Our Travels to the UK and a bit beyond, Part 5
By Diane, with comments from Holly and Allan.
Note: The photos used here were chosen to go with the narrative....to see photos of all of the places visted on each trip, go to our home page and click on "Vacation Photos".
2005 -November 8th through the 18th ( Allan, Diane & Holly) - England & Wales
On this trip, Holly, Allan and I all flew to London together, along with Holly’s high school friend, Jessica. Holly and Jessica went straight into London for the first five nights of the trip, while Allan and I continued on to Chepstow in Monmouthshire, Wales for the first three nights. Allan and I stayed at The Beaufort in Chepstow - a friendly, family run small hotel with lots of charm. On the first full day of the trip, Holly and Jessica hopped on an early morning train to Chepstow (with cheese and onion pasties purchased from the friendly pasty pirate for breakfast) and joined us just for the day. We rented a car (!!) and drove around Wales. What an adventure! After our three nights in Chepstow, Allan and I then returned to London and joined Holly and Jessica in London at Travel Inn County Hall for two nights, following which all four of us then continued on to Hampton Court Palace and our beloved Fish Court. Jessica just stayed one night at the Palace with us before flying home – Holly, Allan and I spent the last four nights of our vacation there and flew home together.
Quests: (1) To purchase even more vast quantities of Boots Royal Jelly Products (Holly: And Boots Mediterranean products). I’ve introduced so many of my friends to this amazing honey-scented bath line from Boots the Chemist that on each of my trips I like to bring home more than I could possibly carry on my own in order to keep all of us stocked until the next trip. Luckily, Allan and Holly usually have a bit of spare room in their suitcases (well, Allan does – Holly’s bags are usually filled to bursting with her own shopping) (Holly: I also store some things in dad's suitcase every year); (2) to finally get off the train in Durham. We’d passed Durham’s majestic cathedral and castle while on the train to Scotland several times and we'd always wanted to get closer; (Allan: We must go one more time since you can’t take pictures inside on Sunday, so we shall have to visit again on a weekday); (3) to visit St. Mary-le-Bow Church and sample their vegetarian menu (restaurant called The Place Below in the Crypt), which is reputed to be one of the best in London (Holly: nothing like roasted potatoes in a crypt. No, really, St. Mary-le Bow was a place I wanted to visit ANYWAYS after reading Edward Rutherfurd's "London", the veggie restaurant was just a perk!) (Allan: I have to admit that I was more than a little miffed at being dragged into a crowded dungeon to eat mixed leaves and seeds, but the bread was fabulous and OH THOSE POTATOES); (4) to FINALLY get inside Temple Church (Holly: I think it took us, what, 3 tries on this trip alone? What a bizarre schedule they have there) (Allan: Temple Church is nestled in the back mews and places in between streets in London just off Fleet street. We need to find more of theses pedestrian only zones.) I’m still visiting Da Vinci Code locations to see them for myself, some in London and some in Paris. On our next trip I hope to get to Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh (Holly: There's a new Da Vinci Code walking tour of London ! Maybe next trip)). I don’t know how I’d ever plan a vacation if I didn’t read so many books. (Holly: Yep, see my comment to #3 above) (Allan: The last book I read was Wayne Gretzky’s autobiography, if you don’t include computer books.) And yes, we have actually visited ice rinks on our trips. The Welsh National Ice Rink to be exact. That was on our 1996 trip when Holly was still figure-skating. (5) to visit Raglan Castle in Wales. (Allan: Probably one of the most impressive ruins in Britain. Hard to get to but well worth the trip. We should have stayed there longer.) Now as I said, most of our UK trips, including side daytrips, are planned around locations I’ve read about in books - either history books or historical novels. This particular daytrip was planned around a Led Zeppelin video (The Song Remains the Same), but hey! It was well worth it. We got some amazing photos, including a great panorama, from the top of the tower of this impressive castle where Robert Plant once staged a swordfight in the stone courtyard. Love those abs (circa 1972 or 73), but what was up with the frilly-sleeved poofy shirts? (Holly: At Raglan, we were accosted by a mad Welsh attack chicken. Poultry is inexplicably drawn to and aggressive towards my mother. See also, killer attack duck of Warwick.) Also, the detour we had to take because of road construction between Tintern and Raglan made for a spectacular drive through the Welsh countryside. (Holly: and the other "detour" we took because dad didn't want to merge onto a second highway) (Allan: What second highway?, I don’t remember any second highway, besides I was way too scared to respond to co‑pilot instructions. Driving anywhere in Britain would be stressful the first time, but I have to say a quiet country road is far better than what they call their major motorways.) Actually the little detour Holly refers to above took us in a large circle about 20 miles out of our way, but we didn’t tell Allan until we had arrived safely back in Chepstow and had returned what Holly had begun to refer to as the Deathmobile to the car rental agency.
Highlights: (1) Meeting our friend, Blaine, who is a corporate jet pilot, at Paddington Station for coffee immediately after arriving from Los Angeles and just prior to catching our train to Wales. Blaine had flown some executives into London from Canada and was there enjoying a day off when we arrived. We stepped off the Heathrow Express train, and there he was to meet us - having made email arrangements the day before! Isn't email just the most wonderful invention in the world? Blaine and Allan grew up in Alberta together and I can honestly say that Blaine is my absolute favorite of Allan’s Canadian friends. What a sweetheart! It was so nice to see him and spend an hour or so with him in London. (Allan: Yeah I like Blaine too.) Holly and Jessica were supposed to have made their own way from Heathrow directly to Travel Inn County Hall (via a cab ride to Hampton Court Train Station and the local commuter train from there to Waterloo Station), but following a fare dispute with a London cabbie (Holly: I realize that I'm young, obviously American, and easily mistaken for a nutter because I'm asking to be driven to Hampton Court Palace - but that shouldn't double my cab fare !) (Allan: Ah unscrupulous English Cabbies, reminds me of a certain cabbie in Stratford who charged us 4 times what Diane had paid for the same ride on a previous trip with her Mom. Luckily those cabbies are few and far between.), ended up instead following us on the next Heathrow Express train and finding us at Paddington (Holly: Hrumph!) What is the Hrumph for??. That all worked out for the best because Holly was able to see Blaine. The last time she'd seen him she was only three and didn't remember. (Holly: it did actually work out for the best); (2) Renting a car in Wales. This was the first time we’d ever been brave enough to do this. We really had to rent the car in order to accommodate seeing Chepstow, Raglan and Tintern on the day that Holly and Jessica joined us (Holly: to say nothing of fitting US all in that tiny car!). It wasn’t so tiny! It was a rather large (for the UK) Toyota Avensis, which they referred to as a “Saloon Car”. Allan only hit three curbs (Holly: two of which were on highways, though ) and went up a one way street the wrong way once. We’ll do it again (Holly: hopefully with less curb hitting and dad swearing)! (Allan:Well I don’t remember anyone else volunteering to drive.) What fun! (Holly: now that we know how to operate Welsh gas pumps, it'll be even more fun) I still don’t know why there was a huge welcome sign (in both English and Welsh) at the far end of the Tesco parking lot in Wales. What was it welcoming us to? We ended up at the far end having missed the roundabout in the middle of the parking lot meant for turning around to exit); (3) having some wonderful family time with Holly. For whatever reason, this just seemed like the best family trip we’d ever been on together, notwithstanding the fact that my Mom was gravely ill in Las Vegas at the time, but had insisted we continue our trip (Holly: it was fun!); (4) a great Italian dinner at the Spaghetti House on Duke Street. This is a chain, but has delicious and moderately priced food and according to Allan, the best cappuccino in London (Holly: sorry I missed this, next time);
(5) Hampton Court Palace – I can never say enough about the very special way in which we are treated when we stay in the Fish Court apartment at the Palace. On our trips we have made many friends among the people who work at there and after seven times staying there, many of them treat us like family. (Allan: I have said many times that the greatest asset of Hampton Court Palace is the people who work there.) On this particular trip Trevor and Patrick (with some help and encouragement from George) went out of their way to do extra things for us. We were taken on very special (and very different) private tours of the palace. On a late night walk with Patrick, Holly saw a ghost (FINALLY! - really she did!!! and I'm insanely jealous because I didn't see it myself!) (Holly: It was a fleeting glimpse, I'll have to go back for a better look this November.); (6) Patrick driving us, on one of his days off, to the ancient town of Midhurst in West Sussex and then on to one of his favorite places – Chichester - also in Sussex. Holly and I had been wanting to visit Midhurst ever since we’d read and become completely enthralled by Anya Seton’s “Green Darkness” – me for the first time in 1977 and Holly sometime around 1997. The Spread Eagle Inn in Midhurst was a setting in the book and we were able to find it and have tea there with Patrick. What a truly magnificent place in a beautiful jewel of a town. I fully intend to go back and spend a few nights at the Spread Eagle on a future trip (Holly: and I fully intend to go back and offer them money for the silver "Spread Eagle" stamped cream pot). GOOD LUCK! They’d probably charge you more for that little silver cream pitcher than your airfare cost! But I do want to go back there, for certain; (7) Allan and I took a very long, very leisurely, two hour walk along Embankment in London on the night of the Lord Mayor’s Show. (Allan: This was a first for any of our trips, Imagine a 2 hour stretch where we weren’t rushing for trains or being herded off by Diane for some other activity. I quite enjoyed it) There were fireworks from barges along the Thames and the city was lit up and magical . (Allan: And very crowded.) We walked from Westminster Bridge on the west/north side of the river, all the way to the Millennium footbridge, then across the bridge from near St. Paul’s to the reconstructed Globe Theatre and then back to our hotel on the east/south side; (8) Meeting Holly and Jessica in York for dinner after Allan and I had spent the morning and afternoon in Durham. We tried to have dinner at the Golden Fleece, but unfortunately, they don’t do dinners on Sundays (Holly: yes they do! they have a Sunday roast INCLUDING a VEGETARIAN roast. Our problem was that they stop serving roasts at around 4pm. I have arranged to have myself in York on a Sunday prior to 4pm this year. I'm intrigued by the whole "vegetarian roast dinner" thing.) Allan and I had a Sunday Roast Dinner in Durham earlier that day. Anyway, for the evening meal in York we ended up at a place we’d been previously – Gert & Henrys. Actually, we’ve been in this Tudor beamed 15th century restaurant on several different occasions on prior UK trips while it was doing business under various other names – first as Grandma Battys, then as Lawrys, and now Gert & Henrys. Really nice menu, including Spotted Dick on the dessert menu which is very tasty in spite of the strange name. It’s a sort of steamed pudding/cake with currants and warm custard sauce. (Holly: best ordered loudly and with lots of giggling. Also on the menu; faggots and pease pie. hmm.) (9) Lugging our heavily loaded suitcases up the stairs to Waterloo Station one step at a time and laughing so hard Holly and I damn near pee-d ourselves. Repeat three times – pack lightly, pack lightly, pack lightly……….
Lowlights. One very huge one. I lost my beloved mother just a couple of days before returning home from this trip. She had been fighting a courageous, painful and prolonged battle against emphysema and COPD for several years. She lost that battle while we were away. I think that she had had a premonition that it was going to happen this way. She’d called me a few weeks before the trip to talk to me about how she felt it was important that we not cancel our trip regardless of her health, and that we continue with our plans no matter what happened before we left or while we were away. She said she felt that she would be OK while we were gone and was sounding fairly optimistic about her future. But then, she had a bad relapse a week or so before we left on the trip. That is the way this disease is. It had been a rollercoaster series of ups and downs for her and numerous trips to the ER over the past couple of years. I think Mom was with us in spirit on all of the trip and I believe that is why this particular trip was so good and special for Holly, Allan and I. Allan and I made a point of visiting some of the places I’d previously visited in Wales with my Mom on a 1998 trip we’d taken together (Chepstow and Caerphilly). We got home to Los Angeles with just enough time to sleep a few hours and then drive to Las Vegas for her funeral. Mom, we love you and we miss you terribly.
Chepstow, Monmouthshire, Wales
Tintern, Monmouthshire, Wales
Caerphilly, Monmouthshire, Wales (Diane and Allan only)
Raglan, Monmouthshire, Wales
Midhurst, West Sussex
Chichester, West Sussex
Durham (Holly: Mom and Dad only) Oops. Yes.
Salisbury and Stonehenge (Holly and Jessica only)
Hampton Court Palace (always and forever)
Some London Rock Club (Holly only) (Holly: Saw the Departure and Subways)