Tuesday, July 15, 2008

England - Part 1

Hey, sorry for the delay; it's been an eventful couple of weeks. I had decided to take a break from traveling and rest at my brother's who is living temporarily in Bicester, England, a nice little town near Oxford. My overnight train from Munich was extra nice, as I paid a bit more for first class-- I got my own sleeper cabin complete with tiny shower and bathroom. I didn't expect it, but I even got room service! A little bottle of wine while looking out at the moonlit landscape of Germany pass by is pretty cool.
Early the next morning I arrived in Paris only to find out I couldn't get on the Eurostar chunnel train to London using my railpass until the next week (all the railpass seats were booked). After a brief time puzzling over what to do (Fly? Stay in Paris? Go somewhere else?), I remembered that there was a regular train to Calais and ferry service to Dover. I'd always wanted to see those white cliffs, so I hopped the next train and before long I was on a huge ferry boat plying the windy waters of the English Channel. It was actually quite a nice trip; I got to relax and have a Guinness (much overpriced) while throwing crumbs to seagulls. And the cliffs were just like I had imagined.
At Dover I caught the next train to London, then took the Underground to Marylbone station where the Bicester trains are. By the time I got to Bicester I was pretty tired of traveling. Worse, my "weather luck" finally ran out; it was raining, and I had no way to reach my brother. But I had the address so I managed to find a taxi at the little station which took me to the house. They were all out for dinner (by now it was getting dark) so I decided to walk to the local pub in case they were there. I had only a hazy memory of the paths behind the house to the pub from my previous visit, but managed to find it with the help of some locals. They weren't there, but entering any warm pub on a cold rainy night is always a pleasure, and I had my first real English cask ale of the trip there and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Back at the house I found that they had just missed me (of course!) but it was good to see Joe's and visiting sister Mary's families, and some other friends from America, who unfortunately were leaving early the next morning. I was sorry to have gotten there so late; it would have been a jolly night out.
i spent the next few days resting, catching up on email and such, and taking little short trips to local Oxford and Stratford-upon-Avon with the others. Both towns are as pretty as I remembered from my 1984 trip, but more touristed than ever-- although not altogether a bad thing when some pretty local girls dress in costume and let you photograph them.
I was anxious to go visit another old friend, Mike Taylor in Telford, Shropshire, who I met in the '80's when he worked in the U.S. at the same gymnastics club. We had lost touch over the years only to reconnect in '03. He's a musician who composes and produces songs for his band, and I had the idea of making a little song about animal welfare and putting it on YouTube. So I caught the train up there from Oxford and soon was in his living room talking about old times and petting his two cats. He took me to Iron Bridge Gorge, a pretty little village alongside a ravine crossed over by the oldest cast-iron bridge in the world. It made a nice picture but it was cloudy so I wanted to wait and come back on a sunny day to take photos, but alas, we never made it back.
We did however get the song and video done, and I got to watch Mike's band, Nikki Corfield and the Pocket Rocket Band perform at a wine bar. They are now also on the radio and getting good ratings both in the U.K. and in America. Right before I left Mike even heard from a guy from a big U.S. record company who was interested, so things are looking good for them. I expect any time now to hear that they've got a number one hit. Wouldn't that be great?
After probably wearing out my welcome at his and his sister Sue's house where I stayed, I returned to Joe's in time to see Mary and her family off. Then I went down to London with 24-year old nephew Tony to do a whirlwind 2-day tour. In spite of an unfortunate rain that lasted ALL the first day, I think we rode on every train in the Underground and saw as many things in 36 hours as was possible. Let's see... after popping into pretty little St.-Martin-in-the-Fields, we went to the National Gallery off Trafalgar Square, home of two more of DaVinci's portraits as well as loads of other masterworks. I was kinda proud of my nephew for insisting that we go there; usually guys his age just want to go to a pub. We also hit St. Paul's and the Guildhall, a much-overlooked grand old hall I've been meaning to see for years; the little art museum it contains is quite impressive....I loved some of the views of early London and the Thames. It also has a tiny but briliant clock museum. We next spent a couple of hours in the National Science Museum, but came nowhere near seeing everything-- especially as they closed shortly after we arrived. We'll just have to come back.
The next day we visited Westminster Abbey, which now comes with a tour headset narrated by the appropriately deep voice of Jeremy Irons. It's a very special place and I hadn't been there in quite a while-- after all, the admission was something like $30. But seeing the actual tombs of such people as Queen Elizabeth--yes, the First!--, Sir Isaac Newton, Mary Queen of Scots, etc., is just amazing. Too bad you can only take photos in the cloisters.
I saved the best for last: I took Tony to the South Bank to sit outside of the ancient Anchor Inn, a historic pub next to the Thames that makes a great happy hour hangout for Londoners and tourists alike. All too soon we scuttled underground to the train and home.
I finished the England trip luxuriously basking in the act of doing basically nothing (except watching movies and petting the neighbor's cat that kept coming over to visit): something I'd felt too guilty to do whilst renting hotel rooms in foreign cities with only a day or so to see everything. Finally rested and rejuvinated, I left for Paris. But that blog will have to wait until next time.

Next: Bastille Day in Paris

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