2005-11-27: Greatest Medieval experience
I am weary now. The day has been long - full of travel, so much travel that the only scientific way it could be done was to create a wormhole that looped back on itself. Each time you would think you were close you'd cross another event horizon and find yourself facing a similar trip again. It is only 8:30 but I think I am due for bed. My wife and I arose early this morning for we planned to go to Warwick. I decided that the journey may take some time so it was best to start as early as possible (given the days are as short as possible here). So we crawled out of bed at 5:45am, me clutching an alarm in my hand and grumbling as I went to the kitchen to drop every meal I prepared, Edyta complaining about the alarm being on. Half-an-hour later I was a little more coherent and Edyta was ready for the trip. It was then that we realized that there was no 7:10 bus to catch, that was on Saturday or weekdays. So we left earlier than planned to walk to the train station.
The day started off as a cold one. There was no frost or ice (or even the snow that had been rumoured to be near all week and is actually in Scotland and Wales), just cold air. We rugged up as best we could but Edyta had already lost feeling in her toes by the time we made it to the train station. Then the first problem of the day occurred. The first train didn't leave till 9:35. We had two hours to wait. Being a Sunday, all of England shuts down and parts open after 10 or 11am. Our only real choice of destination was back home, something Edyta was not keen to do at all. None the less we trekked back to the bus stop to find that the bus had just been and the next was due in 40 minutes. By the time it came we would have to had turned around to make the train. No point going home then.
Frozen spider webs
We returned to the train station and I bought Edyta a tea, then sat rubbing her feat warm under the table. Some old couple sitting near us quoted that as "true love", before the guy turned to his wife and said "I wouldn't touch your feet". Charming familiarity I guess. I was more impressed earlier seeing some old American couple still hugging and holding hands like teenagers in love. Why are there so many Americans in this country anyway? I think I hear that accent daily, more so than Polish lately. Maybe Americans only come out when it is cold, or maybe all the English just retreat into warm houses, leaving nothing but tourists and immigrants wandering around.
The time for the train finally arrived. After a bit of searching for the proper platform I found that Sir Richard Branson was providing for our trip and so we found a comfortable seat on the Virgin train. We journeyed back out to Didcot Parkway and returned to Oxford and on to Banbury. So many months ago, yet features of Oxford were still familiar and the Banbury station hadn't changed. We were to change trains at Banbury but a conductor had told us it was better to change at Leamington Spa. He seemed a cheerful fellow, he looked a bit "the only gay in the village" but at least wasn't grumbling about his line of work.
Leamington Spa arrived too late for us to catch the connecting train. The next train was due in an hour (this is a Sunday, everything runs an hour after you get to it). Not content to wait Edyta agreed we should wander around. We found a bus-stop and thought to join the queue there waiting to go where ever the destination was (it did say Warwick University so we hoped Warwick was the destination). I figured it better to look around a bit. This is another Spa town, one of those charming places were English gentry of the 17th century would come for a good diet, plenty of walking and a tipple of some saline sludge dredged up through a pump. Instead of looking around town we found a bus going to Warwick and got on it.
A feast fit for the rich people
Getting on a bus without knowing where the stops are is one of my least favourite activities of bus public transport (and buses are the lowest form of public transport - note I leave coach travel out of that group, buses with a fixed start and end-point are on par with trains, which is still public transport, but higher than buses; you know what I'm rambling about - must be the sleep overtaking me). Coming out of Leamington Spa we were surprised to see it was a decent size, and then just as surprised to see all that separated Leamington Spa and Warwick was a dip under a train line. I asked the driver at one stop where was the closest stop to the castle and she told us the next stop. We never it made it there though. It seems the town planners of the 1100 AD hadn't left enough room on the roads for a bus, parked cars and some council trucks all to fit. While the driver was harassing the council workers to move their vehicles Edyta and I decided we were close enough to the castle and jumped off the bus. It's not quite like doing a runner on a taxi as we had already paid, but you are raised from a young age to not jump off buses that aren't at their stops, so there was some thrill in it.
Warwick around the castle is an old medieavel town, much like Chinon, only much better equipped at catering for tourists. Except on Sundays. There was one store open that we popped into. Edyta looked at some of the baby toys while I just glanced through a book of quotes on sports, reading the cricket section. This was nothing spectacular and probably not worth your time reading or me writing, but there, it is now recorded for all of eternity. We then went straight to the castle (as straight as you can go when you double back every odd intersection).
The castle was nice. It was well maintained and not burdened with providing an actual residence for a family that might not want tourists in their living quarters. Madame Tussauds runs the place now so I was a little bit worried about a repeat of the 'Chamber of Horrors', especially as the brochures for the castle all seemed to make it look like hundreds of staff living out a tourney every day. The real Earl of Warwick long ago sold the castle off and moved to live in Perth. Tussauds to their credit did a good job. There were medieval dungeon rooms with racks and armouries with weapons, and stately Victorian rooms. There were minimal wax dummies standing around except in the "preparation for war" tour, which showed what would happen in a castle (before the King maker wandered off to battle and got killed). There wasn't much mentioned about a king having been held prisoner in the castle once, least little I can remember now. The dungeon the castle had for regular prisoners didn't look all that nice a hole to be thrown down into. But then Auschwitz and Port Arthur also had similar holes. I guess the penal system was much easier and cheaper when you just had to throw some into a dungeon and then throw away the key. Why rehabilitate someone when they could just rot away in a month?
Warwick from the air
We climbed more narrow winding stairs to get a nice view from the windy, cold top of a tower. The view in the middle of the castle was a little ruined by the large ice-skating rink they are building for the Winter Festival starting next week. The grounds around the castle were mostly just flat fields that would have been great for armies marching on each other in. A trebuchet had recently been built (July this year) but we missed it's firing (it claimed twice in a day but I think that would be in summer only). The fields would normally be crawling with tourists but in this weather only a few people braved the cold (and they mostly seemed to be American). There is a working mill pump that also generates electricity down by the river. The thing I found interesting was that back in the 1900's there were electric cars (the Earls wife and child were given one as presents). 105 years ago there were electric cars and now days we consider them pipe dreams? What next, cans of gasoline left lying around so that we can rediscover combustion engines?
Some of the stories of the Victorians showed them to be a bit saucier than the world of dainty tea-pots and strolls in the gardens. It was common practice for women to decide who they would be sitting next to during dining for the night and then for some to decide who they would retire with for the night. And if they met a 'special' gentleman who they wanted to extend their visit for they would leave a half-burnt candle outside their room at night so the gentleman would know to enter some hour during darkness when the servants weren't about. Prim and proper indeed!
An awesome cup of hot chocolate
Darkness was coming over the land at 4:30pm. Both of us left to wander Warwick a little but decided there wasn't much reason to do that after a short stroll. We went and found the train station and found that the next train was due in 50 minutes. It seems trains like to turn up well after your are there waiting for them. Edyta wasn't prepared to wait again so we went to find a bus stop. We were by the hospital looking at a bus stops' timetable when a bus came by. It was running the same route we had taken in the morning so we jumped on. The ride was much cheaper this time too. We were back at Leamington Spa train station before the other train would have got to Warwick. The Virgin train heading back to Reading turned up not long afterwards. We settled into a crowded train. Edyta settled, I stood next to her and watched the X-Files on the laptop of the lady in front of us till I found a double empty seat. Unfortunately Edyta had left her beanie on the first or the second seat and didn't realize till we were off the train at Reading. There may have been enough time to leap back on and look but I guess Edyta didn't want me disappearing off to wherever the next stop was so she decided to leave it.
We were lucky enough to get a bus coming home after only a few minutes waiting. For the lowest form of public transport the buses had treated us pretty well today; much more so than trains. We arrived home at 7:30, having spent some 13 hours up already and some 8 of those in transit of one form or another. And now I type away wearily. But I must continue for there is some more news...
Edyta is now working. It is a temp job right up until we leave but it means that except for one weekend we only have Sunday off together (though I am to look at working Saturdays to have Monday off). This is fiscally great but seriously limiting when it comes to making the time to spend it; all our trips now must be done in a day. This will likely affect trips to Sweden, Edinburgh, Cardiff or any other long travel destination. For the weekend we have together we are going to Canterbury, Dover and then Hastings on the way back to Reading. Should be fun, even if the Battle of Hastings recreation isn't till next October.
And for something amusing I finally saw my first rat in this hemisphere on Saturday. It was running from a road underpass into the nearby parkland's. For all the times we've been in major European cities we actually haven't seen a rat yet. I also got to go food shopping at Asda, which was great because it reminded me how much shopping at supermarkets on Saturday sucks, as people move slowly down the middle of aisles blocking both sides, and you wander about without a clear idea where anything is. I was amused to find a X-box game from 'fiddy' himself. The 50 cent game (rapper, not price) involved fiddy and his crew uncovering criminal and terrorist conspirouscy and then somehow saving the world. All the while fiddy wears no top and must have magic necklaces as body armour. Maybe he also pushes the bullets out of the way with his hands. It cheered me up seeing how stupid and market orientated some games are these days; especially considering 50 cent and his crew at Murder Inc. probably are the criminals and terrorists that need to be stopped.
My computer table
I did try using the Internet at home on Saturday. However after 30 minutes outside in the Wi-Fi zone my hands were so frozen I had to return inside. One day I may have broadband in the house again (though not immediately back in Australia for it seems mum's house isn't on any broadband grid yet, so at least 6 more months of dial up for me).
I seem to be rambling now. It must be the lack of sleep, my letters are normally so concise. I think I shall retire for the evening now, I think my wife bas left a half-burning candle in front of the door. And I must question her as to why she is asking when are we going to America.