Today was a definite change of pace. It evolved into a day when little went as planned, but that didn't really matter. We had hoped to do much more, but circumstances forced us to limit our activities. The weather, though, was absolutely marvelous -- the kind of brisk, sunny, autumn day that puts smiles on English faces.
We decided to take advantage of the weather and drive to Portsmouth, less than an hour away. The traffic was horrendous and we found it a challenge to follow the GPS through the inner city with its roundabouts and strange signage. We finally just pulled into the nearest car park. Unfortunately it wasn't the usual "park and display" kind of parking lot, and demanded a cellular call and credit card. Once I had negotiated this obstacle, I discovered I was limited to one-hour of parking at a cost of £3.50 -- not a good deal. We also discovered we were a good two miles from the historic dockyard where we wanted to be. So we asked directions, left the lot a few pounds poorer, and found another lot -- this one a more familiar park and display lot -- down near the waterfront.
And then we walked...and walked...and walked. On our way we came upon the Portsmouth Cathedral (Anglican) and thought we'd stop in and have a look. We were met by a lovely grandmotherly woman (Meg) who spent a good half-hour with just the two of us describing the cathedral's architectural evolution and telling many wonderful stories of kings and bishops and other famous and infamous folks who played a role in the cathedral's 800-year history. She was truly wonderful, and once she learned I was a Catholic permanent deacon, kindly put a Catholic spin on many of her stories. We had hoped to visit the Catholic Cathedral as well, a church I am told is quite beautiful, but it was not within walking distance. We never got there.
I've included below three photos of the Anglican cathedral, from the front, the back, and an interior view...
And so we continued our long stroll to the historic district. Since by now it was well past lunch time, we decided to stop at a local pub. We finally chose a place in the middle of the tourist area, but what the heck; we are, after all, tourists. The meal was actually quite good. I ate another in a long line of fish and chips lunches, while Diane had a bacon, brie and cranberry sandwich. Of course I also enjoyed a pint of their best ale. For dessert I tried what is called Eton Mess, a thick cream, meringue, and strawberry concoction that I could eat every day for the rest of my life. All in all, a very satisfying meal. Here's a photo of the pub, The Old Customs House.
Walking through the historic district of Portsmouth, I couldn't help but think of Austen's novel, Mansfield Park, and her descriptions of the city as it was c. 1800 when Fanny Price and her family lived down near the docks. Of course much of the city was destroyed in the German bombing attacks during World War Two, but one still sees traces of its Georgian and Victorian past in many of the buildings.
After lunch, we made our way to the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard complex, home of the Royal Navy Museum, and bought tickets to go aboard HMS Victory, Lord Nelson's flagship and the ship on which he lost his life during the crucial battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The victory at Trafalgar was historic in many ways, not the least being it put an end to Napoleon's plans to invade England. With much of his Navy destroyed and the remainder blockaded in port, Napoleon would be confined to the continent, giving the Royal Navy undisputed control of the seas. Already a hero, Nelson, by his victory at Trafalgar and his noble death in battle, quickly became an English superhero. Statues of him abound, with the most famous located in London's Trafalgar Square. Here's Nelson all bronzed up in Portsmouth...
The ship is a remarkable vessel, a true warship, very well preserved, and, like the USS Constitution in Boston, Victory is still a commissioned vessel. Indeed, she is the oldest commissioned vessel in the world, but because Victory sits in a permanent dry dock, Constitution can claim to be the oldest commissioned vessel still afloat. Unfortunately for Dear Diane and me today, Victory is presently undergoing some major restorative work and the upper masts have been removed. This, of course, makes the ship look far less majestic than she truly is.
I've included three photos of Victory below: one of the ship taken from the pier (note the absence of upper masts); a second of Admiral Nelson's cabin (very posh digs); and a third of one of the ship's guns. At Trafalgar she carried 104 guns...that's a lot.
We enjoyed our tour of Victory and afterwards retraced our many steps back to the car, pretty much exhausted and ready to return to our little cottage home in Chawton.
(One interesting aside: Our rental car, an Audi A5 Diesel, is quite large and roomy. It also gets remarkably good mileage. On the motorways, traveling at 70 mph, we get between 43 and 47 miles per gallon. I find this amazing. I'm also very pleased because the cost of fuel over here is very high. This morning, for example, it cost me £67.51 to fill my tank with diesel fuel.)
We had hoped to accomplish more today, but actually it turned out quite well, and so I have no complaints. Now I will sit back and relax with a good book.
One final note: England just defeated Poland, 2 - 0, sending them to the World Cup Finals in Brazil next year. The Brits are beside themselves. My congrats...