Thursday, June 2, 2011

My 2011 Trip to England

Day 1 - Tuesday, April, 26

Well, after the innumerable incidents last night (trying to finish packing – maid didn’t show up, so I had to clean house as well), I made it out the door in good time today.  Over months of planning, organizing, phone calls, emails, reservations, and excitement… it’s finally happening!

The plan is to drive to Houston Bush International Airport, park on a surface car lot, and get through security in loads of time.  I had checked the cost of surface parking on the net, and it was only $59 for 14 days!

All that didn’t matter much when I showed up in person and was told I would have to reserve ONLINE for that price.  It ended up costing me more like $89.

All was well, though, and I caught the shuttle to my terminal.  I had read up on jet lag, and the plan was to minimize as much as possible.  If you want to do the same, the suggestion is to purchase jet lag pills (you can get them at pharmacies and at REI).  Take one pill an hour before takeoff and regularly (per directions) through the trip.  Also, drink lots of water, don’t drink any caffeine, and eat very lightly.  Get up and stretch from time to time to prevent deep vein thrombosis (a potentially deadly condition). 

I traveled Continental and was very impressed with the flight and the customer service of the airline.  MUCH better than my “bus with chickens and goats” ride on US Airways last time.  This is the first time I actually had a choice of hundreds of things to watch and listen to on the movie/music channels onboard.  Whoohoo!  I watched three movies going over (I have real difficulty sleeping on planes).  I thought I would land like a wet rag, unable to move or think by the time I got to London.

Day 2 - Wednesday, April, 27

Upon landing, I was as fresh as if I had slept 8 hours!  My internal clock has always been “daylight” geared.

I arrived in Heathrow with the horrid cough I had for the past few weeks.  It has now become a continuous hacking.  I’ve been medicating heavily and eating cough drops like candy!

Anyway, I took a taxi to the hotel (for £42!!!).  It really was ridiculous because I could have easily gotten to the hotel via underground for about £2.  Grrrrr.

I was immediately given a room at the Best Western Chiswick Palace which is between central London and Heathrow.  It’s a lovely hotel on a beautiful tree-lined street with upscale shops and restaurants.  As I was so early, the hotel gave me a room in their “annex.”  This area is a little more threadbare and much smaller than similar single rooms in the main hotel.  It really didn’t matter to me as long as I had a place to sleep!

My room overlooks a courtyard and lovely well-tended garden.  I showered, changed, and went downstairs.  The staff here allowed me a full English breakfast even though I hadn’t stayed the previous night (I won’t have time for breakfast tomorrow).

After breakfast, I headed to Buckingham Palace via underground.  Bought my commemorative Wills and Kate Oyster Card:


Which is a ticket to ride, basically.  More information on the Oyster card here:

I landed in the middle of a multitude of people who had arrived for the royal wedding event on Friday (it is now Wednesday morning).  Out of that multitude of people, somehow I met my new friend… an Irish lady named Geraldine.  We hung together, took pictures, and had a few “wows” as well as a few laughs:

Picture by Geraldine:

There were an amazing number of media there.  Lots of anchormen/women being interviewed, satellite towers, temporary media boxes, an incredible number of English flags, and a general sense of excitement!

Media boxes

News Satellites


Kate and Wills’ gateway to Buckingham Palace – the “Mall”

Police were very visible.  At one point, I saw a number of bicycle police carrying automatic weapons.  They wouldn't let me take a picture of them. :(

Geraldine and I then went to Westminster Abbey to get a few shots of the "wedding chapel."  Again, lots of media and throngs of people.

Westminster Abbey with Camera Stuff

We said fond farewells as Geraldine went off to breakfast and I headed to the Imperial War Museum.  On the way, I saw a crowd at the Royal Horse Guards.  Then, out of the blue, a royal carriage trotted by on a dry run!

But, even more impressive was that I, evidently, was just in time for the changing of the household calvary!

At the Royal Horse Guards, there was a short ceremony as it seemed one garrison shifted command to another. *That* garrison trotted off down the road. They were resplendent in red and silver on their black horses.

By the way, if you wanted Cheesy Souvenirs (and, of course, I did!), there were plenty to be had!  I picked up a few before heading back to the hotel.

At Chiswick, I found an internet cafe, uploaded all my photos, and posted them for folks to see (and for KHOU TV to use if they wanted).

I picked up an egg and cress sandwich, banana, a coke, and a royal wedding paper to read.

Came home coughing *constantly*.  I took some Nyquil and went comatose for a much-needed rest.  At around 6 pm, I forced myself awake and took some cough syrup I'd bought @ the local chemist shop.

This popped my eyes open, so I hit the road again looking for post cards, but most of the stores had closed.  I just wandered down the beautiful streets and peered into windows.  At one point, I was looking into a spa window and did a double-take!  There were women with their feet stuck in fish tanks!

Well, of course, I had to investigate. How strange!  But, the women said it worked, so I gave it the ol' Austin Weird thumbs up and took off again.

Thwarted by the lack of post cards, I returned home and watched one of my FAVORITE BBC TV shows (Master Chef).  It's done 100x better than the one in the U.S. (will someone PLEASE fire Gordon Ramsey???).  Our Food channel still hasn't gotten it right.  They need to watch this show, copy it, and get on with it!

It's getting late, so I'm going to Nyquil up and get some rest before my trip to Woking tomorrow.

Day 3 - Thursday, April, 28

Got up at 5 am and set off for Waterloo Station.  Met Linda and Chris as planned and had a lovely time!  For some reason most of my pictures that day did not show up when I was downloading from my camera, but I do have a video or two!  The following is just a gorgeous thatched cottage we saw as we drove along the back roads towards Whitney, Chris' birth town.  BTW... Whitney is a lovely little town with a market and gorgeous tree-lined streets.  Idyllic, I'd say.

I just want to take a moment to thank Chris and Linda from the bottom of my heart for hauling me around the Cotswolds!  These are two of the loveliest people I've ever met, and I am so happy they found each other!  I'm sending you two virtual hugs from across the pond!

The not so nice part of the day was that my lunch didn't sit well with me, and I ended up having to stop about every five minutes to find a ladies room!  Poor friends!  I'm still so sorry about that. But, hey... we got to visit some unusual places looking for a WC! :)

There was a glorious little church we visited in a tiny village (I'm still not sure the name of the village or the church).  I do wish some of my interior shots had come through - because there were ancient murals on the walls!

Another place was a cute little pub where we sat in the sunshine and had tea.  Chris had the patience of a saint as we continually stopped and started our journey.

I was actually glad we got to Oxford a bit early as my body had pretty much given up on me by then.  I dosed myself with Nyquil and slept.  If you want to see a review of my B&B in Oxford, click here.

Around 6, I got up and decided to walk into town.  How lovely!  A lot like York with lots of shopping and restaurants and character!  I got back to the room and watched some TV before crashing.

Day 4 - Friday, April, 29 - Day of the Royal Wedding!!!

I stayed in for the royal wedding... didn't miss a thing!  It was great!  I sipped tea, watched all the proceedings, and didn't once think I would have rather been in the massive crowd outside the palace!  In the midst of this all... I heard bells chiming outside my window.  They chimed and chimed for Wills and Kate! I stuck my head out my bedroom window so you could hear too!

The wedding was absolutely fabulous.  I totally loved the tastefulness with which it was done and the elegance of the entire wedding party.  The bumbling of Charles and Di, the missteps, halting speech, and god-awful wedding dress were nowhere to be found!

It was impeccable.  Kudos to all who helped plan this spectacular event.

London will surely be trashed after this ends!  Still awaiting the balcony kiss.

Well, a more perfect wedding I've never seen.  Not one kiss, but two!

Afterwards, I went to the hop on - hop off bus for an abbreviated tour of Oxford.  It's a lovely city!

I've not been eating so much due to the fragility of my tummy.  Today, had a light breakfast of eggs, tomatoes, and toast.  Lunch was a spinach and ricotta "friand."  Dinner was just an afternoon tea that included black forest gateaux and tea.

I did some more shopping, came home, paid my bill, and packed.

I'm all ready to go - just hope I wake up in time for the train!  I didn't think I'd need an alarm clock... silly me. :)

Watching Britain's Got Talent before going to sleep...

Day 5 - Saturday, April, 30

Up at 5:00 am and over to the rail station.  I was even able to catch an earlier train - which meant I didn't have to change in Birmingham (I try to avoid Birmingham like the plague!).

I was met at the station by the lovely and effervescent Sandra (Sarn) Penney.  This young lady has always gone above and beyond for me.

I just want to add a little aside here.  A lot of folks think the English are stand-offish or even cold and introverted.  I have never found that to be true.  The friends I've made across the pond are the most generous (more so than even us American Southerners), kind, and patient of the many places I've visited.

Anyway, It was great to see Sarn!  She took me by her house, so I also got to see her sweet hubby (Neil).  Neil is the best!  Love the both of them to pieces.  Anyway, calling her house a "tip" - she refused to give me a tour!!!  BAD Sarn. :)  I love ya anyway. hehe.  So... after visiting her house, we went to check out my rental car and then to lunch!

Let me just say that the Enterprise Car Hire in Holly Grove is super - ask for Mike!  He loves Texans. hehehe.

I don't know the name of the place we had lunch, but it was a cute little farm restaurant with a proper English garden.  The weather was amazing, so we sat outside - ordered welsh rarebit and wine... then had dessert!  (By then, I'd discovered the English have Imodium!). hehe.

Garden area at the restaurant

Sarn and I at lunch

After lunch, Sarn went with me to pick up my car and guided me to the gas station - then lead me to the M60. I was afraid of the driving, but it was actually a breeze! I had brought a GPS with UK maps and got to Keswick in good time.

I stayed at my usual B&B (Goodwin House). I highly recommend this B&B to anyone - it's beautiful, and the proprietors (Marion and Peter) are very conscientious. Marion had my favorite room reserved for me, so I offloaded my bags and went into town to catch the market before it closed for the day.

I picked up a trail map for Latrigg (which I hope to go to tomorrow). The market was still in full swing, so I picked up a couple of things. Then got some post card stamps and had dinner at an Italian place.

And THEN did laundry! I met a lovely Aussie couple at the laundromat. We chatted for about an hour while our things were in the wash.

Came home and unpacked a bit... then packed my day pack for my hike in the morning. I decided to walk to my favorite little churchyard for some quiet time.

My thought, as I sat in the churchyard surrounded by the gorgeous gardens, mountains, and trees was if my dad could see this, he would understand why I'm drawn here.

I came back to the B&B and watched a bit of mindless TV.

Day 6 - Sunday, May 1

I was up at 8 am and had a lovely breakfast of poached eggs, tomato, toast, and a "pancake."  Much smaller and less sweet than our pancakes.  No syrup to speak of... but a nice breakfast, it was!

I decided to go into town for some newspapers and to mail a few postcards.  That accomplished, I returned to get my day pack and headed to Latrigg.  My tummy started doing flips on the way out, so I stopped long enough to get some more medicine (you don't want to be halfway up the mountain and get an upset stomach!!!).  Anyway, along the way, I passed some cricket grounds and cricketers doing whatever crickets do! :)  It was lovely and serendipitous (as are all my trips).  I love that magic about the travel I do!

This entire village is so picturesque.  Do you think they'd mind one additional American?

Marion had told me the trek to the summit and back would be about two hours, so off I went.  The journey started through Brunholme Wood which would put the Smokeys and Blue Ridge to shame.

The trees were ancient and lichen-covered as was the stone.  Everywhere you looked, there were waterfalls and streams.  I had it mostly to myself - encountering only the occasional walker or runner.

I remember turning at one point and asking someone on their way down, "Am I there yet?"  And was told it was another hour to the top (I had been walking nearly two hours at this point and mostly uphill).

I could feel my weak right knee and ankle straining, so I picked up a walking stick and continued.  There were green pastures and recently foaled lambs with their mothers.  It was so peaceful.

Finally, off in the distance, I saw the summit!  By then, the wind had picked up considerably (I'd say gale force).  My hair whipped wildly around and I struggled to the peak.

 It was all worth it. The day was gloriously clear and you could see for miles. A passing couple from Birmingham took my picture, then we all headed down the other side of the mountain.

It was funny trying to figure out landmarks and such, but I didn't stray wrong.

On my return, I picked up a coke and an "egg mayonnaise" sandwich to bring home for lunch.  It was 2:30 by then.  The hike had taken about four hours!  After lunch, I headed back into town and bought mom a present... looked in the shops and stopped to see if a local friend might show up at the pub (she didn't).  So, I went and got some fish n chips for dinner (they gave me enough for the 7th Cavalry!) and went home to eat.

Decided to have a look at all the loot I got (that took awhile) and re-packed.

It was a bit after 6 pm, so I came to my favorite church to sit in the back overlooking old gravestones and up into the mountains beyond.  A perfect end to a perfect day!


I am still coughing a lot, but it seems insignificant.  I am so grateful for this time in nature and in my heart home.  The church bells ring the half hour and the sun is going down.  I am thoroughly blessed and joyous.  Oh how I wish God would let me stay...


Day 7 - Monday, May 2

I woke up and turned on the TV.  Found out bin Laden had been killed.

I watched our president happily take credit for his slaughter and proclaimed that freedom had been won by this action.

I think I'm the only one who didn't jump for joy.  I'm not happy that our government slaughtered a man or that this man slaughtered thousands.

I live in a world that finds happiness in killing.  It makes me sick.

I'm sitting in the churchyard at St.John's in Keswick and the bells just rang 7 pm.  After breakfast, I hopped in the car for a 1.5 hour trip (1.5 hours according to the English types I conferred with) to Howarth, W. Yorkshire to see the Bronte parsonage and museum. The main street was quaint with an old Apothecary shop.

I loved the self tour and bought a book on the place before I left.  I also picked up a t-shirt with the Brontes on it and a WWII tea towel.

The drive was a long one up and back, but it was a gorgeous day and my Brit-self was driving like a local. :)  I had a blast just touring the countryside.

I got back to town late (the trip took 3 hours each way) and headed straight for the market.  I'm purchasing a slate door panel that says, "Joy's Cottage."  I'll be picking it up tomorrow... sure hope I have room for all these mementos!

Logged on for a few minutes at the internet cafe to answer email, then took myself out to dinner for "shrimp n chips."

Had a lovely conversation with the counter help at the Old Keswickian restaurant about the states and England and misconceptions on both sides.

Afterward, I walked home, watched some news, and then came here to write.

It's cooler today than yesterday, but just as sunny.  I'm listening to the trees talking in the wind and about half a dozen different birds calling.

It's always so peaceful here... surrounded by centuries of headstones, delicately maintained grounds, and nature in all its subtlety and grandeur.

The mountains don't beat their chest and proclaim sovereignty.  They just undulate against the sky - gently grasping and releasing the sun.

The birds don't go on about ownership of the sky - they sing its praises.

It's as if God, in his generosity, loaned me their vision so I could tell you - there is love if you look for it.

Not on BBC1, but on the land and in the air.  I'm transfixed in a moment of eternity.

Further into the churchyard...

The path at the end leads up to where the benches are that I sit at in the evenings. :)

Day 8, Tuesday, May 3... The Day of Serendipity!

Well, I had nothing planned and did everything!

At breakfast, I asked Marion about the Alpaca Center (as I wanted to get something for Eric's parents).  Marion told me of a place called the Llama Karma Kafe in Penrith.  It sounded fun, so I went.

What a cool place! There's a cafe with a petting zoo.  Lots of llamas (they do a family trek business).  Also ferrets, the biggest damn bunny I've ever seen (a Flanders rabbit), monkeys, guinea pigs... you name it!

I took lots of pics and bought lots of souvenirs. :)

On my way back to the B&B, I was startled out of my daydream fantasies of moving back to England by what, to an American - even one who has lived in England - finds an oddity.  Just on the rise to my left... a castle.  Flag flying valiantly from the turrets.

Turns out, I was there right at opening time, so I paid admission and entered.

Brougham Castle was once one of those places that stood against the wild Scottish invaders.  The ruins were impressive... as were the views from the keep!

I actually hated that I had to leave the Castle, but so much more to do!

I stopped by the Alpaca Centre just to have a peek and see what was there.  Lots of alpaca-made stuff, few souvenirs, and they made you pay a pound just to see the Alpacas! However, I bought my adopted dad a pair of alpaca mittens and my adopted mom a sample of the alpaca wool. The counter help there was so nice!

That done, I came home to unload and went into town for some more souvenirs.  Fabric with English Roses for Michael, a dragon for Sandy. Got some cash and a sandwich.  Ate, then it was off to Derwentwater.

There are these little tourist boats that go round most of the larger lakes.  They can drop you off, if you're a hiker, and pick you up at another point.  Sort of like a hiker's Hop on-Hop off bus! :)  Anyway, I toured around the lake.

I spoke to some really nice people, and on the way home, I walked through Hope Park (which is lovely and flowery and manicured).

My mission now was to find the stone mason's place of business so that I could pick up my slate "Joy's Cottage" sign.  When I got there, I wasn't prepared for how big OR heavy it was!

How will I get this back to the B&B, let alone Texas!  argh.

Luckily the slate guy lived across the street from my B&B, so he delivered it directly to my door. :)  Getting it home was a leeeeetle more precarious.  (I did make it, though, as you can see.)

This being "Serendipity Day," on my way to the stone cutters, I saw an ad for the "James Bond Museum."  Who knew that in the tiny town of Keswick lay the mecca of James Bond fans?  Since my dad was one, I quickly made my way to the museum before it closed so I could get dad a few souvenirs.

I had dinner that night in a local pub.  "Vegetarian Kiev."  I should've stuck with the bartender's recommendation of a ploughman's:

The Kiev was very bland with mushy peas, carrots, and new potatoes.

Afterward, I picked up some foot lotion for dad, then went into Love the Lakes and met Sean's wife!  She was very sweet, and I got a postcard of Dougal and Casper.  Also got a dachshund tea towel.  Afterward, more laundry.

Amazingly, met an Aussie couple who were very interesting.  He taught teachers how to teach in his Catholic diocese and was on a research/teaching mission to Ireland (and doing a world tour along the way).  We had an interesting talk, and his parting words to me were that I *was* a theologian because I thought and spoke about God.

That left me feeling good and like my goal to find meaning in my life was becoming more and more clear.

I went home, picked up the HUGE slate panel from Marion, and went upstairs to partially pack.  Afterward, I grabbed my notebook, and here I am - again - in the churchyard at St. John's writing in my diary.  I think things are much more clear now.

I am going to spend my time between now and August saving as much money as I can.  I also want to write as much as I can so that, by august, I mostly just have rewriting to do on the Dr. Marvin book.

Now is the time.  I'm going to go look at the churchyard some more before going in for the evening.  I will hate to leave Cumbria. :(

Day 9, Wednesday, May 4... The Day of Sad Farewells

Another bright, sunny day.  I got up early, showered, and packed.  Then, put all the luggage in the car.  Had one last breakfast at the B&B and headed out to Penrith.

Goodbye to Marion & Peter.  Goodbye to Keswick.  Goodbye to the place I was meant to live, but never did. :(

Other than my GPS getting confused at critical points, I was able to find the car rental place fine.

My luggage is extremely heavy - mainly due to the slate plate I had made (not one of my smarter moves).  However, with my bum pack strapped around my waist, my daypack full of dirty clothes, and the tote luggage - I caught my 10:00 am train to London (a three-hour trip).

I landed in London and hauled the luggage to the WRONG tube stop.  Ended up taking another expensive taxi to the hotel. grrrr.

They put me on the top floor.  Thank God they had someone help me with the suitcase!  I immediately turned around (after ditching the luggage) to get things I'd promised people.

I traveled for ages on the tube til I got to Baker Street to get Robert's chess set.  Then, again, forever to the Imperial War Museum to get something for Terry.  Since the bus stop was there, I hopped on to get to a tube stop.  But, on the way, we passed Trafalgar Square and the box office for the show I wanted to see (The End of the Rainbow).  It's a musical about the life of Judy Garland. It's since finished its run in London.

I jumped off the bus and grabbed a ticket for tomorrow's matinee.  That done, I realized how famished I was.  I hadn't eaten since the morning!

On my way to the tube stop, I saw a Garfunkels (basically, a Denny's), so I stopped for a dinner of salmon cakes and baked potato.  It was edible.

On the way to the tube stop, I saw a grocery store - so I picked up some things for Thom the World Poet (per his request), and then took the looooong trip home on the tube.

I finally hit Turnham Green, and having promised myself a sweet, I stopped by a patisserie and got a lovely chocolate eclair to go.    Then, it was off to the internet cafe to answer email and post on Facebook before arriving back at the hotel.

MMMMMMM - that eclair was fantastic!

I unpacked a tad.  Watched a little British TV, and went downstairs for a snack.  All they had were breakfast cereals and coke. :(

Oh well...

Here I am writing you while eating bran flakes and drinking coke!

I wrote up a Trip Advisor report for the Chiswick Palace Inns & Suites. Scroll down to read the review.

Day 10, Thursday, May 5

I didn't sleep well (damn cough!), but awoke to a token day of overcast and gloom.  I'm kind of glad of it, actually!  One traditional English day before I go.

Today's plan is to eat breakfast, go to Camden Market, Fortum & Mason, the matinee show, and possibly St. James' Park if it's not too shabby out.


Kind of hard to write... my last day in England. :(

Ok, well around 9:30 I got to Camden Market, but wasn't moved to buy much.  So, I went into town to Fortnum & Mason.  Found out they no longer carry my favorite strawberry tea in bags!  Heathens!  They did have loose strawberry tea, so I got two tins.

It was lunch time, so I had a very expensive lunch at their cafe and went to kill some time before the matinee.  Found an internet cafe, took some pics and video of Scotland Yard, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, St. Martin in the Fields, and the National Gallery (most of which did not turn out!).

Afterward, I purchased a (bad) milkshake from McDonalds before heading to the matinee.

The show was magnificent.  Standing ovation (much deserved) at the end.

I came back to the hotel and stopped by a few charity shops, but thought their prices were outrageous!  I didn't see anything I liked anyway, so I stopped by the place where I got the chocolate eclair yesterday (Maison Blanc).

Picked up a tuna sandwich and another eclair (yum!), then came to the room, ate, and (ugh) packed.  Packing sucks.  A lot!

I almost cried today thinking of leaving, but God has other plans for me, I guess. 

American Idol is on TV, so I'm going to watch!!!

Up at 5 am tomorrow.



I got to the airport in lots of time, and checked one bag (since I had so much luggage coming back).  The security folks were worse than rude about the amount of liquids I had.  I offloaded some, but still had difficulty.  The amount they were allowing is much less than the US allowed me going over.  Note to self:  Pack all liquids in the check on luggage next time.

The flight was effortless.  Picked up my car in Houston, drove three hours home, and then prepared to unpack and settle back in.  The dogs were well taken care of by my sweet friend and housesitter, Lannie.  She's a gem!

Hope you enjoyed the journal entries.  If you have any questions about travel to England, please don't hesitate to drop me a line!

Bye bye, wave wave, kiss kiss... until we meet again, Brittania!