Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Our Trip to England (with a Foray to Wales)

There is no way to keep a post about almost two weeks of a wonderful and jam-packed trip short, but I hope it is enjoyable.

Saturday, April 5
The overnight stay at a hotel near JFK was short and relatively uncomfortable, but the flight went really well.  We flew during the day, on the theory that a day-time flight set us up better for the time change without losing a night of sleep on the plane.  And it worked beautifully:  we got up early for our 8 am flight, spent the length of a school day in transit, arrived at night in London, and were tired enough from the long day to go to sleep at a reasonable hour.  It helped that we flew premium economy, with bigger, more comfortable seats.  There were also a lot of great movies to watch:  Saving Mr. Banks, Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, Frozen, Thor, Wolverine, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, etc.

Our hotel, the Fielding, was in Covent Garden in an old brick building on Broad Court, right next to the Bow Street Magistrate's Court, which I knew so well from a great series of mystery novels set in the eighteenth century with judge Sir John Fielding, the blind brother of author Henry Fielding, as protagonist.  The room was small by American standards, but suited us well enough.  There was a bed with a foot of clearance all around for Mama and me, and a room with a fold out couch for the kids, connected by a hall with a bathroom.  I liked the view of our almost floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the court, with its sculpture of a ballerina and the other elaborate old buildings.  Around the corner was the Royal Opera House and a block or so away was Coven Garden (you know, where Eliza Doolittle sells her flowers in My Fair Lady.)    So small as it was, and lacking in amenities like a restaurant or even a lobby (or an elevator!), the hotel's location was perfect.
The view from the Fielding

Our corner

Sunday, April 6
We decided to hit the ground running so, after the first of many breakfasts to-go from Pret-a-Manger, Upper Crust, and other "take away" places (croissants for Sis, prawn or salmon sandwiches for Bud, bacon sandwiches or egg-tomato-mushroom sandwiches for Mama, and pastries or sometimes ham on a baguette for me--I was only a part-time vegetarian on this trip for both ease and interest), we headed to Hampton Court.

Hampton Court, associated with Cardinal Woolsey and then King Henry VIII, is a huge, sprawling, red brick palace that I had visited before with Lambeth and his wife.   I had always wanted Mama to see it and now the kiddos.  The kids were very excited about the famed garden Maze, which they traversed twice; the rest of the gardens were filled with daffodils and oddly-cut trees. I liked the kitchens, which have been restored to working order.  The kids even got to turn the spits in the great fireplace to roast the chickens!  We studied the didactic tablecloths in the Great Hall describing court manners (don't lift your butt to fart!), listened to the choir practicing in the Chapel Royal, learned from the reenactors George and Anne Bolelyn discussing religion and the King, marveled at the painting of the Greek gods in William III's apartments, admired the recently discovered Chocolate KItchen, and even ate our lunch and tea in Elizabeth's own privvy kitchens.

The entrance to Hampton Court

The wonderful courts and alleyways of Hampton Court
What can I say about the food we ate?!  I won't make fun of it the way so many do; I like English food. We tried traditional English food every chance we got, which meant steak and ale pies, steak and kidney puddings, fish and chips, pasties, fisherman's pies, mushy peas, ploughman's lunch (cheese plate), and desserts such as bakewell tarts (almond and cherry), Victoria sponge cake, Eton Mess (berries, meringue cookies, and cream), refrigerator cake (chocolate with digestive biscuits and cherries), summer pudding, steamed syrup sponge, and sticky toffee pudding.  They also seem to eat more boxed sandwiches than we do; in fact, they have whole M&S stores devoted to take away food.  I would never eat a boxed sandwich here in the States, but we liked several of them:  cheese and onion, cheddar and pickle (ploughman's), ham and cheese, tuna salad, coronation chicken (curried chicken salad), salmon and cream cheese, prawn and mayonnaise, seafood cocktail, prawn cocktail, egg salad with watercress.  And the crisps--our potato chips--all the different and, yes, crazy flavors:  beef chili, oxtail, roast chicken, prawn, prawn cocktail, lobster with chili, Worchestershire and tomato, bacon, salt and balsamic/apple cider/malt vinegar.  And that's not all of them.  Bud and Mama were in heaven.  Sis just liked the salt ones.

At night, we'd watch television, usually BBC.  Talk about nerdy television.  We saw shows on various historic gardens such as Hidcote and Dixter, the history of Edwardian electricity, nineteenth-century railway guidebooks, eighteenth-century music, Spitfire Girls, a sewing context, a cooking contest based on the invasion of Normandy, and a show about real estate in Austria. There was also some really trashy television, like "Gypsies on Benefits and Proud!" and "Shops and Robbers."  There was also an odd show that Sis and I watched one evening, "Off Their Rockers," which was like a pensioners' Candid Camera, with senior citizen playing jokes on younger people--like a man asking young men to keep an eye on his wife in her wheelchair while he ran an errand and then she sexually propositioned them or the two older men who had a tourist take their picture in Trafalgar Square and dropped their pants at the last minute.  It's a kind of humor we don't have really, you know, Benny Hill, slightly off-color.  Sis didn't know what to think.  And a few dramas that I look forward to seeing here, including WWI nurses in "Crimson Field" and Daphne du Maurier's "Jamaica Inn."  (Plus some American Revolutionary show which name I forget.)

Monday, April 7
We went to the Tower of London today, exploring it for hours:

  • Edward I's palace, with chapel and bedchambers recreated
  • the Crown Jewels--Mama and the kids went while I enjoyed people-watching; they loved the various jewels, and knew what an orb and scepter were--from Frozen!
  • the execution spot of Lady Jane, Anne Bolelyn, and others
  • those black ravens of superstition
  • the White Tower, with its tall stairs, guarderobe (toilet holes), armor, 
  • "IANE" and other wall carvings by prisoners
  • Bud and I walked past the Traitor's Gate and saw a parade of soldiers in bear-skin hats, while Mama and Sis went in search of Elizabeth I's prison rooms
The weather this day was some of our worst, which wasn't bad. In twelve days, we saw only 1 1/2 days of overcast drizzle, and those on our first two days.  The rest of the trip was sunny and bright, with everything green and in bloom.  Natives repeatedly commented on how lucky we were in the weather; people at home would have said the same--they got sleet and snow in Connecticut while we were gone!

The Tower

Perhaps inscribed by Lady Jane's husband?

Near Traitor's Gate

We had lots of time after the Tower to visit other places and so we made our way to St. Dunstan's in the East, a Norman church (think after 1066 and the invasion of William the Conqueror.  It didn't take too long for the kids to get a basic grasp of the general history, from Celts to Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Normans, medieval, Tudor, Georgian, and Victorian England!) that had been destroyed in the Blitz and turned into a garden.  I had read about it in a book, England for All Seasons by Susan Allen Toth, and loved it, especially the way the green growth wound around the remnants of stone arches.  It's one of the most beautiful places I've ever been.  The kids enjoyed the respite, dancing around the spiralling fountain, weaving pink flowers in my hair, and all of us taking pictures.  Yep, we had four shutterbugs this trip--Mama with her fancy digital SLR, the kids with their own point-and-shoot, and me with just my smartphone camera, which I prefer for its ease, especially knowing Mama was getting all the artsy shots.

St. Dunstan in the East

We had tea at St. Martin in the Fields, which I had visited several times while researching at the National Gallery; Mama and I even did brass rubbings there in the crypt.  The entire basement has been expanded, doubling the area.  The kids and Mama did brass rubbings--dragons and a Celtic knot pattern.  And then we had tea.  I love tea, both the occasion and the food itself.  I always get Earl Grey.  Sometimes it's just scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream--and I love clotted cream (and I always put the jam first and then the cream so I can taste it more.)  Sometimes it's more extensive, first sandwiches, then scones, then "fancies," which are cakes or treats like bakewells, lemon drizzle cake, orange macaroons, and tiffin (a chocolate and dried fruit confection.)  We had, at different times, cucumber sandwiches, egg salad (once with truffle oil!), coronation chicken, roast beef and onion marmalade, salmon and cream cheese.  No orange marmalade with butter, though, which is one of my favorites.  

Bud did really well about the Crypt, which is essentially a graveyard.  Yep, we ate tea sitting on tombstones. He gets rattled and sad about graves but did well here and at all of the churches with their effigies and memorials.  

One final bit about St. Martin's--it has one of the best little shops.  Like the Tenth Doctor, I like a little shop.  We all do.  We'd discussed souvenirs before we left, hoping to counteract the desire to buy lots of things.  And so we each thought a of souvenir we'd focus on, so that we would have a collection.  I chose magnets and tea towels.  Sis chose souvenir coins.  Mama and Bud chose lapel pins.  We stuck to it pretty well, only buying a few extra things, like books, some Doctor Who things we can't get in the States, and postcards.  Indeed, I was probably the worst about buying extra things, including a lovely Celtic knot scarf brooch and a big hedgehog tea cozy at St. Martin.

The kids played in Traflagar Square afterwards, even climbing on the lions for pictures, though I couldn't watch.  All the while they noted that the Eleventh Doctor had been there.  Much of our trip played out that way, history by the Doctor!  We think there should be a book.  

Tuesday, April 8
Harry Potter day!!!!

This was the raison d'etre for our trip.  A year ago, after Disney World, I said to Mama, "Maybe we should go to Harry Potter Studios for your 40th birthday?!"  I had also wanted to visit Lambeth, whom I hadn't seen in perhaps a decade.  And so the thought took hold:  the kids were older and mature enough for such an undertaking and I was physically stronger.  And, after a long six months of a difficult and challenging project at her office, this was the perfect respite and reward.

And now we were going!  The list won't mean much unless you're a Harry Potter fan, but we saw:

  • The cupboard under the stairs!
  • The Great Hall, complete with long tables, big fireplaces, dais for teachers, and Dumbledore's podium.  But no ceiling.  That was added digitally and with models.
  • So many sets:  Gryffindor Common Room, boy's dormitory, Hagrid's hut, the kitchen at the Weasley's Burrows, Potions class, Dumbledore's office, all so much smaller than they look on screen (this was a recurring trend--the Doctor Who and Downton Abbey sets looked smaller, too.
  • And props, like the chalkboard with dancing steps, the Horcruxes, all the wands, the wooden Goblet of Fire, the Triwizard Cup, etc.
  • Creatures--did you know they have an animatronic Hagrid's head that was used in all wide shots, worn by a large rugby player wearing stilts?! 
  • We all had our pictures riding brooms in front of green screens.
  • And the kids got a lesson in casting spells with wands.
  • We ate our picnic lunch outside, amid giant Chess pieces, the small bit of bridge (the only part they built), Privet Drive, the Night Bus, the Ford Anglia, Hagrid's motorcycle, and the Potters' cottage.
  • Diagon Alley.  So wonderful.
  • The white models of many of the buildings
  • And, best of all, the giant Hogwarts model!!!  We loved this, this wonderful imaginary world come to life, with background music and changing light effects.  With our eyes, we could walk to the boat house, the standing stones, the bridge, the courtyard . . . but no Hagrid's Hut?

I haven't mentioned Mama's favorite part:  Hedwig.  Yep, the real owls of Harry Potter were at Harry Potter for just a few weeks this spring, unbeknownst to us until we arrived.  Loving birds of prey and Hedwig especially, Mama was thrilled.  We saw Elmo, the fluffy Snowy Owl who played Hedwig, sitting outside on the Privet Drive sign; inside, in front of the owl shop, we saw the various owls who played Sirius's owl, Pigwidgeon, and Errol.  I also spoke to the trainer who had worked on all the films.  It was just a movie, at first, and then a decade later, they'd made film history.  She recounted the first filming of Diagon Alley, with trainers hidden all among the extras and set, flying the birds back and forth.  They even wore little socks to hide the jesses.

To be cliche, it was all so very magical.

Hogwarts Great Hall (we also saw real ones at Hampton Court and Winchester)

The REAL Hedwig

THE Model

And to top it off, when we got back to London, Mama took the kids to ride the London Eye.  Not once, but twice--once in daylight and then, after dinner, once at night.  They loved the views and taking pictures.  Sis especially loved all the images of bunnies they had about to celebrate Easter.

Meanwhile, I rested and then forayed out for dinner, getting Greek from Real Greek (a local chain) down the street (what is it with me and London and Greek food?  I had it several times on my second trip, too.)  I got four vegetarian dishes--dolmades, gigantes beans in tomato sauce, and then a great lemon chickpea dish called revithia, and a delicious lentil, beetroot, and feta salad, plus flatbread.  I also stopped at a local shop (I don't think they call them bodegas in London) and discovered some orange-chocolate digestive biscuits.  Oh, my favorite flavors!  Those went well with the tea I had at our hotel everyday, in those wonderful little silver pots that are all over England.  PG Tips tea.  Also, sometimes the Biscoff biscuits they left in our room every night.

Wednesday, April 9
It all caught up with us on Wednesday.  Tired, grumpy, "smad" (sad and mad), "hangry" (hungry and angry.)  Probably the low point of our trip.  There's always one day.  And for us, it came after our trip to the British Museum, where we saw the wonderful exhibition on Vikings and also the Rosetta Stone and Elgin Marbles.  But that was about all we could handle, so we headed back to the hotel.

After a rest, we had lunch at Porter's, which was one of the kids' favorite meals.  Mama and I had eaten there on a previous visit and liked the traditional (albeit surely touristy) menu.  We had a scotch egg, fish and chips, steak and kidney pudding, shepherd's pie, and fisherman's pie, plus steamed syrup sponge and Eton Mess, which became Bud's favorite dessert.  The kids were also thrilled to see a TARDIS painted on the door to the kitchens, in front of which we took several pictures.  I got the cookbooks and promised both kids I'd make Eton Mess and steamed syrup sponge for them at home.

After lunch, we walked around Covent Garden, exploring the garden and labyrinth behind the Actor's Church, St. Paul's Church (not to be confused with the Cathedral.)  Mama and I remembered the garden but not the floor labyrinth, which I think was installed for the jubilee.  The kids were enthralled by the buskers, both the stuntman who lay on spikes in his British flag underwear and the juggler who rode the unicycle.

The garden of the Actors' Church

And then, totally unplanned, we went shopping at Fortnum and Mason's, the eighteenth-century tea emporium we had liked so well last time.  The kids enjoyed the candy counter--caramels and glacee fruits--while Mama and I marveled at all the teas and biscuits.  We stayed so long that we decided to grab dinner downstairs.  It was another favorite meal of the kids because Sis got something close to chicken fingers!  And Bud loved the huge Knickerbocker Glory dessert!  I liked my rarebit, with a side salad of rocket, aka arugula.   There was a boisterous table of women next to us . . . who were, of course, Americans.  From Texas.  Of course.

Thursday, April 10
Another big day:  Doctor Who Day!!!!  This time, our adventure took us all the way to Cardiff, in Wales.  Mama and I had spent an afternoon in Wales, years ago, reading from Wordsworth at the beautiful Tintern Abbey.  We had such a peaceful, beautiful time there . . . and a good laugh at all the long Welsh names with consonants on the street signs.

We had such fun at the Doctor Who Experience, even though it clearly lacked the size and money of Harry Potter (or Disney).  But the kids could really get into the immersive adventure with the Eleventh Doctor in the beginning, which had us piloting the TARDIS, not blinking at Weeping Angels, and confronting Daleks.  In the exhibitions, we saw all the costumes of the Doctors and their companions, various props (River Song's diary and red shoes!  Handles's head!), and many of the show's creatures, like the Ood, Face of Boe, Sontarans, Silurians, Cybermen, etc.  And the Tenth Doctor's TARDIS, which set we could wander around.

Then we headed to Cardiff Castle, with its Roman Wall, Norman keep, and overdone Victorian-updated medieval castle.  After a lunch of Welsh rarebit and cawl (a kind of lamb stew) and Welsh teacakes, we all climbed the keep, which had been damaged in the (English) Civil War, but still retained so much of its ancient feel.  And there were more birds of prey, as they sponsor a falconry program there.  Mama liked the Great Owl, Kestrel, Pygmy Owl, and falcons, and took pictures of them all.  We really liked Cardiff Castle and stayed a long while, admiring the birds and keep and stone walls while the kids ran around; the scent of thousands of daffodils wafted under a dramatic but never raining sky.

The Cardiff Keep

We walked back through the city center to the train station, admiring the many old shopping arcades and even grabbing a small snack of crisps and refrigerator cake in one.

Friday, April 11
Today was Lambeth Day!!  We were meeting my friend in the afternoon, but first we went to St. Paul's Cathedral, by way of a double-decker bus (indeed, with taxis, trains, tubes, and buses, I think boat was the only manner of transportation we didn't use this trip.) The kids wanted to climb to the Whispering Gallery around the base of the dome, so Mama obliged; I waited a bit from the trancept and waved at them when they reached the gallery.  But when they decided to keep going, to the Stone Gallery and then to the Golden Lantern, I went down to the crypt.  And they did it, all 597-something steps!!!  When we saw the dome from outside upon leaving, they were impressed and a little bit awed about how far they'd climbed!

Yep, to that top bit.

Next was the Museum of London and Lambeth!  I recognized him immediately, though he was taller than I remembered (maybe I'm getting shorter!)  Even after all the years, and the kids only just meeting him, I think we all fell in together rather well.  We wandered around the various exhibits on the history of London, which had been a favorite museum of Mama's and mine.  We explored pre-historic Britain, its Roman inhabitants including a bit more of their walls, medieval London especially the Black Death, the pleasure gardens of Georgian London with several costumes, and a Victorian streetscape.  But then we had museum fatigue and decided on a change of scenery.

Literally "scenery"  we went to the Globe Theater.  I loved the tour through the reconstructed theater and even the kids could relate . . . because of Doctor Who!  Did you know:

  • the whole thing about theatergoers throwing fruit is unfounded?
  • the best seats were on the side, where there was no direct sun and the sound was best?
  • there were no toilets?
  • the doors opened right onto the streets?

We walked the quay next to the river a bit, watching the mudlarks search for treasures in the river mud as they have for hundreds of years.  The Thames is tidal and rises up to 7 meters, which is almost 23 feet!  There's a great view of St. Paul's and other beautiful (and not so beautiful) buildings.  And then it was time to eat.

We chose the Cheshire Cheese, rebuilt after the Great Fire in 1666, but they weren't serving so early (we noticed that dinner starts around 7, while you can often get dinner after 5-5:30 in the States.)  Still, the kids got to see it, with its dark warren of rooms.  I think it was one of the only things on our list that we didn't get to do (along with Evensong at Westminster.)  We did wander back around some of the alleyways, finding Doctor Johnson's house, and the statue of his cat.  It is true, if one tires of London, one tires of life.  We were tired, but not that kind of tired.

So Lambeth treated us to a delightful dinner in Covent Garden instead, at a place called the Crusting Pipe, where we had fish, scotch eggs, ice cream, and such while listening to opera singers and a string quintet in the courtyard.  Lambeth walked us home and said goodnight, until we saw him again on Sunday.

Saturday, April 12
Our last day in London!  And we made it a doozy, trying to catch up on all of our last little bits.

Our first stop was King's Cross and St. Pancras's Stations, both featured in Harry Potter, one as the location of Platform 9 3/4 and the other seen in the background as Harry and Ron fly off in the blue Anglia.  We took the kids pictures with the luggage cart at the faux platform near a gift shop and then wandered around admiring the restoration of the grand Victorian hotel and station, which Mama and I had found early in its revival.  We ate breakfast outside, gazing up at St. Pancras.

They just don't build'em like this anymore.

The restored staircase of St. Pancras

Westminster Abbey was our next stop Bells were ringing as we exited the Tube in the shadow of Big Ben and the kids snapped pictures.  Apparently, St. Margaret's Church near the abbey was celebrating its 400th anniversary and so the bells rang for four hours!  There were crowds and a line, but it all went quickly.  We saw dozens of tombs with names we recognized and many more we didn't.  The kids commented on Mary, Queen of Scots, that here lay the woman who killed our ancestor, as family lore would have it.  At least she got her own effigy and tomb--"Bloody" Mary didn't but is subsumed under Elizabeth's!  Gothic cathedrals, with their tracery, vaults, stained glass windows, and flying buttresses are so impressive and awesome.  They never cease to amaze me, though I think more on humankind's technical achievements than on anything divine or spiritual.  Having been to a number of churches this trip, we did discuss them--the symbolism (the cross shape, the light) and the meaning (status and power.)  We also liked the Lady Chapel, the cloister, and the Chapter House.

We had a delicious tea at Harrod's, a three-tiered feast, while Bud had yet more fisherman's pie (from which we always took the mashed potatoes off the top) and Sis enjoyed the bangers and mash.   It was restful and delicious.

I won't dwell, but the V&A was shockingly disappointing:  the British galleries for 1500-1900 were closed, as were much of the fashion exhibitions, and they no longer had their Top 20 things to see map to help us wander around.  The kids did some of the children's Time Traveller's pack, including brass rubbings and writing backwards with the help of a mirror, but we soon tired of it.  So we went to the Natural History Museum  next door, with its Gothic architecture embracing its scientific collections.  We admired the huge soaring main hall and then went in search of early nineteenth-century fossil hunter, Mary Anning's plesiosaurs and icthyosaurs, finding them well-labeled and hung in a main gallery.

And though I had not intended it at all, I decided to stop at the National Gallery, just an hour before closing, to show the kids some of it.  Besides, I'd already told them the story about the lady who touched the Constable painting much to my shock and horror.  So we saw that Constable, The Haywain, and so much else, including:
  • Leonardo's Madonna of the Rocks
  • one of Raphael's Garvagh Madonna
  • Botticelli's Venus and Mars
  • Stubb's portrait of a horse
  • Vermeer's Girl at a Virginal
  • Van Dyck's Charles I
  • Turner's Rain, Steam, and Speed, with its racing hare
  • Seurat's Bathers at Asnieres
  • De Hooch's Courtyard of a House in Delft (Mama's favorite)
  • but no Holbein or Van Eyck, as they were in a special ticketed exhibition.
I doubt they remember much of it, but they did like the stories I told them about how people didn't know how to visit a museum in the first place in the early 19th century; they would picnic in the galleries, potty train their children, all manner of inappropriate activities (but not quite the sex in the pews that tourists did at Westminster!)  Yes, it was my dissertation all over again.  

We played in Trafalgar Square a bit and then came home.

Sunday, April 13
A bit under the weather, we didn't do much on Sunday except transfer by train to Winchester (thereby avoiding both the London Marathon and the Olivier Awards just down the street), where Lambeth met us at the station and took us to our hotel, Lainston House Hotel.

Wow, just wow.  What a wonderful place!  A seventeenth-century manor, built on the remains of an even older one, located on a Norman estate, complete with its own ruined chapel and enclosed garden and lime-tree lined avenue; apparently, there is even an escape tunnel for Catholic priests!  We ate a small lunch in the yard while watching a free falconry demonstration with a beautiful Great Owl; the kids really enjoyed running around the gardens (that was another theme of this trip, from Hampton Court to Cardiff to Lainston and later to "Downton Abbey," the kids liked gardens.)

Our room.  Oh, my word.  It was in an annex of the house, down a winding path and up some stairs, but it was gorgeous.  With tall sloped and half-timbered ceilings and windows with great views of the estate (both the dovecote and the fields), there were two king beds, an area with a desk, a sitting area with high-backed chairs and a table, a dressing table, and a giant bathroom with footed tub, walk-in shower, toilet and biday.  And on the wall a funny little sign with red and blue feet--the floor was heated!!!  Oh my word, the luxury of it.

Lainston House

Its chapel

Our room!!

"Did you turn off the floor?"

One of our views, of the dovecote

The only disappointment was there weren't as many rabbits as some of the staff members indicated--"they're everywhere," they said.  But there weren't enough for Sis, who only saw a few, skittish and at a distance, on our nightly bunny spottings.  These country bunnies are more timid than our suburban ones, but it was good to know they were out there.

We had dinner in our room that first night, fancy and brought to us by three servers:  grilled sea bass, mushroom risotto with truffles, and two burgers with thrice-cooked chips!  Plus an orange-chocolate mousse dessert that tasted like a grown-up's Jaffa Cake.  And complementary crispy biscuits and milk.  We all had a good laugh when I asked a question I never thought I'd utter, "Did you turn off the floor?"

We all slept like babies on the big, fluffy white beds.  Sis said it was the best bed ever.  She said she likes an English country house and would like one.   It was so quiet; the air so sweet, with the sounds of birds the only thing we heard.

Monday, April 14
Lambeth and Mrs. Lambeth picked us up after breakfast--a nice hot breakfast with porridge, Eggs Benedict, pastries, and grilled kippers for Bud who ate them on buttered toast--and we went to Stonehenge.  Mama and I had been there before, but at the old visitors' center.  Something about the new, more distant center and exhibition, changed Stonehenge for us and we enjoyed it much more.  Maybe the walk around was better; maybe there were fewer people.  Who knows, but we both noticed it.  The kids enjoyed the stones and maybe, even more, the sheep on the surrounding hillsides.  I liked all the new explanatory panels and the accompanying exhibition outlining the chronology of the sacred site as scholars currently understand it, from early barrows and courses to later rings of stones.  We noticed all of the barrows, or burial mounds, as we traveled to and fro.

We had lunch and then took a scenic route back, seeing lots of sheep, barrows, hedges, golden rapeseed fields.  We also visited the villages--and Mrs. Lambeth says a "proper" village needs a church, a pub, and a green--of Andover and Chilbolton, filled with thatched cottages.  We got out and wandered a bit, photographing several of the quaint structures with their straw roofs and colorful gardens.  Some were even half-timbered!  I took an extra walk by myself and met a local (who lived in a thatched cottage with a modern house--it had fallen and been rebuilt by an architect!) who pointed out a cottage that had burned and was being re-thatched and another that dated to the 15th-century.  It was all so picturesque, right there along the River Test (which is apparently renown for its fly fishing--our room at the hotel was even named after one of the flies, a Spurwing.)
The 15th-century thatched cottage

Later we made a pit stop at the Mayfly, also along the River Test, where we could see the first swimming and swans floating by a willow.

That night, we had a delicious dinner--with lots of ice cream!--at the Lambeths' home, proof to the kids that all of England wasn't castles and thatched cottages, even though their newly-built home does have a wonderful pitched roof, a lovely garden, and a great name, Box Cottage, for the centuries' old house that had been on the property.  We even watched some of the travel videos from our summer in Rome, two decades ago, when we met at a summer school sponsored by the school where Lambeth had been a visiting professor.  I had forgotten we went to Pisa!  And we all looked so young.  Rome is definitely on my list for another European trip!

Tuesday, April 16
Our falconry lesson at the hotel!!!!  While we thought that the kids could only watch, the falconer included them in the lesson, which was not 1 1/2 hours but 2 1/2 hours!!  This was another of Mama's birthday presents.  And we all loved it.  We flew Wilfred the owl (Boreal, we think) and Kevin, the turkey vulture (I know, ick, but we came to be quite impressed by him), and helped with Ace the half Gyrfalcon/half Saker falcon.  They were so beautiful and didn't actually hold on to the gauntlets as tightly as we expected.  It was daunting, even with the little owl, to have them come swooping towards you.  We learned that phrases such as "hoodwinked" and "under the thumb" come from falconry.  It really was quite incredible.  And if she could, I imagine Mama would love to be a falconer herself.  Maybe she can do some wildlife rehabilitation volunteering back in CT with birds of prey.

The Lambeths picked us up and gave us a tour of Winchester.  We saw the Great Hall, with the Arthurian Round Table that was probably actually built by Edward II, who loved all things Arthurian, and then repainted by Henry VIII.  I liked the Queen's Garden next door.  There were also open some of the basements of the now-destroyed Norman castle; it must have been a huge complex.  We then walked to Winchester Cathedral, just as beautiful and impressive as Westminster, with fewer effigies and fewer people.  And they let you take pictures.  I liked the very old section of tile and we were all surprised by the "lake" in the crypt, rather like the Paris Opera House.  We stopped for a moment of reverence at Jane Austen's tomb, though the kids know not who she is.

The Great Hall

Winchester Cathedral

The Crypt--yes, it's supposed to be filled with water

Winchester has the largest area of the oldest tiles in Britain.

After tea at the cathedral cafe, we went to see Lambeth's church at Durley, with its Anglo-Saxon graves, Norman baptismal font, doorways with crosses from departing Crusaders, a very old (yew? Or was it a cedar?) tree, and later lych gate, or covered gated entrance.  It was quiet and serene and had that inviting scent of history (aka damp wood and stone, I think.)

The very old tree in the churchyard--can you see part of the child inside it?

The crosses left by Crusaders
I liked this window.

Dinner was at the Robin Hood (Greene King) pub and we all enjoyed it--fish and chips, steak and ale pie, bubble and squeak croquettes, and chicken fingers!!  Plus Eton Mess and Bakewell tart.  The kids were tired but did manage to chat some.  They even later pronounced Lambeth and Mrs. Lambeth "cool!"

Wednesday, April 16
Our last full day in England.  And we spent it at Downton Abbey, aka Highclere Castle.  Like the other tv and movie sets we saw, it seemed smaller in person, which isn't to say that it is small.  (Though compared to a similarly planned Breakers, in Newport, RI, it was.)  As soon as I saw the castle on our drive up, I could hear the theme song of the tv show.  And it was hard to envision the rooms as anything other than the playscape of the Earl of Grantham's family.  You could almost hear Dame Maggie Smith!  And I could definitely picture them all in the library, morning room, great hall, and dining room.  The bedrooms weren't as familiar and the kitchen areas aren't in the show at all--they are much dingier than the set at Ealing Studios.  And the gardens, oh, what lovely grounds--the kids played in an old yew tree and explored the walled garden.  I also saw the secret garden and Wood of Peace, I think they called it.  We had lunch and enjoyed the magnificent views, with more sheep.

Can you hear the theme song?

"Come to my garden . . . . "

We went back to the Lainston to fetch our bags and treat Lambeth and Mrs. Lambeth to tea in the drawing room, while the kids explored the grounds one last time looking for secret passages in the hedges and new spots in the garden.  Tea was splendid, with tasty sandwiches, scones, and fancies.  I'm going to miss this tea ritual.  And we'll miss Lambeth and Mrs. Lambeth, who were generous and kind hosts and tour guides.  I know it is possible that we won't see them again, but I am so glad that I saw them one more time and that the kids have met and will never forget them.  Lambeth has been a dear friend and support for two decades.  And it's not over yet.  Thank heavens for the internet!

That afternoon, he drove us the to airport hotel where we were spending the night before our morning flight; only traveling home was left.  It had been a memorable, magical vacation.  As Bud said, "probably better than Disney World," which is high praise from an eight-year old.


  1. This is Tanya.

    I spent three weeks in England the summer after we graduated.

    I didn't see as much as you guys did.

    I do plan to take Benny in two years, with or without his dad.

    I have Hogwarts to visit!

  2. Ahhhhh...
    Just a great big thank you for this wonderful recap.

  3. Slight correction.

    The crypt at Winchester Cathedral dries out in the summer, when we get one, then you can touch the guy in the water, a rare statue/sculpture by Anthony Gormley.