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Entry # 33 – Britain
Sunday, December 24
I got up early despite not much sleep, as I wanted to see what I could find to do for the next few days. From reading the brochures in the lobby and my LP, it appeared that most things (museums, monuments, theatres, restaurants, etc) would be closed Dec 24-26. Luckily, some shops were open today just before Xmas. I took a collection of maps with me and began walking to get my bearings and found several shops including Marks and Spencer’s. I remembered Marks and Sparks from my previous trips and even have some clothes from them. Did a little looking and found several things that might be fun to try on later in the trip. I decided to wait until later to make any personal purchases, but did some Xmas shopping.
I also found an organic food store and bought some Emergen C, fruit and food for tomorrow (as the restaurant at the hotel would be closed) and some fantastic gluten free cookies.
Still feeling the effects of the travel from yesterday, I found the Café Masala and had a wonderful Indian Birani before I went back to the hotel for an early evening of blogging and tv.
Monday, December 25
Slept late and ate the wonderful muffin I bought yesterday, had lots of tea and cookies and basically, stayed in all day bloging and resting.
It was quiet and calm holiday, just the way I like it.
Merry Christmas Everyone!
Tuesday, December 26 – Boxing Day
Today, I had lots of exploring to do to get my plans settled for the rest of my time in Britain. I called and reserved two nights at a B&B in Salisbury. The next order of business was to get an Oyster card for 4 days of travel on the tube system. Wonderfully easy and off I went to see about theatre ticket availability.
I went to Waterloo Train station, which is above ground over the Waterloo tube station, to see about my reservations for my train trips within England beginning tomorrow. The train station was still closed for the holidays so I will have to get my reservations settled tomorrow.
I had four shows I hoped to see; Spamalot, Mary Poppins, Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, and possibly a drama, hopefully with someone interesting as the main character. I got off the tube at Leicester Square, right in the middle of the theatre district and it is known for the half-price ticket booths. There were many booths and after looking at my proposed travel schedule, I realized that my availability for evening or matinees would be limited, so I focused on tonight. I decided on Spamalot, the Tony winning musical based on Monty Python and the Holy Grail with Tim Curry. I got the cheap seat $50 for the balcony and decided to stay in town until the show at 8 pm.
While I waited, I opted to see two movies that I had heard so much about. The Queen and Eragon. The Queen stars Helen Mirren portraying Queen Elizabeth II and is about the week leading up Diana’s funeral. Helen was fabulous. Not all of the Royals come out of the movie smelling likes roses. During my trip, I had read the book Eragon, a child's book about a dragon. The book had been very interesting, but the movie was not that great.
I also did a lot of walking through the theatre district and found most of the theatres. Then I treated myself to a coffee at Café Nero, which is a chain in England. I was given the LARGEST MUG OF COFFEE and it was fabulous with my mincemeat tart. I can honestly say that it was probably the best coffee I have had in over 5 months!
Spamalot was showing in the Palace Theatre. Different theatre sponsors have purchased many of the older theatres in London or conglomerates and they are refurbishing many of them. (I don’t think they have gotten to the PALACE yet, at least not in the balcony). My seats were on the 4th level in the rafters with a serious pitch in the seating. Legroom was not very generous and as I sat with my knees next to my ears and I listened to the accents around me, I determined that we were all Americans. Further discussion found that they were from Chicago, Fresno, and Seattle. I guess all the low price tickets are bought up by tourists like myself from the daily half-price ticket booths.
Wednesday, December 27
After a morning of blogging and packing, I took a cab to the train station, as I did not want to fight the crowds in the tube with my twin suitcases, Big Gray and Little Gray.
At the ticket counter at the train station I was told that I would need to get the train to Basingstoke and change to Salisbury. The challenge was that there were no trains currently scheduled for Basingstoke. There had been some delay up the line and while they expected one today, they could not give me a specific time. I had an appointment to check in with Sue in Salisbury at 3pm. As you may remember that I had purchased a first class, 4-day flexi pass on Britrail and while I did not need a specific seat reservation, I preferred to have a definite seat. I asked the agent for reservations for Friday to Sheffield and for Saturday from Sheffield back to London Kings Cross Station. That took a few minutes and by the time those reservations were completed and she had validated by pass to begin today, the Basingstoke train was at platform #8 and ready to go any minute. I had intended to leave Big Gray in checked luggage until I got back, but the ticket lady advised that I run and get on the train before it left. Off I trundled with the twins in tow.
NOTE TO TRAVELERS – The day after a three-day break in service for the British Rail System will tend to be a very busy travel day. Be prepared for crowds and possibly interrupted service!
As it was, I probably would have had time to get off and check the bag, but as it turns out, it ended up being more convenient for me to have the bags with me. The ride was only 40 minutes to Basingstoke and it was wonderful to be back on the trains in England. I did not realize until this trip that since my last visit (29.5 years ago), the trains have been privatized and no longer had the coaches with the side aisles and the compartments. Today’s trains are very similar to the ones I rode in New Zealand and Australia.
As I was exiting the train in Basingstoke, I overheard a woman and her adult son discussing needing to make the connection to Salisbury. I decided to approach them to see if they had a better idea of the schedule. The platform was very crowded. While James, the son, went off to search of information on the timing and platform for the Salisbury train, I went off to buy coffees and treats for Jude, James and myself (I was very hungry as I had intended to eat at Waterloo, but did not have the time). Luckily we only had a 20-minute wait and the platform was the same one that we had been on. We ended up leaving at 2:10 and I calculated that I would be in Salisbury close to 3pm when I was supposed to check in with Sue at the B&B. As the entire platform entered the train, it was obvious that seats would be at a premium. Jude found a pair that she saved for she and I, James took a bumper seat in the entrance chamber and I left my bags in the care of a lovely Scotsman named John who was sitting next to his bags in the space between the cars. I sent cookies back to James and he sent candy bars up to us. I gave my candy bar to John as a thank you for watching my bags. Now I have a wonderful friend Jude (Judith) and her son James who live in Cardiff. I love British Trains!
I got off the train in Salisbury and remembered that this would be my third trip to this beautiful little city. The driver of the taxi that I found to take me to Griffin Cottage had only been driving a cab for 5 days after a 20-year career of farming. I made it to Griffin Cottage at 3pm and met the wonderfully engaging Sue.
Griffin Cottage, owned by Sue and Mark, is absolutely charming and in the middle of a block of similar cottages. Low ceilings and deeper rather than wide, these white washed cottages were cute as a bug. The staircase was steeper and narrower than I expected and I got off on the second floor with two bedrooms and a shared bath. The room was beautifully decorated, had a sink and THE MOST COMFORTABLE BED!!!! I told Sue that I wanted to take it with me and she said that while Mark or she were happy to help me with the luggage up the stairs, I would have to get the bed downstairs by myself. Sue offered me the menu for breakfast, as she makes meals to order off her menu. After all she says if you are traveling and staying mainly in B&B’s, back-to-back days of the standard English breakfast would leave you cholesterol laden and hardly able to move. I selected eggs and salmon, juice, decaf tea and fresh fruit.
I decided to do a little shopping as I needed a baby gift for Erika and Hana and I had managed to loose a glove yesterday. You may remember that I had lost one Isotoner glove in NZ three years ago and had brought the remaining glove and it’s new mate with me on this trip. (I had not intended to take the mismatched set, but that is what I found that I had the first time I used my glove this year!!) Luckily, the one that I lost yesterday was the mate of the one that I lost in NZ three years ago, so I should still have a good glove back in Denver waiting for my return.
I was looking for a cute outfit for Hana, but all I could find was pink or blue and having not seen her closet, I wasn’t sure what would fit her. I opted for a classic for her library, Peter Pan, the 100-year anniversary edition. Fish and chips for dinner.
As I returned to the cottage, in the cozy sitting room was the fireplace with a fire lit. It was wonderful and just what I expected to see. THIS IS THE ENGLAND THAT I REMEMBER! Mark is an avid reader and we exchanged names of favorite authors. With a keen knowledge and interest in history, Mark lead me to another author, Malleson, similar to Bernard Cornwell and his Sharpe series. OH BOY! Another author to look for!
NOTE TO SELF – SPEND TIME IN LONDON AND SEE THEATRE, BUT GET OUT AS SOON AS YOU CAN TO REALLY SEE ENGLAND!
Thursday, December 28 – Trip to Avebury
Lovely breakfast from Sue, who is delightful and fun to talk with. Sue has a secret ambition to have a hat museum and laments that the current milliners lack the imagination and boldness found earlier in this century. I told her that I would be happy to be her international delivery service if she would just tell me what she was looking for and supply me with the necessary budget and traveling expenses.
On my way to the bus station that was just around the corner, I had several errands – laundry and internetting.
The laundry cleaning service was not available until after 1/1 and I did not want to spend the time in self-service, so I took the clothes back home. Not urgent, but I would like to get them done before I leave England.
The internet was also closed until after 1/1, so I went to the Tourist Bureau to see if they had any other suggestions for internet in Salisbury. They allowed me to use their free computer in the lobby, so I was able to alert Erika of my scheduled arrival time tomorrow.
Bus to Avebury – I had misread the schedule and while I thought it would only take 1 hour, it was closer to 2 hours – I made friends with a pair of backpackers who helped me to locate the place to get off the bus.
Avebury is a small town in Wiltshire that is relatively close to Stonehenge. The town also has stone circles, but not in a close configuration as Stonehenge. Avebury is in fact two large stone circles that enclose two smaller circles and the entire area is surrounded by a bank and ditch. Many of the stone are gone, but markers indicated where they were and much of the current village is built within the circles. The main benefit over Stonehenge is that you can actually get up next to the stones and touch them. The main draw back is that you because you can get close to the stones, people are all over the place doing things such as flying model airplanes, children shrieking, running and whinging and getting between you and the stone you are photographing and generally cluttering up the landscape. Not quite the quiet, spiritual visit I had hoped for, but there were several places were you could feel the wonder and power of this amazing site. I tried to circumnavigate the site on the high bern, but one quarter of it was closed for erosion control. I still made it to all four quadrants and by the end, found that I liked the South East section the best.
From the recent wet weather, there was lots of mud and walking on the bern was tricky in places. Thank heavens I still had my boots, as my suede shoes would have been sodden by the end of the day.
There were two museum galleries that had admissions that I opted not to see but I did pop into the gift shop. In the gift shop, I bought books about the site and discounted Xmas cards for next year. Next I went to the little cafe for lunch. I opted to a cheese sandwich with pickled onion relish, tea and a cookie. Next to me was a woman, who at first was just eating her lunch, but she struck up a conversation with me and she turned out to be an angel named Kathryn. A true kindred spirit, we moved quickly from 1st to 5-7th chakra conversation. My gift from her was that she reminded me that I was unique with a wonderfully powerful brain and equally giving heart. It is up to me to determine the best balance between head and heart. We parted earlier than necessary as I had misread the return bus schedule and thinking I had only 10 minutes until the next bus, I found that I had 1.5 hours to wait. It was the last bus and I knew that I did not want to miss it, so I did a little more looking and then spent the rest of the time at the bus stop, next to an antique store.
By the time I got home to the cottage, there was another lovely fire and Sue, Mark and I, watched Fiddler On the Roof and I wrapped the gift for Hana. It was a wonderful evening.
Friday, December 29
No dramas meeting the train and this time, the train had a buffet car with free tea. The weather was unfortunately rainy for most of the way, but I did get to see the twisted spire on the cathedral in Chesterfield just before we arrived in Sheffield at 12:51. I spotted Erika immediately. It was lovely to see her and to hear all about her year since I saw her in Thailand in February. Most of her year was consumed with the birth of little Hana, 6 weeks early in June. She will return to work part time in February.
We went to her house and I got to meet Charlie, her husband, and little Hana, cute as a button and 6 months old. She truly is the most beautiful baby in Sheffield and very happy and gurgly. This was my first visit to Sheffield and due to the clouds, I was not able to see the hills that surround the city. Known for the steel that it still produces, Sheffield is a city that climbs up the hills that surround it. I hoped the weather would clear so that I had a chance to see it before I went back to London.
Another first for this trip, I went to a proper country pub, The Grouse, for cider and a late lunch. Yaaaaah! I had not felt comfortable going into pubs by myself and it was lovely to go with company.
We went back home with very windy conditions and curled up in front of a lovely smokeless coal fire with modified coal for a quiet evening of tuna steaks, cous cous, salad and photos from my trip. Avid travelers, Erika and Charlie have been all over including Nepal where Charlie did Everest. I think my photos got them thinking about their next adventure. While Hana may not be able to go on the extreme adventures, I feel sure that they will get her passport moving so that they can begin traveling soon.
Saturday, December 30
Another VERY COMFORTABLE BED that I wanted to take with me but it was up early for breakfast with Hana. The weather was improving and I knew I would have a clearer view of the city before I left. From our stop for coffee near the Sheffield Council Buildings at another Café Nero (GREAT COFFEE), I know that I will put Sheffield back on my list for a longer stay the next time I am in England.
Another nice train to London and let me tell you, the first class train was some of the best money I spent on this trip. The seats in regular class are fine, but the ones in first are larger, better legroom and less people per carriage. I love train travel in Europe!
I braved the tube with the twins and did not find it too difficult. This has helped me decide how to get to my Heathrow hotel tomorrow night. Much cheaper than the taxi, I take the tube to Heathrow, catch a hotel shuttle bus to the hotel and arrive at my hotel well before the parties begin.
The Comfort Inn was very close to the Earls’ Court Tube station and just around the corner where I had stayed before. It is in a refurbished older building and the heating was on high. Luckily I still have my summer pjs with me, so it should not be too bad.
I had made an appointment to meet Kirsty, whom I had met in New Zealand, for tea at 4pm near Trafalgar Square. Before I met her, I procured the last ticket for the performance of Mary Poppins that evening. This time, I would be in the stalls in row Z (zed) seat 1. YAAH!
While it had been nice in Sheffield, London was having rain and lots of wind, so I bought an umbrella and went off to wait for Kirsty at the National Gallery facing Trafalgar Square. It was bombing rain during my wait and crowds of us were huddled on the elevated porch at the entrances to the museum. I had misread her email and Kirsty was waiting at the National Portrait Gallery, at the adjacent building. 30 minutes after our appointed time, I found an internet café and saw my mistake and rushed back to the correct location but missed her. I felt like a fool! Went back to the internet café and wrote her an apology email and went off to find dinner.
Mary Poppins at the Prince Edwards Theatre was wonderful! One of the refurbished theatres, it still had the charm of an older theatre with modern touches. I was right next to the wall and had a slightly obstructed view due to the overhang, but I had been told that all I would miss would be some of the stuff high on the set. The play was essentially the Disney Movie with a few new songs and a much bigger part for Mrs. Banks. Bert was a very large part as well and he was an American Actor through Actor’s Equity. Mary was lovely and efficient with a Julie Andrewsesque voice and look, but the song that I looked forward to was Feed the Birds. Just as lovely as in the movie, it had me in tears both times. Wonderful! The dancing cartoon penguins were replaced with dancing live statues from the park. There were three scenes not in the movie including Mr. Banks old Nanny who was very scary, a lead in scene to Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious with a funny store where you buy letters and created words and a scary song where the Jane and Michael were threatened adult size nursery toys. I must consult the original story to see what else I missed. It was a wonderful evening and I was so pleased I had chosen to see the show.
Sunday, December 31 – My last full day abroad!
My room was very hot all evening, so that meant no covers and summer pjs. There was only 1 battery in my remote, but a quick review of the offerings showed me I would rather read any way.
After a quick breakfast and internetting, I packed and left my luggage to try and see a little more of London before I left.
I took the tube to Covent Garden to see the theatre museum. It was free, there were some video clips of current actors that I recognized, but most of the exhibits were about older theatres that did not interest me so I left after about 45 minutes.
The other museum that I really wanted to see was the new Winston Churchill Museum that opened late in 2005. It was FABULOUS! It was housed in the bunker rooms where Churchill had spent most of his time during the war conducting meetings and following the progress of the war. Very informative and interactive exhibits so if you are at all interested in the history of WWII and Churchill, an absolute must see in my book.
I asked a very nice man on the street to take a picture of Quen and I with Big Ben in the background and he advised that I not hand my camera over to too many people in London. I knew that I had picked the right person!
My last stop on the way back to pick up my luggage was to Harrods to try and find marzipan for Tony’s Christmas gift. Harrods was an absolute mob scene because most of the London stores are offering major sales to try and boost the end of the year earnings. I got excellent directions to the food area, which was mobbed. As I made my way around the room that had four entrances, I located the marzipan. Although they had both fruit and vegetable shapes, I opted for the fruits. Watermelon, cherries, fig, orange, apple, peach and the most marvelous pear with a slight imperfection in the skin were some of the treats that I bought. The entire transaction took 30 minutes from entrance to exit, and I was happy to leave the crowds behind and get back on the tube.
The twins and I made it to the tube station and took luckily there was a lift down to our platform on the Piccadilly line. I had already scoped out my route so that I knew that I would have no stairs to lug my bags over.
From my reservation for the Premier Travel Inn at Heathrow, they advise taking the Hoppa Bus from the airport to the inn. I went to the tourist information office to check on my Oyster card, as I thought I owed some money on it. I still have 3 pounds and as they are good for life, I kept it and will use it the next time I am in London. I bought a round trip ticket on the Hoppa bus and was at my hotel and checked in by 6pm. I treated myself to a lovely dinner of olives, wine, soup and salad and then had a HUGE FANTASTIC COFFEE at Costa Coffee in the lobby where I finished reading The Historian.
I went back to my room to rearrange my luggage, blog and to complete the international portion of my wonderful year abroad.
Thoughts as I close the international part of my year on Dec 31
No firm plans once I get back to Denver at this point other than to go back to Thailand in February.
While I would like to know exactly where I am headed with work so that I can neatly tie up this trip, I am not there at this point. I just don’t feel that my trip is really ended until I am back home in Denver.
I am planning to respond to an advertisement that I saw in The Lady for a diarist to accompany a woman sailor who is planning to circumnavigate the globe in her wooden yacht.
My mind is still active with many possibilities and I know that I need some down time to just be quiet and think of my Hearts Desires, goals and objectives, and what parts of me do I want to accentuate in my next phase of my life.
I have list of people I want to see when I return including Dr. Kramer (health check for EW), Toni Guinn, Dr. Cortini and beauty people such as Sasha, Natela, Sarah and Bev as I feel rather hairy and out of shape. Parts of my body are speaking to me like my left hip, the little and ring finger on my left hand, and my neck
My plans are to eat more simply and organically, and do daily walking and exercises.
There are lots of things that need to happen to get the house back in order, but I don’t want to unpack too much to give me flexibility and mobility.
My three cat children are very much on my mind and I need to plan appropriately for them as well as myself as I go forward.
The dreams that I have had this year including the wedding with Hal madly wrapping gifts and the moths eating all my business clothes signal me that I am still searching for a male partner and non-conventional employment.
MAYBE FOR 2007
Might there be a roommate in my bottom apartment?
Will I sail for the year?
What about season employment in different locations in either the US or International?
Only time will tell.