Monday, February 17, 2014

Harry Potter geek-out and a wonderful wedding

After spending 10 days in California, Bobby and I headed to the UK. We were invited to a wedding in Northern England, so we decided to make a mini-holiday out of it. We left LA on New Year's Eve. Funny (not really) story: we took two different flights from LAX to London, which left on 25 minutes apart from each other, and spend New Year's Eve in the air. Don't ask how that happened. Anyways... we flew from London to Edinburgh and stayed at a lovely hotel. On the second of January, we woke up to a truly beautiful day (especially for January, in the winter, in Edinburgh!). I had remembered reading somewhere that J.K. Rowling wrote most of the first Harry Potter book in a café in Edinburgh, and she completed the final book in a hotel there as well. So after a nice stroll around the beautiful city, I forced Bobby to accompany me to the café.
And it did not disappoint! The café, The Elephant House, is now basically a giant memorial to Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling. It's still a working café, so Bobby and I enjoyed several pots of tea and some scones while basking in the glory of all things J.K. Rowling (ok, so maybe Bobby wasn't basking, but I certainly was!). The best part of the café, minus the giant pots of tea, yummy scones, and lots of seating room, were the toilets. The toilets are absolutely covered in taggings about Harry Potter! As you can see in this lovely photo, someone wrote 'The Way To The Ministry' above this toilet (us Harry Potter fans will understand the reference). After visiting the café, we went to a few art museums, both of which were free (I love all the free museums in the UK... makes up for the 20 pound entrance fee for Westminster Abbey, and for the Tower of London, and St. James Cathedral). We even got to watch the Rose Bowl in a local pub! I do so love Edinburgh, and not just for the sake of Harry Potter  :)
On the 3rd, we took the train from Edinburgh to Newcastle, where we rented a car and headed west towards Hexam. This area of Northern England, Northumberland, is rich in ancient history. When the Romans occupied England, they tried to invade Scotland as well. However, they were never able to control the wild northern areas, so the Romans built a wall to keep the rowdy Northerners out. This wall, known as Hadrian's Wall, still stands in many areas.
In several places along the wall ancient Roman forts have been discovered. The best place to visit in the fort and accompanying village of Vindolanda, which is still an active archeological site. Occupied for 300 years by Roman soldiers and their families, the site has been a treasure trove of ancient artifacts.
My favorite of the artifacts is, of course, the shoes! They also had some really interesting writing tablets, which included messages about birthday party invites, requests for more beer, and inventory lists. There were also coins, combs, and the usual pottery found.
After visiting the Vindolanda site, we continued driving around the area on small little back roads, traveling up and down hills. It is truly beautiful countryside: green rolling hills, hidden lakes, and old ruined buildings dotting the area. We followed Hadrian's Wall for quite a ways (the wall went from coast to coast).
We stayed at a BnB in the town of Hexham, about 20 km west of Newcastle. Hexham is home to the Hexham Abbey, which was first built in 674. The original abbey was made of stones taken from dilapidated Roman ruins (by 674, the Romans had been out of England for 300 years and the forts were already in ruin). Situated on the river Tyne, Hexham was invaded and destroyed by Viking invaders in 875. Go Denmark!
Luckily, the Abbey was restored. The Frith Stool, or bishop's throne, also survived. Dated back to the 7th century, this stool might have been created for Wilfred, founder of the Abbey. Interesting thing about frith stools: they were a place of sanctuary, similar to the 'safe area' when playing tag. Anyone who managed to reach the frith, such as a criminal fleeing justice, could not be touched until they were granted assurance of justice and fair treatment. Pretty cool, eh? Anyways, moving on... we were fortunate enough to see a concert performed inside the Abbey: the church's assistant organist performed Messiaen's La Nativité du Seigneur (The Nativity of the Lord). It was a lovely performance.
As I mentioned above, we were in the UK for a friend's wedding. The wedding took place in Langley Castle on a beautiful sunny (but cold) day. The castle is actually a 14th century tower house, which has been converted into a hotel.
The inside of the castle is beautifully decorated with chandeliers, thick carpets, huge curtains, and lots of comfy chairs and couches surrounding giant fireplaces.
Of course there is armor. What kind of castle doesn't have armor?
One of the most unusual things about the castle is the number of garderobes (old toilets) that were a part of the castle. There are a total of 12 individual garderobes, four on each floor. This was very rare for buildings of the time. Here you can see that two of the garderobes have been decorated with Christmas trees. No need for Pine air freshener in these toilets!

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