23 January 2013

Tourist in Southampton

When I knew I would be going to Southampton I did what most people probably do: I quickly googled it. And I noticed two things: city walls and a charming-looking pub. It would turn out to be pretty much what I needed to know.

Due to circumstances, I would spend my first night there alone. I booked a reasonably late train; I would arrive at 7PM, which would allow me to walk to my hotel, check in, run out again, and go for dinner. It worked out well! I could see the city walls from the hotel, and city walls tend to contain city centres. So my plan was to just get inside these and see what the night would bring.

I walked through an impressive city gate and found myself in “High Street”; that tends to be a good sign. It wasn’t as much as I hoped; the street looked deserted and dead, framed by boarded up shops. I just walked on. Further south a few restaurants appeared. None looked irresistible; I walked on. And found the ancient pub I had glimpsed online! But they didn’t do food on Sunday. I decided to go to a nearby Japanese restaurant. An excellent choice, it would turn out!

High street. "High" does not refer to expectations raised by this view.

Exterior of "the Red Lion"

 Complimentary starter at the restaurant

After dinner I went back to “the Red Lion”; the ancient pub. There was one other customer. And a grey parrot. I ordered a beer, sat down, and read the newspaper, somewhat distracted by the parrot who whistled at me, and made a suite of additional flirtatious sounds, while clambering upside-down through its cage. Quite a frivolous fellow! And the pub was a bit quiet (even the only other guest vanished at some point) but that gave me unobstructed views of the interior’s beauty. 

 Interior of "the Red Lion"

The next day I got up early, to take some pictures of the architectural highlights of town; unfortunately, it was a very grey day, but what can one do. While swooning over yet another segment of city walls I heard a whistle, which this time did not originate in a bird; it was Antony and Roland, also on their way to the National Oceanographic Centre, where our project meeting was held. The centre is somewhere in the depths of some harbourial compound; you have to get past uniformed chaps at a barrier, and then walk past active quays and all sorts of port activity to get to the building. The view from our meeting room involved massive ships, and all sorts of concomitant scurrying around. A bit distractive, to be honest! Especially when a lorry and a fire engine spent half an afternoon driving to and fro in front of the biggest ship in sight. No idea what that was all about…

 You walk past sights like this to get to the institute

After the meeting we went onto town; we enjoyed a pre-dinner pint in a pub, a lovely Italian dinner, and then also an after-dinner pint. In the Red Lion, of course! I was disappointed to notice that this time, when I walked in with glamorous types such as Tasha and Antony at my side, the parrot wasn’t interested at all. It didn’t make a sound all evening, and meekly stayed upright on its perch. In spite of my sadness over the evanescence of flirtation I enjoyed myself. I left the town and its photogenicity (is that a word?) to itself for a while on the way back to the hotel, and on the way back to NOC, as social demands also have their place. But I got back to my touristic recordings when I walked to the station after the meeting had ended. It had suddenly become a bright and sunny day, and even more bits of town wall distracted me to such an extent I only had two minutes to spare when I reached the railway station. 

Part of the city wall

 One of the city gates

Witnesses from a different period

 A tiny Titanic memorial; do bother to read the blue sign on the left!

The medieval merchant's house

The city wall near our hotel

The Tudor house

The strange juxtaposition of various styles: on the left, the medieval city walls; in the middle, some concrete wasteland, and on the right, the modern anonymity of our hotel

Southampton’s High Street may be a picture of what a pedestrianized city centre is not supposed to look like, and the damage sustained in WWII has left more traces than found only there. But altogether the town still grew on me. The extensive town walls (eh, evidently), the few ancient buildings surviving, the much tidier part of city centre outside the walls where we went for dinner, the scattering of post-medieval glamorous buildings, and the bustling harbour all gave it its own charm. I think I could feel at home there, if I ever had to!

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