Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Southampton, Simply

There are a ton of day trip options outside of Greater London that the packaged tour crowd rarely have an opportunity or interest in seeing. Dover, Canterbury, Bath and Stonehenge are most likely the big four that attract day trippers from the English capital with a few stragglers maybe showing up at Leeds Castle or down to Salisbury Plain to see the great cathedral there. Each of these attractions has a tourism infrastructure to support what business comes their way.

One city, Southampton, does not enjoy much business unless you're catching a cruise ship heading somewhere else. I decided that since I'll probably never dive to the wreck of the Titanic then I can at least go to Southampton to view some of the touch points, markers and memorials erected in the city to honor this great vessel and tragedy.

The "M3" Motorway southwest of London speeds you straight to the city on the southern coast of the country in hardly an hour's drive. At the time of the tragedy few residential streets in Southampton were spared the loss of life as fully a third of those lost came from this working class city by the sea, in most cases the sole breadwinner for the household which, often at crew wages, wasn't much to begin with. Those homes are still there today along with a few pubs frequented by both workers and passengers alike.

The grandest building, the South Western Hotel, also still stands though it has since been converted to private condominiums and flats. First Class passengers arriving from London on "the Boat Train" stayed here the night before the sailing. They could look out their windows to view the Titanic lying at anchor and finishing up final provisioning.

Holyrood, the Sailors Church, was bombed during the Second World War and preserved in that state; it contains a small memorial to the Titanic's Stewards while elsewhere is a small plaque honoring the 1st Class Band who's musicians famously played on during the sinking on April 14th. The hulking Engineer's Memorial in East Park seems barely noticed by passersby today where 100,000 attended the unveiling barely eight days after the tragedy. Beyond a doubt for me, however, the most telling marker wasn't even a memorial, plaque, tower or monument at all. It was the mooring bollards along Ocean Dock #44 that marked location of the ship prior to its one and only sailing.

The RMS Titanic berthed here and not even a wind's whisper on this calm day to tell the tale. #44 is a commercial use pier, as lacking in beauty and sentiment as any other seaport dock would be. No one travels from London to see a single, ugly, empty pier; there's nothing to see! Sometimes history cannot be seen but can surely be felt as I gazed at the stretch of concrete and up to the blue sky, smelling the smells and tasting the sea air around me. This being England there still remained traces of coal in the air as it would have been for the coal-burning Titanic and other vessels of the period.

No gift shops, no guided tours, no city ambassadors or others engaged in an effort to preserve the history and legacy of the city and the shipping of Southampton. For that I felt saddened. I saw one other thing on the way back to London, however, that gave me a shot of inspiration:
The Mayflower Memorial.

Gotta go.

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