Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Have yourself a Dickensian little Christmas...

Last Saturday we travelled about an hour and a half north-east to the town of Rochester for their annual "Dickensian Christmas Festival". Say that 10 times fast. There were oodles of people in costume and even more there to see them. It was very crowded! There were parades, Victorian street performers, fake snow, carols, and craft fairs. Also, Rochester has a cathedral and a castle. So there was a lot to see and do. It was a very long day, but it was a lot of fun.

This trip was part of Brighton and Hove's "Great Days Out" program (they would say scheme, but that sounds so nefarious). We left our flat at 7:30 to make it down to the Old Steine bus stop before 9am. Poor Iain was super sleepy, but was too interested in the people on the bus and the scenery to take his morning nap. Just as we were pulling into Rochester he started to conk out. It was to be a theme for the day! The poor baby was so tired by the end. We were surprised to see how many people crammed into the town of Rochester for the festival. And most of the events took place on one little street!

The town is very old like everything here in England. The cathedral was founded in 604, but of course has been nearly completely rebuilt since that time. The castle is a relative newcomer, being built in only 1087. Mind boggling, isn't it? Dickens spent his later years in Rochester and died there in in 1870. Walking along the street we saw plenty of shop names like "Ebenezer's" and "Fagin's Cafe". In the above picture you can see the street and the crowd! We fought our way up the hill to be pleasantly surprised with "snow".

Here are some of the folks in Victorian costume. They all paraded down the street at noon along with bagpipers, little girls doing folk dancing, a children's choir, and some strange dancing men wearing nightshirts and fezes. Can anyone explain this to me? Is this a Dickens reference?? Anyway, they were entertaining. Poor Iain didn't much care for the pipers as he was just falling asleep again when they came along. Poor little guy!

Here is Brian posing with some of the characters from The Pickwick Papers. They were true to their parts, being a very fun-loving group who quickly made Brian part of the gang.

I really wanted to go in this shop as their Christmas cakes were a thing of beauty. But the queue was out the door and down the sidewalk, so I passed. It would be so neat to learn how to bake like that someday.

We stopped for lunch in an incredibily crowded pub and ended up sharing a table and chatting with an older couple from East London. I just can't get over how nice people are here. They thought Iain was adorable, which of course shows their intelligence and discernment to Iain's Mama. About halfway through lunch Iain caught another little cat nap. We couldn't hang around and let him sleep because there was a very long line for tables.

Next we headed off to the cathedral, which was lovely. I took some pictures, but you just can't get the imensity of such a place on your camera. I love the exultant feeling of a tremendous vaulted ceiling. They had Evensong while we were there, which was lovely chanting and singing. We didn't stay for it, so I'm not sure what the whole service consists of, but we heard a psalm while we were there. After exploring the cathedral we headed up through the crowd to the castle grounds. To our surprise, there was a carnival set up on the castle grounds. It was the most incongrous, fun, English thing. The sun was setting over the ruined walls of the castle as we sipped hot chocolate and watched the lights of the fair.

Iain thought the lights and noise of the carnival were great! Since he was so interested, we decided to give the teacups a whirl. Here we are waiting to get on.
And here is Iain afterwards. I wasn't sure how he would react, but he loved it! Clearly he is saying here "That ride was great, Mom!"

After the carnival we walked down to the main outdoor stage to get a good spot for the candleight parade and carols. Here is my sad attempt at a self-portrait of us. I was trying to get the castle in the background, but it didn't really work all that well!

While we were waiting we for the parade to start, they had the best Santa Claus I've ever seen walking around talking to kids. He was a Victorian St. Nick with a hood and a staff and a real lighted lantern. And then the parade came and everyone was carrying lanterns and candles and they fired up the snow machine. It was quite pretty, but didn't really come out well on film. Brian and I were surprised to see that all the songs were really carols, not just "holiday songs". There was no Rudolph or Frosty, just songs about the Savior in Bethleham. That was a nice change from American Christmas events. After the carols we headed back to our coach, which resulted in an embarassing but humorous episdoe where I boarded our bus but didn't recognize the driver or passengers and insisted I must be on the wrong bus! The driver had to take off his coat to show me the vest he was wearing that morning! Oh my. We arrived back home at about 9pm and collapsed into bed after a fun and tiring day.


Jeni said...

Not sure what a feze is, and I'm too busy to look it up just now, but could those men have been Ebenezer Scrooge visiting different Christmases with the Spirits?

Anonymous said...

WoW!!! What a fun day - you did a great job of describing it and advertised so well that I want to go:) Maybe someday we'll cross the ocean and will remember to go over Christmas so we can take that in. What an awesome day!