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UK vacationing II

Sitting in an elegant, slightly faded old hotel in Aberystwyth, Wales, writing this entry via their wifi in the lobby. I first heard of this beautifully named burg from some folks who joined a bicycling history tour I gave a few months ago–they were regulars on the Aberystwyth Critical Mass! Here’s the view out of the window here at 9:30 pm:

Here’s an image of the ubiquitous “carbon footprint” marketing going on over here:

We left York yesterday morning and drove first up to the Fountain Abbey, an old monastery destroyed by Henry XIII’s soldiers back in the 1500s… as they are charging about $20 per person to go in, we decided to forgo entering the grounds. But I have to admit, the thought of a destroyed Catholic ruin warms my heart, whether I actually see it in person or not! A nice drive along a scenic route finally dropped us in Manchester where I was set on visiting the People’s History Museum, given my ongoing work with Shaping San Francisco, and the developing relationship with the new SF History Museum at the Old Mint. It wasn’t quite as stimulating as I’d hoped, but we did enjoy some of the old banners and many of the political posters. They had a great collection of full-sized Walter Crane images which I sorely coveted, but they had no posters or books available there. Here are a few images we grabbed:


Fundamentally the People’s History Museum represents the Trades Union movement in Britain, and makes an effort to give an overview of everyday life, the issues affecting women, there’s a section on slavery and the movement against it, and they sheepishly admit in their introductory 3 minute video that they haven’t got a good exhibit on the rise of a multicultural society in the UK. The artifacts are interesting, the displays are dense with information, and you could spend a long time reading it all. As Francesca said, “I’d rather read a book than a museum” and I have to agree. On the other hand, it confronted me with the difficulty of presenting complex histories in ways that speak to schoolchildren as well as visiting adults and locals. No easy answers. The museum has an exhibit about the Battle for the Ballot, the long struggle for full suffrage in England, and that had a lot of great art (including the first image above) but the saga of electoral expansion just doesn’t have the resonance for me that it does for a lot of folks…

We ended up spending the night in Runcorn, not far south of Liverpool, and went over to Chester for dinner. Chester is reputed to be one of the most authentic, preserved medieval cities in England. Getting there made that a hard claim to digest, since the surrounding miles look mostly like this:

But once you get all the way in and find your way inside the walls of the city, it’s very pretty. There are a number of buildings that date themselves to the 1400s and 1500s, but the majority of buildings that match that style seem to have been built in the late 19th century, in what was probably a previous effort to capitalize on historic nostalgia… here’s a few images from our walk around the Roman wall, the Victorian clock, and some shots of the city center…

After a desultory night in a motel in Runcorn we drove west across the north of Wales today, finally having rain and gray skies. It wasn’t so bad though, since we could still enjoy big views and the gorgeous Welsh countryside. We headed for Portmeirion, the place where the 1960s TV show “The Prisoner” was shot, which my parents and I loved at the time. It is now an extremely kitschy, sub-disney enclave with shops in every possible niche, a big garden/woods to walk in, and generally a weird aura of fakery… still it was fun to visit. Francesca and I had fun taking wacky photos all day so here’s a run of them at Portmeirion:

After running around and being silly, scoring some Prisoner schwag, and quickly exhausting the possibilities of Portmeirion, we hit the road, following the small winding roads along the coast to Aberystwyth, which took a couple of hours. Here’s my parents at one of the few pullouts we could find to enjoy the magnificent coastal views…

I’ve been driving all the time, so I’m starting to feel like a regular left-side guy now… didn’t have much trouble in London either, before we left. Anyway, we got here to gray skies but the rain stopped. A quick walk around town found us in old ruins again, and then another of our nightly good dinners. I’ve had sea bass the last few nights, and I just love it (I first learned about it as “Branzino” in Switzerland… what a great tasting fish!) So here’s a few more shots from Aberystwyth. That name has grown on me already!

Tomorrow a big book fair in Hay-on-Wye… after I go to Berlin in a few days my usual subjects will probably resurface from all this family travelling…

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One Response to “UK vacationing II”

  1. 1
    Adrian:

    Did you encounter the “congestion toll” in London?

    When I was cycling there, the local cyclists told me cycling was worse since the toll, because now the cars move instead of being stuck in gridlock. I didn’t see any gridlock, but cycling in the city was no problem, though I lack experience with the “before” situation to compare.

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