S: Across the Pond - 2010
FC: England 2010
1: England 2010 | Allow me, for a moment, to impersonate a travel writer. Why? Because: Alan can't read my journal writing to look back at the details of our trip; and I can't read my journal writing to look back at the details of our trip. Earlier this year, we sadly realized that our last vacation was six years ago. Of course, we've made brief trips to the lake and Alan's brother's beach house, but no big journeys to sights unseen. And that, my friends, is almost a fate worse than death for my husband. He lives to travel. He loves to see places he hasn't seen, and sometimes, but not often, he will even travel back to see them again. But the ultimate high for him is to plan to travel. His collection of charts, graphs, blogs, books, web sites, and maps all make me believe with absolute certainty that he is a direct descendant of Eugene Fodor. One day in June, as I was recovering from surgery (an anterior lumbar interbody fusion, i.e. a disc in my back was removed and replaced through an almost foot long vertical incision in my abdomen), Alan asked me what I thought about making a trip to England. I foggily muttered that I needed another pain pill. He translated that to "yes." From that point on, he was metaphorically off to the races and literally off to The Cotswolds and London. We (he) had 90 days to plan our trip to the Mother Country. More pain pills, phone calls, reservations, cancellations, reservations, inquiries, and consultations followed. And that was just the first day! To paraphrase an old joke, "How do you get to London?" The answer: "Preparation, preparation, preparation." Alan's endless work, paid off beautifully, as always. No unexpected problems (if you don't count getting lost), no worries, no "uh-oh's." Winging it, as I probably would have done, is not a good option. Thanks, dear. You're the best.
2: Burton on the Water | The Cotswolds
4: Around the countryside
6: Bath | Bath
8: Blenheim | "At Blenheim I took two very important decisions; to be born and to marry. I am content with the decision I took on both occasions." Sir Winston Chruchill
9: Excitement had been building for 90 days as the day of our departure finally arrived. Our adrenaline was pumping and we were sitting on ready when Ronnie and Ruby arrived to drive us to the airport. Unfortunately, Ronnie missed our driveway and backed over our mailbox instead. Not just bumped into it, but turned it into five pieces spread across our lawn like a game of pick-up-sticks. To add insult to injury, he later learned that he had done $1800 in damages to Judi's car. Ouch! Double ouch! Hugs, kisses, and goodbye's at the airport were still filled with anticipation, though tinged with disbelief and regret about the accident. Alan hugged his Mom, telling her, "I'll see you when we get back," and she responded with a tearful, "If I'm still here." Jewish mother guilt: fact or fiction? I'll let you be the judge. On those two depressing notes, we checked our bags. Thankfully, we had smooth sailing, so to speak, from that point. We endured the unavoidable layover in Atlanta and departed for Heathrow around 10:30 p.m. After an eight-hour flight spent napping, setting our internal and external clocks six hours forward, an unnecessary hour at the car rental company, and an almost two-hour nightmarish drive in the rain to The Cotswolds, we arrived at the Old Manse Hotel in Burton-on-the-Water around 4:00 p.m. The Cotswolds are a range of wolds (hills) in west-central England. The area is characterized by charming small towns and beautifully-manicured villages built of the underlying Cotswold stone, a honey-colored limestone. Some of the towns include Bath, Bibury, Bourton-on-the-Water, Broadway, Burford, Gloucester, Stow-on-the-Wold, Stratford on Avon, Lower Slaughter, and Upper Slaughter. After getting settled in our quaint attic room, which included a breathtaking view of a duck-filled canal, we headed out to visit a local pub. When the bartender discovered we were from Alabama, he theatrically held out both arms and loudly exclaimed, "None of the patrons in this pub had anything to do with the oil on your beaches!" We were laughing as everyone agreed by raising their drink in the air and shouting, "Here, here." Dinner was fish and chips, one of the more famous English dishes. I quickly learned that English peas are appropriately named because they are served with almost everything in England. They can be ordered "mushy" or "whole." "Mushy" peas have been squished with a fork. We found it strange that one cannot mush their own peas but must order them that way. The next morning, we set out early for a bright and sunny drive to explore Stonehenge and Bath. We rode through miles of the most beautiful lush, green countryside I have ever seen. Every scene was more enchanting than the last, and most were dotted with woolly sheep or Gateway boxes disguised as Holstein cattle. Stonehenge, one of the most famous sites in the world, was a little disappointing. It's location in the middle of a field surrounded by chain-link fencing and flanked by traffic surprised me. We opted for the "recession" tour and took photographs outside the fence, not understanding why anyone would pay more to get a few steps closer.
10: After a three stops for directions and a nice lunch at The Bell at Standerwick, we finally made it to Bath just in time to be among the day's last visitors to the Bath Spa. For two thousand years, Bath has been a spa town, built around Britain’s only hot mineral springs. The Romans were the first to realize the value of the hot mineral water and built their religious spa of Aquae Sulis around the three springs in the 16th century. The water still pools among the ruins but is untreated and smells worse than rotten potatoes. Our audio tour was fascinating and educational, and we left imagining health-seeking kings and queens reclined in rest and relaxation centuries ago. We drove around the crowded city and visited a few sites recommended in our guide book including Circus and Royal Crescent. We also experienced the romance of late evening when we happened upon a sunset wedding, the bride and groom giddy as their photographer captured their special day on the lawn of an ancient church. We returned to Burton-on-the-Water very late to find all of the pubs' kitchens closed. However, we managed to pick up Chinese take away (known to Americans as take out) and excitingly discussed our plans for the following day. Sunday dawned clear and cold, and we traveled north to Broadway where we walked through the village and later ate lunch. Alan was feeling adventurous and had a "when in Rome attitude" when he ordered steak and kidney pie. One bite and he instantly regretted his choice. I ate chicken soup and laughed as he managed to choke down one of England's most-loved dishes. Regretfully, our plans to meet Alan's cousin, Gerald, and his wife in Oxford fell through. But that bad luck turned into good luck as we then had the opportunity to tour Blenheim Palace, the birthplace and burial site of Sir Winston Churchill. Blenheim Palace is currently home to the 11th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough and is set in 2100 acres of beautiful parkland. This magnificent palace is surrounded by sweeping lawns, award-winning formal gardens, and a stunning lake. We arrived back in Burton-on-the-Water just in time for our dinner reservation at Rose Tree where we enjoyed tender, roasted duck and freshly grilled steak.
13: Windsor Castle
14: Tower of London
15: Kensington Palace
16: Long live the Queen!
17: Buckingham Palace
19: Rain, rain, go away!
20: The Thames
24: As Monday dawned in The Cotswolds, we were filled with sadness that it was time to leave this beautiful and peaceful area. Getting lost several times in the previous days had robbed us of precious time that was to be spent exploring villages. We carefully planned our morning to visit as many towns as possible before we began the drive to London. Our reward was a ride through Upper and Lower Slaughter, and Burford. Bibury, our favorite village, was so inviting that we stopped and spent a leisurely hour taking in all this slice of heaven had to offer. Windsor Castle was our next stop since it is conveniently located between The Cotswolds and London. It is impossible for me to find the words to describe the castle that Queen Elizabeth calls home. I will simply say this: it is big! As we approached the castle, its gray, stone walls and 1,000 rooms greeted us, stretching out endlessly in every direction. We toured the state rooms which are as elegant and royal as one would imagine. The Queen spends weekends at Windsor Castle so this led me to ask one of the guards if she leaves personal items there, such as a toothbrush, or does she bring a packed bag with her from Buckingham Palace. In return, I received a somewhat terse response of, "I would have no way of knowing that, madam." FYI, the British do not like to joke around about their monarchy with tourists! We left Windsor as thankful to be returning the rental car as an expectant mother is to receive an epidural. After a long and tiring day, we traveled by tube (subway) to our hotel, The Grosvenor House, in the Mayfair area of London. The next few days found us visiting Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, #10 Downing Street, Kensington Palace, St. Paul's Cathedral, Harrods, Piccadilly Circus, and the Eye. A riverboat cruise on the Thames was an efficient way to see many historic sites, and we especially enjoyed the guide's humorous narration. I was surprised at the Thames' pollution. Extremely muddy and odorous, it was once the site of the monarchy's palace until the smell made it necessary to build a new castle away from the Thames. We spent an hour on an entertaining tour of the Tower of London. Our Beefeater guide was priceless and kept us laughing throughout this ancient palace of death and imprisonment. We visited the site of Anne Boleyn's beheading which fortunately is nice and clean now. And the Crown Jewels...wow! The pageantry of the Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace included hundreds of plumed horses, soldiers dressed in candy-apple red, and a marching band that surprised us by playing "New York, New York." We arrived an hour early to claim our viewing spot and were joined by a few thousand people eagerly awaiting this top tourist attraction. It was impossible to pass up the opportunity to attend a London theatre production and "Wicked" did not disappoint us. This prequel to "The Wizard of Oz" tells us the story of Elphaba, The Wicked Witch of the West, and Glenda, the Good Witch of the North. It's an evening I'll never forget. We were very fortunate to meet Sharon (Alan's cousin) and Len and their treat of dinner at Lemonia was incredible. We felt like we had known them for years and their company was instantly pleasant and comfortable. Their driving tour of the city at night presented us with a different view of London. I'll complete my story by sharing that I was constantly on the look out for Eric Clapton. From the moment I exited Delta flight DL10, I asked pub patrons, tube riders, and hotel desk clerks if they ever say him in the area. The answer was always the same: "No." And then one day near the end of our vacation, I was rushing along with everyone else in the tube, and when I turned a corner, suddenly there he was, staring right at me. I could go home....my vacation was complete.
25: Anticipating Golden-stone villages Lined with breath-taking wolds Sheep grazing leisurely along lanes Driven from the opposite side Tea Crisp, cool days Cozy, cuddly nights Windsor, Buckingham, royalty unseen Ancient stones that hold tightly-held secrets To be or not to be Seeking a hard day’s night While avoiding the ghost of Jack Among the gargantuan clock and Parliament Bath Alone, my lover and me Thames, canals, brooks Avon for this lady Churchill, Dickens, Sherlock Holmes Guards that change Stoically Anticipating