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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!

September 14, 2006

Sitting at Dulles airport…

The babies did beautifully on their first plane ride, sleeping or cooing happily the whole time. Hurrah! Now if they can manage that for a six-hour flight to London….

It’s rainy and cold here in Sterling, VA, with thick overcast. The ride down through the clouds was a bit bumpy, but we had a perfectly smooth landing. Now we’re just waiting to see if our England flight boards on time. We have about 30 minutes before boarding.

And some sad news: I discovered while in Atlanta that I had left behind my wonderful digital camera! Aaaaaugh! I was so excited about using it on this trip, since it shoots video as well as still images. Thankfully, Melissa’s sister loaned us her camera for the trip, so we do have a backup plan! And maybe, just maybe, my camera has slipped down into a crack, waiting to be discovered. Matt has the battery recharger and download cable in his briefcase, but the camera is nowhere to be seen. (Sniff, sniff!)

Oh, well… If a lost camera is all we have to contend with, I will be thankful. Time to shut down and get ready for boarding!

September 14, 2006

Sitting in Atlanta airport…

According to current guidelines, we were supposed to be here three hours prior to our flight (which is at 6am). Well, the ticket check-in counter doesn’t open until 4:30am, so here we sit. ;-) Sometimes you just have to wonder if the left hand knows what the right hand is doing.

We drove through thick fog and rain halfway to the airport, but it’s clear here, so we hope we won’t have any delays once we get boarded! Thank you for your prayers. I’ve flown all my life, but it’s really different when you’re putting an ocean between you and five of your little people back home!

September 2, 2006

What a wonderful anniversary surprise!

My incredible, gallant husband surprised me in June on our tenth anniversary by announcing he‘d be taking me to England this year! The last time I went I was sixteen and spent most of my time in Uppingham, a little village in central England. It was charming, and I did get to visit some castles and such, but I’ve always wanted to go back and see “Jane Austen’s England.” I can hardly believe we are really going! We’ll have the twins with us, so my dear friend Melissa is coming to help with the babies and enjoy all the glories of the English countryside. We are both Jane Austen fanatics, so this is going to be a double treat! We’ve even been sewing new Regency gowns to wear while we’re traipsing about.

Our plans include visiting the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, having a picnic in St. James’s park with pen-pals, seeing Kensington Palace, and taking tea at Harrod’s with an English costumier. We’ll then travel into Hampshire to visit Jane Austen’s house at Chawton, which now contains the JA Museum. From there, it is a short dash to Winchester Cathedral, where Jane is buried. We plan to take some leisurely walks about the countryside if the weather is fine.

From there, we’ll head to Bath for the annual Jane Austen Festival. We’ll be able to see the places Jane visited when she lived in Bath, including the famous Crescent and all the delights of the Pump Room and the Assembly Rooms, which now house the celebrated Costume Museum of Bath! The annual Festival includes a costumed promenade, which we will, unfortunately, miss. However, we’ll be able to do a walking tour of Bath with fellow Janeites, experience a real Georgian tea at the Pump Room, see the places mentioned in novels like Persuasion, and attend a harp concert.
Finally, we’ll head to Derbyshire to spend a couple of refreshing days visiting the Peaks and the great Chatsworth estate, which Jane visited herself. I am looking forward to seeing the amazing vistas, which have also been used in many Jane Austen film adaptations. Haddon Hall is close by, and if we have time to stop there, we will. This is the estate that has been used as Thornfield Hall in several “Jane Eyre” films, including the new one in production by BBC1. There’s so much to do in Derbyshire that we may overextend ourselves, but I’ll try to keep my enthusiasm reined in. ;-)

On our way back down to London, we’ll stop in at Chipping-Campden to visit Miss Melissa’s English cousins and see the pub once owned by her great-great-grandfather. It’s always neat to trace genealogy while you’re on a pleasure tour. I hope to track down some of my ancestors while we are in Winchester, which is where the Ethells came from when they migrated to the Colonies in 1746. Before that, they were Scottish (Athol), but I know for sure they were in Winchester prior to leaving for Virginia. I would be so excited to find record of them while there, but, again, I mustn’t let my ambitions outrun our ability to keep up with them on a week-long trip!

We so look forward to this incredible journey, and I hope to share lots of photos and fun insights as we travel!

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