England: Nugget or Noogie
Vacations are like panning for gold. They take a lot of preparation if you want to succeed. While you are in the midst of them, you are so busy you hardly have a moment to savor the experience. Only afterward when you stare down into the pan do you realize how many flakes of gold you have. Sometimes the flakes are minuscule, sometimes you have a nugget but in our vacation we … Well, I’ll let you decide.
Some of the tiny fragments of gold came from just being together. Mom gave us the 6th Harry Potter on tape so we listened to it all the way down to the motel in Frisco. We all (except Malachi, of course) read it a while ago but we laughed and speculated on what would happen during the 7th book. We had a fabulous meal of sushi (note: bring a laptop when going anywhere! You can search for good restaurants much easier online than by driving around). The friendly couple next to us recommended a violently green seaweed salad. Malachi, especially, feared trying it. BUT, Oh, sweet and salty goodness. We loved it.
The next morning we went to the airport to fly to England. On the way there we lucked into a golden nugget. Malachi and I were headed up the escalators (definitely one of Malachi’s favorite vacation highlights) when I heard someone calling my name. I turned around to find an old friend from college that I hadn’t seen in over 10 years. We had lost touch with her family and most of the great group from the family dorms that we had done so many fun things with. We had regretted losing contact so much that we actually still have a picture of our crowd standing barefoot and sandy on a sunny beach in pride of place on our frig. I was so flabbergasted I actually couldn’t bring her name onto my tongue! (Yes, that was embarrassing!). She, Mela, and her husband, Wang, and their 3 kids were moving to Belgium and were on the same flight as us. We crammed in as much conversation as possible. I wish we all hadn’t been so hurried. I would have loved to relax and catch up with them.
A few of the golden flakes from the flight lodged in my mind are:
1. The tiny dark-eyed girl behind us cried every hour or so but Malachi would pop over the seatback or peek through the crack at her until she would laugh with delight and settle back quietly on her relieved parents’ laps. It worked every time. And though we adults never spoke to each other, when we parted at Heathrow Airport they waved such a passionate goodbye to Malachi and me that anyone watching would have thought we were close friends.
2. Quinn’s delight at looking out the window—his first remembered flight.
3. Wang appearing with a set of playing cards just as we were getting bored.
4. Malachi snuggled down on the floor in front of our seats sleeping quietly, lights dim and only the hum of the engine and the slap of Kevin and Clay’s playing cards.
The next tiny shimmer of color came after we left the plane and as we were on the train headed to London. All my life I had heard of chimney pots. Ahh, the tops of chimneys are shaped like pots there. CS Lewis’ book, The Magician’s Nephew, came alive as we watched whole rows of identical houses attached to each other flash past with chimney pot hats.
London taxis—black and curiously shaped on the inside like a carriage. I’m convinced that fast invisible horses pulled them. I’m sure I heard the clopping of hooves.
Our hotel—beautiful Georgian mansion with wrought iron gates and a lovely garden. Steps leading up to white doors in a red façade. The Banks’ family from Mary Poppins could have lived here but inside—uhmm early gym locker. Our room was about 10 x 10 with beds almost touching each other in various hideous and clashing bedspreads. The women’s bathroom was down the hall…waaaaaay down the hall (I think Moaning Myrtle might have visited there. I have to admit it was kind of cool in a Oh-here-is-what-a-English-school-bathroom-looks kind of way). And the men’s bathroom was right outside of our window, so if I had been a dirty old woman (well, 2 out of 3) I would have enjoyed the sight of various unclad young men coming from the showers. As it was I have a vivid but horrifying memory of pulling back the curtains to see what looked like several members of a rugby team snapping towels at bare backsides (while I stared frozen at bare frontsides). One young fellow caught sight of me. . . Even though I hurriedly dropped the curtain, I couldn’t help blushing. In fact, my cheeks (facial cheeks not the other ones) are little hot now.
Quinn and I couldn’t wait so we immediately headed to Westminster Abbey. Kevin came along to be polite and Malachi was invincible– ready to go anywhere and do anything on less than 2 hours sleep. Clay stayed behind to sleep. I think the Abbey was wonderful but jet lag struck and I actually laid my head down on a chair that had snuggled the behinds of generations of English gentlemen—and I slept. The Globe Theater, the walk along the Thames, the Jack the Ripper walk we gave them up and crashed in our motel room. I did persuade Kevin to walk with me for a couple hours around London. The gardens are beautiful and the streets narrow and intriguing. I loved the tall curving black iron lamp posts with their cascading baskets of red and pink geraniums.
The next day we picked up our car outside of London and headed to Chipping Camden in the Cotswolds, a lovely country area of England. The sun shone on some of the most lush green countryside I’ve ever seen. The roads were nearly as narrow and curvy as the Salmon Creek road and trees bursting with health flowed onto them (which made seeing signs extremely difficult). Kevin found driving on the “wrong” side of the road extremely stressful. The rest of us found Kevin stressful. (Did I say how grateful I am that he drove during the entire trip? Just repeat that whenever Kevin is being a bit cranky…I did. That’s how we stayed married throughout the trip ;>)
Chipping Camden is an old sheep town about the size of Garberville but about 1000 years older. The streets are cobblestone and only one small car wide so people park on the sidewalk. Our lovely landlady met us and took us into our upstairs apartment. (I know this isn’t a surprise to you but THEY ALL SPEAK WITH ENGLISH ACCENTS… I love English accents! “Deah, I dare say you heard about the flods but it has not ever floded heah.”) First she unlocked the door to the hall/alley (I know in America there is no such thing but I swear that somebody took an alley between the street and the tiny gorgeous back patio and put a roof on it—voila! A halley!) Then she showed us where a little door led up some narrow rattan covered stairs into our wonderful 16th century apartment. We loved the whole crooked building with its beautiful furniture and big duvet covered beds. And its patio with vibrant green plants and ancient half hidden well in the lower right corner.
The next morning I had recovered from jet lag and wanted to go but a gentle rain was falling and everyone was still sleeping. I thought we would go to Stratford-on-Avon (Shakespeare’s hometown and my most anticipated tourist spot) later so I let them sleep. I practiced my Tang Soo Do and felt harmony with nature…
IT wasn’t in harmony with me. When Kevin woke up, I looked out the bedroom window into the street. Yikes, water, like a muddy fog, swirled around tires and tried to slip into doorways. Kevin got our car out before it got as bad as the picture below and then we sent Malachi to watch TV (we never lost electricity!) while we filled sandbags and tried to save the lower apartment for our landlords. Unfortunately, the water kept rising.
so we never did get to see Stratford or Warwick castle.
The downstairs elderly couple had to be carried out one at a time on a strong fireman’s back. At some point during the night, a giant lorry with tires as big as a car drove through the street shining spotlights on the houses asking people if they needed help. The friendly rescuers got quite excited when Malachi stuck his head out the window. “Lord, there’s a tyke all alone in there.” And even when I appeared next to him, they were still worried about us. “I say luv, do your lot want rescuing?” We reassured the crew that we were fine and, surprisingly we were. We had a wonderful quiet couple of days.
Eventually, on the day we were scheduled to head out, the waters abated (think Noah’s ark and the dove) enough that we could walk around and see the incredible medieval town we were in. The Market Hall was built just after 1600 and was so old the stones were worn 4 and 5 inches deep in places.
Some of the graves looked as if they had been dug when the world was young and Fairies walked in sunlight.
Kevin and I discovered a tiny medieval garden surrounded by a thick stone wall with a little arched gate entrance and we explored it holding hands in the morning mist—Magic!
We headed off to see a friend at Bristol as the rain began again. On the way, we stopped at an ancient castle that is still inhabited. The grounds of Sudley Castle were impressive but much of it was horrifyingly modern—note Clay’s face as he looked at giant Crayola-colored metal sculptures that we chose not to capture for posterity… .
Katherine Parr, Henry the VIII’s last wife, was buried in a wonderful church on the grounds. Malachi is seated in front of her effigy. The stained glass lit everything with a silvery light.
We visited Rusty, a friend of ours in Bristol but did not get any good pics though we really enjoyed seeing him and his wife and little girl. (Note I am avoiding any mention of the 2—yes 2 full hours–we spent lost trying to find our hotel. I’m not sure my marriage can survive the recounting of how unpleasant Kev…oops I mean the situation was—Did I mention how grateful I am that Kevin drove?)
Then we traveled 5 hours to Hastings the next day and it was one of those golden flakes that can be found when you least expect it. I had captured the new Harry Potter book and Clay, Quinn, and I took turns reading aloud as we crossed one of the most beautiful areas I have ever seen from a freeway. The car hummed quietly. My sons read so that the story lived and Rowland’s world was around us. We also had discovered English shortbread cookies. MMMM! Contentment is one of the most beautiful feelings and one of the hardest to describe. It was only broken as we got lost trying to find the Hastings Medieval Lodge. Did I mention how much I love Kevin for driving (us all insane with his crankiness!)?
The Lodge was on a wonderful crooked cobble street with Tudor style houses lining both sides. It was tiny and dark and (in spite of being decorated in an odd tye-dyed lavender) it was wonderful in a you-could-crack-your-head-but-wow-people-lived-here-800-years-ago kind of way. Clay developed a Quasimodo appearance.
We ate English Breakfast that included blood pudding (yes, made out of a very dark blood, probably ancient dragon, but none the less rather tasty) and a thin ham-like bacon that was wonderful. We went to Battle Abbey where William the Conqueror did his conqueroring bit—shot poor King Harold in the eye they say. Out of guilt or glee, he had an Abbey built. Just short of 1000 years old, every stone lay as if it had been placed there at the beginning of the world and would never move. We didn’t think Clay would move either—The Medieval Lodge had fast internet and Clay choose to sleep during the day and play at night.
But when buildings are that old even their guarderobes (toilets) seem interesting.
Here we are below the toilets in the sewer…
Clay and Kevin
and even Malachi dressed for the occasion.
Then we drove to Bodiham Castle. One of our favorite spots. The ancient stone castle surrounded by a huge moat looks like a knight will come riding scattering the goose girl and her geese at any moment.
In Bodiham, we noticed a reoccurring theme of Europe—people aren’t afraid of being sued–or of someone dying. I became aware of this fact after allowing Malachi to race ahead of me up the tower stairs. I leisurely arrived at that arrow slit at the top to find him literally hanging out the window. In America, not only would the tower have been roped off but bars would have been secured over the not so narrow slit. I came to appreciate this attitude as I found it easier to imagine the medieval world without a lot of modern safety nets intruding. However, as I rescued Malachi from his airy perch I was not as appreciative as I would later become.
After a week in England, we headed to Heathrow Airport to fly to Germany. We ended up getting a wee bit lost (yes, this was another reoccurring theme) and becoming worried we were going to miss our flight if we didn’t find the rental car return place. We decided to pull into a large Sheraton motel and ask directions. As we entered the narrow driveway, we discovered a lorry driver parked in front of us. He got out. Got back in. Got out, etc. Kevin (did I mention I appreciate the fact he drove the whole time?) got impatient (if you can call a bull charging a matador impatient) and proceeded to drive the tiny rental car over the divider (a small garden with largish rocks—picture wham, bang, scrape) and into the parking lot.
I gasped, “Keeevin?”
He stared at me in hostile disbelief.“What?”
“Oh, nothing,” I said airily (why I was not more direct can only be explained by the belief shared by everyone in the car that I was taking my life in my hands should I express anything short of “My God, you are an amazing driver and without you we would miss our flight.”)
After getting complicated directions from the Pakistani hotelier, (I consider that there was some kind of magic carpet at work because there was an entire hotel filled with Pakistani men–from the bellhop to a lobby full of turbaned customers). As I exited the hotel another nice Pakistani man helped me find the car that I had walked past twice (apparently some sort of Freudian slip—though why I wouldn’t want to get back in the car I leave to your imagination) and then he urged, “You look for rental place? Not go the way they,” he spoke scornfully and waved a hand at the magic hotel, “say. Go this way.” And he gave a short series of simple directions. Kevin waved a grateful goodbye and we headed for the exit. …A metal gate barred the way. Apparently one needed to feed it a ticket—which one was supposed to have gotten as one entered the parking lot. Apparently, we missed this small step with “our” unorthodox method of driving over barriers. No ticket, no exit! No one even glanced at Kevin. No one wanted to be accused of looking as if they thought we had entered the hotel parking lot in a less than optimum manner.
While we were contemplating this conundrum and the boys and I were carefully not saying anything, a large, large bus pulled in behind us effectively blocking us from backing up.
I’m glad tourists are not allowed guns. I think Kevin could have given a whole new meaning to going postal. The silence in the car had actual weight and texture. Eventually, I escaped the car and got help. The hotel reluctantly gave us a ticket to get out and, only being able to remember the easy directions from the man I now call the Pakistani genii, we actually got there quickly and we made the Rental place with some miniscule amount of minutes to spare…. Somewhere there is a Pakistani genii kindly laughing his ass off at stupid American tourists. When we arrived at the airport, everyone thought the vacation completely barren of gold but looking back… Hey, we made the airplane.