England 2003 — EF trip

We aren’t traveling much these days, but we can remember the “before times.” I’m grateful to the Garretts who taught me to journal after a trip, the better to remember the experience. This is a bit wordy, a bit rambling, and photos will be scarce, but the memories are there. 😉 Nice photos on this travel blog (thanks for “liking” me) https://lovetravellingblog.com/category/united-kingdom/london/

England 2003 — EF trip Mary Garrett

“Never pass up an opportunity for a good loo stop,” words of wisdom from Penny, one of our guides to the wonders of London.  “Mind the gap” and “stand to the right” — heard frequently on the Tube.    Signs read “Caution, pickpockets and purse thieves frequent this area.”  I wondered why they weren’t told to move along elsewhere.  Then in Greenwich I saw a sign that said “Caution thieves: undercover policemen operate in this area.”  Now that’s more like it!  I also liked, “Polite warning: do not leave your bicycle in this area.”  We wondered about all the signs warning that anyone assaulting subway (or customs) workers would be prosecuted — our informants said it wasn’t a frequent problem, just a courtesy to warn people not to do it.

It’s a nice walk” meant prepare to hike to exhaustion!   The EF tour of London and surrounds was fast-paced, packed with experiences, exhausting, and wonderful.  Mary Lu and I were constantly saying, “I’d like to see . . . there isn’t time now;  next time” which means there will have to be a next time!  It was especially difficult to leave Stratford at 3:30, when I wanted to stay for days!  The next trip will be more leisurely.  At odd moments on the trip, I read appropriate books,  I Am Morgan le Fay (from my school library) and Parrot Pie for Breakfast: An Anthology of Women Pioneers (from the bookstore on “our” corner of Notting Hill).  On coming home, I’ve been listening to Amy Douglas’ Stories of Shropshire, to enjoy the feeling and sound of England a little longer.  (On the plane over I watched How to Lose a Man in 10 Days and asked the British youth seated next to me if what they said about commitment scaring a man away was true.  He said perhaps for American men, but British men weren’t so afraid of commitment.  On the way home there was no one next to me to discuss Chicago with).

One of the docents at the Field House once said, “Children see faster than adults” when Joy was trying to hurry me along as I lingered over the Victorian rooms.  Since this was a student tour, things moved fast, and the kids had a great time!  I did my best to keep up and used free time to rest, savor, and reflect.  Before I left St. Louis, Margie had suggested that I’d be better off just staying over for the two weeks before the ETSU cruise, and on the way home I vowed to remember that if I ever have two trips come so close together again.  I also have to admit that the U.S.Air flight was the most “basic” flight I’ve ever had to Europe — pampering was not on the agenda.  

The 7-day trip was really only 5 full days in England, since travel took so long, and I am writing under the influence of jet lag and exhaustion.  (By Fri. a.m., after 12 straight hours of sleep, I am feeling better.  Thursday I had naps between doctor visits — passing my annual physical even at my worst — by the time I finished all the tests and bought groceries, I was really wiped out, almost sick from exhaustion).  I had taken a cab home from the airport, wise enough not to want to drive exhausted, and the driver was an interesting man from Ethiopia, happy and grateful to be here, proud of his U.S. citizenship, providing well for his family, but filled with worry about his homeland where his parents still live.

Pam Lowy was a wonderful tour leader!  Her friendly, “perky” guidance took us through and around all “obstacles.”  We were especially impressed with her facing off cars and buses, determined to get her whole group safely across busy streets together.  The music of many horns often accompanied her performance.  She coordinated transportation and guides masterfully, and befriended everyone along the way.  We were impressed with her skill and patience, and her tattoo of the Japanese characters for patience.  We gladly followed her up-raised notebook, umbrella, or hand anywhere, and laughed at the young man on a street corner who tried to imitate her with an up-raised program.  Her mnemonic tricks for remembering the stops were fun, effective, and contagious.   I especially appreciated her efforts to secure latex-free meals for me, sometimes difficult because we would be  told that there were no latex gloves used and then find out we were misinformed.  Fortunately, kindness prevailed, and managers would find a way to prepare food without the gloves. 

The (Nottingham) Hill Gate Comfort Inn was a charming old building, with tiny rooms (our twin beds were touching, with little room for moving them apart), balky elevators, and noisy plumbing (but a full-pressure shower, not like American low-flow restrictions — it felt so good after a day on the Tube).  There was a substantial breakfast downstairs to get us started on our day, and they were accommodating enough to provide it at very odd early hours to meet our schedules for tours and airport (one group had to leave the hotel at 3 a.m. for the airport — they stayed up for it, which I had been tempted to do in Istanbul).  One of the participants said, “Everything in England is upstairs, hot, small, expensive, and not to code . . . and we love it!”  

The Tube — very interesting, complex, and complete system, overcrowded at times (we had a discussion of “accidental contact” vs. “inappropriate closeness — get an adult if you need help” after one encounter).  Efforts to reduce traffic in the center of London now include a tariff for cars traveling there, and encouragement to take buses, not the Tube, which is already so full.  Pensioners have a discounted fare, but only after morning rush hour — they will say to the driver, “Am I too early?” hence the nickname “Twirlies.”  Finding our way as a group was really easy; if I did lose sight of Pam, I just looked for the blue and orange EF backpacks several of the students carried.  The “cult of the blue and orange backpacks” is taking over the world; we saw several other groups along the way.

When I finally ventured out on my own Monday afternoon with a lovely boat ride from the Globe to Greenwich and “tubing” back to join the group for dinner, I was impressed that people were not only willing to help me find the way but actually very interested in figuring out the best way, with the fewest changes.  It is sometimes hard to find the stations, tucked away in odd spots.  When a disabled train stopped the line at Piccadilly, I was assured that Covent Garden was only a little walk (not a “nice walk”) and really not that hard to navigate, using my time-honored method of asking someone every few blocks to make sure I was still on the right track.  One man, about as confused as I was, sent me a half-block or so the wrong way — he realized that when he passed our group waiting outside the restaurant I was seeking and asked them to pass along his apologies for sending me the wrong way — how’s that for courtesy!!  

Dealing with money was interesting, too — I hadn’t realized how slow it is to make change when  I have to actually read the amounts on the coins instead of just knowing; I felt like a five-year-old just learning what money is.  After visiting the Globe, and using up most of my money (should have used the charge card), I found myself with a handful of coins, mostly “coppers,” realizing they wouldn’t be enough, and having the vendor graciously accept the handful as “close enough.”  Just a kid again, begging ice cream with my pennies.   It’s nice when people are so kind and gracious.   Of course, a trip to the ATM restored my purchasing power.

On our first day, MaryLu and I took a brief stroll of the neighborhood and came back to move in and rest while Cassie (from Arkansas?) took her kids on a long walk through Hyde Park, past Buckingham Palace, and who knows where else.  On one free morning (6/7?), I slept late, breakfasted slowly, and took a short walk to nearby  Kensington Garden where I enjoyed the children’s play area/garden, sat and read for a while, and enjoyed the conversations of ravens and starlings.  The young and energetic used the time for a trip to the Tower of London, which I will see on my next trip.  I did rather come to the conclusion that I wouldn’t really have the stamina to take a student group, unless I could feel confident enough in them to let them go some places alone.  I felt bad about my lesser energy until I did some math and realized that I had 20 years seniority on those intrepid chaperones, and that my restful free times allowed me to keep up the pace of the rest of the adventures.

So . . . adventures!  On the first day, once all groups were present, Pam took us for a tour of the area.  By the way, our bus driver in from the airport estimated that renting one room, with kitchen and bathroom shared, would cost the equivalent of $1600/ month!!  My, weren’t we posh, in our room with its own bath!  We took the Tube and walked across the Tower Bridge (? — I’m a little sketchy on notes here).  We took nice photos of London, Big Ben, the Eye (another attraction that some of those very active students managed to take in) and enjoyed nice barbecue at Sticky Fingers, to the background of Rolling Stones music.  

6/6  Liz was our guide — talked about the “Upstairs/Downstairs” history of the West End houses, built to accommodate families with servants, now broken up into expensive flats.  She showed us a “flyover”  (overpass) which I had wondered about in a short story “Billenium,” and detached houses out by Riding Court Road.  (I noticed that the owners of “attached” homes asserted their individuality by painting and roofing their units with individual style and choosing different colored doors).   We also found out that St. Matthew’s, built 1888, the burned-looking church which MaryLu and I had seen on our first day’s walk, was most likely so dark because of pollution from the days of burning soft coal. Liz remembered being sent home from school early on days when the smog was particularly bad.  Many buildings have since been cleaned; now that the air is cleaner, it makes sense to do so.

Windsor Castle was one of those “pinch me” experiences — I didn’t quite believe I was there.  We crowded around to see the changing of the guard — I loved the bagpipe music!  It took a while, as they did paperwork connected with turning over responsibility.  Jim recognized the Captain of the Guard as an Australian chum from his time in the Vietnam War, and he ended up having “tea with the Queen’s own”!  The Queen was home, according to the flag, but she didn’t come out to say hello.  I did get to see Queen Mary’s Doll House, with such intricate detail (I decided I’d like to stay in the Queen’s bedchamber, if she were ever not using it) and the King’s Closet where The Merchant of Venice was once performed.  There were most impressive displays of weapons, and the Order of the Garter was explained as well,  Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense . .   Evil to him who thinks evil.  

Nice pictures at  http://www.heraldicsculptor.com/Garters.html

My Fair Lady in England, with real English accents.  A wonderful production, with an interesting  version of “Get Me to the Church” using trash cans for rhythm, as in “Stomp,”  and chorus girls dancing to “London Bridge” and  bringing in a bit of “Moulin Rouge.”  It was wonderful and left me humming the tunes.  The million or so stairs to the balcony were almost too much for˙ us, but it was worth it!  Mary Lu and I debated whether it was a love story — I think it is, though not the usual romance, more unspoken and undemonstrative, but understood.

6/7  St. Paul’s, Christopher Wren’s tomb plain — “my monument” the church above.  I loved the plaque commemorating the masons “the men who shaped the stones.”

The guide at the British Museum was the prim, proper, intellectual one would picture for the site, a bit too dry for our youngsters, tired out as they were from their active “free morning.”  She took us from the beginnings of Cuneiform Writing, through Egyptian works, Greek (no remorse for taking the Elgin Marbles), Cornish, and the ship burial.  I have to admit to being a bit befuddled myself on some details, though they were impressive displays.  It was the 250th anniversary of the founding of the museum, and among the special events of the day, they were giving all the children . . . balloons!  I spent much of my day dodging children with balloons, and while my companions tried to “run interference” for me, they hadn’t the practice the “greats” have had.  I finally moved outside to wait for the group and go home.   Sigh!  (stupid allergies!)  I wasn’t so distracted, though, that I didn’t notice when the guide said Persephone was in Hades with her father (now that would be a whole different story, wouldn’t it?)

Medieval Dinner, was fun if a bit hokey.  Eating soup without spoons was only partially effective, and the place was a bit smoky, but the singing was good, the dancing was boisterous, the sword fight was interesting, and good will abounded.  On the bus going home, I sang the “Anne Bolyn” song and Jim sang an interesting “Circle Song” that I want to learn.  We enjoyed the lights of Harrod’s and an interesting traffic light sculpture, and we discussed the mysterious zebra crossings we had seen earlier (having to do with the zig zag lines painted on the pavement). 

6/8  Stonehenge — 2000-1500 B.C.  shrouded in mystery, and now protected by barriers.  I kept wishing we could get closer, but I suppose it has to be protected (one of the few places I saw No Smoking signs — outdoors at the Stonehenge site).  Our guide explained that the stones were erected using carpentry skills in stone, using as tools the antlers of red deer and cattle shoulder blades (this theory tested out by scientists, as Larry Kinsella has done with his atlatls).  The fact that they could spare so much of the strong male work force meant that they were relatively wealthy.  It was amazing!  We saw lots of poppies on the way — they only grow where the dirt has been dug up (as for trenches).  We saw contented sheep, too, and lovely rolling hills.

Bath — the Roman baths were much more extensive than I had imagined, and the “Bath water” wasn’t all that bad, a bit warm and some mineral taste, but nothing you’d have to hold your nose for, and it’s supposed to make you strong and healthy.  Residents can have daily doses for free.  (Of course, the story we heard of prescriptions of Guinness – Guinness is Good for You — for pregnant ladies sounds like more fun).  There are plans to build a working spa using this natural hot spring, and remembering how rejuvenating the bath was in Turkey, I’d say do it!  There was a craft show in progress, so I came away with Forget-Me-Nots preserved in a pair of earrings and a little limestone hedgehog.  Mary Lu met up with Amanda and spent the afternoon and evening with Amanda and Tom — and their baby! — instead of playing tourist.  Taking the train back to London was quite successful also.

We ended the day with Pizza in Soho, wonderful pizza and a wonderfully eclectic place — chandelier and exposed ductwork, disco balls, partially exposed brick walls.  Delightful!

6/9  Globe theater.  Exciting connection to the past — almost a pilgrimage.  The theater is lovely, but we couldn’t take pictures (though other groups were — go figure!  Right now I am wishing I had been more defiant).   It is so much more decorated than I imagined!  The workshop leader explained how different it is to perform in the Globe, with the audience so close and so much interaction between the actors and the audience.  This was echoed by one of my helpful “guides” on my afternoon adventure.  I wish we could have seen a performance (– next time!)  I loved all the exhibits of how clothing was made and dyed, woodworking, past performances.  I even indulged in a computer which allowed the recording of myself in a scene, then replay with other voices and applause!  It was fun!  I saw school children doing it later and having just as much fun!

Afterward, I took the short boat ride to Greenwich, passing the church that blessed our Pilgrim fathers (and mothers) on their way to America, and the Mayflower pub, made from some of the timber of the ship.  We also saw Cuckhold’s Row, where a row of ducking stools punished unfaithful wives once upon a time.  The guide was funny, explaining that the donation box was for “research” funds — and that they did much of their research in the pubs along the Thames.  He pointed out that the view of the river from one pub had been a favorite of many artists, then said that he had seen Van Gogh there.  The bartender asked, “Vincent, do you want another beer?”  but he answered, “No thanks, I have one ‘ere.”  (My favorite corny joke of the trip; Pam’s frayed knot story is second). 

I walked a bit in Greenwich, admiring the college quiet and the Cutty Sark, and then took the train to Canary Station, walked past six million shops to finally find the Tube station, and made my way to dinner in Covent Garden at Bistro 1 (where the waiter worked so hard to come up with a latex-free and potato-free dinner.  He brought tiramisu in place of the banana dessert; so he is of course my new best friend).

The evening’s theater was Bomb-itty of Errors, a rap version.  I tried to keep an open mind on this, and truly there was some clever rhyme and lots of energy (and too much volume — I used kleenex to make ear plugs and wished that this had been the night of the balcony seats).  Several of our group were offended, and some of the humor was far over the line.  I keep thinking of really good comedians who refuse to go for the cheap laugh.  This could have been a far better effort if they had avoided scatology and worked more on wit.  An evening at the Globe would have been far better.

6/10  Stratford!!!!   This was the best part!  Sacred ground! Avon means River — Strat (street) ford.  John Shakespeare was a glover (samples of work and materials in the Birthplace House) and a usurer (like Shylock?)  It was wonderful to walk in the houses and imagine life, relatively cozy apparently.  The garden at Anne Hathaway’s House was stunningly beautiful, and both gardens smelled wonderful, with all the fragrant herbs.  Mary Baker, the first curator of the house — no relation to my colleague Mary Baker, but I still loved it!  Pewter shown off as a sign of wealth, polished to look like silver.  Wooden trenchers for everyday, licked clean, thrown out when too greasy.  Clockwork spit to turn the meat.  Showing off the best bed in the main room — conspicuous display of wealth.  

We walked to the Avon, of course, but the graveyard was “a nice walk” so “next time.”   We had a pasty for lunch (Cornish meat pie — I had them in Jamaica).  I had refused to stop at a McDonald’s — not after going all the way to England!   I found the t-shirts at the lovely art shop Cassie told me about, and got M. Night’s Dream and The Tempest shirts, lovely shirts, designed by the owner’s son, who also designs beautiful glass.  If we had had enough people signed up, we could have stayed in Stratford for a play there . . . ah well!  

On the way, we admired all the beautiful Cotswold farms, rolling hills, hedgerows, dry stone walls — farmland as it should be, perhaps.  We learned that sheep raising was so successful because, as an island, England could eliminate the wolves.  (Rams with bag of dye to mark the ewes).  Most important crop — high protein grasses to feed the sheep and cows.  Second — wheat, bred shorter and with heavier grains on top.  Third — barley.  Also rape seed (canola).   Post office because of posts on which the mail would be hung.  He also explained why the private schools are called “public” — open to the general (paying) public, not restricted to church members or clergy.

Woodstock — Rosamund kept there.  Then Queen Elizabeth I (by Mary).  

Blenheim Palace — Churchill born there

Oxford was interesting for architecture, Christopher Wren. 

Bodleian Library — King James —  all 5 orders of columns, Tuscan, Ionic, Doric, Corinthian, and Composite.  Late Gothic — 15th C — fans, buttressed.  18th C. Baroque — Radcliffe, Camera

The students’ dining hall — very like Hogwarts’ though on a smaller scale. 

Broad St. — Martyrs’ Monument — Cranmer, Ridly, Latimer — Queen Mary’s burning of Protestants (5 years, 350? victims). 

Dinner was very nice stir-fry, once the manager provided untouched-by-latex ingredients.

Home on 6/11 — tired but full of memories.  Seatmate on the plane had been staying at a low-cost place, the Cherry Court Hotel (for future reference).

Our tour leader constantly warned us to tuck our vital stuff inside our shirts, and either it worked or we were very lucky.  It’s a shame that there have to be dishonest people (as I think to myself whenever I fumble for my keys).  My friend left her passport on the plane (she had tucked it “temporarily” into that little pocket on the back of the seat in front of her).  Fortunately, the customs guy was nice and gave her a temporary pass to the baggage area, where the USAir rep. went on the plane and rescued it.  Whew!

I am finishing this on Sunday, 6/15.  Last night I saw a powerful Macbeth in Forest Park.  Joy and Joe brought all five little ones, and toward the end I had Robin barely awake on my lap, C.J. to my right, sleeping against me, and Nikki in front of me, asleep with his head on my knees.  When Macduff was exclaiming, “all my pretty ones, dead?” I felt his sorrow more intensely, surrounded as I was by such little innocents.  That was surely the monstrous act that would turn all with a pulse against the monster Macbeth had become.  

Joneal Joplin as King Duncan was also a presence one had to respect and mourn as well.  I had been afraid that the play was too intense for such young ones, but when I pointed out everyone safe and sound at the curtain call, Robin said, “Aunt Mary, they are actors; it’s just a play.”  They fully understand so much, bless them, and the plays live on.  My Aunt Yoko and her grandson Isaac came with me.   Isaac declares himself not a reader, but loved the play, performed as it should be.

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