(Alisa Snow is a reference librarian at Boone County Public Library.)
With the 60th Annual Grammy Awards happening this Sunday night, I am getting
nostalgic about one of the coolest musical experiences of my life. In 2005, I had the awesome fortune of winning a trip to the Grammys from Q102. I won through the Q102 Rewards program on the radio station’s website. Every day I would log on and answer trivia questions, enter daily code words, and do other things to earn points. I had been saving up points for several months and I used up all of them on entries for this trip. By the time the contest ended, I had over 3,000 entries. I am nothing if not persistent!
On the day that the winner was going to be picked, I could barely contain myself. I was sitting at my desk at work when my phone rang shortly after noon. When the caller on the other end introduced himself and said he was from Q102, my heart started pounding furiously and dropped into my stomach.
I’ll never forget the excitement of landing at LAX. Just getting out of Cincinnati for a whole weekend in a cold dreary February was awesome enough. A friend once described me as the most music-obsessed and California-obsessed person she knew, so this trip was definitely a dream come true.
The radio station put us up at the Wyndham Belage Hotel, just off the Sunset Strip. On our first night there, we attended a meet and greet with British singer Joss Stone. She is truly a supremely talented individual, and she was exceptionally kind and gracious.
The next morning we set out on foot to do some exploring. I was surprised to learn that we were right around the corner from the Whiskey-a-Go-Go. Having read many rock music biographies about such varied artists as the Doors and Motley Crue, I was familiar with the history of the place. I couldn’t help thinking, “Jim Morrison stood on this sidewalk!”
The ceremony was the following evening. I’ll never forget the feeling of getting ready in our hotel room and putting on my lavender silk Grammy dress. (It was the first dress I had tried on. It fit well, and it made me feel like dancing, so I knew it was the one.) We met a couple of other contest winners who were staying in our hotel, and we shared a cab with them to the Staples Center. Because of the heavy security, the cab driver had to drop us off several blocks away from the arena. Once inside, we discovered that our seats were way up at the top, but I didn’t care. I was beyond thrilled just to be there.
One of the most memorable performances for me was Melissa Etheridge and Joss Stone’s tribute to Janis Joplin. It was Melissa Etheridge’s first major public performance since undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, and her electrified performance brought down the house.
Another high point for me was seeing Keith Urban perform in a tribute to southern rock. This was also the year that John Mayer won Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for his song “Daughters.” Los Lonely Boys won Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group for “Heaven” and they were a part of the show’s opening. From our vantage point, we could see the artists waiting in the wings, preparing to take the stage. It was surreal to see Bono in an unguarded moment before coming out to perform.
Returning to our hotel after the ceremony, we went up to the rooftop pool and basked in the warm California night. Coming back home the next day felt like reverse culture shock. No more palm trees, no more sunshine, no more glamorous California Grammy life. Every year I watch the show from my couch and reminisce about one of the most unbelievable experiences of my life. Maybe I’ll try on my lavender silk Grammy dress and see if it still fits.
Alisa Snow is a reference librarian at the Main Library. During awards show season, she can usually be found on her couch with a big bowl of popcorn.
(Suzanne Yowler is a Circulation Assistant at the Florence Branch. This is the second installment of Suzanne’s blog post about her 25th anniversary trip to England. Read part one: London: Our Anniversary Adventure.)
After leaving London, the first part of our trip, things got much less stressful and after the first few days, much cooler. We picked up our rental car at Heathrow Airport and began the next stage of our journey. Since he would be driving on the wrong side of the road in a foreign country and hadn’t driven a stick in about 20 years, my husband David was understandably nervous. I had full confidence in him and he got into the swing of things pretty quickly. Our GPS was not always helpful and roundabouts were challenging, but we always made it where we were going.
Once we were in our rental car, we headed to Bath. We were just driving along the
expressway and all of a sudden I look out the window and there is Stonehenge! It just seemed so strange to be driving along and pass this amazing historical site. Our hotel that night was originally a farmhouse built in the 1800s. It was beautiful and so was the area surrounding the building. Sadly, England was still in the throes of a record-breaking heatwave and there was no air conditioning. Our room had one window and a teeny little fan.
We didn’t have much time left in the day, so we headed over to the city of Bath for dinner. My sister told me I had to eat a Sally Lunn bun while there. Sally Lunn’s is a restaurant in the oldest building in Bath. Sally came to England from France bringing with her the recipe for a light bread that can be eaten with sweet or savory toppings. It was kind of like a trencher. I had it topped with beef and mushrooms in a gravy. Delicious!
Fortunately, the Roman Baths were open late, so we had plenty of time to tour the site, which is quite extensive. There was a large main pool, in addition to separate bathing areas on both sides, a sauna and a swimming pool. In the temple that was part of the complex, you could see the stones at the original entrance where the Romans would have walked.
David and me at the main pool of the Roman Baths
On our way back to the hotel, we stopped to take photos of the solstice sun setting over Bath. Absolutely gorgeous! An English gentleman was standing out on his front porch taking photos. He struck up a conversation with us. We definitely found the English people to be friendly, polite and helpful.
The next morning the weather finally broke. It was cloudy and much cooler for our scheduled tour of Stonehenge. I was so excited to actually be there. I was unable to get tickets to go into the center of the stones, so we were kind of far away. To me Stonehenge is such a mystical, spiritual, sacred place. It meant a lot to be able to experience it in person.
Carving in York Cathedral
After leaving Stonehenge, we visited Salisbury. The cathedral is remarkable. Our tour guide, Sally, obviously had a passion for the place. One of my favorite insights she shared was how the stone carvers would get bored and carve whatever kind of face they wanted in the decorations. Some were quite funny. One I found later at York Cathedral was a bird pecking at the face of a woman. I wonder if the carver was angry with his wife or perhaps his mother-in-law that day? It only took 30 years to build Salisbury Cathedral, which was extremely unusual. Sally said the builders were lucky to be blessed with war-free, plague-free years during the construction. We also were able to view the Magna Carta. It is one of four remaining copies of the original 13 that were sent out to the cathedrals in 1215.
Blenheim Castle/The Cotswolds/Wales
The following morning we headed for Blenheim Castle, the ancestral home of Winston Churchill. It is quite the showplace. Room after room is filled with furniture, striking carved ceilings and cornices and an interesting trompe l’oeil painting in the great dining room. We even saw the room where Churchill was born.
I had always read how lovely the Cotswolds were and how the villages were quaint, so our next stop was Bourton on the Water. When we first entered the village, the landscaping and buildings were just what I expected. Then we got the high street (main street) and I was very disappointed by the commercialization. All they had were tea shops and souvenir stores. We walked a little further and found an interesting cemetery behind a church. We didn’t have time to visit all the villages on my list, but we did make it to Staunton-on-the-Wold. We walked around a bit and had dinner at the Kings Arms.
Bourton on the Water
Once fortified, we set off for Wales. The scenery was absolutely breath-taking. You do have to watch out for the sheep. They are everywhere, including the roadway. We passed through these wonderful, small mountains. Part of the drive was through very steep hills. On my side was a sheer drop to the valley below. I had to stop looking at the scenery for a while. My husband complained about the slow driver in front of him, but I was extremely grateful to him for keeping our speed under control.
We had a bit of a problem with our GPS again. We were almost to the hotel and I thought I had put in the wrong name for the village. (It wasn’t always easy to tell with all the Welsh names.) I did a search and luckily we were on the right track and just had a few hundred yards to go. Our hotel for the night was The Grapes, a very old pub with rooms upstairs. I would say that the Welsh accent was definitely one of the most difficult to understand.
The English gentleman we met on the plane to London highly recommended a place called Portmerion in Wales. It is an Italianate village built by a wealthy Welsh gentleman in the 1920s after he visited Italy and fell in love with the country. I am sure back in its heyday it was beautiful, now, not so much. It is rather small and they charged around $12 per person to walk through the town. After Portmerion, we did some shopping and grabbed a snack at nearby Porthmadog. As we were driving along the coast heading to York, we came across Criccieth Castle in Gwynedd, Wales, and decided to stop and explore. Originally a stronghold for Welsh princes, the castle was lost in battle to the English. The view of Tremadog Bay from the castle was delightful.
From Wales we traveled back into England to spend a few days in York. There was some confusion about where we should stay and we ended up at the White Rose in Northallerton in North Yorkshire. It was by far the worst hotel of the trip. It was old and desperately needed to be refurbished. The shower was the size of a phone booth and the bed was small. I will say that the woman running the hotel was very nice and friendly, though her York accent was rather hard to understand.
I definitely learned to look for more details and spend a bit more time selecting our hotels. The only reservations were had were in London and Bath. We didn’t know exactly where we would be when, so we were using hotels.com to select places to stay when we decided where we would be for the night.
The next day we spent in the city of York. It was really very lovely. We started off with some shopping in The Shambles, a maze of twisting, narrow lanes filled with shops and restaurants. It is one of the best preserved areas of medieval architecture in the world. I bought most of my souvenirs and gifts in York. As we were walking through one of the town squares, we came across a group of naked, bicycling protesters. I never figured out what they were protesting, but we learned that public nudity is not against the law in England.
Before our trip, we connected with an English woman living in Boone County via Facebook. She recommended York and said we must do the cream tea at Betty’s Tea Room. She did not steer us wrong. The tea, scones, clotted cream and jam were scrumptious. David had a strawberry milkshake. The English have a very different definition of milkshake. It was cream with strawberries and a dollop of ice cream. It wasn’t mixed together.
After our tea, we visited York Cathedral. I found more interesting carvings and very old graves/tombs. One of the oldest I found dated to 1595. Prince William of Hatfield, the son of Edward III, was buried there and Constantine was declared Emperor of Rome at the cathedral. In the undercroft you can still see the remains of the original Norman church built on the site. The curved foundation and the Doomstone carving date to 1080. The remains of a Roman fortress from the 4th Century can be seen as well.
One of the best abbey ruins we visited was Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire. They are extensive and the day we were there was gorgeous. Founded in 1132, at its zenith, the abbey was home to 640 monks. In 1538, Rievaulx became one of the many abbeys destroyed by King Henry VIII.
David and me outside of Rievaulx Abbey
The land for Rievaulx Abbey was donated by Walter Espec, the owner of our next tour, Helmsley Castle. Built in the 1120/30s, Espec, a supporter of King Stephen, used the castle as his main residence. The castle passed through various hands, including a stint with the Roos family. In the mid-16th century, a Tudor house was added to the interior of the castle. We were able to go into the house. One of the best preserved rooms was Elizabethan in style and dated from 1582. It still had the original floor.
After leaving the castle, we explored the Yorkshire moors just like Jane Eyre. We stopped in Pickering and on the Flyingdales Moor to take photos and enjoy the beauty.
Our final stop for the day was Whitby Abbey. The first monastery was established there in 657 and became a important Anglo-Saxon religious center. It was the site of the Synod of Whitby where Roman rule over the Catholic Church in England prevailed over the Celtic. Bram Stroker found inspiration for many aspects of Dracula after his visit to Whitby, including finding a book about Vlad (Dracul) the Impaler, which gave him the name for his count. The abbey was shelled during World War I by the German High Seas Fleet.
I was told by our English friend not to eat the fish and chips in London because they didn’t know how to prepare it properly. I waited until we were by the seashore in Whitby where we visited one of the many chip shops near the water. Sadly, David said the fish and chips he ate the in city were better. I still enjoyed them along with mushy peas, which sounds kind of gross, but it wasn’t at all.
My next blog installment will share the last leg of our journey.
Suzanne Yowler has been a Circulation Assistant at the Florence Branch for three years. She has always loved to travel. Suzanne and her husband David are already planning their next adventure.