(Adapted - largely copied, even - from my pen-and-paper journal. Photos linked as appropriate, with shocking disregard for whether they belong to the right day.)
Guess where I am! That's right, baby!! London!! It is so beautiful and familiar, and so good to have Steve with me this time.
It is also good to be off that damn plane. I was nervous, and tired, and cramped; and couldn't see out any windows; and basically the only good thing was that British Airways has these cool video screens in the seat-back in front of you, so you got to choose your own viewing material. I re-watched Big Fish. That was pleasant. They also provided the headphones free, and had some music channels if you didn't want to watch the video. I was all about the soothing New Age.
But really I didn't feel normal or decidedly happy until we got off the plane, out of Heathrow, off the Heathrow Express train (which doesn't go through the most stunning scenery), and out into the relatively fresh air in Paddington Station. Then, seeing those huge double arched tunnels, and Tube signs, and the interest on Steve's face as he took it all in, I finally felt good.
Walking in the intermittent rain, to the Houses of Parliament from our hotel here in Westminster, made it even better. (Photo: Steve with a Parliament building.) Then having some Indian food, like real British people do, made me feel kind of sick again. Now I just want to sleep - that time-zone jump is a killer - and get all refreshed for tomorrow.
Oh, cool thing on our walk: a British guy on the street asked us for directions. Heh! Of course we couldn't help him, but it's good to know that even having been in the country no longer than six hours, we apparently don't resemble tourists. Wait till tomorrow, when I strap on the camera.
Today I went from being unable to swallow water without wanting to throw up, to stuffing "rich shortie biscuits" into my mouth with great relish. I suspect the illness was basically jet lag/exhaustion, for it wasn't responding to any of my usual tricks except sleep. I told Steve he ought to go out while I slept, so he did. He visited the Tate Gallery, where reportedly he saw "lots of very detailed paintings of people with spaniels."
When I was finally up and functioning again, in the early afternoon, we took the Underground up to the British Museum. It puts the spaniel collection to shame. Man, what cool stuff. We had time to see most of the Egyptian, Greek, and Roman exhibits, along with some British/European stuff. I, linguist, was most interested in the hieroglyphs and other writings - including the Rosetta Stone, of course, but I couldn't get very close to it in the hordes. (Photos: Exterior of British Museum, with Molly as tiny figure in green jacket. Hotly-contested stolen Greek statuary.)
We then had some dinner at a sandwich shop and proceeded to Regent's Park for a walk. Got fairly soaked in a rainshower, enjoyed the flowers nonetheless, and made it back to our hotel. (Photos: Steve in Regent's Park. Some flowers in Regent's Park. Here is a desktop-sized version of the same thing, if you want wallpaper.)
Had a busy day. Westminster Abbey was crowded. Man. Never seen it like that. But, still, a heck of a place. I need to inhale the scent of that ancient dank stone every time I come to this city, it seems. (Photos: One of the many facades of Westminster Abbey. Molly holds a Sellen Construction bobble-head doll up so that he can admire the fine craftsmanship of the Abbey. Steve in the secluded College Garden of Westminster Abbey.)
Speaking of scents: I'm not sure what it is, but when I smell the air in this hotel, or on the trains, or outside, I'm constantly thinking, "Yep, smells like Great Britain." Old stone, sycamores, rain, bus fumes, train fumes, cleaning products popular in Britain...hard to say, but I definitely recognize it.
Anyway, in the afternoon we went to Oxford, which was rather too loud and crowded for my tastes. But having dinner in the pub where Tolkien and Lewis hung out was pretty cool. I'm glad we did that. (Photos: Molly at the Eagle and Child, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis's favorite Oxford pub.
Tomorrow we're headed south to Petersfield to stay with our American friends Joe and Adrea (here for study and work purposes), and I'm not sure what all we'll do there. Even if it's a great time, we still have the drag-all-our-stuff-thru-Britain's-railwa
But it'll be nice to get out of the bustle of London. And must remind self that at least we're not camping!
Woo! I'm in a hobbit hole! Joe and Adrea's place is pretty much that small. I can touch the ceiling, and have to duck under at least one doorway. And the surrounding area is beautiful! It's quite Shire-like actually, this South Downs region: rolling hills and valleys of emerald green, some forests, hedgerows, sheep, stone cottages, stone walls along narrow country roads, quiet footpaths, daffodils. Quite an improvement over London. (Photo: The house of Joe and Adrea. Note height of doorway!)
So, yeah: we checked out of the hotel, dragged our stuff to Victoria Station, and used our Britrail passes to catch trains to Petersfield, where Joe picked us up. Yes, he dares to drive on the left. Brave man.
He then showed us around Petersfield, a calm and lovely market town of some 20,000 inhabitants, and left us to our own devices for a couple of hours while he attended to some university business. We strolled around the town's pond, where we decided that the word "bucolic" must have been invented. Also visited a very cool old bookstore full of ancient editions of this and that.
Then we rejoined Joe, who took us to their little house, which is actually in the village of South Harting, a few minutes' drive from Petersfield. We and their dog Booker went on a walk up Harting Down, where we got gorgeous views of the aforementioned bucolic valleys, hedgerows, and villages. I stuffed some chalk rocks from the ground into my pockets for souvenirs. (Photos: A lovely country house that probably costs more than I want to know. Joe and Steve on the South Downs Way. The view from the South Downs way. Also available in wallpaper size.)
While Adrea made dinner, Joe took us on a drive of the surrounding area, through more villages. A fine meal ensued, and we now find ourselves in their bedroom while they sleep in the living room. Awfully generous, that.
Tomorrow we get more of the same, including possibly a glimpse of the English Channel. Right now I'll just revel in being in Shire-like Wodehouse country. (He lived around here.) Cheers!
Joe was kind enough to squire us around in their car, so we got to investigate places we wouldn't have gone otherwise. Saw the ships HMS Warrior and HMS Victory in Portsmouth, fully restored and most impressive. (Photo: HMS Victory.) Also tooled around in the New Forest, which, it must be said, looks like forests back in Washington, only less beautiful. So, moving on...drove through some pretty villages and cities, including Winchester (of Jane Austen fame), and winced at how much it cost Joe to fill up the car. (50 pounds! That's practically $100 these days! A fill-up in Seattle costs $30 on a bad day...)
For dinner Joe and Adrea took us to this completely off-the-beaten-path pub/restaurant, The White Horse I think it was called, which had the dim lighting and general decor of an 18th-century inn. Great food and atmosphere. We paid, to ease our consciences.
And when we went outside the sky was black and sparkling with stars, even though it had been a cloudy day. We listened to genuinely funny radio comedy on the drive back to their house, and I knew all was right with the world except that I can't come here very often and don't own a country house in the South of England.
This room and this hotel, the Kirby Moor Hotel in Brampton (way up by the Scottish border), wins my vote for best accommodation so far. Not only is it a clean, cozy, elegant B&B with great food, and labradors running around, but the view is gorgeous. Out our window we get a look northward at rolling green hills with farm buildings here and there, and a rather rugged Jane Eyre type of look to the whole thing. (Photo: The two labradors of the Kirby Moor. Hugo is black, Henry is golden. Both wiggly and young and affectionate.)
That's fortunate, too, considering how hard it was to get here. Oh, not the train journey from Petersfield. That went about like clockwork. But when we got off the train at the Brampton station, imagine our perplexity to discover we were not actually in Brampton but a mile and a half outside it. With all our luggage. And some sheep hanging around looking at us. And a light drizzle falling. (Photo: The Brampton train station. Note the vast crowds of travelers.) Figuring there must be a phone from which we could call a cab, we started trudging up the road. Well, long story short, by the time we found a phone we had already trudged down a highway and into the middle of town, and figured we may as well just walk the rest of the way to the hotel. So that's what we did. (Photo: downtown Brampton. Cute, eh?)
Oh, yeah, I was irritated about it. But, hey, it's a great hotel, and no point being unpleasant. Dinner made the world look a lot better, as always. Needless to say, we're using a better map for tomorrow's adventures.
Steve, I think, now understands that I do not do marathon-length stretches of physical exertion, of any kind. A half day, tops. Still, I survived, and it wasn't too bad.
I even enjoyed the majority of our hike. We took a bus to Haltwhistle, then walked up a footpath to Hadrian's Wall, and followed that path back to our hotel. Not sure how far it was - 15 miles? - but it took about seven hours, and went up and down a fair amount. There are actual hills here, it seems.
That did make the walk prettier, of course. Though practically all of it was through sheep fields, there were also crags and forests and streams, and a lovely gray sky with spatters of mist to keep us cool. (Photos: Beautiful craggy Northumberland. Also available in huge wallpaper sized version.)
The Roman wall, when visible, was very cool too - quite an achievement, I can safely tell you after walking a good portion of its length. (Photos: Molly, with dopey expression, at the Wall. Steve, master of Hadrian's Wall.) More dramatic, though not quite as old (1300's rather than 100-200 AD) was Thirlwell Castle, or rather the ruins thereof, built near Hadrian's Wall, from its stones. Quite Gothic-romantic looking. (Photos: Thirlwell Castle, small version. Thirlwell Castle, big desktop version.)
I'm glad I can say I did this - I just didn't exactly love all of it at the time. However, thinking back on all the stone cottages and daffodils and sweet-smelling meadows with that super-short turf we just don't seem to get in the Northwest US, I can still safely say I'd love a summer home here.
Also, I love the chocolate-backed "digestive biscuits" that are so cheap here. Do we even have anything like that back home? Anyway, tomorrow it's Scotland, me lads 'n lasses. Goodnight.
Next up: week two, Scotland.