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England: St. Paul’s Cathedral, London

November 25, 2015

We had to make the pilgrimage to St. Paul’s while in London, as the image below has been burned into my memory since 3rd Form ( 8th grade) when our teacher told us the uplifting story about the great church being bracketed on all sides by exploding bombs during the London Blitz, yet surviving unscathed.


Public domain image (as well it should be; this photograph belongs to history)

The truth is not quite so heroic. I was surprised to learn that the East portion of the church was in fact destroyed and later rebuilt, but I guess schoolboy myths don’t have to be exacting with the details.

The plaza in front of the church contains a famous statue of Queen Anne.


This too, is not original, but rather a replica. The authentic work was removed to protect it from pollution, I believe.

The cathedral is a surprisingly modern looking structure, and of course very, very imposing.



Visitors are not allowed to take photos inside the building, which gave us an excuse not to climb the towers.  So we filed by Nelson’s tomb and other memorials to imperialists of old. But we felt pretty pleased with ourselves at the end of the visit.

England: Romans in Bath

November 23, 2015

I’ve never been a big fan of the Roman Empire, as has been recounted elsewhere in this blog.  As conquering proto-fascists, they certainly made the trains run on time, so to speak, but they also exploited vast numbers of their subject races and trammeled human rights into the dust, all the while indulging in their decadent and fanciful lifestyles back home.

But in Bath, so named for the obvious reasons, they enjoyed a level of luxury unsurpassed elsewhere in Europe at the time.

These baths are justly famous and I first heard of them during Eighth Grade history class and vowed that I would one day visit the scene.  Today the location is much lower than the current street level, reflecting the passage of millennia.


Superimposed on the Roman remains, which extend upward to roughly chest level, Victorian Englishmen superimposed their own version of leisure class architecture which gives the place a surreal aura of finality. The faux Romanesque statues on the second-floor level are quite humorous in execution, too.


Yet cynical observations do not lessen the effect of beautiful mosaics and other symbolic decorations that once graced the floors and walls here.



To our surprise we discovered that the ruins are far more extensive than our school history books indicated so long ago.

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The Roman spa featured different baths for different purposes along with a sophisticated systems of heating ducts.

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I guess you could say that the leisure class continues to visit.



England: A Monument and Memorial in Penrith

November 21, 2015

The first thing a visitor sees  upon arrival in Penrith is the ruins of its castle, appropriately visible from the train station.


The castle holds a lot of significant English history. Originally a earthen fortification constructed by the Romans, the site was selected as a good place to build a castle in the early fifteenth century and was owned over the centuries by a variety of squabbling lords, among them the future Richard III.

Today it stands in muted silence, mostly seen by travelers on their way to the lake district. Probably its last function was that of a quarry for local residents.



But I saw that teenagers in the area find the ruins useful, too, perhaps as a place to get away from adults and engage in teen-age activities.  Out of sight from the street, if not from curious foreigners.


The easy chair carefully placed in the ruins escaped any logical explanation.


But the view from the chair was pretty nice, I had to admit.


On a more serious note the street entrance to the castle contains a small but emotionally moving memorial to the fallen soldiers of Penrith from World War I.


photo: public domain by “Old Monkey,”

Around the dark, moldy interior a series of plaques hang on the walls (one of them can be seen in the above photo on the right hand side of the interior doorway), each one listing fifty names. Together the plaques add up to several hundred young men, surely the bulk of the area’s military-age male population.  Here they are memorialized forever, forgotten in the dark, mostly forgotten by history, just like the devastating war for which they gave their lives.


Laos: Heaven and Hell on Phu Si Mountain, 2007

November 19, 2015

Luang Prabang, the old royal city of Laos, seemed like a magical remnant of another time in Southeast Asia. How and to what extent it escaped the American War and other conflicts remains unclear but in 2007, at least, the town exerted a powerful hold upon visitors.

One of the main attractions in Mt. Phousi.  More of a hill than a real mountain, it nonetheless dominates Luang Prabang at some 350 feet higher than street level.

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The summit is dominated by the Buddhist temple, Wat Chom Si.

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There are a variety of other monuments to be found on the way to the top but really, the views make the short hike more than worthwhile.

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One quickly achieves a commanding view of the Mekong River.

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Along with aerial perspectives of the many other temples in Luang Prabang.

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Not to mention other beautiful sights in all directions.

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A reclining Buddha on the slopes of Phousi is locally famous.

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In one spot we came across an arresting image.  I always associated Hell with Christianity but apparently that religion does not maintain sole ownership.

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England: Along The River Avon, Bath

November 17, 2015

There’s no doubt about it; Bath is a tourist town, albeit a very congenial one. The town’s status as a magnet for the leisure class dates at least to Roman times and probably further back, when its hot springs were first noticed and utilized for their healing properties.

Bath is neat, well-kept, features a clean almost antiseptic downtown core, and on a good day the path along the River Avon makes for a pleasant escape from relentless vehicle traffic on the streets above.




We didn’t even have to walk very far to enjoy the splendid views created mostly in the late 19th century.




You’d never know when in this spot that the working-class periphery and industrial tracts of southern England even exist.

Somehow I am reminded here of HG Wells’ vision of the future in THE TIME MACHINE, and of an upper world inhabited by carefree Eloi.

England: A Hike Around Derwentwater, Keswick

November 16, 2015

Another great hike that doesn’t take too much in the way of expertise or strenuous effort involves circumambulating Derwentwater Lake. The northern Lake District’s principal town, Keswick, stands on this lake’s south shore.


You can start and or finish from a variety of places made accessible by the boat that travels and stops at a series of five  waypoints around the lake.


The boat originates on the lakeshore in Keswick.


It’s a lovely ride on a sunny day.


Ourselves, we disembarked at a small quay on the western side of Derwentwater.


The lake is not much developed, other than a few Victorian-era hotels.


On the south end is a delta where a small river flows into the lake.



The land here is marshy and good for early morning birding, one supposes.


A number of hikes begin here and ascend to the famous Cat’s Bells, too. Hiking the high ridges is great fun, although the heights can be dangerous in bad weather; people have been blown clear off the mountains in the past.


We stumbled upon some incongruous sights, too, such as this reproduction Viking longboat, moored here because of the region’s connection to the Viking invasions long ago.


At the end of the day we were glad to hike back to our farmhouse residence, located on the east side of Derntwater, in time to witness another gorgeous sunset.


Scotland: The View from Edinburgh Castle

November 10, 2015

There are far too many pictures and descriptions of Edinburgh Castle floating about cyberspace for me to wish to add another travel blurb about the place. As the signature landmark of Scotland’s signature city, there is no need to expand further.

But we visited the castle on a rare day, one that featured a nearly cloudless sky and (relatively) warm weather. Views were spectacular over all points of the compass.

We happily walked the Royal Mile to the main entrance.


After paying for the tickets we proceeded to climb further following the self-guided tour. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised at the beauty of the setting.



It was fun to note the different construction styles at various heights of the castle walls.


And seeing the Firth of Forth made for an exciting treat.



Of special interest, though, was St. Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest building in the city with its origins in the 10th century..


Oddly, considering the number of visitors at the castle, no one was inside when we entered.



To tell the truth, when I was younger I preferred my sites of interest to be tourist-free but now that I am more jaded I don’t really mind being part of a crowd. Within certain limits, of course.



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