England outside of London.

They set up a tent camp the first winter – and then redeveloped it into the wooden town that became Jorvik later. The exhibit traces this experience in several ways – thru the objects found in the York cashe, in cards found near the displays that say ‘Dig Deeper’, and in story telling archeologists who are wandering the exhibit asking if they can answer any questions. We are luckily in a small room towards the end of the exhibit when Collen finds us and we can sit down to listen. He regales us with the tales from this tiny portion of UK history, interweaving what we know about the Battle of Hastings (not fought at Hastings), and the various Henry’s who were fighting (or trying to fight) over this land. The Vikings backed one of the Henry’s – and it is thought that they were also backing William of Orange thinking that if he conquored the southern part of the UK they would be free to rule the northern section.

Scotland wasn’t involved actually (this we didn’t know!). They were too strong to be attacked, and too well organized to conquor. So the battles fought were all fought well south of them.

In the end (1066), William won – and marched his troops northward forcing the Vikings to choose to flee – or be absorbed into the Ango-Saxon world. Many choose to stay – which explains a lot of the ‘Old Norse’ that is found on street signs in this area today.

Well, that clears up that mystery. But I’m still wondering why there were only 2 skeletons found in all that cashe – and where all the other bodies must be buried.

Liz says that the norm was to bury folks outside of the walls – which means her home is effectively on top of a graveyard. As are all of the other homes just a short distance outside of the walls. So many in fact, that most are not dated.

If you are going to be digging in your garden – be prepared to call in the Archeologists! At least you don’t have to worry that it might be the body of the wife of the last guy who owned your home. Nope – that skeleton is likely much, much older.

Suitably informed we head to the York Art Museum (not wonderful – so sorry), and then head back to Liz’s for our final dinner party. Tomorrow we travel on to Scotland, stopping first at Edinbough.

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler

Finally the Viking Experience


During breakfast – Liz reminds us to be sure to walk the top of the walls of York – so we head out to do just that. I’m determined to find the Viking Experience, but I’m also determined to revisit one of the ‘charity’ shops we checked out yesterday – they had a lovely Silverplated Serving knife and fork that would be great for our Regency Dinner parties at home.

We are rewarded in many ways. The walk along the wall starting at BoothBar (which means Booth’s Gate – or the Gate of Booths – in reference to market stalls that would have existed here hundreds of years ago) is lovely. We are 30 to 40 feet above the ground, with clear views to either side of the wonderful gardens behind the homes on either side. Another York Must do!

We hit the Oxfam charity shop – and my serving knife and fork are still there. If they are there – I was meant to have them – so I buy them. Jill finds a gift for her daughter at the same time – so we are both happy.

We continue on walking the wall – and eventually end up at the King’s Pond – a water feature in Medevial times that protected a huge section of York from attack. Nearby is a decommissioned church that now serves as a ‘reservable’ place of meditation. You book ahead on line, and are given a code to enter in the keypad on the door.

We’ve been constantly impressed with how creatively folks here are dealing with the issue of old, but under used churches. Some are turned into housing of course, but others stay churches, albeit smaller, and house cafes, restaurants, or even public service offices. In this case – another less appreciated need is being met. How nice.

We are now back at the York Castle Museum – still no Viking Experience – and decide to finish what we’d started the day before. The highlight of this visit is the Prison Section with audio/visual projected lectures by 5 of the famous inmates of the Prison. They tell you their side of the story – and then in the end, you can read up on the historical accounts. Morbidly facinating. I’ll save you some time and tell you that none come to a very good end!

Ok – now I’m getting serious. I will find that Viking Experience or else!

And of course – it turns out to be a lot easier to do than our mis-adventures can explain. It’s hidden in plain sight down a narrow passageway into Coppergate. Ok – just a bit of Old Norse for you – gate means road, bar means gate. This area is called Coopergate because it is presumed that ‘Cooper’s’ worked here making wooden objects. That information is revealed during our Viking Experience.

Bit of York arcological history now – in 1976 to 1980 a huge cache of Viking material was found hidden for over 1000 years in the wet clay (aka oxygen deprived) soil of York in this exact location. They were digging the foundations of a shopping center – and everyone was shocked to find over 40,000 Viking remains. The wet soil had preserved them so well that even pieces of material – including a silken head scarf were perfectly preserved. Most dramatically – there was even a Viking helmet found – complete and in perfect condition. No swords were found however – this was not a burial site – these were the remains of an entire village street. Pig pens, wooden houses, personal grooming items, all the stuff of ‘comfortable living’ were found right here – right under our feet. Incredible.

So of course a museum was created to house the artifacts – and in doing so the Jorvik (York in Old Norse) center was started. It was always intended to be an immersive experience – aka Disney-esque ride thru time to the time of the Vikings – but by Christmas of 2015 it was getting old and tired.

So nature intervened with a huge flood. Ok – maybe not on purpose – but the result was the same. The entire center had to be refurbished and re-imagined – and it just reopened under a month ago. I can’t speak for the old display – but we can tell you that the newly opened display has a ton to recommend it!

You can choose to pre-book, which puts you in one line, or you can take your chances and queue. We did the latter, and were rewarded by entering before the folks that had pre-booked. Not sure how that happened.

One interesting note – remember that Serving Knife and Fork I’d bought? Well they were not allowed in the center – and thus had to spend time with the ‘Viking’ on guard at the door. All of the staff is dressed from head to foot like Vikings – From men with long beards that were either braided or tied, to gals sporting Viking shoes, dresses and head gear – the staff were impressive in not only their appearance – but also their knowledge of the place and the Vikings. All were either archologists or story tellers – and they were great – if you bothered to engage them. Here-in lies the rub. It is easy to run thru a museum without talking to a single interpreter – and if you read reviews of the center that earn it less than 5 stars – that is what happened.

It is not sufficient to just ‘ride’ the ride and leave. It should be about learning about the Vikings – but we can understand how folks could easily get confused by the ‘Disney’ feeling that the ride conveys. It’s wrong – but understandable.

Anyway – we enter down a staircase into a large space that has a glass floor. Under our feet are evidence of the dig – including re-created timbers, objects and the like. Video footage on the walls explains what it was like on the dig – and invite you to participate in a current dig happening only 200 or so yards away. In one corner is a costumed interpreter with objects that you can touch and handle, and in another corner is a computerized interactive exhibit on the challenges of conserving the materials of the primary items found – glass, wood, metal and stone. Most folks just line up for the ride – missing the good stuff in the corners. So sad.

The ride itself is amazing. The detail is incredible – sights, smells, sounds are all here to make sure you know you are visiting a living viking town. I actually ride the ride 3 times to try to see and hear everything. There are audio interpretations in 12 different languages – including an ‘adult’ English and a ‘child’ English. Of the two English commentaries – I actually prefered the ‘child’ version. In that version, a young male voice pretending to be a local of the period explains to you what you are seeing from his point of view. “Oh, there’s my friend Eric, he’s been learning how to make knives from his father – looks like he might be doing better.”

From the front of the ‘ride vehicle’ you can see that the ground underneath is complete with muddy footprints and sewage. There are rats hidden here and there as would have been the case in those days, and tiny details add to the realism in surprising ways. At one point, a figure in a boat suddenly looks up at me and welcomes me in ‘Old Norse’ – it’s actually a staff member!

But you can’t appreciate the level of detail in just one ride thru – good thing that the ticket they sell you is good for a year.

When the ride ends you are in a small, but very complete exhibit area – with at least 3 interpreters willing to take time to answer in great and loving detail any questions you might have. There is a young man making coins, the hard old fashioned way by slaming the dies with a hammer. We chat with him on the origins of coins in general – and Viking coins in particular.

This is a wonderful experience – but as with most museums – you take out what you put in. Take time to chat – it’s wonderful.

Lunch is a brief respite on a bench in Coopergate and a lovely chat with a Welsh gentleman who lets us know that he was very anti-brexit. We’ve actually not come in contact with folks who voted yes – but since it was a 50/50 vote – that’s not totally surprising.

Our next stop was supposed to be the Viking Exhibit in the Yorkshire Museum, but instead we opt for the physically closer and much less demanding Barley Hall. This is a medieval home that once belong to The Lord Mayor of York. Suitably large and painstakingly re-done – it’s now a quick and dirty history of Henry VIII. The exhibits are interesting, and I must admit that I didn’t know that much about Henry VIII coming in, but the lack of guides and the limited about of interior furnishings made this tour a very quick in and out. Not our favorite museum, but after the two ‘Must Do’s’ of the Jorvik Viking Experience and the York Castle Museum, it’s almost a good thing. We’re pretty wiped and keen to head back home.

Liz is shocked to see us this early – but we hand over our bottle of wine and tell her not to worry – we’re going to hide out in our room and nurse our feet and backs into better shape with a spot of tea.

A couple of hours later – and suitably refreshed – Liz annouces dinner. Again we are impressed. After bringing each other up on our travels today, our conversation centers around her desire to enlarge her Air BnB empire by buying another flat. We are keen to find out how that goes down – but of course won’t ever know if she doesn’t keep in touch. So I’m seriously hoping she will read this – and keep in touch!

Another relaxing evening enjoying the birds, the bees – and Liz’s wonderful backyard and it’s off to bed.

I think this is becoming a pattern!

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler

Still no Vikings – but the York Castle Museum is a Must Do


We are awoken early by the birds. Liz’s house is just outside the city walls – a 200 year old Victorian that she has carefully restored – and there are lots of trees – and lots of birds. A flock of geese call the open space behind her place home, and there’s a colony of doves that spend the night perched in a tree in her neighbor’s yard. Dawn at Liz’s home is a sympthony concert on steriods.

We head downstairs for breakfast, served at a table in her ‘living’ room. Delicious Quarker Oats, some yogurt, your basic local buns, coffee or tea, and a bit of fresh fruit combine for a perfect start to the day. Walking past Liz’s door alerts the excitable Bertie to our presence – and he’s perfectly happy to start the day too. Liz drops in to check if we have any questions about where to go and what to see – then sends us on our way with specific directions to return for dinner at 6:30.

We repeat our walk into the walled city, and wander around pleasantly lost amid the mydrid shops and wandering tourists. Our official destination is the Viking Experience, but the maze that is Old Town York is more challenging to navigate than expected. Liz had suggested that we take a ‘Squiggle’ or narrow part between buildings into the back area behind the ‘Hole in the Wall’ – one of zillions (yes I counted) Pubs. We are in the narrow laneway behind the Pub when the bells of the Minster announce 10:00 AM. No sleeping late in York I’m going to tell you! Peter (that’s what they call the big bell that sounds the hours) is seriously loud. You can feel the vibrations all the way from your feet to your head.

We wander in the gardens, quickly visit the old chapel (now library), and see the Treasurers House. We check out some of the ‘charity shops’ dotted amongst the more touristy offerings, buy a Cornish Pasty for lunch, then head toward the Viking Experience. We twist and turn – and eventually end up looking up at a castle on a mound.

It’s Clifford’s Tower – the site of one of the darkest days (not my words – that’s how they describe it in the history notes) of York’s long history. In 1190 approximately 150 Jewish citizens of York were trapped in the tower by an angry mob. Egged on by wealthy men who were in debt to the Jewish Moneylenders and had not secured Royal Appointments and thus could not repay their debts, the mob surged around the then Royal Castle. These events were cronicled by at least 3 different sources at the time. In the end, most of the Jews committed suicide, the men killing their wives and children, and then killing themselves. The men owing money to the Jewish Moneylenders then burned their notes, thus freeing themselves of the debts, and the land and possesions of the Jews reverted to the crown. (http://www.historyofyork.org.uk/themes/norman/the-1190-massacre)

The event is recorded on a plaque outside the tower for all to read.

But on to happier thoughts. Right beside the tower, which stands at the highest point of York, is the York Castle Museum. Not the Viking experience we were heading for – but it was on our hit list as well, so in we go.

The York Castle Museum is a huge winner. It occupies a former prision that was in use for over 400 years, and today contains not only information about the prision, but also a re-creation of a complete Victorian Street, an exhibit on the 60’s, a series of ‘demo’ kitchens dating from 1650 till 1960, and ‘demo’ Victorian Parlors from humble farmer to moderately well-off middle class. There’s a section devoted to toys from the 1900’s up to 2017 (truly fascinating), and a display on undergarmets that spans several hundred years.

This museum is almost impossible to leave! We can’t get enough of the complete Victorian Street scene – it extends for several blocks, is complete with period appropriate ‘smells’, and what really makes it great – knowledgeable guides in period clothes who delight in telling you about their times. Our favorite is a gentleman in a top hat who spends almost 30 minutes discussing his world. So cool.

We don’t finish – we simply run out of time and must head back to the Minster for Evensong, then on to Liz’s place for dinner. Fortunately, the ticket we got is good for a year – so we will definitely be back!

At Evensong, we are almost trampled by the rush of people trying to get good seats – but are rewarded for our slow pace by a young female priest who directs us up into the choir stalls. We are seated 6 seats away from the Dean of the Minster – the Very Revd Vivienne Faull – a lovely older woman whose face is featured on most of the marketing for the huge Cathedral. The Minster was spared by the German Blitz because it acted as a landmark for the German Pilots. We are told this by one of the tour guides, who was lucky enough to have given a tour to a former German Pilot! He told her that they would never have hurt it – if you were flying from the South and came upon a huge white cross in the middle of a green circle – you turned right to get home to Germany. And if you were flying from the North – it was a left turn.

And it’s actually a good thing that this lovely building was not hurt. The main tower is high enough to contain the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the vast vault with it’s Gothic finishings is the 2nd largest such building in Northern Europe. It was built between 1220 and 1472 – and is justifably one of York’s main visitor attractions. But we are here for Evensong – and are rewarded by a 45 minute long service sung by a mixed choir of 18 children and 12 adults. Lovely.

Our dinner with Liz is equally pleasant. We again chat on various topics – and Liz tells us the recent history of her lovely home. She has lived here for 10 years, and it was in the spring of the 2nd year that problems began. Her ground floor (aka basement) was flooded – not just once but 3 times. And it wasn’t just her basement – all the basements in the area suffered, and the city of York determined that the fault was theirs – inadequate sewers. So the city decided to fix the problem for the entire area of several hundred homes and businesses – and a major hospital – by building a huge underground water holding tank in the vacant land to her left. They made one tiny error. They ignored the sandy soil that lay adjacent to the site of the new construction, and in digging out the tank, caused an earthquake. Liz’s home literally split in 2 – while she was inside!

The house between her home and the ‘hole’ suffered more – but since it was owned by the hospital, which in turn is owned by the National Health Service, it was less of a problem. Since her home was privately owned – and terribly damaged, after some litigation, the city paid for her renovation.

And the home was saved – and better than saved – restored to it’s former glory. She took that opportunity to move the kitchen into the basement, making an extra bedroom on the ground floor. The work was only completed about 2 years ago – and she’s been doing Air BnB only since March.

We mentally observe that one would never have a conversation like this in a hotel – one of the reasons Air BnB is such fun is the delightful chance you have to really get to know a local!

The Intrepid Traveler and I eventually toddle upstairs to bed. Tomorrow we are definitely going to find the Viking Experience.

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

Fabulous York – a walled city with style – and Awesome Museums


Friends of the Intrepid Traveler told us that York was worth at least 4 days – and our sources had better be right – We’ve paid for our Air BnB lodging, so we’re going to be stuck if our sources are wrong.

But confident travelers that we are – we head out bravely – figuring that at worst we can finally get a much needed break. We’ve basically been on the go since we left Montreal May first – and frankly getting up and at’m every day is wearing a bit thin.

So York – here we come! The view from the train ride between Manchester and York is very different from the scenery we’ve been seeing during all our previous trips. For starters – suddently there are no dry stone fences. None. There are a few stone fences held together with morter, and lots of wood or wire fences – but no dry stone fences. Clearly – when the glaciers went thru, they dropped stones all over the fields west and south of Manchester – and had none left to drop when they receeded from York. How interesting. I’m sure my friend Thea Alvin – stone mason extraordinare – could explain it, but we just note the difference – and continue our ride. The types of animals in the fields change as well. Before this trip, we were looking only at sheep. Lots and lots of sheep, with maybe the occasional cow. But now cow herds seem to equal sheep herds in popularity – and there are lots of horses as well.

Our arrival in York is nothing special – thank goodness. I’m not sure I’m up for anything special right now. We get off the train, find a lift, find a map, find the street – and start navigating ourselves to Liz’s house. Despite her detailed directions, we’re slow walkers. And we constantly stop to double check that we haven’t missed a turn. Our path takes us around the wall of the city – and a wonderful wall it is too. There are stone gates – just one car wide of course – in various locations, a beautiful river with those distinctive canal boats on our right as we walk, and flowering bushes everywhere. We’ve clearly arrived at Springtime. We drag our cases pass signs for various museums – several of which feature Vikings as a theme. That should be fun. I don’t know anything about Viking occupation of the UK, wonder what they will tell us?

Our Air BnB hostess Liz is waiting for us outside of her house – and graciously invites us into her lovely home. The entrance way and the main ‘living’ room has the traditional super high ceiling of the Victorian houses – and correspondingly, the stair case up to our loft room is steep and winding. But she helps us with our tiny carry-ons – and we are quickly installed in our new home.

There is just one tiny problem. We count on having access to the kitchen of the places we stay in order to fix our meals. We can’t afford to eat out on our budget. And somehow I’ve overlooked the fact that at Liz’s place – the kitchen is strictly off limits.

I’m stunned by this news. What will we do? How will we cope? We have made no provisions for dealing without a kitchen. The angst must be visible on my face because Liz quickly realizes something is wrong.

To our everlasting delight – Liz offers to settle the problem by feeding us dinner. We’ll deal with the cost later – right now we are simply relieved beyond measure. She tells us to come back by 6:00 – so off we go.

Our plan for the rest of the day is simple – get our bearings in York and perhaps check out the newly renovated Viking Experience. We wander to the Minster – which given that it is a huge Cathedral – isn’t that much of a challenge to find. We check out the times for Evensong figuring that’s a good way to get a peek inside – and enjoy some music. Turns out that Monday night is just a prayer service, but tomorrow there will be Evensong. We will return.

We wander a bit more of York, noting the abundance of thrift shops and thinking that those are also places to come back and check out more carefully. We then wander thru the ‘Shambles’, an aptly named winding little road packed with shops on either side.

We stop at the Sainsbery Local to pick up a bottle of wine – our offering for dinner – and arrive just in time to join Liz. She serves us a dynamite salmon dish – apparently she’s been taking cooking courses and loves the idea of having guinea pigs. We sit out in her just finished garden full of blooming flowers and comfy furniture. We soak up the last of the sun, eat and chat. 3 hours flies past. By 9:00 we’re ready to call it a night – so we amble off up stairs to bed down. Tomorrow we will find that Viking Experience – it has to be here somewhere.

Signing off – very very full of yummy salmon and a nice pudding for dessert – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

Getting the Low Down on Birmingham’s History


We wake to the Doves in the Peace Tower just outside of Sameer’s flat when we get up in morning. They make the most wonderful sounds – and as we are on the 6th floor – watching them fly by is up close and personal.

We were joking last night – and asked Sameer if he had bats in his belfrey – but he didn’t get the joke! Instead he told us about how bats are protected animals in London. Nice to know – but not what we were laughing about.

This morning, Sameer dashes out before we are up – leaving us to fix our own breakfast from the fixings he left us – blueberries, bananas, oranges, milk, and an excellent Granola. There are also eggs – but we opt for a simple breakfast, lunch will be a bigger meal.

We have reservations for a tour at 10:15 at the Birmingham Back to Back Houses. We’ve been reading up on these houses – and the ones we will see are the last in existance – as late as the 1940’s there were thousands of people leaving in Back to Back Houses. They could be crammed in – up to 14 in what is effectively a 3 room house – under 900 sq feet in total – and some of that taken up with narrow spiral stairs that go from the first to the third floor.

Today these houses are in the heart of China Town, and adjacent to a large restaurant and bar complex, but in their day they were the key stone of lively neighborhoods. We were excited to take the tour.

The visit starts in front of a sweetshop, and our guide, Jane, begins by explaining that just before these houses were finally demolished in the 1970’s, they were mostly used as shops – and the sweetshop was what was in this location at the turn of the century. Back to Back Houses were built – surprise, surprise – back to back. So there are 3 houses with windows facing the road, and three more built against their back walls. These 3 houses have windows only on the ‘courtyard’ side. The entrances are street or courtyard level – and most of these houses had no running water and no toilets. Instead the toilets are located in the shared courtyard. In earlier times, these shared toilets were modified chamber pots, but eventually they were renovated to have ‘flush’ toilets. But you are still outside! In one of the houses, running water had been added – but only on the first floor. Water was never available above the first floor.

There is basically only one room on each floor – a living/dining/food prep room on the ground floor, a bedroom on the 2nd floor, and a 2nd bedroom on the third floor. The floors are linked by steep narrow twisting staircases – hard to go up, and frightening to go down. There is only one window in each room – depending on the house, facing either into the courtyard or into the street.

There was a fireplace in both the kitchen and ‘master’ bedroom – but while the kitchen fireplace was on from dawn till bedtime, the one in the ‘master’ bedroom was lit only when someone was feeling ‘poorly’. As for those sleeping on the third floor – crowding was the solution to a cold night. Families were known to put 6 kids in one bed, sleeping head to toe, and then renting out the other bed in the third floor bedroom to strangers!

So – no running water, no toilets, no sewer, and a central washing area that each family sharing the courtyard got to access once a week – life in the Back to Backs was not easy. There are audio tapes of folks who used to live here talking about what life was like. There was no reason to go home until bedtime, because there was nothing to do in the house except sleep. So kids ran wild and wooly all over the area – keeping themselves busy until going to bed was unavoidable.

And jobs, while plentiful, were neither well paying nor safe. Birmingham was at the center of the Industrial Revolution in England, and had more than it’s share of stuffy unsafe factories and challenging work environments. So Dad and the older boys would work all day – while Mom and the girls did the washing, cleaning, cooking, and sewing needed to keep the family together. Young boys went to school – a priledge rarely available to young girls in the UK until after 1870.

Back to our tour. The small block of back to back houses that has been saved has been extensively renovated. Of the three houses facing the street on the northern side, the bottom left is the sweet shop – and above that is ‘holiday’ let.. The center one is also a ‘holiday’ let, and the last one is used for storage by the National Trust. Of the back 3 houses on the north side, the one to the right is set-up to show life in 1840 – when this block was first built. The middle house is set-up as 1870, and the left most house is set as 1920. Of the 3 houses on the East side, the left most has been left as it was in 1970 when the last resident – a tailor – left. The center and right houses are now the welcome area, space for staff and an exhibit area. In the exhibit area you can see the 28 layers of wallpaper that were removed from one wall. Turns out it was much cheaper to just paste on new wallpaper – and that’s what happened.

We totally enjoyed the tour – our guide was very informed, the houses are very interesting, and unlike most museums – you are welcome to touch everything. I found the clock making tools in the house from 1840 particularly intriging.

Our tour finished, we decided to visit the rag market – which quickly gets boring, and then stop for traditional English Fish and Chips. Yum.

Now we stroll just a few blocks North and West – on our way to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. The city changes drastically as we work our way these few blocks North. As we leave the ‘Rag’ Market – we also leave the majority muslim crowd and the boarded up and abandoned shop fronts. We pass the dramatically new Central Train Station – a huge Silver sphere shape that dominates the western view from St. Martins in the Bull Ring. Once on High Street – we are on a Pedestrian Mall with fancy shops, folks in nice dresses, and a general sense of well-being. What a drastic change from the rather scary feelings of the area near the ‘Rag’ Market!

Within minutes we are at Victoria Square – dedicated by the Princess of Wales (Diana?) in 1970. And just past that is the museum. And a glorious museum it is too. As with most of the museums here, it has a bit of everything – from Egyptian artifacts, a brief history of the Irish in Birmingham, to a room dedicated to the Stratford Hoard. The Hoard is impressive – and the rooms dedicated to the Pre-Raphaelite painters contain art that is both extensive and beautiful. But the absolute best part of the museum, despite the lack of any marketing, even on the museum map – is the 3rd floor display on the history of Birmingham.

We’ve seen histories that are as dull as paint drying, but this is not one of them. This series of rooms takes the history of Birmingham and makes it personal – entertaining – and facinating. The curators have used every trick in their books to make these displays interesting, and they are amazingly successful.

The fun starts in the Medieval Past – over 1000 years ago. There’s a model of the town showing clearly that the Bull Ring Market, St. Martin’s of the Bull Ring, and the High Street were already known in those days. A series of short videos featuring kids from a local drama department explains why Birmingham was growing by leaps and bounds in those days – a combination of a belief in freedom of religion, and the lack of a town charter. Without a charter, guilds couldn’t operate – so a free-for-all attitude took hold. Anyone could do anything – and folks flocked to Birmingham in response.

To cover the years during the industrial revolution the display becomes a ‘tourist guide’ to Birmingham. Hints include finding the best places for food, and cover the ‘building boom’ with humor and attention to detail.

Moving historically forward, there is a series of puppets who demonstrate how to make a musket, and a display of the hand made buttons that made Birmingham famous in the 1800s. There are model kitchens from the 1900s for kids to play at, there are build it yourself models to practice town planning in the 1920s, and a multi-screen video presentation on Birmingham’s participation in WWI and WWII.

The display ends with a nod to the issues of the present – including the recent announcement by BMW to close their plant, putting 6000 out of work.

It’s an outstanding example of the curator’s art – and a fabulous examination of the history of Birmingham in particular and England in general.

We are thrilled to have wandered in!

But now the museum is closing around us – and we are gently escorted out by the guides who have appeared from nowhere.

So it’s home, a lovely roast chicken dinner with wine at Sameer’s flat – and early to bed. Tomorrow we travel – and we need our rest.

Signing off to get our beauty sleep – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

London to Oxford – Big City to University Town


It’s time to move on – we’ve spent 14 days in London, toured 12 Museums, saw 3 amazing plays, rode buses from East London to West London, attended Services in Cathedrals and local parish churches, worked at an Organic Wine Fair, even enjoyed a gourmet meal at “House” at the National Theatre. So – London done – we’re on to Oxford.

Oxford – town of 38 colleges that together make up one University – the University of Oxford. Not surprisingly – there sure are a lot of students here. And with all that youth comes plenty of coffee shops, lots of walking tours – and the 2nd largest library in the UK after the British Library in London.

The Bodleian Library has well over 153 miles (230 KM) of shelving, and adds 1000 books and 2000 periodicals a WEEK. It’s huge. And housed in bits and pieces, all connected by underground tramways, throughout all of Oxford, plus the new huge facility outside of Oxford in the town of South Marston for less used books. Clearly it’s a must do tour – and being the budget travelers we are – we opted for the lowest cost option – an audio tour that allowed us in to see only one small part – the Divinity College. And really only one tiny part of that – but a very nice part it was. For a bit more you can take a guided tour of the Humphrey Library – which is featured in Harry Potter when they are searching the ‘reserved’ section. But we were content with the Audio Guide and simply looking around.

Best part of the tour – and it was free to everyone – were the two special Exhibitions in the ‘new’ Weston Library (First built in 1937 as the ‘New Bodleian’ and extensively renovated and re-opened to the public in 2015 – it’s beautiful). The first was on Volcanos, and featured books dating from 1430 onward that had drawings of the supposed inner workings of Volcanos. Incredible to think that this library has kept these books safe for so very long. The 2nd exhibition, entitied Treasures of the Bodlian Library, is a revolving exhibition of rare finds. The version we saw featured contrasting items – in one case there was an original copy of the Magna Carta from the 13th century, complete with rodent chewed holes where the document had been folded for storage – and not properly stored at that. In the same case, the contrasting item was a book so small that it was shown chained to a life sized mouse – who could have easily dragged it around.

Other remarkable treasures – one of the First Folios of Shakespeare (not such a big deal as per the easy to read description – there are 233 known copies), and most impressive to me – a copy of Tycho Brahe’s “Astronomiae instauratae mechanica” dated 1598. This is the data collection that allowed his assistant, Johannes Kepler to formulate the laws of planetary motion. 1598. Imagine.

We then wandered over to the Oxford Museum of Natural History, known best for it’s outstanding glass topped building and wonderful displays of strange things – including the bones of the last Dodo. Famously, this is the spot known to have been visited by Lewis Carroll (aka Charles Dodgson), the author of “Alice in Wonderland”. The best section was a new exhibit hidden high up on a balcony and dedicated to new research on the brain. This very intriguing exhibit focused on the growth and development of the brain, carefully tracing it’s changes from pre-birth to old age. So interesting.

The day before we’d ‘done’ the Ashmolean. This huge museum has literally something for everyone, and then some. Our favorite section was on the challenges related to conservation, including detecting frauds, using UV to check for repair work, and a series of displays on making the decision to repair vs leave it as it is. Clearly being a museum curator isn’t as easy as one might imagine!

Naturally – I had to visit the Harry Potter ‘sights’ – including catching a glimpse into the courtyard used for learning to use your broomstick at New College (New in 1379). We also checked out Blackwell’s – billed as one of the worlds largest book stores with 7 km of shelving – and winding under Trinity college from a tiny and easily missed door front on Broad Street.

Our visit culimated in Evensong at Christ Church Cathedral in Christ Church College. It is ‘song’ nightly, sometimes by the church choir, sometimes by visiting choirs, sometimes by just male voices. We lucked into the male voice version – and it was glorious. Mostly done without organ music (A Cappalla) – the 14 choir members filled the huge space with wonderful sound.

What did we miss? We didn’t get into the Pitt River Collection – so we didn’t get to gawk at the shrunken heads. It was closed for a university function. We did wander into the Covered Market, but didn’t think it so remarkable. We checked out the college quads that were easily visible thru their wrought iron gates, and spent time chatting up a guide in St. Mary’s Parish Church – the official Church of the University of Oxford, with sections going back to the Medevial history of Oxford.

We skipped most of the modern part of Oxford, and sadly didn’t get to go into a pub. But lovely Lucy’s lodging, that we found thru Air BnB, was right on the river – so we did get to admire the boats on the water.

All in All – it was a great visit – but we need to get on – and Birmingham is our next stop. First thing tomorrow we will pack out bags and head on out to the bus station.

Signing off for now – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.