Welcome to Macedonia

I can now say that I have been to Vienna, Austria. Well, for a few hours in the airport. The flights from Heathrow to Skopje were on Austrian Airlines, and well, I guess I shouldn’t complain about the service on American flights. It was especially bad given that the flight from Vienna to Skopje was absolutely packed. There might have been one seat free. Maybe. And apparently everyone brought lots and lots of luggage. Bleah.

But I made it here. In terms of the real reason I’m here, this is going to be great. I’m very excited about what I’ve seen in terms of the hotel, the dig site, and that sort of stuff. There are twelve of us in the group, including the Fullers, some people from the St. Louis area, three from Grove City College in Pennsylvania, and myself. It seems like a good group.

Today we went out to Stobi, a Roman city about an hour from Skopje. They believe they’ve excavated only about 15% of the city, but what they have done is quite fascinating. Lots of impressive examples of Roman architecture and building technology (especially the baths of course), and some beautiful tiled mosaic floors.

There’s also a small museum with some of the items they’ve recovered. The most interesting item was a knife blade that looked very much like a saex blade. When I get the chance I’ll post pictures and you’ll see what I mean.

The when will be questionable. Macedonia bills itself as the first wireless country. Um, well, I have yet to find wireless and the wireless we thought the hotel had was not in existence. I’m at the American Corner room and using their computer right now, but of course for some reason the mail server at Metapros must be down because I can’t open my mail right now. GRRRR.

Anyway, the upshot is I don’t know how consistent I’ll be able to post. My plan is to go ahead and type up the LiveJournal entries, and then put them up when I can. This may mean that there will be several posts at once. I’ll try and let you all know when I’m doing multiple posts so you know to check down to previous posts, but I might forget. You’re warned.

So, for now, talk to you all later, whenever that is.

Last Day in London

Well, yesterday was my last day in London. I met with Sisuile again and we went to the Tower of London.

First, I don’t care what you think, London Bridge is Falling Down is not good theme music for visitors to this spot. There were a lot of people there, and it seemed like I could hear someone singing that song at some point the whole time I was there.

Second, the Tower of London is BIG. Way bigger than I had pictured in my head. It’s a huge conglomeration of buildings that various kings have added on to.

Third, it’s a heck of a place. Like Leeds, there’s not much early period stuff, but since I didn’t really expect any, I wasn’t disappointed. There’s a bunch of later period plate armor, but I was more interested in the historical guns and artillery. Dad, you would love seeing this stuff.

The Jewel House is also stupendous. I’m not a big fan of diamonds usually, but the size, quantity, and workmanship of the jewels there was amazing.

After that, I hurried home to make sure I was ready to go. Eddie, Mia, Ian, and a few others are headed to the Isle of Man today, so they came over last night. I got virtually no sleep, but I have now seen Shaun of the Dead. That’s a pretty funny movie, and an SCA event waiting to happen.

Eddie brought me over to Heathrow at 3:30, it’s now 5:30, and I’m blogging from the airport. I’m very excited about the dig (especially since my textbook showed up on Tuesday and I don’t have to stress about that), but I’m not ready to leave England. There’s too much left to see.

British Museum (Take Two)

I met Sisuile at the British Museum and we had a blast. This time I looked at other stuff besides the Sutton Hoo and early medieval period stuff.

Obviously, there’s a ton of interesting stuff from a bunch of cultures. We spent 3 hours looking around and I know for a fact we missed much of the museum.

Nevertheless, I have now seen the Rosetta Stone, the Elgin Marbles (which are no longer the Elgin Marbles, by the way), and a host of other beautiful items. I have lots more pictures and sooner or later, I’ll get them uploaded.

After the museum, we had dinner and watched the Italy-Germany World Cup match. That was one of the dullest games I’ve seen, even though Italy won without going to penalty kicks. The England-Portugal game, despite a total lack of scoring was wayyyy more exciting, not simply because of the atmosphere I watched it in, but because both teams were seriously trying to score.

Anyway, next will be the Tower of London.

Winchester

I can’t begin to appropriately describe Winchester. It is perhaps the most beautiful city I have ever been in, at least the downtown part.

The first place I went was the remains of the Norman Castle. Not much still exists, a few passageways, the remains of a tower, and then the Great Hall which has been kept up. The Great Hall is incredibly beautiful, with stained glass heraldic devices of all of the kings of England (including attributed ones to those who did not technically heraldic arms such as Cnut and Alfred), and many of the leading noblemen and bishops in English history.

The hall itself is glorious, with its buttresses and incredible stonework. On one end there’s a family tree of English royalty starting at the end of the 13th century. On the other end is the great Round Table listing Arthur’s knights and where they sat. It’s amazing, no doubt about it, but….

It is overshadowed by Winchester Cathedral. I’ve been fortunate to have seen some beautiful architecture and embellishments, such as St. Basil’s in Moscow, but I’ve never seen anything like this. The architecture is stupendous in a way I cannot describe.

The cathedral is also a historian’s wet dream. Hundreds of people are buried there, including Jane Austen. You walk over these intricately carved stones with people’s names and occasionally something about them. This isn’t particularly uncommon, but adds to the historicalness (if that’s a word) of the place. St. Swithun is buried there, somewhere. Many great noblemen and bishops of England are also buried there.

On a shelf there are six funerary boxes. This include the remains of such names as King Edmund, King Ecgfrid, King Cnut and Queen Emma, and others. Now the boxes say who’s in them, but nobody’s really sure at this point who really resides in these. During the Civil War, Cromwell’s troops apparently brought these boxes down and poked around in them. All that they know is that there are definitely bones in all of them, but who knows if they were mixed and matched.

Nevertheless it is awe-inspiring to see the caskets that such names, names I’ve studied, once resided in.

But there’s more. The Winchester City Museum has a lovely collection of Anglo-Saxon artifacts. Oh, yeah, there’s this big Victorian era statue of Alfred, and then there’s the river. It’s a beautiful river running right next to the remnants of the medieval and Roman walls.

Whatever you do, plan on going to Winchester when you come to England. You won’t be disappointed.

Now I’m back at Eddie and Mia’s and I’ll go into London to meet Sisuile at the BM and for one last English soiree before jetting off to Macedonia on Wednesday.

Serendipity

I did not enjoy grade school much, but I have some fond memories of 6th grade. My teacher was Mr. Bigelow, and he played a lot of chess with me during lunches and after school.

I also remember the English book pretty well. The book was entitled Serendipity. It took me a while to wrap my tongue around how to pronounce it, but once I figured both how to say it and what it meant I really liked the word.

The word is very applicable to my weekend. I would like to apologize for being so far away from the internet this weekend. The B&B I had hoped to stay did not have rooms after all, despite advertising that they had real-time online room availability. This will be, by the way, a very long post, to make up for several days of notes and thoughts.

Nevertheless, Serendipity kicked in. I found some listings for other stuff and ended up at the Keppel Head Hotel which is in the Hard in Portsmouth.

There’s a goodly amount of history in that last statement, actually. As I was walking around the naval exhibits (more on this later), I found out that the first admiral to fly his flag on the Victory was an Augustus Keppel, and the hotel, founded in 1779, was named after him.

The Hard? That’s the region in Portsmouth right next to the naval base. It referred to first stretch of hard land a sailor would walk on after being at sea. In Portsmouth’s heyday, there were over 100 pubs in essentially a 3 block area. The Landlord of one of the few remaining pubs, the Ship Anson, had a map of the hard in the late 1700s showing essentially every building as a pub.

Serendipity is staying in the same hotel that undoubtedly some Royal Navy officers stayed at before going out to fight the French Navy and drinking at a pub that served their sailors.

As I said, the Hotel was right next to the historic dockyard area which was the naval base. I looked through the Royal Navy museum which has quite a bit of fascinating stuff, but of course I went there for one reason. I went to see the HMS Victory.

The Victory is amazing, daunting, impressive, beautiful, and powerful. I have lots of pictures which eventually I’ll post (speaking of which I’m trying to catch up on some Yorkshire pictures right now).

Unlike Jorvik, the Victory has virtually no Disney, relying on the ship, the equipment, the weaponry, and the history to impress the visitor. It succeeds. It’s also very cramped. I hit my head several times, no worry of course since it’s my head. The deck beams are about 5ft to 5ft, 6in.

I think I’ll let the pictures speak for more of the Victory, but I will say it’s well worth the visit. It is very eerie to stand over the plaque showing where Nelson was shot.

After seeing the museums and the Victory, I took the Harbor Cruise. This was extremely cool. I had noticed a Russian ship, which I later found out was the Admiral Levchenko, moored very close to the Victory, as well as a French ship, the De Grasse moored behind it. They weren’t easy to get pictures of though, but once I was on the Cruise, we went right by them and I got a number of good shots of them. We also went by several RN ships, two destroyers and a frigate, plus several mothballed ships, including an Invincible-class carrior, the Indomitable I believe. I was ecstatic.

The Cruise stopped at a couple of places, so instead of returning to the Hard, I got off at Gunwharf Quay and walked over to Old Portsmouth. This was quite a long walk around the various ship berths but you simply follow the chain. There’s a series of stones with the image of chainlinks in them that lead around to the various historic places near the port.

Anyway, I walked around to the seawall and the circular tower guarding the harbor entrance. I have pictures of this tower from the Cruise and then pictures of the harbor from the tower. The entrance to the harbor is extremely small, only about 500 feet and I was told that the USS Harry Truman, a Nimitz-class carrier was too big to actually enter the harbor and had to actually moor in the Channel when it came over to participate in the yearly naval review.

I also went and had a pint at the Spice Island Inn, which is the last place that Nelson is known to have drunk at before getting on the Victory and heading down to Trafalgar.

I did all of this yesterday, it was a blast. I then went to the Ship Anson and hung out and watched the English do Karaoke. Talk about weird, a old English lady karaokeing a gangsta rap song. I also got to talk to some of the sailors off the De Grasse.

Oh, and before I completely forget. I got Fathmbjorn a parting gift, one that expresses much of both English and Scottish heritage. I’ll post pictures, once I have given it to him.

As I said, this was all Sunday. Saturday involved a lot of me walking around to find a place to stay, a quest which was impacted by needing to do it fairly quickly. England and Portugal played their World Cup game that afternoon, and I wanted to watch it.

And watch it I did at the Ship Anson. I ended up sitting at a table with a guy named Rob (we’re everywhere) and we watched England and Portugal squander chances left and right. I had felt that England was toast if it got to penalty kicks, and I ended up proven right. It was, however, sort of difficult for England to not get to PKs, as Wayne Rooney was sent off for bumping his Manchester United teammate Christiano Ronaldo leaving the English to play 10 to the Portuguese 11 men. England actually played significantly better, I thought, after that, and had some chances, but keeping Portugal off of the board was challenging.

The crowd at the pub was electric. It was amazing to be a part of that.

I hung out a bit longer and watched a bit of the France-Brazil game. The French sailors were loud and raucous. I decided to make it a bit of an early night, and strolled on home, to prepare for a Sunday of walking around.

Now I’m in Winchester, and I’ll leave that for another post. I will say, however, Winchester holds the most amazing building I’ve seen yet, and with that little teaser I’ll end this Tolstoyian post.

England Expects Every Man To Do His Duty

Well, Portsmouth it is. There’s a B&B near the docks that’s relatively inexpensive so I’m off to Portsmouth. We really don’t have room in the car for me the whole day, what with Eddie, Mia, and Louis and Tom, their two kids. Eddie’s fine with dropping me off in Portsmouth, however, so I should be there pretty early. Hopefully, the room availability shown on the internet is reasonably accurate.

Portsmouth is one of the places I’ve wanted to go. Nelson’s Victory is there and I really want to see that. There are also a lot of naval and maritime museums there so I’m excited.

Also, I’ll be in Portsmouth in time to find a pub to watch England-Portugal in the World Cup. That will be a fantastic atmosphere.

In addition, I should have WiFi access at this B&B, which means I’ll be able to post a bunch more pictures and also be on IM later tonight, at least by 6pm Missouri time and probably earlier.

Laundry Day

Well I essentially took yesterday off completely. I did my laundry, but that’s about it.

I have been, over the past few days, very tired. While I am aware that I have essentially been on the go for three weeks, counting Lilies and then the first part of this trip, I felt I was more tired than I should be. Yesterday, I think I realized why. I have not had a caffeinated beverage in a week. I don’t drink coffee often. I like iced tea, but that’s not really what they serve here, and none of my usual diet sodas are readily available here.

Given how much I drink caffeine, it’s probably not a bad idea to wean myself off of it here and go back to water. This is especially true since I’ve already gone a week without.

Today, my plans are pretty basic. I’m going to catch the bus up to the big shopping area in downtown Hayes and stroll around. There are several interesting restaurants I noted as I rode the bus through there.

Tonight, I suspect Ian, Eddie, and I will hit a pub and then tomorrow we’ll go to Exeter to a Vikings event. I don’t know where I’ll go then. I’d like to go to Salisbury for a few days, but the B&B that Kate and Eric suggested is pretty full and the only rooms they have are £58 a night. I’d like to spend a couple of days there, but I don’t think at that price. I’m thinking maybe I’ll look into going to Portsmouth. We’ll see.

At “Home”

Well, I’m back in Hillingdon at Eddie and Mia’s place. I didn’t do anything today but travel back from York for the simple reason that my bag had gotten too heavy with clothes, computer, stuff, and, oh yeah, books that I frankly didn’t want to carry it any more than I had to.

There’s lots I missed in York, like the stuff under the Minster that Larmer suggested in a previous reply. I couldn’t get to email yesterday, so I missed it. It seems to me that I’ll have to come back to York again, maybe when I get back from Macedonia. It is a great place.

Not surprisingly, I also made friends with the very nice landlord couple at the Botham Tavern, Martin and Janice. It’s a neat tavern which has taken over the butcher shop to the west and the baker to the east. Martin happens to have some postcards showing the evolution of the building over the last 150 years.

Anyway, I think I’m going to take tomorrow essentially off and do laundry. Friday and Saturday, I’m probably joining Eddie and Mia in going to a Vikings event in Exeter. Sunday, I’ll probably leave Exeter for Salisbury and look around Salisbury on Monday. My flight leaves on Wednesday, so I’m planning on getting everything organized Tuesday.

Time is disappearing as there’s so much more to do and see. I’m glad I didn’t make many firm decisions of what I had to see and do, else I’m sure I would be disappointed. As it is, I’m already hoping for more opportunities in the future.

I am officially exhausted. I just got back from visiting the Castle Museum, the Jorvik Viking exhibit, and the Yorkshire Museum. I also noted on my return that my sandals are about to just as officially die. There’s a hole in the left one and the seams that I was worried about when I left the states have worsened. Nevertheless, I still hope to eke them out through the trip.

The Castle Museum is an interesting look into primarily nineteenth-century England. Despite the period not being as interesting to me as others, I rather enjoyed the exhibits and displays. They did a very good job of putting the items in a period atmosphere, including having people in period garb discussing some of the professions.

I then headed back to the Yorkshire Museum but stopped at the Jorvik exhibit. This is archaeoDisney. In all actuality the archaeological stuff was excellent and intriguing, but they play some silly games with their visitors about time travel capsules and what not and then put you on what is essentially a Disney ride. They did have some excellent exhibits at the end you could walk through, including some re-enactors, and I took some cool pictures of stuff, but the whole thing could have been better without the Disneyish aspects. The store was, however, very cool, and I bought more books.

I will point out to all of you who are enjoying this blog, you could reward me by buying me the Damascus Viking sword they had there. It was only 375 pounds and it is stunning. Not quite as stunning as the Calontir sword of state made by Angus John, but stunning nonetheless.

Then I went to the Yorkshire Museum. Of all the museums I’ve seen on the trip, including the British Museum, this one was the most fun. They are currently doing an exhibit on Constantine the Great, meaning there’s lots of Roman and Romano-British artifacts. More importantly, they have a really large Anglo-Saxon and Viking age exhibit including the Coppergate Helmet. I had not realized from the pictures I had seen of it how beautiful that helm really is. The engraving on the crest and nasal was stunning. But there’s lots more there. Yes, Maerwynn, I even took pictures of textile stuff, jewelry, and other non-sword items.

Anyway, this museum is worth another trip, though I’m not likely to do it this time. And as for pictures, I have about 80 more to upload when I get the chance.

Now, however, there’s a bit of a nap in my future, then dinner, then a pub. Oh, it’s a hard life.

Random Thoughts

I’m posting this on 26 June, but I wrote it on 23 June but didn’t have a chance to put it on the web until now.

Well, here I am in Brandon, a really cool little town outside of Lakenheath Air Force Base. I’ve already been to site and helped set up some but came back into town to get internet access which is in a local pub. Unfortunately, Dirik and Solange are expecting to find me in this other pub. I snuck out and checked my email for one beer’s worth of time, but am typing this entry in Editpad and will cut and paste later ont.

This entry will thus probably get posted two days hence and will be late, but I thought I’d type it up anyway.

The trip up was smooth. I had my BritRailPass validated and from that point I just rode the train from London King’s Cross Station to Cambridge to Thetford. I took a cab from Thetford to site but it was way early and hardly anyone is there so I came back to check my email and to get some food/beer for the evening. I’ve made arrangements for Dirik or Solange to know to meet me here. Hopefully this works before I get really hammered :). They have John Smith’s Ale here, and they have it very cold and it tastes delicious.

I’ve seen some interesting sites so far today. The train ride went through some nice countryside, but as Eddie said it’s much like Missouri. I had disagreed because the area around London and the A21 to Hastings was split up into smaller units by hedges. The area we went through today has much larger fields and is thus more like home. One difference is that some farmers put a buffer between the train and their field of some brilliantly red flowers. We stopped at Ely and as the train left there I managed to get a picture of Ely Cathedral. I’ll be interested to see how it comes out given the train was going in the 80mph range.

I can really tell that the money spent on the BritRailPass will be well spent. It really is nice to be able to float around the country with little care. I’ve got 14 days worth left. I’ll use some going to Leeds, York, and then wherever.

Met some real tried and true soaked in ale Englishmen today while roaming in Brandon. They were hilarious, though the bar owner was worried that they would offend me and so tried to get them to shut up. I’m suspecting getting them to shut up is a bit of a challenge ;). They didn’t bother me and they also pointed out that there’s a British ale festival in London during the time I’m in London in August. Hmmm 🙂

I’m taking extra time with this post because I’m sort of killing time, but I wish I were this detailed more often. There’s lots I’m not remembering to mention, like the Chicken Vindaloo Frozen Pizza we found. It was quite good. I will say, now that the USA is out of the World Cup (way to not take advantage of your talent), I’m rooting for England. It’s a blast to think about and watch soccer/football here where it’s embedded in the cobblestones.

I have to take this moment to mention that the loo at this pub has a Union Jack toilet seat. I’m not sure any comment I might make can improve that sentence any :).

You know, I sit and I am constantly reminded of a wonderful quote. I think it’s Oscar Wilde that said England and America are two countries divided by a common language. There’s a lot of truth in how difficult it is to communicate here. How many Englishmen are thinking: what an idiot (less than the number of Americans who think that only because I know more Americans ;).

By the way, I don’t know what it is about me, but no matter where I go I am the one that people ask for directions. My second time on the London Underground, I was asked directions. Yes, I did know the answer, but why ask the American?

Opinions and fiction of person misplaced in time.