Sunday, December 19, 2010

Advent Calendar to Adventure Part 3: Britain Top 10

I've got a long list of things that I want to see and do in Britain outside of Oxford (that's only getting longer the more Bill Bryson I read, and that I'm sure will explode once I'm actually on British soil!). But, here is a "Top 10" of sorts of things that I'm just turning green over:

10. Cinerama at the Pictureville Cinema, Bradford

Now I know this one sounds a bit random to start off, and I admit fully that I've only ever heard of this place through Bill Bryson's Notes From a Small Island, but man does it sound cool! Cinerama was a precursor to modern 3D film technology that used three separate projectors converging on one very big wide screen to simulate 3D effects. Apparently it was very crisp, lush, and cool, but the costs were such that very few Cinerama-equipped theaters were ever built. The Pictureville Cinema is now one of only 2 (I believe) theaters in the world that can play Cinerama, and I want to see it! I love going to the Stanford Theater back in California, so I'm hoping to go here as my British homage to that delight.

9. The Scottish Highlands

Misty moors, castles perched on little inhospitable islands, lochs in and of themselves, lush green valleys, the land of sheep and wool, and some of the best accents on the planet: ahh Scotland, you are a tempting mistress. I'd really love to ride around Scotland, as even looking at pictures of those big open swaths of green make me twinge for a good galloping horse, but I'd also be perfectly happy to see it on foot.

8. The Dorset Coastpath

When I was living on the central coast last winter, one of my biggest joys was going to the sea and driving along the flat part of Highway 1 between San Luis and Ragged Point, where the road hugs the shore and the coastal mountains are held at bay by the most unspeakably gorgeous green winter slopes and hills (instead of further up 1, where the mountains come rushing up and you end up winding vertiginously along the face of a 300 foot drop... not my cup of tea exactly). In the south of England, there is (apparently) a lovely walking path along the Dorset coast that gives great views of cliffs, waves, and rolling English countryside beyond. If it's even a fraction as lovely as San Simeon, then I'm sold.

7. Durham Cathedral

I'll admit fully, I'm a sucker for a good cathedral. I'm not religious at all, but there is something about gothic cathedrals that is just magical: they're so big and brooding on the outside, but then you step in and suddenly feel like you might float right off the floor if you don't keep your wits about you, such is the sensation of steep upward ascension and lightness. I always read about this phenomenon but never really believed it until I experienced it firsthand this summer in the French cathedrals at Bayeux, Chartres, and a dozen places around Paris (I spent two days just walking from one to the next with no other stops whatsoever; I was a cathedral-induced-head-rush addict). I've never been to a proper English cathedral, and Durham is supposed to be one of the country's finest; I can't wait to see it in person!

6. The Royal Wedding!!!!

(As an aside, this picture=just oozing class)

I don't know a stitch about the royals except for the fact that the two princes both play polo (serious plus) and that the British tabloids just looove getting as many pictures of Zara Phillips falling off as possible and putting them on the front pages of major newspapers. But, I have learned that, on 29 April, William will be marrying Kate. And this Kate will be watching.

5. Blenheim

Blenheim Palace is the home of one of England's most prestigious CCI*** events; that event, however, isn't until September, so I'll probably have to visit without it. The palace also has incredibly impressive grounds (the definition of the British Idyllic fantasy, complete with staged vistas and picturesque "Roman Temples"!) and interiors that I studied last fall in 18th Century Art, and so would love to see in the flesh. So, even if I can't see Blenheim with the incomparable addition of horses, I think it will certainly be worth the trip.

4. Foxhunting

Well, I might have to (want to?) go to Ireland for this one, but that makes it no less important. My favorite activity on this entire planet is going out for a gallop in open country on a good, fit horse. Foxhunting in England/Ireland is the epitome of that activity... with massive stone walls and hedges thrown in, just for a little adrenaline boost! No but seriously, I can't imagine a better way to see the countryside. Especially in my likely-to-be highly horse-deprived state, this is VERY high on the priority list!

3. Bramham

Bramham, like Blenheim, is not only one of England's most prestigious three day events but also happens to take place on the grounds of one of the finest noble homes in the country. Unlike Blenheim, Bramham takes place in June, which means I can actually see it in competition mode! The courses are supposed to be challenging, the atmosphere electric, and the setting absolutely lovely. What's not to love?

2. Cheltenham Gold Cup

The Cheltenham Gold Cup is a four day festival of steeplechasing that is probably second only to the Grand National in fame (and I think within Britain probably the Gold Cup holds more sway). As a kid growing up reading Horse and Hound, the British version of The Chronicle (but with much more steeplechase coverage), I always got totally sucked into the frenzy surrounding the lead up and results of the Gold Cup. It would be such a dream to actually get to go and see it in the flesh! Steeplechase racing has got to be one of the more incredible feats of human guts and equine athleticism out there; it's absolutely heart-pounding to even watch tapes of the great races, and so I can't even begin to imagine what it must be like in person (besides AWESOME).

1. Badminton

Need I say more? For any eventer, Badminton is the event to end all events, the ultimate meccha of the sport up to which all lesser competitions look. This past fall I got to see international standard competition for the first time, and was utterly thrilled at the excitement and beauty of what I witnessed; if there is any place to go to try to experience that high again, it will be at Badminton. Hopefully there will be some Americans to cheer on and some good weather to do it in!

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