Friday, December 26, 2014

War of the Worlds and English Christmas Markets!

December 4, Thursday


I’m leaving for England in a few hours, but have to make up time working from home while multitasking my packing and managing the maid service.  It isn’t easy getting lift-off sometimes!  But, with Tammy there to house sit and take care of my dogs, things are moving along much more easily now.  Her car is packed and I’m ready to leave for Austin Bergstrom International Airport!

Of course, I arrived well in time for my flight at 6 pm (it’s 3 pm now), so I headed off to the Knot Anymore stand for a quick chair massage.  The girl I get assigned is more like a boxer than a massage therapist, and I feel punched and bruised by the time it’s all said and done.  That’s ok… nothing bothers me since I know in a few hours I will be landing in England!

British Airways, by the way, is not going to be my airline of choice in the future.  I wanted to try the non-stop flight from Austin to London, but several factors came into play for this decision to occur:
  1. Any call to their customer service center either ends up in the call center hanging up on me or a 30-minute wait time.  Usually both.
  2. You can’t reserve a seat in advance.  It’s a free-for-all at the 24-hour boarding pass print out time.  People who are taking connecting flights through London will get the better seats as their boarding passes can be printed off earlier.
  3. Even with frequent flyer miles, the tickets were $750 as opposed to the $150 with United’s frequent flyer plan (Mileage Plus).
  4. Inconsistent flight service.  On my flight going over, the only decent vegetarian food they had was a salad and some fruit.  For breakfast, they offered everyone else on the plane a croissant… but I got (guess what) FRUIT! And was rudely told that I could not have a croissant as I’d ordered the “special” meal!  Not so special, really.  I must say that the treatment on the return flight was not as surly and the food was almost edible.  So, I guess BA varies from flight to flight.
  5. Getting dumped into the HUMONGOUS Terminal 5 in London was an awful experience.  Normally, it’s an easy check through at Terminal 2 via United’s service.  I was queued up in four different lines along the way before they finally got me through the correct line.
United doesn’t fly non-stop from Austin, but the trip to Houston Intercontinental by car is only 2:37.  And you can get decent parking rates when you book online ahead of time.
BA does offer a complimentary wine service, but I never drink alcohol on a flight to avoid problems with jet lag.

December 5, Friday

I finally got through the lines in London and made my way to the connecting flight to Manchester.  It’s Friday morning now (around 10 am GMT or 4 am Texas Time), but I still have a connecting flight to catch to Manchester at 12:55.  It was going to be a long day!

Grabbed some breakfast at Wagamama (yes, a real restaurant in the UK).  Then headed to my flight.  The strangeness of having to be bussed out to a large jet and boarding it on a set of push-up stairs was a bit unnerving.  After all that, we didn’t get a jetway entrance?  Anywho… boarded, flew to Manchester, where I was met by the effervescent Sandra Penney!

She got me home, moved in, (I showered myself), and we prepared for a lovely meal at the Fiveways pub just down the road.  Quite honestly, after BA food, anything would have been amazing, but the Fiveways had great food AND a lovely Victoria sponge to greet me.

Halleluia, I have arrived!

December 6, Saturday

Sarn and I got up early and picked up a breakfast at McDonalds before heading out to Leeds.  That night was the War of the Worlds concert, and I didn’t want to miss a trick!  So, we took off early to see the Leeds Christmas Market and hopefully meet up with John Burland.  Sarn did really well on the trip in, and we didn’t mess up too badly on our parking either!  Got it right where we needed it so that it would be easy to get out after the concert.

Leeds Christmas market wasn’t huge or impressive, but it was sweet.  Sarn and I decided we should call Rob Kane to see if he was around and could meet up, and sure enough, within ten minutes, we were in the company of the Robster himself!  It was lovely catching up with him.  He was in town waiting to pick up his wife after her shift at the post office.  So, he returned after picking her up and we did a lovely tour of the Leeds Kirkgate market (  It was especially interesting as Marks and Spencers had gotten their start at the market back in the 1800s!

They took us to the canals where you could see people had “locked” their relationships on the bridge with actual locks. 

Then, off to a great pub lunch before Rob and Karen had to leave us.  They dropped us off at the start of the Christmas market and then took off with lots of hugs.  Thanks, again, you two for being such great tour guides!

Sarn and I decided to shop until the concert started.  There were LOTS of opportunities for that in Leeds.  I wasn’t buying so much that day, but Sarn (who hates shopping – just ask her!) bought new boots, new clothes, and even a Pandora charm!  I don’t recall buying anything at that point.  I did get a keychain at the War of the Worlds concert, but that’s a later story.

We did grab a bite to eat, but then headed over to the arena for the show.  John Burland was evidently running late, so we got to our seats (we had to sit several rows apart due to buying tickets at separate times).  But, the show was great – and we got to meet John at the intermission.  He gave me some of the paper leaves that had fallen from the rafters during the song “Forever Autumn”… it was a great time!

The drive home from Leeds was dark, rainy, cold, and windy.  Sandra did wonderfully, though, and we were home by around 1 am.  Thanks, Sarn, for braving the elements and for a SUPER first day on the ground in the UK!

December 7, Sunday

We wake.  I’ve slept like a baby in her bed.  Note to self: if I ever live in arctic conditions, remember to bring a goose down duvet cover.  I pull the duvet up to the top of the bed, straighten it, put pillows at the top.  Sarn laughs.  She doesn’t believe in making beds.

But, there’s something about a freshly made bed in a clean room that makes me feel like I’m coming home to more than just a place to flop.  At any rate, Sarn has made me VERY comfortable, bought me a new nighty and slippers (she shouldn’t have) and even bought new sheets and a new duvet!  Snug as a bug.

Sarn makes eggs and toast.  Manchester awaits today!

We are going to the Manchester Christmas markets, a tea at Cloud 23, and off to meet her friends Andrew and Paul in the afternoon.  The Manchester Christmas Markets were much nicer (and larger) than the Leeds market.  More to do, more to see, more to buy.  Our eyes bugged out at gingerbread, mulled wine, and a host of English and German foods.  I didn’t buy much (expecting to attend the London market later in the week).  But, it was fun, and kept us occupied until our tea time at Cloud 23.

Cloud 23 is on the 23rd floor of a glass skyscraper in downtown Manchester.  The 23rd floor juts out from the floors below it and those floors above also just out.  It’s a bit scary in the bar because there are glass panes where you can look past your feet to the traffic below.

Ladies Room at Cloud 23

But the views were spectacular, and they were sweetly decorated for Christmas.  Carolers sang live in the club and our tea was delightful!  We toasted with champagne as well as tea and enjoyed ourselves to the hilt.

After tea, we made our way back to a craft market to say our hello’s and to enjoy the afternoon with the “boys”.  I loved them both instantly.  Andrew was fun and funny, and Paul (though terribly exhausted from a long night shift) was very good company along the way.  We looked at art, visited a very interesting library, shopped at discount stores, and generally had a blast.

When we all petered out, we finally said our goodbyes and left for various destinations.  Since we had some time to wait for our train, we decided to ride the Manchester Wheel at night.  It was gorgeous!

Sarn and I took the train back to Hazel Grove.  We had been going to do a carvery meal, but were so tired we just decided to pick up some Chinese take-out (which was awesome).  Sarn, her husband Neil, and I sat down to the English version of Dancing with the Stars and quaffed refried rice and other goodies from the restaurant.

Definitely time to crash after all that excitement! And, best of all… off to London tomorrow!

December 8, Monday

The clock wakes me from a dead sleep at 5:55 am with the following loop (note, if you are sensitive to obscene material, do not watch!): AWFUL STUFF...evidently, Sarn had synched her phone to my clock!  I mean... REALLY, Sandra Penney! We will not soon forget this...

It's cold out.  Neil takes us to the train station… our train leaves at 10.  So cool… I love train rides!  Sarn got us some great prices on the tickets as well!

We board the train and there’s a lady at the “booth” we are sitting in.  We giggle a bit, the lady puts her hand to her eyes as if to make us invisible.  Obviously a business woman.  Obviously busy.  That doesn’t stop me from trying to say something to her.  When I try, she puts her hand up in a flat “STOP” position.  Never says a word to us.  Rudeness on wheels.  Cold bitch.

Sarn and I continue to talk and giggle until we almost reach London.  Ice Babe asks us to watch her stuff while she uses the loo.  Sarn says she will before I have time to throw my hand up in a “STOP” position.  Upon her return, Sarn has gotten a few words out of Ice Babe.  She says she’s the most boring person on the planet.  Me, not caring.

We get off the train and take the underground to Kings Cross station to pick up some gifts for friends.  Then, on to Tower Hill to check into our hotel.  This is the only hotel we’ll be staying in this trip.  It’s a Travelodge, but the rooms are quite large and clean (very good value for money).  It’s also extremely close to Tower of London and Tower Bridge AND a cozy little pub called, “the Minories”.  I will be staying at this Travelodge from now on in London.

The Minories

We checked in and unpacked, then met at the Minories for lunch.  AND pear cidre!  Lovely lovely…. ahhh… what a city.  I can lose myself so easily in its backstreets, markets, hideaway pubs, and huge superstores.  We made our way to Covent Garden.  It’s 4 pm, and the Jubilee Market is closing!  I quickly grab a Chelsea scarf for a friend’s son as the vendor puts away his wares.

The sun goes down early here.  It’s dark, and we need to make it back to the Travelodge where Sarn’s friend Claire is checking in.  I relax.  Sarn and Claire txt me from the Minories… so I head over.  They want to drink.  I want to crash.  Easy solution is to walk back to my room, which is where I ended that day.

December 9, Tuesday

I’m supposed to meet Sarn and Claire for breakfast, so I get my butt out of bed at daylight (8 am) and go to their room.  Sarn answers looking like death warmed over.

“We’re hungover,” she tells me.  “I can see,” I tell her.

Evidently, they had been out past when the Minories closed to another bar and had filled their boots, so to speak.

“Can you go without us today?” she asks.

“I’ll be fine,” I tell her.  “This is London.”  I leave my phone with them to charge and I'm off to have breakfast.  When I return, Claire answers the door and tells me about some guy they'd met at the pub the night before.  "Evidently, I look like someone who's meant to own a pony and drive a Range Rover," she tells me.

I grab my phone so they can sleep it off and head over to Hyde Park and the Winter Wonderland Christmas market.  Lots of stores. Lots of people.  London is people-dense.  I like open spaces, but somehow, it’s not so bad here.  Maybe it’s all the historical distractions.

At any rate, I’m at the gates of Winter Wonderland almost at opening time and am one of the first people through the gates.  My inner child is delighted! Santas and ornaments and mulled wine and smells of Christmas.  There’s even an ice rink with skaters grabbing the edges of the ring pulling themselves along. LOL I love it.  The shopping stalls (where I pick up several items for friends) are so interesting.  There are rides as well, but I’m not riding. 

I have a long talk with an illustrator selling his prints at one of the stalls.  He tells me I need to follow my passion.  “Sell England to the Americans!” he tells me.

I think about it.  He’s happy and flourishing.

I meet more people when I’m on my own.  Nice people. Happy people.  It’s Christmas. I’m on holiday!  I’m in England!

My phone is not working well, so I don’t know how I’m going to meet up with Claire and Sarn.  As I walk toward the exit, amazingly, the one jeweler I was looking for on this trip had a stall!  I was going to head to Camden Market to find him, but there it was!  The next coincidence was that the girl selling the jewelry told me that they don’t have a stall at Camden anymore and the only time you can find this jewelry is once a year at Winter Wonderland!  I was amazed.  God was surely with me today.  I bought several pairs of these amazing earrings.  Austrian crystal mounted in stainless wrap.  I get compliments on my original pair of these earrings, so I got as many as I could afford.

As I left the market, I was so happy with my purchases.  And, my phone buzzed!  Somehow I’d encountered a “live” zone and a txt message from Sarn arrived asking where we should meet.

“How about the pie shop at Covent Garden?” I asked… knowing she’d know how to find it.

“See you at 2:00,” she said.  And I headed to the underground and over to Covent Garden.  Shopping is fun in the markets there.  They have some unusual shops and I got a present for one of my friend’s husbands.  At 2:00, Sarn and Claire rolled in and we ordered (we were all starving!).  After the meal, I got my first sticky toffee pudding… it was to die for!  I’m now hooked on this dessert.

Sarn, Claire, and I talked about their trip to the States in October of 2015 and what we want to do then.  They don’t want to shop.

We looked through Jubilee Market for some gifts, but didn’t really find anything.  I lost Sarn and Claire who were enjoying chatting with a vendor at the edge of the market.  I’d already shopped the entire market and they were still talking with him when I returned!

As we walked out, there was a guy being filmed (for a tv show?) who I didn’t recognize. He’s evidently popular in England, though, so I took a snapshot of him.  Heston Blumenthal.  We had lots of these magical types of moments on the trip.

Claire had to go home by then, and Sarn and I were tired.  It was already pitch black out and so, we all called it a day.  It was lovely to meet Claire and I’m looking forward to my British Invasion next year!

December 10, Wednesday

Sarn and I got up and decided to head over to the Tower Bridge for a tour.  The bridge opens at 9:30 and the tour was fabulous!  I never actually knew you could tour inside.  But, there had been some hubub because new glass floors were being put into the upper walkway, and I was itching to see them!  They were every bit as gripping and exciting as I’d hoped.  Plus, the best views of the Thames ever!  We were so lucky that the weather was fairly clear while we were there.

After touring the bridge, we made our way back to Winter Wonderland so I could get a couple more sets of earrings from Riccardo Gallinaro’s booth. I love sparklies!  We didn’t stay very long, though, because we were heading to see a play called King Charles III.  It had gotten very good reviews and was a play about the death of QE II and who would ascend to the throne of England after her passing.

We were both very hungry by then, and spied a restaurant across the street from the play.  Though it was crowded, we made our way inside and had a very awesome lunch! 

Afterward, we made our way back to the play and to our nosebleed seats.  While the play was “sort of” intriguing, it was written in Shakespearian style and very boring for long periods of time.  Sarn and I left at the intermission and went to the one place in London I hadn’t seen yet: Selfridges!  It was dark by now, and as we made our way there, I stopped by a street vendor to get scarves for several friends (and myself!).  Which was a good thing because nothing in Selfridges was affordable!  The best part was the shop windows which had various fantasy scenes with unicorns, Paddington Bear, and even a Christmas goose!

It had been awhile since our lunch, and we were both very tired, so we went to Marks and Spencers across the street which had a lovely cafĂ©.  I got a tiny mince pie and tea.  Ahhh… life is good. 

It had been dark for quite awhile, and we had a late train out, so we made our way back to the hotel where they had stored our luggage. We picked up luggage, then headed via the underground to Euston station.  I love trains.  Did I mention that?  It was a very cheery trip back to Manchester (actually, Stockport) where Neil picked us up and took us home. 

December 11, Thursday

My last full day in England.  What a sweeping and exciting and awesome trip this has been!  Sarn and I got up fairly early to get on the road and head over to the Manchester United store.  I was picking up a jersey for a friend back in America.  Boy, those jerseys are expensive!  55 GBP for a shirt!

It was kind of awesome, though, to be in the presence of this awesome stadium that I’d heard so much about.  Emotions always run high around Man U.  I’m not a sports fan, but even *I* had heard of it.

Next stop was St. Helens.  I’m not even sure where St. Helens is! But, it was where Anne Sudworth had her gallery.  I wanted to visit with her and pick up another print.  I had met Anne briefly in Tintagel back in September.  I thought she was an interesting person (and she definitely IS!).  But, she took so much time out for us that I was deeply touched by her kindness.  We had tea with her, and she showed us her work.  We talked quite a bit, and Warren (her significant other) was such a sweety as well.  By the time we left, even though it was a cold, rainy day, we were smiling and happy inside!

As we took our leave of Anne, we decided to veer off on the way back to Hazel Grove and visit Windyway Kennels – the home and business of Don Dawber’s family.  It was one of the nicest kennels I’ve ever seen, and they do so much for unwanted pets there.  It was a brief visit, but only because we knew we’d see Don (and Dawn) later at the pub.

We really were all over the place that day! 

Later, at the Legh Arms Pub, we spent a cozy evening with Don and Dawn, Sarn and Neil, Jonathan and Rebecca (Neil’s son and girlfriend), and Taylor (Sarn’s son).  Most had the carvery, but I had salmon and pear cidre with one final sticky toffee pudding.  It was a fabulous send-off and Sandra paid for my meal (which was so nice of her!).  

I loved the trip this time – as much as I do all my trips to England.  I always meet with good friends, good cheer, and lots of fun.  How could I not love this country?

December 12, Friday

It was an early start.  Sarn had me at the airport by around 6 or 7 in the morning.  The plane took off at 9 for London.  However, there was a glitch in the air controller system, so my plane landed an hour late in London (with no time to shop as I’d hoped to in duty free).  They boarded our London plane on time, but then, we sat on the tarmac for an hour before take off.  At least we were ABLE to take off, which I am (sort of ) grateful for. J  Otherwise, I might still be there!

I landed in Austin around 6 pm, and Tammy picked me up to take me home.  I was a zombie by then (having been up nearly 24 hours), so it was an early crash for me.

What did I learn this trip?  That even in winter, England is a country very worth visiting.  That I can make friends at the drop of a hat with everyone except one lady on the train from Manchester to London.  That Christmas Markets are da bomb! And that the Tower Bridge tour is well worth it.  But, it’s hard to encapsulate the love I felt this trip.  It was pretty amazing. 

Merry Christmas!