We didn’t spend much time in England, and perhaps we didn’t give the country its due diligence. We were there less than a week total, and most of it was spent around London. “Don’t judge England by London”, we were told more than once – by various British couples we met on the cruise, by one Canadian couple, and by our taxi driver.
We understood – being from Milwaukee, we sure as hell wouldn’t want people to visit New York, Chicago, or LA and think all of America is that way. I mean, can you imagine? I don’t think the world could support that many douche-nuggets….
So perhaps it was a good thing that our two-weeks at sea came to an end in Southampton, a port city in the South of the country. And as port cities tend to be in Europe, it’s very old and is a very important place with tons of history. Inhabited since the Stone Age, it was were many invading forces, including the Romans and Vikings, set up shop.
It was the main connection from England to Europe and the world since 70 AD, up until the advent of the Chunnel and airplanes. The Mayflower, full of pilgrims heading for the New World, left from this very same city. It also has the unique distinction of being the port of entry for the Black Plague to this island nation back in the Middle Ages. Hey, any press is good press, right?
In other words, this place is old, has lots of history, and it’s palpable. You can see it and feel it in the air – the roads still have a defensive feel to their placement, you can walk along the Medieval walls that surround city-center and their are ruins everywhere, right in the heart of downtown.
More recently, the city had a fair share of fame for being where the Titanic was last seen in one piece. The hull of the ship was built in Belfast, then floated down to Southampton where all of the innards were put in and it really became a ship. All of the staff and customers boarded the boat in Southampton, bound for New York but for most, never to arrive.
We went to the SeaCity Museum and saw a great exhibit about the Titanic, and how so very many of the staff on the ship were from Southampton. It’s always been a seafaring town, and it struck the city to the core to lose so many people in the largest nautical disaster in history.
As much as London disappointed us, Southampton surprised us. We simply loved our day in Southampton. We strolled along the pedestrian-only city center, wandered through the huge parks, taking in the fountains, statues, and flower gardens England is so famous for. We listened to pub songs from our boutique hotel room, marveled at the British’s unparalleled ability to curse while having a pint in the pub, and lost ourselves looking at all the Victorian buildings.
If we ever go back to England, we might go back to London for a few of the museums, but we’ll definitely go everywhere else and find more places like quiet and unassuming Southampton.
Southampton Travel Tips
Hotel: We stayed at Cargo, a trendy boutique hotel located on the popular but not-too-noisy Oxford Street. Eat and drink at the restaurant/pub on the ground floor, then stumble up to your room for the night. Very reasonable price for accommodations as well, and walking distance from the cruise docks, though you might want a cab if you have lots of luggage.
SeaCity Museum: Great museum with an amazing exhibit on the Titanic. One of the most engaging things we did in England.
Train to London: Remember, the faster you go, the more expensive the cost. We took the Southwest train to London for a very reasonable price, but there’s lots of stops so it can take a while. Be sure to compare prices of off-peak tickets to general tickets: for us the general tickets were only two pounds more, but were much more convenient.
It’s Not a Tourist City: Try to get info together before you get there. The people are very nice and helpful, but most aren’t familiar with tourist office locations, how the free buses work, or how to get around without a car. Be sure to check out their visitor web site for information.