EFFIGIES and MARKERS

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Travel journal -- Sept. 24-25, 2006

Sunday, September 24, 2006
Audrey was not feeling any better, so Jill and I headed out to Wales in my rental car. We went south to the Severn Bridge that led into Chepstow (where I visited the de Clare castle two years ago), and on to Cardiff. Cardiff was absolutely full of cars! Maybe there was a sports event that day. There was no parking, even handicap parking (because I had my California blue hanger with me), for blocks. But we walked to the castle entrance, paid the admission fee to include the tour of the Victorian-era residence, and had a nice time there. The Earl of Bute (Scotland) used Cardiff as a summer home, so he’d built up and/or restored the western part of the castle. There was a fireplace mantle which honored Robert of Gloucester (my ancestor), and there were heraldic shields as bosses in the library. So I got a few pictures of those. We viewed several levels of the castle, so there were several flights to negotiate.
After a lunch of Welsh rarebit for Jill and lamb/vegetable stew for me (never did find a shred of lamb although the stew was wonderful), we climbed up to the oldest, de Clare part of Cardiff Castle, the keep. It’s on a motte, so you have to climb those stairs. Then it’s about three or four stories high, so there are plenty more stairs to climb, including medieval stone spiral staircases. But I made it!
We made the descent, and exited through the gift shop, where I bought a blue and white souvenir plate of Cardiff Castle, and some postcards and a book. As we crossed the city streets and walked back toward the car, I felt dizzy and off-balance, like I was a leaning tower. I did use my cane for stability, but that was a weird feeling. It would really suck to fall and injure myself, so I went slowly and carefully.
Once back in the car, I was OK, and we made for Caerphilly, another castle in South Wales, and another one from the de Clares. Although Cardiff wasn’t terribly commercialized, the contrast with Caerphilly was strong. Caerphilly was more massive, but far quieter in the small town than Cardiff had been in the city. There were less people, and you could wander and wonder at the walls and lake with its swans. In the gatehouse was a museum with multi-media stuff.

In the museum was a better-than-chocolate moment:
There was a letter from ancestor King Henry III to my ancestor Prince Llewellyn Fawr (they were brothers-in-law), apologizing for the bad behavior of Gilbert de Clare, another ancestor.
One part of a tower, probably blown up by Parliamentarians in the civil war, leans at what may be a 45-degree angle. The entire island of castle grounds is absolutely beautiful and peaceful. It reminded me of the contrast of Warwick and Kenilworth castles that I saw in 2004.
And in the inner ward, there was a restored great hall that was beautiful. Jill took my picture in natural light sitting in the lord’s place at the head table.


Monday, September 25, 2006
This was a beautiful day, weather-wise. There were towering cumulous clouds and golden sunlight slanting on the mown green and gold fields. I drove into Oxford, and could find no signs directing me to the university campus. Although there are many colleges in Oxford, I hoped to find “the” main place. I drove around and through the town center, but no luck. I parked at the train station, took out my cane, and started walking. My primary destination was the Ashmolean Museum, where there is a jeweled scripture-pointer called the Alfred Jewel—among many things I wanted to see. Alfred the Great had commissioned the making of the jewel. Finally, I found the museum, and walked across the busy street, only to find that the Ashmolean is closed on Mondays. I was just sick. All that driving, all that walking, for nothing. Also, I’d hoped to visit the C.S. Lewis house near Oxford, but found out it’s not a museum, and you have to have an appointment to see it anyway.
On my wanderings through the city, I’d see the motte for Oxford Castle. The castle was not built or lived in by my ancestors, as far as I know, and has been used as a prison for hundreds of years. But in the early 1100s, ancestor Empress Matilda was imprisoned there for three months during her war with King Stephen. Matilda escaped from the tower one December night by wearing a white cloak so she could be camouflaged by snow and ice. A middle-aged lady escaped a high tower (108 steps—I climbed it up and down!) by ropes, sneaked through an army siege line wearing “winter white,” then rode horses to safety. That lady had huevos, pardon my Spanish.
I walked around the town a bit more, but without a plan, it was just killing time. I drove back to Gloucester through smaller country roads, and again, the countryside was gorgeous. Got stuck behind a truck-versus-ditch scenario, but that was only about 30 minutes.
Audrey and I planned to go out tonight with Selena, but Selena was sick, so just Audrey and I went out, after she gave me a couple of gifts. One was a pretty perfume bottle with a butterfly on the stopper; the other was the green silk scarf I’d wanted from the National Gallery in London. I’d told Audrey of my scrape with the Gallery shop, and how Gary Keshishian had exchanged the scarf for the one I really wanted; and that there was a green silk scarf just like the lavender one, and I wanted both but couldn’t afford both. One day when I was out on my excursion, Audrey raided my overnight suitcase to get the National Gallery info, and order the green one for me. They express-mailed it to her, and she just got it this morning, and wrapped it for me today. (She begged my pardon for getting into my bag without permission. Of course, the ends justified the means in this case!)
Audrey drove us to Cheltenham, where she had supper reservations at a remodeled movie theater. There was a jazz band in the balcony. They were really good, and the food was also delicious, once we got an idea of what nouvelle cuisine we were ordering! Whatever rocket lettuce is, I'll pass on it next time. It was bitter.
I froze in wonder when the band played “Tenderly,” as I hadn’t heard it since Mom used to play it on the piano. They did a wonderful job with it. After we finished at the restaurant, we walked past another restaurant, a decommissioned Anglican church. I wonder what they did with the people buried in the vaults or crypt under the nave, which is where the tables were.

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