February 26, 2009

Rochester: Part II

After the wonderful tour of the castle (and a quick stop in the gift shop for treats for my children!), we headed back down the hill toward the Cathedral. Through a side door, you enter the ruins of the old abbey, seen in the photo at left. There is a beautiful garden through the lower archway, complete with splendid English roses. Somehow we didn’t manage photos of those, but we were in a hurry for tea and a little rest, so we continued across the broad, green lawn into the cozy little tea room.

The tea room is an unpretentious, easygoing place built into a house that has served the church for over 200 years. They offer the usual scones and clotted cream with preserves and had a variety of teas available. We sat down to enjoy our little repast and chat about what we wanted to do next.

Yes, they do serve tea on plastic trays in England… ;-)

We knew we wanted to see the two big used bookshops in Rochester before heading back to London, but we weren’t sure where to start. The main street isn’t very long, so we wandered back down it until we stumbled across the first place, a little hole in the wall absolutely crammed to the ceiling with books. The proprietor let us browse, and we found many bargains (100-year-old Dickens’ editions for a pound!). Purchases in hand, we moved on down the street to an OxFam shop–akin to an American Goodwill. There were a few books, but nothing really tempted us there. We were beginning to wonder if we’d find the big store our hostess had told us about when we bumped into it at the end of the street. We entered two stories of antique book bliss! I found several volumes of 19th-century adventure stories for my son and regretfully walked away from expensive, leather-bound editions of favorite classics. It was dreamy just to browse!

But time marched on, and we knew we had to catch the bus back to our train to make it to London before it was too late. We bade a fond farewell to lovely Rochester and enjoyed a drowsy journey back to London, looking over our literary treasures and storing up memories.

Next morning we attended church with my friends in Dulwich, then joined them for lunch in their home and a restful afternoon of visiting and (of course!) tea:

Sitting with our wonderful hostess, Sarah J.

Lindsay and Sarah sip and rest.

Enjoying a marvelous afternoon.

Here are Sarah and Lindsay with our friends Carol and Dawn. The lovely young lady between Sarah and Lindsay was staying with our host family as a helper after the birth of their baby. A native of Australia, she was a delight to get to know!

All in all, we had a wonderful time. We headed back to Southwark for a late afternoon meal with Suzi, then began packing up for the trip home next day. Before turning in that night, though, we had a wild hair to go see Piccadilly Circus at night. I admit the idea was mostly fueled by fun images from yesteryear when the circus was akin to Times Square with all its lights and shops. So Carol, Dawn, Sarah, Lindsay, and I hopped a night bus and took off. Piccadilly didn’t quite live up to that vintage mental image, but we still had fun, doing some last-minute shopping for family and friends at the tourist traps all around us.

Next morning the girls and I said our good-byes and headed to Heathrow, and I posed for a last-minute picture with Dawn, Carol and Suzi:

The only other funny incident I must record is that Lindsay decided to wear flip-flops to the airport and ended up losing one between the tube and the station platform — it does say, “Mind the Gap” everywhere you look, and Lindsay’s flip-flop went straight down, never to be seen again. She spent the rest of the ride going through her suitcase for another pair of shoes! It really does pay to wear a good, comfy, sturdy pair of shoes for all journeys through London’s transport system. ;-)

At any rate, we did make it to our gate at Heathrow (after one wrong tube choice and long check-in lines) and flew back safe and sound to the US. And all of us look forward to future adventures in Great Britain!