Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Reunions and Reminiscing

I had a few days of vacation that I took between student groups and knew that my last couple weeks would be very full with the high school program where I would be living on-site with the students and would not be able to do any independent sight-seeing or hanging with friends. So, I took some of these days to visit more loved ones.

First I took the train from London to Manchester, where I was greeted by Ian and his wife Becca. They took me around Manchester's Northern Quarter, which is the hip area of town with many good bars, restaurants, and shops. Ian nicely put up with us girls doing some shopping as Becca showed me one of her favorite clothing stores - Thunderegg. They carry dresses from Lindy Bop, a brand Jo had recommended to me while in Bristol, so I was happy to be able to try on some pieces and get a feel for their fit in case I want to order things when I'm back home in the States.  You all know I love a good novelty print!

 The above mural is a tribute to the victims of the Manchester bombing, with 22 bees - one for each of the victims. Manchester was very important during the Industrial Revolution and for textiles and other trades, so bees are a symbol of the city - the worker bees.
For lunch we ate at a place called Home Sweet Home, which has two locations in the city. It's a good place for comfort food and some American style dishes.

Next we visited the Museum of Science and Industry, took a photo for their display, and viewed planes, trains, and automobiles.
Afterwards, we had a drink at The Botanist, which uses lots of herbs and flowery extracts in their drinks.

I liked the chandeliers
We had a very chill evening at their place, watching some films on Netflix including the very funny OH HELLO on Broadway.
I also got to enjoy some kitty time with their two cats, and I think Roger enjoyed having me there only because it offered him a new place to curl up, in my suitcase.
If I fits, I sits.
The next day Ian and Becca took me on a drive through the Peak District and we headed for the town of Bakewell, which is associated with a dessert called Bakewell pudding and Bakewell tarts.
We had lunch at the "Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop", although several other places in town also claim to be the place where it originated. This one seemed to have the most awards and legitimacy to its claim.

The town is on the River Wye and the only real town located within the Peak District, so you get a lot of tourist traffic coming through and people setting off from here on hikes and bike rides.

We had another lazy evening watching movies, which was fine by me since it had been a very busy couple of weeks for me. We had gotten our puddings to go, to eat after dinner, and I also picked up this local porter.

On Saturday I said goodbye to Ian and Becca and boarded a train for Chester, to meet up with the last of my girl squad, Natalie.
Natalie and I met in my first year through the student radio station and we would often go to her hometown of Chester since it was the biggest city near Bangor to do shopping.

She walked me around the city showing me what was new since my last visit in 2011, and we returned to old places I had been several times.
Chester is famous for being one of the best preserved walled cities in Britain, its Tudor and Victorian buildings, and its Roman history.
The Chester Rows, seen above, are two story walkways of shops that date back to medieval times and most are in the Tudor style (the black and white wood ones). There are several theories as to their origins, since this type of double levels of walkways and shops is unique to Chester. One theory is that after a fire ravaged the city 1278 that owners were ordered to make the lower level fireproof with stone.
Speaking of the Romans, here is a view of the city walls from the Roman Garden, which displays pieces of the Roman legionary fortress of Deva, discovered during 19th century excavations.
Nearby is the excavation of half a Roman amphitheater. Being a Roman legionary fortress, historians knew that there should be an amphitheater somewhere, but its whereabouts had long been lost to time. In 1929, work was being done on Dee House, a girls' convent school, when workmen chanced upon a piece of curved wall and finally the amphitheater had been located.

The other half is still buried and partially underneath an abandoned building - but because the building is a historically listed building it cannot be knocked down in order to excavate the other side even though it might bring more tourism to the city if they have a fully unearthed amphitheater. According to Natalie, there is talk of renovating the building into a bar/restaurant with sections of see through flooring with some excavation of the amphitheater underneath, which I think would be really cool if they manage to do it.

Saturday was one of the hottest days of the year and with no a/c, it made for a tiring walk around the city and an ice cream stop was sorely needed.

We sat in the shade along the River Dee and were even treated to the music of a visiting brass band playing in a nearby gazebo.
 Our walk continued to Grosvenor Park, where the city had moved 3 medieval arches to in order to keep them on display for the residents to enjoy.

Next, we checked out the ruins of St. John the Baptist church which was originally founded by King Aethelred in 689 and was used as Chester's first cathedral.
The block box to the top right of the archway is a medieval oak coffin with the Latin for "Dust to Dust" inscribed on it. It was unearthed during work in the 19th century and they decided to install it here so that it could be seen by visitors.

Next door is the newer St. John the Baptist church, built in the 13th century, with many restorations made in the 19th century.

Its organ, seen here, is famous for being the organ played in Queen Victoria's coronation in 1838.

Chester's Eastgate Clock - dating back to 1899 - is said to be the 2nd most photographed in Britain, after the clock tower that holds Big Ben. In my last year of university, we spent New Year's in Chester and rang in midnight at the Eastgate Clock.

After our city wander, we headed back to Natalie's. As I mentioned, it was a pretty hot day, so we popped into a nearby shop and bought an inflatable pool to cool off in.
Cause we're classy, mature adults
Sunday was Father's Day and Natalie and her fiance had family commitments, so I took the opportunity to take the train back to Bangor and see how things had changed since I left it 8 years ago. 

The train journey is one of my favorites in Britain, taking you along the north Wales coast with the mountains of Snowdonia National Park to the south. 
North Wales has one of the highest concentrations of castles (and some of the best preserved!) in Europe, and you pass several on the journey. One of my favorites is Conwy, whose walls back up almost to the train. 

Sorry for the portrait style video, but I took it from my Instagram stories, but you get the idea.

Creoso i Fangor - Welcome to Bangor!
 My old university building, with the new Arts and Innovation Center on the left (white building) where the students' union used to be. Founded in 1884, Bangor University regularly rates very highly for teaching standards and its range of clubs and societies. This past year, it was the only university in Wales to receive the Gold Standard for the UK government's new Teaching Excellence Framework. It is internationally renowned for its marine science and psychology departments.

Everything in the university must be bilingual in Welsh and English, with Welsh being first as the standard - hence Prifysgol Bangor. When I was part of the students' union council, we would wear headphones during meetings with translators for the Welsh students who chose to use Welsh, and it felt a bit like being in the U.N.! My graduation ceremony was conducted in both languages and my diploma is Welsh on one side, English on the other.
Weird new sculpture on the hill the university sits on
Inside Pontio, the Arts & Innovation Center constructed since I left. It was way behind schedule and over budget, as these things often are.

At the bottom of the hill, next to Pontio, is a WWI memorial. Pontio looks quite out of place between this and the university building.
View from the university balcony
More Welsh! This road is where the dorm site I lived on in my 1st year was. Imagine having to write your address all the time with this!

 Bangor has a Victorian Pier, Garth Pier - constructed in 1896 - which reaches almost all the way across the Menai Straights to the isle of Anglesey. Most people in the U.S. haven't heard of this area, but when Prince William worked for the Royal Air Force doing helicopter rescue, he and Kate Middleton lived nearby on Anglesey and he would often have to rescue people off Mount Snowdon, about 25 miles from Bangor. Unfortunately, that was a a year or two after I left but I did have some friends still in the area who would see Kate at their local supermarket.

At the end of the pier are some tea rooms, so I sat and had a cream tea.

Where the mountains meet the sea
Bangor Cathedral with the top of the uni in the background
Historically, to be granted the status of a city in the U.K., there had to be a cathedral. Although Bangor only has a population of about 19,000 (10,500 of which are the students!), it has had the status of city since 1886 and was the only "city" in Wales until Cardiff officially became one in 1905. 

It was nice to reminisce a bit, but going back to the city when all of my friends were not there was not really the same. The high street seemed a bit run down and didn't have the same charm that drew me to it originally. I think it is a good place to study because the university offerings and services are so strong, and it is nice to explore the nearby villages and national park, but I think I'm more of a big city gal myself. 

In the late afternoon I headed back to Chester and had a nice (vegetarian!) bbq with Natalie and her fiance, again with our legs in the pool for comfort.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Checking items off the list

Wednesday the 14th was my last full day in London where I was able to choose what I wanted to do. I would be coming back to the city a couple mores time, but with a group of high school students and a preset, busy schedule.

I was able to book tickets to the Sky Garden, at the top of the 20 Fenchurch St building, commonly referred to as the "Walkie-Talkie"
The one in the center
The Sky Garden is free to visit, but you do have to book in advance and you are given an hour window to stay up there although nobody was checking that you left within that time frame. Apparently allowing the space to the public was how the building was able to be constructed where it was, but there have been a lot of bad reviews about how restrictive the rules are to get in and how the gardens themselves are not that impressive (see here and here)

 Cat joined me at the base of the building and we were able to enter in pretty quickly. I thought the place was quite nice, and we enjoyed the best views of the city I have seen so far. There was also a cafe stand where we picked up some coffee and I had a slice of cake.

Had to watch out for this guy trying to break in

 Looking to the west was quite sad, though, as I'm sure you have all heard about the apartment fire that occurred in London, and we could still see the smoking building even 12 hours after it had started.

Next we had a bit more of a tragedy tour, as Cat asked me what else I wanted to do with my last day in the city and I said I wanted to go back to Borough Market because there had been an olive oil stand I checked out on my first visit there and had told myself I would come back before I left to pick up the chili oil. It was also the first day that the market was open after the terrible events two weeks prior, so we figured we would go and spend some money at the stands in support. 

To get there we had to cross London Bridge, which had a heartbreaking memorial to hero Ignacio Echeverría who tried to stop the attackers by hitting them with his skateboard after seeing them stabbing a woman. There were several notes in Spanish by, I'm assuming, his friends telling people about the type of man he was.

Further down I came across this Invader piece, which I'm not entirely sure how long it has been there but it felt especially poignant on that day.

I bought my bottle of oil, then we had some ciders from The Cider House stand. I had mine mixed with ginger beer.

Next we tried the salted caramel and honeycomb doughnut from the Bread Ahead Bakery School stand, which was incredible! I was kicking myself for getting a meh slice of cake at the Sky Garden and being too full to really enjoy more than a bite of the doughnut because it was sooo good. Seriously, if you ever find yourself in Borough Market, get one of their doughnuts!

photo by Cat

Next, we traveled to Mayfair area of London, to check out Sketch - one of the most Instagrammed restaurants in the city. Nicola and Vikki had been there previously and said we had to go and check out the toilets.

Luckily it was late afternoon but prior to the end of the work day, so the place was not too busy and we didn't need a reservation. We had a drink in the Parlour, as an excuse to be able to have a look around. It was pricier than what I would normally pay for just an ok cocktail, but we said we will have to go back another time to try the pastries since they looked pretty tasty. After our drinks, we asked for the loos and were told to go through the Gallery dining room to find them.
photo courtesy of Cat
photo courtesy of Cat
photo courtesy of Cat
The Gallery features 239 new, original pieces by British artist David Shrigley.

The waitress from the Parlour said it was a bit weird to be known for their toilets, but she did encourage us to go see them, and they were all that we hoped. The staircase leading up to them had candles on the side of each step, creating the best smelling bathroom I'd ever entered. From outside the pods, it felt like you had entered a strange spaceship. Each pod contained a single toilet and felt a little like a classy porta-potty while inside.
photo courtesy of Cat

Sinks are shared outside the pods.

From there we took the Tube to Leicester Square and popped into the Lego Store where we had fun checking out the large, London themed Lego sculptures.
photo courtesy of Cat

photo courtesy of Cat
After our Lego fun, we walked to Gordon's Wine Bar, which is located next to Charing Cross and Embankment underground stations, where Tom joined us when he got off work.
Gordon's is London's oldest wine bar, established in 1890. They try to maintain the original decor and the majority of the bar is underground in old cellars lit by candlelight. You can hear and feel as trains from the Tube pass by, which just adds to the atmosphere. It was too dark to really get any good photos, though.
We shared some wine and a cheese board, then made our way to Mr Fogg's Residence in Mayfair. The bar is run by the same people as Cahoots (which I wrote about yesterday). The employees are also in character here and the place is decorated to look like the home of Phileas Fogg from Around the World in 80 Days. In the bathrooms they have the audio book of the novel playing through speakers. 

Alas, our time there was brief because they had to run off to photograph a concert and I had to pack up all my things in preparation for leaving London. But they helped me have a wonderful last day.