Hi all. To state the obvious for the sake of those who do not already know it, we're back. We had a most excellent adventure, and this is your full report, including all of our England trip and a couple teeny bits before and after.
Before (Monday, 25 June): Visited Bob and Celia and their new baby Kayla, said not to be named for the character in Days Of Our Lives. After arrival of Jerry, saw Beauty and the Beast at a dollar theater. Jerry is Kathy's mother, who was a coparticipant in our adventure, along with Kathy, Vern, LG, and me.
Tuesday: Last minute errands. Flight at 5ish. Father of the Bride in-flight. Uneventful otherwise, no luggage lost, terrorist bombings or other such adventures. Arrived 7am-ish London time on Wednesday.
Wednesday: Weather sunny and 70s. Train into London, taxi to b&b. Checked in, then headed out for Tower of London. Saw very old towers (oldest, the White Tower, is from 11th century), crown jewels, ravens, lots of armor, etc. The castle guards/tour guides are the Beefeaters, one of whom gruffly but humorously informed Jerry that "It is not a COSTUME madam, costumes are for theatricals and others of dubious sexual persuasion, it is a UNIFORM". We were amused. (I notice that the British often jam two sentences together with a comma and no conjunction, like I did in that quote.) Headed home, walked around the neighborhood. Coincidentally, we were about half a mile from where I lived when I was there in 1983; I knew that from looking at a map, so we walked by there. Supper at the pub across the street from the b&b and bedtime about 7 or 8. Mind you, we'd been up for around 30 hours at that point.
Thursday: Weather sunny and 70s. We split up, LG and I went together and the others elsewhere. Located a tourism center, and signed up for a 1.5 hour bus tour which showed and explained to us many things (many of which we saw close up the next couple of days). Saw changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace from the bus some distance away. (2 trips to London, and that's the closest I've been to it; don't mind much though, since it strikes me as a bit too touristy.) After lunch went to Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. Made a brass rubbing. Hung around to hear Big Ben (which is really the bell, not the clock tower). Walked up the Thames to Cleopatra's Needle, an ancient Egyptian obelisk given to queen or king somebody at some point. Went to Harrod's and looked around; saw a 2750# Scrabble game. (I don't know what the usual ASCII translation of the "pounds" sign is but '#' seems to make sense.) The pound = around $1.80 or $1.90 lately, so multiplying by 2 is close enough. Can you imagine a $5500 scrabble game? Thought about buying some Harrod's pencils, but they were like a pound each. No thanks. Ate our lunch fruit by Wellington Arch, a memorial to soldiers of some war I think. Went to Buckingham Palace and admired the place without bazillions of tourists around. Got home just in time to find that K&V&J had gotten tickets for Miss Saigon. Frantically changed and caught a taxi to Covent Garden. Good show; a bit tragic, but that's the point, isn't it? Had supper take-away from a Chinese place on the way home.
Friday: Rain in morning, sunny and 70s in the afternoon. LG and I went alone again. Went to London Dungeon, a museum of the macabre, such as the gruesome things people used to do to each other Way Back When. Lunch at snobby Italian restaurant. We were dressed comfortably (of course), not "smartly", and we ordered just spaghetti and water (and dessert) -- no starters, salads, drinks, etc., so I think he thought we were being cheap; but we were just getting what we wanted. Anyway, he was a snot. The spaghetti was excellent, but the experience wasn't worth the $$ (er, ##). Fortunately, it was the only unpleasant eating experience we had this trip. At some point I lost Lisa's umbrella, realizing it as we emerged from the tube. (That's "subway" to us yanks.) (That's "Americans" to us yanks.) Luckily, it stopped raining for the day during that very tube ride. Went to St.Paul's Cathedral, climbed 530 steps to the top, took panoramic photos, tried out the whispering gallery halfway up the dome, where you can sit WAY across from each other and speak quietly. Took us a while to figure it out, and I think the effect was bothered by the general buzz of hundreds of tourists in the building below, but it was still quite cool. Walked to Old Bailey, just to see it (location of Horace Rumpole stories by John Mortimer, for those of you not aware of it). Didn't see any barristers or judges in wigs, though. Intended then to take a bus to Piccadilly Circus, but we didn't want to go straight there. So we hopped on one that (from the incomplete bus map we had) seemed to go around a slight bit before getting to Piccadilly. Well, turns out it went all the way to Hackney, which is an eastern suburb. So we rode about an hour out and an hour back. We didn't hop off because by the time I realized we were going to go so far out of our way, we were already pretty far out of our way, and I didn't want to get off in a far out of the way area, and so... Anyway, it was an adventure. We finally did make it home, and only a half hour later than the others expected us. But they weren't there yet anyway. When they did get there they told the highlight of their day: an antique store, somewhere near Harrod's I think. In it they saw a 6700# clock (Vern has some kind of a thing for antique clocks). They were amazed enough at that until they saw the 250000# bookcase. Yes, there are 4 zeroes in that number. Needless to say they didn't buy. (Actually, despite frequent antique-perusing in the next several days, they never bought anything. Frankly, personally, I'd say "What's the point?")
Saturday: Sunny and 70s again. Had a short rental car adventure when we realized the car we had reserved was to be a Ford Fiesta. Not for 5 people and copious luggage, folks. Fortunately the entire adventure took place over the phone. Eventually got a Ford Sierra, which was a little bigger, at a place only a few blocks from home. Thus began our driving adventure. Wrong side of the road, wrong side of the car, and a stick shift operated with the wrong hand. Vern drove the first day; I navigated. (Perhaps I shouldn't admit that, as you'll see presently.) Too much luggage anyway, and the females had to sit kind of hunched over due to the suitcases up against their heads and the small bags under their feet. We ate lunch outside Oxford at a motorway stop, then took a wrong turn. Unfortunately our map showed only major roads, and didn't show the many small towns whose exits we passed, so we drove about 30 miles south before we realized that we were heading SOUTHwest instead of NORTHwest. Ok, that was more or less the navigator's fault (not like anybody else noticed it though :-p ), but what followed wasn't. When we got back to where we had screwed up, we drove out and back in a couple directions several times before we managed to convince ourselves that the map WAS in fact WRONG, and that the road A34 which was supposed to go to Stratford most certainly did NOT go to Stratford, so what's the deal??? Amazingly, a policeman was stopped right off an exit we chose for one of our indecisive turnarounds, so we asked him what the deal was. He grinned, since we were so clearly lost, and explained that they CHANGED THE NAMES OF THE ROADS!! Not only had the former A34 been renamed A44 (first part of the way) and A3400 (the rest of the way), but ANOTHER road emanating from the same roundabout (near Oxford) had been renamed to A34!! Well, so he gave us directions, but we failed to follow them, then we ended up at this enormous grocery store and gas station where we got gas, and looked for current (and complete, none of this major-towns-and-roads-only nonsense) maps. We failed to find a map, but a nice lady in the grocery store invited me across the street to her house, where some guy (her son perhaps) let me peruse his road atlas, and explained to me quite well where we needed to go. So we did, and eventually we made it directly (without further wrong turnage) to Walton and Walton Hall. The trip ultimately took 6.5 hours, including lunch; could have been <2 (if not including lunch). (On the motorways there people drive FAST (relative to what I'm used to). At one point we were poking along at 75 mph (despite national speed limit of 70 mph), and nearly everybody was passing us.) Walton Hall (henceforth WH) is the place we stayed, and Walton is the nearby village, which is quite smaller than Garfield, Kansas, and also quite a bit older, existing as long ago as the 16th century. Only pictures can describe the enormity and coolness of WH, whose main building dates merely to the 18th century. Big place, lake with many ducks and swans (and consequently large amounts of duck poop, which in an unusual mood after a discussion of hamburger patties and soybean patties and then cow patties we decided should rather be called duck links; never mind, it was pretty funny at the time), archery range, putting greens, chapel (with graves as old as 17th century), huge fields of sheep (we saw sheep everywhere; ducks and swans too), trap shooting, pools, tennis, woods and paths, and so on.
Sunday: Sunny and 70s yet again. Slept late. I had my first driving experience (and it lasted all day long). Got groceries in Wellesbourne, the nearest town large enough to have a small store (maybe 2 or 3 miles away). On the way back, bought 25kg of potatoes from a farmer. (That's 55 lbs to us yanks.) We figured what the heck, it was only 3#, and we hadn't found individual potatoes at the store. Had baked potatoes for lunch. Happily found at another gas station a complete and current road atlas and had no further navigational woes. Went to Blenheim Palace (enormous estate and birthplace of Winston Churchill). Belongs to Nth Duke of Marlborough (I think), the lineage of whom includes somehow both WC and Diana Spencer (Churchill's mother was a Spencer?). Palace built in early 1700s. Went for a walk on the hundreds of acres of grounds, seeing rose garden, lots of cool trees, a river and cascade (that's waterfall to us yanks), etc. Back to WH, spaghetti and potatoes for supper. Walked around WH, took some pictures, avoided duck links, etc.
Monday: Our second day of rain. I drove again. Spent the day in Oxford. Rain tends to dampen the touristing spirit. LG and I split off again; K&V&J took a bus tour. We visited Christ Church College, one of the colleges of Oxford. Saw Tom Tower (a bell tower, I think, part of Christ Church College), which was designed by Christopher Wren (who also did the current St.Paul's Cathedral after the Great Fire, not to mention a zillion other churches and whatnot), and may well be significant for some other reason but danged if I know it. Went up in Carfax Tower which is this little tower from which you can get a nice view of town. Encountered an unusual man up there who spoke in some weird English-like language that we couldn't quite understand. Ate lunch at the Nosebag, a local restaurant and student-type hangout that we had seen in a guidebook. Found the Oxford U computing center but failed to get in and hence failed to log in (which had been the goal in finding the computing center). Went home, had potatoes with vegies and stuff on them for supper. Hung out.
Tuesday: Sunny and 70s again. Did Stratford. I used to think it was Stratford-ON-Avon not Stratford-UPON-Avon, but now can only conclude that it is arbitrary. The [up]on-Avon is only necessary to distinguish it from some other Stratford that exists. Scored tickets for Taming of the Shrew that night at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Split up as usual. Visited site of Shakespeare's house, which was destroyed by the next door neighbor at some point a couple hundred years ago due to the many tourists annoying him. The house next door, which at one point belonged to WS's granddaughter (who was married to Thomas (?) Nash), contains the site in its garden. (The British are really into their gardens. We saw gardens everywhere, even in the tiniest little yards. I suppose if you've got the climate for it, you go for it, and they surely do.) Anyway, there are no direct descendants of WS today because there were no children from his only granddaughter. You needed to know that. Visited tourist spot #2, his birthplace. Had fish and chips for lunch. Visited TS#3, his grave at Holy Trinity Church. Also saw "American window", enormous stained glass given to the town of Stratford by the American ambassador in 1896. Kind of interesting; it mixes some religious scenes (naturally) along with stuff like the pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock. TS#4, Hall's croft, which is, um, I can't remember. But John Hall was somebody WS-related. He was also a doctor. TS#5, Anne Hathaway's cottage. She was his wife. It was a worthwhile visit despite the fact that I seem to have nothing to say about it. TS#6, Mary Arden's farm, was the coolest of all. This was the childhood home of WS's mother. Cool thing number 1 was our tour of the cottage, wherein we learned from the tour guide a whole pile of etymologies of common English words and phrases. For example, way back then they used to cover their stone floors with straw (into which they would drop table scraps and sundry other nastiness, and the young males in the family would typically have to sleep there at night, but that's beside the point), and when the straw began to get a little too wretched they'd simply cover it with more. Of course, you wanted to keep your straw, called thresh, from spilling out of the doors, so you'd have little steps in the doorways to hold it in the rooms: a thresh-hold. There were dozens more. Cool thing number 2 was the falconry. They had a whole bunch of birds, including an enormous owl (largest species of owl, they said, a European Eagle Owl) named Caliban and a Harris Hawk named Cassius. (See the way I rattled off "Harris Hawk" as if everybody knows what a Harris Hawk is? Actually, to someone like me, it was just your average fairly ferocious-looking bird of prey. No match for a European Eagle Owl, mind you.) Anyway, we all got to hold Cassius on our outstretched hands (he swoops to you when you hold out a little chunk of an ex-baby chicken) and had quite a fun time talking to the falconry guy. Went home, had sandwiches, changed, back to Stratford for the play. Another quite enjoyable play. I didn't eat any potatoes all day (well, ok, we had fish and chips, but none of our 25kg), but I understand that Vern ate one for breakfast (like he did every day we were at WH).
Wednesday: Sunny and 70s. First Warwick Castle. Climbed around on ramparts, saw rose garden, peacocks (have you ever heard the cry of a peacock? I suppose I hadn't, because it sure surprised me. It sounds kind of like a cat undergoing some of the gruesome tortures we humans applied to each other Way Back When. It also carries a good long distance.), the dungeon (truly a dreary place, quite apt for punishment), some wax figures (compliments of Madame Tussaud's, a London spot we missed). Ate our fruit lunch (LG and I did fruit lunches every day, sometimes in addition to other lunch) on the grounds. Next went to Kenilworth Castle, which is actually just ruins. (Excuse me, "romantic ruins".) Quite cool. It has an impressive history, highlighted by a royal visit from Queen Elizabeth in 1575, but it's so much more of a story than that. Worth a visit. I took many photos today. (Over the course of the trip I shot 7 rolls.) Went home, had spaghetti and potatoes, hung out.
Thursday: Lightly rainy all day. :-(. Hash browns and eggs for breakfast. Went shopping in Stratford. I had never known it was known for shopping, but apparently it is, and there was a LOT of it. Went to Warwick for some more shopping, bought some gifts at Warwick Castle. Late lunch at a cafe (shepherd's pie, which contains, of course, potatoes). Went home, napped, read some. Went for a dip in the indoor pool and jacuzzi at WH. Met a couple cute British kids, Ashley and Richard. Richard: "Four and three quarters. Yesterday I was four and a half, so today I'm four and three quarters." Ashley (later): "I accidentally forgot my name!" Richard: "It's Ashley!!" We asked them where they lived and they told us the street address. Had some unbelievably yummy apple pie at WH conservatory restaurant. Set about the sad business of packing.
Friday: Kind of misty rainy. Returned balance of potatoes (more than half, but < 2/3) to the farmer, after failing to entice the sheep to eat any (but then, would you eat something if it were offered to you in a projectile fashion?). Drive to Woking (Old Woking, actually), a bit southwest of London, home of Jenny and Glen (Glenn, Lisa says, but neither one of us actually knows), friends of Diane Hill's from when she (Diane) studied for a year at Hull University. We prepared for navigational problems like before (I drove this trip), but they didn't happen so we were way early and Jenny wasn't home. So we drove around until we found a mall, went in, shopped a bit, ate lunch. Went back to Jenny's, taking inadvertent shortcuts through a couple of parking lots much to the amusement of the giggly females in the back seat. (Vern told me to turn there, but I checked anyway and I swear, the sign said it was a street.) With Jenny, went to Ripley and looked at a few (relatively boring) antique shops. Went to a pub and had bitters (well, I didn't). Went home to meet Glen, fed the ducks that live in the river that goes by Jenny and Glen's back yard. Went out to eat at a totally cool Italian restaurant. Had a nice long dinner and much fun and chat. Spent the night with Jenny and Glen.
Saturday: Up truly too early (like 6 or 7am). Drove to Gatwick (name of airport), dropped off car. Changed ## for $$. Flew. Bugsy in-flight. (LG watched it, I read my book.) Arrived 130pm-ish, greeted by Vern's parents and sister. Went to Kathy and Vern's, ate food prepared by Vern's family, and watched the video Vern made of the trip. Actually we only watched the first hour or so of it, then LG and I headed for home. As we pulled out of Kathy and Vern's street we were confronted with a median which I started to pass on the left hand side until Lisa quickly set me straight. Oops. On the way home my car passed the 100000 mile mark. I took a picture of that, but unfortunately yesterday it hit 100101 and I forgot to be watching for it, so I didn't have my camera with me. (Oh well, with the tenths digit it really said 74 instead of 37 anyway.) At home I happily discovered 40# of travelers' checks that I forgot I had.
There. A happy story with a happy ending.