Category: Europe

Canterbury

In March, I finally made it to Canterbury.

I had wanted to visit Canterbury for a long time: as a student of medieval history, you can’t help but hear about it again and again – especially, when you are interested in the Plantagenet era.

Add studies in English literature and linguistics, as I did, and you end up with Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. No way around this city, then. =)

The cathedral came to sad fame in 1170, when Archbishop Thomas Becket (formerly King Henry II’s Lord Chancellor) was killed inside by four of King Henry II’s knights and I doubt we’ll ever know whether this truly happened on the orders of the king or not. In the aftermath of this gruesome murder, however, Canterbury Cathedral became a popular destination for pilgrims. It’s those pilgrims that Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales deal with, and his work is famous for popularising the vernacular language, namely Middle English. Up until then (the 14th century), the vernacular had not really been considered for publication, as Latin and French had been the languages of the learned people, who considered it unnecessary to educate the masses. To put it simply, writers such as Chaucer rang in a new era by writing in the language of the ‘common’ people and thus giving them an incentive to learn to read. It took centuries to spread education to the masses, of course, but a foundation was laid in the middle ages. (Which is one of the reasons I hate to hear them referred to as ‘the Dark Ages’.)

 

Having been such an important place to so many people over the centuries, I decided I had to have a look at this cathedral. Add the fact that it is the final resting place of Edward, the Black Prince, and going there was a must.

I went to Canterbury on a day trip from London; as it was a Sunday, the city was full of tourists. This isn’t surprising at all: Even if you weren’t interested in visiting the cathedral, Canterbury would still be a nice destination for a day trip.

Canterbury has a lovely town centre with lots of nicely kept old houses, a number of cafes and little shops and it just invites to stroll around or go punting and enjoy the day. There’s a range of museums, as well, and the cathedral, of course.

The cathedral is fairly large and impressive, but apart from the stained glass windows it is mostly quite unadorned. Being used to the more lavishly decorated cathedrals on the continent, this made for quite a change (which isn’t supposed to mean that I didn’t like the cathedral).

It is rather a shame that the cathedral is boxed in by the town houses so much, as it is difficult to get a good view of the whole building.

 

I was told you could catch a good glimpse from out of town, but as the weather was grey and rainy, I couldn’t bring myself to walk the few miles back and forth. I imagine it a nice idea for a warm summer’s day, though.

Oh, one more thought: If – like myself – you like visiting World Heritage Sites and you come to Canterbury for this reason, you should keep in mind that the World Heritage Site there comprises of three different locations.

Apart from the cathedral, always called Canterbury Cathedral but actually Christ Church Cathedral, the heritage site is made up of the ruins of the Abbey of St. Augustine and the Church of St. Martin, which is considered to be the oldest church in England.

 

Please note that this blog post was first published on my previous blog ‘Inside Chrissie’s Mind’ on October 25th, 2015.

 

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Venice

Venice. Venezia. La Serenissima.

Those words invoke such expectation, it’s really rather difficult to put my own thoughts to paper. I just don’t know how to describe my experience of visiting Venice. Needless to say, so many literary geniuses have written about the city before that I hardly dare do so myself, seeing as I’m a total hack.

Venice felt like a strange kind of dream. Throughout your life, you get to see so many pictures and hear so many accounts of this extraordinary city that on arrival you get the impression that you already know the place. Which is ridiculous, of course, because you’ve never been there before. But you do recognise so many buildings and landmarks that some sort of familiarity creeps up on you. I don’t know about you, but I was totally freaked out by that.

 

Talking about freaks, all those tourists drove me mad. Unfortunately, I had time for only a daytrip and to make matters worse, I had to go during the Easter holidays. This meant that the whole of Venice was packed to breaking point with tourists. Now I know I shouldn’t be complaining about tourists, as I am one myself, but I just don’t know how the people of Venice cope with this onstorm. If I was living in a place that was overrun by such numbers of tourists, I’d go berserk.

 

But please don’t let my complaining put you off – Venice is well worth a trip, it’s full of the most amazing, beautiful buildings and steeped in such a rich and varied history you’d have to be insane not to want to go. The World Heritage Site is comprised of the city of Venice and its lagoon. I will definitely have to come back at some stage and explore in more detail. Hopefully this article and photos offer a first impression.

 

Please note that this blog post was first published on January 20th, 2015 my previous blog ‘Inside Chrissie’s Mind’, and has been amended slightly.

 

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Santiago de Compostela

A couple of weeks ago, I had an opportunity to visit Santiago de Compostela. Friends had told me repeatedly what a beautiful city it is, so I was thrilled at the thought of finally getting to see it for myself.

Unfortunately, I had less than two days and to top that misfortune it was raining cats and dogs all the time I was there. But what can I say? I loved every single minute of it!

It took quite some effort to actually get there, but I have mostly myself to blame for that: I was way too cheap to spend an enormous amount of money on the flight and therefore didn’t get a direct connection. However, I’m told that Santiago really is a difficult place to get to in any case. Once there, I was happy to find out there is a handy shuttle bus service from the airport into town. It only costs peanuts as well, which is always nice. Finding out that my hotel was right next to a bus stop was also a big plus.

When I finally made it into the town centre, I was instantly enchanted. It was the late afternoon of a grey, rainy day and the town was veiled in an indescribably eerie atmosphere – the blurry softness that comes with a drizzle, the fuzzy yellow lights of a street lamp here and there and that certain something that can only be radiated by medieval buildings.

Walking through some narrow road, which was lined by charming arcades, I happened across the cathedral. Having done no previous reading on the town, I also hadn’t bothered looking at a map and therefore didn’t actually know where I was going; you may call that careless or stupid, but I just love ambling around and happening upon buildings, things or people I didn’t expect to encounter.

For that very reason, I didn’t realise I had found the cathedral until I stepped inside. In my defence I have to say that I came towards the cathedral from the South, and that – despite it looking like a church entrance – you don’t realise it is one of the biggest cathedrals you could find. From that perspective, it really looked like any old church squeezed into an old town, not being able to see properly where one building stops and the next one starts. (Never mind you don’t usually squeeze a church into a town as it is rather that a town huddles around a church – but I hope you get the picture in any case).

 

So here I was, suddenly standing inside one of Christianity’s most treasured places. After all, the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is home to the remains of St. James and the destination of one of the most prestigious pilgrimages – the Pilgrimage (or Camino) of St. James. Believers have undertaken that pilgrimage for hundreds of years and endured unbelievable hardships while doing so. I’m told the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela was second only to a pilgrimage to the Holy Land – quite an important place, therefore.

Despite not being a religious person at all, I was absolutely gobsmacked when I stepped inside the cathedral. I believe I actually blocked the entrance, because I just couldn’t take it all in and stopped dead. After recovering, I dare say I wandered around with my eyes and mouth wide open, looking as ridiculous as you please. I tried very hard to behave myself and put forward my best Sunday behaviour. Yet you (or I at least) can’t help craning your neck in surroundings such as these and staring at all the priceless paintings and statues, at the glittering gems and all that gold and silver. It really is too much to take in.

Personally though, I have to say I’m much more taken with the cathedral’s exterior. Somehow I vastly prefer the actual building to its overladen décor inside. Don’t get me wrong, the interior is amazing and contains so many artefacts it makes your head spin. But possibly this is just the point for me: being inside the cathedral, I didn’t find the peace I had expected to find in such a sacred place (despite not being a religious person, I still appreciate being in places of worship sometimes). Being outside, I found the presence of the cathedral highly soothing, though.

Although in all honesty that is an effect a lot of ancient buildings have on me. I absolutely love visiting medieval castles and I have that annoying tick of having to touch the old stones, sort of an attempt to convince myself of the fact that they’re actually there. The knowledge that something has been in existence for hundreds or even thousands of years and has seen so many different eras, events and people and that I possibly am in the exact same spot as someone a thousand years ago is quite breathtaking to me.

Continuing my walk around town I had another superb experience. In a little archway between the cathedral and another building there was a bloke playing his bagpipes. It sounded absolutely wonderful and the resonance of the music from that little archway out into the courtyard in front of the cathedral was spectacular. The music in combination with that eerie, drizzly atmosphere and the dusky view of the cathedral was breathtaking and I felt transported back in time. Unbelievably, I came across another person playing the bagpipes the next evening – so possibly this is a regular occurrence and you’ll have a chance to see and hear it, as well.

 

As I didn’t have a lot of time to spend in Santiago de Compostela, I didn’t visit any museums – rather than being indoors I spent my time walking all around town and soaking up the atmosphere (and the rain). I am pretty sure I’ll come back with more time, though. What I also want to do is to visit the surrounding countryside. I left Santiago by train and caught so many lovely glimpses of Galicia (the sun had come out!) that I am convinced it is a superb holiday destination. Go see this place!

 

Please note that this blog post was first published on January 13th, 2013 on my previous blog ‘Inside Chrissies Mind’.

 

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