Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A Weekend in "The Ford"

This past weekend, in continuation of my exploration of England, I made my way to Hereford. Hereford is located in the west midlands and is separated in two by the river Wye. There are no expressways leading to Hereford- In order to arrive, one must drive through windy country roads lined with farmlands, fields teeming with animals, and quaint cottages. The city itself is delightful- a typical English town with cobblestone alleyways and lush courtyards. Everywhere we walked, there were spires poking up through the clouded English sky.

Of course, before my Sunday history lesson and walk, I experienced the requisite night out on the town.
My Saturday evening commenced in a top floor stylish bar with 360 degree views of the city. If it weren’t for the English accents and view of an early 11th century cathedral, the bar could have been situated in any major American or European city. After a few overpriced drinks, we embarked on a proper pub crawl. Our next destinations consisted of bars and pubs filled with random party-goers and friends of friends of friends. Hereford is a small (50,000 pop) city and I quickly found that everyone knows everyone else. After a number of drinks, I lost track of the who’s who’s and fell into my normal “yes, this is an American accent and yes, I am really enjoying England, thank you very much” routine. A typical Saturday night out in Hereford does not differ much from the characteristic American experience- gossip, banter, jokes, vodka, Irish car bombs, bathroom trips with the girls, cab rides, losing friends amidst the crowds, meeting up with them again on the street, making friends, and ultimately, in the VIP section of the “hot” club dancing on roped off tables stacked with champagne. It was fun. My night ended at about 5:30 a.m. in my friend’s kitchen gnawing on cheese and bacon flavored (suitable for vegetarians???) chips while inspecting the multiple wrist bands and stamps extending up my left arm. It was a good night- I would do it again.

Sunday morning was painful but after two Paracetamol (British Advil) and a massive glass of water, I got my bearings. Once I made my way out of bed and into the shower, a day ensued that I can only describe as “SOOO ENGLISH.” Meaning- nothing I experienced would have ever happened in America but it was pretty much a standard Sunday in any English town with any English family (in this case, Welsh family- but that’s beside the point).

Our first stop was to meet friends “down the pub” for “Sunday roast.” Anyone who has been to Britain knows that Sunday roast is typical Sunday dinner, eaten midday, consisting of roast meat, potatoes, an abundance of vegetables, Yorkshire pudding and gravy. Here is the Wikipedia link- my description didn’t do Sunday Roast justice; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunday_roast

The Volunteer pub, dubbed “They Volly” by locals is charmingly rustic. Bob Dylan was playing for the enjoyment of resident diners and early afternoon pint drinkers. Surprisingly, there were ample vegetarian options- I went for the closest thing I could get to a typical roast, opting for a “nut roast,” new potatoes, and veggie gravy all dumped into an enormous Yorkshire pudding. It was fabulous- and enough to feed a family of four. See photo. Yum.

Once I shoveled in as much food as I could (and considered taking the rest home due to guilt), our party left and began a long “historic” walk through town. Hereford can be traced back to the 7th century A.D. so clearly, there was plenty of history to be seen.
I’ll record the highlights; There are a few notable characters that called Hereford home at one point or another in the past. They range from Alfred Walkins (photographer, inventor and businessman) to David Garrick and Sarah Siddons (famous thespians) to Edward Elgar (composer). A statue of Eddie and I got a bit friendly at one point during the afternoon (see photo). There was a war memorial, as my friend pointed out, “that would be our war memorial.” Which war? I’m not exactly sure- but the memorial itself was quite pretty. We eventually made it to the climax of our tour- the Cathedral. Much like the imposing Gothic cathedral here in Gloucester, Hereford’s Cathedral is not only substantial in size but substantial in historic connotation. The construction dates back to 1079 and contains the world famous Mappa Mundi, a medieval map of the world from the 1200’s. The building also contains the Chained Library and all the vital house-of-warship adornments; ornate stained glass windows depicting bible stories, marble sculptures of the deceased lying perpetually atop the tombs, a colossal organ and dizzyingly high rows of ceiling beams. The culmination of our walk was through the paved streets lined with quaint shops, pubs (one named “The Spread Eagle”!) and more pubs.
The previous nights’ antics and brisk late-winter walk left us weary and ready for a good two hour nap on the downstairs couches before our evening activity- The Illustrious Pub Quiz! This was, by far, my favorite part of the weekend.

Pub quizzes, a popular Sunday evening pastime in many of England’s liquor licensed establishments, are a fantastic way to wind down a weekend and get the brain going again for a grueling work week ahead. Therefore, we went with my friend’s mother and her “pub quiz” group of six down to “The Rose and Crown” for a dinner of fried things and a quiz challenge. I would say there were about 10 teams, ranging from two people to 10. It costs £1 to play and the first place winners receive £20. Questions range from current events, celebrity trivia, sports, history, and more. It was fantastic. The bartender/server is also the quizmaster. Once the overweight drunk woman yelling out the answers at a table in the back was forced to get into a taxi and leave, we could actually hear the questions being asked and put our minds together. I must acknowledge that I wasn’t the most useful participant, but at least I got a Reagan and a John McCain question right. Maybe having an American in the mix was useful… However, I had no idea when the Hoover Dam was built or the capital of N. Carolina. Shame.
In the end, our team won the entire quiz AND got the Hoover Dam question right! (1935).

All in all, the fusion of the history of a 7th century Saxon settled town, together with bar crawls, Sunday roasts, getting my stilettos stuck in cobbled streets, and pub quizzes, I would say that my time in Hereford was well spent. Hopefully I’ll be able to reciprocate this summer and bring my "Herefordian" mates to New York. One thing I can tell them is we will definitely not be doing any calm evening pub quizzes!
They have NO idea what they are in for…


Lana said...

always bringing life to where you go...and where you land...yes, even statues!

Anonymous said...

I definitely saw a little twinkle in ELGAR's eye the day you adorned his bicycle.....and probably a twinkle in his pants too! hee hee
I love the photo of the nutty elderly lady - pretty much sums up the City in one photo! Fruitcake.
You would be welcome back to walk the cobbles anytime....just bring a pair of timbs next time!
We didn't make the Hereford cider museum......that is most definitely a tour for the summer months!! sitting in a place we call 'the meadows' drinking and sunbathing whilst playing rounders will also be on the cards. x x x