Originally brought to the Hudson Valley of New York by settlers from the Netherlands, this word is among the Dutch vocabulary that has survived there from colonial times until the present. Stoop, “a small porch”, comes from Dutch stoep (meaning: step, pronounced the same). The word is now in general use in the Northeastern United States and is spreading.
Stoops are important. They offer opportunities for creative play, such as “stoop ball” which is a kind of handball, but you need a stoop. With steps. We used to use them as a kind of grandstand where guests could sit while we gave performances. We thought we were almost ready for Broadway. Not all reviewers agreed.
A stoop is a front porch for urbanites. You sit on the stoop to watch the street, meet and greet your neighbors, get some fresh (?) air. Catch up on the local news. Stoop sitting was an important thing when I was growing up and I’m betting it still is, if you live in a neighborhood in the city that’s not too snooty.
Rich people don’t sit on the stoop. More’s the pity. They’d understand the world a lot better if they did.
As the word “stoop” spreads, we will all be able to recognize one when we see it. It’s one of the first architectural features I look for when I’m trying to figure when a structure was built. In cities, most buildings originally had a stoop. When you see a door that is at or below street level, it usually means the original stoop has been buried by erosion, time, remodeling, sidewalk and street repairs, and so on.
Urban streets tend to rise over the years. In older cities, sometimes the level of the street will actually be slightly higher than the door, requiring a dry well and/or drains to keep from flooding.
I can attest to the spread of the word stoop meaning the steps and landing between the sidewalk (or front walk) and the door. Because when i first came to Boston, only former New Yorkers (which comprise about 50% of everyone in Massachusetts) knew the word, but now everyone does. Probably because of that invasive pest species, refugees from New York.
To qualify as a stoop, it has to lead to the front or another main door. It doesn’t have to have a landing to be a stoop. The steps alone are enough.
The stoop should have from two to six steps. More than six steps is a whole flight of steps and a single step can’t be a stoop. If there’s more than a landing at the top, it also isn’t a stoop. If it’s bigger than a landing, the area is a porch, a veranda, a balcony … maybe even a deck. A proper stoop is just big enough to put down your bag of groceries while you dig around in your bag to find your keys.
You now hold a graduate degree in stoopology. Congratulations!
Visible evidence of history in this country is limited. We live in the earliest settled (by Europeans) area in the U.S., but most of the “old buildings” are not terribly old … at least not by the standards of other continents and cultures.
Most of the “old buildings” date to the 1700s. There’s a lot of stuff from the 1800s, a great deal of it from the 1880s into the early 1900s. You aren’t going to find medieval architecture in North America … not the real stuff. Imitations, yes. Real? No.
Bearing that in mind …
A Great Charter, by Rich Paschall
There are many tour operators in London. Besides the trips they offer around town, you can go out on a day trip that will take you to one or more famous places. On a previous visit to London I took the day trip to Oxford, then on to Warwick Castle and finally to Stratford on Avon. Shakespeare was not home when we arrived at Stratford, but we saw his boyhood home anyway. These trips last all day so you need to be ready for an adventure of up to 12 hours.
While you can reserve a tour at many locations in central London, we chose to book in advance before we left on our journey. A visit to visitlondon.com and other tourist sites will link you to the leading tour companies. We picked the Stonehenge and Bath tour and saved a little by buying in the USA and taking our vouchers with us. Once in London we received an email saying our trip was cancelled but they would upgrade us to the Salisbury, Stonehenge and Bath tour for the same price and on the same day. There was an additional entrance fee at Salisbury we did not have to pay, so we gained a good savings.
The modern charter buses pick up at various hotels around town and take tourists to a central location, where you board your particular tour bus and head out of town. We got a slow start due to traffic but made our way on the road to Salisbury Cathedral. We knew little about it, but learned a lot from our guide who explained everything to the group in both English and Spanish.
The first thing we noticed was the size of the structure. The spire is the tallest one in Great Britain at 404 feet. While the church was finish in the 1258, the massive spire was added later and finished in 1320. It would have long since toppled without additional supports over the centuries, including tie beams designed by Christopher Wren in 1668
The tall nave is impressive in length, with tombs filling the spaces between many of the columns. The Diocese of Salisbury has been in existence since the beginning of construction in 1220. The building houses one of four remaining copies of the Magna Carta, agreed to by King John and rebellious Barons in 1215, basically a peace treaty. Unfortunately, the agreement was not honored by either side initially, but it did lay the basis for English laws in years to follow. No pictures are allowed of the ancient document and it is protected in a small enclosure you can enter for viewing. A full translation of the Latin document is nearby for the true historians.
Just 8 miles north of Salisbury is the iconic Stonehenge. While it is thought to date back to 2000 BC, it could in fact be somewhat older. There is a mound containing burial sites around it which dates back hundreds of years before the structure. In front of that is a ditch which is clearly visible above. No, they do not let you cross the mounds or go into the center, except for four times a year. At the summer and winter solstice and Vernal and Autumnal Equinox. If you are a Neo-Druid or Pagan that may be your time to go. You can get rather close on one side any time.
Yes, there are sheep in the valley alongside Stonehenge. It just seemed to fit appropriately in the countryside. A parking lot that was formerly close by stones has been moved in order to restore the view. A visitor center opened in 2013 which is near the highway and well away from the structure. You can walk up the road to Stonehenge, but take the visitor’s shuttle. It is a long walk.
From there is was back on the bus to travel another 38 miles out to the town of Bath, Somerset. Much of the architecture of the town is distinctive in it golden colored stone. From the spot above (on the extreme right) we entered into the ancient Roman baths.
Dating back to 60 AD it is a popular tourist spot now. Fed by hot springs to this day, the waters are quite warm. While they advise tourists not to stick their hands in the calcium and sulphate ion rich, and possibly disease laden (dangerous amoeba) waters, people do it anyway to see just how hot it is. The site itself is a treasure trove of artifacts from Roman times. A slow tour of the facility is worth your time.
Nearby the Roman baths is the Abbey dating from the early 16th century. While we got to see the building from several angles, there was no time to stop inside. We were approximately 97 miles from London at this point and ready for our long trip back.
Our original intent had been the two stop trip in order to allow enough time at each place. The three stops this far out of our origin meant there was little time explore, especially in Bath where we truly just ran out of time. Nonetheless, we were glad to see Salisbury for its architectural and historic significance.
The tour provided lunch on the bus in order to save time, but some heavy traffic, even in off-season, slowed us down considerably. An alternative plan would have been to take the train from Paddington station in central London to Bath and catch a tour bus to Stonehenge from there. Since our visit to the three stops was relatively brief, it is safe to say we would not mind a longer visit to each one. Perhaps we will return some day in the future.
Mind the Gap, by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog
There are a lot of great walking cities in Europe. London is certainly among them. Wherever you are in central London, you will be walking distance from many interesting and historic sites. If the weather is fine, which is often in doubt, then it is good to have some comfortable shoes and take to the streets.
The day we arrived in London, we walked all around the Paddington area. I always find it fascinating to see the shops and restaurants and various local business. Although I have been slowed by a chronic foot problem that caused for two corrective surgeries which did not seem to correct anything, we still logged a great distance. We made it down to Hyde Park, saw the Marble Arch and crossed over to Kensington Gardens before heading back to the hotel. It was a lot for a couple of weary travelers.
At night we purchased an Oyster Card which is the equivalent of a debit card for the Underground train. You purchase one and then add money as you need it to get onto the train. By the way, you need it to get out also, but it takes no additional value from the card. We have something similar in Chicago called Ventra cards. You can also buy single ride tickets, but if you are going to make a few trips around town, the Oyster Card is the way to go. It is more economical and it saves time from buying tickets. You can get your card deposit back and any value left on the card when your trip is over, so do not be afraid to load up the card.
Since I had been to London before, I was aware of some places my travel companion should see. We left from the Paddington Tube stop (see arrow on map above, a little left of center). The train system is vast and has many intersecting train lines. It is one of the best in the world and you can take it almost anywhere in the capital city. Buses can get you to some spots more quickly, except in rush hour perhaps.
We took the tube to Piccadilly Circus, London’s equivalent to New York’s Times Square. It may be a bit grander. I can say that as I have been to both. From there we walked to Leicester Square and found a Pub for dinner. Then it was off to Trafalgar Square and down to the Thames River. We crossed a pedestrian bridge to the London Eye. We came back across the Thames River on the Westminster Bridge toward Parliament and watched Big Ben strike midnight. This was all done in a few hours time. Of course, if you stay at the pub too long, there is a tube stop at Leicester Square for your trip home.
On our next great excursion around town, I followed the lead of my companion who wanted to see certain structures for their architectural significance and others for the historic value. He picked the tube stop that would be closest to some building he wished to see and we wondered just how close that would be to St. Paul’s Cathedral. If we could not find the church, we were willing to look for it another time.
As we continued our walk toward the Thames from whatever building we checked out (one of us has an architecture degree), the church loomed in distance, and I do mean loomed. Built at the highest point in London, it was mostly constructed in the late 17th and early 18th century, opening in 1708.
We walked around the entire structure and even peaked inside. We avoided the high entrance fee that tourists must pay when there are no church services, so we could move on to find other architectural wonders. I am not a fast walker and my friend was seemingly content with my pace of sightseeing.
A new pedestrian bridge is very popular and a good spot for pictures. It is not a far walk from the Cathedral, which stands magnificently in the background. Yes, there are many places to get a good picture of the church so no need to start purchasing them. By the way, it is not as close as it looks from the bridge.
From the pedestrian bridge we could easily spot another stop on our architectural tour. The Shard is the tallest building in the United Kingdom at 95 stories and by far taller than anything on the London skyline. You can find a tube stop by the river or by St. Paul’s and ride to the London Bridge stop, but we walked our way over to the Shard. Unless you have a lot of time for sight seeing along the river, you will want to take the tube.
Along the river we saw the HMS Belfast, a British Naval cruiser that was originally launched on March 17, 1938. It was put on “reserve” in 1963 and serves more as a museum now. Behind it is the Tower Bridge, not the London Bridge which is actually in Arizona (look it up!). You can look back and see the new London Bridge, put it is really a rather ordinary looking structure.
When we finally reached The Shard we discovered a long line at the bottom to take a trip inside and up to the top. It was not important to me as we have been to the observation deck of the Willis (Sears) and my friend was more interested in getting outside pictures anyway. I chose to grab the train near there and my friend went on to see City Hall and Buckingham Palace on his own. I think he ran into James Bond before saying hello to the Queen, but I am not sure I trust him on these points.
By the way, when you get on and off the train, please “mind the gap,” the space between the platform and the train.
Geometry is everywhere, at least everywhere where man has in hands in the mix. Staircases, wall, fences, doors. Ninety-degree angles abound. Circles and half circles. Architecture is geometric.