One year ago at this time, my husband and I took a ten-day trip to England. We spent each night in London, but took several tours around southern England. It was my first trip abroad (not counting Canada or Mexico). Looking over my post trip posts from last summer, I didn’t include many things (how could I include it all?), nor did I show many photographs. I suppose it was still so fresh. So this post is a look back post, including some of the many photos from twelve months ago.
Overall, it was a grand experience. I was surprised that we had so much energy, ate so little, and did so much. For food, we had one egg, a piece of toast and tea for breakfast; for lunch we split one regular-sized sandwich, grapes, and water; each evening meal (usually eaten after 7 p.m.) was a different cultural experience.
Our hotel only had 16 guest rooms and no lift (elevator). However, it was handily located just half a block from a tube station and a couple blocks from a church we wanted to attend. We climbed the 80+ steps each evening to our non-airconditioned room. Each night we sweat through our pillows and bedding, and several mornings (about 3 a.m.) I stood in my nightgown in the open doorway trying to catch some sort of breeze circulating through our room. We spent all ten nights in London at the same hotel. It was an interesting experience, above a restaurant and pub, and I’m glad for it, but next time we’ll choose a chain hotel…with a lift, if it’s more than three stories high. The sun came into our window at 4:44 each morning, and it only became dusk around 9:30 p.m.. This photo is taken with my back to the reception desk on the first floor landing (second floor in American-speak). The stairway became narrower and the walls whiter as we climbed. Also, the banister disappeared.
We saw lots of historic places (e.g., castles, cathedrals, celtic grounds, oldest Bible, and the Magna Charta), and saw first-hand dozens of places we’d seen on “Mystery” and “Masterpiece Theatre” over the years.
One thing which surprised me most about England (perhaps only London?) were the crowds. There were dozens of children tour groups over to the island for the day, and a variety of languages heard every day. Americans were easy to spot – all they had to do was open their mouths. (We American’s are embarrassingly loud.)
Museums in England are free. (Wow and hurrah!) We went to several. They are also packed shoulder-to-shoulder with people. London is not for the claustrophobic. People sat everywhere in the parks, on the ground, mostly. There were only a few benches. Dogs ran loose in Hyde Park, but they were well-mannered and their owners followed, wearing the dog leashes around their necks. Restaurants had tables close enough that you could easily rub elbows with the stranger next to you, unless you were seated at the same table, which meant you were even closer.
London is not for the claustrophobic.
When I commented to a tour guide how surprised I was to see the crowds, “not at all like they show on the BBC,” he informed me that they shoot all their city shots at 5 a.m. With the sun rising earlier than that in the mid-summer, it was easy to believe. We recently revisited a “Poirot” episode where he met someone in the National Museum in the Pantheon Room. Although I had to wait a long time to get this photo sans people, the BBC shot spanned the entire room with only one other person in the background. While we were there, about two hundred people were in the same space as the BBC scene. I felt like my beloved BBC had lied to me all these decades. Yes, yes, I know it’s historic fiction, and it’s a show, not reality. But why didn’t anyone say: CROWDED!
I loved sitting on the steps of St. Peters and feeding the birds (Mary Poppins) or hanging out around the statue (and, man, are there a lot of statues in London) of Peter Pan. Pushing my cart at Platform 9 3/4 or time traveling (in the only blue police telephone box in the city) were definitely traveling highlights in London.
I was leery of the long flights over water. I was leery of public transportation. Both flights were noisy, and each had crying babies for six hours near us, but we actually didn’t mind; adrenaline, I guess. England tube system is amazing, and their trains, too! I never wanted to drive a car again.
We had one flex day. We were going to see the Tower of London at the tail end of one day, but decided to save it for “flex day.” I’m so glad we did. We spent the day there, and didn’t see everything there was to see. It also got way-way-way crowded!
Of all the places we had time to visit in our ten days, our favorite spot was Oxford. We went there for an hour as part of a tour of several places, and later took the train up for the day. Oxford was also crowded on the main streets, but one could escape the rushing students and tourists by wandering the very uneven cobblestone sidestreets to find certain historic locations, or walking Addison Walk on Magdalene College, or paying to visit one of the lesser known colleges. Yes, we went to Christ King College, where the dining room is for Hogwart’s school. Our minds and eyes and hearts were filled with many literary figures and authors. We walked the meadow where Louis Carroll saw his colleague’s daughter Alice play. We played Pooh Stick on a bridge over the Isis River (only called such through the town of Oxford); and I’m sure I saw Ratty and Toad slip into a hole in the bank. Dorothy L. Sayers, Lord Peter Whimsey, Inspector Moorse, Lewis, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien…I know I’m missing lots. But these all have influenced my life. Oxford was like a first oogle-eyed trip to Disneyland for the literary conscience.
We lifted a pint of bitter in a toast to Jack and Warren Lewis and Tolkien and the rest of the Inklings who met inside the Eagle and the Child Pub. Cheers!
See you again sometime, sweet England.