And the Roman Emperor Decreed That There Should be a Wall. And Hence There was a Wall.

I wanted to do the Poland post next for consistency, but I haven’t posted in a while and the Irish tour guide has dumb 80s music on way to loud for me to get my Celtic on via Charlotte my iPod without popping my eardrums, so I figured I’ll entertain you lot instead.

Three weeks ago (I’m very good at this updating the blog thing, aren’t I?) my Roman Britain class boarded a train at King’s Cross and sat on it for approximately four hours before we arrived in Northumberland in the north of England. There we looked around, realized we were in the middle if nowhere sans a bus and wondered why in the name of God we were on this trip on a perfectly good Friday. Well because it was free that’s why. We like free things.

When the bus finally did arrive, we trekked westward to the boarder of Hadrian’s wall. This wall was built by the Romans in the second century AD (yes, I say AD, meaning Anno Domini, none of this Common Era nonsense, this is the way it’s been done for 2000 years, I’m not messing with a perfectly functional system). The Emperor Hadrian, NOT Adrian, wanted to secure the borders of his empire and told his legions stationed in Britain to construct a wall 70 miles long across the neck of Britain five feet thick and thirty feet high, please and thank you. Which is exactly what they did. Now, it is not as impressive. But you can climb on it. Which was fun. It’s main purpose was to keep the crazy Scots out. It definitively marked the barrier between Rome and not Rome. Civilization vs barbarians.

Of course we hopped the fence and ventured into barbarian-land. When we were there two Scots were walking the wall and asked our English professor for directions. She told them and they went merrily on their way into Rome. An English girl in the lass exclaimed, “How could you? You’ve let the Scots in!”

Bahaha.

Our first stop was the Roman Army museum at Vindolanda, one of the Roman forts along the wall. We met a very nice wannabe Roman soldier/archaeologist called Gambax who told us about the fort and the wall and life in the surrounding areas. The fort itself was strictly military. Only officers were allowed to have wives and families, so the rest of the soldiers (who were in for 25 years) clearly took up with the local girls and had illegitimate families in the outskirts of the fort. The native Britons of the area set up a village which was not nearly as organized as the fort. They built Roman style houses (meaning square as opposed to round) but the roads were sporadic, narrow and bent rather than straight and wide.

Inside the fort itself, most of the ancient artifacts are found either under the floorboards or in rubbish dumps. Because Britain’s climate is so damp, a great deal of organic material has survived including leather boots, wigs and wooden writing tablets. Most of the tablets are military missives but one of them is an invitation to a birthday party from one officer’s wife to another. The message is written by a scribe but the woman added a postscript in her own hand. It is the earliest surviving evidence of a woman writing in the entire world.

Also found are things like samian bowls (the dishes made of red clay with black paintings on them. They look Greek but I promise they’re Roman) and glass vases, which would have been highly prized by both the soldiers and their women. Both were distinctly made on the Continent in the Roman style and kept them in touch with the rest of the Empire. Also making the people feel very Roman were their intricate bath houses. They each had about five rooms, one for getting changed, a hot bath room, a cold bath room, a steam room and a getting re-dressed room. The commanding officer and his wife had their own bath houses. A bath house is easily recognized by it’s rounded roof to keep the condensing water from dripping on your head while you’re bathing; instead it glides down the walls away from you. The Romans were smart. With these rooms and items, the people living on the remote border of Rome were able to feel like they were still part of it.

Time out. Now the music is opera. Which is fine with me but I don’t get this guy.

The folks at Vindolanda were so pumped about their most recent discovery under the floorboards a few months back and could not stop talking about it. They found the human remains of a child they believe to have been murdered by the soldiers. How charming. They were loving it because they will now hopefully be able to harvest a great deal of new information. I just thought it was quite sad. What was kind of amusing is the fact that if you are an archaeologist and you find human remains, you are under legal obligations to report it to the police.

“Yes, officer, we did find evidence of a murder on our site.”

“Great scot! When do you think it happened?”

“About 1800 years ago.”

“Um … Er … What the hell are we supposed to do with that?”

Poor bobby. Probably hadn’t had a good case in months up in the middle of nowhere.

We stayed in a disgusting hostel I don’t want to talk about and they next day we drove/walked along the wall and visited two other sites which looked exactly the same as the other one. God bless the Romans and their consistency. Which I clearly don’t have.

My favorite European city next!
Cheers!

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O.M.G.

The men in Poland are beautiful.

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A Bunch of Rocks

You guessed it: Stonehenge. Really, really cool … for the first fifteen minutes. Eventually it just looks like a pile of giant rocks no matter what angle you look at them, and you wind up taking wild pictures to stay occupied while the line moves forward. There’s not that much to say about it, except it’s one of the official sites of English Heritage for obvious reasons and there was an adorable baby who kept trying to climb over the rope, pointing at the stones and shouting “OOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!” Naturally I was thinking of doing the same thing, touching the stones, getting transported back in time and meeting Jamie Fraser … I mean, no, that wasn’t me.

I think I’ll just explain this one in pictures since, as you will see, they’re a pile of giant rocks standing in a circle and on top of each other. No one is entirely sure what the stones were used for originally, but it is speculated that they were probably the site of ancient Briton religious ceremony having to do with the equinoxes. this cannot really be confirmed because writing did not come to Britain until our good friend Julius Caesar and his band of charming Romans invaded (also under speculation) in 55 BC. There are no written accounts of what went on at Stonehenge, nor are there pictographs of any kind on or near the stones. All has to be gathered by the leftover artifacts found near the stones. We can only guess, but it makes great material for story ideas ๐Ÿ˜‰

Stonehenge

Stonehenge from the other angle

Kicking back and relaxing at Stonehenge

Singlehandedly building Stonehenge

Who is that geeky tourist!?

Don't forget about this guy, The Reject of Stonehenge

***

Close to Stonehenge is Salisbury, another small English town that has retained its medieval charm. But one of the really cool things about this town is the fact that it is home to the Salisbury Cathedral. This cathedral is one of the great cathedrals of Europe, a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, and one of the topics of study during my second semester of Art History with a one Left Wing Loon, Dr. Eliasoph, whose class I absolutely adored … so naturally it was under massive construction and only parts of it were open. We were still able to see the majority of it, including a ton of graves, decaying old but authentic flags and gorgeous stained glass windows. This cathedral also houses Britain’s best surviving original copy of the Magna Carta, which you are not allowed to photograph, but is very interesting to see.

The town of Salisbury is absolutely charming where the majority of the streets and houses look like this:

Inside one of the museums, they have sections devoted to the area of Salisbury over the centuries, Beginning with the Stonehenge age, through the Magna Carta times, the Victorian Era and the turn of the century. One of the rooms presents you with fashion through the ages and you have the option of trying a few items on for size.

Working class all the way

The working class maid was extremely tempted by this bookstore

for not only was the building built in the 1600s, but inside it, it contained both an 1825 copy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare and an original copy of half of Tennyson’s collection … for about 75 pounds. Alas, she had to put them down and save herself a horrid scolding by her father. Maybe next time.

Cheers!

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Warwick Castle

This post has been a long time coming, since we actually visited this castle on the same day as Shakespeareland, but seeing as I’m basically done with classes for a week now and I’m going to be traveling around Europe, I figured I’d better get the posts up of things I’ve already done before I accumulate many more.

So. Warwick Castle. One of my favorites, I have to say (how spoiled does that sound, I’ve seen enough castles to have favorites?!?!). This castle cannot be seen from the road. In order to get to it, we had to drive through a narrow gate and then go up a long and windy road covered by tons and tons of trees. It’s very Narnia. After waiting for group tickets to get sorted out, they let us through the fake portcullis and we were able to take a picturesque postcard photo such as this:

*Aside* You can also try to climb through the now empty moat and be stopped by security.

Once we plodded over the bridge and under the real portcullis, me feeling every single cobblestone under my worn-out sneakers, a perfectly kept courtyard greeted us, surrounded by medieval fortresses. Those fortresses have basically been kept in their medieval style, adorned with old tapestries that were mainly used to keep the darn place warm. It was originally built by William the Conqueror on a bend of the River Avon and was a military stronghold for centuries. It fell into disrepair but restored during the time of Queen Elizabeth I and was used chiefly as a country house for a while after that.

One of the less historically friendly (though accurate) and more fun parts of the castle is the amount of exhibits that are on display. For example, there is a lovely wax statue of good old Henry VIII surrounded by his six wives all docilely sewing. Bahaha! There is also an audio tour you can take through the renovated living area ofย  the castle. It has been set up to retain its later Edwardian renovations, and takes guests through the apartments during an Edwardian party. Everything is displayed including what people wore, them getting ready with their maids, taking a bath beforehand, the servant’s rules, where the wealthy illicitly fornicated with each other and all the gossip concerning who was displeased with whom. Juicy.

Beneath that exhibit are more wax figures, these in medieval garb, preparing for an epic battle. Here there is a real person standing in armor with whom you can take an extremely blurry photo of yourself stabbing him in said epic battle if you so desire.

They also have a Princess Tower that is evidently “a show only for little princesses and their mummies.” Lame. But the gentlemen are told to proceed with caution.

Seeking consolation from the fact that we were not allowed in the Princess Tower, we climbed to the top of one of the fortresses on the hill

and were confronted with several of these views:

They also have an archery yard and a haunted dungeon around Halloween. But my favorite part was when they gave us the option of ruling the castle provided we proved ourselves in a particular feat of strength.

At least I had a better shot than this guy:

Cheers!

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Munich Day Two, aka A Major Scene

I do hope Maggie Smith sees this on my Facebook and has herself a little laugh about the title of this post.

When we woke up (at about six in the morning) on our second day in Germany, we were literally freezing. No joke, my nose and lips, the only parts of my body I left sticking out from under the blankets because, you know I need to breathe, were stiff and cold as ice. So we layered up and marched ourselves to the tram which so graciously took us to

Now I don’t know if anyone else remembers this from childhood but I swear Barney and Friends sang a song about Oktoberfest. I recall learning that Oktoberfest was in Germany, people wore lederhosen and danced around singing about autumn things.

They may very well have been singing about autumn things and they did wear lederhosen but they were doing it while intoxicated.

A bit of background courtesy of Wikipedia: the first Oktoberfest was held in 1810 to commemorate the marriage of Ludwig I and Therese of Saxe-Hildbourghausen. You’ve gotten it correct, this was the 200th anniversary of Oktoberfest. Wild. The next year they added an agricultural show, which still exists, to boost said agriculture. Ironically, in both World Wars, the time when the Germans were trying to bolster their national pride, no Oktoberfest took place. Technically the Oktoberfest this year was the 186th, on account of it having been canceled 24 times due to war, disease and famine.

Basically what happens is, you stand in line in front of a beer tent (there are tons of these on the fairgrounds which kind of looks like a boardwalk), which is really more like a beer house, and wait for the doors to open at approximately ten thirty am. Then you link arms with all your friends and literally run inside. You then sit on benches crammed practically on top of each other and have a Battle of the Butts with the person behind you for control of the bench. Naturally the first person to sit behind me was not a strapping young lad, but a five hundred pound sweaty man. Lovely.

Vendors then walk around with giant pretzels (bretzels actually) which are the perfect blend of a soft and hard pretzel – crunchy outer layer, doughy heaven in the center. When the clock strikes eleven a giant cheer erupts for the first table has realized a barmaid has arrived with the beer. You don’t ask for this beer. If you are in this tent, they assume you want some and just bring it. You can order different kinds if you manage to flag down the barmaid for more than a minute. I really do feel bad for those poor ladies. It must be a terrible job, lugging giant beer steins to an enormous hall full of drunken fools all day.

But the drunken fools have a great time. They stand on tables, chug, shout, chant. sing and possibly recreate the Gaston tavern scene from Beauty and the Beast with a friend.

Now I don’t usually like beer, but this beer was delicious. I couldn’t even finish my one stein, so don’t worry everyone, I was not on board the Hot Mess Express, though most other people around us were (I washed all my clothes that had been to Germany twice before wearing them again, let’s just put it that way).

After a hearty lunch and some great laughs and American chants (we had to start them because we had no clue what the German ones were saying and resorted to just repeating “Oktoberfest, OktOOOOOberfest, Oktoooo-oohberfeest!” to the tune. Some of the good ones were “Hey, hey baby, I want to know if you’ll be my girl) I’d had enough. We left and perused the fairgrounds a bit more and practiced for the London Eye on a ferris wheel. Whose idea it was to put a bunch of spinning rides at the drunkfest I have no clue, but I did get some great areal photos of Munich.

Then while attempting to return to the hostel, we got on the wrong tram but decided that was ok because we could therefore see more of Munich itself. No good pics, unfortunately but I did run into the most precious toddler aged, blonde boy-girl twins who stared at me the whole ride. No clue why at first, but then realized that these munchkins had probably never seen a ginger, never mind a ginger with as many freckles as me before. It was an adorable moment.

We then walked around the main plaza for a little bit before retiring early to wake up early and catch an early plane back to London. I would have liked to stay a day more, but I’ve got to say I have honestly never been more happy to hear my native tongue spoken around me in my ENTIRE LIFE. Understanding people and signs has never felt so good or meant so much.

All in all, a great trip.

Auf Wiedersehen!

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Get Rich Quick

I have discovered the reason why the pound is so much better than the dollar.

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Munich, Day One

Well. It went something like this.

My roomie and I rose at 3:30 am to catch a bus. I use the term “rose” loosely as we didn’t actually end up going to bed. Between cramming in finishing homework due Monday and hallmates busting in at all ungodly hours, we basically decided to just not go to bed at all.

Skipping a long, complicated and embarrassing story, we make it on the bus at about 5 am and reach London Stansted Airport while the sun was just creeping up and the time fast approaching 6. So, yes, those of you who are good at math have guessed it: London Stantsted Airport is not actually in London. Quite similarly, Munich Airport is not in Munich. It’s an hour outside the city and in order to reach your destination, you must take an hour train into said city.

So we finally reached Munich around 12 pm, Munich time. By the way, Munich in German is spelled Munchen, much like Germany is actually Deutschland. Like what’s up with you, English Language? Where do you come up with these alternative spellings and pronunciations? They don’t even sound remotely like they’re supposed to. But whatever.

Rather than wander hopelessly around a foreign country whose language we do not speak, Roomie and I reached the mutual decision to take a taxi and by some act of God, we found a taxi driver who both knew where we were supposed to be and spoke English. As we got underway, he asked me,

“So where are you from? Ireland?”

Gee whatever gave you that idea?

So we made it to the hostel. Now, I have never stayed in a hostel before this. It was … interesting. Evidently, this was a “unique hostel experience.” No kidding that’s how they described it on the website. A unique experience it was. It looked something like this.

It was a camping hostel. They graciously provided space for those ambitious travelers to set up their own tents as well as as covered area for those travelers who were not so ambitious and literally despised the idea of camping in general and quit Girl Scouts because too many camping trips were involved (no, of course I’m not talking about myself, what are you thinking, readers?). Honestly, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. For the most part the beds were actually quite comfortable and the bathrooms relatively clean aside from the fact that they did not provide soap. Shower soap I can understand, it’s a hostel not a hotel. But not even hand soap? Are you serious? Well.

Tired, hungry and feeling like imbeciles for not speaking the language, we finally met up with Fairfield friends and decided to thoroughly depress ourselves with a visit to a concentration camp.

Dachau is only a few minutes outside the city of Munich. This was the very first concentration camp ever opened by the Nazis in 1933. All other subsequent camps were modeled after this one. While not the largest of the camps, it did house over 200,000 prisoners, 25,000 of whom were killed there. In the early days, the majority of the prisoners were political, not Jewish, but as the years went by, more and more Jews were herded in, many of whom were Polish.

Below are a few pictures I took while we were there.

The original train station where the prisoners arrived outside the main gate

When the prisoners entered, they passed under this gate reading "Work Brings Freedom."

The Barracks (reconstructed)

The barrack buildings have since been destroyed and honestly there were so many of them (34) that I couldn’t get a good shot with all the foundations in it. This photo was taken illegally while the camp was still in use by the Nazis; it gives a great view of what the working camp would have looked like.

You can see here the trees planted outside ...

... are the same trees that are still standing today.

The camp was closing by the time I actually got down to where the gas chambers and incinerators were. Part of me was disappointed but the other part thought that was just fine and I didn’t need to be depressed that much.

Several memorials stand all around the site. The south building where the Nazi officers used to keep their camp headquarters is now a museum with a modern statue in before it. To the side is a wall that reads “Never Again” in several different languages. At the north end stand a Protestant Church, a Catholic Chapel and a Jewish Synagogue, representing the unity between faiths and the prisoners of all faiths who perished and suffered at the camp. A convent housing 21 Carmelite nuns also stands just outside the walls. Don’t know the reason for this one, but it’s there.

The Nazi Dachau Camp headquarters turned museum. This was the view the prisoners would have seen from their widows.

Need a drink yet? We sure did. Good thing we were in Muchen for Oktoberfest! Next post on that subject ๐Ÿ™‚

Auf Wiedersehen!

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