Archive | September, 2006
September 25, 2006

Visit to Chipping-Campden in the Cotswolds

At last we’ve gone through our pictures, and I’ve finished the blog post I started while at Heathrow! Here are the details of our last day in beautiful England….

We packed up our belongings Wednesday morning and loaded the car around 9:30. Melissa and I dashed into some of the shops in Bakewell to see if we could find some more gifts for family and friends. There are so many charming little stores in this tiny village. What interested us the most was seeing how vastly different the fashions in the windows are compared to those in London and Bath. There we saw much more avant garde clothing–lots of trendy, skimpy things. Up here, where the temperature is a good 10-15 degrees lower already, the fashions in the windows are far more sensible! Here you find woolen shops with tweed jackets and long skirts. We admired lots of beautiful sweaters made locally and further north. After picking up a few things, we headed back to the car and set off for Chipping-Campden, which is where Melissa’s father’s family came from.

The day started out overcast and windy, but as we approached Gloucestershire, the clouds scattered, revealing a bright blue sky and brilliant sunshine. By the time we reached Chipping-Campden at 2:15, it was warm enough to leave off our jackets for our walk about town. This place immediately won our hearts as our favorite village. Its buildings are of a yellow limestone even warmer than the color seen in Bath. There are doorways in shades of royal blue, forest green, and deep red, and flowers hang in abundance from wrought-iron baskets. Melissa’s third cousin, Barry, waved at us as we drove up, then greeted us warmly with kisses on the cheek and a handshake for Matt. We immediately liked him and felt at home. Melissa’s father visited Chipping-Campden almost a year ago and took the “grand tour” of Keen family sites, and Barry had offered to give us the same tour. We started out at the Eight Bells, a B&B and public house that served lunch. Unfortunately, we were too late by half an hour for lunch, so we walked down High Street to a small bakery that served lunch until 3pm. Barry treated us to a delicious meal and afternoon tea.

When we finished, we began our tour by stopping to look at a building that used to be the Live and Let Live Pub, which Melissa’s great-great-grandfather owned in the early 1900s. It now houses an antiques shop. We decided to return later to look through the antiques. Further down the street we visited the town’s market stall, built in 1679. It is an impressive edifice for a “stall!” Melissa’s great-grandfather etched his initials somewhere inside the building, but there are so many carvings that it has proven impossible for Barry to locate those particular initials! We gave it a good try and saw carvings dating to 1737–others without dates were deeply worn and had no doubt been there much longer. The uneven floor was made of worn stones and dipped in the center of each aisle, showing where years of foot traffic had gone.


Looking for initials in the market stall!

Next to the market stall is a tall memorial for WWI. Melissa’s great-grandfather designed and carved the memorial. He had apprenticed as a woodcarver and stone carver in a town guild and used his skills to ornament altar pieces for local churches as well as gravestones. We walked across High Street and headed back toward the town center to see the house where Melissa’s grandfather was born. The house is called the “twine house,” since it is next to an alleyway where men made ropes. Below you see the house, then Melissa standing in front of the house with the alleyway to the side.

After taking several pictures, Melissa and I decided to visit the antiques store before it closed. Matt and Barry walked on to St. James’s Church, which is where many members of the Keen family were baptized and buried. The antiques store proved to be one of those that you cannot skim! Melissa and I browsed all around the upstairs, which was filled with all kinds of fine china, silver, pewter, and more. Then we spied the stairs to the basement and headed down. There were three rooms jam-packed with more china and pewter, with scads of mugs and cups hanging from the rafters. It was unbelievable. Boxes on the floor held mismatched saucers and cups at 30 pence each. We poked around quite a while, then went upstairs to make our purchases. By then, the shop was closing, so we hurried on our way once we had our bags in hand and saw Matt hurrying toward us from the opposite direction. The churchwarden was on the way to lock up St. James’s, so we’d have to dash if we wanted to see the inside.

This beautiful parish church was built by Sir Baptist Hicks, who also built the market stall and a huge estate in Chipping-Campden. His name shows up all over the town, in fact, and plays a large part in the history of the area, as do the names of his parents. Inside the church is a tomb for his parents, who lie in marble effigy atop. Next to this are statues of Sir Hicks and his wife, along with a bust of their daughter, Penelope, who “died a mayd.” Sir Hicks’s wife commissioned the sculptures after the death of her husband and had them portrayed holding hands:

On the left you see the bust of Penelope.

The interior of the church is lofty and grand. We spoke with the churchwarden (who was actually running late–very fortunate!), and Melissa was able to look up her Keen ancestors in the church’s record book. Barry told us he had not been able to find the grave of Thomas and Elizabeth Keen, since its marker had been moved some time in the past. But as Matt walked out of the church, he saw the marker opposite him in the low stone wall next to the walk! Here is Melissa next to the tombstone:

We walked through the churchyard, marveling at the many stones (some of which may have been carved by Melissa’s great-grandfather), then we looked across a field to the ruin of Sir Baptist Hicks’s grand estate. The great house burned down a long time ago, and several gate houses are all that remain behind the high wall of the estate. The gate houses themselves are so huge that they’d easily contain a large family! Some mullioned windows stand partly open, and you can see remnants of curtains inside. Torture for the truly curious! Wouldn’t we love to see what was inside those 400-year-old houses! Here is the main gate into the estate, which stands next to the church:

We finally wended our way back down to town proper, passing the church’s almshouses on the way. These are as neat as a pin and beautifully kept, a testimony to a church that cared for its poor and widowed parishoners. Would that the modern church shared the same vision! It was now nearing suppertime, and we hoped to grab a bite before heading back to Heathrow, but the Eight Bells did not serve food until 6:30. Melissa took some last-minute pictures of the inn, which was originally built to house the men who built the church’s bell tower. It is a beautiful place, so warm and inviting! These pictures can’t do it justice, since a flash takes away from the warm glow of its atmosphere.

We bade Barry a fond farewell, hoping we’d see him again in the future. It really is amazing how you can “go home to a place you’ve never been,” but that’s just how we felt in Chipping-Campden and in Barry’s company. He is a delightful English gent, and we were so glad Melissa was able to meet one of her Keen relations across the Pond! We drove back to Heathrow through Oxford, finally reaching our hotel around 8:30pm. Thankfully, they were still serving supper until 10pm, so we were able to get a bite to eat! Then we repacked all our luggage to cram everything in, did some blogging, and took a brief nap. The hotel desk forgot to call our room to wake us up at 3am, so I awoke with a start to see 3:45 on the clock and leaped out of bed! Thankfully, they had called Melissa, who was already up and had gotten a cart for our luggage. After some wrangling to get things down the narrow hallways, we managed to get into our taxi and made it to our gate well in time. Security in Britain is far more strenuous than it is in the US (and you thought it was bad here!), but we made it through and boarded our flight without any delays. An uneventful flight across the Atlantic brought us back to DC, then to Atlanta, where Melissa’s mother picked us up and drove us home. It has taken until today (Monday) to get over the jet lag, which is far worse coming back than it is going over! But now we are happily settled back into our regular routine, enjoying memories of wonderful days in England and hoping for a return visit in the future.

Thank you to everyone who has left kind comments on the blog! It has been a pleasure to share the trip and all our fun with everyone. What a blessing to be able to go on such a journey with so many friends cheering us along!

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P.S. – Yes, I will upload the rest of our pictures and post links to them — watch for those in the near future!

P.P.S. – Someone wanted to know what kinds of “sculptures” were on the grounds of Chatsworth, but we didn’t waste camera memory on them! Just as an example, here are some brief descriptions: An upside down “boot” that looked like it was made of melted and burned marshmallows; a tall, skinny bunny beating a tambourine with a stick (looked like the Energizer Bunny after a diet–LOL!!!); various pieces of twisted metal painted bright, obnoxious colors; a waxwork (or latex or something) sunburned woman in a bikini lying on a lawn chair (I kid you not). We just tried to airbrush them out of our sight as we viewed the otherwise heavenly scenery all around! Perhaps some day the grounds will be returned to their former splendor and rid of the silly pop “art!”

September 23, 2006

Just a few random musings…

I don’t have pictures formatted or uploaded yet, so I’m not ready to post about our last day over in the Cotswolds, but I’ve been mulling over so many of the wonderful parts of our trip and figured I’d post a few thoughts before I forgot them. It has been wonderful to keep this travel journal while memories are fresh and I’ve had the time!

One thing I loved about English architecture was seeing how local materials are used to greatest advantage. Everywhere you go, it looks as though the buildings could have grown up right out of the ground. In Alton and Chawton, the brick is all a warm red that came straight from the native soil. In Bath, the golden limestone was quarried nearby and looks like it is happiest when the sun breaks through the constantly shifting cloud-cover. In Derbyshire and the north midlands, you find stone fences criss-crossing fields in abundance–built as the farmers pulled the stones out out while plowing (just as in my native Virginia). The same grey stone forms most of the houses and village shops as well. As you travel back down through the midlands, you see more red brick formed from the soil, then an almost yellow-gold stone meets the eye in the Cotswolds. Each area has its own unique color palette and texture.

As I flew back over the US on our way home, I could look down on fields that closely resembled the English countryside (particularly in Pennsylvania and Virginia), complete with native-stone fences and buildings (those over 150 years old, at least). After we landed in Atlanta and started our drive back home to Alabama, though, I couldn’t help but notice the vast tracts of “quickie mansions” all over the place. I’ve seen them before, but they just really stood out to me this time as flimsy and disposable. I know there are similar buildings in Great Britain, but they are so few and far between as to be the exception rather than the rule. I have to wonder why we Americans live such a fast-food existence, even when it comes to creating homes and places of worship. I’m really inspired to get back to saving clippings and pictures for a “future ‘real’ house” file. My own mother did this for years prior to designing the house we built when I was 12. Mom designed the passive solar house to last, and she made the most of the rocks that came out of our ground when we did our own landscaping and gardening. She scoured flea markets and garage sales for old doors, windows, and cabinets–some doors over 200 years old and built with pegs! Every nook and cranny in that house tells a story. I am thankful for the new house we live in here in AL, but I have to wonder how long it will last. Will it be here 300 years from now, a testament to hard work, skillful labor, and long-term planning? I have to admit that I doubt it. One of my dreams is for our family to build a house out of native materials that will stand the test of time and be a testimony to coming generations of the creativity and planning of their ancestors. Maybe it’s a silly dream, and maybe I’ll never see it realized–but perhaps one of my children will. Who knows? So I continue to stuff that manilla folder with ideas….

More random thoughts: I love the tradition of tea (morning and afternoon) in Britain. It’s actually a habit I formed myself when I was a newlywed, and my children love to see the teapot come out. They know it means a respite from the day’s pursuits and a few moments to sit, talk, and reflect. I loved all the tea shops in England, and I’m already using the lovely tea cozy Sarah sent home with us! One funny: When we had tea at Naomi’s house last Sunday, she said, “Now, do you mind having yours in a mug, or do you want a cup and saucer? I know how Americans rather expect the cup and saucer, but we English do use mugs!” We had to chuckle. I prefer a mug myself, since you can fit more tea into it, but my girls still love the delicacy of cups and saucers!

And, finally, though I’ve said it before, it bears repeating: the flowers! Everywhere. The tiniest cottage and the grandest estate all burst with beautiful flowers. There are hanging baskets, window boxes, pots, edged walks, even stone walls brimming with flowers. I have a rather notorious black thumb, to the consternation of my giftedly green-thumbed mother, but I am determined to overcome it and do more with flowers next year. They really do make a home something special–no matter how simple the landscaping. I’m already drooling over pictures of geraniums, nasturtiums, impatiens, sweet peas, and roses. Ahhh!

Well, that’s enough musing for now. My little ones will be up from naps shortly, and we’ll be having supper with dear friends. I hope your weekend is as warm and wonderful!

September 21, 2006

Home, Sweet Home!

We are back after more than 18 hours in the air and in airports. We are beat! But we had a happy return to five excited little people, and we are so glad to be together again at home. After we get over the jet lag crash, I’ll post the blog about our last day in England and the link to all the photos so you can enjoy all the sights!

Blessings,
Jennie

September 20, 2006

A Day in the Peaks and Chatsworth House

After going to bed to a cold, drizzling rain, we awoke Tuesday morning to glorious sunshine and this view from our hotel windows on the third floor:

Chatsworth doesn’t open until 11am, so we decided to drive through the Peak District all morning, then go to the great house after lunch. Let me tell you, it really is worthwhile to get a car if you come to England! It’s a little intimidating at first when you can’t understand all the road sign pictures and have to drive on the “wrong” side, but you quickly become acclimated. We lovethe roundabout system and wish we had it in the US. There are no four-way stops here and very few traffic lights unless you are in a major city like London or Birmingham. A roundabout keeps traffic moving smoothly, since you briefly yield (or “give way,” as they say here) to traffic already in the roundabout before joining in yourself. Then you take whatever “exit” you need to get back off the roundabout and go in a new direction. And if you missed your road, you just go ’round the roundabout again! It really is clever. We also understand now why English cars are so tiny. Over here, no one plows down villages to make way for a four-lane highway or larger streets with sidewalks. If a village has tiny lanes, your car has been designed small enough to fit them! And people really are careful drivers, even if they go fast. They’re used to the narrow streets and politely give way when necessary. Parking is scarce, so many streets have an entire lane taken up by parked cars that you must navigate around in order to go forward. The oncoming traffic will often stop or pull far over to the opposite side to let you pass. It’s tricky at first but old hat after a while.

Our innkeeper recommended we drive up toward Eyam (pronounced “Eam”) instead of taking the tourist cablecar into Abraham’s Heights. So we just set out, telling the GPS to navigate us around from one hamlet to the next. The scenery here is breathtaking. One moment you are in a tiny dale surrounded by hills and trees; the next you are up on a scraggy heath overlooking farms and villages (and sheep!). Some areas have very few trees, and we passed a couple of barren moors, but most of the area we drove had lots of trees with cleared fields and villages in the dales (valleys). One of our favorite places was Castleton–and after we stopped for a moment at the welcome center and looked behind us, we realized why it was named so. There is a very old castle ruin on the top of a hill above the village that looks to be at least 1000 years old–probably more. We encountered quite a number of walkers and hikers going up the tiny lane to see the castle and the rest of the views. What amazed us most were the number of spry and active 70- and 80-somethings walking along with their sticks and canes up hills and down dales. It is no surprise the British are more fit and healthy than Americans–particularly out here in the country. People walk everywhere and stay active. It’s most inspiring.

The scenery in this part of Derbyshire reminds me so much of James Herriot’s books (the animal doctor). Everywhere you see sheep, stone walls, stone barns and cottages, and farmers busy in their fields. There is no way for me to pick a favorite view from our morning drive, because each little village had its own charms and looked inviting. (We’ll upload the rest of the photos later and link to them!) You can stop anywhere for tea and sandwiches during the day, and there are so many bookshops it makes your head spin. We thoroughly enjoyed our morning’s outing and stopped at a nice country bookshop and cafe’ for lunch. There we enjoyed a leek and bacon quiche, brie, and a cornish pastie (a kind of miniature crepe filled with beef and potatoes–and pronounced “PASS-tee”). Once back in Bakewell, we decided to pick up the famous local “Bakewell Pudding,” which has been produced there for over 120 years. It is a cross between a tart and a creme brulee’ — just imagine a rich, almond-flavored custard in a pie crust, and you’ve got it. Very tasty! Melissa and I had been madly sewing on our way back to Bakewell to put the finishing touches on our outfits for Chatsworth. I just finished the last bit of lace on my crossover gown as we pulled up to the Rutland Arms. We got dressed, changed the babies, and purchased discount tickets at the hotel desk, then drove to the great estate.

I really don’t know if Chatsworth is what Jane Austen had in mind when she described Darcy’s Pemberley. Many say it is, and I could wholeheartedly agree when it comes to the landscaping and the grounds. As you approach the house, the beauty of the surrounding hills and the winding river Derwent is utterly enchanting. There is not a single spot of ground that has not been groomed to create a pleasing view–but it all looks natural rather than ornate or forced. It is just a heavenly place to look at. Towering trees, stone walkways, roses in abundance, cottage gardens, and kitchen gardens (even including chicken houses!) are all beautifully kept. The description of Elizabeth’s first view of Pemberley does come to mind: “They gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road with some abruptness wound. It was a large, handsome stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; and in front a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste.” That is precisely how Chatsworth looks as you drive up–even to the “high woody hills” in back and the stream “swelled into greater” eminence in the front.

It is awe-inspiring to think of the incredible responsibility it would be to care for such an estate. It would take serious management and skill to do it. This helps you understand what impressed Elizabeth so much about Darcy when she visited Pemberley. It wasn’t his wealth so much as his ability to manage it all and be a kind and caring landlord for his tenants at the same time. A fool and a spendthrift would never be able to maintain such a miniature universe. It takes maturity and great care. Such were our impressions throughout our visit.

The house itself is a bit overwhelming and so highly decorated in the heavy style of the 1680s that I don’t think it resembles Pemberley much at all. It is definitely “a fine house richly furnished,” as Elizabeth’s aunt said, but it doesn’t fit the description in the next chapter of its being “neither gaudy nor uselessly fine.” Many of the rooms are quite gaudy and drip with finery. We did enjoy the awe-inspiring spectacle of the state rooms (one of which was used in the recent “Pride & Prejudice” film). There are hundreds of oil portraits on the walls and many amazing artifacts, including two ca. 900BC stele recovered from a dig site in Egypt and placed into niches in the wall of one of the halls on the lower floor. Here is one:

The library contains books so rare that only scholars are permitted to handle them on special occasions. They date from the 1500s onwards. Room after room leaves your jaw hanging and eyes popping. But you certainly wouldn’t want to live there and be responsible for its upkeep! It would take an incredible housekeeper and steward to manage such a place. The family apartments are, of course, private, but we flipped through some books in the gift shop later and saw that they are almost as splendid as the rest of the house. I think I’d start wanting to bring in something shabby chic after a while! ;-)

What is very unfortunate about Chatsworth at present is its current occupant’s love for modern “art.” Ugly modern art paintings adorn some of the walls, and huge, hideous sculptures have been placed all over the grounds, spoiling many views and leaving the spectator scratching her head. Please pardon my rant, but can’t we just laugh at the ridiculous folly that calls the silliness on the left equal to the priceless work of a great talent on the right?

I have to wonder if there aren’t a great number of “artists” laughing their way to the bank after selling a canvas full of colored rectangles for a million or so pounds. It seems to me we moderns have totally let go of our senses. Let’s just be honest here. It really and truly does not take talent to lump a bunch of scrap metal together, spray paint it, and set it up on a concrete base. Yet we are expected to be “erudite” and view this silliness with serious reflection and find some meaning in it? I’m sorry, but there is more talent and gifting in a tiny Vermeer portrait than in one square inch of any of the horrid, ugly, and ridiculous pieces of “art” scattered over the lawns of Chatsworth. Some child needs to stand up and yell, “But, mother, the emperor hasn’t got any clothes on!” I can hear someone saying, “But it’s all about expression and the artist’s personal tastes.” Okay, but some people are better at expressing themselves than others and can make a meaningful speech rather than rambling on incoherently. They work hard to perfect their skills and hone their talents so that what they produce is timeless and reaches beyond their own generation. Would we pay good money to go to Carnegie Hall to hear someone shriek for an hour at $75 a ticket? (Hmm… perhaps that’s not the best example, considering some of the “music” today — but that’s another rant!)

One final example, and I’ll quit.This silly piece of pop art “sculpture” has been placed in the middle of the beautiful water cascade in back of Chatsworth. It is essentially a metal word taken from one of our American postage stamps from several years ago–“LOVE” with the “O” tilted to one side. Were I set to inherit Chatsworth, I’d prompty throw all this rubbish in a heap and melt it down in a grand bonfire. My apologies to the duke….

We did go through the sculpture gallery, which was added onto the main house in 1833 (so it wasn’t accurate for 1797 in P&P!). We loved seeing the veiled lady statue, which is truly beautiful. It was unfortunate that we couldn’t get close to it, since another piece of modern “art” was near it and roped off, which prevented us getting near enough for a good head-on look. Still, it was a lovely piece. There were two magnificent sculptures of lions in repose at the end of the gallery–gigantic in proportion and based upon earlier Italian sculptures. Next to one of these was a small display on Jane Austen and her connection to Chatsworth through Pride and Prejudice (which mentions the great estate). Then there is one of Keira Knightley’s dresses from the film and the bust of Matthew McFadyen as Darcy. The dress, while totally wrong for 1797, is still beautifully made (totally hand stitched!). The design on the back of the bodice is couched cord (cord laid out in a serpentine pattern and attached with thread loops). It’s a wonderful piece of work–if only the waistline was at its proper place! But enough authenticity griping….

We wandered all over the gardens and lawns of Chatsworth, taking so many pictures we filled up the camera’s memory card and had to (sob!) delete some pictures to make room for more. Out went the chickens! You can take pictures of them almost anywhere. And, who knows, we may think our pictures are repetitive once we get to looking through them, but we just couldn’t stop taking more as each new perspective presented itself! There are several themed gardens, but I think our favorites were the cottage garden and the rose garden. Gorgeous!

The west side of the house is what was used in the recent P&P film as the front of the house. This is where the reflecting pool and fountain are located. This is also the side of the house that contains the stairs Elizabeth runs down to escape Darcy. That area of the house is private, so we just took a long shot:

And here I am with Matt, standing before the impressive west side:

The owners of Chatsworth have been thoughtful enough to provide backpacks to carry babies, since strollers can’t go into the house. That’s why Matt has the big red pack on his back! Tucker thoroughly enjoyed the ride and fell asleep toward the end.

We walked up the hill behind the house to view the fountain at the top of the cascade, and halfway up a sign said, “Take extreme caution if you choose to enter the water.” Melissa and I looked at one another with a mischievous twinkle and immediately knew this was a must-do. We slipped off our shoes, handed over the babies to Matt, and stepped into the cool, refreshing water. The stones beneath were not at all slippery, so we weren’t worried about falling. The icy water felt wonderful on our tired feet, so we stood there for a few minutes while Matt took some pictures. Then we continued on up the hill to the fountain that spills into the cascade.

On our way out, we stopped and spoke at length with one of the estate’s trustees, a man from Derby (pronounced “Darby” here). His family went back for generations in Derbyshire, and he really knew the history of Chatsworth and many other facts about the area. He took time to explain the accent to us and why people in northern England say “Bath” rather than “Bahth.” He wanted to hear all about our English ancestors and why they went to America and when. Fascinating conversation! As we prepared to leave, he told us to take a footpath, cross the bridge into the estate, then climb the right bank of the river Derwent for a special view of Chatsworth. That’s when we took this shot. Finally, Melissa gave her very best “Marianne” impression and walked uphill amongst the sheep for some pictures. Isn’t she lovely? She even got stopped by a tourist who wanted his picture taken with her! There really is something special about going to a place like Chatsworth in period dress. I think you feel the elegance of the place a little more keenly. Or at least I can imagine that you do, and you can humor me. ;-)

We spent the rest of our daylight hours driving around the countryside further to the southeast (near the Heights of Abraham). We didn’t see any of the rocky outcroppings we’d heard so much about, but you really have to take a train up to get to those. Next time! We stopped at the Wheatsheaf in Bakewell for a hearty English supper of steak pie with potatoes and peas before returning to our hotel to look at pictures and update the blog. As I type these last few lines, I am in a hotel at Heathrow, where we’ve been since 8:30pm. Today was another spectacular day, but I’ll have to blog on it after I get home! Our flight leaves at 7am, which means we have to be at the airport at 4am. :-( Forget sleep. We’ll probably just snooze for a bit in our clothes before we head over to the terminal. We do appreciate all the prayers for safe travel! Lord willing, we’ll be in Atlanta by 2:30pm tomorrow! Farewell!


A teaser photo from Chipping-Campden!

P.S. – I just have to add that Matt surprised me with a unexpected gift yesterday. He bought the copy of the memoir Jane Austen’s nephew wrote! I was totally floored. What an anniversary! And, no, I really don’t ever expect him to top all this!

September 19, 2006

A Morning in Bath and a Drive into the Peaks!

I realize I forgot to mention yesterday that Matt and I visited Sydney Gardens in Bath on Sunday evening while the babies were napping. We got there before the sun set and enjoyed walking its paths. This was Jane Austen’s favorite spot in Bath. Here is a picture from the main entrance:

I’ll post more pictures later, since I took lots!

Monday morning we had breakfast, then packed up the car and checked out of our hotel. We drove into the center of Bath and parked up near the Circus so we could walk to the things we wanted to see (the Jane Austen Centre on Gay Street, the Assembly Rooms, Museum of Costume, and the Royal Crescent). We took a tiny side street (closed to traffic) and realized we had stumbled upon the very shops mentioned to us by Naomi the day before–an antique book store, an antiques shop, and a “charity shop” (what we Americans call a “thrift store”). We eagerly perused the tiny corner bookshop, which was filled with treasures. Matt found a biography of G.A. Henty, who is a favorite writer in our household, and Melissa found some top-secret gifts for members of her family. I got a beautiful book on the places mentioned in Jane Austen’s novels, which is filled with color photos and lots of neat descriptions. There was also an original copy of the memoir of Jane written by her nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, but I put it back on the shelf with a sigh of regret. Just a bit too pricey for the pocket! Still, it was fun to hold it for a while!

We checked out the antiques store, which was just like Dickens’s Curiosity Shop in the flesh! It was one of those places where you can barely walk without tumbling over something or other. Shelves stuffed with china dogs, old hats, candlesticks, and toast racks ranged the walls. From an upper balcony hung old military uniforms. In the very back of the shop was a photo of the same building 40 years earlier, when it was what we’d call a Five and Dime–a store that carries a little of everything at low prices. The interior shelves were all original to the shop and still advertised confectionary, quality goods, and tea! A little further down the lane was this cute cafe:

We continued down hill over stone sidewalks until we reached the Jane Austen Centre. This is a wonderful place to visit if you are ever in Bath! The staff are all fellow Janeites and very knowledgeable about Jane’s life and times–particularly about her time in Bath. The exhibit is well put together and includes a short film on Jane in Bath with Amanda Root as narrator (she played Anne Elliot in “Persuasion”). There are some original garments on display as well as several reproductions (out where you can see everything up close and not through glass!). Photography is allowed, so we took lots and lots of pictures! The doll shown here is from the Dressing Elizabeth Bennet feature that demonstrates all the layers of a lady’s Regency attire. Everything on the doll is hand-stitched, and Melissa and I just about went cross-eyed over the tiny handiwork! After we get back, we will size down the rest of the photos and put them all up so you can see everything! The Centre also features a third-story tea room that serves Regency tea daily, but we didn’t have time for that, so we moved on to the Assembly Rooms and Museum of Costume (which is in the basement of the same building). On the way, we saw the Royal Crescent, which is every bit as stunning as you’d imagine. It has its own private lawn/park in front and glows golden in the sunlight.

If you really want to see what the Assembly Rooms look like, watch the film version of “Persuasion” with Ciaran Hinds and Amanda Root. The room where Anne and Wentworth talk about “that wretched day in Lyme” is in the center of all the Assembly Rooms–a kind of “spoke” to a wheel. It is beautifully painted and has a domed ceiling. From there, you can walk into the “Upper Rooms,” which include a ballroom, an octagon room, and a concert hall. The hall is what you see when Anne goes to hear the Italian songs and sits with Mr. Elliot. Amazingly, the ballroom suffered a direct bomb hit in WWII and was faithfully restored to its former glory. The poor, misguided souls of the late Victorian era had actually gone in and painted the plain walls with all kinds of curlicues and wild birds and such, feeling that the room was too plain. The photograph of the “improvements” is something to see. Melissa and I agreed it was good that a later generation took everything back down to the basics and restored the beautiful simplicity of the original design! It’s a shame we weren’t allowed to take photographs, because the chandeliers alone were worth it!

The basement of the Assembly Rooms houses the Museum of Costume, which owns over 30,000 original garments. Only the merest fraction of those are on display at any given time, but we thoroughly enjoyed what we saw! here are some of my favorite Regency Era gowns:

When we get home, we’ll scale the rest of the pictures down a bit put them up so you can enjoy them all. The lighting was pretty low, so we used flash on some pictures (there is a bit of a glare at times as a result, but never directly on the garment itself). I wish we could have taken detailed closeups of the incredible lace and handwork displayed in one wall cabinet. It was breathtaking. (Matt, by the way, sat this one out so he could get us some lunch. I can hear him now, “No lace, Mrs. Bennet! No lace!“)

In one part of the museum we came upon some ladies working on mounting pockets for a future exhibit. These were beautiful pockets from the 18th century, and the curator had come up with a fantastic way to show how they worked. She dressed a mannequin in a reproduction shift, corset, and quilted petticoat, then created a see-through skirt out of–get this–steel! The skirt actually looked like organza, but it was woven entirely of thin steel “thread.” It was fireproof and touchproof and gave a bird’s eye view of the pockets tied around the waist of the mannequin. It’s always fun to see how curators come up w
ith display ideas!

After taking lots and lots of pictures, we finally went upstairs to drool all over the two gift shops, which are stuffed with fashion history books, paper dolls, Jane Austen ephemera, postcards, and more. I got a few postcards to keep and some to send home. Here is a picture of Matt after he dropped some postcards into the mail for home. We’ll probably beat them there, but it was still fun to post in that red box!

I have to stop and comment here that I think you come into Bath like Catherine Moreland and leave like Anne Elliot. As Catherine, you marvel at the incredible architecture and walk around like someone in a dream. Rounding each corner brings a new delight, and you wonder what you’ll see next. But after a day and a half in the town, you realize you’ve seen it all–and that’s all there is. It’s a fun place to visit, and the surrounding villages would make a charming place to live, but Bath itself is more a place to come and shop. That’s exactly how Jane Austen felt about it–that it was all one “white glare…cast from a mould.” In her day, she said it was full of “single persons, mostly superannuated females!” It was a place to go and be seen, but most of the activities became wearing after a while. She much preferred the country. We adored Bath and would gladly go there again, but we were glad to press on to the north country and enjoy its beauties!

So, stowed back in the car with our “take-away” lunch, we hit the road for Derbyshire. We’d instructed the GPS to take us by the scenic route rather than primarily by the M roads. Driving through Gloucestershire and Warwickshire was a treat–mile upon mile of wonderful scenery and beautiful villages. Here’s my “bird’s eye view” from the back seat, where I was blogging about Sunday as we drove yesterday:

And here are my happy companions on either side!

As we approached Warwick, I asked Matt if we had time to stop by Warwick Castle, which I visited when I was 16. It was right in our way, so we hopped out for a detour. The earliest section of the castle dates to William the Conqueror, while the later sections were begun in the 1100s and continued up through Elizabethan times. During the English Civil War, the inhabitants of the castle sided with Oliver Cromwell and avoided the fate of nearby Kenilworth Castle, which was sacked and burned. There is a Kenilworth bedroom in Warwick castle that contains paneling stripped from Kenilworth when that castle was sacked. Later, Queen Victoria had a matching wardrobe made to go with the paneling and presented it to the Duke as a gift. The original paneling contains the name of Robert Dudley, who was friend to Queen Elizabeth I (they were prisoners in the Tower at the same time). Speaking of whom, one of QEI’s saddles rests in a case in the Great Hall of the castle! Melissa photographed it. (We’ll upload all the Warwick pictures when we have a good connection at home to handle all the files.) The Great Hall currently houses (in addition to its regular armor and such) a collection of costumes worn in plays by the Royal Shakespeare Company. The display started two days before our arrival, and we were tickled to get to see this little “bonus.” Melissa and I walked through the “1898 Victorian House Party,” which is a huge collection of wax figures in period dress throughout the main rooms of the castle. Included among the figures are a young Winston Churchill and Prince Edward IV (for whom the “Edwardian Era” was named). I saw this same exhibit when I was 16, and it hasn’t changed a bit. I guess they must regularly clean the costumes and dust the figures!

I know my boys will love to see pictures of some armor and the huge trebuchet (catapult) next to the castle, so here are some of my favorite shots!

Because we arrived at the castle an hour before closing time, we got discounted tickets–and we still had plenty of time to look around. If you ever plan to visit, consider going late to get the discount! You will have plenty of time to poke around and see all the wonderful sights. We saw a tournament ground on one side that is used for reenactments. It’s a shame they weren’t putting one on while we were there.

We still had about two hours to go before we’d reach Bakewell, so we skipped supper and pushed on toward Derbyshire. The GPS guided us through several tiny villages with narrow streets as darkness fell, but when it announced, “You have reached your destination,” we were in the center of a hamlet almost entirely dark except for the lights at a nearby pub! We looked at each other in bewilderment, and Matt drove carefully along, looking for the sign of the Rutland Arms Hotel. No such animal. He turned around and drove back to the Bull’s Head public house to ask for directions. The keeper there said, “Oh, you mean the “ROOTlund Arms?” (The northern English accent is decidely different from the southern accent. “Me” is pronounced “meh,” and “you” is pronounced “yeh.” They also use a short “a” like we do–saying “Bath” instead of “Bahth.” “House” sounds more like “hoos,” and some vowels are almost dropped entirely. It is so much fun to hear the almost Scottish or Welsh tones and pronunciations. It’s a lovely accent.) Well, Matt pointed the car in the direction indicated, and we went three and a half miles as instructed. Ah-ha! Now we were in Bakewell. But where was the Rutland Arms? Not a thing remotely resembling it to be seen…. Matt remarked, “A neon sign would be nice!” (understand, there are almost NO neon signs in the English countryside!). We decided to see if the GPS could now find the Rutland Arms, and it did, but it said it was another three miles distant. We pressed on and ended up in another village entirely, but there was the Rutland Arms! Matt pulled into the car park and went in, just to make sure. A bemused innkeeper told us there are two identically named hotels within four miles of each other and that the one we wanted was back in Bakewell! The GPS still didn’t show it, so we just drove back and went slowly into the town center. There, in blazing neon glory, was a sign: Rutland Arms Hotel”–hanging just below the roofline of a tall building right in front of the town’s main roundabout! We all had a good laugh over that one. We couldn’t see it coming in from the other side of town, but it sure was obvious now!

By now, it was 9:05, and the hotel’s restaurant had already closed
. We’ve discovered that just about everything in the country closes around 9pm save the pubs, which are usually open until 11 (but not serving food). After inquiring at a couple of places, we found there was an authentic Indian restaurant that served until 9:30. So out in the heart of Derbyshire, we ate curried chicken and lamb massala over warm garlic pitas! It was quite delicious, and our host (a native Indian) was warm and friendly. He loved the twins, as his own wife is expecting their first child. There has been a fun and unexpected surprise on just about every stage of this journey. We feel so blessed!

I formatted pictures and updated the blog before going to bed, and tomorrow I’ll tell you about what we did today–driving around the peak district, eating a real Bakewell pudding, and visiting Chatsworth in period dress, where we saw Mr. Darcy and gave him all your best regards. ;-) Here’s a teaser picture to keep you in suspense:


What on earth are those gals up to now?
Playing in Mr. Darcy’s waterfall cascade? The temerity!

Good night, all!

September 18, 2006

Beautiful Sunday…

I’m typing as we drive northward to Derbyshire. It has been a wonderful day thus far, but I want to recap Sunday before I cover today’s delights!

We breakfasted at Leighton House Sunday morning, then drove to Bradford on Avon for church. The scenery there was beautiful, as you can see. Everything in this part of the country is particularly green and lush from the regular rainfall. The drive to church was so nice, and Matt’s GPS was working again (it started working once we got out of the area immediately surrounding London, oddly enough!). The only difficulty was that the GPS didn’t have a street number for the church, so we ended up driving right past it (and none of us saw it). We turned around and found the railway station, which has a car park. After parking, we walked up the hill into Bradford proper, and the church was directly in front of us! Here’s a picture I took afterwards when we left Bradford:

The Old Baptist Chapel started in the 1600s with a group of dissenters who broke from the Anglican church. They had to meet in the woods near the river Avon at first, since their activities were considered illegal. For a time, they did not even sing hymns fo fear of being caught and persecuted. The little church building itself was put up in the 1700s and remodeled in the 18th century. It is very simple–much like an American colonial church with elevated pulpit. The minister was out this week, as was his son (who is co-minister), so a guest preacher was in from another county. We thoroughly enjoyed his sermon, which exhorted us to remember the charge given to the Israelites in Joshua 22:5 (“But take careful heed to do the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to keep His commandments, to hold fast to Him, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul”). The minister encouraged us to keep five steps of the Christian walk in mind: love, walk, obey, hold fast, and serve. It was a wonderful sermon, and we felt at home in the congregation.

Immediately after the service, the minister’s daughter introduced herself to us and invited us to lunch. We were delighted to accept and walked up the hill from the church to a tiny alleyway next to St. Margaret’s Place. I wish I had photographed the beautiful enclosed garden opposite the house. It was a small paradise full of flowers, butterflies, and birds. The house itself was, as our hostess told us, “older than your Constitution!” Built in the 17th century, it featured foot-thick walls and exposed beams. The low ceilings gave everything such a cozy feel. Back in the 1600s, only the Royal Navy was allowed to use fresh-cut oak. All new timber was needed to outfit ships, so houses were built of lumber from dismantled ships! The beams in the house came from ships that had sailed all over (possibly even to America and back). It was fun to speculate about where the house had “traveled” before it was built!

Our lunch consisted of a savory cottage pie (what we Americans mistakenly call “shepherd’s pie”–but that is made from mutton rather than beef in England), vegetables, and a marvelous fruit and rice pudding made from raspberries, black currants, and apples all from the garden next to the house. Naomi apologized for serving us what they call “poor food,” but we thought it rich, indeed! I’ve requested the recipes and hope to reproduce these dishes at home. I know the children will love them! But better than the food was the warm fellowship we enjoyed with our lovely hostess. It never ceases to amaze me how you can find a kindred spirit all the way across the globe within the Body of Christ! We shared so many things in common, and our conversation flowed as naturally as if we’d known each other for years. What a precious gift! Two hours flew by as we relaxed and talked and laughed at the babies’ antics.

Matt thoroughly enjoyed Naomi’s father’s study, which contained many rare books and even several volumes we have in our library. Best of all were two rare Bibles–one a Geneva Bible from 1608 and one a Tyndale Bible from 1569. The first book is rare enough, but the second is like finding gold. The minister actually found it in a cow shed, bound between two boards! Matt was thrilled to be able to hold these in his hands–testaments to the faithfulness of Christians to keep God’s Word in spite of persecution and even death. We truly take so much for granted. It was sobering to hear that many ministers in Great Britain are now in jail for preaching the gospel. We saw two articles at the church that showed how far Britain has strayed from its Christian civilization. “Tolerance” is lauded all over the place, yet they jail men for preaching God’s word! Sobering. But we didn’t dwell entirely on such things. There is much going on that is exciting and encouraging in Britain, and being with Naomi was a great breath of fresh air.

As the clock chimed out 2:30, we gathered our things and walked back down the hill to our car and headed back to Bath. It looked like it would rain, but the weather really does shift moment by moment, so we weren’t concerned about it. Late in the afternoon, we headed to the Pump Room for a Pride and Prejudice Tea, put on in honor of the Jane Austen Festival. We walked up the street to the Pump Room in full Regency Dress–even Matt in his tailcoat! Crowds of people filled the street, and we got a lot of laughs and funny comments from passersby. One pointed to our modern stroller and said, “Mixing up the eras a bit, aren’t we?” Matt replied, “It’s the latest thing in Bath!” The Pump Room is every bit as thrilling as you’d imagine (well, if you’re a Janeite like some of us!). It looks much as it did in Jane’s day with the exception of the tables and chairs, which are cleared away on some occasions. There is a gent who mans the fountain and hands out the “healthful waters” of Bath to those brave enough to try them. He lives in period dress five days a week and really acts his part. You can tell he loves his job! He gave me a glass of the warm water, which tastes like sulphur mixed with metal and a dash of salt! Not at all pleasant, but certainly worth a try if you want the full experience! Here he is in his glory, manning his station:

And here is the pump itself:

You can look down from the Pump Room windows directly into the Roman baths. The water level has been changed in recent years when the floor o
f the baths began to give way. You can see the original water line, which is a rusty red all the way around the baths.

We thoroughly enjoyed the tea and found another table of ladies in Regency dress in attendance as well. They were in Bath for the festival and planned to dress up every day for various events. One lady told me they sew all year for this festival and create new gowns for every occasion! I also had the privilege of meeting one of my long-time customers from Germany, who was in Bath with her mother. She hadn’t dressed up for the tea but said she planned to make more outfits next year and dress for everything. It’s so much more fun to go when you are dressed for the era! Speaking of which, here we are at our tea table, enjoying delicious scones with clotted cream and jam:

When we first arrived, Patrick promptly fell asleep, but Tucker was a bit fussy–so Matt gave him his first taste of sugar!

As you can see, Tucker really enjoyed his sweet treat!

Here I am with Tucker just after finishing tea:

And here is Patrick, finally awake and happy, with Miss Melissa:

At the end of our tea, we strolled out into the side street, which is home to the great Bath Abbey. The carvings on the exterior are amazing and include Jacob’s Ladder with angels ascending and descending–each one unique. We didn’t get to go inside the Abbey, which was closed to visitors in the afternoon. This cathedral is fairly new–only 500 years old. ;-) The square in front of the Abbey is beautiful and includes the side entrance to the pump room and lots of hanging flowers:

And here I am with Melissa in front of the main Pump Room entrance:

We strolled around the sunlit streets of Bath for a time, enjoying all the lovely sights of a tranquil Sunday afternoon. I have to say, when you first arrive in Bath, you feel quite a bit like Catherine Moreland from Northanger Abbey. Everything is big and bright and wondrous. The whole town sets you agog with its golden glow. Each new street or alleyway holds an adventure, with quaint shops like this one in abundance:

What is even more amazing is that I discovered our inn is on the very hill mentioned by Jane Austen in the book as the one Henry Tilney walks upon with Catherine to show her the view of Bath! So our view is the exact one Jane meant when she described Bath in the book. Now the hill is filled with houses built in the late 1800s, but back then, it was all wide open. Here are some pictures of Leighton House and its wonderful garden:

We enjoyed our stay at the inn very much with its close proximity to the city center and its marvelous view. If you’re ever in Bath, I’d highly recommend a stay there! Breakfast is top-notch, too! Tomorrow (if I have time!), I’ll fill you in on the rest of our time in Bath. We left around 2pm after visiting the Jane Austen Centre (fantastic!), the Assembly Rooms (exquisite!), and the Museum of Costume (WOW!). We took so many pictures we filled the camera’s memory card and had to download to continue! I think the only way to share all the costume photos will be to upload them to PhotoBucket and share the link. Lots and lots of yummy gowns! Same with the JA Centre, which has its own collection of original and reproduction outfits. First rate!

But for now, I must turn in. We are in Bakewell, Derbyshire, right in the heart of the Peak National Park. Tomorrow we see the peaks and Chatsworth!

September 17, 2006

Saturday Recap

September 17, 2006

"I am for Bath!"

We had an absolutely wonderful day yesterday, wending our way to Chawton and Winchester and finally arriving in Bath around 8pm. We went out for a late supper around 9:30, leaving me no time to edit pictures or blog before bed. But I promise a nice, long, juicy post later this evening! Today we are going to church in Bradford on Avon, about six miles from here. Sarah (from London) has cousins in Bradford who attend an evangelical church there (for those a bit in the dark about such terms, this basically means non-Anglican — they would have been “dissenters” back in the day and most closely resemble our Reformed Baptists in the US). We look forward to worshiping and fellowshiping!

But just to give you a little taste, here are some pictures from yesterday’s adventures:


Shopping for English muslin at MacCulloch & Wallis.
What? You don’t shop for fabric in full Regency dress? Why ever not?

Oh, by the by, all of these pictures are clickable. I apologize for the non-clickable pictures in Friday’s post, but Blogspot was giving me fits and not allowing photos in my post, so I had to squish them all and upload them to my site to get them to work. When I have time, I’ll go back and add the larger versions, making them clickable. Oh, and, um… Melissa and I didn’t set out to dress alike again. That was a total fluke. We got asked all day if we were twins. I am completely flattered…!


Here I am with Melissa in front of Miss Austen’s house in Chawton. I can’t wait to tell you about our visit! It was quite wonderful, and Miss Melissa had an especially exciting time! (Sorry, you’ll just have to suffer until I can explain. ;-)


This is the side entrance to Jane’s house. Isn’t it a picture? The roses had that true, rich, rosy smell our American hybrids lack. The whole garden is gorgeous.


Here I am with my Mr. Knightley (and Bingley and Darcy and Wentworth all rolled into one!). We stand beside the front door, next to the bricked-in window.


Melissa took this shot of Bath’s cathedral last night on our way to supper. Slightly blurry–sorry, we were hurrying along!

Well, I must prepare to leave for church. I hope to be back at the keyboard later tonight with lots of stories to share! Right now, the sun is streaming down in golden glory and the birds are singing their hearts out in the garden outside the window as we sit atop a hill overlooking Bath from Leighton House. Someone pinch me!

September 15, 2006

A Sunny Day in Londontown…

It’s 10pm as I begin writing this, and what a wonderful 12 hours we have had! Our visit in London has gone beyond our expectations and left us completely satisfied (though very tired!). Let me start at the beginning and take you on a virtual tour:

Getting up this morning wasn’t easy, as jet lag officially set in. I managed to pry myself out of bed around 8:15 am British time (which is 2:15 am home time!). Patrick slept all night like an angel, but Tucker was up and down a few times. Seems they have gotten onto opposite sleep/wake schedules, but we’ll see if that evens out! We took our time getting ready and missed the hotel breakfast, but we weren’t quite ravenously hungry as yet. We popped the babies into their stroller and headed down Queensberry Place in the general direction of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Here I am with Melissa and the babies as we started out (and, no, we didn’t plan for both of us to wear red toile skirts–just happened that way!):

On the way, we found a little street cafe that served breakfast. Here we are, sitting in the beautiful morning sunshine. (The weather, by the way, has been completely fabulous. Temps in the low 70s; sunny; breezy; perfect. This is definitely the time of year to visit England!)

London is a very busy place in the morning, and it was a little overwhelming to watch the traffic speed by. We saw lots of parked bicycles and laughed at the thought of anyone actually riding on one in the insane traffic! But it is done, we hear. Brave souls. Sitting and just watching the crowds go by was a great way to break ourselves into London, because we became accustomed to the pace as the minutes went by. Matt and I split a delicious breakfast sandwich of eggs and bacon on a baguette. I’ve heard that British bacon is limp and flabby, but I’m here to tell you it is crisped to perfection and delicious! Except for burning my tongue on the hot chocolate, breakfast was a wonderful experience all around.

After our breakfast, we continued on our way to the V&A. Most of the streets in South Kensington contain rows of beautiful white houses with black iron railing out front. Here’s a typical scene:

The V&A was only a few blocks away, and we immediately made our way to the costume collection, where we spent about 45 minutes drooling over wonderful things! There is no way to share them all (Melissa and I took 174 pictures between the two of us today!), but here are some of the highlights:


ca. 1820 ballgown with gold thread embroidery. Yummy!


Here’s a closeup!


This is a ca. 1818 gown with white pintucks and amazing sleeves


A beautiful Romantic Era dress with lots of fine details at the shoulders and neckline


This Romantic Era wedding gown is made of English muslin, which is something you simply cannot get in the States (our muslin is what the British call calico). However, Suzi Clarke has given me the source here for real English muslin (plain and spotted), so we’re going to stop in at the store tomorrow to see if we can pick some up.


I love this beautiful 1914 day dress of blue linen. The collar is wonderful, and the pockets are like shallow versions of my Edwardian Apron pattern’s pockets.


These pink stays are from the late 1600s and were actually in the Europe gallery rather than in the costume gallery. Such a lovely color!


For my boys at home: A half suit of armor! This one was meant for sport, which is why it’s not a full suit. Bright and shiny!


Another photo for my boys. When you first enter the V&A, they have several full-sized models of “flying machines” suspended from the ceiling. I thought you’d enjoy this man with his early hang glider!


And for my fellow tea afficianados: This is an 18th-century tea service on its own table, which has indented spots for each person’s cup and saucer!

Well, there was lots more to see in the V&A, and we loved wandering through the various exhibits, but we did eventually hop on the tube to head to St. James’s Park, where we were scheduled to have a picnic lunch with my pen-friend, Sarah, and her husband. It was an absolutely gorgeous day for a picnic, and we had this terrific view of Buckingham Palace (the queen was out for the day!):

Sarah had packed an amazing lunch for us of ham sandwiches, cheese quiche, fresh English apples (a rarity, we hear), tomatoes, Elderflower water (VERY delicious!), and a chocolate cake to top it off. Here we are, thoroughly enjoying ourselves in the shade:


THANK YOU, Sarah and Alun!

Sarah had also brought us some lovely gifts of tea and a tea cozy, plus English soap for Melissa and a beautiful ABC book for my children. Perfect! After this delightful visit with our friends, we decided to take a scenic walk to Westminster to see the Abbey and other sights along the way. By now, we weren’t afraid of the crosswalks–even when the buses went tearing around the corner! We passed Trafalgar Square, where we saw the famous statue of Lord Nelson on his high column:


Notice the empty sleeve pinned to the jacket’s front. He lost his arm in a naval battle.

One thing we love about London is the abundance of flowers wherever you look. This is a shot from Trafalgar Square, where baskets of flowers hang on the posts:

There are, of course, pubs on nearly every corner, and they are beautifully designed with flower boxes in front. Here is one of the prettiest ones we saw today:


We passed Scotland Yard, then rounded a corner to see Big Ben looming above us. As we walked by, the quarter hour began to chime, which was a treat to hear!

Finally, we made it to Westminster Abbey. They do not allow photography inside, unfortunately, or we would surely have gone crazy with the camera! It is a magnificent cathedral with so many historical figures buried inside it makes your head spin. We saw the tombs of Elizabeth I, Henry V, Mary Queen of Scots, and so many others. Poets Corner was a treat, as we stood over the graves of Robert Browning, George Eliot, and other names that make an English major’s heart warm within her! Even Jane Austen had an honorary plaque on one wall, though she is buried elsew
here. As we walked through one of the numerous side rooms, a voice came over the loudspeaker asking everyone to stop and remain still and silent for a moment as he prayed. Then came a wonderful call for us to contemplate the stained glass windows, created to the glory of God, and remember that they were there to remind us of Christ’s glory and majesty. It was a beautiful moment, and we were amazed to see the reverent attention by all visitors there. I rather doubt anyone would bother to stand still and quiet if this was done in America….


Westminster Abbey

A visiting curate took time to stop and ask us about our babies and assist us with the carriage. He helped us go “behind the scenes” a bit so that we wouldn’t have to push through a crowd on our way out. And I have to stop here and just comment on the incredible civility and kindness of Londoners in general. Everywhere we went today, someone stopped and offered to help us carry the stroller up or down stairs. So many times a polite bystander said, “May I assist?” and promptly reached out a hand to help. This has been the case all over the city. Again, we have to wonder if this would happen in America. Even in our famously hospitable South, I’ve never met with such overwhelming kindness and care. Truly, London is a friendly city!

At last we started for Knightsbridge, where the famous Harrods store is located. We were slated to meet costumier Suzi Clarke there at 3:45 for tea in the Georgian Restaurant. That’s when our major mishap of the day occurred! Matt lifted the stroller into the railcar, and I followed behind a few steps. Just as I stepped in, the door shut firmly behind me, leaving Melissa stranded at Westminster Underground! There is no way to open the door once it shuts, so Matt mouthed, “Kensington” as the train began to pull away. There was nothing to do but go on to our stop and see if Melissa followed. We got off and waited on the platform as three trains disembarked, one after the other. No Melissa! I asked Matt to call Harrods to tell Suzi we’d be late, and we watched another trainful of people empty onto the platform. That’s when Matt decided he should go back to the station, figuring Melissa must have decided to stay put (wise move!). I took Tucker and went ahead to Knightsbridge so Suzi wouldn’t worry. When I got there, I found that Suzi had only just arrived shortly before and was worried she would be late! We chatted for a while, then went ahead and ordered tea, since we weren’t sure how long it would take the others to arrive. About twenty minutes later, they both came in. (Insert heavy sigh of relief on my part!) Melissa had, indeed, stayed put and waited for us to come back for her. Smart girl!

The Georgian Restaurant is delightful, and we enjoyed a traditional English tea with finger sandwiches, scones, and cakes. Delicious! We visited for two solid hours. Suzi is a TREAT, let me tell you! She and I swapped costuming stories and baby stories and just generally had a great time. When we finally parted ways, she left me with gift books–one for me and one for the children! I am tickled pink that we were able to meet in person after knowing one another online for a few years. Suzi studied costuming from Jean Hunniset and other well-known historical costumers and has a wealth of knowledge. I could talk to her for days! Here we are, enjoying our tea:

After leaving Harrods, we walked back to our hotel, which was a few blocks away. We left the stroller and walked to a nearby Italian restaurant for supper. Delicious! Then we found a pastry shop for dessert and coffee and got to talk to the children, who called in while we were there. So good to hear their voices! Finally, we walked back to the hotel. Here is the Museum of Natural Science, all lit up at night:

Our feet are tired, but our faces are happy. It has been an incredible day in London. What a wonderful way to start our trip! And here are my men, done in from all the day’s excitement:

Hope to see you here tomorrow! Until then, good night!

September 14, 2006

In merry old England!

We are here! Our flight to London was uneventful, but we weren’t sure we’d get on it at first. The gate agent at Dulles airport said we did not have the babies on our tickets and simply could not board without adding them. Word to the wise: Don’t let Travelocity do your booking for you! It is always best to call the airline to be sure they know you have infants in tow! With time ticking away and “last call” for boarding issued twice, we did finally manage to get on the flight, but not until after security had confiscated Melissa’s lip gloss and mine–ones that had made it through Atlanta’s security checkpoint! Another word to the wise: Don’t take anything on board that remotely resembles a tube or a cream container–even if the contents are solid! The twins did beautifully on the flight over without a bit of fussing. They slept well and cooed the rest of the time. We got lots of compliments–especially from the people who had looked worried when they saw us sitting down with two babies! What a blessing….

We had a bit of a fiasco with our rental car when we arrived. Turns out that Thrifty’s desk is not located in Heathrow airport. It is in another hotel a couple of miles away! I had called twice to make sure they could give us our vehicle after 11pm, since our flight arrived at 9:45, and we had to make it through customs. They assured me that would be no trouble. Once again, Travelocity got it wrong. The Thrifty desk closes at 10pm, and we didn’t make it over on the shuttle bus until around 11:30. But it really was providential in the long run. Now that we’ve ridden into London on a minibus, we are not at all keen on driving here! It is rather a daunting prospect, especially with all the roundabouts and crazy turns. Our bus driver had a GPS and still had trouble finding the hotel. ;-) The kindly concierge at the Sheraton Heathrow helped us to get the minibus and said we’d be happy not to have to bother with a car until Saturday. So we plan to call Thrifty tomorrow to tell them we will pick it up on Saturday when we are ready to head into Hampshire–and that we do, of course, expect them to keep their end of the bargain as far as our discount rate goes (or heads will roll at Travelocity!). We’ll just see how it all shapes up. In the meantime, we’re happy to have arrived at the Gallery Hotel in South Kensington. It is a very cozy little spot with lots of antique oil paintings decorating the walls. Our “double” room is about half the size of a conventional American hotel room, but we knew to expect that. We’re in a prime spot, since we can walk to the V&A Museum, Kensington Palace, and other local attractions.

Don’t know when I’ll get to blog tomorrow, but we do plan to take LOTS of pictures. Our hope is to go to the V&A in the morning, then bus over to St. James’s Park to meet an English pen-friend for a picnic lunch. Then we’ll spend the early afternoon sight-seeing around the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, etc. At 3:45, we are due to meet costumier Suzi Clarke at Harrods’s Georgian Restaurant for English high tea! After that, we may just take a double-decker bus tour to see the sights — or we may pop into the British Museum. I realize there is no way to do the British Museum justice in less than two or three days, but at least we can see some highlights. My boys were utterly thrilled to think their mother might actually get to see the mummies!

Well, we need to get to sleep and try to get ourselves onto the new time schedule. The babies are wide awake and happy at the moment, but perhaps they’ll calm down and sleep after nursing. Good night, all!

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