Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Stealing the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London

All right, friends and fellow citizens....forthwith is the true and faithful account of the Vastly Entertaining living history presentation we saw at the Tower of London. Using a great deal of humor and audience participation, they told us a true story of an attempt to steal the crown jewels back in the um......uh.........1500s? That is, the gist of the story was true. The hilarious embellishments along the way were, y'know, embellishments. :D

Further, you simply MUST imagine this with jolly British accents. I can't exactly replicate them here, so you have to imagine it.

Sit back and have fun................

* * * * * * * * * * * *
The scenario began with a young woman, Elizabeth Edwards, telling us about her family. Her father, you see, was custodian of the crown jewels. In fact (for a small fee), she would even be willing to take us on a short tour and show us the jewels if we wanted to see them. She knew we would want to see them…she could even now see the glints in the ladies’ eyes at the thought of jewels.

“But,” she sighed, “there are other, even more important things on my mind than jewels. I’m in LOVE!”

We all sighed dreamily—at least, most of the ladies did.

However, poor Elizabeth went on to inform us that she could not marry her true love, for he was a soldier and made no money. “You, sir, you’re a soldier—you know that soldiers make no money!” she said, looking at Dad.

“None,” Dad agreed, rising to the occasion.

Elizabeth’s father, it seems, wanted her to marry the wealthy nephew of a certain Reverend Doctor Alyfe (sp?), whom she had never met. And as she told us this, a man descended the nearby steps. He was wearing black, with a churchman’s collar, a black robe, a black hat, and had oodles of curly grey hair down to his shoulders.

“Oh, beg pardon, Miss,” he said. “I’m just on my way to visit Master Edwards.”

“My father!” Elizabeth said.

“He is YOUR father? Why you must be Elizabeth!" he gurgled (if that's an appropriate adverb for a guy). "I am the Reverend Doctor Alyfe.”

Elizabeth winced perceptibly.

“And I was just on my way to talk to him about the marriage between you and my nephew!” he exclaimed.

“Oh, do tell, sir—your nephew….is he…..handsome?” she asked anxiously.

“Is he handsome?” asked the Rev. Dr. incredulously. “Is he HANDSOME??? Well……no. But what does that matter? The inside is more important than the outside! Ah look, see how she weeps for joy at knowing her husband is a good man at heart.” He gestured benevolently at Elizabeth, who was now sobbing despairingly into her arm.

He finally took his leave and Elizabeth recollected that she was going to show us the jewels. “I’ll try not to blub too much,” she sniffed. “Just follow me now.”

We all followed obediently. Elizabeth crossed a small crossroads and just as the rest of us approached it, a man jumped out in front of us. “STOP RIGHT THERE!” he bellowed. “DON’T COME ANY CLOSER!!!! (AND ESPECIALLY NOT YOU!!!)” he added as an aside to someone near the front.

The gentleman was dressed most astonishingly. He wore a magnificent red and gold outfit and his hair was brown and curly and draped spectacularly past his shoulders and down his back. A felt hat with several pretentious feathers graced this most amazing hair.

“Now then,” he said. “My name is Tom Hunt. Maybe you’ve heard of me? Anyone?” He looked around hopefully. “Well anyway,” he continued, crestfallen, “My name is Tom.” He elaborated at length about what a dashing fellow he was, and how all the ladies in town were vastly impressed with him, although he made a passing reference that he was, alas, the reason his mum and dad hadn’t stayed togeth---well, we didn’t need to bother about his problems. Then he went on, “I am in need of helpers. You don’t know what I’m about to do, do you? Well, we’re going to steal the crown jewels!!! How many of you are willing to help me?”

A few people cheered. Most of us did not deign to be mixed up in something so dastardly scandalous and remained silent.

“Well, I didn’t want to have to do this….” he sighed. He pulled out a very small pocket pistol and pointed it at us. “This is Little Tom.” (He pronounced it Li-il Tom--remember his British accent!)“Now, HOW MANY OF YOU ARE WILLING TO HELP ME?”

Under such dire threatening, we became cowards and basely abandoned our moral scruples, immediately agreeing to help him in his loathsome quest.

“Good, good! Come right this way and I’ll tell you all the details.” He led us to another section of the stone wall, near a doorway with some stairs that led up to the jewels tower. There he excitedly began telling us the plan, and how we would steal the jewels and would all escape on the horses outside the gate and rendezvous later at a tavern.

“Now, I’ll be sitting there in the tavern and you’ll come up and say, ‘Tom, I’m one of the people who helped you steal the jewels’ and I’LL say.........‘I never saw you before in my life,’” he informed us. “You see, there’s so many of you…I can’t remember all the faces. So you see, we need a code sign. Some people use the sign of the nose.” He touched his nose. “Others use the eye.” He began winking with ridiculous exaggeration. “But those don’t do so well, so we’re going to use the devil’s horns!!!” He formed his hand into a devil’s horn gesture and made us all practice it.

“Now, my father, Colonel Blood, is the man who will lead us. He should be here soon.”

Just at this juncture a man came sweeping through the doorway, nearly knocking noble Tom off his feet. “I say, sir, just hold up a minute!” Tom said angrily. The man turned, with a huge smile, making a devil’s horn sign.

“Ah! Colonel Blood! Father! I didn’t even recognize you!!” cried Tom. Oh sinister…his father was, in fact, the man pretending to be the Reverend Doctor Alyfe.

The supposed "Revered Doctor" began to fill us in on the background of the scheme—how he had ingratiated himself into the Edwards family, pretending to be a clergyman, so that he could have better access to the jewels. “Oh those Edwardses,” he said, with disgust. “Master Edwards…….and his BOVINE wife and his daughter….what’s her name?....oh yes, E-liz-a-beth.” He made a face. “She’s supposed to marry my nephew. Ha! I have no nephew!!” He laughed uproariously. “There’s a son too, but he’s in the army. He’s in Flanders and won’t bother us. I’ve been masquerading as a good churchman and they all trust me. Now then, Tom, have you informed all these people what we are to do and why?”

“Ah yes, father! They all know!” Tom said eagerly. “We’re going to get rich and famous!” He pranced about.

“No, that’s not why we’re here!” grumbled the Rev. Dr.

“It’s not?” asked Tom forlornly.

“No, no, no. The king is a Protestant! Those of us who are Catholics don’t like the way things are going! We don’t like the restrictions being talked about! So we are going to rattle the king’s cage a bit!”

“And get rich and famous!” Tom said joyously.

“Well, maybe, but that’s not the point.”

“Now father,” Tom said, changing the subject slightly, “I think there’s just a little bit of a problem here. I have my suspicions…I’ve been looking closely at some of these people….and I think some of them are women.”

The Rev. Dr. looked surprised. “But they’re all wearing britches!” he argued.

“Yes, but I think some of them are anyway,” Tom insisted. “And you know how women are…they can be a little bit loose with their tongues—especially when they’ve had a bit of gin.”

“Well, why don’t you buy their silence by telling them how much money the jewels are worth?” suggested the Rev. Dr.

“Ah, very good idea! The jewels,” Tom said impressively, “are worth TEN THOUSAND pounds.”

We nodded sagely at this piece of information. Tom was disgusted that we weren’t more awestruck.

“Maybe you should say it again,” the Rev. Dr. coached. “Say it SLOWLY---for the Americans.”

(I cracked up at that line.)

Tom repeated the sum and we all oohed and aahed with great gusto.

“Good. Now, I’m just going to sneak up there and get the jewels. You all wait here for me and stop anyone who tries to follow,” ordered the Rev. Dr. “You have your pistol, Tom?

“Aye, right here, I’ve got Li'l Tom here,” Tom said, waving his tiny pocket pistol.

“Pshaw! That’s no pistol!” scoffed the Rev. Dr. He pulled back his black churchman’s robe and pulled out an enormous handgun. “THIS is a pistol! Now stay here and guard the gate. That’s your job!”

He strode off.

“A job to do!” Tom said ecstatically. “He’s never given me a job to do before! I’m going to do great! A job! Why---”

He was interrupted by someone singing and striding through the crowd. It was a soldier. He made for the gate.

“I say! Wait! Stop! You can’t go in here,” Tom said, barring the way.

“And why not, man?” the soldier demanded. “’Tis my home! My family lives there!”

“This—your—that is, your family lives there?” spluttered Tom. “Then you’re Will Edwards! But—but…you’re in Flanders!”

The soldier gave us a long-suffering look as if to say, Isn’t he daft? and said, no, he wasn’t in Flanders. He was here. And he wanted past the gate.

“But—but—there’s a very good reason why you can’t get past!” Tom insisted, still spluttering. “It’s…ah…'s....HELP!” he said in an desperate aside to us. “You see, sir….you can't because....HELP!...”

“The family is away!” suggested a woman in the crowd.

“Excellent!” Tom enthused. He bounced over to her, excitedly wringing his hands. “Why, that’s a great idea! That’s what I’ll tell him! I’ll say---”

And, of course, during this tiny distraction, Will had slipped past him!

Poor Tom was beside himself. Alas! He had failed in his job! What should we do next!

Suddenly from the jewel tower we heard shrieks and cries from Elizabeth! “Help! Help! Murder!” she shrieked. Will went bounding up to her aid. For a moment all was confusion—then the Rev. Dr. came rushing down the stairs towards us, triumphantly bearing the crown and the orb (fakes, of course).

“All right now—all of you!” he gestured at us. “You thought you were going to share these jewels, didn’t you?"

Of course we did. Wasn't that what he'd promised us?

"Well you're wrong! We've got them now! Ha ha!!! You stay right there and don’t try to follow!” He and Tom pulled their pistols—the big one and the little one—and held them on us as they backed away and then fled with the jewels.

Well! How do you like that! Dirty double-crossers! Rat finks! Wretched traitors! Nasty little ticks!

It was up to Will to rescue the situation. “If only someone could help me chase the man! If only I could find a large crowd of people standing nearby with nothing to do, who could help me!” he cried, looking at us helplessly.

“Will, see these people?” suggested Elizabeth, gesturing at us. "Maybe they would help you!"

“Oh! Quite! Yes, of course! Will you all help me? Good! Well then, we must chase them. Now, it appears I’m the only one who has had any military training, so I'll lead. The first thing they teach you in the military is—don’t run on the cobblestones, you might trip. Now come with me!”
He rapidly led the way and began accosting passerby, wanting to know if they had seen anyone with the jewels.

“Now, I know he must be here somewhere,” Will said, after we had reached another section of the wall. “You all stay here while I flush him out. And when he comes, you must say in ONE voice, ‘STOP IN THE NAME OF THE KING!’ And by that I mean ONE voice, not this mishy-mash of various voices. Try it with me now….yes, that’s right…good.”

He disappeared and shortly thereafter came running back, chasing the Rev. Dr, who was carrying the jewels.

“STOP IN THE NAME OF THE KING!” we thundered.

The Rev. Dr. stopped. “Oh ZOUNDS!” he grimaced, thoroughly disgusted. (He pronounced it “zoonz”.) Will pulled his sword and demanded the jewels. Just then Tom appeared, minus the wig, clutching his head.

“I’m sorry, father,” he groaned. “I went to get the horses, just like we’d planned. But I fell down and I hit my head…and all the horses ran away.”

The Rev. Dr. snorted in annoyance.

Then Tom suddenly realized that Will was waving his sword and demanding the jewels. “Oh no you don’t!” Tom said viciously. He pulled out Li-il Tom and covered Will. “I’m going to shoot you right now!”



He pulled the trigger!!

Nothing happened except a hollow little “clink” sound.

“Oh BUGGER!” Tom huffed, and stomped off.

The jewels safely restored to a lawful citizen, Will began to tell us the conclusion of the story. “Do you want to hear what happened to the heroes of this story?” he asked.

The Rev. Dr. strode forward to the limelight, pleased with himself.

“Not YOU,” Will said disgustedly, shooing him back.

For Will’s noble service and his father’s heroic defense (he wasn’t murdered, just wounded) they both received government promissory notes, which were unfortunately never delivered on.

“And I,” said Elizabeth, who was now on the scene, “got to marry my true love!”

The Rev. Dr. strode forward once again. “PISH, TUSH and FIE!” he thundered slowly and deliberately. “You all don’t want to hear about these goody-two-shoes! You want to hear what happened to the VILLAINS, don’t you?”

We assented loudly.

“Good, because you’re going to hear it anyway,” he smirked. The charges against the perpetrators were all dropped and they were actually looked upon rather kindly…for reasons still unknown. Perhaps the king thought better than to alienate some of his people during a time of impending war. Perhaps they did get the king’s attention about the Catholic/Protestant issue. No one knows for sure. But that was the story, and we ended up with a rousing three cheers for the king.

All in all, it was a most hilarious show.

Afterwards Mom teasingly asked Tom who his hairdresser was. Tom explained that the wig was very valuable and cost a lot of money--and he'd stolen from someone just last week! :D

The End.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Tower of London

Raquelle: This was our first morning in the Barry House. After rather arduously getting ready for the day in our eensy-weensy-trip-over-your-suitcase-and-land-in-the-shower-with-your-feet-sticking-out-the-window-0n-the-opposite-side infinitesimal room, we began the tortuous journey downstairs for breakfast. We followed our noses down to the lower level, where there was a small breakfast room. Dad and Grandma and Gramps had already gone down. Heather and I joined them.

Shortly thereafter the turbaned proprietor approached us, a pitcher of orange juice in his hand. He had a nice, friendly smile. "You like some breakfast? Bacon? Eggs? Tea or coffee?" We ordered bacon, eggs and tea, which were delivered soon thereafter. The eggs weren't half bad but the thick slice of bacon-ham was a trifle salty and chewy. Ah well. I made up for it by eating a slice of toast with blackcurrant jam.

On our way back upstairs I passed the itty-bitty kitchen. It was no bigger than a very (VERY) small pantry. There was basically room for the stove, on which reposed a sturdy skillet with the remains of some scrambled eggs. I have no idea where they washed the dishes.

Gramps told us later that he had come down to see if he could get some coffee before breakfast. Breakfast was from 8:00-9:00. A young oriental lady was one of the assistants and she snipped at him, "Breakfast not till 8:00!" Whoops. Then he had the shocking audacity to try to help himself to the cereals on the sideboard when breakfast began. "We fix it!" she snipped, and wouldn't let him fill his own bowl. :D Messy, interfering Americans!!!!

Yoiks! Maybe she was having a bad hair day.

Incidentally, this is totally off the subject, but one of the things I was enjoying about our Europe trip was that NO ONE had yet asked me if I went to Bob Jones. :D Heather and I get that all the time--we live in Greenville, we dress go to Bob Jones, right? We have gone to events in other states and had total strangers ask us that question. So far, no Europeans had interregated us on that point. :D

We trekked off to the nearby tube station and began the mystery of unraveling which tube line to take to the tower. We ended up on a District Line train accidentally and had to switch after two stops to a Circle Line train, but it didn't matter...they were both on the way. The ride took about half an hour.

We had preordered tickets via the friendly turbaned proprietor at the Barry House, so all Dad had to do was pick them up. Then we entered the tower, right as a tour was beginning.

The tour guides for the Tower of London are called Beefeaters. And they are more than just tour guides--they are the keepers of the Tower and the Queen's own something-or-others. It's quite a prestigious position and you have to have served in the military for X number of years and so forth to be one. They wear navy and red uniforms with "ER" on the front, which means "Elizabeth Regis"--or some other Latin word beginning with "R," the gist of which means "Elizabeth is the Queen, buster, so mind your P's and Q's." (Well, maybe not the P's and Q's. :D) They are called Beefeaters because originally (like, 500 years ago) their salary was paid in beef.

Note from Heather: Something I had missed last time we came is that the Beafeaters are military men who have served honorably for, um, 20 years maybe? And been decorated and stuff like that. So they may appear to simiply be jolly tour guides, but they're actually brave, admirable men. Kinda cool.

Back to Raquelle: Our tour guide had a delightful sense of humor. He kept everyone laughing on the tour. There were several children near the front and he had a great time with them. He began to tell us the story of whichever two princes it was who were taken to the Tower and mysteriously disappeared and never heard from again, until two child skeletons were found about a hundred years ago. No one knows for sure who killed them, but it was the usual "kill-any-relatives-who-might-lay-claim-to-the-throne" scenario. (It's rather frightening how often that happened in English history.)

"They were just children," the guide said dramatically. "Young, innocent children.........LIKE YOU!" he bellowed at the kids in the front. They both jumped perceptibly. :D

He began telling us about the crown jewels. The scepter has the largest diamond in the world--530 carots. It's HUGE.

"Wives," the guide smirked, "you can look at that beautiful, enormous diamond. Then look at that insignificant speck on your left hand and ask yourselves........."

"WHY?" wailed a woman in the front, glaring at her husband.

Everyone exploded with laughter.

"It's going to be a long day," her husband groaned.

We saw the Tower green, where several famous private executions had taken place, such as Lady Jane Grey.A private execution was a perk, you understand---the riff-raff would have been executed in public.

The guide pointed out the area where the King (or Queen) would stay when they were living at the Tower. We also saw the area where the Beefeaters live. (Poor fellows....I saw laundry hung up out on a line. I guess not even the Privileged Elite get to have dryers. Did I mention the way we had to hang our clothes all over drying racks all over the apartment in Scotland?)

Near the end, we were taken to a small chapel where various Famous People were buried. The Beefeater warned us ahead of time, "Now listen carefully, ladies. I shall stand by the entrance to the door as you file in. Beware, oh beware! There is a step UP as you enter! I shall stand nearby to catch anyone who should fall--I will sweep you up in my arms! (I'm hoping at least some of you will fall!) And be aware that the step will also--yes, indeed---also be there on the way OUT. But don't worry, I'll catch you. Now, gents, if one of YOU should happen to fall........well, it's going to hurt." Haw haw!!!

When the tour was over, we went to the tower that houses the crown jewels.

I guess I should explain if I haven't already that the "Tower of London" is not just ONE tower. It's actually a huge complex of various towers, built at various times. The oldest tower is the White Tower, built by William the Conqueror. (Look him up, you should learn about him). I don't remember exactly when it was built, but William conquered England in 1066, so it was sometime around then. It's pretty awesome to see an intact structure that is about a thousand years old!

The British crown jewels are housed here, though not in the White Tower. As you walk through the building, there were large TV screens on the wall that project huge images of the various jewels--the crown, the scepter, the ring, etc. That is nice, because it gives you a chance to really see them up close. They also had a screen showing video clips from Queen Elizabeth's coronation. (She looked NERVOUS.)

After building up the suspense, at last you come to the jewels, which are in a huge vault. A "people mover" (a flat escalator thingie) slowly moves you on by the glass cases with the jewels. That 530-carat diamond was truly amazing!!! My goodness!!! However, we were feeling like old-timers by now....we'd seen the Scottish crown jewels and a bunch of crowns and jewels at the Residenz in Munich, so we were like, "Ah, very nice, hmmm, yes, methinks that jewel is a little bigger than the jewel on the Scottish crowns.....when is lunch?" :D :D :D

Note from Heather: Maybe YOU felt that way. I thought the jewels and crowns and gold dishes and maces were really cool!

Raquelle: Of course they were cool. I just felt like an old experienced hand at it. :D

As we left, we stumbled upon the end of a living history drama. Several people in costume were acting out an escape that had really happened at the Tower once upon a time. A "prisoner" was sitting outside his cell in one of the towers, rather haggard, with bloodied bandages around his wrists, presumably having been Most Dastardly Tortured. He was explaining to a "tower guard" why he should be given all the items that his wife had tried to send and had been confiscated by the guard. His wife had sent him paper, a quill, and an orange (the juice of which can make invisible ink).

"You see," the prisoner explained reasonably, "the orange is to help me regain strength in my hands....if I squeeze it, that helps the muscles in my arms."

The gullible guard accepted the explanation. "But," he said, "what about this feather? I don't know my letters--from the looks of you all (to the crowd) most of you don't either--but I have heard, yes, I've HEARD that you can use a feather like this for a pen!"

"Oh no, you see it's--it's a toothpick!" the prisoner assured him.

"Really?" said the guard, naively surprised. "Well, let's see...I've had a bit o' mutton stuck behind my left molar for several days....let me try!" He stuffed the end of the quill in his mouth and pretended to pick his teeth. Satisfied with the results, he accepted the explanation of the quill.

I don't remember what the explanation was for the paper, but it was something fairly ludicrous that the likeable guard fell for, hook, line and sinker. :D

So the prisoner got his stuff so that he could write secret messages. The guard put him back in the cell and started to walk away. Just then the prisoner's wife accosted the guard, pleading that he would allow her husband to go to the chapel that day for confession.

"You know I did that yesterday!" the guard exclaimed. "And I'm truly not supposed to do it at all! He is a close prisoner, after all! What kind of dreadful sin could he have committed between yesterday and today?"

[Note: A "close" prisoner is one that is allowed very little freedom to see people or move about to different places in the Tower.]

The wife tossed the guard a small bag of coins.

"Ah well," the guard conceded, "I suppose he could have committed something quite bad. I'll arrange it. But JUST THIS ONCE!"

He left to fetch the prisoner and the wife whispered her plot to us. The priest was going to help him escape through the chapel...I can't remember exactly how. They had tried the escape the night before but something had gone wrong, so they had to do it again.

Sure enough, the prisoner escaped. And the epilogue was that the priest arranged for the guard to flee to another country, as his life was in grave danger for his hand in the affair. And then they all lived happily ever after.

Heather: Lunch was next on the agenda. As we looked at our maps, we discovered that there was a nice cafe in the Tower grounds. We headed forthwith with all promptitude. To our pleasant surprise, there were LOTS of options for GOOD food! Wow! I got a hot lunch of some kind of beef concoction, green beans and "chips" (fries). And for dessert I ate a yummy slice of chocolate cake. Everyone else was equally satisfied with their grub. Oh, "grub" - that's such a low-class word. Shall we say, bill of fare instead?

Raquelle: I had a beef pie and something that was called "Refrigerator Cake" or something like that. It was Very Good and Very Unusual. It had bits of dried cherries and crispy cookie chunks in a kind of sticky fudgy chocolate base. Tastiful!

Right around lunch time I was moseying along and this lady came up and said, "Excuse me...aren't you from Greenville?"

"Yes," I said, surprised--and a little leery. I could hear it now....she was going to ask DoyougotoBobJones?

"And you and your sister play the harp! You played at our church!"

She named the church and I recognized it as one that I had been a substitute pianist at for a few weeks here and there, and we had also played harps there. As we talked, I noticed the rest of her family and then I remembered them---her husband looks just like Dick Van Dyke. :D Turns out they had moved to France because of her husband's work, and they were on vacation touring, just like us.

So it was fun to run in to them, but I was anxious to escape before they thought to ask The Question. If someone asked me about Bob Jones one more time, I knew I was going to turn into some kind of fearful blue lizard, or else have my hair cork up into little spindles of macaroni. Thankfully, they didn't ask, so you can all be grateful that your friend Raquelle remained a normal human. :D

We parted cordially and went our way. Mom read my mind and muttered in my ear, "That was close." Heh heh heh! :D

Heather: Thus fortified after lunch, we headed out for more touring. We agreed to split up, as various people wanted to see various things. Grandma decided to sit on a bench and watch people, which she informed us afterward had been most rewarding. She managed to successfully identify the European current styles for shoes and skirts. Raquelle had some places of her own to visit, and Dad, Mom, Gramps and I headed for the White Tower.

I quickly got bored with the formal tour of the White Tour, because the tour guide was leaving out all kinds of interesting tidbits that I knew. I shared the tidbits with everyone after the tour, but meanwhile, I headed off on my own to see the armour collection. All kinds of famous knights' and kings' armour is housed here, and I intended to look it over. G.A. Henty is always describing "our hero's" armour and of course, your armour was the difference between keeping your life in a battle, or losing it. So it was pretty darn important back then. I was particularly awestruck with some of the suits of armour that had gold and silver inlaid. Very beautiful.

Once through, I decided to go sit on a bench myself and rest until time for all of us to meet. That's when I caught the tail end of another live drama. Raquelle and I are writing it up in another post because it was kinda long. Raquelle had seen the whole thing from the beginning and I just caught the end. However, they informed us they would be doing the whole skit again in half an hour. I hurried inside to tell the rest of the folks to be outside in half an hour so they could watch it. As I said, we'll put it in another entry. Suffice it to say now that it was quite entertaining and we all enjoyed it.

Raquelle: I had SEEN the White Tower last time and I wasn't interested in seeing lots of armor again. I wanted to explore the other towers. So I went from here to there, looking at different ones. One of the most fascinating aspects of the towers I went into the was the graffiti. As in, 500-year-old graffiti that prisoners had carved into the wall. There were quite a few Catholic inscriptions that Catholic prisoners had inscribed. Another guy had carved a complete astrological calendar--quite impressive. This graffiti was sprinkled liberally all over the walls. It was pretty fascinating--really brought the place alive.

While I was in one of the towers, a docent brought a little group of school children in. She began telling us about an escape from the Tower. The gentlemen who was imprisoned was a close prisoner and the guard was supposed to come in, lock the door behind him, set down the food tray, then unlock the door, leave, and relock it.

The prisoner never spoke to the guard. In fact, he never even looked at the guard. He would always stand silently in front of the fireplace, his back to the door, staring into the fire. He did this day after day and the guard grew just a little careless and failed to lock the door behind him when he entered the room. Meanwhile, the prisoner had been saving straw from his bedding and one day he stuffed his clothes and placed them in front of the fire, as if he was standing there as usual. Then he sneaked out the door when the guard came in. Aha! Very ingenious!

I went to see the ravens briefly...ravens lived at the Tower early on. The story goes that Somebody Somewhere (I can't remember who) prophesied that if the ravens ever left the Tower, the kingdom would collapse. So now they keep some ravens there with their wings clipped, so that the kingdom will never fall and we'll all live happily ever after. :D

I watched the little living history event that we're putting in another post and enjoyed it tremendously. I had a great time watching it the second time and memorizing the crazy lines so I could write it up later. :D

Heather: At the end of the drama, we headed back to the cafe for our "tea" - that is, hot chocolate and whatever gorp anybody wanted. I had some scones with jam.

Raquelle: (It was an enormous scone, she shared with me. :D But I opted for sparkling water--"water with gas"-- instead of hot chocolate. :D)

Heather: Then we decided to take a few minutes and actually walk up on Tower Bridge. That's the famous London Bridge you always see in pictures. The proper name is Tower Bridge, however, because it's right by the Tower complex. (The REAL London Bridge is actually in Arizona. Some guy bought it, thinking he was buying the Tower Bridge. Oops.) Last time we came to England, the Tower Bridge had been closed to pedestrians. But it was open again so we walk part way across.

It's quite a large bridge and actually is a drawbridge for the few times a week that big ships go through. Of course, it spans the Thames River (which is pronounced Temz, in case you're wondering). We took pictures and then headed back to the tube to go home.

For dinner that night, we decided to go for something American (and something neaby) and therefore headed for a Garfunkles. We all crammed into a table for four and quite enjoyed our meal.

Raquelle: I didn't....I ordered a cottage pie and it was awful. Tasted all right, but the meat in it was ground beef that was mostly boinky non-chewable stuff. Oh woe.

Heather: After dinner, Grandma and Gramps let us all hang out in their room for a bit, as it was a leetle larger than everyone else's. Not much, but at least we could all fit. :D. Raqu and I brought down chocolate and lemon drops and Grandma made tea for everyone. We sat and chatted for a while and then, fortified with chocolate and Lady Grey, hiked up six flights of stairs to our rooms for the night.

Raqu and I, as usual, opened our window because it was stuffy. And we pulled the curtains open once the lights were out so we could enjoy the evening lights of London for a night light--the quiet glow from the large cobblestoned courtyard of the neighborhood behind us. And thus, another day ended.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Back to London

Raquelle: One interesting feature about many lodging places in the UK is that they don't have a coffeepot in each room--they have a tea kettle. It's a little plastic "kettle" (think kind of like those clunky Tupperware juice containers) with a metal coil inside. Plug it in, turn it on.........and nothing happens. Drat, that's right---you have to turn the plug on too. Ahem: Plug it in, turn on the plug, turn on the kettle and POOF! In about 60 seconds you have hot boiling water.

We each had a kettle in our room at the Old Malt House, although we had to get Jenny to show us how to use it.

Ah yes, Jenny. Jenny was a jewel. She was a maid-of-all-work at the Malt House, a middle-aged lady with short brown hair and blue eye liner. She was the bustliest, friendliest lady--always ready to lend a helping hand, very warm and lively, and altogether a perfect hostess. Did I mention her delicious accent? :D She had that charming British way of leaving the "t" out of the middle of a word---hence, she gave us assistance with our tea "keh 'els." :D

Alas, this morning (after our hearty breakfast and hot tea), we had to check out. Bummer. The Malt House was definitely the best place we stayed at. So quaint, so country, so charming....I think I'd like to back there for my honeymoon. Somebody hurry up and round me up a groom for the wedding, okay? :D

First order on the agenda: Drive to Heathrow Airport and drop off the rental cars.

That sounds too ordinary and easy.

Sinister music builds.....sharks with big, open jaws swim up.....lightening flickers ominously in the black, sullen sky.....

Did you say DRIVE TO HEATHROW????

*Faint with terror*

Let's just say that none of us were looking forward to this part. Metaphorically speaking, Heathrow isn't just a zoo, it's a zoo with all the animals let out and obstructing traffic. :D Most of us were nervous about the drive--Dad and Heather, because they had to navigate us there, Mom because she had to drive there, and the rest of us because we had to ride in the car with Mom. :D

After farewells all around with the friendly Malt House folks, we piled in the cars with a good deal of trepidation. First came the 15 minutes of country driving on the eensy narrow roads. Sometimes some warped people get the idea that they should actually park on these roads (not that there's anywhere ELSE to park) and then the fun begins! Especially when you---eeeek!----meet a bus-----(covers eyes!)----coming from the----yikes!-----opposite direction------ooooooooooh-----------whew!!!! Down with buses! Bah!

Then it was on to the motorway. In the US, the major roads are interstates, and abbreviated as I-85, etc. There the major roads are "Motorways" as we've said before, so we spent some time on M4 and M5. Or maybe M6.

We stopped at another Welcome Break center to gas the cars (cough, that was a chunk of money, even if it was diesel!) and refresh ourselves with coffee or (in Heather's and my case) hot chocolate. Mmmmm!

Have you ever driven around a roundabout? If you don't know, roundabouts are the equivelant of the US 4-way stop. A few of the largest ones will actually have traffic lights, but most don't. A roundabout is a big circle. In the center of the circle is a garden or something scenic, or if it's a tiny one, it's just a big white humped circle in the road. The roundabout will have 3 or 4 roads that lead into (and out of) it. So if you want to turn right onto a new street, you don't stop at an intersection and turn enter the roundabout and drive around the circle until you get to the street you want.

Of course, you're just supposed to KNOW who has the right-of-way. We finally decided it was the cars already IN the circle. (Instead of "Yield" signs, the equivelant sign is "Give Way.") We were happy to Give Way. In fact, in our car, we would have been happy to sit there for many moons and Give Way to all the cars until the circle was absolutely, positively, completely clear. But such luxuries are not possible when you're following another car. Phooey.

Heather: They made such a big deal out of nothing. You know, there's some greenies on the West Coast (Washington maybe?) that are trying to institute roundabouts over here. I read an article about it. The British can't figure out why we don't like them. They're so logical. You just enter the roundabout and keep going till you exit. No slowing down required, no braking, no wondering if it's your turn at the 4-way stop. And if you miss your exit on the roundabout, you just go around again... and again... and again... until the people in the car behind you get on the walkie talkie and say, "Ray, WHERE are we GOING?" Simple!

Raquelle: Providentially, the drive to Heathrow turned out to be FAR easier than expected. There was a simple exit off the motorway, and a simple drive through the airport streets following the signs for the rental car drop-off. And poof! That was it!!! YAY!!!!!! We were all thrilled, but especially Mom. :D

Heather: HA! Simple, she says. Dad and I were sweating it in the front car. Our directions said to merge with Bath Street and then make this turn and that turn. The problem was knowing once we were on Bath Street, because the signs very helpfully direct you to the proper lanes for Bath Street long before it appears. We actually thought we were ON Bath street when we suddenly noticed a sign showing a turn onto Bath Street. Or rather, Raquelle noticed it and squawked it over the walkie talkie. We hastily changed lanes at the last possible minute and then followed the rest of our directions, which made more sense. As we pulled into the Hertz parking long, Dad let out a huge long sigh of relief, and I did too. :D

Raquelle: After thoroughly examining the car to make sure we hadn't left something crucial behind (like M&Ms), we hopped on a bus that took us to the train section of the airport. I hate getting on and off the train with all our luggage, because you have such a short time to heave it all on and off. I'm always afraid in all the hubbub we'll go off without a suitcase. However, we managed just fine.

Dad bought train tickets and we all climbed aboard with all our bags. Destination: Paddington Station.

The train ride took about 1/2 an hour, if I remember right. Paddington Station is a very large, busy station. Some out-of-the-way train stations have nothing more than a platform, a little shelter, and a ticket machine. But Paddington has many, many trains coming in and out and is a large building with lots of bustling and crowds.

Upon arrival, we grabbed a quick lunch. Quick by European standards, that is. Several folks opted for Burger King but I chose a chicken pie at another vendor. Hmmm. This was definitely not as good as some of the others on the trip. It was very rubbery dough. Sort of like silly putty. I ate it as best I could without making too big of a mess or sticking it to the wall (isn't that what you do with silly putty?). It tasted all right though.

Heather: Being a big dough eater myself, I thought it was 'liscious!

Raquelle: I like dough as IS dough. I don't like dough as is RUBBER.

After procuring the necessary number of 20-pences, we headed for the restroom. Yes, they charge you for restrooms in train and tube stations. As I went through the turnstile at the doorway, I saw an extra 20-pence that the machine had spit out. Idly I picked it up and put it in my pocket. On my way back out I noticed a poor little Japanese lady trying to get in. The turnstile machine ate her pence but the turnstile wouldn't turn. She looked at me in great distress. Ha! Cool! I walked over and handed her the extra 20-pence I had found. That time it worked. How nice to be able to help someone!

After munching our lunch, Dad and Mom departed to find the hotel. Supposedly the hotel was just a few blocks from the station. While they were gone, the rest of us stood around our pile of luggage in the train station. And stood. And stood. And watched the pigeons in the building. Yes, pigeons. The entrance to the train station from the sidewalk was simply a very large multi-vehicle-wide walkway. Where people can walk in off the street, so can pigeons. It seems a little odd to see them bobbing around the crowds and benches INSIDE.

I was beginning to wonder what had happened to Mom and Dad. Did they stop to go shopping? Get run over by a taxi? Opted to freshen up at the hotel and go on a tour bus ride? Prop up their feet and eat chocolate? Hey, there's an idea! I went rummaging in my bag for some M&Ms. Mmmmm!

Finally we saw them coming back in, plowing through the crowds of people. They assured us the hotel was nearby - now that they knew the proper way to get there. So we hoisted all our bags and suitcases and commenced down the crowded sidewalks.

The hotel WAS nearby. It was called the "Barry House." It was a B&B of sorts, but without the "quaintness, cuteness, quietness" typically associated with a B&B. Basically, it was just a tiny family-owned hotel that served breakfast.

The lobby, if you could call it that, was about 7 ft by 10 ft. Two small puffy couches and a rack of tourist brochures about filled it up. The reception desk was a very small counter, behind which was a very messy-looking little office space. The proprietor was an older gentleman and very friendly, although I must admit that I felt a little paranoid when I saw his turban. =:O His wife, however, wasn't wearing a burka...she was wearing a sari. So I don't know what religion they were.

Heather: They were Hindus, darlin'.

Raquelle: Hindus wear turbans???

A bellboy---that is, a middle-aged oriental man---assisted us with our luggage. And it was a good thing, because we found that two of the rooms were up on the fourth floor. And no, there was no elevator. (Actually, over there it's called a "lift." And the first floor is called the "ground" floor and what we call the 2nd floor is actually the "1st" floor.) The red-carpeted stairways were very narrow, with tiny little landings on each floor.

Heather: Just so there's no misunderstanding, due to the 11-foot ceilings on the lower floors, we had no less than SIX FLIGHTS of stairs to navigate. And they were spiral stairs too. Uphill both ways, in the snow... er, wait, no snow. Never mind that part.

Raquelle: Thankfully there was a ground-floor room for Grandma and Gramps.

Arriving at the fourth floor, we inspected our rooms. Synopsis: Clean, and about the size of a postage stamp. You know, one of the little ones with some Grand Dignitary's Head on it, not the big splashy ones with flowers or National Beetle Heritage Day on them. There were two twin beds, about a foot apart, with a small night table in between. One bed touched the wall by the window. The other bed was only about three feet from the opposite wall. Between the foot of the beds and the desk and wardrobe, there was literally only about 18 inches. The entire bathroom was about as big as a bathtub. The shower was simply a curtained-off corner with a drain and showerhead, about 2 ft x 2 ft. I'm not exaggerating.

Now, WHERE to put our SUITCASES in a room like that!!! Yikes!!! Well, we made do but it wasn't pretty. :D

Heather: They made such a big deal outta nothin'. Just shove the beds against the wall, stick the third suitcase in the corner behind the wardrobe and put my suitcase under the desk. No problem! At least one person at a time could stand in the room!

Raquelle: There was no thermostat or air-conditioner. If you wanted air, you opened the window (a sign warned us against placing things on the windowsill........after all, there was no screen) and turned on the floor fan that was provided. Thankfully it was a mild time of year....I'd hate to stay in a place like that during the summer! Ick!!!

Everyone opted to take a nap. It had been a pretty steady day of travel.

After naps, we decided to go for a walk in Hyde Park. Actually, it started off as Kensington Park where we entered it, but merged with Hyde Park.

Heather: Sigh, let a non-geographically-challenged person explain it. You've heard of the famous Serpentine in London? It's big, long lake. On one side in Kensington Gardens, overlooked by, of course, Kensington Palace. On the other side is Hyde Park. We walked up Kensington Gardens, crossed the Serpentine, and came back down Hyde Park.

Raquelle: Oh. Right. What she said.

Since very few London flats have any grounds, if you want to see nature, you go to the park. And what a park! Beautiful gardens and ponds and trees and ducks and very tame squirrels who approach you rather presumtuously to see if you're secreting any nuts for them. We saw several people feeding the fact, as one person handed out nuts, a very LARGE mouse (or maybe a small rat) crept up and joined in the munchies. It was sleek, prim little thing, obviously one of the Privileged Elite Rodents for living in Hyde Park.

We watched in amusement as some pigeons drank from one of the ponds. Someone had constructed a tiny wooden "bird ladder." It was a small board with little strips of wood nailed at horizontal intervals. The birds would step on a strip and then slide down to the next strip till they reached the water. They all took turns, with proper birdly decorum. It was quite cute.

However, the stunning scenery and glorious day could not altogether soothe my troubles. Upon entering the park I fished out my camera and tried to turn it on. It didn't turn on. It tried to turn on and the lens came out about halfway and stopped, making a ghastly grinding noise. We fiddled with it a little bit but to no avail. I was crushed. I was devasted. I was beyond consolation. I had finally figured out how to use my new digital camera and actually gotten beyond the basic "flash on" or "flash off" settings and was having a rip-roaring good time taking pictures of EVERYTHING and experimenting with different settings.

But alas! There was to be no more fun!!! Sniff!!! Wail!!!!

Okay, I was immature. Maybe I was just overtired. But I completely lost my self-control and spent the entire stroll through the park sniffling and blubbing behind my sunglasses. (Gotta love sunglasses!) I was in the uttermost depths of despair and the iron had entered my soul and it was such a tragedy!!!! (Do I sound like Anne Shirley yet? :D)

However, it was at least a pretty walk.

Note from Heather: Not to sound calloused, but I had a blast taking pictures in the park! :D

Raquelle: Oh, hush up!!!! (sticks out tongue!!!)

On our way back we saw a Grand Mucky-Muck going along the streets in a horse-drawn carriage with a liveryman at attention riding on the back. For a moment I hoped it was the Queen but then I reflected that I couldn't take a picture, so what was the use? Bah humbug!!! :D I don't know who it was, but whoever they were, they had sure stopped up traffic behind them. It kind of added to the effect though....the long line of black taxis (which look sort of like Model T's) looked like some sort of parade escort.

Not knowing our way around too well, we ended up at a nearby Italian restaurant for supper, as it was close by. Man, these Europeans just can't figure out how to do pizza. Bleh. Thin- crusted, odd-flavored stuff! Supper was rather subdued, as everyone else was tired and I was still feeling desolate over my camera. Usually when everyone else is tired, I am too, so I run my mouth and try to liven things up, because I always hit a stage of hyper hilarity before my final I'm-going-to-collapse-in-five-minutes state of exhaustion. But tonight I wasn't in the mood. Grrrr.

Thankfully we made our escape before the jazz pianist and saxaphonist got fairly started. It wouldn't have been so bad if they hadn't been within pea-throwing distance of our table. Shudder. They were two staid, dignified older gentlemen, so they probably would have been aghast if we'd thrown peas. So we escaped before the temptation mastered us.

Then back to the Barry House, up the obnoxious six flights of stairs, half an hour of blogging and to bed!

Stay tuned for tomorrow's adventures at the Tower of London!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Cardiff, Wales

Raquelle-------The next day we decided to descend on Wales en masse and see if they noticed.

Of course, we had to start by eating the hearty breakfast at the Malt House. You know, I really LIKE hot tea for breakfast. I never knew that before!!!

Out we trudged to the car, revelling in being able to bring as much STUFF as we wanted and not have to worry about carting it about on our shoulders all day and NOT having to keep our LIQUIDS in an infinitesimally small ZIPLOCK BAG!!!! (When a terrorist tries to bomb a plane using a ziplock bag, I don't know what we'll do after that. And let's hope they don't try to do it with a bag of M&Ms, or I'll be furious. Nobody stops me from taking my M&Ms, see?)

The drive to Cardiff, Wales took about an hour. We stopped partway through at a rest stop and fortified ourselves with a large bag of--you guessed it!--M&Ms, which Mom and I strategically placed in OUR car. :D The set-up was the same as before--Dad and Heather in the lead car with the GPS and the rest of us hanging on by the skin of our teeth in the back car, trying to keep up with the instructions (or lack thereof, snert snert) from the flagship. :D

We did all right until we got into Cardiff. Then we got turned around a few times. We ended up on a college campus somehow or other and scrunched down a cute little (NARROW) scenic lane. Then we had to turn around. Carefully. Yikes.

Finally we made our way to a car park. Come to find out that nope, there was some Important City Function happening, and we couldn't park there after all. Instead we were helpfully directed to another small car park that was fairly close to the castle.

This car park was fairly small, but the parking spaces were even smaller and the narrow aisle between the sets of parking spaces was about as wide as, maybe, a box of tinfoil. Mom had to wiggle and ooch and wiggle and ooch the car for a LONG time until we managed to squeeeeeeeeeeze into one of the few remaining spaces. It was so narrow that we could only get out of the car on one side.

After filling the parking meters, we hoofed it for Cardiff castle. Cardiff castle was built in, um, the 1300s if I remember right. The original keep is still there, albeit in crumbling ruins. (The keep, if you don't know, was the last defense inside the castle--a well-fortified, stand-alone structure.) The rest of the castle surrounding the keep was built up over the centuries.

Detail from Heather: There are Roman ruins under the castle, showing settlements dating back to around the first century AD. Parts of the castle walls are of Norman build, dating to the 1100's.

Back to Raquelle: The last person who owned the castle was a Grand Mucky-Muck, whose name has escaped me. He was extraordinarily wealthy. He made his money from coal in the 1800s and incidentally owned most of the railroads and canals used to transport the coal. I think they said he was a multi-billionaire. He lived in a part of the castle and decorated it with extreme grandeur.

Details supplied by Heather: He was 3rd Marquess of Bute, John Patrick Crichton-Stuart. He was considered in his time to be one of the richest men in the world.

Back to Raquelle: We lined up for a tour. Our guide was a short older man, with fine brownish-gray hair and an infectious smile. I wish I could remember all the things he said....he had quite a sense of humor.

He led us through the various rooms. The Grand Mucky-Muck who owned the castle really liked extreme intricacy, dark, heavy bejeweled decorations, and lots of wood carvings. All but one of the rooms--a spacious, yellow, Georgian room that was his wife's retreat from his style of decorating, which she didn't like--were amazingly crammed with colors, woods, marble, gold, you name it.

Heather: The men's smoking room had a silly carving over the door to supposedly "frighten" the ladies off - an ugly, grinning, green face. I doubt if it would have frightened me, although I would have been tempted to throw tomatoes at it.

Raquelle: Oh, like Mom did to that lady on the train? :D :D :D

Heather: The "little" private dining room, for use ONLY by the family (because it wasn't grand enough for anyone else), had such luxeries as a table with a hole in the middle so the servants could twine grapevines through it and up to the chandelier... so the family could pick fresh grapes for dessert. I'm not making this up; they had photos of the whole thing from the 1800s!

The formal dining room was being refurbished, but the part we could see was quite huge and impressive. The most fun room was the library. Ohhhh, to have a private library like that! Humongous room, full of bookshelves galore. On the walls were the usual carvings and paintings, along with the names of the world's great authors. It was fun to walk around the room and see which authors the Marquess of Bute thought were great. :D The family had given the castle to the state a generation or two before, so the actualy books weren't there any more. But I could just imagine all the cool volumes that might have lined his shelves.

Raquelle: I don't remember which room it was in--it may have been the library--but there were some funny monkey carvings around the door, slighting Darwin. Darwinism and evolution were coming into vogue just then and the Grand Mucky-Muck had no use for it (smart man!). The carvings were of monkeys fooling around like idiots with some books, totally clueless and obviously not as smart as a man. We found this entertaining.

In another room there was another monkey with a nut in his mouth. The nut was actually the button used to call the maid. :D

The children's nursery/play area was decorated with fairy tale themes. Paintings all around the wall showed Robin Hood and Sleeping Beauty and Ali Baba, etc. On one wall was "The Invisible Prince." At first glance, it's simply a painting of a rather sparse little leafy tree. But if you look closer, you can see the outline of a man's figure in the tree. Cool.

Another room had bejewelled walls--not real jewels (although one of the rooms was decorated in fabulous gold leaf), but little sparkly things set in beautiful mountings in a row all around the room. Yowee! I felt so....plain in my black slacks and gray blouse. Sigh. I think I missed my calling. I should have been a billionaire. Send me donations, 'kay? ":D

Heather: At last the tour was over and we headed down to the bowels of the castle for lunch. The cafe was in a former storage room. Although quite lofty and large, it was very dark and stone and castle-ish, meaning it smelled dank. I'm not sure if the others appreciated the ambience, but Raquelle and I got a huge kick out of eating bacon cheese "jacket potatoes" (and hot chocolate) in a dark, musty castle. If we couldn't imagine how the Marquess of Bute felt with his fresh grapevines, at least we could imagine how the servants felt!

After the tour, we left the updated part of the castle and went to explore the keep itself. Grandma stayed on the ground and enjoyed the scenery, which included a moat full of lillypads and peacocks strutting around on the castle green. (One peackock snuck up on her, climbed the masonry beside her and gave her eyeball-to-eyeball going over. Presumably she returned the favor.) The rest of us climbed all forty-leven narrow, dark, winding flights of stairs to get to the top. Of course, the view was great up there so we took lots of pictures. (Pictures which, by the way, are newly uploaded today.)

Raquelle: At the top level, we met an older gentleman was was a Welsh native and quite chatty. Gramps told him we are part Welsh, which is the oral tradition handed down. "Ah, I knew you were a good fellow!" the gent said congenially. He told us that he had been to the U.S. before, to San Francisco, among other places. "I've never seen anything like it!" he said. That's probably true. Thank goodness (shudder!). :D

After descended the tortuous stairs and exiting the keep, we decided it would be fun to walk along the battlements. Trouble was, we couldn't figure out how you got up there. Dad asked one of the castle folks how to get up there. They explained that the area where the stairs were was under construction and inaccessible. He also said that he, y'know, wasn't allowed to tell us we could simply climb the slope.....

So we climbed the slope. :D It was a steep slope but there were no mishaps, save for Mom's woolly cardigan and my black sweater, which magically attracted a bunch of stickers from sticker bushes. BIG stickers!

We walked along the walls for a short way, enjoying the view. Alas, however, time on the parking meter was running out--and yes, there was an attendant for the little bitty lot, walking to and fro and checking everyone's ticket read-outs, just hoping to catch someone a few minutes late and whop 'em with a big fine. (Don't those people have anything better to do? :D)

So we began the descent down the slope, which was rather perilous, but again uneventful--except for more stickers. Dadgum, how DO those things come out of nowhere like that!!!

Heather: Then we headed back down and went across the street to the gift shop. Everyone wanted a souveneir from Wales. I already had a souvenier from Wales from our last trip (some earrings) so I refrained. I had determined not to spend tons of money on this trip, and I'd shot my wad on the plaid skirts in Scotland.

Raquelle: Oh, such a killjoy. :D I spent mine rather frivolously and bought a little cat figurine made from Wales coal and a little bitty harp in its own case. The clerk wanted to know if I could play it? "Yes, I play the harp," I said. "No, no, ye have to play THAT one!" he chortled. Uh, sure...with a toothpick maybe? :D

Heather: Then we had a brisk afternoon walk back to the cars and a nice, quiet trip home. Oh... except, the GPS tried to route us around the Old Malt House instead of toward it. I pointed this out to Dad and told him where I thought we should go. This is one of the rare times in my life that I have disagreed with Dad AND the GPS - and been RIGHT!!! Ha! We followed my directions and got home just fine. Crow! (Sorry, I just had to do that, it happens so rarely!)

Raquelle: Everyone was sort of tired, so they all retired to rest. I opted to get my book and read in the little sitting room. I propped myself up amongst the many and varied pillows on the old, comfortable sofa and read a Most Thrilling adventure of the Scarlet Pimpernel, Lord Tony's Wife, to be exact. It wasn't too bad, except that the heroine was kind of---but wait, this is a blog about our trip, not my book.....

Supper that night was equally delicious as the previous nights. I ordered "Steak and Ale Pie." Non-alcoholic, of course--the alcohol cooks off. It wasn't bad...big juicy chunks of beef in gravy, with a large pastry on top. A sort of silly-looking pastry, it must be admitted. Looked like a pastry that had aspired to being a football and failed. :D

For dessert, almost all of us ordered something Dad had tried the night before. It was a small crispy shell (it looked a lot like a miniature taco shell), made out of something chewy and caramelized that tasted like ginger snaps. Inside was vanilla ice cream, topped with caramel, and there were large chunks of caramel-drizzled bananas all around it. It was very unusual and FABULOUSLY good.

After supper we waddled into the sitting room for a little while. The night before we had all sat in there for a little while after dinner, finishing some postcards, journaling, and downloading our cameras to the laptop. In fact, Mom and Dad even got inspired and tried a little swing-dancing to a catchy song that was quietly playing (the proprietor and his wife clapped for the performance when it was done). It was so fun and so cozy! Unfortunately, we couldn't spend as long in the sitting room tonight, as we had to leave the next day and had to pack up a little.

And that is the true and faithful account of our trip to Wales!

Bath Abbey, the Assembly Rooms, and the Pump Room (and The Waters)

Heather---I woke up this morning with a sore throat. Looked like I had caught Dad's cold, drat it. Fortunately, we had prepared for just such an eventuality and I dug out some stuff to "dose" myself with. Then I bipped on down for breakfast.

Dad and Gramps were outside in the beautiful morning, sitting at a table and sipping coffee while reading the newspaper. They were both in hog heaven.

Mom and Dad's room was right across from the dining room, so after popping in to say hi to Mom, I stepped across to give my breakfast order. The bacon was usual European fare, about as thick as a slice of ham. Actually, over here we would call it ham. We also ordered shredded wheat cereal (we did our own shredding, it came in two enormous chunks), scrambled eggs and toast. And grapefruit juice. And hot tea. Dad ordered a traditional English breakfast every morning, which meant he slurped up baked beans as well as bacon, eggs and toast. He did, however, skip the cooked tomato.

The original plan for the day had been to go to Cardiff, about an hour away. However, every was SICK of being in the car after the previous day's fiasco, so we opted to rearrange our schedule and go to Bath instead. Bath was a mere ten minutes away.

To make things easy, the B&B proprietor suggested that we go to a nearby car park and take the bus into Bath so we wouldn't have to deal with parking. This sounded excellent to us, so that's what we did. It had been a warm, sunny day when we left but it was a little brisk when we arrived at the car park. Dad hadn't worn a sweater, so he dug out his heavy raincoat instead. Later in the day, it warmed back up and he got a little tired of that ole raincoat!

Once in Bath, we blinked our eyes and wondered where the heck to go. And how to get back to the bus stop. And whether this was the correct bus stop to come back to. (Bus systems can be very complex and confusing over there.) Fortunately for us, a sweet old lady took us under her wing and walked with us, explaining where to go, what to see, and how the bus system worked. We thank her profusely and headed first for the visitor's center.

Raquelle--there goes Heather, leaving out all the details again. :D This same older lady walked with us part way after we got off the bus. We walked past an enormous construction scene right downtown--the entire corner of the block was cordoned off and a variety of Big Machines were flinging dust and concrete chunks around with great gusto.

"I do apologize for the mess there," the lady said. "They tell us 'twill be many years [I forget how many, it was appalling] till it is finished. It used to be a grocery store and the outcry was that 'twas ugly and should be torn down. There's no doubt," she said quaintly, "that the previous building was hideous. But this 'tisn't an improvement." Giggle.

Heather--Once the guys had figured out the map of the city, we decided to visit Bath Abbey first. It was right next to the visitor's center.

Bath Abbey was beautiful, which is a pitifully understated way of describing it. We enjoyed wandering around, reading the inscriptions on all the plaques on the wall. Some where for folks buried there, some were just memorials of people buried elsewhere. As I was making my way down one side, one of the docents accosted me. "You know you just passed the most interesting plaque, don't you?" he said. Everyone gathered round as he continued with a grin to point it out. Seems it was for a centuries-deceased lawyer and it mentioned his "immortal soul." Unfortunately, the original had been misspelled as "immoral soul." I guess the lawyer's family didn't want to spring for a new plaque because they had simply put the proper word over top of the old word. But you could still see the original version. Heh heh.

The docent turned out to be an older fella who had studied abbeys in general and Bath Abbey in particular for most of his life. He was amusing, entertaining and a wealth of information. For instance, he showed us a small chapel that had been built in one side of the abbey by a mucky-muck named William Byrd. There were W's and birds cleverly worked into the designs everywhere.

Raquelle--He explained that, of course, building a chapel and spending oodles of money on was thought a good way to ingratiate yourself into heaven and give you something impresssive to tell St. Peter when you arrive at heaven's gate. I didn't hear the rest of his comment very well, but I think the gist of what he said was, "Pehsonally, when Oy arrive in heav'n, Oy expect to see Mahgaret Thatcher and Oy think she'll tell me to pay more taxes." :D

Heather--He told us lots of fascinating history behind the designs. He also discussed with Gramps how the stone masons did the work. Gramps had been amazed at the intricate detail that had been chipped out of stone and wanted to know how they did it. Something I found interesting was that stone masons were considered very skilled workmen (no kidding!) and were paid an exhorbitant salary compared to most people of the time.

One of the most entertainging plaques the docent told us about was one that described a man as "a perfect gentleman: kind and generous to his friends and affable to his inferiors." We all got a huge chuckle out of that and the rest of the trip we made remarks to each other about feeling affable towards our inferiors!

At last we reluctantly tore ourselves away from the Abbey and headed up the hill to the Assembly Rooms. I had read several books that were set in Bath so I got a kick out of walking the streets and recognizing street names and places.

The Assembly Rooms were built at a time when people would often gather in the evenings for balls, tea and socialization. The Bath Assembly Rooms became quite famous, as Bath was considered a high society "watering place." In other words, society folks came to drink "the waters" of the hot springs as well as bathe in the hot springs. The waters were very mineralized so they were considered healthful. Thus, many society people, feeling somewhat "gouty" or "consumptive" after eating city dinners and breathing city air, would come to Bath for a two-month (or so) holiday and take a "course of the waters to set them up again."

There was a fashion museum in the basement of the Assembly Rooms, but I found it boring and skipped it. Instead Raquelle and I got the recorded guide of the rooms upstairs and stood up there, imagining all our favorite stories from Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and GA Henty there. There weren't many people there so we could stand in quiet and pretend it was 150 years ago.

The rooms were laid out with a ballroom on one side (that reportedly could hold 1000 people) and a tea room on the other. In between was the octagon room, where the men smoked and played cards. However, it was distracting to the men to have people continually processing between the ballroom and tea room, so they later built another card room in the back and made the octagon room a concert room instead.

The Assembly Rooms sustained a direct bomb hit during World War II, so some of the original statuary and such were gone. But the rooms looked mostly as they would have originally. One of the funny incidents that the recorded guide told us was that when the dancing stopped and folks were called for tea and refreshments, there was often a regular free-for-all as people fought to get to the food. They had a reenacted recording of such a mob of "high society" people, and in the background you can hear the Master of Ceremonies crying out, "Decorum, ladies and gentlemen! Decorum!" For some reason, that tickled all of us and we used that line the rest of the trip whenever someone committed a faux pas (such as flinging tomatoes on people in the train!).

At last, we were all done at the Assembly Rooms and voted to go find some lunch before attacking the Roman Baths. We had intended to do tea at the Pump Room for lunch, but tea wasn't served until 2:30. So most folks ended up getting sandwiches but Dad, Raquelle and I opted for some good ole British pasties--chunks of meat and vegetables inside a breaded shell. (By the way, we pronounce it "paste-ee" over here, but it's properly pronounced "pahst-ee".) The hard part was finding a place to sit. We finally thought we'd found the perfect spot, only to be kindly informed by a waitress that we were sitting at outside tables belonging to the Pump Room.

Raquelle---She was commendably tactful.....she approached us with menus and asked if we would like to look at them, even though it was obvious we were stuffing our faces with pasties and sandwiches. :D When we politely declined she said, "Ah, I'm sorry.....these tables are strictly for the Pump Room."

Shucks. So we stood to finish our lunch.

Heather---Then, on to the Roman Baths!

The hot springs had been there in Roman times too, of course. And the Romans had built some baths as well as a temple there, the hot spring being considered something sacred and magical. Over the centuries, the Roman baths had been covered over and people forgot about it. But in the 1700s or 1800s (can't remember which) they were accidentally rediscovered. They have now been excavated to some degree and you can see much of the original Roman bath system. In fact, the Roman drain system was so good that they are still using it today. The interesting thing is that all of this bath and temple complex is about two stories below the city street level. Of course, it wasn't that way originally so you have to use your imagination to see what it had been like. The displays for the baths were a lot better than the last time we visited here. They had all kinds of computerized stuff to help you visualize how it would have been. Of course, they can't excavate all of it because the city is sitting on top of it now.

One feature I found particularly interesting was the sub-floor heating system. The floors had been built on lots of small piers so the heat from the hot springs could circulate underneath and warm the rooms. Neato! Apparently you would have had to wear shoes (although nothing else would have been worn!) in the bath rooms because of the floors being so hot.

Dad in particular enjoyed this site because of all the neat engineering involved. But I think we all enjoyed it as well.

Raquelle---Something else that was interesting was the display of things that had been found in the baths. There were coins, of course--coins from practically every nation that existed during Roman times. There were also curses written on small bits of metal, folded, and thrown in the water. The gist of most of them was, "May whoever stole my whatchamajigger perish horribly and incur the disfavor of the gods and be forever deprived of chocolate in the afterlife." Well, okay, maybe not the chocolate part. :D

Bathing was quite The Thing To Do in Roman times and they made quite a production of it at baths like these. There was the steam room where you get nice and sweaty, the cool water room where you shock your system, the room where various flunkies put various scented lotions on you, etc. It was said that someone asked Caesar whichever-it-was why he bathed once a day and he apologized, saying he didn't have time to do it more than that. :D

Heather----Now it was finally time to head for the Pump Room itself! The Pump Room had been the original assembly room for the city before the Assembly Rooms were built. It remained a fashionable restaurant where you could have tea and taste the waters while listening to good music. So that's what we did.

We decided the tea here was even better than Harrod's tea. Everyone pigged out on tea, hot chocolate, sandwhiches, scones (which are sort of like biscuits with currants or raisins in them), and desserts. Lots of desserts! Gramps made the observation that he never in a million years would have imagined himself enjoying tea. "It's just such a sissy sounding thing I just figured it had to be bad!" he chortled. However, he quite enjoyed the experience and was not slack in polishing off the edibles.

Raquelle-----Vastly Important Detail....don't you want to know what flavor of tea we had? Heather and I shared a pot of lemon chamomile. I've always pronounced it "CAM-oh-meal" but the waitress pronounced it something like "Cam-ILE." Mom and Gramps shared a pot of ceylon tea and pronounced it very good. Dad and Grandma shared a pot of Earl Gray.

I put sugar cubes in my tea because it is SO FUN to pick up sugar cubes with those cute little tongs and plop them into your tea. Makes you feel desperately elegant. :D

As for the munchies, among the desserts were some itty-bitty berry parfaits in glasses that were only about 2 inches tall and an inch across, some kind of fruit bread, chocolate-glazed cream puffs, caramel-glazed cream puffs, and, of course the enormous fat scones with clotted cream and jam.

Heather----Of course, then we all had to taste the waters. Dad got a glassful for each of us. He downed his and thereafter insisted that it cured him of his cold. (His cold was almost gone anyway, but he remained firm in his diagnosis.) Raquelle drank all of hers too. But I only gulped half of mine before deciding I had drunk enough nasty water on this trip and wasn't drinking any more! We all had fun posing with our glass of the waters, with pained expressions on our faces. If you haven't seen our photos yet, those might be some entertaining ones to look at!

Raquelle-----Actually, it wasn't as bad as I expected. I had heard it tasted terrible but, though it certainly wasn't great, it was more drinkable than water I've had at other times. It had a definite sulphury-mineralish taste and was, of course, warm (it's from the spring you know!), but it wasn't too bad.

So finally, stuffed and tired, we headed for the bus to take us back to the car park.

It was early enough in the evening that some of us wanted to go on a walk. So after briefly refreshing ourselves, Mom, Dad and Heather and I went for a stroll, aided by directions from the proprietor. We strolled down a grassy meadow, opened a quiet little gate or two, and found ourselves walking along a meadowy path that paralleled what used to be a canal. You could still see where the canal had been--a softened, grass-grown large ditch by now, but you could use your imagination. The path we walked along is where they would have walked to help tow the barges, if I remember right.

After awhile we came to a picturesque low stone wall, where we posed for pictures in the sunset. (Dreamy sigh...)

On our way back we stopped to look at the old mill and surrounding buildings...heavy stone structures that looked quiet, dignified, and as if they possessed many secrets of the ages.

And on arriving back at the B&B, I found the only thing that had heretofore been lacking at this charming country residence....a pussy cat! Such a sweet pussy cat! A nice little black and white, rather homely, creature, who magnanimously condescended to let me pet him, scratch his ears, and pick him up and cuddle him. More, he scorned the advances of anyone else who attempted similar familiarities, so I felt quite flattered. :D

Heather----It was getting chilly, so we went in and relaxed in the B&B sitting room and played the guitar and quietly sang songs together while waiting for supper. Raquelle sang "Fields of Athenry" and we sang "Lorena" and had switched to "The Rose of Alabamy" when we were summoned for supper. I'm telling ya, this was a rough life!

Supper the night before had been so good that Raquelle and I ordered the exact same thing except I substituted ice cream for the apple cake and she tried a chocolate brownie. The ice cream was very good!

And so, to bed in my lovely, springy, pillowy cot! :D

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Going to Bath

Obviously, this one was started en route..........

Raquelle---It was time to pack up and leave Scotland (cry!). Our packing has gotten a little complex as we've started to buy souvenirs. We have begun the Great Luggage Swirl, as suitcase weight is an issue. Everytime we have to fly somewhere, we have a massive swapping spree and exchange heavy things from one person's suitcase with fat fluffy things from another's, big with little, fragile with non-fragile, etc. However, the nice thing about THIS trip was we could just mash the whole wad into the back of the car and not worry about it!!! Yeehaw!!!!

Now, I'm off to do the Great Luggage Swirl as we prepare to come home tomorrow.....I'll let Heather have a turn for a minute. We're trading off, because the rooms are really almost too small for both of us to pack at once. :D

Heather - So we finally managed to get our assorted 7 suitcases, 7 bags, 2 containers of chocolate, one box of kleenexes (for Dad's cold), and approximately 38 (mostly empty) water bottles into the two cars. Whew. We slowly pulled out of the car park and headed out of Edinburgh. We took a last shot or two of the castle as we went by, so if you see a rather blurry castle photo, that's what it's from.

Once clear of Edinburgh, we found ourselves traveling down some really back country lanes for a while. So we pulled off at a scenic spot to take some pictures. This was the first time I'd ever seen heather in bloom, which I thought was cool since that's my name. It's usually purple-ish up close, but on the faraway hills, it's a deep brownish burgundy color. Pretty.

We drove through the Cottswolds, as I think they're called and finally came to the freeway... er, motorway. There was a large rest stop there so we took a break. They don't call them rest stops, they call them "services" and they occur roughly 15-30 miles apart on the freeway, just like in the States. One of the chains there is called "Welcome Break" and includes a gas station, several restaurants, etc.

Since there were several large restaurants there, we figured some grub in the hand was worth two on a billboard and decided to eat. (Although as a side note, there are very few food-related billboards in the UK. Guess people just don't go around eating every two minutes like in the US. In fact, there are very few billboards about ANYTHING, period.) That's when we saw a most exciting food option. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, right there in the hinterlands of ancient Hibernia (the latin name for Scotland) we were given a special on the menu option for Tex Mex Vegetarian Lasagna with Yogurt Mint Sauce!!! You can imagine our great excitement. We could hardly contain ourselves, in fact. The natives probably wondered about our wild giggles and gestures towards the "specials" sign. Alas, though, it is sad to relate that none of us chose to eat Tex Mex Vegetarian Lasagna, in spite of the added pleasure of Mint Sauce. That's one cultural experience we shall just have to save for next time.

Instead, we chose some traditional dishes like cottage pie (like chicken pot pie, only the top crust is mashed potatoes and cheese) or beef and mushroom pie. Mmmm! Quite good for rest stop food!

Raquelle--Mom opted to order a spicy beef dish in an Indian sauce over rice. The waiter had an extremely thick brogue and was almost impossible to understand. "Wou'ee'lyke'undeen'bray'wi'theemeel?" he asked.

Mom looked at him blankly. "I'm sorry, I can't understand what you're saying," she apologized.

He leaned forward and enunciated more clearly. "Would ye lyke undeen brayd weeth th' mele?" he tried again.

"Undeen bread?" Mom repeated.

Suddenly it clicked. "Indian bread!" I said.

Oh! Yes, she'd have Indian bread. It was a flat, thin bread...reminded me a little bit of communion crackers. But I betcha the clerk probably thought we were just a wee bit daft for not figuring out what he'd said the first time. Crazy Americans. :D

Heather and I bought a large chocolate cookie for dessert and magnanimously handed bites to everyone. Thus stuffed, we resumed our journey.

Heather--We got back on the road, feeling great and ready to burn up the miles. That's when we ran into... well, we would call it "construction." Over in the UK they call it "works." Turned out (about half an hour later) that we discovered they were repainting a white line on the road. No, not by hand, but they might as well have been for how fast it was going. :D Meanwhile, we got to crawl... and crawl... and crawl... for miles, without seeing anything other than heather-hills, rock walls and sheep. Picturesque but a little boring. Especially when you have 6 hours of driving to go.

One slightly entertaining thing that happened was a very noisy truck pulled alongside Dad and I. I thought at first that the truck needed some oil as it groaned and squealed most dismally. However, it turns out that the truck was hauling pigs, who were doing the groaning and squealing. One pig in particular was evidently gifted with elocutionary powers and was holding forth to his comrades at great length. They appeared to agree, grunting most vociferously.

At last we were on our way again, but what with "services" stops, the slowdown, navigating unfamiliar roads and such, we ended up stretching a 6.5 hour drive into a 9 hour drive. The last hour was the worst. We were afraid we would get to our B&B in Bath too late for the dinner they had promised us. And we weren't up to exploring Bath at night to find another place to eat, not to mention having already paid for the B&B dinner.

The GPS routed us through the nearby town of Bristol, which was rather hair raising as we navigated downtown. (Bristol is a kind of dirty, industrial town.) Then, just as we were getting a little calmer, we wound up going through downtown Bath as well. The GPS didn't understand the B&B address, so it could only get us to a nearby street. My printed directions took us one street further than that, but it was blank beyond that point. To make things worse, the Bath country roads are EXTREMELY narrow, with high embankments on either side, lined with massive hedges. It's made even worse when people decide to park on the side of the road! It was now dusk and Dad was having trouble seeing, as it was getting quite backcountry with no lights.

We finally turned around (very carefully--it was about an 8-point turn) and went back to a little pub we'd seen to ask directions. If we'd only known, we were within a mile of the B&B when we turned around. However, we finally got the directions and made it there! We never got lost....we only thought we got lost. :D

Raquelle--The drive had, of course, taken much longer than we all expected. We were quite sick of the car and had ceased to be consoled by the shortbread cookies Grandma offered everyone and the wilted granola bars reposing in my handbag. The last twenty minutes or so, Gramps indulged his sense of humor and began insisting that any number we saw on any sign was telling us the number of miles left.

"Thirty miles," he said resignedly, as we passed a sign.

"Really?" Grandma moaned, not having noticed the number simply indicated the speed limit. :D

"Seventeen miles," he intoned, reading a sign that indicated the distance to another town. "Twenty five miles...."

We passed a cemetary. "That's where we're all gonna end up, 'cause it'll take so long to get there," he said dolefully.

"That's where YOU'RE going to end up if you don't be quiet!" Grandma threatened.

Mom and I got the giggles, which was nice. Not much else to giggle about when you're ooching down a dark road in the middle of nowhere and are hard put not to climb the embankment because of the narrow lane. :D

Heather--When we arrived, there was only fifteen minutes left of their stated dinner-serving time so we bolted from the cars and headed inside.

Well, the welcome we got made up for the nasty ride! They were quite calm and low-key and cheerful, took our dinner orders and told us to relax and unload for fiften minutes while they prepared our meals. The rooms were cute and had lovely views of the countryside. Raquelle and I were on the second floor with a great view of the sunset over the horse pasture. Ahhhh!

Raquelle--Heather is leaving out a lot of important description. Tsk tsk! She just calls it "cute B&B." Sigh.

The B&B is known as "The Old Malthouse." It a low, stone building that appears to be several hundred years old. There is a small cark park in the back, which backs up to a grassy meadow. An apple tree stands off to the side, flowers are everywhere around the house and near the meadow, and there is a small birdbath in the picturesque back yard.

Inside the building is the dining room, a cozy dimly-lit dark-wooded room, with small candles burning cheerfully on each table. There is also a sitting room, lit by low, warm lamplight. In the sitting room is a coffee table with books and magazines in one corner, a wooden table for games like Scrabble in another corner, a comfortable couch in another, and a small bar in the other. Several older gentlemen were sitting on stools at the tiny bar, sipping their "pint of bitter" and talking local chit-chat in staid voices with delightful accents. The atmosphere and the people reminded all of us very strongly of something out of a James Herriot book.

Our rooms were cozy, but roomy. Everyone quickly voted that Heather and I had to have the room upstairs, as the rest of the family didn't want to have to keep climbing up and down the stairs. Heather and I accepted this inflexible decree of the Medes and Persians with humility and docility, having noticed right off the bat that the upstairs room was also the biggest and nicest room. :D We kept it mum and this fact didn't dawn on everyone else until a day or two later. :D :D

Heather--And then - dinner. Words can't describe how GOOD the food was! Wow! During the three nights we ate there (not to mention the breakfasts) everything we tried was excellent! This first night, I had garlic bread with mozzarella cheese on it, baked salmon with mozzarella and tomato on it, and homemade apple cake. Hit the spot!

And as soon as possible afterward, we all hit the sack! Raquelle and I took a couple minutes to admire our huge old wardrobe, shift the chairs and wicker coffe table around to make room for our suitcases and then flop into bed.

Raquelle--the other rooms had two twin beds. Our room had a double bed and a cot. Heather claimed the cot right away. I let her have it. I sat on it for a moment and noticed that it was deliciously springy, whereas my bed was a little on the hard side. However, I also noticed after a moment that springy was a good word---you could feel each and every spring through the thin mattress. Hmmm. Go ahead, can keep the cot. :D

Heather noticed the problem about two minutes after getting in bed. After a few moments of brainstorming, we collected all the pillows and extra pillows (we'd each brought our own travel chiropractic pillow and didn't need them) and she laid them in rows all down the cot, and then put the sheet over them and laid on it. This made her inexpressibly comfy and happy and she lived happily ever after.

Monday, September 17, 2007

All the photos!

Yes, folks, I think we finally have all our photos uploaded! We may find another 10-20 tucked away somewhere, but this is mostly it. We'll continue to update the blog with the final week of our adventures as we have time.

Meanwhile, feast your eyes!

Friday, September 14, 2007

A kind of crazy night

Posted by Raquelle

You'll recall, if you dutifully read through the last post to the very end (you did, didn't you?....right?......RIGHT?????.....) that we left you after telling you about Dumferline Abbey. Incidentally, it's pronounced dum-FIRM-lin.

We came back and took naps. My nap wasn't a very good one because I forgot to take the bun out of my hair, but was too sleepy to fix the problem. Imagine sleeping on a very large mushroom and you'll get the idea. Gives you a crick in your neck.

Dad and Mom went to Tesco, the local grocery, for another food foray. No one wanted to cook in the apartments again but we wanted even less to go on another long trek to a restaurant. True, we had cars, but the only eensy weensy problem with that is that there is no place to park them in town. Sad, but true. You never, ever see parking garages over here. An occasional car park (parking lot) but most people just take the bus, the train, the tube, or walk. What's also interesting is that there are very, VERY few fat people here. That's because they walk all the time. :D

Anyway, they returned from their food foray with cans of soup and some breaded chicken strips. This meant that we had to figure out how to turn on the oven. Hmmm. Ah. Well. Let's see if we can find the user's manual. No? Um..............DAD! Will you come look at this? After some pushing of switches and turning of dials, the oven came on with a vengeance. I think it was maybe a convection oven. It heated the chicken very rapidly. Good thing we decided to check it halfway through, or we'd be eating burnt bird. :D

(Another thing over here is that plugs have to be turned on, usually with a small switch next to the plug. You have to remember that, or else you can merrily plug something in, like a curling iron, and then come back to discover that it's NOT on after all. This, friends, is Very Vexing.)

So we had a merry meal of chicken and soup and some rolls and the assorted drib-drabs of apples, carrot sticks, coleslaw, potato salad, and good stuff like that.

Dinner ended up being fairly late, as we had napped late. So soon it was time for bed. And that was when my troubles began.

(Do you know, we've been riding on the tube a lot today and I feel like the smell is clinging to me. It's driving me nuts. The underground smells....well, I can't describe. It's not exactly diesel...more like an acrid, dirty electrical smell. Ugh.)

So, my troubles. First, I had taken a nap so I wasn't very sleepy. Second, the walls in the apartment were not soundproof and I could here Mom and Dad bumping around in their room as they got ready for bed, and could eventually hear Dad snoring. I can NOT sleep with noise.

However, I was PREPARED. I, ladies and gentlemen, after many months of laboriously agonizing over various models, had become the possessor of a battery-operated noise maker to drown out noises. It came with a variety of sounds, including ocean waves, waterfalls, birds chirping, and all that schweet stuff. Since it was the cheaper model, it sounded pathetically fakey and a trifle static-ish, but at least it worked. I'd rather listen to a crackling waterfall than snoring. :D So I cranked it on and laid back (this time with my bun taken down) on my pillow, ready for a nice, quiet snooze.

That was when I discovered that my super-awesome-waycool noisemaker was super-awesomely-waycoolly ANNOYING to my sister, who shared the room. She had endured if for several nights but tonight she demanded a compromise and asked that we leave it off, at least for awhile.

Hmmph. I felt that this was very high-handed and desperately obnoxious. The very idea!!! However, I trust that I will always do my duty....noble sigh! I turned it off and felt like a heroic martyr. Our window was open, by way of ventilation, which created another problem.

We were staying in a nice area of town, but it was near a bus stop. And, if you don't know, a favorite pastime among Europeans is drinking wine or beer. Some of a little too much. So, regardless of how nice the area is (because the rich people do it too), it is not uncommon to hear people walking home late at night talking loudly, laughing loudly, or sometimes singing at the top of their lungs, having had a leetle too much to drink. Sigh. So I began to hear people's mood-elevated voices as they walked down the street nearby from the bus station.

Are you keeping track of all these noises---the bumping, talking, snoring, hollering, singing? Well, it got worse.

Heather finally said I could turn my noisemaker on. This I did. However, the nice little thing did not drown out the bumping that came from the upper story. It sounded like someone was tap dancing or else whumping heavy suitcases all about the floor. (Maybe they were.) This went on for some time.

By now it was quite late and creeping into the wee hours of the morning. I had ceased to feel like a noble martyr and was getting just plain cranky. I sneakily turned my noisemaker up a little bit.

Then I heard the most frightful noise of alarm sounding in the story above us. It sounded like a smoke alarm and went on and on and ON. Now, a smoke alarm is never relaxing but it is even less so when you can't go personally investigate it. I sat up, adrenaline coursing through me. Heather half woke up and told me it was no big deal, if there was a problem our alarm would go off too. That sounds reasonable, but not at 2:00 in the morning. I sat there rigidly, debating whether to go wake up Dad, who was most unaccountably snoring. How could one snore through something like that!!!

Thankfully, the alarm finally shut off. And I finally, after irritably making a tally of ALL the noises and feeling quite persecuted, reached a point of exhaustion and fell into a fitful sleep.

The next morning we found out (by overhearing someone talking to the receptionist) what had happened. One of the other ladies in the apartment complex had had a leetle too much to drink. So when she came back to the apartments, she went to the wrong one. Her key, of course, wouldn't unlock it. Blaming this problem on the key (oh sure, that's brilliant), she effortlessly solved the problem by, y'know, breaking in. This happened to be the apartment above us and was in fact occupied by other people. Some kind of alarm went off, but she was undisturbed and happily meandered into the apartment, ambled into the restroom, and then went to sleep on the couch. The folks in the apartment had to call the police to come get her out. :D

So all in all, it was a bad night's sleep but it could have been worse. :D I think I would have absolutely freaked out if she had broken into OUR apartment. :D :D :D

Stay tuned for what happened the next day.......driving from Edinburgh to Bath! Will they make it unscathed? Will they get lost in the dark on the way? And WHAT about the mysterious lasagna??? We'll be back with more, ladies and gentlemen, right after this break!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Boat Rides and King's Graves--Edinburgh, Day 2

Heather---We got up to gray skies, but the sun was starting to peek through. I had some help with breakfast this time as Raquelle and Grandma crowded into our Barbie-doll-sized kitchen with me. Same menu as before, except that we cut up a few apples that had been bought the night before at the grocery store.

Rauqelle--- And this time we borrowed another skillet from Grandma and Gramps' apartment so we didn't have to scramble the eggs in a saucepan. This, ladies and gentlemen, was a Significant Improvement.

Heather---Then Dad, Mom, Raquelle, Gramps and I headed off for the Royal Mile as per our clandestine plan the night before. Grandma stayed behind to do some local shopping--that is, explore the local grocery store, which is always a cultural experience. We got to the Mile so early (9 am) that most of the shops weren't open yet. But it was fun to see the Royal Mile start to awaken. Street vendors were showing up in vans, parking at the curb and setting up their displays. Church bells were tolling the hour and the sun was beginning to warm us up. It was a beautiful day.

Finally the shops opened. Raquelle found a kilted skirt like mine and she convinced me to buy a shawl like hers. And then we all headed down to the cigar shop.

Raquelle----ugh, Heather is so cryptic about this stuff. "Raquelle bought a skirt. I bought a shawl." boring is that. You want to know about COLORS and PATTERNS and stuff!!! So here it is, for those of you with finer sensibilities. (Heather's in the shower, she doesn't know I'm writing all this slander.)

My skirt was NOT on sale, regrettably. However, it was still decently priced. It was a dark green and mauve and burgundy plaid, and everyone who knows anything about me and colors knows that green and mauve/burgundy are my two favorites. So I was desperately thrilled.

Mom bought a shawl like Heather's and mine--they all match. They are a rich, warm green and red and gold plaid but the lines are soft and mutely blurred, not a harsh plaid. Very nice. We bought them at the same little store where the clerk said she liked American tourists. :D In fact, she liked us so much that when we couldn't find a matching shawl for Mom, she scurried off to another shop and borrowed one to sell to us.

Oh, and we found a wool sweater for Dad too. All in all, quite a delicious haul. :D

There, I feel better having given you all the Vastly Pertinent Details.

Heather---It was now 10:00 on the dot, the stated opening time of the store. We were in a bit of a hurry, as we had to catch the 10:20 bus back, in order to give ourselves enough time to get to the rental car place, which closed early on Saturdays. Just as we arrived, the proprietor (we assume) zoomed up. "I'll be about ten minutes," he said coolly, unlocked the door and disappeared inside. He locked the door behind him so we couldn't follow. We could see him unhurriedly moving around inside, and we amusedly wondered if he were making his morning cup of tea. Customers just don't seem to be the big priority in the UK that they are in the States. :D Not that it's always great in the States, but it's sorta non-existent here. Customers....yawn.

Once he finished diddling inside, he stepped outside--again shutting the door behind him--and proceeded to set up the awning, take down the grill over the window and put up his "open" sign. Then, and only then, did he let Gramps into the store to get cigars.

Raquelle---It boggled my mind....we told the man we were in a hurry and yet he makes us stand on the sidewalk while he hangs up his pretty awning and sign. Any American worth his salt would have let the customer in on the spot.

In the meantime Heather and I, not being especially interested in cigars, wandered down a ways and idly killed time in front of a newspaper store. Various newspapers from all over the world were on sale. I suppose it was obnoxious...I really didn't think about it....but I picked up a USA Today to read the headlines and Heather looked at a paper too. The owner, a peppery older man, came out a few minutes later and was Decidedly Huffed at us. "If ye won't spend the 3.50 pounds fer it, dinna sit out here and read it!" he scolded. Oops. I suppose he was right and it was a little thoughtless of us. But it still sort of tickled me...the polite American way would have simply been to say, "I'm sorry, we don't allow reading on the sidewalk. Would you like to buy the paper?"

Ah well, it's a different world here. :)

Heather----Then we all headed over to the Hertz rental place to pick up our cars. It was quite near our apartments and we planned to pick up the cars, drive back and get Grandma and be on the road by 11 am. No such luck. There was a looooong line at Hertz. Like I said about customers being low on the priority list!

Raquelle---Well, you have to understand the reason for the long line. There were only three people working the desk and there was only one "extra" flunkie to bring the cars around. So most of the time, after a laborious bit of paper signing and bureacratic mysteriousness, the clerk would then disappear and bring the car around themselves. Naturally, this takes some time. Tsk tsk, inefficient Europeans!!!

Heather---We waited and waited for nearly an hour. Gramps struck up a conversation with some Spaniards (he knows some Spanish). I watched the Hertz personnel. One lady in particular had a very foreign accent and she managed to confuse just about every customer she worked with, including Dad. Unfortunately, only Mom and Dad were allowed to be listed as drivers (which was not what Dad was originally told) so Raquelle and I could not spell them with the driving as originally planned.

Raquelle--- Dad had also been told that we could get a station wagon and a car. They said no, they had no station wagons. Then they changed their minds and decided that actually, they had two. And when Dad tried to arrange the paperwork so that he or Mom could drive either car (which he had been assured could be done for no fee) the clerks uniformly popped their eyes and said that there had always been a 9 pound fee per person per day for that, ever since the Magna Carta. (You didn't know that was one of the grievances against King John, did you?)

Heather---We finally finished all the paperwork and then headed out to get the cars. Dad has driven in the UK before, but Mom had only driven in the UK once. So they went over everything in the car with her to explain it. UK driving is on the left side of the road, so the driver's seat is on the right side. Rather confusing, especialy when you're a pedestrian trying to cross the street!

"Your motto," Dad instructed, "is I'M IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD." And that's true--if you're driving correctly, the driver should be in the middle of the road, not on the outer edge as in the U.S.

Anyhow, we finally figured it out, and then drove back to the apartments. It was now 11:30 and Grandma was wondering what had become of us. (Frankly, we were wondering too. Who knows but that people enter rental car offices and never return again? :D) We threw all our stuff in the car and headed for Falkirk.

I made sure to pack the laptop for the day. The night before, I had stayed up late getting directions for the day, but we didn't have a printer. So I would be reading them from the laptop to act as a supplement to the GPS which we had also brought with us.

So here's the way we did all our UK driving: Dad and I rode in the first car, and Grandma rode with us this time (although thereafter she rode in the other car). Mom drove the car behind and Gramps helped her navigate. Raquelle ran their walkie talkie and I ran ours. And I was co-navigator with Dad. This made me feel like Big Stuff since Dad is usually the main navigator.

A typical walkie talkie conversation might go like this:

Heather: Roundabout coming up. Looks like we'll be going to the left, not sure which exit yet.
Raquelle: Right-o. Mom says SLOW DOWN.
Heather: Fuss fuss fuss.
Raquelle: Hey, remember, we've got the chocolate! Don't make us mad.
Heather: Okay, it'll be the third exit off the roundabout, towards M4. (Note: M means Motorway, and A means Autoway. We never did find out what B means)
Raquelle: Roger doger. And Mom says not to drive like Speedy Gonzalez or the Road Runner.
Heather: That reminds me, what IS the Road Runner saying when they beep him out?

You get the point. It sounds entertaining, and sometimes it was. Sometimes, however, our driving was toe-curling stressful. I had to read the GPS, compare it to the directions (if we had some), decide which to follow if they were different and communicate this to Dad. I also had to help Dad figure out which lanes to be in and where to turn. And I also had to communicate all this to Mom in the car behind. Needless to say, for the next several nights, I dreamed in GPS-speak. ("Okay, we're taking the second exit off the roundabout to breakfast and I want eggs on M5" and other nonsense)

Raquelle---Whereas, in our car, the dialogue went something like this:

Mom: Raquelle, tell Ray to remember his blinker, please.
Me on walkie: Mom says remember the blinker.
Gramps: Holly, you're really close to the edge on this side.
Heather's voice on the walkie: Waakggh sssiueaaa slllef aahhhh.
Mom: WHAT?
Me: Say again please......oh, they say, right turn ahead, Mom.
Grandma: Do we have to have the window down?
Gramps: Holly, you're really close to the edge on this side.
Mom: My neck is getting really tight.
Me: Where did the M&Ms go anyway?
Grandma: Wash your hands first.

Heather----Anyway, getting to the Falkirk Wheel was pretty easy because it was right off the freeway ("motorway") and there were lots of signs.

The Falkirk Wheel ( absolutely fascinating. It is quite literally a boat mover. You get your boat on it and it lifts you way up in the air to the higher canal. This saves you from having to go through about a dozen locks to get from one river to the other.

As we walked up toward the visitor's center, a man pulled Dad aside and offered to take us on his little barge instead of us going on the regular sight-seeing boat. He said his barge trip would be longer and we would go through a lock as well as the Wheel. He offered a price of 58 pounds for all 6 of us. Dad said he would think about it and we started up toward the visitor's center. The man ran after us after a minute and said he'd cut the price to 50 pounds. A quick conflab on the walk convinced us that it would be more fun--and about the same price for more stuff--to go on the man's barge, so we went back and paid for seats.

His barge was called the Bonnie Barge and it was a cute little boat. The inside was wood-paneled and and carpeted--a bit faded, but quite quaint. There was seating for about 10-12 people forward and then he had a little captain's cabin in the back of the boat with a genuine ship's wheel for steering. When we got on board and another lady welcomed us and the other two couples who came along. Their little dog welcomed us excitedly too and bounded all up and down the plaid seats. We were offered chips, soft drinks and white wine (we declined the wine). He gave us a little history of the area and what the canals and locks were used for.

His barge had a little open area on the prow, so Raquelle, Dad and I climbed right out on it to watch as we went through the Wheel. When you're actually in the Wheel, the water is only about four feet deep, so even if you fell off you wouldn't do more than get wet. It was quite a view when we finally reached the top! We got lots of pictures and maybe they will help you understand how it looked better than I can describe it.

Raquelle---The Captain was quite a character. He had a thick cockney accent, a red, weathered face, and a captain's hat. As we began the ride, he dutifully pointed out the boat exits and then said cheerily, "But daon't 'ou worry 'bout that--Ah'll do all the worryin'!" I looked down at the water in the river and decided that the river was small enough that even if something happened, I could swim. :D

He had the cutest little dog too--a little tiny scrappy little thing that bounced all over the seats at first, greeting us ecstatically. "What is your dog's name?" I asked the captain.

"Toby," he said. Then he winked and said, "Wee Toby." :D

We entered a lock before getting on the wheel, which was fun. I never did quite understand how a lock works, but now I do. (If you have questions, feel free to's too hard to explain now when I should be curling my hair and going to bed. :D) And after going on the wheel, we went through a tunnel, turned around, came back through the tunnel, and on the wheel again. The captain passed out lollipops for everyone in case their ears bothered them--the Wheel lifts you about 150 feet in the air.

As we were near the tunnel, I noticed a traffic signal and clear instructions that indicated it was only safe when the light was green. However, the light was red and we were still toodling on towards it. Dad noticed too and asked the lady, "Aren't we supposed to stop when it's red?"

"Well, it's kind of meaningless," she said, "because you can see if the tunnel is clear. If it's clear, you go. If not, you don't." She had a definite point. :D

We were next to another boat as we were in the Wheel and I was so glad that we had ended up on the Bonnie Barge....the other one was just a big ugly tour barge, where the hapless tourists were lined up in rows on blue plastic seats. And they certainly couldn't climb out on the prow and watch. Altogether, our boat had much more character and the Captain was so much more entertaining. At one point, we were passing another boat and he clanged a bell in greeting and then shouted, "Doive, doive!!" as if we were a submarine going for a dive. :D

Heather---Well, after riding the Wheel, we all grabbed lunch on the grounds. Pretty nasty stuff, actually. British people don't always do fast food well. Yech. I think there was some more of that mysterious "20%"---only, it was more like 75% this time. :D However, we got some grub into us and then headed back for the cars.

This time our trip was to Dunfermline to see the abbey there. Dunfermline is a cute town. Fortunately, there was a car park (translation: parking lot) right next to the abbey. Someone was just leaving and gave us their parking pass so we didn't have to pay to park there. Then we walked up some steps to get to the abbey.

Wow, it was beautiful! It's still in use as a Presbyterian church. In fact, some folks where there getting things ready for Sunday. One gentlemen tooks us aside and gave us a lot of history.

One reason why we wanted to visit this abbey was because King Robert the Bruce is buried there. The top of his grave is marked by a beautiful marble slab right at the front of the church. Apparently it had been forgotten for some centuries that he was buried there. However, they discovered his body and knew it was him because it was wrapped in gold cloth and you could see in the skeleton the place where they took his heart out to bury it in Israel as he had requested.

The newer part of the abbey had carpet and pews and lights. Then we visited the older part which is just stone and stained glass windows. It looked just as awesome, in a rugged way. The evening sun was filtering in and made the place seem lovely and hallowed.

Then we walked across the lawn to where the palace used to be. We hadn't realized that there also had been a royal palace at that place. There wasn't much left, just the walls and the flooring. But you could see where the floors had probably been placed.

We left at closing time and sauntered back to the car. It was a very nice day and we enjoyed the sun and the flowers blooming everywhere. (They do flowers in a BIG way over here)

Then at last we drove the twenty minutes back to our apartments. Dinner tonight was another experiment. But it's bedtime, so you'll have to hear about THAT later. And the break-in next door during the night........stay tuned.......