All the Rest: England by the Photographs

Time flies as it so often does, and this post, which I’d hoped to have up a few weeks ago and spread out over a few different posts on different days, has simply not been written.  But today I have been super Helen, apparently capable of accomplishing much more in one afternoon than I have in the previous month I’ve spent in Germany.  With postcards, emails, facebook messages and my German school homework under my belt I can finally turn to my blog, and the four posts (and then some) I’ve been working on.

So: England, all the rest of what I saw.  It would have been better, of course, to write this while things were still fresh in my mind.  But perhaps the impressions that remain capture most effectively my time there- or so I’d like to think.  In two short weeks I managed to see so much, and in truth some of what I saw blends together in hindsight- where did I visit which farmers’ market?  Where did I buy which used book?  Did I like that particular church, this particular park?  I probably did- I don’t think I’ve ever met a church or park that I haven’t liked, but it’s still worth asking what it was I liked about it.  I probably can’t remember, but I can ask.

Any way, here’s a brief overview of where I was when, according to my calendar: on the eleventh (of March) I visited London.  It was raining, it was cold, and so I visited the British Museum and wandered around Buckingham palace and the Victoria street train station.  On the twelfth I took a break and on the thirteenth I visited Cambridge.  The sky pelted me with inch-round hail (a slight exageration, perhaps) and subsequently I spent half the day in coffee shops and didn’t have a very good time.  It also failed to impress me as much as Oxford had on my previous visit to the UK, and as much as it did again later.  I did pick up some wonderful used books though.  On the fourteenth I visited Stratford and on Friday I visited York.  I loved both, but it was York that captured my heart.  Hopefully I’ll return there someday.  I visited Canterbury on Monday (the eighteenth) in hopes of seeing the Cathedral.  It failed to occur to me that, as the new Archbishop was to be sworn in (right terminology?  I don’t know) on Thursday that I wouldn’t be able to get inside.  On the nineteenth I visited Oxford, and on the twentieth I visited London again, this time to see the V&A (lovely) and to take a long walk through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park.  Again it was cold, again it was damp, but it was England after all, so what else could be expected?

Below are my pictures of those seven days, with the exception of Cambridge, of which I didn’t manage to take any pictures I’m truly proud of.  Some day I’ll return and get a better feel for the city, and hopefully change my perspective on it.  It did, after all, have some phenomenal used bookstores and a marvelous farmers’ market.  I will also spare you the duck photography which so delights me, as I’m sure you have ducks of your own to look at wherever you are.

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The great hall of the British Museum is probably one of the most instantly recognizable interior features of any museum in the world, up there with the Egyptian hall in the Met, the entry hall of Guggenheim, and the Pergammon Altar in Berlin.  It’s a pretty daunting subject to capture on film, but it makes for some great shots.

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This is one of my favourite Tennyson quotes.  I waited for a while to see if I could get a picture of it without any people walking over it and then decided that I liked it just fine with some feet in the picture.

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All of my good photos from my first day in London were from the British Museum.  I last visited the museum in August of 2011 and enjoyed a brief but highly informative dash through it’s many exhibits.  This time I managed to spend nearly four hours in the museum, which I definitely consider time well spent.  If you’re interested in seeing the picture from Nakano’s Tokyo Nobody series which so delighted and amazed me, you can find it here.  (I don’t take pictures of actual artwork found in museums.  I don’t know why, but it bothers me).

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If pressed to describe tourist Stratford in a simple phrase I think I’d choose “endearingly tacky.”  The Shakespeare properties are well maintained and beautiful, but I’d be lying if I said they were inspiring or enlightening.  The guides scattered throughout the estates were all in period dress, something which is a distinct tourist turn off to yours truly, and even though their presentations were tasteful and entertaining, I can’t say that they added to the experience in any meaningful way.  Still, I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the properties and was genuinely delighted by the church at which he was baptized, wed and buried.  Before leaving town I went for a walk along the river and stopped by the Royal Shakespeare Company, which looks like it would be an awesome place to see a play.  Who knows, maybe life’s twists and turns might bring me back for just that purpose.

Above is a picture of what is believed to be Shakespeare’s childhood home, and below is an exquisite knot garden near the remains of his daughter’s house.
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As in many of the places I visited in England I couldn’t find any favourite local graffiti.  I did, however, find a favourite local tombstone, shown below.

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York captured me from the moment I stepped off the train.  The train station looked like something out of a tourist guide to England, with a long and curving track housed under an industrial-era roof.  Pigeons flew through and around the many food stands and roosted on the metal roof-supports.  Despite the dismal grey outside the station the platform seemed suffused with light.  I loved it.
Shortly after leaving the station I came to the York museum gardens and the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey.  This clearly once majestic monastery touched me deeply, and it’s arches have inspired a couple of sketches I’m very proud of, though I could not sketch them in person due to the rain and the wet.
I later visited both York Minster and Clifford’s Tower, though I haven’t posted a picture of the later here.  I also spent a fair bit of time wandering through the Shambles and York’s other many winding roads.  In spite of the rain I spent more time outside than in, so delighted was I by just walking on the streets of York.
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York Minster was everything a massive and aged church often is: breathtaking, awe-inspiring, finely detailed, humbling and well-storied.  Struck by the history and moved by the reverence of the atmosphere I penned this short poem.  I don’t know if I’m particularly proud of it yet, but here it is, still as unfinished as the day I wrote it.  Above is the ceiling of the York Minster chapter house, where I wrote that day.

The Chapterhouse
Here in crowded minster hall
A calm and quiet corner
Footsteps ring to cleave the silence
Only briefly, it sews self shut behind them
As before; the air here ever laden
With prayers of holy men uttered
Down through the ages, winging swiftly
To touch the hearts of wander’rs here today
In calm and quiet corners
Of a crowded minster room
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I didn’t manage to see all that much in Canterbury, due to the afore-mentioned new Archbishop of Canterbury, nor did I manage to get many good pictures.  It was, however, a very lovely day.  I really like this shot I took of the Cathedral, it’s probably the best picture I took all day.  Below is another shot I don’t mind too much of the gate to the city.

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Oxford delighted me as it ever does.  Above is a picture I took of Christchurch cathedral and below is one of a vine-covered house I particularly liked.  Oddly enough I mostly visited sites I’d already seen, from the Cathedral to the divinity school.  Again I failed to see the Bodleian Library, but I did make it to the Ashmolean Museum and a special exhibit on the contemporary Chinese artist Xu Bing, which was lovely.
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On my last day of sightseeing in the UK I returned to London for a visit to the V&A and a walk through Hyde Park.  Having seen most of the more touristy sights in the city on a previous visit (in 2011) I chose to focus on the museums this time around.  As always I couldn’t resist the chance to walk through a park and some gardens, cold and damp though it was.  Above is a picture of the fog-swathed trail I took through Kensington gardens and below is a picture of my favourite piece in the V&A: a poem etched on the side of a funerary marble carving.6lndn2_vna1

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About Helen (etaunknown)

An undergrad at the University of British Columbia, studying Anthropology and all the kinds of history they didn't teach me in school (concentrations in Indigenous and Environmental History(s)), my blogs are mainly places where I talk about academia, travel, and writing. I've been blogging in one form or another for the last 7 years, from angsty teenage poetry (no, I won't link you to that particular blog) to thoughts on religion, books, music and academia. I've been writing for as long as I can remember, and while I use my two main wordpress blogs as places to post a lot of my writing, I'm also busily at work on a novel (or three), some longer narrative essays, some short stories and as ever, some poetry. If you want to know more, please email me at etaunknownwrites@gmail.com
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