Monday, January 16, 2012

Our Holiday in England (Part 4 of 4): Hastings, Stonehenge, & Stratford-Upon-Avon

We awoke in Hastings to find Peter feeling much better and all of us hopeful for a less stressful day.  Our first stop on the itinerary:  the site of the Battle of Hastings.  We were a little too ambitious, as the castle did not open until 10 am.  We found a little tea shop nearby, just opening its doors, and stepped inside for a snack to warm us.  We looked at the menu and excitedly ordered "Cream Tea to go, please!", thinking we'd be served a cup of hot tea with cream...sounds logical, right?  The waiter smirked a little and asked "Do you know what Cream Tea is?" as he undoubtedly interiorly laughed at the silly Americans.  I sheepishly mumbled "Um, no..."  

So, to save you the embarrassment when you visit a tea shop in England, I'll fill you in.  Cream Tea refers to a whole pot of tea served with scones and pastries.  It'd be something that you would order if you were going to sit down and chat with your grandmother for several hours- not something you'd order "to go". 

The quaint little tea shop in Hastings

Hot tea with cream : )

After our tea shop education, he made us a cup of hot English tea, with cream added, in a "to go" cup. was worth all of the confusion.

Once the clock hit 10, we walked across the street to the entrance of "Battle Abbey."  Battle Abbey was built on the Battlefield of Hastings.

The Battle of Hastings was a major event in Western history.  Before the death of the English king Edward the Confessor (who also happens to be a Roman Catholic Saint buried at Westminster Abbey in London), Edward had promised the throne of England to his cousin William of Normandy.  However, on his deathbed, Edward changed his mind and decided to give it to a member of the most powerful family in England, Harold Godwinson.  Harold was crowned king and William took this as a declaration of war--he planned to invade England and take the crown he believed was rightfully his.

William and his Normans (decendants of the Vikings who had settled in northern France) crossed the English Channel with a fleet of 700 ships and invaded England in 1066.  There has never been another successful invasion of England since.

William made his way north and met Harold and the English army on a plain near the town of Hastings.  Nine hours of deadly combat followed.  As the English began to sieze the upper hand, an Norman arrow struck King Harold in the eye and he died soon after.  The English forces soon began to collapse and William "the Conquer" took the field.

William then made his way to London where he was crowned on Christmas Day, 1066 as King William I of England.  This cornation is the first recorded English coronation to take place in Westminster Abbey where subsequent English coronations have taken place up until the present day.

Later, in 1070, Pope Alexander II ordered the Normans to do penance for killing so many people during their conquest of England. So William the Conqueror vowed to build an abbey where the Battle of Hastings had taken place, with the high altar of its church on the supposed spot where King Harold fell in that battle. 

Other than being the last successful invasion of England, this battle also marked the beginning of a major change in the English culture and language.  The invading Normans were French-speakers and their language began to mix with the very Germanic  language of the English.  This is why many words in the English language have French roots, such as:  servant, acquaintance, and companion.

Visiting this historic abbey and the battlefield was very interesting.

The medieval gate house to "Battle Abbey"

Sarah and Peter standing where the English Army lined up on the Battlefield of Hastings

After exploring Hastings, we settled back into our warm car.  Though Peter was doing much better, we didn't want to over-do it, and a little drive allowed him to rest a bit. 

Soon, we arrived at Stonehenge!  What a cool experience!  Stonehenge is surrounded by farm fields, sheep, and tourists.  The highlight of the day (possibly even the trip) for Peter were the fluffy white sheep grazing near Stonehenge. 


After another two hours in the car, we arrived at Stratford-Upon-Avon at dusk.  Stratford-upon-Avon was the birthplace of William Shakespeare and the present day site of his tomb.  Unfortunately, Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare is buried was closed to visitors an hour before we arrived.  However, Dan got some pictures of the beautiful church and its surroundings at dusk.

We had planned to spend more time exploring this famous town, but we ended up just snapping some photos and settling into our hotel for an early bedtime for Peter.

The next morning we drove to London and flew back to our home in had been a whirlwind trip, but it was definitely nice to go to a place where EVERYONE spoke English!  :)

Our Holiday in England (Part 3 of 4): Canterbury

After a fairy tale-esque day in London, we were jolted back into reality the next morning as we awoke to find Peter under-the-weather.  I can't think of anything worse than traveling with a toddler with the flu.  Cue:  mom guilt.  Cue:  parental worrying.  Cue:  stress.  Unfortunately, we couldn't afford another night in the expensive city of London, nor could we afford to cancel the car rentals and hotel reservations waiting for us.  So, we packed up our suitcases, packed up our little man, and took a cab to the car rental office. 

We started to feel more hopeful as we got settled into our fancy automatic rental that cost us an arm and a leg (neither of us felt confident enough to try driving a manual in a foreign country on the opposite side of the road and car...therefore, we had to spend more on an automatic).  We drove down the road to Canterbury as Peter rested in his car seat. 

Upon arriving in Canterbury, we discovered that the quaint little town had been overrun with relatives and guests attending a university graduation in Canterbury.  We grumbled as we searched in vain for parking as we drove through the confusing, narrow streets.  Finally, we found a spot and breathed a sigh of relief.  Peter was starting to improve, though he was in no shape for sightseeing.  Dan and I took turns watching Blues Clues videos on our portable DVD player in the car with Peter while the other hopped out to take a quick tour of the Canterbury Cathedral. 

The Canterbury Cathedral is the site of the martyrdom of Saint Thomas Becket.  Saint Thomas Becket was the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 until he was murdered in 1170 inside Canterbury Cathedral.  Becket had a conflict with King Henry II of England over the rights and privileges of the Church.  King Henry II, disgruntled about Thomas excommunicating bishops who supported him, said in front of some of his followers:  "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?"  This statement was interpreted as a royal command and four knights, Riginald FitzUrse, Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy, and Richard le Breton set out to confront Thomas.  The knights arrived at Canterbury Cathedral and ordered the archbishop to go to Winchester to account for his actions--Thomas refused to go with them.  The knights left, picked up their weapons that they had placed outside the cathedral, and rushed into the cathedral for the killing.  They entered the church as the monks were chanting their evening vespers, found Thomas, and murdered him with their swords in the church. 

St. Thomas Becket was seen as a martyr for the faith and was canonized just two years after his death.  His shrine at Canterbury Cathedral became a major shrine of pilgrimage and many miracles occurred through his intercession.  Many pilgrims from London would journey 60 miles to visit the Saint's tomb.  The famous English work, The Canterbury Tales written by Geoffrey Chaucer in the 1300s, contains fictional tales told by fictional London pilgrims as they made their 60 mile journey from London to Canterbury (the same path we drove on our own pilgrimage!).  It was amazing to be following in the footsteps of so many pilgrims throughout history!

The charming little town of Canterbury

Canterbury Cathedral

These are the Pilgrim Stairs leading up to the place where St. Thomas Becket's Shrine (tomb) was. Medieval pilgrims would climb these stairs on their knees.  The stone stairs are worn from the numbers of pilgrims who climbed them.

This candle burns where the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket stood from 1220 to 1538 when it and St. Thomas' bones were destroyed by order of King Henry VIII (Henry had little respect for a Saint who had defied an English king).  Near the candle, you can see grooves in the stone floor worn down over the centuries by kneeling medieval pilgrims...incredible.

The main altar

After visiting the cathedral, we drove a little farther down the road to Hastings.  After a long day with a sick child in a foreign country, I nearly cried tears of joy when we pulled up to our hotel.  Rather than a little European B&B, we arrived at a big chain hotel, very similar to a Holiday Inn in America.  And across the street from our hotel, like a beacon in the night, stood the glowing Golden Arches...yes, that's right, a Mc Donald's!  Now, let me clarify; I love little European B&B's and I'm not a huge fan of Mc Donald's.  BUT, when living and traveling in a foreign country gets stressful and tiring, there is nothing like a little comforting taste of home.

 Our hotel had a actual bathtub (rare in the European/Middle Eastern hotels we've found)--God bless America...and hotels that remind us of America.  The bath perked Peter right up and soon he was clean and acting like himself again.  What a blessing.  Dan picked up Mc Donald's for us while Peter stuck with 7-Up and a bagel.  Dan and Peter relaxed and watched a little more of his Blues Clues video before bed.  The whole Beaudoin crew was fast asleep before 8:00 pm, a much needed rest after such a day.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Our Holiday in England (Part 2 of 4): Afternoon in London

After our picnic lunch, we snapped some photos of Westminster Abbey (which was not open for visitors until later on that afternoon) and then set off for an afternoon of sightseeing.  London is such an incredible city.  There is so much to see.  It was easy to ignore the hours and hours of walking because we were so distracted by the impressive sights and sounds of the city (and it was easy for Peter to ignore the hours of walking because he took a long nap in the stroller later that afternoon--hooray!).  And somehow, though it is a great big city, it doesn't feel stressful or chaotic.  It remains charming and exciting.

Westminster Abbey

We strolled past Big Ben again and headed across a bridge over the River Thames.  From the bridge, we caught an impressive view of the London Eye; a gigantic Ferris wheel that offers a spectacular view of the city. 

The London Eye

We then trekked through the streets of London in search of Shakespeare's Globe Theater.  Shakespeare's Globe was quite a hike from the Westminster Abbey, but again, the sights of London--St. Paul's Cathedral and Christmas markets--helped distract us from the long walk.  We finally found it, stopped inside to see the ticket office and lobby (and, of course, bathroom and gift shop!)  and then snapped some pictures of the outside.  The modern day Globe Theater is a replica of Shakespeare's Globe Theater from the 1600s and is located near the site of the old theater.  It's hard to imagine that the Shakespeare plays that I read in high school were first acted out in a theater very much like this and not far from it!

The Globe Theater

Just around the corner from Shakespeare's Globe Theater was THE London Bridge!  London Bridge was very simple and unassuming, but my historian husband informed me of its rich history.  Dan said that there has a been a bridge on this site since close to London's founding by the Romans in the First Century...the Romans called the city "Londinium" which is where the name "London" comes from.  Dan also said that the familiar nursery rhyme "London Bridge is Falling Down" may refer to an event in the year 1014 when, in an effort to assist the Anglo-Saxons in a war against the Danes, the Norwegian prince Olaf tore down London Bridge and divided the forces of the Danes on either side of the River Thames.  The bridge was later rebuilt and, over time, shops and homes were built on top of it.  The road going down the center of the bridge was so narrow that the city of London attempted to control traffic on it by regulating that north bound persons/carriages/horses/cargo must use the left side of the road and southbound traffic must use the right side of the is believed that this tradition is the reason why the British drive on the left side of the road!  Finally, the south side of London Bridge also displayed sights that were meant to deter traitors to the Crown.  Beginning with William Wallace (the Scottish rebel whose story is told in the movie Braveheart) in 1305 and continuing for another 355 years, the heads of traitors were placed on spears on the south end of London Bridge.  Among other famous individuals to be displayed in this gruesome manner were St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher who were ordered executed by Henry VIII for their fidelity to the Roman Catholic Church.

We walked across the now humble bridge that has seen so much history over the years.

Dan posing in front of London Bridge

Tower of London

After the Tower of London, we hopped in a cab and drove back to Westminster Abbey to tour the inside before it closed for the day.  What an incredible church!  Peter conveniently fell asleep, enabling us to soak in every beautiful detail and every nugget of history in the massive church.  This church was originally a Benedictine Abbey before the Protestant Reformation.  The coronation of William the Conqueror as King William I in 1066 was the first documented crowning of an English monarch in Westminster Abbey...monarchs have been crowned here ever since.  There are also many tombs of important Britons...we saw the tombs of Queen Elizabeth I, King Edward I ("Longshanks" of Braveheart infamy), Queen Mary I ("Bloody Mary"), Saint Edward the Confessor (a King of England and father of William the Conqueror), Geoffrey Chaucer (author of The Canterbury Tales), Charles Dickens (author of A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, and Oliver Twist), Rudyard Kipling (author of The Jungle Book and the poem "Gunga Din"), Isaac Newton, and Charles Darwin.  And, of course, I couldn't resist imagining what it'd be like to attend a royal wedding inside of these grand walls!

After our tour of Westminster Abbey, we walked back over the Thames in search of dinner...our Thanksgiving Dinner.  London during the day is impressive.  London at night is absolutely breathtaking.  The light that shone from the buildings danced on the waves of the river below.  We almost expected to see Peter Pan fly across the sky as we gazed up at Big Ben and the enchanting skyline. 

We stumbled across a Christmas market during our stroll. There were little stands with food, gifts, and entertainment along the street adorned with twinkling lights. We soaked in the sights and sounds of Christmas, something we've greatly missed after living in a Muslim country for over a year.  We then stepped out of the chilly night air into a little British pub for dinner. 

Peter and I relaxing together...Peter sipped a glass of apple juice and mommy had some ale. 

We finished our grand tour of London with a tasty Thanksgiving feast: fish and chips (followed by bread pudding)!  Yum! 

Next stop, the Tower of London! The Tower of London was originally built by William the Conqueror who claimed the throne of England in 1066 after defeating his brother Harold at the Battle of Hastings. Despite its enduring reputation as a place of torture and death, only seven people were executed within the Tower before the World Wars of the 20th century.  In the First and Second World Wars, the Tower was again used as a prison, and witnessed the executions of 12 men for espionage.  St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher were executed outside of the Tower on Tower Hill, but they were buried in unmarked graves in the churchyard of St. Peter ad Vincula inside the walls of the Tower of London.