Saturday, October 1, 2011

Abbey Abbess Abbot - We Came We Saw We Marveled

A couple of lingering thoughts this morning. (1)It may not have sounded like it, but Blenheim Palace was worth the price of admission. All the literature says that if you are going to visit just one of the "Treasure Houses of England" that is the one. And we didn't even take the little railroad down to the Pleasure Gardens where the maze is. The picture on the left is the Italian Gardens and is not accessible to the public. It is beautifully designed and I don't blame them for keeping it private for the family and I'm sure they enjoy it when the crowds are gone. (2) I know I get carried away by how narrow these little streets are here in the Cotswolds, but I find it remarkable that there are not more cars in need of body work. The road our hotel is on is a dead end, and there is a sign as you turn onto it that declares "No Turning Ahead." I find that a bit puzzling. As you can see from the picture below, either the owners of those cars back up well, or the cars themselves are one use only, and older than they look. Of course I am easily baffled.

Saturday - October 1, 2011 - Hilton in Newport, Wales

It was such a gorgeous morning we decided to take a walk down our very picturesque Blockley street to the local post office to mail the cards Kat wrote out yesterday. The church of Sts. Peter and Paul was quiet, no choir practice this morning. Quiet indeed, the only sounds were our footsteps. What a great place. We were up early again, and given that it was a Saturday we figured that the locals would be out in force enjoying this beautiful early fall day. Our plan was to make our way southwest to the step foot in the country of Wales (about 80 miles - 90 minutes) and pay a visit to Tintern Abbey. Then it would be off to find a place to get our laundry laundered. That was the plan. If we accomplished that it would be a day well spent. Man plans - God laughs.

Due to a fortunate navigation error we headed right down the main street of old Chipping Campden, parked in the square and made a return visit to Sarah's coffee shop in the Noel Arms for breakfast. The place was just coming to life with Sarah (?) behind the counter teaching a new young female intern the ropes. I had at least a hundred questions, as usual. Turns out it was daughter's first day and I was her first customer - just her luck. I wished Picabo (Mom was really into skiing when she was pregnant) well, collected our goodies and got back on the road to the Abbey.

If anyone was to ask why we were going to Wales, the answer would probably be because it was there. And since we were on the island, why not go to the three countries that shared it. And someone who worked in my organization a long time ago was Welsh and had the most beautiful accent. That is about all I can think of. We just dipped our toes (so to speak) crossing the border and heading for the ruins of what was once a large, architecturally beautiful Cistercian 12th century abbey.
It has been memorialized in poetry and painting. The picture to the right is one of Turner's nicest, but as you can see by our pictures they clearly have taken the shears to all the vegetation.

The Cistercians are an interesting bunch. Austere, totally committed to community with God, the nexus of which originated in France and spread throughout Britain. Clearly not a group I would want to belong to. Up at all times of night to pray, work all day, eat little and revel in the idea of sacrifice. Not my ideal. After about 400 years of this major changes took root. Firstly, the Reformation weakened the resolve and then young Henry the VIII (of all the wives) got really upset with the Catholic church and Pope and took umbrage that he could not divorce Catherine of Aragon to marry that little minx Anne Boleyn. So he set up his own church (the Church of England - C of E) divorced and married and sentenced to death a wife or two, ... well you know the story. A side action was to destroy the Catholic Churches, monasteries and abbeys. The ruins dot the UK landscape and as for Tintern Abbey, all that is left of that purge is a skeleton, a beautiful skeleton, but a skeleton still.

If you sit back and take a look it, it almost appears to be a Gothic cathedral under construction. The bones are there .. the beautiful stained glass windows are missing, as well as the roof, but those seem like minor disruptions to the general contractor's plans. Just a matter of calling in the subcontractors. The imagination fills in the blank spaces. We wandered the abbey and read all the signs and tried to imagine what it was like. It seemed so peaceful in the Welsh morning sun. It is a moving experience and we are glad that we made the short detour of the main road to visit.

There is a cool gift shop, filled with some period stuff, but Kat was drawn to the T-shirts, something lighter to wear as the day was very warm and we had planned for late fall coolness. We still had to to laundry but at least we had clean shirts to wear if needed. And by the way, if you ever need to get a damsel tunic, we know exactly where you can find one:

The Hampton Inn in Newport was a pleasant 1/2 hour drive away. We enjoy driving through the small villages, even the modern ones like this picture shows, enjoying how different it is from what we left at home. Gotta question the bump outs with the posts here. Are they the equivalent of our speed bumps?. They certainly have the effect of slowing you down.

The inn itself is modern, clean and neat, just what one would expect. No little garret room above a noisy pub this night. We asked the very nice check in clerks where we might find a do it yourself laundry and it stumped them. Really stumped them. Phone books and internet searches yielded nothing. Oh well, we still had one more day of clean clothes and it would have to wait for Bath. We were hungry and wanted to see a little bit of the country so we headed toward Cardiff - big mistake. Saturday afternoon and the M4 was bouchon as they say in French - plugged, corked, all tied up.
After 45 minutes we turned around and headed for the small town of Chepstow. Good decision as it is a lovely little town with a crenellated entrance gate. Reminds us of Verona in a way, but much more modern. The gate is between a laundry (closed) and a pub. Perfect.

Dinner was in the Lime Tree Cafe Bar, and it was so pleasant and relaxing, just what one would hope for in a local pub; warm and inviting. We have found when traveling that sometimes you just need an off day, a day to unwind with no set itinerary, and today was that day for us.
The food was excellent, the beer very good (I couldn't help think of my brother and his passion for cask beer when I saw the pull), and the setting just right for our frame of mind. Each table has a tag with a number on it, and we are getting used to ordering at the bar then sitting back and letting life take care of itself. We chatted about how fortunate we are, and have been, trying to not take it for granted.

It was a perfect evening so we decided to take a little stroll around Chepstow or Cas-gwent as the Welsh call it. There is a great old castle up on the hill overlooking the bridge that crosses the River Wye into England. We couldn't help ourselves. A short walk to England and back. Sometimes it's fun to act like a kid.

Back in our modern hotel we thought as far into the future as we dared. Tomorrow we head for Bath - a city that is said to be a gem of a place. Home to the Crescent and Circus and even an Austen, with beautiful architecture, groomed parks, and ye olde Roman baths, still intact after all these years. And, we hope, a do it yourself laundry that is open on Sunday.

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