Holiday-study in Britain: Exeter, Devon

So many years have passed, but when I let my mind wandering places and atmospheres lived in this travel, time distances disappear and I find myself in Devon, visiting enchanting places, studying with friends, so many years ago (and many kilos too...)
Exeter, pub
It was 1 month of school, 1 month of english language immersion, but also 1 month of hangouts in the hot and typical english atmospheres of the pub, 1 month with new friends from around the world, 1 month living together with Wen and Steve, so lovely and careful hosts.

At the moment to decide the destination I was resolute to avoid the most obvious choice of the capital city, favouring more traditional contexts.
In the end my choise was Exeter, the enchanting Devon city, on the river Exe.

The travel

Wen e Steve,
my family in England
But let's start from the beginning... It was July 2000, the fly from Italy left me at Hethrow... and here the adventure begins; I travelled alone, perhaps for the first time, and I didn't know exatly what to expect. At the London Victoria station, among all the coaches leaving, I get the right one: destination Exeter.
And little by little, while the coach passes through the big London suburbs, I feel a growing sensation of freedom and joy, becoming a sort of inner peace when the landscape turns in wide and green hills, spotted with cows and sheeps, under a blue sky full of candid clouds.

After four hours, more or less, I reach my destination. Following the instructions, I take a taxi signaling, in my english a little bit rusty, the adress of the family who will host me during my stay.
Since the first time Wen and Steve made me feel at home. I still remember the first impression of my bright bedroom with "a big big bed", I remember the romantic back-looking garden ... But above all I remember lots of delicious dinners at 18.00, giving the way to taste dishes of international cuisine (Wen is a great chef), the filter coffee, and then all the time remaining for the evening at the pub, cinema, disco...

The school

The first day of school, as tradition for language courses abroad, is the day of the placement test, administered to determine the student's level of english. This way, students can start lessons straight away after they have been placed at the appropriate level.
My classroom
From the morning after life takes on a regular rhythm made of precious micro-habits: waking up, rich breakfast and go to the bus stop. Getting on and off the little bus it's soon natural to greet the driver with your really italian "gud monin".
Morning at school flies away, alternating different teachers and different skills. The school garden is really pretty and sunny (when it's not raining...) and it's very pleasant sitting in the lawn with new friends during the playtime. A sandwich for lunch, then the afternoon doing our homework and then ready for dinner and to spend the evening with friends.

Obviously we took advantage of every break to visit this little heaven's corner where we came to study.

Dartmoor national park and the enchanting landscapes

My first trip, to Dartmoor national park, is still impressed im my memory.

Dartmoor forest
It was afternoon and the sky promised a storm.
We were penetrating in the park, just one hour from Exeter by bus. Our guide chose a walk passing through the most characteristic scenaries of the Park. I remember a magnificent oaks forest, so many impressive trees, whenever you looked at, they made me feel nervous but attracted at the same time... I was in front of the enchanting typical wood performance, a silence noisy for its 1000 invisible inhabitants...
I remember the view of some marvellous moorland, a real paradise in anyone's eyes, that made me think about my girl's readings ( first of all "Wuthering Heights"). Romantic and dramatic at the same time, this scenery appears with wide valleys and marshy areas, hills pressed under a threatening sky. Amazing surveys that make the human being feel small in the presence of nature...
Walking in the Park you can meet numerous evidences of the past, such as "Dartmoor Cairn Circles". There are about 75 stone rows and 18 stone circles across the National Park, the largest concentration of Bronze Age remains in the country.
Dartmoor Park, meeting with wild ponies.
But the funniest meeting, perhaps a little bit magic, was the meeting with wild ponies. Lazily lay down the meadow, under leafy branchs of trees, under the plumbeous sky, they seemed to pose for a photo. Approaching those fantastic creatures, at home with that surreal scenary, was the most charming and perfect end for a really emotional adventure.

For dinner we paused in a typical guest house where the low lights, the stone walls, the beer and the good food, kindly completed our journey.
The night in my bed it was really difficult to fall asleep, still alive the suggestion of wandering those fairy scenes....

Brixham, enchanting fishing village, and "Devon cream teas"

I remember a really pleasant afternoon spent with a friend in this fishing village, overlooking the Devon south coast. The place is charming, with all those colorful houses, grouped by the harbor, pullulating with fishing boats and sea life. A seaside promenade is reinvigorating, enjoying the smell of saltiness and the seagulls call..
At berth in the harbor shows off a full sized reconstruction of Sir Francis Drake’s Tudor galleon, the Golden Hinde. The original warship, captained by Sir Francis Drake, circumnavigated the world between 1577 and 1580.
Devon Cream Tea with Scon

After a lovely walk, we decided for a break in a typical and fascinating "tea room". And here we tried the delicious experience of tasting the Devon Cream tea with scones. I can still remember my joy looking at the dish with so many flavors and colors. A porcelain tea set smartly harmonized with the object of our attention: soft semi-sweet bread, sparkling strawberry jam and a pot of white and candid clotted cream...
According to the devonian tradition (exactly the opposite of the cornish one), on the scone you put cream on first and then jam on top. The result is a savours triumph that pampers senses.

Plymouth and the Smeaton's Tower

The Smeaton's Tower
Other charming place is the city of Plymouth, animated harbor, overflowing with history and suggestions.
From here the Pilgrim Fathers set sail for the New World on the Mayflower. The "Mayflower steps" remember the spot from which they sailed, in the far 1620, reaching land only 66 days later. The settlers - forever known as the founding fathers - created a new town there, and called it Plymouth: the town of Plymouth, Massachusetts.
And it's still in Plymouth that, according to legend, Frances Drake was quietly playing bowls on Plymouth Hoe at the approach of the Spanish Armada.
The Barbican quarter
One of Devon's iconic symbols is the Smeaton's Tower. In use until 1877, it was largely dismantled and rebuilt on Plymouth Hoe. The characteristic white and red striped lighthouse, is open for visitors who may climb the 93 steps, including steep ladders, to the lantern room and enjoy the wonderful view from the top.
Not to be missed the charming warren of cobbled streets, Tudor houses and memorable waterfrontage that remains in the Barbican quarter, around the core of the city’s old harbour.
Quick trip in Cornwall: Tintagel

The Tintagel Castle

You can't stay in Devon without having a look at Cornwall's striking cliffs. So, driven by curiosity, with some friends of mine, we decided to move to Northwest, reaching Tintagel. ... and we were charmed and thrilled by the spell of this land so wildly stretching out to sea. In this breathtaking scenery stands out The Tintagel Castle. The castle is believed to be the birthplace of King Arthur who, as legend has it, was protected from the evil magician Merlin by his magical sword, Excaliber.
The headland on which the ruins stand is surrounded by the sea on three sides and is sometimes described as an island. The remains of the 13th century castle are impressive, as much for their location as for the crumbling walls and steep stone steps.
Below the castle on the Castle Beach is Merlin’s cave which is accessible at low tide.

Tintagel, cliff

Beer, the smugglers heaven
Beer, chalk cliffs

Beer, sheltered bay

Unspoilt fishing village, set in a sheltered bay. The views from Jubilee Gardens are simply stunning: the enchanting shingly beach nestling below the chalk cliffs. Once famous for smuggling, thanks to the the ideal geographical location, Beer is now a vibrant little harbor.
It could be interesting the visit of Beer Quarry Caves, a vast complex of man-made caverns created by centuries of quarrying Beer Stone.
Beer stone is particularly appreciated because of its creamy white colour and workability for carving.
Beer stone appears on sections of some of Britain's most highly prized and historic monuments, including Buckingham Palace and in the construction of Exeter's cathedral.

Bath: Roman Baths and Georgian Architecture

Located in the cerimonial county of Somerset in South West England, the elegant city of Bath was selected by Unesco as a World Heritage Site, recognising its international cultural significance. Long known for Roman Baths, Bath is also one of the finest example of georgian architecture.

Roman Baths
According to legend, the celtic king Bladud, father of the Shakespearean King Lear, was cured of his leprosy wallowing in a pool formed by the springs. Only in A.D. 75 the Romans constructed a glorious complex of bathhouses above these thermal waters to take advantage of their natural temperature – a constant 47°C.
Thermae Bath Spa

You can still relax in natural thermal waters that have brought health and vitality to the city for centuries. In the heart of the city, Thermae Bath Spa, is a remarkable combination of ‘old and new’ where historic spa buildings blend with the contemporary design of the New Royal Bath.

Thermae Bath Spa, the amazing open-air rooftop pool

Taking a walk in the city you can admire an elegant town with neoclassical Palladian buildings, which blend harmoniously with Roman baths. The Royal Crescent represents the highest point of Palladian architecture in Bath: 30 terraced houses laid out in a sweeping crescent.

Bath Abbey
Unmissable a visit to the fine gothic Bath Abbay, it was here that Edgar was crowned first King of England in AD 973.
The river Avon softly runs through the centre of Bath.
Lined by shops on both sides, the romantic Putney Bridge inevitably calls to mind the "Ponte Vecchio" in Florence.

For lovers of english literature, it will be evocative to walk about art and architecture, which have most remained intact since the days of Jane Austin.
by Jane Austin
set in Bath
Jane Austen is perhaps the best known and best loved of Bath’s many famous residents and visitors. She paid two long visits here towards the end of the eighteenth century, and from 1801 to 1806 Bath was her home and she set two of her six published novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, just in Bath.
During the Bath tour it will be pleasant a gastronomic break at Sally Lunn’s.
Sally Lunn's is one of the oldest houses in Bath and serves the most famous local delicacy; the Original 'Sally Lunn' Bun. According to legend, Sally Lunn, a French refugee, arrived in 1680 and established her bakery.
Sally Lunn's
The bun's taste and lightness allow it to be enjoyed with either sweet or savoury accompaniments.
In the adjacent museum you can see the Roman and Medieval foundations of the house and the finds from the recent excavations and the original kitchen with its faggot oven. (A faggot oven is a solid fuel oven usually started by lighting paper and burning wood sticks).

Putney Bridge

Torquay, more than just sun, sea and sand

Torquay, a view of the harbour
Torquay is a seaside city full of life. I remeber a charming night with some friends of mine... For dinner we had an embarrassing wealth of options and we decided on a characteristic medieval restaurant called Camelot. Atmospheres, dishes and ornamentations took me back in time, recreating such an enchanting age, so often appreciated in movies and novels...
Babbacombe Model Village
A walk along the seaside promenade is not to be missed, giving the way to enjoy the focus of life in the town and the relaxing, coastal lifestyle. To conclude the evening we went to a really particular discotheque..... the location was a deconsecrated gothic churc and the suggestion of the place made the night especial.
Visiting Torquay, Kents Cavern are an excellent place to visit. The incredible geology and rich archaeological heritage of these spectacular prehistoric caves has been astounding scientists and visitors alike for centuries.
And not to miss, for young and old, the Babbacombe Model Village: thousands of miniature buildings, people and vehicles, along with animated scenes and touches of English humour, capture the essence of England's past, present and future.


Fish and chips cornet
Exeter is the city that had adopted me for 1 month, a lively and animated city. Walking about the streets of the center is exciting; between pubs, restaurants and nice shops to get bored is impossible. Personally I loved wandering about the city at lunchtime enjoying a typical fish and chips cornet... mmmmmhhhhhhhh......
Exeter quay, Custom House
One of the most attractive areas of the city(and really romantic in the evening) is the Quay: the historic quayside with lively pubs and restaurants and giving you the way to hire "Saddles and Paddles": a canoe or bike to explore the Exeter river valley park .
Built in 1681 the Custom house, often regarded as the oldest Custom House in Britain, is an imposing building with the five arches and white stonework, the oldest surviving brick building in Exeter.
But the most scenographic and amazing monument is the Cathedral, magnificent example of Gothic Art, notable for its stout Norman towers, its Gothic west front covered in weathered sculptures, and its beautiful nave, which boasts the longest unbroken Gothic ceiling in the world..
Taking a Red Coat Guided Tour through Exeter is an excellent way to discover Exeter’s fascinating history. These informative volunteers offer a variety of 90-minute free tours around the city. All you need to do is decide what aspect of the city’s rich heritage you want to explore and then meet your guide.

Exeter Cathedral

What can I say...

The experience of this travel was lively, exciting and magic... The area of Britain I visited is a little corner of Heaven, people are kind and helpful and smiling... Living in a family is a unique chance for persons, like me, curious to know other cultures and identify with different realities... To learn or brush up one's English i's certainly useful to be obliged to express oneself in english 24 hours a day, till to get to think directly in a foreign language (...and sometimes to dream too).
Thanks to all the friends met during this travel, unforgettable comrades in arms, sharing with me indelible moments ...
And my warmest thanks to Wen e Steve who, with love and fun, made me feel at home in every moment of my stay...

4 commenti:

  1. Wow! in English is very beautiful! better than in italian!
    :-) lol

  2. What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee,
    The image can be seen at who can supply you with a canvas print of it.

  3. Thanks for your interesting comment, the wall painting in our flat is a striking interpretation of orange harvest by a cuban artist selling its works in the enchanting Havana art market. The painting by Klee you report me is surely another stunning interpretation of common life and places!