It’s been a while since I wrote about our recent trip back home to England (Richard’s home, not mine). I’ve been busily parsing through the ridiculous amount of photos I took and trying to cull the best ones out of the lot. They aren’t all food-related, but neither was our vacation. Today’s trip back through Chester is simply an assortment of my favorite photos that I wanted to share with you.
While I don’t consider myself that worldly of a traveler — I’ve only been to a few countries in Europe, briefly took jaunts into Canada a couple of times, and have visited Mexico about as often as you’d expect any other Texan to — I still found myself utterly dumbfounded when it came to Chester. It was unlike anything I could have prepared myself for, and unlike anything I had thought it would be. If you’re planning a trip to England any time in the future, I can’t emphasize this enough: go to Chester. You won’t be disappointed.
Chester was originally founded in A.D. 79 as the Roman city of Deva Victrix. Deva was originally built as a fortress, but a civilian settlement eventually grew up outside the enormous walls that the Romans built around the city. As such, Chester has an assortment of ruins and artifacts that most other English cities do not. There is, for example, an excellent amphitheatre that is still being excavated, as well as a very well-preserved section of Roman baths. The thick, fortress walls that the Romans built beginning in A.D. 120 stand to this day; Chester has the most complete city walls of any other city in Britain. Although the walls have been repaired and entire sections were rebuilt during medieval and Victorian times, they are nonetheless shockingly imperious and impressive.
One fantastic way to observe Chester is from the walls themselves. You will get an unparalleled bird’s-eye view of the city as you orbit from your stony path. Any time you feel like going down and visiting a part of the city that appeals to you along the two-mile walk, simply exit through one of the many sets of stairs down into the mad bustle below. A visit to Chester can be split into simple parts this way; most things can be reached while walking along the walls: The Rows (the main shopping area), the Chester Cathedral, the River Dee and the Roman ruins.
The Rows are perhaps the most important visual representation of Chester. They are very unique in both their design and their antiquity. The best way to describe it would be:
They consist of buildings with shops or dwellings on the lowest two storeys. The shops or dwellings on the ground floor are often lower than the street and are entered by steps, which sometimes lead to a crypt-like vault. Those on the first floor are entered behind a continuous walkway, often with a sloping shelf between the walkway and the railings overlooking the street. — courtesy of Wikipedia
In the picture above, you can see the white picket railings of the “continuous walkways” and the tops of the signs for the shops below them. The walkways ingeniously allow you to shop and walk throughout the city while keeping dry, since rain is an ever-present (although not unpleasant) part of life in Northern England. The Rows themselves date from the 17th century, although most were built far more recently, in Victorian times.
This part of town also houses the most exquisite restaurants and pubs. Richard and I had a terrible time choosing where to eat lunch and finally settled on, of all things, a French bistro that was absolutely heaving with people. By this point in our trip, we’d had plenty of meat pies and heavy ales and desired something a bit lighter. French bistro food sounded ideal.
We found a table for ourselves on the first storey (second floor, to us Amurricans) of cafe f.b., Boulangerie et Cafe Françaís on Northgate Street. Their menu was simple and straighforward: an assortment of freshly-made sandwiches served with the soup du jour, potato-leek. I went with the bacon and Brie sandwich, along with a cup of tea to warm my bones back to normal body temperature. The sandwich was every bit as delicious as you’d expect something with those ingredients to be: toasty French bread, with thick, dusky strips of English bacon (so different from our own) and hot, bubbly hunks of Brie on top, melting down to the plate. The potato-leek soup was heavy yet fresh, thanks to the strong taste of the leeks. It was the perfect meal to fuel us on a cold, rainy English afternoon with much more walking ahead.
Second part of our Chester trip to follow tomorrow…