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More than halfway through and the time seems to be going by even faster as the days roll. It’s undoubtedly a result of becoming more engrossed in my duties here at the office and growing accustomed to living and exploring London. When the proverbial clock strikes twelve, it will be bitter sweet to say the least. But until then, I will continue to make the most of my stay!
I took some time to get away from the fast-paced built world of London city and ventured out off the beaten path in search of a bit of history. The first trek I was anxious to go on was down to Richmond, Surrey, UK – just southwest of greater London. Being from Richmond, Virginia, USA, I wanted to see and learn about the birthplace of Richmond, VA. The history of these two cities lies with William Byrd II. As a quick history lesson, the location of Richmond, VA happened to be the location of the Powhatan tribe main settlement. The English stumbled upon it while venturing up the James River in search of new areas to settle (Jamestown turned out to be an ill-fated first settlement). They battled the James until they could get no further due to treacherous rapids, later deemed the Falls. Through a series of trades and eventual battles, the English acquired the land and it ended up in the ownership of William Byrd II’s father. After his father’s death, Byrd named the new settlement Richmond because it reminded him of Richmond Hill (in Richmond, Surrey, UK) where when he was young would often look out over the Thames River. The views from Richmond, VA over the James and Richmond, Surrey over the Thames are strikingly similar – I can attest to it first-hand!
The two cities themselves are similar in geography and history but far apart when it comes to their land use. They both are very hilly in topography with a major river flowing through the heart of them, and still have strong ties to their history in both good and bad. Much of the original Richmond Palace (UK) and adjacent structures were destroyed during wars; similarly much of Richmond (USA) was destroyed by fleeting Confederates during the Civil War. Both cities have early claims of providing key professional services which made them invaluable. However, in modern times the two cities couldn’t be more different. Richmond (UK) has remained a low-key residential town with massive expanses of parks and a humble downtown stretch that would be missed by most travellers not concerned with the area. Richmond (USA) has become a sizable commercial city with major road arteries traveling through it and high-rise skyscrapers. The two cities are now what’s called ‘Twinned Towns’; the connection is meant to promote trade, tourism, and share culture as a sign of peace and reconciliation between former foes.
My second trek was off mainland UK to Belfast, Northern Ireland. I’m lucky to be good friends with a family in Belfast that accommodated me more than I can ever thank. The first day there I took a quick tour down to the shipyards where the new Titanic Belfast museum now resides. Many may not realize it, but the Titanic was constructed in Belfast at one of the large H+W shipyards. You can appreciate the size of the two cranes currently in use when compared to the oil platform resting next to them. I then took a tour of the historic Crumlin Road Gaol (aka The Crum). The prison was constructed in the 1840s and was in use up to 1996. The prison housed men, women, and even children. Some of the prisoners were even politicians. A total of 17 inmates were executed at the prison and buried within the walls of the prison (some believe it’s still haunted by the last prisoner executed). The courtyard is located directly across the street and connected through an underground tunnel to the prison. Once convicted, there was no ‘passing GO and collecting $200’, you went straight through the tunnel into the prison.
The next day, we ventured up the coast to Giant’s Causeway. It’s named Giant’s Causeway for the legend of two giants (one from Scotland and one from Ireland) who battled back and forth between the countries (it’s a long story to go into here, I encourage anyone to look it up!). Geologically, Giant’s Causeway is known for the hexagonal outcropping of stone along the coast due to volcanic flow. As the lava rapidly cooled, cracks would form and branched out from one another eventually meeting up and forming the hexagonal shape. For something similar in nature, you could imagine the cracks in mud of a dried up creek bed. Beyond the history and geology, it’s the most gorgeous coast/countryside I’ve ever seen. Getting there, you drive through miles of countryside. As you reach the peaks of some of the hills, you feel as if you can see green countryside for hundreds of miles. The coast itself has been shaped through years of waves, wind and other weather tearing away at the rock. Left behind are islands, steep cliffs and lush fields that are breath-taking to say the least.
With another blog comes another 10 things I think that I think. Here goes:
Michael Cochran - HKS Richmond, VA