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Week One: England.

(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.)

April 4:
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.

April 5:

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.)

April 6:

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-railway-stations Olympics to perform on either side of it.

But it'll be nice to get out of the bustle of London. And must remind self that at least we're not camping!

April 7:

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!

April 8:

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.

April 9:

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.

April 10:

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.



( 30 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 18th, 2004 01:48 pm (UTC)
1) Lovely photos!

2) A pox on your LJ formatting, which makes link text almost identical to non-link-text, colorwise.

Apr. 18th, 2004 02:36 pm (UTC)
Thankee! And, yeah, I was noticing that too. Thus, I switched it back to the Old Style, at least for now. Regular underlined links are much handier.
Apr. 18th, 2004 02:54 pm (UTC)
Absolutely gorgeous pictures! I'm so jealous! Thank you for sharing the pictures though. I now have a new desktop (the one of the flowers in Regent's Park) thanks to you. I can't wait to see the ones from Scotland! So glad your trip rocked and that you got home safely.
Apr. 18th, 2004 03:31 pm (UTC)
Grrr- tad bit jealous. :)

One of my lifetime goals is to hike a portion of Hadrian's Wall. That, I am sure, is an occasion that will stay etched in your memory from now until doomsday… lucky duck.
Apr. 19th, 2004 08:44 am (UTC)
Yeah, Hadrian's Wall was a highlight for me. I must have done a book report or something on the wall in elementary school, and the place really stuck in my head.

They just completed a ~70 mile trail along the Wall in 2003, so if you've got the time you can hike coast to coast. Just remember, to be considered a serious walker in the UK, you've got to pull your socks over your pants.

We did about 13 miles along the wall, plus about 4 to get to and from the alignment. The section within the national park is great, the wall is in good (considering its age) shape in this section, and you can see the fort and turret outlines (Hadrian decreed that there would be a fort every mile along the wall, and two turrets between each fort). Another neat section included the old bridge abutments over the River Irthing. The river meandered toward the valley wall, so you can see the three different versions of the bridge (four if you count the new metal bridge) that had been constructed.

Another note on the 'craggy' picture included above, is that you can see the roman quarry on the right side of the picture, now filled with water.

Let us know when you head over, and we'll send over the spiffo map they put together to go along with the national trail.

(no subject) - dirae - Apr. 19th, 2004 07:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mollyringle - Apr. 20th, 2004 06:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mollyringle - Apr. 19th, 2004 03:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dirae - Apr. 19th, 2004 07:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 18th, 2004 03:54 pm (UTC)
Lovely pictures! Brampton looks like Canterbury. I've snagged the South Downs for my desktop.
Apr. 19th, 2004 03:06 pm (UTC)
Ah, I wanted to go to Canterbury! Didn't have time. Next trip, maybe. :)
Apr. 18th, 2004 06:17 pm (UTC)
I love the British Museum! My mom and I had an argument about the Greek statues when we were there last Christmas too. Chocolate covered digestive biscuits are awesome. My grocery store has a special frou-frou aisle that stocks McVitie's Digestive Biscuits, which are awesome. Other than that, I haven't been able to find a real American substitute for it. Hope you have a great time in Scotland--I've never been, but my roommate Dayna swears that it's "an alternate dimension where the women aren't so cute but the men are really, really hot". ^__~ Take care!
Apr. 19th, 2004 03:09 pm (UTC)
Well, we didn't actually argue about the "Elgin marbles" ourselves, but understood that it is generally a hotly contested topic. Our basic view was: "Wow, they stole a lot of stuff from its rightful owners. But I guess if they hadn't, we would never have seen it, so there's an up side."

I bet if I look in the import aisles of the grocery stores, I could find some digestive biscuits. But will they be as cheap as they are in the UK? Hmm...

Hee, well, not all Scottish men are hot of course, nor, I suppose, are all Scottish women un-hot, but the accents are luscious. Managed to restrain self from tackling the occasional polite, witty, Scottish-tongued young man while there. Though it was difficult. Husband would not have approved. :)
Apr. 18th, 2004 06:39 pm (UTC)
It sounds like you're having an amazing time. Eager to click on all the pictures. Jealous.

You'll also be pleased to know that in your absence, my excerpt from your LJ went over like gangbusters in my meetings at the Kettering Foundation. Will tell more.

You will LOVE Edinburgh. And look out for signs for Jedburgh - yes. On the river Jed.


Apr. 19th, 2004 03:12 pm (UTC)
Re. Kettering Foundation: cool! It amuses and delights me to think that my frivolous LJ is being considered as a serious phenomenon in deep-thinking circles.

I did and do love Edinburgh, naturally. One of the most beautiful cities I've ever seen. Much nicer now, they tell me, than in the 17th century, but the same could be said for most places.

Didn't visit Jedburgh, but I'm pretty sure I did see signs. Too bad - I could have gone around smugly telling everyone, "I actually know Jed."
Apr. 18th, 2004 06:55 pm (UTC)
Lovely pictures! It sounds like a wonderful trip.

I too adore those "digestive biscuits". Let's campaign to make them more readily available in the States! ;)
Apr. 19th, 2004 03:15 pm (UTC)
Yes - either campaign, or start up our own cookie-making company and make a fortune. *crafty look*
(no subject) - satedsmiles - Apr. 29th, 2004 08:18 am (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 18th, 2004 11:50 pm (UTC)
Lovely photos! I especially love the HMS Victory. The tall ships just boggle my mind. Can you imagine trying to keep all those ropes correctly rigged and aligned in a storm? It's a wonder anybody ever got out of the harbor.

Looking forward to Scotland!
Apr. 19th, 2004 03:16 pm (UTC)
Gah, I know. The total length of rope used came out to some number in the miles. It was insane. The boats are really impressive, though - about five or six levels within each, neatly outfitted for their respective purposes. Very 'Master and Commander.' :)
(no subject) - elycia - Apr. 19th, 2004 11:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mollyringle - Apr. 20th, 2004 06:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 19th, 2004 12:48 am (UTC)
I'm so sorry. I have laughed and laughed my way through this entry. I used to live in London and the first thing that set me of was the less than pictureskew scenery on the Heathrow Express. Heh Heh. Also much giggling at the pictures with spaniels in. I guess I tend to take it all for granted having lived for 4 years and, frankly, I'm used to old pictures with paintings in. Just a side note, I've also been the White Horse! :-) Yummy meal.

Hope that you had a wonderful time!
Apr. 20th, 2004 06:31 pm (UTC)
Hee! Good good - I hoped it would be humorous. The spaniel thing became a running joke. We'd nudge each other every time we saw a spotted dog, and say, "Hey look, a spaniel..."

Hah! Didn't realize you were so close to the White Horse vicinity. It showed up as "Pub With No Name" on our credit card bill. :) If I'd realized how near you we were going to be, I might have tried to meet you guys as well! Ah well, hindsight and all...
Apr. 19th, 2004 01:10 am (UTC)
Those photos are incredibly lovely. I adore the Northumberland photo. It's certainly making its way to my desktop, thank you. :)

We have those chocolate-backed digestive biscuits here in Australia too (one of the perks of being a former British colony?) and in fact, I think there's a pack of them in my kitchen right now. McVitie's Digestive Biscuits, to be precise. The most popular biscuit in the whole UK, apparently.
Apr. 19th, 2004 07:33 am (UTC)
Glad you had fun over here! :)
Apr. 20th, 2004 10:29 am (UTC)
All I can say is that I am SO jealous and apprecitiative of the pictures.

And the HMS Victory!!!!!!!!!!!!
Apr. 24th, 2004 08:01 pm (UTC)
Also, I love the chocolate-backed "digestive biscuits" that are so cheap here. Do we even have anything like that back home?

I love those too. If you can't find them near home, try http://www.ukgoods.com/. IMHO, McVitie's Hobnobs are even better than their digestives, and they come in both milk and dark chocolate varieties.
Apr. 26th, 2004 08:37 pm (UTC)
Mm, those sound good! Haven't tried those yet.

Ahhh, that page has the Scotch Porage Oats too! With the guy wearing the kilt and the undershirt, and hefting the shot put! Hehehe. The picture on that box always cracked me up.
Apr. 24th, 2004 08:02 pm (UTC)
"Yep, smells like Great Britain."

That really takes me back - the island really does have a unique scent.
( 30 comments — Leave a comment )

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