Portrait of a Port City: Southhampton, England

Cruises in SouthhamptonWhile it may seem strange to create a portrait of a port, Southampton on the south west coast of England is not just a simple port. This is a steep departure from the usual sunny and tropical destinations we feature here at Vagobond, but the port and the city of Southhampton are worth considering.

First of all, Southhampton is the largest city in the county of Hampshire on the south coast of England. Second, just 75 miles from London, it is a major holiday destination for Brits. In addition, Southampton is a major port and the closest city to the New Forest. Cruises from Southhampton are a major tourism industry in the UK.

The city itself lies at the northernmost point of Southampton Water at the confluence of the River Test and River Itchen, with the River Hamblejoining to the south of the urban area. All of these names make me jittery with the way they sound like they belong in the Shire or off among the misty mountains.
With a quarter of a million residents and nearly a million in the greater metropolitan area, it is a very significant city in the UK. The city’s name is sometimes abbreviated in writing to “So’ton” or “Soton”, and a resident of Southampton is called a Sotonian. Not to be confused with Satanists who are something else entirely. As are Sodomites. This is not Sodom or Satan, it’s Soton (though with the population being so large it is likely you can find Satanists and sodomy or even a combination of the two if you really want to look for them.

Southhampton has the longest surviving stretch of medieval walls in England, and a number of museums such as Tudor House Museum, Southampton Maritime Museum, God’s House Tower, an archaeology museum about the citys heritage and located in one of the tower walls, the Medieval Merchant’s House and Solent Sky, which focuses on aviation.

And, the real Titanic launched from Southhampton. A Titanic Memorial Museum exists there. 2012 was the 100th Anniversary of the tragedy. The Mayflower also launched from Southhampton, but no memorial is planned for the crew or passengers of that vessel though they all perished (eventually). The Mayflower Theatre though is a famous landmark and well worth a visit even if the Rocky Horror Picture Show is still on there.

The annual Southampton Boat Show is held in September each year, with over 600 exhibitors present and is a big draw for tourism. It runs for just over a week at Mayflower Park on the city’s waterfront, where it has been held since 1968. The Boat Show itself is the climax of Sea City, which runs from April to September each year to celebrate Southampton’s links with the sea.

Southhampton has a lively pub and club scene and is filled with young people who want to party like it’s 2019. Part of the reason for that is because it is a cheap place to live or have a holiday.

Places I’ve Lived #13 – London, England

London, EnglandI’ve spent a fair amount of time in London – but the only time I lived there was a brief stint at the end of 1998. I showed up at the invitation of my friend Danny, who had been my assistant and rowdy drinking companion while working on John Sayles film LIMBO in Juneau, Alaska. I went to the UK on a whim and without any planning – my adventures were many – I was captured and enslaved by a gang of Irish Gypsies as I hitched along the motorway near Rugby – they forced me to break up pavement and concrete for about a week before I made a daring escape – but that is another story. I illegally rode the rails all the way to Scotland, met a beautiful girl in Drumnadrochit along the shores of the Loch Ness, and visited the ancestral home of my grandmother’s clan on the Isle of Skye – the McCleod Castle – where I left one of her scarves as a memento and took some flowers from the garden which I dried in my journal. But none of that is what I’m writing about right now.

Groucho Club, LondonWhen I got back to London, I was even more out of money than I had been when I arrived. Danny and I quickly drank away the rest of my reserves and he allowed me to move into his parents house with him – they were surprised, but also agreed. His mother, finding out I was a writer hired me as a casting assistant. She was a powerful redheaded woman who usually had a phone to each ear. She had me read scripts and scour through casting books to find the actors who fit the parts. I got to work on Angela’s Ashes and several other films in this way, but without getting anywhere near the set. She took me to prestigious lunches and tried to introduce me to the right people. At the famous Groucho Club, Jude Law and I began doing shots and it ended with him passing out and me getting kicked out!

It was an amazing period to be in London – a few notable concerts were Billy Bragg and Depeche Mode (the Singles Tour). I was too young and stupid to realize the access I was being granted to the rich, famous, wealthy, and powerful. Ultimately, I wasted the opportunities that were shoved at me.

London EnglandStill, it was a fun and exciting time – but I was drinking far too much and not saving anything. A few friends I’d made in the  exhilarating worlds of London cinema, publishing, art, and music began fucking around with heroin and that was always the place where I’d drawn the line – I was fine with the underground bar scene and pretty much everything else – but needles going into arms was in my red zone – and honestly, if you weren’t a full part of the party, nobody wanted to party with you. It was time for me to leave.

Instead of heading to France and across Europe, I opted to go back to Bellingham, back to radio, back to the life I’d left behind. I hadn’t yet learned that you can never go back. I did alright back in Bellingham, but as I wrote before -eventually, I needed to leave so I went to the nearest major metropolitan area. I landed in Seattle.

London, England

London, EnglandLondon is the largest city in England and the United Kingdom. It is one of the most important cities in the world. It has a population of about 9 million people. It is a center of fashion, literature, film, art, food, and much much more.  There’s not much that can be said about London that hasn’t been said elsewhere. I spent the night sleeping on a bench in Regent’s Park one night and was woke up in the morning by a flock of ducks. I used to spend a good deal of time in the British Museum and exploring the rare book shops nearby. The Tate Modern is a must go-to and the scary haunted Tower Bridge experience under the Tower Bridge is a hair raising experience. The weather isn’t fantastic most of the time, but you don’t need to be outside in London – there is an abundance of indoor activities. Also, we’re humans so we can dress for any weather. At the time, London still had a terrible reputation for both the food and the weather. I was there at the height of the ‘Essex Girl’ phenomenon – which despite the negatives that time has heaped upon her – was something that I am very glad I did not miss.

Sleeping with Ghosts – London’s Georgian House Hotel

Back in 2012, I was in London, England for the World Travel Market. At the time I was fortunate to be doing a lot of international travel to places like Egypt, Spain, and the Balkans. I determined that I wasn’t going to stay anywhere that wasn’t extraordinary in some way. I found some incredible places – a houseboat on the Thames, an incredibly luxurious hotel with a 007 theme, and a Victorian era house converted into a hotel that is reliably reported as being haunted. For that one, I have to give credit to my friend Matthew, who made the recommendation for me. I’ve heard that since that time, Georgian House has turned into a Harry Potter themed hotel! I may have to go back.

I’m very happy to re-share the story of the Georgian House Hotel.

Haunted Hospitality at an incredibly good price!

Georgian HouseThe building that houses the Georgian House Hotel dates back to the mid 19th century and has a certain elegant and timeless feel to it. I would imagine it was haunted even if I didn’t know it only because all of old London feels like a scary old horror film to me. Don’t misunderstand me though – it’s lovely and well maintained.

Since I was there at one of the busier times of the year, most hotels were charging a minimum of a few hundred GBP per night for a room, but I was extremely surprised to find that I could stay at Georgian House for just 69 GBP per night for a room that didn’t have a toilet ensuite. It had a sink, coffee service, TV, internet, and a very comfy bed, but the toilet and shower were two steps out the door across the hallway.  Incredibly convenient even if I had to open my door and the price – magnificent.

My favorite part of the Georgian House Hotel? The breakfast. While there is a buffet, the breakfast menu is cooked to order. Eggs Benedict, salmon and cream cheese bagel – yeah – that’s my kind of place.

Georgian HouseI was lucky to come back after an open house and got to drink champagne with the staff and owner, Serena one night. They told stories about the ghosts and I got to learn that the building had been in Serena’s family for a long time.

As for the ghosts…the house  is haunted by several ghosts, including that of an unknown man who has been seen in one the basement staff rooms.  Serena said that the staffer woke with the man sitting on the end of her bed but then he got up and walked out. The staffer came down asking who had come in her room the night before but found out that she had the only key and the door was locked.

Whether or not this is the same ghostly figure that has been seen in the kitchen and one of the top floor bedrooms (#11 if you dare) is unknown.

Georgian HouseSuffice it to say he, or they, are harmless spirits who are more than content to appear for a few fleeting moments and then be gone as they go about  their business. Serena has no idea who they might be since the houses were formerly apartments and they no longer have the records for who lived there.

The ghosts of two children have also been seen flitting about the upper floors. They first appeared when a guest on the next floor down came to reception to complain about the noisy children playing above him. On that night, there were no guests on the top floor!  On another occasion Serena says that she spoke to them when they appeared and assured them that they were welcome to visit on the upper floors only. Sadly, they didn’t show while I was there.  I would have liked to have seen them.

This is a lovely old hotel in central London, not too far from Queen Charlotte Station and a nice walk away from many of the major sites. In addition to the basic rooms on the top floor, there doubles with ensuite, and apartments for families. I highly recommend this lovely old hotel – ghosts and all.

To book a room, you can visit http://www.georgianhousehotel.co.uk/. Tell them Vago sent you to see the ghosts.

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