Devon, Here We Come! Exciting Exeter.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Devon, Here We Come!

Departure for Exeter, Devon:

            The nice thing about traveling with Shahnaz is that I realized that she too is a morning person. It does not bother us to have to awake and get cracking before dawn has broken. Giving ourselves half an hour to get ready, we arose to the alarm, washed, dressed and checked out of our hotel. Indeed, we were very sorry to leave our serviced apartments at Citadines as we had thoroughly enjoyed our five nights there and had made the very best of our super Central location.

We hopped into the Tube, made our way to Victoria and took a bus to the coach station in time to catch our National Express coach to Devon that left at 7.30 am. We had arrived by 7.00 am and I fervently hoped to pick up his inimitable Cronuts from the bakery of Dominique Ansel on Elizabeth Street. But it appeared that the place opened only at 8.00 am. So, much to our disappointment, we got morning pastries and coffee at Café Nero and awaited the arrival of our coach—which came bang on schedule and picked us up.

On the Coach to Devon:

The horrible heat of the past week had left and become only a hazy memory. Temperatures were very comfortable indeed as we made our way on the coach to Devon. If only we were spared rain, we’d have the most wonderful time, we were sure.

All the way on the journey, I had the company of Gavin, an Australian from Brisbane, who had arrived in Scandinavia for a conference and made a slight detour to see English friends in Taunton in Devon whom he had not seen for almost twenty years since he had last lived there. He kept up a steady and very interesting stream of conversation, shared his snacks with me (crisp, unsalted nuts) and bore with me as I took a much-needed nap. The miles flew past as we passed by dozens of caravans (or campers, as they are known in the UK)—for it is clearly the vehicle of choice for a southwestern coastal holiday. The green downs kept us company as did flocks of sheep, cows and horses in the passing fields.  We made one stop at Taunton and were next put down at Exeter, the largest city in Devon and most important urban center in the region.

Melbury House Air B&B:

When we arrived at the coach station in Exeter at 12. 30, I called Graham, the man who ran the Air B&B in which we had made a booking. He gave us instructions by foot to his place and in about a half hour, we were on his doorstep.  His Melbury House B&B turned out to be a Victorian guest house that he had bought and refurbished to convert into an Air B&B. It carried the tired air of an old dowager who has seen better days. The furniture was dated in the grand old lounge filled with velvet upholstery, dozens of oil landscapes in gilded and carved wooden frames and loads of Buddhas. Yes, Graham and his partner Leon had traveled extensively in the Far East and had shipped back gigantic Buddhas that were sprinkled on every landing from where they smiled in golden splendor.  Our room on the second floor was a very modern studio, complete with an en suite bathroom and a kitchenette where every new appliance made for great convenience.  Once we were handed over our keys, we sized up our room, then left our backpacks behind and set out to discover the city.

Discovering Exeter Cathedral and Close:

The city of Exeter is best known for its thousand-year old Cathedral that has stood on this site and seen history grow around it.  A straight walk down the High Street past every enticing big name store brings the visitor to the ‘Close’, the vast green around which medieval cathedrals sprang up. As with all grand edifices built in the Gothic style during the Middle Ages, the building took over a century to build. Painstaking craftsmanship is evident in the carving of the stone facades which usually feature sculptures of the saints.

By the time we arrived at the Close, we had picked up coffee and sandwiches and we sipped and munched while overlooking the grand façade of the cathedral.  A big fun fare was in progress and families were out in full force to enjoy the amusements. A group of kids were demonstrating their karate moves, another lot were enjoying a bouncy castle, cakes were offered at a Bring and Buy sale that included a chocolate fountain, arts and crafts stalls attracted buyers. We got fully into the spirit of the event and on getting up to explore the inside of the Cathedral, found out that Evensong was about to start in half an hour.

Naturally, we decided to attend the service. With half an hour left to while away, we walked along the ancient city walls—that date from Roman times—to the Tourist Information Center in order to pick up maps and other aids for our travels in Devon. We found the assistant very helpful indeed and armed with a load of printed material, we returned to the Close.

It was time for the fun fare to end and for the stalls to close down. Free cakes were offered to passing visitors and I was pleased to be presented with a lemon drizzle cupcake. Not too long afterwards, we were inside the Cathedral and taking our place at the choir stalls. As we had about fifteen minutes to spare, I circumnavigated the Cathedral to closely examine its ancient carvings, its magnificent timbered ceiling or nave with its brilliant bosses, its intricately carved wooden choir stalls that looked like fine lace and its miseracordia that I pointed out to Shahnaz. The varied chapels were filled with funerary monuments. Very soon, the congregation swelled and by the time Evensong service began, there was a sizeable number of people in the church. There were no child choristers but the adult choir did a very competent job indeed. It made for a wonderful service that we both enjoyed.

The tenor of life in the UK after 5.00 pm is always very interesting to behold. Life seems to come to a sudden standstill as shops down their shutters and salespeople go home. With only restaurants and pubs open, streets wear a suddenly haggard look. Shahnaz and I decided to go out in search of Exeter Central station to enable us to purchase tickets for our intended excursion to the North Devon coast tomorrow. When we arrived at the station, we were informed that it made no difference in ticket prices whether we purchased them in advance or at the time of travel Deciding, therefore, to wait and see how the weather shaped up, we got a hold of Great Eastern Railway timetables to enable us to plan our travels in Devon.

Using our map, we then found our way by a much shorter route to Melbury House where we sank into the bed in our room with much gratitude as we were quite tired from our exploration. We were glad to find a tea kettle in our kitchen and we used it to make ourselves some coffee which we sipped as we ate cheese scones with Stilton cheese, ox tongue sandwiches, fresh raspberries, and pistachio and almond cookies. Yes, it was a strange meal indeed but it was an improvisation of whatever we had picked up, between the two of us, at supermarkets we’d visited.

With the TV on, we watched some game shows and relaxed before calling it an early night.

Until tomorrow, cheerio.