Sunny Southampton, Titanic, Mayflower, Stinking Rich and Underground Vaults

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May 7th 2016
Published: May 8th 2016
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Dateline: Southampton, England

May 7, 2016

Sunny Southampton, Titanic, Mayflower, Stinking Rich and Underground Vaults

Friday, after a 2 hour drive, we left the little airport in Florence but only by a miracle. We checked a couple of bags, as the plane was going to be small, and headed off to find some lunch. Delicious Margarita Pizza. The airport was very crowded so we decided to keep our seats in the restaurant as long as we could. We still had about 2 hours before we needed to be at Gate 7 which was just downstairs and about a 3 minute walk away. We would take turns looking in the pretty shops and reading. About 10 minutes before we were to board Cope took another walk around to check things out and …lo and behold…our gate had been changed to 9. Thank heavens he noticed it as we had to make a Customs and Immigration stop on the way and just as we got to 9, they started boarding. Cope saved us ;-) We have been looking at Italian signs so long, it felt funny to be able to read everything on the British Airways flight. On the way over the Swiss Alps, they fed us a lovely, unexpected, lunch of chicken, potato salad, a roll and delicious brownie.

As we approached London City Airport we flew down the Thames River and right over the iconic bridges, Big Ben, Westminster Abby and the “Eye in the Sky” Ferris wheel. What a spectacular approach.

On the ground, because they are renovating the airport, we entered the terminal and had to walk about 2 football fields to pick up our luggage. Good thing we have been doing hills and steps the last 3 weeks ;-) We retrieved our luggage and headed to Customs where we were told to stand in a line so the cute Spaniel “sniffer dog” could do his job. Glad he didn’t sniff out the leftover pizza!

Waiting for us outside of Customs was Tony from Silver Fleet Transportation with a card that said,”Jean Petty”. That was easy. We were off for a walk to his lovely Mercedes limo/van for the 3 hour trip to Southampton and our Holiday Inn Express.

Wonderful hotel (if you like American Style with breakfast ;-). Lots of English staying here as they are traveling on vacation with their families or getting on a cruise ship like we are.

We had a free day on Saturday so got some work done and then decided to take a cab into the city of Southampton, about 10-15 minutes away. This hotel is on the expressway and outside the city. It is made for travelers with cars. So…$15 Euros later we were at Bargate in the middle of Old Town, Southampton. We grabbed some lunch and then wandered over to the “Lion” entrance at Bargate which is a huge stone arched entrance to the city, leftover from the time that the city was encircled in city walls for protection. Most of the ruins of the wall and castle date from the Battle of Hastings in 1066. This is where a walking tour was going to start at 1:30.

1:30 came and there were 6 of us for the tour. We were told that our tour guide would do a short tour on the history of Southampton but then she would pass us off to Martin. Turns out that only once a year do the let you go into some of the “underground medieval vaults” of the city and we happened to be the first group through this year. At the end of May they will be over for another year. Exciting! So our guide regaled us with stories as we made our way over bridges and along old walls to St. Michael’s Church. Along the way our guide pointed out the “keyhole” shaped openings in the wall which were used to shoot arrows with bows at the enemy.

At St. Michaels church, we were handed over to Martin where we learned that the church was never bombed during WWII because… was a navigation point for the German bomber pilots and navigators. Since they didn’t have GPS ;-)-as long as they could see the very tall spire on the top of the church they knew where they were.

The church, as you can imagine, has lots of history, and we learned the origin of the words “Stinking Rich”….as people of wealth died, they bought the “rights” to be buried in the floor of the church. They were buried right under the floor and not very deep, so, as the bodies deteriorated, they began to stink, and that smell, of course, wafted up into the church…thus the origin of “Stinking Rich”! St. Michaels was originally Catholic, but when Henry the VIII reformed the church, it became the Church of England. Today, both Catholics and Protestants meet there.

Southampton was bombed heavily during WW II because the British aircraft Spitfire manufacturing plant was located here and the fact that Southampton was a huge port with 17 hours of incoming tides.

Touring the vaults under the city of Southampton was fascinating. Originally, the vaults were dug as storage vaults for merchants to store their goods as they were being loaded or unloaded from ships. Wine would come in from France and need a cool place to be stored and wool would be sent to France. The underground vaults kept the wine at a constant temperature, and that still is true today…very cool as we descended down under the streets, and buildings. The second use of the vaults was during WW II. They served as underground bomb shelters. As we mentioned earlier, early in the war, in 1940, Southampton was heavily bombed, and people were constantly going down to the bomb shelters (vaults) for safety. Some stairs were built from street level into the vaults from schools and other buildings. Sometimes the teachers carried desks and chairs down with them so the students could continue their studies while the bombing was going on. Can you imagine? Some of the vaults even had a portion of the room set aside as WC’s (bathrooms). In one relatively small vault, 220 people would crowd in for safety. We walked to 5 different vaults around the city. We could still see the bomb damage from WW II.

We only wish we had come a day earlier as this is where the Titanic left for New York and there is a Titanic Museum. We did see the hotel where the captain spent his last night and the building where all the luggage was stored before departing. Also the Mayflower embarked about 65 passengers in London at its homeport in the Rotherhithe district on the Thames about the middle of July in 1620. She then proceeded down the Thames into the English Channel and then on to the south coast to anchor at Southampton Water. There the Mayflower waited for seven days for a rendezvous on July 22 with the Speedwell, coming with Leiden church members from Delfshaven in Holland. About August 5, the two ships set sail. We would like to have learned more about this too. Ah my… as with Italy, I guess we will have to come back! LOL

On to the Caribbean Princess tomorrow.

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10th May 2016

Wasn't Peter Brown one of our ancestors who came over on the Mayflower? Maybe he embarked somewhere around there?
10th May 2016

Your Pienza time sounded fabulous. Can't wait to hear about your cruise, especially since we're doing a similar one in a few weeks. Surprised you had to do Customs in Italy and Britain. Have the Schengen rules gone away after the terrorist attacks? Used to be once you cleared Europe you were "in" and just had to go thru security. I only ask because we will be flying from Amsterdam to Dublin at the end of our cruise. Continue with your grand time!

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