Sunday 12 February 2006

Weekend in Canterbury

So we decided to take an early Valentine's Day and head off to Canterbury for a few days.  We arrived Friday evening around 8pm, checked into our B&B (<a href="">Yorke Lodge</a>), and then headed out for a pint and a late night snack.  We found a delightful pub called the Unicorn just on the edge of the city centre, and one of the local brew-masters was in the pub, so we had a pint of his ale (quite good) and chatted with some of the locals while watching the opening ceremonies.  A quick bite (generic Italian) and then back to the B&B for an early night.

Saturday wasn't terribly sunny and a bit chill, but other wise a great day for sight seeing.  Our first stop was to the church down the street from the B&B, which turned out to be St. Dunstan's, the burial place of the <a href="">head of St. Thomas Moore</a>!  Talk about a surprise!  The church itself is quite humble, but with a very warm and welcoming air.

We hung around for a bit, noting the irony that the church is now Anglican, and then headed off into town itself.  We next found the <a href="">Eastbridge Pilgrims' Hospice</a> not far down the street.   They had the main chapel closed off, but the Undercroft -- where the 12th century pilgrims would have slept -- had a great exhibition on the history of the building.  Most of it is currently used as residences for retired citizens of the Canterbury community.  A very suitable use, we thought.  The interesting thing was the number of icons and Eastern Orthodox influenced works being used in the various chapels.  The guides didn't really think much of it, but mentioned that the residents liked the symbolism and found it helpful to their prayer lives.  

The guides themselves were very helpful and kind, pointing us over to one of the oldest Franciscan orders in the country, <a href="">Greyfriars</a>.  The chapel is the only building of the original 12th century abbey still standing, and was unfortunately closed.  

Around the corner, we came across Canterbury's <a href="">Norman Castle</a>.  The local historical authority had lots of informational points put up around it, but it seems that previous care-takers were not so concientious.  We learned to much dismay that the building was in fairly good repair up until the Victorian times, when it was used alternatively as a store room for <i>coal</i> and the city's water supply.  This meant the interior was completely gutted and various bits of piping were attached.  Talk about a travesty!!  

Then it was off across town (with a pit stop for lunch at Cafe Saffron, great carrot and coriander soup) to the famous <a href=""> City Cathedral</a>.  As the story goes, it was founded by Saint Augustine himself.  This is the fourth building to stand on this site, but quite a few of the original walls were used in the many phases of construction, which gives it kind of a matroshka feel.  We were quite fortunate in that while we were there a choir and orchestra were in the middle of rehearsal when we came in.  They only had the central Quire closed, everything else was open.  My favorite way to tour churches is when someone is practicing in them.  You get so much of a better feel for the character.

From there it was getting on fairly late in the afternoon, and it being the off season, we had to make a mad dash to the <a href="">Westgate Towers</a> to be there before it closed.

Much like Marble Arch in London, it sits in the middle of the main roundabout in the town.  Easy to find at any rate, it serves as the western boundry of the old Roman wall and the main gate pilgrims had to pass through.  For most of its modern life, it served as a jail, and the top portion of the gates has a little museum and observation deck.  

At this point, we were quite tired, and so headed back to the B&B for a nap and some relaxation before heading back into the city for dinner.  It took some doing, as most places were booked up with people (like us) celebrating Valentine's Day early.  We did find this fantastic gem - "Tapas" off of Palace Street.  Not only was the food great, but it had THE BEST service we've yet found anywhere in England.  We stayed until they closed and tipped well.

Sunday was a bit more relaxed.  We got up fairly late to a wet and dreary English day.  A great day for staying indoors, but not especially for being out and about.  We had plans for going out to St. Augustine's Abbey, but after the walk to town and getting quite damp, we decided that being out on an exposed hill in abbey ruins wasn't exactly what we were up for.  So we spent some time poking around in various shops and tea rooms, getting lunch at Marlowe's, a restaurant dedicated to the playwright Marlowe and his theatre in Canterbury.  We then picked up our bags and headed back to the train station for the afternoon service into London.  

So, here we are, rested, enriched and ready for the week ahead.