27 October 2013

Chester: There and Back Again

To pick up this diary where I left off, it is May and I am taking a day trip with my fellow students to the ancient city of Chester. Since it's now October 27, I have been back to Chester, this time as a staff member here at Capernwray, so now I've spent two wonderful afternoons in this wonderful city. Here is the journal of my experiences:

May 4, 2013
Saturday means sleeping in--unless you're supposed to be getting ready for a trip. I rushed to prepare and eat an early breakfast before rushing out to meet the coach with a few minutes to spare. I grabbed a seat in the middle of the bus with a great view out of the large window. The coach trip took about an hour and forty-five minutes, then they dropped us off and dozens of Capernwray students were suddenly on their own in the city of Chester. 

My mom said I couldn't bring him home :(
We started by walking along the famous wall that encircles the heart of town. The Romans laid the foundations around 100 AD, and through the centuries they have been fortified and improved. Now they are a major tourist attraction, encircling the heart of medieval Chester. We students split up into groups, and I ended up walking with an Englishman and three Canadians--such a novel experience! On a regular day at home I am awed by anyone from a foreign country, and here I am palling around with a little United Nations delegation. 

We walked along the wall until we came to some Roman ruins. We saw the remains of a garden and bathhouse, then explored the shell of an amphitheater. It's incredible to think that these stones have been in place for thousands of years, that Roman legions once occupied Britain and left their mark upon the land.  The empire was once so great, and now these memories are all that are left--decaying ruins and the subtle cultural traits passed on through the generations that must have helped shape Britons into what they are today.

Shameless advertising in church
There was a church nearby called St. John's, completely free, so we stopped inside. It was a lovely church, filled with intriguing history. The most surprising part was the blatant advertising in the form of hot chocolate, used books, postcards, etc. etc. etc. I know it's a hard struggle keeping these places open, so I bought a postcard and felt a little better about myself.

We went around the outside of Chester Cathedral, through the peaceful garden of remembrance which was full of blossoms and pigeons, then stepped into Mr. Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe for some goodies to save for later. Cinder toffee is delicious!

After that we went in search of lunch and found the Cheshire Sandwich Company, a narrow little cafe in a narrow little alley just up a narrow little set of steps. I had a sandwich of Coronation Chicken and mature cheddar that was a new and delicious flavor, washed down with ginger beer. After that lovely repast we did some more wandering, got ice creams from a street vendor (I had ginger honey ice cream for the first time), visited more shops including my first time at Tesco, then finished up with a bag of mouthwatering Dinky Donuts.

We stepped into another church, but this time it was to check out an antique fair--my first since coming to the UK. It was so strange to see a beautiful old building (one of the oldest churches in Chester, I believe) filled with people picking through yard sale and craft items, even eating at a cafe inside the old sanctuary. I bought a bracelet with a silver heart charm as a kind of souvenir.

We came out and started meandering in the direction of the carpark, then got waylaid by a cheesy carnival. It was one of those traveling affairs that sets up in a town over the weekend with rides of dubious safety and food of definite suspicion. The boys went straight to the tallest ride at the festival, something that swings you around at a very great height, but I contented myself with recording the whole thing on video.

The carnival seemed to have an American theme, the rides decorated with superheroes, scantily-clad women, and the MTV logo. Is this what Brits think of America? If so, it's sad indeed. 

October 19, 2013
This weekend I have the enormous pleasure of two whole days of footloose freedom! I decided to escape from Capernwray for a few hours and take the coach to Chester, just as I did in Spring School. I wondered what it would be like, going to the same place in the same way just a few months after the first time, but in very different circumstances.

We split up into groups, just like last time, and I ended up sticking to a Kiwi, a guy from Argentina, and a German--once again, the only American! We walked the old walls again, but this time I actually got to go inside Chester Cathedral. That was an absolute treat. 

Chester Cathedral is constructed of warm, reddish stone that glows when the sky is dull. Gothic spires shoot upward and magnificent carvings of most minute detail cover every peaked window, trail along near the ground, even snake over the doors in elaborate ironwork designs that grow out of the hinges. Fan vaultings arch over wee porticoes that shelter grand doors. Flowers bloom in the pots outside, and even the dead stone walls are alive with moss and ferns. 

If you ever wonder where the beauty and history in
Britain is, just look up!
Inside, the rooms and large and ancient and grand. Every square inch is lovingly designed, with fabulous stained glass windows that span the centuries, fine Pre-Raphaelite mosaics depicting characters from the Bible, ancient graves with their pretentious Latin inscriptions and hidden history, and the jaw-drapping quire where carved wooden canopies boggle the mind with the delicate craftsmanship that was executed on humble bits of wood back in the days of the Crusades. 

The fabulous quire

After the thrill of so much beautiful history, we felt a more basic sensation--hunger. We headed for some good old-fashioned English pub grub, selecting the Pied Bull for lunch. It has dark, low ceilings and the classic black-and-white Tudor look that makes Chester so special. I had fried haddock, chips, and mushy peas, which were quite delicious. After doing a bit of shopping we had to race back to the coach (and I mean race) to get back to Capernwray by teatime. 

Another lovely afternoon in the great city of Chester! 

Personal Experience


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