Thursday, April 24, 2014

April 23 - Exploring St. Albans, new, old and the very old

We awoke to a gorgeous morning in Ellis fields; the garden at the rear of the building was lush and the small green common across from the front entrance was, well, green. The four us had a leisurely morning; Susie and I slept in until 8:30 before showering, dressing and coming to table for breakfast.  Though a group favorite, I steered clear of the porridge and honed in on fruit and cereal.

breakfast with Richard and Pauline, Ellis Fields
Richard and Pauline

back garden, Ellis Fields
common green, Ellis Fields

The original plan was to explore St. Albans and, if the weather held, to take the train into London and visit Kew Gardens. We were having such a wonderful time visiting this part of the greater London area that we decided to just relax and spend our time in and around St. Albans, leaving London to fend for itself.

We started off with a tour of the weekly open air market on the main street of St. Albans. It reminded both Susie and I of those many city markets we found so handy in Siena, Florence and Paris. Not just fresh fruits and vegetables but kitchen wares, clothing, and all sorts of bric-a-brac was available, much of it sold by vendors yelling out to no one in particular but hoping to get your attention. Unique marketing ploy indeed. 

Wednesday market, downtown St. Albans

memorial to the men from nearby streets who died in the First World War

Along the way I stopped into a Vodaphone store and picked put the cheapest unlocked phone they had (Samsung) along with a pay-as-you-go SIM card, both of which cost me less than £30. (We’re now set for future trips to Europe.) I then found a nearby Jessops camera shop and bought an extra battery for my camera. I was set. 

After a quick tour of the town center we scooted over to the abbey in time for their 11:30 tour. A fascinating architectural structure, representing a wide variety of church building styles over the centuries, the abbey consists of but a fraction of the original layout — many of the adjoining outlying buildings are long gone. And of course the fascinating thing, for me at any rate, is the abbey is built as well as a portion of St. Albans itself is built over the the ancient Roman town of Verulamium.

St. Albans cathedral, interior
Jeremy Newton, our guide, accurately described by one of our group as "irritatingly hesitant" 

stain glass at one end of the cathedral I believe this was a memorial to those countries that fought in the First World War - note the US flag on the far left

there is no crypt, we were told; the bodies are buried directly beneath the floor
"In memory of 
 Mrs. Martha Wildbore 
who died July 2nd, 1823 
Aged 58 years 
Also of Mr. Samuel Wildbore 
Husband of the above 
who died March 31st 1843 
Aged 78 years"

tomb of Duke Humphrey

grate over Humphrey's tomb
After our tour of the abbey we drove to nearby Verlamium park (Verulamium was the Roman name for St. Albans) where we could stroll on a lush lawn now covering the ancient Roman city.  We walked through St.Michael’s church graveyard (built over a Roman temple) and across Watling Street to the Roman amphitheater; one of the few excavated portions of the old city.

Verulamium park

St. Albans abbey across Verulamium park

St. Michael's burial ground 
dressing room off the stage of the amphitheater

Some 15 minutes of strolling around the theater's ruins, we had pretty seen everything so we recrossed Watling street, skirted St, Michael’s and popped into the Verulamium Museum, at the edge of the park. We opted to forgo the museum and headed back out into the park park proper making our way to the Hypercaust, an enclosed bit of Roman mosaics on display (more are to be seen in the museum I’m told).

enclosure of the hypercaust
Roman mosaic inside the enclosure --  not the tunnel for floor heating in the upper left
After returning to the car we drove back into the town center, parked on the street and had a light lunch at a Jamie Oliver deli (connected to his Italian restaurant). The sandwiches were tasty and reasonably priced; we were duly impressed that 100% of the profits from the bottled water sold went to Water Aid.

The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing at Ellis Fields broken only by tea at 4pm. That evening we ate at a local restaurant Chez Mumtaj, a fusion of French and Indian food. The service was good and food deliciously different.

We soon found ourselves adjusting to life in England and easing into our journey.

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