London, Bath & Stonehenge: Day 3

Today we hopped on our proper coach bus to travel 85 miles southwest in the direction of  Winchester- perhaps best known as Jane Austen’s burial place.  Along the way we saw pockets of sheep- but not a dent in the 33 million sheep in the country. We also came mighty close to the home of Peter Gabriel, who took up residence in a box. I mean in Box. 

We arrived at Stonehenge on Salisbury plains while our American families back home were still in REM sleep.

We were given an audio tour of the henges, with options for details about the lintels, the Druids, and the history and mystery of these giant trilithons … The tour was self paced and piped through devices that look like the initial cell phones of the late 1980s. After the tour, we were able to visit a gift shop, which was not there when I visited 30 years ago!

Next we headed to Bath. “Bangers and mash! Be sure to get some of that while you’re here!” Exclaimed the tour guide Barry Bennet… A cheeky British fellow who loved to roll his r’s. I sought out anything BUT bangers and mash, and found a mouthwatering Brie and cranberry panini that I won’t soon forget!

This same cheeky tour guide entertained us with lots of great little vignettes of British culture and history on the way… One of the more memorable was the fact that “since the beginning of time” all people in England were given milk each day at 10:30am. “But then,” he said,  “one person came along and decided to pull those milks- it was Margaret Thatcher- milk snatcher!” Not sure how many heard these little morsels- many were, as Barry Bennet liked to say, “in the land of nod.”

Barry also pointed out the residence of Jane Austin’s family in Bath- #4. They lived in Bath until poor Jane contracted tuberculosis and had to return to Winchester.

Bath was a satisfying side trip. We wandered the streets looking at the detail of the buildings. Barry Bennet told us that women of long ago days who lived in Bath “weren’t expected to walk anywhere. They were placed in sedan chairs and carried everywhere! Look to the left-  there’s one!” Ummm… No thank you!

The architecture in Bath is beyond impressive. The details are stunning. The Bath Abbey was particularly inspiring, with carved angels climbing up Jacob’s ladder on both sides of the building’s facade.

The Roman Bath tour was slightly disappointing. It was a mad house and while the self guided audio tour was informative, the tour now focused on only the main public bath and “museum” exhibits of the rest. When I was here as a kid, I seem to remember seeing some of the private baths as well as hearing more of the gory details of how they flushed the waste down trenches, etc. Oh well- it was still fascinating to revisit this ancient bath house of the Romans.

We took the bus back 2 1/2 hours to London’s Jugged Hare pub where we had a traditional British meal of fish and chips and green peas. After dinner, we hopped a train, minding the gap of course, and then got to ride on the top floor of a red London city bus back to the hotel!

Tomorrow will be an early day- wake up call is slated for 5am. We will be taking the Eurostar over to PARIS!! 

Je ne peux pas attendre pour manger une crepe a paris!!!!


London: Day Two

I lit the morning on fire- literally! The breakfast buffet was phenomenal  at the hotel- fruits, eggs, a host of meats for the carnivores, breads, cereals, croissants…

So. I filled my plate with watermelon, eggs, and a croissant. I wandered to the toaster and popped my croissant on the conveyor belt. As I gazed at it with my “no coffee yet” haze, I happened to look over and see a sign…
 Oh. The meaning of that sign began to materialize in my mind nearly the exact second that I saw the croissant catch on fire. Orange and blue flames responded with immediate feedback to this foreigner who was far too tall to make it under the burners. I jabbed my knife in, in a feeble attempt to put out the fire. The blaze refused to relinquish its grip on my croissant. The smoke pouring from the toaster gave away my struggle. The breakfast bar attendant raced over. Without a single shard of humor, she pointed angrily at the sign and asked if I could read. 
I was at a loss for words, so I apologized profusely, while still attempting to grab hold of the flaming croissant. She grabbed a giant pair of tosngs and fished it out. She left me to gather my plate and respond to 30 kids who were chuckling at me. 

I glanced at the croissant table, now clearly understanding why the table was on the opposite side of the room from the toaster. A male attendant was there, staring at me with his arms crossed. I immediately felt like Oliver Twist… “Please, sir, can I have some more??”

I didn’t toast the second one, and told my students, “please learn from my mistakes!” 

After breakfast we hopped on another “proper charter bus” and headed back to London for another epic tour. Our first stop was Buckingham palace- home of 90 year old queen Elizabeth. The queen was not at home, and we knew this because her designated flag wasn’t not flying. The traditional guards were there to look after the royal house.

Our next stop was the breathtaking Westminster Abbey. Oh, how I have spoken of this place over my decades of teaching British lit. I just stared in utter awe at this massive structure of ornate beauty- built in 1066 to be England’s coronation church. I was so hoping to see Poet’s Corner, where  rest of all my favorites- Chaucer, Blake, Dickens, Austen, Eliot, etc- but the line made this something for my next trip over! 

From the abbey, we wandered over to the statue of Churchill. He was one sour looking chap- but what a wit! Our tour guide shared some memorable blips about his dialogue with Elizabeth Braddock:

 Elizabeth Braddock: Mr. Churchill, you are drunk.

Churchill: And you madam, are ugly. As for my condition, it will pass by the morning. You, however, will still be ugly.

Harry Potter fans were enthralled by the next part of the adventure, which took us past the city of London School from the film- also the school that the actor Daniel Radcliffe attended.

 We then crossed the famous Millenium Foot Bridge- also in the revered Rowling flicks. Before we hit the bridge, our tour guide made a point of telling us that people mash their chewing gum into the bridge, and local artists create art out of it. Naturally, my mind envisioned intricate designs made from the chewing gum.  I managed to snap a few photos to showcase the local gum artistry…

 The view was spectacular from the bridge- and I was particularly ecstatic when I realized that we were nearing the Globe Theater! Although the original Globe burned to the ground when the special effects of a cannon went ary- it was rebuilt in painstaking detail and continues to serve London with great helpings of Shakespearian plays. 

We walked back across the bridge, and straight into St Paul’s cathedral. As we approached this landmark, I recalled all the times I’ve read Blake’s  Holy Thursday to my students- asked them to visualize his  “flowers of London” marching in. The original church burned in the fire of London, but Chrostopher Wren  rebuilt it to be the symbol of Protestant England. 

The final stop on the tour was the Tower of London.  Here we wandered and learned the history of this place that is almost 1000 years old. 

We dined at a fun Asian noodle restaurant, where we are with chop sticks. These noodles were delicious when sprinkled with a healthy helping of soy sauce. 

Dinner ended and we took a train to see Wicked. That was absolutely spell bounding!  Will write more about it in tomorrow’s blog.

I have to call this one a day. Morning comes early!


London: Day One

What a day. I don’t think I could ever tire of hearing the local color of the Brits. As soon as we hit the Tube (Londond’s subway), I listened to the soft voice over the speaker, “please mind the gap,” she said… So deliciously proper. And of course my ears perked up when I looked at the Picadilly line on which we were traveling… A line that lead to Covent Garden… A place I’ve taken my students each year- to see Eliza Doolittle- a place where a cockney flower girl might find an honest tuppence…

We left the tube and set off on foot. Our first stop was Trafalgar Square. It was packed with tourists who were there to appreciate (Horatio) Nelson’s column, guarded by four giant lion statues made of solid brass. The square is a gathering place commemorating the Battle of Trafalgar. And from the top of the stairs, visitors can see “Big Ben and Parlaiment, kids”! There were some fantastic street entertainers out today- but probably my favorite was Floating Yoda.

While there, we were able to experience our first public toilets. They made me recall my old college Econ professor who repeatedly chirped about  “no free lunch “. In order to use the potty, you had to play 20 pence. Put the coin in and go through the turnstile. 

Next we went on to Picadilly Circus. Here we were given a bit of free time, so I wandered and snapped some interesting “Londonesque” photos… I do believe this “loyalist” loved his job…

Next, we went to Leicester  Square, home of the Odeon Theater- the Brit’s version of the red carpet- movie premiere hotspot. 

We ended up at a local restaurant where all 30 of us got traditional English meat pies and mash. Wow. Sounded like a double negative to a vegetarian who hates potatoes!  Fortunately, they had a veggie pie for me… And didn’t seem too bothered when I excused myself from “the mash”. The pitcher of water left on each table was room temperature- ice is clearly a hot commodity in London. Ha!

After dinner we headed back to the Hilton Croydon hotel, via, according to Devon-native tour guide Simon, a “proper coach bus.”  Along the way, before I snuck in a power nap, we saw a few more landmarks-Big Ben and the Thames river among them.

The day was amazing. I’m still pinching myself to ensure that I am not in the midst of some post-school year dream. People are  noticeably polite here… Always saying,  “oh, so sorry” when they bump you, holding doors, etc.

I’m off to bed now, but can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings! I know it includes a meal of Asian noodles, a city tour of more London highlights, and a ticket to see Wicked!