After spending several hours in the cold and foggy weather of Paris sitting the in the Charles de Gaul airport, we finally got in late to the Gatwick airport along the southwest coast of England. It was late, but the weather was instantly warmer and clear. England's climate was a welcoming change. I think the winter weather made England much easier to love instantly. Well, that and the language (no more guessing what things said or meant).
When we woke up in the morning to warm air and a beautiful clear day. Our first trip was to the White Cliffs of Dover. Since we were out and about by around 7 we didn't have to pay for parking and the view was just absolutely spectacular.
We did not choose to visit Dover Castle, but we did drive by it.
Also from below we could see the harbor. There were lanes and road accommodations to help load cars ready to be ferried across the channel and into France. We also passed the exit for the Channel Tunnel or 'Chunnel'. With a rental car we were prohibited from taking a rental car from France to England. Thus, the airline ticket.
Our next stop was Canterbury. The city that inspired Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, has been around for centuries. We parked near the old city wall and walked into the city center. My main goal here was to get an abridged copy of Canterbury Tales for Sophie and to see Canterbury Cathedral.
Our first stop was to the Canterbury Cathedral. The Cathedral is the "home" of the Anglican church or Church of England. When Henry VIII expelled the Catholic church and created his own religion (making himself the head of the church), he made Canterbury his "Vatican". The highest position of the church (other than the monarch) is the Bishop of Canterbury.
The church has seen many changes during England's transition from Catholicism to Protestantism.
Under the reign of Henry II (1133-1189), Thomas Becket was the Bishop of Canterbury and a Catholic priest. (Aka- this is before Henry VIII's split). Henry II believed that the laws and rules of the country superseded the laws and rules of the Catholic church. Becket disagreed. A group of noblemen believed that if they murdered Becket the king would be grateful and endow favors upon them. And as Thomas Becket was praying in the Cathedral, he was attacked and killed. The location is marked inside the church.
Henry was in fact NOT pleased that a senior member of the Catholic church was murdered inside a holy place. Henry II was still a Catholic, even though he disagreed with Becket and the Church's alternative opinion. He expressed remorse and Thomas Becket was given a tomb of honor inside the Cathedral crypt below. People would hold service here and later Becket was moved to a place of honor on the main floor; however, when Henry VIII broke from the Catholic Church he had Becket's tomb and remains destroyed. A candle now sits where Becket's body once was.
After the split from the Catholic church, Cromwell was not happy that Anglican churches contained many Catholic messages and demanded for churches to convert to a simpler style. Thus the stained glass windows were removed. Before Cromwell's edict could reach Canterbury, the stained glass windows were removed and hidden. Later they were returned intact. The windows have been taken down another time during World War 2 during the British invasion in fear that they could be destroyed by Nazi bombs.
Love the ceiling... the stain glass is beautiful too, but just look at the attention that was given to the ceiling.
Other people buried in Canterbury include other bishops....
King Henry IV...
and even the Black Prince. Above his tomb is also some of his fencing armor.
Next we went to the Museum of Canterbury Tales. We didn't visit the museum, but did stop in the gift shop looking for a child's copy of Canterbury Tales. We then roamed around looking inside other shops because I just couldn't find exactly what I wanted.
Our day isn't over, after visiting Dover and Canterbury we drove into London and did some sightseeing around the city before going to bed. But I want to spend a separate post for London, In fact in this 1 day we saw the White Cliffs of Dover, Canterbury Cathedral, Museum of Canterbury Tales and the city of Canterbury, drove to London, visited Parliament, Big Ben, and did much more... all in 1 day. Hopefully you are getting a sense of our trip- we tried to see the best of the best of Western Europe within 16 days... and as a history major... that is a steep challenge! But one we did pretty well considering Brian's spreadsheet and analysis. (Well, except Paris... we've talked about Paris).
I am glad that Stacey remembered our entry in England as warm and clear...the reality was that we got our rental car around 9pm with a steady rain. And then I had to navigate to the nearby hotel, on the "wrong" side of the road. The dark and rain added to the difficulty. Oh and that night was the worst hotel stay - we knew we would get in late, so I booked an airport hotel that was high rated. However, it had paper-thin walls and rather loud, lively guests.
The drive the next morning to Dover was cool, but clear and the countryside was pretty. The Cliffs of Dover were more and less than what I expected....they were "more" on the scale size and there was a lot of hiking that one could do, while the "less" was that there wasn't a huge deal made about it - it was more of a nature park, which was nice. We passed Dover Castle enroute to Cliffs of Dover, but it was closed during our trip so we didn't bother stopping by.
The walk around Canterbury was nice and we hadn't planned on spending much time in Canterbury, but we called an audible to tour the Cathedral. It was worth it, as we were one of only a handful there and enjoyed a special one-on-one education about wall carvings from a museum curator. It was a beautiful and history-rich site.
A side note is that Rick Steves (travel guide) recommends starting your trip with the least cultural shock and progressing...which would have meant starting with England, not Germany. We definitely felt it, as we were challenged from the beginning with language. However, it really made the 2nd part of our trip go much easier (only had to worry about driving on the left side of the road) and allowed us to see more. It is still great advice and "cultural shock" is something to be considered when planning your trip.