October 19th 5:30pm
I wish that I had the words to describe adequately how truly spectacular and majestic this area is. It took my breath away and made me feel 20 years younger just to be part of it. When and if I ever go back, I hope to spend a long time here. Wales is a beautiful, beautiful place!
It is interesting to compare England, Ireland and Wales, in the metaphor of our friend Reina in Ireland. She compared Ireland to England, noting that the English countryside is so manicured and perfect, the hedgerows trimmed and the fields just so. Ireland is wild and rough – the hedgerows sprawl and defy sculpting, the fields are lush but untamed. Well, Wales, for all its “savage” beauty, is somewhere in the middle – neither perfectly manicured, not totally wild. Spirited would be the word for it if it were a horse, perhaps. It is a landscape and a people that make you feel like you could just blend in and live happily ever after.
We have had a great couple of days! Our last day in Ireland (the 17th) was non-eventful – and so was our ferry crossing from Dun Laoghaire to Holyhead. We stayed in the Ferry Lodge, which is the same guest house we stayed in the night before we went to Ireland. The owner is so nice and accommodating and was very helpful assisting our planning for our day trip in Wales and our trip up to Scotland.
Thursday morning we got up and out early as we had lots of things we wanted to see. If you consult your map, you’ll see that Holyhead is at the tip of Anglesey, an island (large one) separated from the mainland of Wales. The only crossings are in Bangor, so we had to drive the length of Anglesey back towards Bangor to get to the places on our day’s itinerary.
Our first stop however, was within Anglesey, at RAF Valley. Apparently, you used to be able to drive in and around the training grounds, but no longer. A guard pointed us to a vantage point right at the end of the runway (the starting point for the take offs). We stayed for about a half an hour. It was exciting! The noise of the engines of those planes is unbelievably deafening from where we were. But it is the type of sound that takes your breath away. The power of the planes is also incredible. They were taking off in pairs and flying formations, and we really saw a lot of action in our half an hour. Gerry Sr. and Oscar braved the wind and the cold to take pictures, but Gerry Jr. and I could hear and see perfectly from our nice, warm car.
From there we drove to Caernarfon, the home of the famous castle of the Prince of Wales. It’s kind of a bittersweet experience to visit the castle – on one hand, the castle is magnificent and impressive and imposing. It is beautifully restored…The central wards are just grass (beautifully maintained) and their simplicity and color are in stark contrast to the rough stones that remain. On the other hand the castle is a symbol to the Welsh of their oppression by the British. Apparently, there is still a problem in the assimilation of the Welsh into the United Kingdom, despite the passage of several hundred years…
We had lunch in the town and afterwards drove just out of town to the Caernarfon Air Museum – more RAF stuff. This museum is built on the air base of an old WWII training base. The museum is full of old planes, old pieces of planes, and model airplanes. (Some of our party thought it was ‘da coolest’.) There were three or four planes in which you could sit and man the controls, and it was interesting for the older members of our party to read some of the exhibits – many of which were personal remembrances of men who had flown from that field. I especially liked studying the pictures of the planes that crashed trying to land on the carrier desks – don’t ask me why!
After the airbase we drove into Snowdonia National Park, through Llanberis to Betws-y-coed. What a perfect afternoon! The mountains are just one “It’s so beautiful!” after another! The mountains are incredibly rocky and steep – they tower over the road in a very dramatic fashion. It is easy to see how water, seeping into the cracks and freezing, pried these enormous boulders off the face of the mountain. You see them piled up next to the road, easily 30 feet over your head. Just look up and you can pick out the next one destined to fall… and hope it won’t happen while YOU are looking!
The scenery in the mountains changes quite a bit – which you’ll see from our pictures – from the rocky crags you travel through pine forest to tranquil lakes and bubbly streams. It is just amazing! I have marked this area as one to definitely return to in the future. It is a paradise for hikers and mountain climbers.
We stopped at a particularly interesting part of the pass through the mountains and the kids bolted out of the car like springs. Off they went, over the stone wall at the side of the road, down to a little stream. They hopped over the rocks to cross the stream and dashed up a hill to climb at top a big bolder. The exhilaration of the cold mountain air and the hugeness of everything around us was so infectious that even I felt like an (old) mountain goat, and bounded up the hill right after them.
When we finally resigned ourselves to get back in the car we drove to the other side of the mountains to the town of Betws-y-coed, and had dinner. The town is very picturesque and apparently very popular with tourists. We were lucky that it is the third week of October and a Thursday, so we didn’t see may other tourists. We were unlucky in that we didn’t get there before all the shops closed… or maybe we were!
This morning, Friday, Gerry Sr. and I got up and out early and went to a place near Holyhead called “South Stack”, a very dramatic lighthouse perched at the base of enormous cliffs with huge waves breaking all around it. You approach it from the top, and though we only took the steps about half way down, our knees were like jelly. Climbing back up after taking (too) many pictures we went back down the mountain a little way, parked, climbed over a farmer’s fence and hiked up to an excavation of round huts, dating from about 2,000 BC! According the signs posted at the site, the area had been inhabited from about 2000 BC ’til about the 1st century AD, continuously. There wasn’t enough documentation to say which were the earlier and which were the later structures, but the site is very incompletely excavated, so perhaps future generations will get more info. Our host told us that many people travel there to pick up the ancient vibes of the spirits of the place. We saw evidence of an earlier visit of spirit seekers – a circle of roses in one of the lower excavations. What you see there are the stone walls that formed the base for a thatched cone-shaped roof. There are larger ones, almost all round, and smaller ones which tend to be rectangular. It was really nice to visit these two places without the company of our darling children.
The darling children were still asleep in the B&B when we returned at 9:30, but they managed to get up and packed and out within an hour and a half! The rest of the day we spent in the car driving north, on our way to Scotland. I managed a slight detour, here in Cumbria, from Carlisle to show (and see myself) Hadrian’s Wall. We are staying in a lovely B&B tonight. The house used to be a vicarage and is beautifully decorated and surround by a big garden. We all love it!
October 20 6:10pm
We’re comfortably ensconced in Edinburgh as I write this. A nice, comfortable, modern hotel with many trendy touches…yes, we’re comfortable!
We left our wonderful B&B in Haltwhistle this morning with some regret. The owners were as nice as can be and the house was beautiful. The gardens were lovely, even at the end of the blooming season in the morning fog and rain. I definitely recommend it and will include more information about it in case I can convince you to make a vacation in that part of Britain.
Haltwhistle isn’t on the regular tourist route, but it is in the center of a long line of towns that run along Hadrian’s Wall – that was our reason for going there. Tourism in the area has been badly affected by “foot and mouth” disease, and the better parts of the wall and related Roman ruins are still closed to the public, so we concentrated on parts of the wall and ruins to the west of Haltwhistle. Our first stop was the Roman Army Museum in Greenhead. The museum was of particular interest to Oscar, who really seemed to enjoy the exhibits and the artifacts. I think his imagination can carry him back in time and the details enhance the experience.
Since our day was so bad (thundered and lightening over breakfast, still very foggy and drizzly while we were visiting), instead of visiting the wall there, we hopped back in the car and continued westward to Gilsland where we visited a site called Birdoswald (Bird – Oswald). There is a nice exhibit there, and visitors can eat and stay the night if they are studying or walking the wall. The site has the excavation of a Roman fort that was constructed along the wall and we did see portions of the wall at the site. The scenery around the site is beautiful, even in the mist and fog and rain!
From here, fed up with the weather, we started a long, slow, winding drive to Edinburgh. Along the first part of the drive, we drove over the disinfectant mats various times. It is sad what the foot and mouth and BSE outbreaks have cost this area of England.
Not too far along, we saw the “Welcome to Scotland” sign, and entered the area called the Borders. Here the scenery was incredible yet again. The mountains that bordered the road were immense, rounded mounds that looked painted on the sky…Such a variety of colors…but a very flat texture. There were places where the sides of these “hills” stretched skyward from the very edge of the road, and it was eerie to look straight up and see sheep calmly chewing, perched precariously, looking as if they would fall down right on us with one false step!
The entrance into Edinburgh was nothing to write about, but the city center is really attractive. Lots of interesting architecture, and when you read that the castle dominates the cityscape from a high mountain – believe me – the mountain is high! And it is right downtown! And it’s right across the street from our hotel – so I’ll tell you more tomorrow after I have had a chance to visit it and see more.
October 23 7:15pm
I am writing tonight from Inverness – about 4 hours north of Edinburgh. We arrived this evening after a day’s drive, with a nice stop in Stirling to visit the William Wallace Monument. If you have seen the movie “Braveheart” (which I have not), you’ll know who William Wallace is and why he is important to Scottish History. I had never heard of the man before, not having seen the movie, but Oscar was apparently taken by the story and has led us on a chase for William Wallace info. The story you can read in a history book if you don’t know it, so I’ll just describe the monument to you.
That’s my description! First, Oscar and I trudged up a very high hill, topped by many stairs reaching the bottom of the monument. Then, inside the monument itself (it is a tower) there are another 250 steps to the top. From the top, there is a beautiful view of the surrounding countryside, which even on a foggy day like today provided some spectacular scenery. The way up was aerobic – the way down was muscle building. My legs were like jelly by the time I reached the valley again. As luck would have it, we are on the third floor of a walk up B&B, so today has earned the name of National Scottish Stair Day.
After the monument we drove. The road wasn’t bad at all and we made good time to Inverness.
Our two days in Edinburgh were great. Sunday we visited Edinburgh castle. From our hotel we had to walk up (stairs again) to get to the top of the cliff where the castle is, but the views of the city alone were worth the climb. The castle is pretty much 15th century – the older parts having been destroyed by the numerous sieges. There is so much history in the castle, you can get pretty turned around trying to remember who everyone is and when they actually did the things they did! The weather worsened into a downpour by mid-day, so after lunch we were pretty confined to visiting indoor things, of which there were not that many. The Gerrys left about 2:00 to go back to the Castle, but I went with Oscar to the Scottish War Museum. It was fairly interesting, but not chronologically organized which made it quite distinct from other war and history museums we have seen. The museum was actually about the history of the various aspects of war, so for example, we saw uniforms – starting in the middle ages and progressing through to the present. Then we saw equipment, starting back when through to modern times.
There was a very interesting gallery that covered 6 aspects of war: Leadership, facing battle, facing death, celebration, remembering and forgetting, and honors. There were two very interesting items on display. One was a pipe that was given to a Scottish soldier on December 25, 1914 by a German soldier. The two armies faced each other across the trenches when the traditional Christmas cease-fire was called. On Christmas Day, soldiers from both sides climbed out of their trenches and walked across the battle lines to exchange presents and Christmas greetings… Need I say that this practice was discouraged in future years.
The other item was a Japanese sword that was presented to a Scottish officer when the Scottish soldiers defeated the Japanese in (sorry, I can’t remember which) battle. All of the Japanese soldiers were then ordered to give their swords to the Scottish soldiers. These were family swords, passed down through generations. Giving them up was the ultimate acceptance of defeat.
We finally returned to the hotel about 4:00 and plans for the evening were shelved because of the persistence of the bad weather. I started drawing the view from our hotel window (the castle) when I got in, but within 15 minutes it was totally obscured by fog. The kids stayed in and Gerry Sr. and I took a long walk through the foggy streets.
Edinburgh is a funny place. Never having been there before, I felt it to be so familiar. Perhaps it is from movies or books, but the dark stained stone of the buildings, and the winding streets and tight pedestrian passageways all feel very familiar. It must be in ghost and horror movies that the scenes are recreated, because you do get a “dark and stormy night” kind of eeriness.
Our second day we visited the “Camera Obscura”. This is literally a camera obscura like the ones used by artists, etc. in years before photography was invented. This one was opened as a tourist attraction in 1853! Apparently, viewers were overcome by the images. Our day was pretty cloudy so we couldn’t see very well. The images are of the city. The rest of the attraction was about the history of photography, historic photographs and a very interesting exhibit about optical illusions.
We also visited a new tourist attraction “The Edinburgh Dungeon”. It turned out to have very little of the history of Edinburgh incorporated into it and was mainly designed to gross you out and scare you. Oscar was very worried that he wouldn’t be able to take it. (They have one in London too and there we were recommended not to take him…) I think it would have been overwhelming if we had not visited the Torture Museum in Amsterdam. That museum presented many of the same tortures that this one had, but with old drawings. There Oscar felt sick, so here, where everything was quite graphic, he simply didn’t pay attention. Even Gerry Sr. and I skipped some of the torture stuff – as I have said before, you don’t necessarily have to see it, to be able to imagine how awful it was…
There was a teenager in our group who was physically overcome and had to be carried out. That was freaky – but having been through it with Oscar, we could sympathize.
In another of our unaccustomed bursts of energy, after that we hopped into a cab and headed to the port area to visit the Royal Yacht Britannia. This was the Royal Family’s personal yacht for almost 50 years. It was quite elegant, but very understated. Gerry Sr. was disgusted with the excesses (of baggage, of servants, of expense) that the ship represented, but I must admit, I can get into the royal mindset. I would be very much at home on a ship like that, and if I were queen, well… I’d just enjoy it!
We had really good food in Edinburgh, too. But overall the city is just about as expensive as London.
October 24 6:15pm
Today, the sun was out for most of the day – just a few scattered raindrops, but it was colder and windier than previously. We made in early morning stop at T K Maxx so that I could by a new pair of pajamas. The PJs I brought on this trip were ancient ones that were perfect for traveling because the folded right up into nothing, but alas, they were old. The elastic losing its stretch wasn’t too bad (after all my waist has been expanding) but the fabric began to give up the ghost about a week and a half ago, the tears expanding nightly. They served me well, but “adios!”
After our shopping, we headed to the Culloden Battlefield. My interest in this site is based upon a series of four novels I read a few years ago about a woman who stepped through a ring of stones and was transported back in history to the time of the Jacobite rebellion. Great reading – all 4000+ pages of it! The story of the Highlanders captured my interest, so I dragged the family there this morning. There isn’t much to “see” – it’s a battlefield on a moor, but the place has an aura about it, as if the spirits of all the highlanders still lingered there with the memories. (Unfortunately, it was hard for me to get that feeling with a hungry 14-year old bugging us!)
From there we traveled back through Inverness and began our trip down the western side of Loch Ness. We stopped in Drumnadrochit, which is about half way down the loch (13 miles) to see the Loch Ness Monster “experience”. I was doubtful, being fairly sick of tourist-trappy things to see, but this was well-done and very informative. The presentation began with the first sighting of something strange in the lake by St. Columbo in 686 or some such year. You’d have to believe him, wouldn’t you? A saint? It gave all the evidence of the sightings and then all the scientific activity that followed to find the monster. Interestingly, most of the evidence seemed plausible, but also explainable…Is there a Nessie or isn’t there? You still have to form your own opinion. One thing is for sure, Nessie is not a left over dinosaur – that’s not possible in terms of time, nor in terms of geology, given that the lake was frozen solid during the Ice Age.
We also stopped to see the ruins of Urquardt Castle which sits on the shore of Loch Ness. It must be a very picturesque place – but it wasn’t today and probably never will be again. The whole thing is under construction to build a new visitors center and walkways and gift shop, etc. Too bad because all the postcards show this very romantic ruin on the cliff of the lake, destroyed and abandoned, in the midst of some wonderful scenery.
We saw lots more wonderful scenery during the rest of our drive down the lake. We stopped at Fort Augustus which is right at the bottom of Loch Ness and took pictures but continued on to spend the night here, in Fort William. The town of Fort William sits right at the base of a big mountain called Ben Nevis, which characteristically was obscured by fog. Hopefully tomorrow we will see it and a little of this town which, I read, is big with movie directors.
October 27 8:45am
Comments on traveling through England and Scotland…I wouldn’t recommend doing it by car unless you really want to spend time in the country, have lots and lots of time, like to drive in traffic. If you’re going to visit just cities, travel by train – You see very little from the major highways and the traffic is awful. If you want to add countryside scenery to your trip, almost everywhere you can hire a driver to take you somewhere, even for overnight trips in Scotland. We have so much luggage (one per person, with four people comes out to a lot!) so the car made sense, and fortunately the computer gives the children something to so in the car. They have almost no interest in scenery.
Nap Break outside Glasgow. I learned on this trip that Golf and Scotland are synonymous, so when Gerry needed a break from driving and a nap just outside Glasgow, we stopped at something called World of Golf. Thinking it was a museum or something (had the tourist sign) the children and I went in to while away some time. Turns out that it is a big golf center – driving range on two levels, cafe, shop, lessons, everything but a golf course. The kids got a bucket of 100 balls and practiced driving, and had so much fun, they got a second bucket. By then dad had joined us and he hit a few, too. (I am embarrassed to say that I also hit two, but they looked more like putts than drives!) Then Gerry Jr. got up enough courage to take a lesson! He was thrilled, and gushed his “thank yous” and “you’re such wonderful parents” for a full 24 hours afterwards!
Thursday morning we left Fort William in the rain. Not even rain could ruin the beauty of the scenery we drove through heading towards Glasgow. I am sure you’re tired of all my adjectives trying to describe what we saw…but I assure you it is so much more than I could ever express. We stopped several times to take pictures, the rain actually making all the colors so much richer (like a stone from a stream is more colorful when it is wet than when it is dry.) We are seeing a version of “fall foliage” … something I have nearly forgotten after so many years in Puerto Rico. There are even pines here that change color. The trees you can probably imagine, but the ground cover changes, too. The bracken is a dark red-brown and the grass is a rich red-orange. Sprinkle in some heathers in varying shades of green with their tiny flowers ranging from purples, to black, to white. Every now and then the gray rock peeks through, covered by a soft carpet of brilliant green moss. That’s the micro view…Magnify it, paint it over mountains and valleys, add a few glass calm lakes, dot on a few sheep and those are the Highlands. Specifically, on the map, look for Glen Coe and Rannoch Moor.
By lunch time we were headed down out of the Highlands and stopped in this wild place for lunch! There were tons of cars outside, so either it was a good place or the only place around! (Both it turns out.) Walking in we were confronted with stuffed animals – the real ones! Birds, deer, bear – the works. But old ones…really old decrepit ones! In the bar room, a real fire was burning (and it looked as if a real fire of some years ago had pretty much taken care of the decor, too). It was dark, wood- paneled and beamed, and filled with mismatched chairs and tables, more stuffed animals, a big bar and lots of people drinking beer and waiting for their food. A pretty lively place all in all. The Gerrys finally had haggis, and both proclaimed it quite tasty. (This is of course a family that loves liver pate, so that’s not surprising.) We had a nice lunch and it was fun exploring this place. Can you believe it is an inn, too? None of us felt we could sleep with all those dead animals in the lobby!
Our afternoon was more scenery – mostly forest and farmscapes, seen through the rain. As we got nearer to Glasgow, given the weather we decided not to stop and to continue back to London. We did drive through some of Glasgow though and it certainly doesn’t seem to deserve the bad reputation it has. I was sorry to miss it, but that leaves me something to discover on my next trip, which I am already planning.
The rest of the evening and most of yesterday were just driving on the “interstate” – about the same on the boring scale as it is in the US. Same bad food, too. But so many traffic jams! It’s truly awful the amount of traffic in England.
We did stop yesterday afternoon in York. I will sheepishly admit that I haven’t had the courage to drive here, so Gerry is stuck doing it all. In the afternoon, we have tried to give him a sleep break each day (Which reminds me that I forgot to tell you a significant event of yesterday’s sleep break – look in the side bar in the green writing.) So this was Gerry’s nap break. I took the children to an Internet cafe and dropped them off to do their things…and I went to see the York Minster. An hour was not quite enough to see everything I wanted to see and just be there too, but I am thankful I got to go, alone! It was spectacular. It is noted for having about half of the medieval stained glass in Europe in just one of its many, many windows. There were two windows of particular interest. One is a famous one, the “East Window”, which has scenes of the Creation and the End (I’m not sure what to call it.) The creation scenes have a whole poster board at eye level explaining what each panel is and showing it in detail. The actual panes are probably 4 stories up so you really can’t get a good look at them from the floor. I thought it was interesting that there was no such help in deciphering the scenes from Revelations…
The other window I liked was a very early one, from the 1200s, and was geometric patterns of clear and green glass – very different and very pretty. All these windows are huge, so it is like looking at a glowing mural! The other aspect of the minster that I really enjoyed was the variety of animal sculpture found throughout. Some of it was gargoylesque, but some was tender and sweet, too!
I was also lucky the choir was practicing for Evensong while I was there, so I had a lovely musical accompaniment to my visit.
Today we are headed for Salisbury – and Stonehenge! Finally, I hope to see Stonehenge! It is the one thing that I did not see on my first trip to England 25 years ago that I really wanted to see and I am determined not to leave Europe this trip without seeing it!
October 28 9:30am
Yahoo! Mountain Dew! I saw it! I was so excited when I saw it from far away, that I gasped and scared everyone else in the car! Oscar claimed that his father was so scared, he almost grew hair! But I am getting ahead of the story and I want you to experience it somewhat the way we did.
We arrived in the general vicinity at about 12:30pm and the day was gorgeous! Warm sunshine, puffy clouds, a gentle breeze – you couldn’t wish for a nicer day. (Today it is gray and rainy again…) We first stopped at a site called Woodhenge – thought to be a similar type of site to Stonehenge, but constructed of wood posts rather than stone slabs. Interesting, because it pre-dates Stonehenge. I was having difficulty reconciling the dates and the use of wood, but all that was explained in the tour of Stonehenge itself. Though there isn’t much to this site – the placement of the wooden posts are marked by concrete stumps, it is worth a visit – It definitely made us more anxious to see Stonehenge.
Stonehenge is about 3 miles away. You approach it from the top of a hill. It is situated on a huge plain below you. What elicited my (yes, I admit it) scream of amazement in the car is that it is right there, in plain view, on the plain below you – not obscured in some grove of trees or tucked away, like the Rollright Stones, for example. Like almost everything we have visited in Great Britain, you pay a nice big entrance fee…but we have come to appreciate the audio tours (you know, those little handsets all the tourists carry around the monuments.) The tours give very detailed information on the site and you have the option of listening to lots more interesting info about related subjects.
You can’t actually go in and among the stones anymore. There is a tourists’ walk around the whole thing which you follow with your little audio self-guide, and you have to be careful not to get so caught up in the audio tour and the plain, not to look at Stonehenge itself. Since we had a gorgeous day to see it, the views were memorable – The stones bathed in bright sunlight and deep shadows, solitary evidence of ancestors about whom we know next to nothing…Today, inhabited only by birds, who give the impression that they alone know the secrets of the stones.
All around you in the distance you can see burial mounds dating from the same time, 3000 – 2000 BC. It was well worth the visit, and the wait to see it. Even the kids seemed to find it extraordinary.
We were on our way to Salisbury for the night, so we made one more little side trip before we reached the town. This was to visit Old Sarum, the original Salisbury, which was moved to its present site in about 1290. I was interested to see this sight because (why else) I had read a book called Sarum (Edgar Rutherford) which was a history of the Roman town to the Middle Ages. What is left there today is interesting to me, not for the medieval castle or cathedral ruins so much as the Bronze Age hill fortifications. I had never seen anything like this before: The site of Old Sarum was once a Bronze Age site (before even the Romans of my book) and the circular fortifications consisted of earthen wall with a very steep, deep ditch dug behind it, followed by another very high, steep earthen wall, with another very deep, steep ditch behind that. We walked on the top of these walls… Don’t take small children! The Roman city of Sarum was begun inside the second set of walls and had as its outer wall another of these high, steep earthen things with a depression in the center where the foundations of all the buildings were. I guess that when the buildings were complete that they were visible above the walls, but now, there is so little left that you cannot see them, giving the impression of a hidden town. Apparently when the decision was made to move the city, many of the buildings were demolished and the stone re-used in the new Salisbury. As a result, what is left is just the foundations of some of the buildings, and these have been covered by a funny looking stone conglomerate to protect them from further wear.
After Old Sarum, we headed in to Salisbury, found a hotel through the efficient Tourist Information center, and then walked around the town admiring the shops and the restaurants, with little luck finding a place to eat without a reservation.
October 30 7:45am
Sunday morning, we decided to split up. The boys wanted to play golf and I wanted to visit Salisbury Cathedral so they dropped me off and were off to play golf, a big favorite since our Scottish stop at the World of Golf.
I went to the Cathedral and was in time to join the 10:00 service. It was the only way to enter the Cathedral in the morning anyway, but I was happy to be able to worship in that beautiful place. This is the first “Gothic” cathedral we have seen (or I have seen) on the trip, most of those I’ve seen so far dating from about 150 years earlier built in a style known as “Perpendicular.” Contemporaries of Gothic architecture talk of how the soaring of the vaulted ceilings makes your thoughts soar up heavenwards, so it really is a fitting place for worship for a romantic soul like mine. The choir was wonderful too – goose-bump wonderful! And all male, which I discovered only at the recessional, some of the “sopranos” looked to be about half of Oscar’s age. I discovered in the gift shop later that the choir of the Cathedral is quite well-known and that they have a many recordings to their credit. They have several different choirs, and one of the others does have women. I also noted that two of three priests officiating during the service were women…
It was impossible to wander around the cathedral in the morning because there were services going on almost continuously until 12:30, so I contented myself with the facade and the cloister until noon, when I went to the Chapter House to see one of only four remaining copies of the original Magna Carta. It doesn’t look like much, for a document that provided the foundation for much of our modern political world, including the basis of the Constitution of the United States.
I had just about a half an hour to shop and wander until my golf buddies picked me up and we headed on to London.
Our hotel in London had been a source of constant worry since we booked it – it was just too cheap. The proprietor warned me when I booked it that the room was small, but since it had been highly recommended by AA I thought it would work out. It was just for 4 nights, right?
Well, it was small all right, though tiny would be a better word. With four people and all our luggage, it was a very tight squeeze. It was also on the fourth floor of a walk up building. We managed, albeit with an inordinate amount of complaining from our Red Arrow Honor Campers, who we had to remind more than once, that this was at least one step above a tent! It had a bathroom, at least!
And what a bathroom! The bathroom is some sort of pre-fab job, self-contained unit that you can just up and stick in any room, provide a little piping and Voila! en suite bathroom. If you have ever been on a Amtrak sleeping train, you can imagine about how big the bathroom was – just a bit bigger, actually. In this one you could actually stand next to the toilet to shower, whereas in the train bathroom, you have to sit on the toilet to shower.
The room was exactly big enough to fit 4 twin beds, pushed against each other, a space to allow the door to swing open and then the bathroom box. There was, literally, 1 foot of walk space to get from the door to the bathroom around the beds…We managed for one night, and before I could finish rationalizing to myself why I was going to wimp out and change hotels, even if I had to carry every one of our 9 suitcases, the manager came to tell us that there was a larger room available on the first floor.
To its credit, it is larger, but this one has 5 twin beds in it! The ceiling is a good 11 or 12 feet so a lot of the increase in size is upward, but it does give the impression of being larger. Oh, and this one has another pre-fab bath in it, but this must be the deluxe model. It has the sink inside! Try this – measure out a space that is 4 feet by 3 feet and into this fit a sink, toilet and shower – a model of design and engineering!
Anyway, I won’t describe the breakfast, except to say that I won’t be having it this morning, given that there is a Costa and a Starbucks within a block or two.
On the plus side, the area we are in is great (Earl’s Court) for being in the center of things with absolutely everything “right around the corner”. Our subway stop is right around the corner. The laundry (which we badly needed to visit after two weeks in the car) is right around the corner, and last night we had a delicious dinner of Thai food, and that is right around the corner, too. However, I wouldn’t recommend this hotel or neighborhood unless you are on a severely restricted budget or are a college student (or of college student age…)
We saw nothing yesterday. In fact, at dinner, Oscar asked “What did we do today? Just have lunch?” Yup. Lunch was the entire day! We had to return the rental car in the morning, and then change rooms, so we didn’t get out of our hovel (no typo) until 11:30. The kid’s wanted to go to the Rainforest Cafe, so we did, but that took three hours all told, so at 2:30 in the afternoon we just decided to take it easy – went to an internet cafe to write email, bought our Eurostar tickets for Paris, window shopped, etc. Today we’re planning to go to the British Museum, and I want to try to squeeze in a matinee this afternoon!
November 2 9:30am
Reprise on our wonderful (not) hotel…I was so relieved when we finally left the hotel. In the end, it was not so bad as all that – after all, it was clean and the staff were very friendly, but I was so uneasy the entire time we were there. Part of it was that the area was so full of middle eastern looking people. I was anxious about one of them being a demented Bin Laden supporter (there are quite a few in England) and attacking us. Irrational fears I suppose, but even our Algerian cab driver to Waterloo seemed to take an undue interest in whether we were Americans or not. The bane of imagination! It did force me to think though, not just about how the attacks on September 11th changed the world, but how it changed my personal world, too. I was never afraid of Muslims, but now I look at them (women mostly because they are easy to identify) and always ask myself “Does that person hate me just because I am American?”
Although I am now physically in Paris, I am going to finish up the London journal here, and star fresh on the Paris journal. It is so exciting to be in Paris that it is hard to turn myself back, even for a few minutes to London, but we did have a great couple of days in London, that I want to write about…
Tuesday, we did visit the British Museum and squeeze in the matinee! The museum is really fully of interesting things to see and school children. It has been an experience for my children to try to visit museums when there are groups of school children visiting too…They now realize how their behavior affects and annoys other people in the museum. It will be interesting to see if this changes their own behavior when they go on field trips from school…
Anyway, the museum is chock full of great stuff – we focused on the ancient Greek and other near eastern civilizations, because that is what Gerry is covering in world history right now. That still gave us plenty to see in the 3 hours we were there. Of course we saw the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles, but we also saw a very instructive exhibit of Egyptian mummification techniques. We stopped for lunch at 12:30 and resumed for an hour afterwards, thinking to return the following day to see more.
We got to see a matinee of Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap.” The kids both loved it, and of course we found the perfect part for Gerry and a good part for Oscie, too. All that acting at St. John’s has paid off in a love of theater, both participating and “spectating.”
Wednesday, instead of going back to the British Museum, we went to the Museum of Natural History, which is actually fairly near our hotel. We started out in the Life section, where the most notable exhibit for me was one that tried to answer the question of whether man is descended from apes. It took an evolutionary look at not only apes but other humanoids throughout the ages and showed how modern man is alike or distinct from all these others…Very interesting and much I did not know.
We also visited the earth section of the museum, and looked at continental drift, earthquakes, volcanoes, and various surface change agents. The children both seemed much more intent on this section, perhaps because we have visited many Natural History museums in other places, and always focused on the “animals.” That must be fairly universal – the life section of this museum was crowded with small children, and all the exhibits were about mid-thigh height to me… The earth section on the other hand was mostly adults and bigger children like ours. Including lunch we spent a good four hours in this museum!
Our evenings were fairly low key – I guess we are all pretty tired of being out and about. The good news is that we have been able to get everyone settled in bed by 9:30, a book propped on every lap! As a voracious reader, it has always bothered me that neither of my children was interested in reading…Looking back, I probably should have “told” them to read less often and “invited” them to read with me more. That certainly seems to work! Gerry Sr. is happily caught up in a five book series by Orson Scott Card (our favorite author of the moment) so he’s always looking for an excuse to pull out his book, too. Even yesterday on the train, the four Cumpianos were all reading!
Thursday, we were all up early and off to Waterloo Station. We were headed to Paris on the Eurostar (high speed train that goes under the English Channel). See you in Paris! Au revoir!