Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Downton Abbey!

Yesterday was the first day I think I behaved like a silly tourist-- it was a long day traveling from Oxford to Highclere Castle to Stonehenge to Salisbury and then back again. It was about 12 hours in total.  But, that first site is the recognizable filming site for Downton Abbey (which I love-- the third season starts up here in about a week!).

 I was so excited we were going, I took a picture through the coach window as we drove up (see what I mean about silly?).  But, I did get a better picture of the outside...

Unfortunately, visitors aren't allowed to take pictures inside the house-- I was upset about this especially since the Earl and Countess and whoever else manages the tour have totally cashed in on the popularity of the TV show and have labeled the rooms where filming is done.  So, had I been able to take pictures, I could have taken pictures of the entry hall where scenes like the big Christmas concert and Matthew and Mary's illicit kiss were; rooms like the bedrooms of Edith, Sybil and Cora Crawley; as well as the room where Turkish Embassy Attache Pamuk was found dead (he's the one minor character whose placement in the house is marked).

This was the first truly dreary weather day-- kind of what I imagined every day in the UK was going to be like, but it was still a shock when it wasn't 75 and sunny all day (and, I wasn't quite dressed for it because I didn't really believe that the weather was going to so drastically change in less than a day...I know better now, hopefully)-- so I didn't get many pictures of the gardens. It was hard to maneuver with an umbrella in one hand and my bag from the gift shop in the other (this is the first time I've even explored a gift shop--but I don't think I'll be back to Highclere castle again. It would be basically impossible to get there without a car. It's in the middle of nowhere and no train or bus goes to it.).  Despite the rain, I got a couple of pictures in the gardens.

This is the Monk's Garden.

And this is the Secret Garden-- which isn't hard to find, so it's not a very well kept secret.  The picture doesn't really do it justice-- it's gorgeous and very colorful.  And, it would have been wonderful to walk around for hours if it hadn't been raining fairly hard by the time I got there.  I did, however, brave getting wet in the rain to have a picture of me in front of Downton Abbey (sorry, Highclere Castle-- though unlike Christ's Church where people associated with the college seem rather snide about their association to Harry Potter and those who come there just for that, those at Highclere are clearly making the most of its association with popular culture, so I don't feel too badly for thinking of it as Downton) taken (if you look closely, you can also see I'm wearing sandals, which as the day progressed became a dumber and dumber choice of footwear).

What is interesting about Highclere Castle is that it does share much of the same important history that Downton Abbey has in the show, most notably that it really did act as a hospital during World War 1 and it was Lady Almina, the 5th countess (they're on the 8th now--she's written a book on Lady Almina) who converted it into a hospital.  What's also interesting is that throughout the house are all the old furnishings and portraiture, and then on tables around the home are pictures of the current Earl and Countess and their kids and family, all in frames that look like they were bought from Target (or some like store since they don't seem to have Target here-- I think Tesco is the equivalent) and there are magazines like Marie Claire scattered about (in Edith's room, I believe). Nothing that belongs to the current family is hung on walls or somehow permanently affixed so that the pictures of the current family can be removed during filming.  The portraits on the walls are all correct for the period-- you can see them as you're watching Downton Abbey since they all remain hanging during filming.

From Downton Abbey (right, Highclere Castle) we went to Stonehenge-- fortunately it had stopped raining since the only thing to do at Stonehenge (which is quite windy no matter the rest of the weather conditions) is to walk around the stones, counter-clockwise (I'm not sure why that's the way everyone walks) and look at the stones and the arrangement from various angles.

It's relatively easy to get unimpeded photos (unlike other places where there's no way to stop other wayward tourists from walking in front of the camera) since people keep moving fairly well.  But, I did take one picture with people in it to give a sense of how much of a draw it is (you can also see the people in the background of the above photos).

And, that was on a miserable day (as you can tell from the sky)-- though people kept saying that it has been much windier at Stonehenge than it was when we were there, which is hard to imagine. (I did have one of my students take a picture of me at Stonehenge since, again, I don't think I'll be going back, but it's awful-- not her fault. It was so windy, I don't know that anyone got an attractive picture there.)  Again, this is sort of in the middle of nowhere (though, easier to get to since it's such a longstanding tourist draw-- a new and bigger tourist center is currently being built)-- which does make the fact that these stones were brought here thousands of years ago really amazing, as is the fact that whoever did this managed to get the stones into the ground (1/3 of each standing stone is below ground) and lift the stones on top of one another (some of the stones weight as much as 3 elephants as our printed fun-facts guide told us).

From Stonehenge, we went to Salisbury, which I hopefully will get back to.  It's a really cute town
but we only really had time to go to the Cathedral.  The gate in the picture leads into the section where the Cathedral is. There's a matching one at the other point of entry-- those gates are locked from 10:30 pm to 7 or 7:30 am every day. Those who live inside the Cathedral walls have keys to get in an out of the gate.  Salisbury Cathedral was built over 38 years starting in 1220 (repair work is being done on the end).


It's remarkable because it was built in one continuous process, so the architecture is pretty consistent.  There's a model of the way it was built, though it does make more sense in person.

Most other cathedrals were added onto over the years, so the architecture style changes as additions were made.  It's also where one of the only four known copies of Magna Carta (no one ever says "the" in front of it) is housed (again, I wasn't allowed to take a picture).  As important as it is that this Cathedral has one of four copies (and the best preserved one of those four), it's housed in a really dreary, plain room that's kind of dark. It's dark so that light doesn't ruin the document, but I'm not sure why the room itself is so plain-- it's housed in what was the Chapter Room where monks read chapters from books by/about saints, so maybe that's why it's so austere, but it's a stark contrast. Salisbury Cathedral proper is gorgeous .

 This is the "back" of the Cathedral, though it's where visitors enter which makes it feel like the front.

This is the Trinity Chapel which is the front of the Cathedral.  The lowest stained glass panels were created and put in in 1980-- it's called the Prisoners of Conscience window. There's an Amnesty International candle that always burns in the corner of the Trinity Chapel. I just like the continuing attention to human rights as a part of the tradition at the Cathedral.  There are also tombs located all around the Cathedral.

Most interesting about them is that there are sculptures of the people entombed in them on top. This is William Longespee. He died in 1226.  I only took the one picture (he's the one member of royalty entombed there-- you can tell he's royalty because his feet are propped on a lion).  They're not really famous people...not ones I recognize anyway.  We went to Evensong, mostly to hear the choir sing and to give the students that kind of experience.  It was really nice-- my favorite part is that as part of the prayers which are sung, there is still a verse that asks G-d to save the monarchy and to encourage the royalty to hear the words of the people when they need the monarch (that's the spirit of the words, not the actual wording). Then we had dinner at a local college (with food that was much better than anything I was ever served when I was in college--or grad school) and drove back to Oxford.

I was dead tired, and still managed to get sucked into the US Open finals match and stayed up until 2:30 watching. I had to watch online-- I'm not even sure that it was being shown live here, but if it was, the channels I get on cable weren't showing it. (I think it was on the Sky network, which I think is what was streaming online; Sky network-- for which there are multiple channels, kind of like ESPN-- isn't part of the cable subscription I have.) I do want to see a print newspaper sometime today to see how big a deal it is that Murray won-- I'm not sure if it finished too late here to make the papers.  Today is sort of a lazy day though-- I'm working up the energy to really clean the flat for the first time (instead of just wiping down surfaces like I do every day) and to go run errands.

It's the first really free day I've had in what feels like a while (though, probably only a little more than a week) and then starting tomorrow, it's back to the manic tourist pace and administrative stuff with students for another week.  The fact that it's cold out (though not raining at the moment) -- usually as I blog, I sit at my kitchen table with the doors to the patio open so I can enjoy the weather, but I only lasted about 2 minutes with the doors open today before I decided I was delusional and should just admit that I'm cold and not enjoying the weather (as much as I love having the doors open)-- and that this is the first time I've had to really do nothing (even though I have stuff to do-- just not scheduled) is making me lazy. But, I guess that's how it would be if I were at home in this situation,so that kind of makes me feel like I'm really "living" here (even if living is defined as still being in my pajamas even though it's early afternoon here).

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