Sunday, June 7, 2009

Thunderbolts and lightening - NOT very frightening!

Late last night we had the most amazing thunder and lightening show as part of a storm here. Lucky it wasn't earlier in the night as there was a festival complete with fireworks. We did not know about it though - so didn't get down to it. The thunder was so loud and the lightening so bright. We couldn't work out why until we realised that this was the first thunder storm we had seen since leaving Queensland in the middle of last December! Funny what you miss!! But it did not last long - mind you, it rained much of the night.

Consequently, this morning was bright and clear with a new freshness to everything. The sky is bright and it could be the perfect day to see Stonehenge - if it were not a weekend. So instead, we head in to Salisbury Cathedral. (The Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Salisbury). Once there, we find parking just behind the Cathedral Close (oh that parking angel is a darling) and set off to walk around this masterpiece of construction before we head inside. Of course, being a Sunday we get there to find that there is a service being conducted and for the time being we are restricted to seeing it from outside. But it takes some time to study all the features from outside including the wealth of statuary, although not as complete or in as good condition as those of the Wells Cathedral.

Perimeter done, the service is still going but with it nearing midday we are sure it won't be long now. Michael takes a quick detour over the road to the Wardrobe Museum of Military Uniforms (complete with no less than eight VC medals, John). Just after he left, the service concludes! This museums focuses on the history of the Wiltshire Rifle Regiment from the Crimea War through to modern day providing a chronological history using uniforms and ordinance to outline the regiment's history. The interior of the building is as gracious as the exhibits.

The Cathedral is every bit as stunning as I remember it and then some. The porters are packing away many of the chairs used in the service, opening the Cathedral to reveal the vast space that it is. The organist has stayed and is playing for all his might - mind you, I feel that the music choice is rather heavy and dark and I wonder to myself what devils he is trying to chase out of the building - maybe those tiresome ones called tourists!

There are quite a lot of tourists in the Cathedral right now and we find ourselves at times in a crush. The stunning Prisoners of Conscience West window was only completed in 1980 by French glaziers and draws lots of admirers. The tour is full with about 40 people so we walk the route by ourselves. Luckily, I did a one-on-one tour with mum last time I was here, so am able to tell Michael many of the little tidbits.

There is a chapel with the only White Rose and Red Rose bosses (ceiling roses) that survived the reformation of Henry VIII. Today, it is (one of) the only surviving joint displays of these two rose symbols of the great houses of the Stewarts and the Tudors. The battles and their aftermath between these two great houses give us the monarchy of today. So it makes this little chapel very important. Salisbury Cathedral is also the burial place of many notable figures from the area including royalty, knights, bishops, their progeny and local benefactors.

The Cloisters are magnificent and contain a garden-bordered lawned area. While the garden was in full bloom when Mum and I were here in 2006, this time it is looking a little tired. The cloister arches were originally set with leadlight glass making these arcades warm avenues of quiet and whispers where young boys were taught and monks did secret business. The cathedral society is gradually replacing the eroded stone - although there is no evidence that they are replacing the glass and only one arch remains with the glass intact.

I think however that for Michael the highlight was our visit to the Chapter House and the best (of 4) remaining examples of the Magna Carta. Together with this document that underpins modern democracy there are other Cathedral treasures - mainly chalices and plates that date back to to 1200s as well as local documents just as old and a hand-written bible and priests lessons. There are no photographs allowed here (although that doesn't stop one pest) so you will need to rely on this link.

Quite a few hours pass with us exploring this magical place. I can't help but wonder whether Hwll's original rock carving of Akun really is tucked into a cranny high in the cathedral by one of his mason descendants! When we are back here later in the week, Michael will do a tour of the tower and might be able to find out for me. As today is Sunday, there is only one tour at 4 pm and we need to be gone before then. But not before we visit the Refectory Restaurant that is set abutting the cloisters for some lunch (potato and leek soup with fresh croutons and parmesan cheese) to keep us going.

We are headed back to London. I had asked Gen to send me some summer clothes and there was some mail that we needed to get and they have now arrived at Anna and Gary's place in Bracknell. Although they will not be at home today as they are taking their boys to the farm, we arrange for them to leave the box near the door so we can collect it. En-route we make a drink stop at the Jekyll and Hyde Pub that dates back to 1777 ('cos we can) and where the publican tells us it was so named to reflect its patrons, which he adds, it still does! The whole place is filled with quirky quotes!

As we were headed back in, we decided to take a few last days in London and try to get in to see a show. We initially had a bit of trouble finding some accommodation that met our needs for internet access and parking without being outrageously exorbitant. We finally found the London Elizabeth Hotel. It is - wait for it - across the road (literally) from Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, and the Tube. We have checked in and are then informed that we will be staying in the Greville Janner Suite - three rooms (bedroom, lounge and bathroom) plus wrought iron balcony!!! The decor, while a little dated, is so in a grand, comfortable and olde world way - very nice. We seem to be getting great accommodation everywhere we go!

Dinner is in the on-site Rose Garden Restaurant. The menu choice is very 'country' and nothing like the meals of the last few days. But we are tired and it is wet on and off outside, so tonight we just stay in. Michael chooses English Steak and Kidney Pie (Chunks of Scotch Steak, Calves Kidney and a Rich Beef Gravy in a Short Crust Pie Served with Real, Proper Chips (Fries), while I opt for the lighter Ricotta Lasagne (Our own recipe of this wonderful flat pasta layered with a rich sauce of ground scotch beef, vine ripened tomatoes, mushrooms, onion, and a cream ricotta cheese sauce, with mozarella and pecorino romano, topped with parmesan, served with mixed salad). We both finished with Bramble Pudding (A Wonderful English Tradition of Wild Red Berries Baked in an Individual Short Crust Pastry, Served Warm with a Scoop of Rich, Creamy Real Vanilla Ice Cream). Hmm, this is one restaurant that could benefit from a visit from Gordon Ramsay. Most the ingredients I suspect were out of cans! Pity, with the setting they have, a good restaurant could do wonders here.

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