What’s going on

It seems a little self-indulgent to write about my comings and goings. What could I be thinking, to think that anybody else would enjoy reading them (except maybe my wife and daughters). But here goes anyway.

Back in January I started the East County Physics Meetup group and it has been quite successful, with 8 to 10 members meeting each month, with two volunteers from the group selected to introduce two topics at each monthly meeting. The website for the group is www.meetup.com/EastCountyPhysicsMeetup. For such a small group we have a wide range of approaches to physics, from the more or less metaphysical, to what would be considered mainstream physics. Sometimes it’s a hard job to find a common ground for discussion but we manage!

My wife, Teresa, and I are in the San Diego Festival Chorus, and we have our Spring concert coming up next week on Sunday, May 3. We’ve been rehearsing every Monday, and our director Tony Mostardo says it’s going to be the best concert ever! Of course, he says that for every concert. And as usual, I think it’s going to be true. We’re doing a classical work by Rosinni in the first half, and a collection Negro spirituals arranged by John Rutter in the second half. Something for everyone. That website is www.SanDiegoFestivalChorus.org. You can check video clips of our performances.

The other news is that I am rehearsing my part in a play called “Mulatto” written around 1935 by Langston Hughes, a black activist. I have a small part, a racist undertaker who has come to pick up the body of a white man murdered by his mulatto son. It’s pretty intense. It’s being put on by a small theater group called Community Actors Theater. I’ve been in a couple of previous productions before. My big concern was my memory — could I remember a whole page of dialog at age 79? It has turned out, thankfully, not to be a problem (Since the pages are small!).

This afternoon we went to see our church’s Spring choir concert and as usual it was excellent. One of my favorite songs from my youth was “Dry Bones” and it was done very well with the best percussion I’ve ever heard. Thank you Ramon!

I have more in mind to write, but this is enough for one post. ‘ Till next time and I hope I get around to it soon!


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Stonehenge and Goodbye

If you read this blog by scrolling down, you’ll be reading it backwards. If you want to start at the beginning of our KPBS tour click HERE. Then click the link in the upper right corner to go to the next day.

Today is our last official day of touring and our destination is Stonehenge.

We are once again in level terrain, with farm after farm, separated by hedges rather than fences as you see in the USA. There were many different crops along the road and we wished we knew what they were. We never thought to ask. As we approached town, the farms got smaller and smaller. Aside from crops, we saw the largest pigs that I have ever seen. One notable thing is that we found the grazing animals were totally mixed. Cows and sheep were grazing together, and the colorations were mixed. My experience in the US is that you see only a particular animal and coloration grazing in a field.

We passed through the Cotswolds, a 35 x 90 mile designated trading area, the main trading commodity being wool. The trading area charter was granted by King John.

We passed  by Oxford, and Geoff named an astonishing number of people who attended the University, artists, writers, scientists, mathematicians, and other fields.

We passed an 11th-12th century Norman church which was characterized by square towers or turrets. We are on the Salisbury plain which is rich in history, and historical sites. There is Salisbury Cathedral in particular, and Old Sarum, the the remains of a prehistoric settlement. “Sarum” is a wonderful historical novel by James Rutherfurd which tells the story of families in this area from prehistoric times almost to the present. Also, there are other stone and wood circles in the area, notably Woodhenge and at Avesbury.

Hamburger recommendation guys

Hamburger recommendation guys

We had lunch in Marlboro. I told Geoff I wanted a hamburger, and he said, “You won’t get one like you can get in the US.” I said, “I know, I want to see what a British hamburger tastes like.” On the recommendation of three young men on the sidewalk we went into a pub, and I ordered their hamburger with pulled pork, which turned out to be delicious.

The new Visitor Center at Stonehenge

The new Visitor Center at Stonehenge

At Stonehenge there was a new system set up for handling huge flow of visitors, which involves parking two and a half kilometers away from the rings, and taking a shuttle to the site. I’ve been to Stonehenge a number of times dating back to the 60s, when you could just drive up, park on the side of the road, and walk among the stones. To my great disappointment years ago, a parking area on the other side of the road was added, with a tunnel under the road, and a fence around the area so you could not get close to the stones. The new system installed this year, has the advantage that the circle is more isolated from



civilization and you get a better feel of the history. Also they have added an audio tour which I thought was helpful. Also, the previous highly obtrusive fence has been greatly lowered and you can get closer to the stones on one side.

Coming back, we stopped at Bourton-on-the-Water, which is also called “Little Athens” because of the several bridges over the river that passes

Elderly Pickpocket

Elderly Pickpocket

through town. Geoff pointed out an “Elderly Crossing” sign which looks more like a woman picking the pocket of the man ahead.

We had our Farewell Dinner in the Romeo Room at the hotel, and it was a convivial occasion. We thanked our guide Geoff, and our driver, Meclan, who did wonderful jobs. Regarding driving, I think it is astonishing that there are not more accidents. There is so little space between vehicles as they pass on the road, or park in the parking areas. Not only do you have to be a steady driver, but you are depending on everyone else to stay exactly in the middle of their lane. It’s amazing.

Tom then presented his bonehead awards for the trip. I won the top award for my trip in Cambridge. Tom announced that he met a movie producer who wants to make a Gene Kelly sequel called “Tripping in the Rain”, and he thinks he has found his lead.

Don presenting the awards for the trip. I won the top award for my trip.

Tom presenting his bonehead awards for the trip.

Teresa and I are headed for Dublin early in the morning for a week-long driving tour of the southern Ireland with my daughter Jennifer, so we have a car provided by Collette, which will take us and Margo to the airport earlier than the rest of the group. So we said our goodbyes tonight.


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Today we’re off to Stratford-upon-Avon, and a Shakespeare experience. Once again we are in the mountains, where we can look down on the houses and villages far below. The land is as green as ever along the way.

Starbuck's rest stop

Starbuck’s rest stop

We had a rest stop at the WELCOMEBREAK, where there was a bigger Starbucks operation than I’ve ever seen in the United States.

We received a little Shakespeare trivia along the way: It appears that Shakespeare may have drunk himself to death although it is by no means certain.

Ben Johnson regarded him as the best. His plays were certainly the best attended at the time. Some feel that Christopher Marlowe, if he had survived as long as Shakespeare would’ve been more highly regarded. As it was, he died early in a barroom brawl.

We all know about the old Globe and its open roof. People of all economic statuses attended those performances together. On the other hand, Blackfriars theater had a roof, and the tickets cost quite a bit more.

Our first mission was to get lunch and we had delicious sandwiches in a small tearoom, mine a tuna melt.

Our next visit was to the Shakespeare Center, which was also the

Waiting for Shakespeare

Waiting for Shakespeare

entrance to Shakespeare’s home. The whole facility was clearly designed to handle a huge amount of traffic. It was hard to know how much of the building was original. One of the guides explained that half of the furnishings and other

Shakespeare's home

Shakespeare’s home

items in the home were authentic period items and the rest were reproductions. They make no claim that any of the items are originals, but he hinted that, in fact, some of the items were in the house at the time. We got a taste of Shakespearean acting as we left.

There was a bit of a wait for the bus and, we sat for a while at an outside table, just resting. The waitress must’ve known our intention, and never brought us a menu.

And Hathaway's home

And Hathaway’s home

We next took a short ride to Ann Hathaway’s house. She was Shakespeare’s wife. At the time, the house consisted of two rooms, or maybe it was two bedrooms. Early on the building was expanded toward the kitchen and a generation later it was expanded in the other direction to its present size. The outside consisted of gardens, which were not quite authentic because in those days there would be animals grazing instead.

Period bed

Period bed fro the Hathaway House


We next visited Hall’s Croft. Shakespeare’s eldest daughter was Suzanne and she had a daughter, Elizabeth, who married the only doctor in town, John Hall. There was a section of stone floor that Shakespeare had surely walked on, and now we had walked in his footsteps. Our guide spent a great deal of time on a very interesting discussion of a painting, which was not of anybody in Shakespeare’s family, but represented the symbols of wealth that Elizabeth and John Hall probably exhibited.

We then headed back to the hotel for a short nap before dinner.

Our hotel in Stratford-Upon-Avon

Our hotel in Stratford-Upon-Avon

We took a short walk to our dinner venue and were treated to four Shakespearean selections which I believe were from Henry V, Romeo and Juliet, the Taming of the Shrew, and Midsummer Night’s Dream. The consensus was that they were well done.





Next was dinner, consisting of the selections we had made days earlier, and most people seemed to have forgotten what they ordered, but we worked it out. We discussed how hard it was to get coffee with dessert instead of later, but we had worked that out long ago, by giving up.

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Gretna Green and Wales

This morning was the regular breakfast routine except that Teresa and I were running late and had to make do with rolls and containers of yogurt eaten on the bus. That necessitated us “borrowing” a spoon from the restaurant. I do feel guilty, but since they charged us over 50 pounds for a small amount of laundry (We knew they might.) I don’t feel too bad.

We got a lesson in haggis history as well as golf history, and you will have to consult Geoff or Wikipedia if you want the details.

We are headed for Gretna Green, Scotland, where British couples used to go to get married, because in England at the time the girl had to be 21 years of age. In those days you simply had to declare in front of two people that you wish to be married, and you were. Apparently, blacksmiths were readily available in the town and became traditional “anvil priests”. It was considered fitting, because as they joined two metals together, they joined two people. Now you have to be a 21-day resident to get married in Gretna Green.

We passed the town of Lockerbie where, some years ago, terrorists brought down a plane and killed a large number of Americans.

Meclan, our driver, pulled in a narrow space between two buses to the wild

Rare bus damage

Rare bus damage

applause of his passengers. Later on he made an even more incredible left turn, backing and filling, and leaving only inches to spare, if that. I eventually found evidence that bus drivers and human, and took a picture of damage to a bus’ lower left bumper.

Not married yet

Not married yet

In Gretna Green, Teresa and I were married in a traditional Gretna Green ceremony. We had to answer four questions, and it was a struggle to get the right answers from us. I had to promise to give Teresa all my money, and Teresa had to give me whiskey every

Happily married!

Happily married!

night. Kris and Tom were Teresa’s parents, and had mixed feeling about the whole deal, except that Tom had a rifle and I knew where he stood. I think it was meant to be a shotgun.

We then headed to the Lake District, which was formed by the action of glaciers 14,000 years

Lunch in Grasmere

Lunch in Grasmere

ago. We stopped at the lovely village of Grasmere for lunch. We found the Grasmere Tea Shop by a flowing stream filled with ducks. We visited the Wordsworth Daffodil Garden with its winding paths and no daffodils, at least in bloom.William Wordsworth and Henry Longfellow lived in this area and were contemporaries.

Shortly after leaving Gretna Green, I realized the land had become quite flat, and that clearly was because the glaciers had not reached this far south. We stopped in Grasmere for a bite to eat and a little shopping. We visited the Wordsworth Garden with his wanting path. We found a lovely place to eat by a creek with many ducks.

Leaving Grasmere we passed Ambleside with the tiny Bridge House, over 300 years old, and which was the inspiration for the Little Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe.

We entered Wales with no ceremony, in striking contrast to our crossing into Scotland from England. Wales comes from a German word meaning border. The Romans built many forts in Wales, but as we have heard before, as happened all over the British Isles, the Romans left the area to concentrate on the Saxons which were invading the Roman Empire from the East.

In 1959 Cardiff became the capital of Wales. It might’ve been Carnarvon, where the Prince of Wales is crowned, but it wasn’t to be.Welch has a lilting sound to it, but Geoff also explained that it sounds like Yiddish spoken underwater by drunken mermaids. We’ll have to make sure we get a sample before we leave. The longest place name is in the world is in Wales is Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. I’ll leave the letter-counting to you.

We are staying in Ruthin Castle which was built in the 13th century, but ”defortified” sometime later. In 1925 it was a institution for the investigation of rare undetermined diseases. Presumably it has been disinfected from those days to accommodate its present use.

For some unknown reason, Geoff commented, the Swan, the Hart, and the Elephant figured large in pub names. Although I couldn’t hear him clearly, I think he began philosophizing on the feeling of power that drink brings. He recited a poem about drinking which I remember as a song from my college days:

Oh the liquor was spilt on the barroom floor,
And the bar was closed for the night,
When a mouse crept out from a hole in the wall
And sat in the pale moonlight.
He lapped up the liquor from the barroom floor,
And on his haunches he sat.
And all night long you could hear him roar,
“Bring on the goddamn cat!”

When we entered Wales we immediately saw the street signs in two languages, with English on top. Farther along, Welch, or Irish, became the top language.People are working hard to preserve their national language.

Ruthin Castle chess

Ruthin Castle chess

We arrived at Ruthin Castle and were met by a jester and Lady Myra. Tonight was the night of our traditional meal, going back to the year 1499. We were ushered into a room filled with long benches and tables, and toasted each other with a glass of mead. There were songs, and jokes, a magician, and a fun time was had by most everybody. We ate lamb shank or salmon, chicken, vegetables, potatoes, and coleslaw, with almost no utensils. There was a limerick contest, and the Collette

Ready for a medieval meal

Ready for a medieval meal

Group pulled a clean sweep. I was third, Tom was second, and Mick Hager finished first.

A fellow named Mark came in and was looking for Cheryl and found her. He said he lives in Wrexham and hadn’t seen her in 10 years. I don’t know the rest of the story.

So ended Wednesday.


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Edinburgh and the Military Tattoo

This morning we had a city tour conducted by an excellent step-on guide, Pat.

Our Edinburgh guide, Pat

Our Edinburgh guide, Pat

The Royal Mile runs through the center of the town. At the top is Edinburgh Castle built on a huge volcanic rock, and at the bottom is the Palace of Hollyroodhouse. The Queen visits Scotland for one week each year, and stays in the Palace along with a retinue of 200 staff.

I gave my camera to someone to take a picture of us and the camera went clattering on the stones. When I retrieved at the screen was full of vertical lines and no picture. I turned the camera on and off and still no picture. I was figuring I had to do the rest of the tour with my cell phone,, when I tried one more thing and pulled the battery. When I reinserted the battery, back came a picture. I’ve never heard of rebooting a camera before.

Taking a break at Hollyroodhouse

Taking a break at Hollyroodhouse

This was a big week in Edinburgh because we have not only the Tattoo but the Fringe Festival. There are thousands of dramatic and artistic productions all over the city for three weeks. It’s a huge event, the largest in the world.

We passed the Robert Burns monument. Burns moved to Edinburgh to find fame and fortune, but found only fame and died in poverty at age 37.

We visited the Palace first and it was something like a smaller size Windsor Castle. The main interesting thing is that we were able to go from the 18th century up a spiral staircase to rooms from the 16th century.As usual, no photo taking is allowed.

We passed the Robbie Burns pub which was owned by the great-great-great-uncle of our guide Pat. Behind the pub was a building that collapsed years ago in which several people were killed, but a small dog survived and because of that, became famous. Because of his fame he was sold for 20 pounds which was a lot of money in those days.

If a merchant was caught giving short weight his ears were nailed to a bar and after a certain period of time, the box in which he was standing was kicked away, which left him with a split ear for the rest of his life.

In another dog story, a dog sat on his master’s grave for 14 years until he died, that is the dog died.There is a bronze statue dedicated to that dog.

The National Museum houses historic artifacts from all over the world. The New National Museum tells the history of Edinburgh.

We passed the Elephant House pub which says, “The Birthplace of Harry Potter”. This is because JK Rowling lived in

"The birthplace of Harry Potter"

“The birthplace of Harry Potter”

Edinburgh and did much of her writing in pubs in town. She is now a generous philanthropist, as was Andrew Carnegie, who also lived in Edinburgh.

We arrived at the Castle, and decided it would be a very difficult place to conquer, since it was quite a walk just to get to the top. The cannon, which was supposed to fire only on the hour, fired 20 minutes after the hour, and 10 minutes later, which completely mystified our guide, Pat.

After our bus tour Teresa and I took a nap, and then looked for a place to eat a bite before heading to the Tattoo. We found Cafe Efe and Bistro right across the street. Teresa had

Café Efe

Café Efe & Bistro

Coronation Chicken, which we found out from Efe, the Turkish owner, is made by combining Tikka sauce with an Indian sauce pronounced “rising”. It was delicious, as was the moussaka I ordered.



We ordered a cab to get us as close to the Esplanade as we could, and then joined the 8998 others that had come from all over the world to see the Tattoo. It was a great spectacle, with performers from all over the United Kingdom, some of which were genuine military, while others were performing groups. In that arena even the bagpipes sound good. Actually I like the sound of bagpipes.

After the show we walked back to the Thistle Hotel, which fortunately was mostly a downhill walk.

Here are a few clips from about twenty performances that made up the Tattoo. The  Full Screen button is at the lower right of the video as it plays.







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On to Edinburgh

At the Marriott this morning we had the pretty much standard buffet breakfast except the service was not up to Marriott USA standards. They were short on plates, glasses, forks, and cream, but we managed anyway.

On the bus ride north, Geoff explained that for Scotch to be Scotch it has to come from Scotland. Actually, the Irish made it first and even they got the technique from the Middle East. Of course we all know that Edinburgh is pronounced “Edinborough” which is pronounced “Edinburro”.

He also mentioned other things Scotch: Kilts, Golf, and Bagpipes. He explained that golf got its name because there were no other four-letter words left. He also explained that Ireland gave bagpipes to Scotland as a joke, and the Scots haven’t got it yet.

A forerunner of the bagpipe was the uilliann, which, instead of using lung power, had a bellows under the players arm. It came from Ireland, and is still played in that country.

We were headed for Hadrian’s Wall which was built in 122 by the British to stop the Picts which were the early

Teresa pointing out Hadrian's Wall

Teresa pointing out Hadrian’s Wall:-)

Scots. It had three purposes: 1) to mark the northern border, 2) to protect the Brits, and 3) to tax trade. It was built from East to West and took six years to build and was 72 miles long. The eastern part was built of stone which was available, but the Western part had to be made of soil.

On the subject of empires, the size of empires was limited by the speed of travel in those days. As a result the Roman Empire and Alexander’s Empire were roughly the same size.

Going on to castles, Geoff mentioned that they were not square but usually had five or six pointed to aid in defense, and that moats rarely had water. Ditches around the castle between walls would serve the purpose just as well. Also, who would use valuable oil to pour on the enemy? It was usually water or sand. They would open the first portcullis, keep the second P1050410closed, and pour whatever it was through the “murder hole” on the attackers. Actually, instead of trying to invade a castle, it often made more sense to starve the inhabitants by means of a siege.

There were many border wars, well beyond my capability to take notes. One thing for sure, William Wallace, of the Braveheart movie figured in many of them.

About this time I got a text message on my cell phone, to call in number back in the states because my data usage was high. It turned out I had run up a $353 bill using 18 MB of data. I said, “What can be done about that?”, and he said you can buy a plan for $30 which would cover my existing usage, plus allow me about 100 MB more. That

"Oh, Tom, he likes you!"

“Oh, Tom, he likes you!”


seemed like an offer I couldn’t refuse.

In Hadden, Northumbria we stopped at The Swan for lunch,

where we ate the lunch we had

Lunch at The Swan

Lunch at The Swan

ordered a couple of days earlier. Most people had ordered soup and a sandwich.

An old man came into the restaurant and struggled to his seat, and I offered to buy him a coffee but he declined because he said, “They take good care of me here. I come to lunch every day.” He continued, “You can buy gammon and eggs or gammon and pineapple but I order gammon with

Teresa discussing the pros and cons of meat versus dairy farming

Teresa discussing the pros and cons of meat versus dairy farming

both pineapple and eggs.” Shortly thereafter Teresa and I talked to him as he was sitting in his car. He’s a retired farmer who might’ve gone into raising dairy cows except that he did not like to get up that early in the morning. So he was a vegetable farmer and raised meat cows.

On our way again, Geoff played a CD of Scottish music on an Irish uilliann, including Amazing Grace.

We stopped at Hadrian’s Wall, also called “Linus Britannicus”, for pictures.

Items noted on the way, purple Heather, which looks more like groundcover than a bush, and a “Manor Keep” which is much smaller than a typical castle, but has some of the same defensive features.


The Scottish border was marked by two large stones each marked “SCOTLAND” and “ENGLAND”. The best part was a bagpiper in full regalia who played the whole time we were there.

As we approached Edinburgh, Geoff mentioned that it had been a major financial center for some time (and perhaps still is). The Scots are careful with money. He said copper wire was invented by two Scotsmen fighting over a penny.

As it turned out, one month from today the Scots will vote on whether or not to secede from Great Britain. No one is really sure how the vote will go.

Jedburgh Abbey

Jedburgh Abbey


Mary, Queen of Scots house

We passed the “Capon Tree” were rebellious Scots were hanged, beheaded, and their heads used to play soccer.

We arrived at Jedburgh Abbey which was in ruins, and Mary, Queen of Scots house, which looked to be in pretty good shape. Shortly thereafter we we visited Jedburgh Woolen Mill for a shopping break. I found what I wanted, a book about the history of the Scott side of my family, and a caramel ice cream bar.

Geoff introduced us to “Irn Bru” which is the national soft drink of Scotland. We also learned that tomorrow will be a day of the Fringe Festival, with buskers from all over the area. Should be fun.

We passed a number of houses with roofs that sloped on all four sides, which seems a poor way to construct an attic. I intend to find out more about that.

We got to the Thistle Hotel a few minutes before dinner, which was OK, but not great. It was an interesting day with only a slight amount of rain.


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Cambridge and York,

Finally we are rid of the impossible showers at the Grange Hotel. This morning we had our bags out by 6:30 AM and by 8:30 AM we were heading north on the A1 to Cambridge and York. It looks like good weather as we head out.

Cambridge is on the river Cam, and of course the city is named after a bridge

Ready to see Cambridge.

Ready to see Cambridge.

over the river. Also there was a fjord where oxen used to cross, and of course, that is where Oxford got its name. During World War II Oxford was the town where thousands of children were sent From London to safety. Surprisingly, it only received city status in 1951.


The Mathematical Bridge

Over 90 Nobel laureates have come from Cambridge, more than any other university in the world. It’s the second oldest university in the English-speaking world, and seventh overall. It’s got its charter from Henry III. Henry VIII, as he dissolved the churches in his dispute with them, he also refocused Cambridge towards Science, the Classics, and Mathematics, and away from religion.

As we drove along the rain began. We passed the town of Stamford, where in 1837 Queen Victoria stopped the running of the bulls.

Our first site in Cambridge was the Mathematical Bridge, which is supposed to

Corpus Christi College

Corpus Christi College

be remarkable because it is curved and built out of straight lumber. It didn’t look so remarkable to me but I did think it was beautiful.

Once in Cambridge University we found several colleges of the University: Kings College, Queens College, and Trinity College among others. Also we saw the Round Church.

The Round Church

The Round Church

As I was running to get a good camera shot of our party, I fell flat on my face in the middle of the street. I wasn’t hurting much, and my main concern was the condition of my glasses, and when I could not find them I thought they must of been smashed beyond recognition. However, it turned out there were safely on my nose all the time. The total medical aid required was a bandage on the tip of my left index finger for which I was very grateful. I was impressed by the concern that the others in our group expressed. I am okay. We then headed towards York as the weather cleared.

Geoff explained the several orders of religious structures. A Basilica is the top classification and is designated by the Pope, because of some particular religious significance. The next is the Cathedral, where a bishop or archbishop sits. It has a Cathedra, or throne for that purpose, hence the name. A Church is simply were the people go to worship.

Our driver’s Tom-Tom navigator informed him that our planned luncheon dining

Lunch at the Little Chef

Lunch at the Little Chef

spot was not available for some reason, so we went to the Little Chef, which, true to its name, was not really set up for bus-sized crowds, but we managed, and the chili that I ordered was rather good.

We passed Nottingham and saw Sherwood Forest on the left. The weather, which had turned rainy for a while, now became sunny again.

We passed Doncaster which, like many cities, had been a Viking city at one time, then Roman. It was defensible because it was built on marshy ground which hindered invaders. For some reason Doncaster never industrialized like many other cities, and instead developed a chocolate (Rowntree) industry.

Rain again.

York Minster

York Minster

After about an hour’s drive the weather became clear again, and we arrived in York, driving through some picturesque suburbs. We saw York Minster which is the largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe. To protect it during World War II all of the stained glass had been removed and stored safely until the war was over.

Sunny again, but incredible winds swirled around us most of the time. The other main attraction we saw was Shambles, a street where all the butchers worked in the past, and where they threw their trimmings in the streets, a situation which gave the street its name. Some of our party went to the Railroad Museum which is the largest in the world, I understand. They had a whole locomotive sliced down the middle so you could see what was inside.

We headed a short distance back to the Marriott where we will be staying for one night. There had just been a wedding at the



Marriott which gave the whole place a festive atmosphere for dinner.P1050380P1050377

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