How I Spent my Summer Vacation, part 3: Morristown student Nayna Shah tours Viking haunts, Shakespeare’s cradle, amazing castles and dicier digs


Summer is vacation time, and it’s fun to vacation vicariously through our contributors. Here’s the third colorful installment from Morristown High School student Nayna Shah. Today, she takes us from a Viking village to the birthplace of William Shakespeare, with stops at amazing castles and dodgy hotels, as she recounts her recent travels through Europe with the bell choir of the Morris Plains Presbyterian Church. You can read Nayna’s prior entries here.

Day 7


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

We took a one hour drive to York, England, a quaint little city close to Leeds.  York has many small restaurants, stores, and cobblestone streets for walking only.  York reminded me of a brighter version of Edinburgh, that got shrink-wrapped a couple of times.

One of the first things I noticed about York was the street signs.  Instead of perpendicular streets signs displaying two street names, the street signs pointed in five different directions and you had to guess which street each sign was pointing to.  It seemed like some ridiculously confusing joke out of Willy Wonka’s factory.  Obviously, the tourists were the ones twisting their bodies in impossible positions trying to interpret the signs.

An exhibit from the Jorvik Viking Centre. Photo by Nayna Shah

We spent two hours in the Jorvik Viking Centre, a relatively new museum that displayed what York may have looked like 1,000 years in the past, when it was captured by Vikings.

We went on an informative ride (similar to the one in Hershey Park that explains the process of making chocolate) that took us through a typical Viking village.  We were even treated to the musty smell of Viking villages throughout the whole museum!

In the afternoon we went on a haunted house tour of a building that supposedly was hundreds of years old.

We walked as a group through the living room, dining room, bedrooms, attic, and cellar of the long-deceased family, while we listened to the story of each of their deaths.  Needless to say, we were all happy to see the daylight outside once we left!

After surviving the frightful experience, we were treated to some shopping in “The Shambles” or the streets of York with all the stores and stalls.  I got a chuckle out of T-shirts I saw that read: “I ♥ York” instead of the “I ♥ New York” I was so used to seeing.

We drove back in time to practice and perform a concert for the people of Otley in the Bridge Church.  I didn’t get to sleep until late that night because there were at least six people who had to use the shower!

Day 8

Thursday, July 1, 2010

We said goodbye to Otley, England, this morning as we departed for Stratford, the birthplace of William

The cottage and garden of Anne Hathaway (not the actress!)

Shakespeare.  We visited Anne Hathaway’s cottage (Shakespeare’s wife) in under fifteen minutes, because it contained only one bedroom, a kitchen, and a parlor.  We probably spent more time in the gift shop than in the actual cottage!

Outside her cottage, however, was one of the biggest gardens I have ever seen.  Every plant and flower of every color and every size was perfectly maintained in the garden.

Past the flower garden was Shakespeare’s tree garden, which housed all the types of trees he made references to in his literature.

There were statues of the characters of his stories with placards containing classic quotes from the plays.  Any artist could prop up an easel and have a field day.

Shakespeare’s childhood home and birthplace was located just a couple minutes away, right in the middle of the main road of Stratford.

It was also a rather small cottage, but we walked through the exact room where he was born, as well as the room his father used to make and sell gloves.  The town of Stratford actually looked a lot like York, with many shops and restaurants along the streets.  We were allowed to find lunch and do our own shopping, most of us ending up at the Harry Potter store, because our choir just happens to be a group of hand bell-ringing Harry Potter fanatics.

Our third and final castle of the trip: Warwick. Photo by Nayna Shah

We left Stratford and jetted to Warwick Castle, my favorite castle of the vacation.

Warwick had many towers (with spiral staircases) to climb, and from the top you could see both the entire inside grounds of the castle and the surrounding town of Warwick.

The castle was a little more commercial, in the sense that more exhibits and activities were created for tourists.  The most fun was the “Royal Evening Party” in which you (as a queen or king) went through the process of getting ready for a party, getting to a party, eating and playing cards, and dancing at a party, all as you walked through different rooms of the castle.

Of course it was go, go, go after the castle as we continued in the nighttime southward to Coventry, England.

We were all fooled by this name, because it sounded like a cute town, like York or Stratford.  Coventry turned out to be a small city, but not just any small city.  It was a CREEPY small city, complete with scary dogs, dark alleys, and sketchy restaurants.

The hotel we checked into freaked us all out: Holes in the walls, flashing lights, TVs that turned on and off by themselves, and no air conditioning.  Because of this last problem, we always had to leave our windows open, which provided an eerie breeze now and then.  After just a couple of hours in Coventry we all were  convinced that some sort of horror movie was being shot in our hotel.

Day 9

Friday, July 2, 2010

Our morning began on a gloomy note as we walked through the Old Cathedral in Coventry, which had been

The remains of the Coventry Cathedral after the WWII Blitz. Photo by Nayna Shah

almost completely destroyed by the Germans during the Coventry Blitz in WWII.

The roof of the cathedral was gone, and some of the stone walls, one tower, a couple of tombs, and a very sorry looking pulpit remained.  On a more positive note, right next to the Old Cathedral, a New Cathedral was built to symbolize rebirth, unity, and strength.

The New Cathedral was much more contemporary, reflecting work from some of the world’s greatest artists.

One wall contained rectangles of stained glass in a rainbow effect, and the other wall was complete glass with carvings of angels on it.  When the sun rises, the shadows of the angels appear in both the New Cathedral and the Old Cathedral to represent the spirit of the old and the new.

A 70-by-30-foot tapestry depicting Jesus hangs at the front of the cathedral, with an enormous organ off to the left.  The choir seats are made of intricately carved wood, and the entire place is brightly lit.

The contemporary stain glass design at the New Coventry Cathedral. Photo by Nayna Shah

We visited the Coventry Transport Museum next, which displayed the evolution of transportation, from bikes to cars.  Coventry used to have over 300 car manufacturers, but now only has one.  We learned more about the destruction of Coventry Blitz, and even spent some time in a replica of a bomb shelter.  The most impressive exhibit in the museum was the room that held world’s fastest car: the Thrust SSC.  It looked more like a plane– with two jets and a tail, and traveled 768 mph in the deserts of Nevada!

This car obviously does not follow speed limits! Photo by Nayna Shah

When we left the museum we watched the town clock, for it puts on a show every hour.  In the 17th Century, Lady Godiva rode naked on a horse through the streets of Coventry to protest the harsh taxes her husband had imposed on the city.

Her husband promised to lift the taxes if she rode around naked, and the townspeople promised not to look.  The phrase “Peeping Tom” comes from the one man who broke the promise and snuck a peek a Lady Godiva.

We were still a bit confused because many people told use that in England, to be naked means to not wear jewelry, but the statues we saw of Lady Godiva were nude statues.

If you’re wondering (because I was, too, the first time I heard the tale), Lady Godiva has no connection to Godiva Chocolate.  Anyway, every hour in Coventry, a statue of Lady Godiva emerges on a horse from the clock building with a “Peeping Tom” peeking from above.

We did some shopping around Coventry, although even in the daytime, it was scary to be walking around.  The chaperones didn’t want us going off to far!  We played an evening concert for a nursing home 15 minutes away.  Nursing homes, like everything else in Europe, RE on a much smaller scale than the ones in the US.  While the residential homes in America are almost as big as apartment complexes, the home we played for in Coventry couldn’t have housed more than 100 residents.

No privacy from Peeping Tom! Photo by Nayna Shah

Back at our hotel, a high school prom was happening.  This prom (if it’s possible!) was even wilder than the proms in the States because in the UK, the drinking age is only 18.  Our hotel was practically shaking with partying English seniors until at least one in the morning!

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