Lack of free wi-fi over the past few days has, continuing through tonight, has played havoc with my intent to post photos regularly, and played havoc with my equal intent to write up small notes of each town. So I'm quite a few days overdue. Bear with me while I brain-dump some notes about each town.
Before doing that though, something that keeps catching us up: things open late in England. That's a bit of a sweeping statement, and I know that in Australia museums and similar also tend not to open until 10:00 AM, but we keep getting caught out by places that don't open until 10:30, and particularly by cafes and shops not opening until 9:00 or later. Even in London it feels like most people are trotting off to work to start at 9:00, rather than 8:00 or earlier as we've grown accustomed in Brisbane. Coupled with pretty early sunsets - around 16:00 at the moment - it makes the days feel a bit cramped and compressed.
Our impressions of the towns are almost definitely skewed by staying in and spending time in the centers, rather than the suburbs, but I'm trying to pay attention to the way that people behave, by the pace and rhythm of each town.
Bath was a lovely town, with wall-to-wall stunning Georgian architecture in an attractive honey colour. Even though it was very busy, it had a generally relaxed and open feel. The Roman Baths complex is outstandingly good, with an excellent museum attached. I probably shouldn't have dipped my finger in the lead-filled hot water, but at least I didn't lick it. We did get a chance to sip the Aqua Sulis the next day when we went back to the Pump Room for Georgian Elevnses' - hot chocolate, a Bath bun, and spring water, all to the strains of a classical trio playing christmas carols and arrangements of Abba songs. We missed the Jane Austen center - it opened and closed earlier than we anticipated - but did go to the fashion musuem, and seriously coveted the case full of renaissance gloves.
It's no surprise that Birmingham felt like a Big City, but it also felt like it was self-describing as Big City. It felt pretty flat out and driving, and it was noticeable that the city is aggressively updating itself, apparently with a view to getting on the list of 20 most liveable cities. Again, we gravitated towards galleries and museums, partly because they were cheap or free. The art gallery and museum has a fantastic collection of medieval and renaissance art, and a lot of pre-raphaelites, much to Bob's disgust and my delight. The Royal Brighton Society of Artists gallery had some nice pieces, and we've taken away the catalogue annotated with our favourites with serious consideration about purchasing work. It was only in Birmingham that we finally got our act together and were finding out what was on in town so that we could go out to see performances - we missed Steeleye Span in Salisbury, finding out the day after that they'd been there when we were looking for something to do (But we've arranged to see them in Bradford instead, apparently catching them in our clockwise route as they go counter-clockwise). So I finally got to hear and see Handel's Messiah live. I absolutely loved it, and it's still ringing in my ears. The highlight was probably when Bob pointed out that the choir was loudly proclaiming "We like sheep". Look it up.
The musuem in the Jewellery Quarter was interesting - a family had built a small factory in the late 19th C to manufacture bracelets and rings for wholesale, kept it in the family, and then eventually just closed it down and walked away around 1981. The local council bought it up around 1990 and turned it into a museum when they found it was a time capsule. One fascinating aspect for me was the realisation that a 16th C and 20th C jeweller could easily trade places, as there was very little difference in the processes or tools.
As long as you ignore the tourist-trumpet emphasis on the Beatles, Liverpool had a really nice feel about it. Our day started late as I'd wanted to have breakfast at the Arabic cafe just down from the hostel. Which didn't open to start serving breakfast until 10:00. We wandered up to the Walker Gallery past a building deliberately modelled off the Parthenon, past any number of representations of the Super Lambanana, and found another great collection of pre-raph and impressionist works, an exhibit of some of Matisse's artists' books, and a very interesting gallery focussed on design. I was really taken by cabinets displaying, side by side, a 16th C, 18th C and 20th C dining set. We trotted off to the Albert docks and a wander by the Mersey for lunch, then wandered aimlessly trying to find the trendy independent bohemian Rope Walks area indicated on the tourist map. Which we discovered meant a lot of clubs that don't open until late in the evening, and cafes that closed early in the afternoon.
The next day in Liverpool - today - turned into a shopping trip. I needed a new hat, so we went in search of a shop functionally equivalent to Target or KMart. Called, um. Primark. Ridiculously warm, ridiculously styled hat was found. But my folding umbrella exploded on the trip down, so we then went in search of a Serious Umbrella, aparrently designed to withstand hurricanes and volcanoes. Since we were in a shopping mood, Bob picked up the special Zelda version of the 3DS, then we strolled off back to the Rope Walks to a vintage clothes place so that Bob could pick up some pigskin gloves we'd spotted the day before. We went to a 50's diner just down the road, and ate burgers while the rain turned into snow.
Snow! Snow! I was ridiculously excited to see snow fall, as I've never seen it. For that matter I was excited about the sleet earlier, although that was probably because there wasn't a wind driving it under my umbrella.
The train trip to Manchester was special for me, looking out the window across fields, towns, and small patches of forest dusted with snow. This is the sort of thing I came here for.