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By Hook or by Crook

BY MURIEL

semi-overcast 8 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Duncannon Fort

Duncannon Fort

After a long, wonderful night’s sleep under warm duvets, we rise late, put on the coffee (for Ben), slather the Welsh cakes with Irish butter and enjoy a relaxed morning. Welsh cakes are a lightly spiced, raisin-filled scone-like snack. I guess every country in these parts has their own variation of the scone. Some of us want to hang out at home while others are itching to see some of Ireland. And still others sleep till noon so we don’t have a ‘what to do today’ confab till fairly late. It ends with the girls electing to stay put in our cozy cottage while Ben and I decide to circumnavigate the nearby Hook Peninsula (the ‘Ring of Hook’).

For the next four hours, we explore Irish country lanes, beautiful beaches, interesting ruins of abbeys and historical graveyards, and take in some quick views of a military fort and small castle. It is a grand way to spend an afternoon. While still not terribly warm, the sunshine is a nice change and does a lot to counter the strong winds we encounter on the beaches. There are a few tourists (maybe five) at the more popular, crowded spots but, in general, we have the views to ourselves. The first stop is Duncannon Fort; we don’t go in the fort but do enjoy a brief walk on the large sandy beach and views of the inlet. Nearby, we notice what appears to be a suburb of some sort; it reminds us of the Stepford Wives community in that the homes are all exactly the same, save for different colours of trim. They are very neat, there are hardly any trees about and it is eerily quiet. We envision the women inside baking bread and caring diligently for their children. It contrasts starkly with other, more lived in homes in the area (as well as with my own).

Hook Peninsula-Sli Charman

Hook Peninsula-Sli Charman

On our way south along the ‘ring,’ we notice the stone walls of a small church by the side of the road. Once the seat of the Knights Templar in Ireland in the thirteenth century, it is now a vestige of its formal self. However, we still find it moving to walk through the few stone rooms and to meander among the weathered stones in the graveyard, noting with surprise that there are some fairly recent residents.

As we make our way to the Hook, we pass rolling fields, newly plowed but awaiting planting, and several herds of sheep and dairy cows. The lone lighthouse at the end of the peninsula beckons, and provides a flat, windswept place to stop. The black slate rocks are sharp and menacing and the waves show us within minutes why there is a light house here. It is the oldest one in Ireland and is still operating. In fact, there has been some sort of signalling device at this locale since the fifth century, when a fire beacon was initially used and then continued for six hundred years. Hook Head is said to be the still-debated origin of the phrase "by hook or by crook,” which is attributed to Oliver Cromwell. During the civil war, it is claimed that Cromwell said nearby Waterford Channel would be conquered by a landing of his army at either Hook Head or at Crooke, a village on the other side of the channel. We contemplate the history of this place as we picnic on camembert and our host’s homemade bread, the waves continuing to pound the rocks below.

Tintern Abbey, Ireland

Tintern Abbey, Ireland

Nearby is Slade, a sleepy fishing village seemingly abandoned. We take a quick look around and head north, having rounded the peninsula. The last stop of the day is Tintern Abbey and it is the best of all. Circa twelfth century, it is the result of a vow made by a Welsh earl who pledged to build an abbey if God would save him from a shipwreck; he washed up on the shore nearby and the rest is history. Unfortunately, it is closed due to repairs following a fire and vandalism; however, we still marvel at the exterior walls, the beautiful green grounds and stone bridge, knowing that it will be even more stunning in summer when the foliage is more pronounced. We head home, having enjoyed our first day touring the Emerald Isle and look forward to the next two weeks here.

Posted by KZFamily 10:55 Archived in Ireland Tagged ireland abbey hook_peninsula Comments (1)

First Day in London

By Hannah

overcast 2 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Big Ben and L'il Ben and his Family

Big Ben and L'il Ben and his Family

Today was our introduction to England's capital city, London.

We emerged from the Underground and were immediately greeted by the imposing 13-ton clock Big Ben. After snapping photos in the middle of the street like the tourists we are, we headed across the Thames. We admired the Palace of Westminster, the United Kingdom's parliament building, and took a peek at Downing Street, where the Prime Minister lives. Our attention was also grabbed by the London Eye, the most popular paid attraction in the city. I would've loved to have taken a ride on it, but it was £20 a person, so we simply admired it from below. We also saw the Queen's Guard, all mounted on horses, shivering in their tasselled hats and large cloaks. One of these unfortunate fellows had the task of trumpeting, which I'm sure was unpleasant what with it being near freezing and all.

The highlight of our day was visiting Westminster Abbey. We waited in line for about half an hour, shivering in the icy London air. The shock to our systems upon leaving Turkey has made us much more susceptible to the cold. Eventually, we made it into the abbey. I remembered the vaulted ceiling and general grandeur from watching a bit of the most recent royal wedding on TV. Obviously, it was a much more awe-inspiring when I was standing right in the middle of it all. We weren't allowed to take pictures, so I tried my best to soak it all in. We all got free audio guides, which were necessary in order to know where you were going. We couldn't just wander through the church as we pleased, but instead followed the slowly shuffling crowd from place to place, listening to the guides as we went. Apart from the nave of the abbey, the building is mostly chapels, tombs, and memorials. The largest and most intricate of the chapels was the Henry VII Chapel, or the Lady Chapel, which had a beautifully elaborate ceiling and housed a war memorial. There was also the Poets' Corner, full of notable names such as Shakespeare, Austen, and Handel. We spent quite a bit of time seeing how many names we could recognise.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

After the abbey, we visited the small museum included in the visit. We saw some of the fancy outfits that the kings and queens of decades past had worn, as well as an assortment of ceremonial regalia. The latter turned out to be replicas used for practice. On our way out of Westminster we glimpsed the famous Coronation Chair, which was really all we could do as it was covered to protect it from the renovation efforts going on around it.

When we had seen all we could see, it was 2:30 in the afternoon. It had been about three hours of neck craning and jaw dropping. We had lunch/dinner at home, feeling the task of searching for a restaurant in the cold was a little too daunting. Thanks to my aunt, we had Kraft Dinner, which she had brought in her suitcase. It was a great and much longed for taste from home for Abby and I, and my parents did their best to appreciate it as well.

We wound down after that. Abby and I played a couple games with our aunt (I won one, Auntie Helen won the other), while Mom and Dad discussed some of our future plans. We'll be headed to a little town just north of Brighton, but that's not until next week. For now, we're just excited for our next day in London.

Posted by KZFamily 14:27 Archived in England Tagged london england abbey westminster Comments (3)

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