Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Trip to England: Day 3, part 1

Trip To England: Day Three

Raquelle: Heather and Jeannie bipped out of bed and bipped downstairs for breakfast. I, being something of a sleepy cheapskate, blearily made myself a protein drink and nibbled dry gluten-free cereal up in the room instead. That’s more efficient anyway. If it sounds Spartan, don’t worry, I eat that for breakfast at home too.

Heather: Cheapskate? The breakfast was FREE! Due to good ole Dad and his Marriott points. (World-traveler sugar daddies are awesome.)

Raquelle: NOW you tell me it was free......

Heather: I told you then too!

Raquelle: *crunches dry cereal loudly* Whazzat? Can’t hear ya! *crunch crinch grackle smack*

Heather: We each decided to have an omelette and Jeannie chatted with the chef making the omelettes. (Yes, she guessed his nationality again – India. And she knew where his town was too because she’s been to India.) I also enjoyed fruit, cooked tomatoes and grilled mushrooms. I’ve discovered that I really LOVE grilled mushrooms for breakfast.

And of course, we each had tea. It was a pleasant little repast and we had fun chatting for a while too. But alas, duty called (as well as unpacked suitcases) so we finished up and headed upstairs to grab our bags.

Raquelle: We checked out of the hotel and the nice bellman who had helped us the day before assisted us into a taxi. Destination: The train station, to take the train to Manchester, where we would meet up with the tour group that evening. We thanked the bellman and gave him a tiny packet of gen-yoo-wine American tea, made by America’s only tea plantation in Charleston, SC. We were amused by the universal reaction when we dispensed these tea packets—a surprised thank-you, followed by a reverent inspection of the tea. The English take their tea very seriously. :D

I observed that the traffic smells of London do not smell faintly of diesel like the traffic scents in the U.S. Instead, to my amusement, London traffic smells faintly of hot brakes. :D

The taxi took us to Euston Station, which brought back fond memories of our first trip to Europe. It was in this station on that first trip that we learned that the American definition of “fast” food and the English definition of “fast” food are not the same. On that trip, twelve of us tried to get burgers and fries from McDonald’s at the station before catching our train. The unhurried clerk ambled about in a leisurely fashion that would have earned him nasty words in New York City, an exasperated “What’s he DOING, bless his heart!” in South Carolina, and the rapid termination of his employment in Southern California. I have a very vivid memory of Dad resignedly telling everyone to go catch the train and he and Mom would try to follow with the food, and of them boarding the train at the last minute looking disheveled and harassed, but triumphantly loaded with a gazillion hamburgers. It was probably our fault for trying to eat on the train anyway. Silly Americans. :D

Upon arrival that morning, we scanned the departure monitors with unaccustomed eyes, trying to determine which platform the train would leave on. Finally we discovered that they don’t list the platform until fifteen minutes beforehand. If you arrive early (as we did—we always PLAN in buffer time as part of the PLAN), you can simply walk laps around the train station, clandestinely gossip about the fashions of the passerby, gorge on pastries, or post an inane out-of-focus “Diz is me at the train stashun” photo and status on Facebook. That is, assuming your cheapo Vodafone takes pictures and connects to Teh Interwebz, which ours didn’t. Rats.

Deprived of inane status-making, we made our way to the waiting room to kill time. After depositing our luggage in one corner, we went in relays to the ladies’ room. Last time we were in England it cost twenty pence to visit the restroom in a train station. This time it was thirty pence. Bah. These are terrible times. In another fifty years I can wag my silver curls and croak in sepulcheral tones, “When AH wuz a child, you could go to the restroom for just tuh-WENTY pence but NAOW dayz.....”

Heather: All right, all right. This is NOT a genteel topic of conversation.

Howsomever. While we’re on the topic… Mom and I had an adventure trying to use the facilities. To enter the restroom, one must first pass through an external row of turnstiles. One drops thirty pence into a slot, then the turnstile turns. Or at least, it’s supposed to. So we dutifully brought our thirty pence, but didn’t realize that the machines ONLY accepted 10p and 20p coins. I forget what we put in it, but it was the Wrong Combination of Coins. The machine obligingly gulped our money but wouldn’t let us in. Great.

There was a cranky young attendant at the turnstile entrance who was snapping people’s heads off. He had supervisory power to let people in through a little gate instead of through the turnstile. He had a weird accent – maybe Norwegian or something?

Mom went over to him and observed that she put her money in but the turnstile wouldn’t work.

“Twenniestensonly,” he snapped. We looked blank. He repeated himself louder. “TWENNIESTENSONLY!”

“Well...I don’t have the right combination of coins...can I just hand you the money?” Mom asked.

“NO!” he snarled belligerently. Then he turned his back on us and walked off.

Since we’d paid our money (and did not have the right change in our pockets and it was a five minute walk back to our purses) we concluded that it wouldn’t be cheating to clandestinely scoot UNDER the turnstiles. So, um, we did. Don’t tell the cranky Norwegian though. :D

While they were having adventures, I was twiddling my thumbs in the waiting room. Suddenly a LOUD announcement came over the PA system: “WILL INSPECTOR SANS PLEASE REPORT TO THE STATION INSPECTION ROOM.” To drive home the point, the announcement was repeated. “WILL INSPECTOR SANS PLEASE REPORT TO THE STATION INSPECTION ROOM.” I resisted the temptation to cover my ears as the strident voice demanded a third time, “WILL INSPECTOR SANS PLEASE REPORT TO THE STATION INSPECTION ROOM.” The announcer was just warming up. Clearly, either the Plot of the Century was afoot or Inspector Sans was a slowpoke because the paging continued. I started counting how often they said it.

Sixteen times.

Just thought you’d like to know.

Finally it was time to board the train. We don’t DO trains over here and are woefully deficient in the secret lore of trains. Exactly which car does one get on? In some trains, it’s any car you feel like. In other trains, you have assigned seats in an assigned car. In other trains, you ain’t seen the sunshine since you don’t know wheeeeeeen, and yore stuck in Folsom Prison.............”

Er, sorry.

Regardless, being ill-versed in the art of reading our train tickets—and in the art of realizing tickets actually have useful information on them—we attempted to board the wrong car. A helpful English lady directed us to where we SHOULD go—Car A.

Guess where Car A was?

In Banff-ff-ff!

Well, it felt like that far. It was at the very (very) VERY veryveryveryveryveryvery end of the platform. “Helloooo-ooo-oooo!” we could shout to the car and the echo would come back five minutes later. (Minus the “ech,” which is lost in the currency exchange.)

Since we had wasted time trying to decide which car to board, we now felt pressured for time. This is the other mystery about trains. If you are galloping down the platform, or if you are half on and some of your luggage is still on the platform, does the engineer (does the train HAVE an engineer) have a rear-view mirror? Will he wait for you to finish loading? Or does he just smash down on the accelerator (do trains have an accelerator?) and leave your Very Best Suitcase with your Very Best Jane Austen Bonnet stranded FOREVER on the platform?

Such suspense is terrible. The stuff of nightmares. And daymares.

:cue dramatic music:

We legged it with all speed to Car A. Out-of-breath and arms aching (at least, I was....Jeannie is training for a marathon and didn’t appear to be disturbed), we wildly squeezed ourselves into Car A, with the help of a nice English guy who took pity on our haplessness and lifted some of the heavy suitcases.

The front luggage rack of Car A was ill-equipped to handle all four of our big suitcases. Nor was the aisle wide enough to actually roll the suitcases to the back luggage rack. We provided ringside entertainment for the other passengers for the next five minutes while we grunted and squeezed and pushed several of the suitcases sideways down the narrow aisle to the back compartment. By the time they were settled and the small bags were settled and we had tripped over each other six times and found our assigned seats and made general spectacles of ourselves, we all looked at each other and said, “WILL INSPECTOR SANS PLEASE RPORT TO THE STATION INSPECTION ROOM!” I mean, no, we said, “WHO’S IDEA WAS THIS TRIP ANYWAY?” :D

We're finally on the train!

Mom and I ended up across from a very fun English couple whom we ended up chatting with the entire three-hour journey. I don’t remember their names, so I’ll nickname them Tom and Jane. It was quite fun chatting, although technically I guess we should have kept it down, because a sign in the car admonished us sternly that it was the “QUIET ZONE.” No loud talking, no cell phones! Tom was unfazed and had no problem with talking on his cell phone. :D

Tom was the more gregarious of the two, although Jane was quite friendly too. We talked about everything under the sun, beginning with their complaint that the train company had assigned them to seats that faced BACKWARDS even though they had expressly reserved seats that faced FORWARDS. Grumbling about inept travel bureaucracies is a soothing pastime and we had a few stories of our own to contribute. For instance, there was that time when Dad was flying to California and the airline accidentally sent his suitcase to Rome. True story. (And if you’re Dixie-centric and think I mean Rome, Georgia, I don’t. I mean Rome, ITALY.)

Tom warned us that he was old and grumpy and therefore came with an advisory. :D Together we began solving all the world’s problems. We got off discussing bio-fuels somehow or other. Tom expressed profound disappointment in the American drought, which is adversely affecting the corn crop. “I had truly hoped that the corn crop would be very good and get America shifted over to bio-fuels. This drought is very, very upsetting,” he lamented.

We agreed that the drought is distressing, but explained that bio-fuels are still very much in the minority in the States and unpopular with many people. One good corn crop isn’t going to do the trick. He seemed surprised to hear this. He is pro bio-fuel less for environmental reasons than because, as he put it, he’d love to America stop buying oil from countries that don’t like us. I agree with THAT. We told him that America has a TON of its own oil, if we were only allowed to drill for it. This was apparently news to him.

We touched on America’s economy and lamented the way it keeps getting worse. Since this is contrary to the typical U.S. media prattle, he was rather surprised at this also. Tom was quite interested to know how the average American young person sized up the political state of America. I told him my views, although I explained that my opinions don’t reflect the average American young person. :D

Tom and Jane were both surprised at the lack of U.S. coverage about the Para-Olympics. Come to think of it, I am too. I told them, though, that we don’t watch television anyway. They nodded approvingly. Not much good stuff on the “telly,” they said.

Tom and Jane were on their way to a wedding. Recently, another family member of theirs had married a guy from Texas and they were chortling over the Texas theme to the wedding. They were particularly amused at how the wedding party wore cowboy boots (only they called them “Texas boots”). :D

We had fun discussing difference between American and English words. “How does the saying go?” Tom mused. “Something like, ‘America and England are two countries separated by a common language?’” Hear, hear!

“So you’re a piano teacher, eh?” Tom asked me. He meditated on his boyish past. “Ah yes. I ‘did’ piano once,” he smirked.

As the train neared Manchester, we gave them each a packet of Charleston tea. Tom feigned suspicion. “American tea, eh? We don’t know about your tea. You people make tea out of all sorts of weird things. Just any old BOILED PLANTS!” He shuddered.

I also gave them a couple of Answers In Genesis pamphlets, which, of course, are Christian-based. Tom accepted them graciously and gave me a funny smile. “We’re Jews,” he said. “But I’ll read it, I’ll read it. What are you? Are you Jehovah’s Witnesses?”

“No, we’re Christians,” I said.

“Ah! Mormons?” he asked.

“No......” We searched across the American/English barrier for the right word. “We’re Baptists.”

Blank look. “Protestants.”

“Ah, Protestants! Okay!”

At last we reached the Manchester train station. Tom and Jane heartily wished us well on our trip and we wished them well at the wedding.

We trundled into the train station to reconnoiter. The theory was simple: Grab a quick to-go lunch (the English call it “take away”) and board the tram to the hotel. The lunch part wasn’t too bad. But the tram was a whole ‘nother story.

First, we had to figure out WHICH tram to take, by dint of reading an incomprehensible tram map. We couldn’t make heads or tails of it. Finally in despair we hailed someone who Looked Official. He was a tram driver himself. “Ah yes, yes, you just hop on any tram that says “Piccadilly or Altrincham,” he said politely. His accent was so thick I had to ask him to repeat this a few times. (Our English friends warn us about Manchester accents.) We still looked puzzled and he said genially, “Tell you what. Just wait for MY tram and I’ll help you. I can get you where you need to go. Just cross ‘round to the other side.” I looked at him blankly, trying to understand his thick accent.

“I’m sorry....what?” I asked apologetically again.

He visibly smothered a grin and said, “WILL INSPECTOR SANS PLEASE REPORT TO THE STATION INSPECTION ROOM!” Er, uh, no, he said, “Just go ‘round to the other side and wait for my tram.” He politely refrained from adding, “You dingbats!”

Right. The Other Side was where we needed to be. So we crossed to the Other Side, muttering and mumbling things about Piccadillies and Altrinchams.

“You know, we could just take a taxi,” Jeannie suggested sweetly.

Heather was inflexible and too busy working out the square root of Piccadilly and the cosine of Altrincham to heed this sage bit of wisdom. Taking the tram was part of her carefully prepared PLAN. WE NEVER MESS WITH THE PLAN.

Our troubles were not over, however. Before we could get on the tram, we had to buy tram tickets from the little ticket machine. Or at least, we thought we did. I think some of what I didn’t understand the tram driver saying might have been him offering to take us for free, since our hotel was only two short stops down the line and the tram lines seem very casual about whether you pay or not. They never bother to inspect your ticket. Tickets, schmickets.

However, we were being Dutiful Citizens and we approach the ticket machine with Stern Determination. You can buy tickets from the machine in two ways: with coins or with your credit card. A quick glance through our loose change apprised us that we did not have enough coins of the proper denomination to buy tickets. (We knew better than to attempt something beyond twenniestensonly!) We looked at each other in Grave Exasperation and Mom fished out a credit card. HOWEVER, in England, credit cards are equipped with some nifty little chip that our American cards did not have. This meant that the card reader wouldn’t read Mom’s card either.

“LET’S JUST TAKE A TAXI!” Heather snorted.


We took a taxi. And to Jeannie’s credit, she did NOT say “I told you so,” although I’m sure she was thinking it.

The poor helpful tram driver is probably still wondering what became of us.

Our destination, the Midland Hotel, was not far away and the taxi deposited us at the door. A wedding was going to take place that evening and the hotel was buzzing with wedding staff. Someone was preparing a red carpet to roll out on the outside stairs.

“Oh look, they’re rolling out a red carpet for us!” we snickered to each other.

Because, of course, it's all about US!

The chandelier of the Octagon Room
The Midland Hotel is a lovely place. The lobby has a raised area off to the left side with cozy couches and chairs and coffee tables. Part of it is a charming restaurant area known as the “Octagon Lounge.” (The guest booklet in our rooms informed us that having tea at the Octagon Lounge was on some mucky-muck’s list of the top 50 things to do before you die.) The Octagon Room has a ginormous chandelier that was Perfectly Gorgeous. We couldn’t get into our rooms yet, so we handed our bags to the concierge and seated ourselves on the outskirts of the Octagon Lounge to relax. People began to arrive for the wedding and whom should we see on the scene shortly? Tom and Jane! The wedding they were attending was the one at this hotel! We exchanged genial howdys! (We patted ourselves on the back that despite our inept wrangling with trams and taxis, we STILL beat them to the hotel, haw haw!)

Enjoying our tea!
We ladies ordered hot tea to drink and a few sweet munchies and proceeded to have a lovely time for the next two hours, drinking tea and watching gorgeously-arrayed guests arrive for the wedding. It was a ringside seat to a fabulous fashion show. The wedding was a black tie affair and everyone was dressed to the nines. We enjoyed the parade of astonishing fur coats, sequined dresses, and flamboyant ladies’ hats. We saw two adorable tiny twin boys dressed in charming suits and wearing tiny yarmulkes. (Ushers stood by with a stack of yarmulkes to hand out to male guests who wished for one.) The groom’s immaculate dress was completed with an old-fashioned top hat and a walking stick.

Heather: I was dying to take pictures of all the gorgeously arrayed ladies (silk, satins, and spangles, anyone?) but thought it would be a little too Ugly-American-ish. However, I did manage to get one or two pictures by holding the camera discreetly down in my lap and turning the flash off. Such as this one, a lovely be-sequined silk gown:

Jeannie enjoyed herself as well as we did (she helps plan weddings all the time) and flattered some of the more stunningly dressed ladies who passed by our couch by openly admiring their outfits. “You look gorgeous ma’am, I hope you don’t mind me saying that!” They never did mind and seemed a pleasantly surprised that anyone noticed them.

It was so fun to watch that we prolonged our tea until 4:00 when the bride came through. She was very pretty, but after all the be-furred and be-sequinned wedding guests, she was a bit of an anti-climax. Her dress was just a simple white sparkly  gown with a small flowing train. She was charming, however. Since she passed within about six feet of us we paid our compliments and told her we’d been waiting just to see her go by! She grinned nervously.

In the midst of all this, we spotted Jennie, the tour leader, checking in at the desk. We hurried over the say and hi and exchange quick hugs. We hadn’t seen each other in person since 2001 or 2002, I think, though our families have known each other for many years. If I remember correctly, our families first met in 1993 at a conference in Virginia. Jennie now lives in Kenya and of course, we live in South Carolina, so that’s a little too far for a quick get-together. LOL

Once the wedding began, we decided to go into town for a little while, as there was nothing else scheduled until after dinner that night. We, in our ignorance, decided to see if Manchester had any antique stores. Now if we had only known it, Manchester is proud of its MODERN improvements, and antiques are pretty much ignored or stuffed in museums, at least in the downtown area. But we didn’t know this.

Raquelle: So we asked the concierge to direct us to antique stores. In our minds, we meant the quintessential American antique store....a nice rambly building, smelling faintly of Grandma’s attic or basement, stuffed with things Americans consider “old,” (which is not the same as what Europeans consider “old.”) At the very least, however, we expect to see mismatched settings of preposterously boring glassware, a few old LPs of long-forgotten artists, outrageous blingy costume jewelry from the 1960s, a ubiquitous stack of doilies and tea towels and hankies, a few faded Christmas ornaments, some weathered Nancy Drew books, and a perhaps a prim and pedigreed old butter churn. (I defy any of you to produce an antique store in America that does not supply at least 6 out of 7 of those items.)

However, the concierge was from India. I don’t think he’d ever been to an American antique store. Consequently, he had no idea what we were talking about. He presumably had never read Nancy Drew or fished through stacks of old tea towels. He appeared puzzled by our request.

“Antiques…you know…a place where they would sell old things,” we explained.

He pondered. “Ahh….hmmm….ah….yess…..lets me directs you….ah….over to zees place,” he suggested. He fished out a street map for us and made Conspicuous Notations on it. “And eef zat doezn’t work, summon Inspektor Sanz to ze Station Inspektion room,” he concluded. Or something.

Heather: It turned out to be a not-so-helpful street map because Manchester is so busy improving itself all the time that they quit making detailed street maps because things change all the time. At least, as much as a British hundreds-of-years-old town can change. Piffle, who needs MAPS? We quickly took off in the wrong direction and walked briskly for about half a mile before discovering our error. Then we turned around and walked even more briskly in the RIGHT direction to make up for lost time.

The exterior of the Midland Hotel
Raquelle: Mom kept saying, “Are you SURE we’re going the right way? This just keeps getting more industrial. It doesn’t look like a shopping district.” Of course we were sure! It was the right street name, wasn’t it! Finally, a closer look at the map apprised us that there is UPPER Squawkenbop Street (or whatever it was) and LOWER Squawkenbop street. We, presumably being elitist upper-crust individuals, blindly wandered to the UPPER one when we should have gone to the LOWER one. Snobs, we're snobs.

Heather: So eventually, with many a doubtful look at our doubtful map, we finally found the “antique store” he had directed us too. Turns out it was in the “Boho District” and was not at all what we had in mind. I don’t know if it was the steam punk posters on the building or the mobile tattoo parlor that tipped us off first, but it bore no resemblance to the typical American antique store.

Raquelle: Heather is not doing this place justice. It was something of a shopping mall and its name is “Afflecks.”

Doesn’t that make you think of the Aflac duck? *quacks* AFLAC! AFLAC!

Anyway, the website for Affleck’s assures us that it is, “An emporium of eclecticism, a totem of indie commerce in Manchester’s Northern Quarter and above all else a fantastic place to SHOP for anything from Top hats to tattoos…Within Afflecks’ walls we have many alternative shops and stalls. Some might say eclectic or even quirky. And some would just say nothing because they were so dumbfounded by the incredible variety of wares.

*quacks* AFLAC! AFLAC!

For instance, Afflecks boasts the Frankie Knuckles store. Consider this description, verbatim from the website. Don’t ask me what half of this means: “Frankie Knuckles is a new outlet for American consumables. We try to stock the best that is coming stateside that would appeal to British urban youth. Our main products include ranges from Neon Green whom are making the sickest fixie bikes across the water...Fydelity Bags, a company that started in sound and developed sachels & skate bags with inbuilt speakers, to bring your favourite sounds to the street or bowl and the legendary KNUCKLECASE for the iPhone. This is an aluminum knuckle duster...and without saying too much we have just supplied to a big London name.


No, definitely not the place for four prissy ladies who want to poke about some shelves of old china and Grandma's handkerchiefs.


In the concierge’s defense, one of the stores in Afflecks does carry used costume clothing, so perhaps he felt that would fit our criteria.

Heather: Regardless, the place was closed so we turned around again. This time we found Market Street and decided to wander along it and maybe get some supper. That is, everyone else was in the mood to wander. By that time, I had had a long day and my gluten free luncheon was a mere memory. I was HUNGRY.

Raquelle: A Hungry Heather is a fearsome object. When Heather is hungry, I try to go hide in Banff-ff-ff or a classified undisclosed location, preferably underground.

Heather: For those who don’t know me, I have blood sugar issues, which means that when I get HUNGRY (as opposed to merely “hungry”) my blood sugar has bottomed out and I need food immejate or dire things happen. I get cranky. Then I get mouthy. Then I get foggy-brained. Altogether, I become a less-than-desirable traveling companion. Jeannie knew this vaguely about me because we’ve been reenacting together for years. But she had not ever seen me truly “bottomed out.” So among the other curiosities of our England Tour, she got to observe a Hungry Heather. I probably needed an explanatory plaque and maybe a small guide book with instructions.

At any rate, after a minor explosion from the famed Hungry Heather we decided to postpone further wandering. We headed for a nearby second-story food court that had several chain restaurants and ordered chicken at KFC. After that, everyone was much more cheerful and we went back to wandering with happier faces. :grin:

Raquelle: In the U.S. if you order a piece of white meat chicken and fries, you get a hefty piece of meat and the fries come in their own container. So when the cashier at KFC handed me a tiny folded cardboard box, I thought she’d forgotten the fries. “And the fries?” I inquired politely.

“They are in the box,” the cashier assured me.

I must have still looked dubious as I processed this new cultural experience, because she sort of smirked and said with a hint of impatience, “Would you like to open it up and see?”

She was right of course. The fries were in the bottom and on top reposed a piece of meat about half the size of the typical American KFC white meat chunk. We concluded upon eating it that it’s the same amount of actual meat however, as it was boneless.

There was a McDonald’s in the food court as well, but I was crestfallen to discover that they did not serve the usual mocha frappes. So I opted for a cappuccino at KFC instead. It was bitter and I had to stuff it quite full of sugar. However, in fairness, fast food coffee in the U.S. isn’t particularly worth writing home about either. :D

While we were munching our chicken, a Great Big Gaggle of Very Serious Firemen appeared on the scene, in full gear. Including an ax. They began Very Seriously poking and prodding the elevator to the food court, which was presumably a juvenile delinquent in need of a reprimand.

“I TOLD you to spend more time on your homework,” lectured one fireman, jiggling a wire.

“No more late nights for YOU,” scolded another, flipping a switch.

“If I catch you putting a mouse in your teacher’s desk again, you’re grounded for LIFE,” admonished a third, yanking on a pulley.

To which the elevator responded by sticking out its tongue and saying, “AFLAC!”

However, at the end of their ministrations the elevator was a model citizen once more and was no longer STUCK, which is apparently why they were summoned in the first place.

Do note that these conversations were speculative, inasmuch as we were too far away to hear them. But we’re pretty sure that’s what was going on.

Raquelle: After eating, we browsed a couple of department stores. One of them was T.K. Maxx. Yes, you read that right, it’s a “K” not a “J.” It was a step above our T.J. Maxx stores over here and we had fun ambling about. Jeannie found a chawming little dress that she decided would be Just Right for an upcoming wedding she would be attending.

Us outside of T. K. Maxx

We enjoyed browsing the shoe department and clowning around with all the Ghastly Ugly Stylish Shoes.

This one's fer Grandma R.......doncha think it's trewly fashunable?

Finally we headed back to the hotel and checked in. Heather and Mom’s room was Rather Interesting.

Heather: It was obviously carved out of a once-bigger room. It was on a corner so we had two windows with magnificent views of the city, but we also had A Pillar in the middle of the room. It was a Large Pillar. It probably required its own personal identification documentation when traveling, and it certainly would have needed its own airline seat. Maybe two seats. We spent the next two days dodging our Pillar whenever we walked across the room.

Otherwise, the room was pretty tame. Except for an interesting feature regarding room keys which will be covered with great hilarity (on the part of the non-victims) in the NEXT blog entry. (This is called "strategic foreshadowing" and it makes sure that our bored readers come back for more.)

Raquelle: Jeannie and I had a large spacious room with a small side lobby. It was very nice, although the lobby area was very dimly lit. The room only lacked an iron and ironing board, so I called the front desk to request one.

“Did you check the wardrobe?” the clerk inquired politely.

Wardrobe? What wardrobe? Oh THAT wardrobe. It was tucked away in a dark corner of dimly lit lobby and I hadn’t even SEEN it. Oh well, when you have an American accent, people expect you to act like an oblivious tourist.

After freshening up, we went down to the lobby to officially meet up with the tour group. Mom and I took the elevator. Jeannie and Heather took the stairs (I don’t know why) and promptly got lost in the hotel and arrived ten minutes late.

Heather: What is this “lost” stuff? We weren’t LOST. We knew exactly where we weren’t.

See, we took the stairs down to the mezzanine level. But then they stopped. So we went out the door and looked for another set of stairs. Which we found. But it went somewhere else. And then we found some stained glass windows and then we found an alcove with humongous red drapes and pretty soon I started expecting a Gothic villain to pop out and then we found some stairs DOWN and some stairs UP that weren’t right so we finally found the elevators again and meekly got on board for level G (for ground) which was where we were supposed to be in the first place. :looks sheepish:

But it was an ADVENTURE.

Raquelle: There were about twenty of us in the tour group, counting Jennie and her co-tour guide, Suzi Clarke. Suzi was determinedly going from person to person, impressing our names upon her brain. I was impressed. I can’t remember names for more than ten seconds.

When we were all assembled, we went upstairs to Suzi’s suite for a time of fellowship and “Show-and-Tell.” And since that part officially begins the official tour and this blog entry has gone on Way Too Long, we’ll stop there for tonight.

Stay tuned for more......and meanwhile, would you PUH-LEASE ask Inspector Sans to report to the Station Inspection Room IMMEJATE?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Jane Austen England Tour - Day 1

Sense and Sensibility Tour: Day 1 and 2

This is really long. Go get a cup of coffee and read it anyway. It’ll bless you, we’re sure. *cheesy grin*

Prologue: This tour of England was sponsored by Sense and Sensibility Patterns and led by Jennie Chancey and Suzi Clarke. Over the course of the tour, Holly, Heather and Raquelle and about fifteen other ladies explored various parts of England that housed historic clothing collections or were locations of interest to Jane Austen fans and historic textile enthusiasts.

Raquelle: It all began when Jennie Chancey (who, by the way is an old friend of ours we’ve known for umpteen years) sent an e-mail to her mailing list announcing the tour. I read the e-mail that evening and thought, “Gee, that’d be fun!” and mentioned it to Mom and Heather, with no particular thought of us actually GOING on the tour. We talk about pipe dreams all the time and usually talk ourselves out of them. Time and money are limited resources, you know? Per usual, we talked ourselves out of this one too. I went to bed and likely peacefully dreamed my usual recurring anxiety dreams of A) chasing escaping cats or B) double-booking two piano students.

However, the next morning Mom said, “So..........I was thinking........let’s go on the trip after all!”

Long story short, we decided to go.

Without Dad.

Dad thought the trip sounded Epic Boring and offered the opinion that if he went, he’d wind up just tagging along behind us hauling our suitcases. (This is undeniably true. :D) We magnanimously excused him from going, after nibbling our nails in fretful anxiety. We are not particularly adventurous when it comes to traveling abroad without World Traveler Daddy. However, we reasoned, in England they speak English. How bad could it be? The worst that might happen to us is that we, say, get on the wrong train and wind up in Banff or something.

Heather: Banff is in CANADA, you nincompoop.

Raquelle: *cough* At any rate, next we called up our good friend Jeannie Rucker. (Now, before we go any further, get this straight in your mind. JENNIE is the trip coordinator. JEANNIE is our traveling buddy.) We wanted Jeannie to come with us ‘cause she’s jolly fun. Jeannie is a fellow Civil War reenactor and historical fashion enthusiast. And she knows tons and tons of stuff about fashion history. AND she used to be a flight attendant. We decided the latter qualification might prevent us from accidentally ending up in Banff. (I love to pronounce it Ban-fffuh-fffuh, like they did in that one episode of F-Troop when..........oh never mind..........)

As the day of departure grew closer, we began to procrastinate on sewing our Jane Austen costumes because it’s more fun to sew with a panicked deadline, isn’t it? Actually, in fairness to myself, I was really BUSY with a college deadline and I didn’t have TIME to sew until the last ten days of August. Mom and Heather don’t have any decent excuses. Haw. The sewing list encompassed three (3) THREE Spencer jackets (short-waisted coats from the era), two (2) TWO bonnets, a new dress for Heather and, last minute, a new dress for Mom. Mom had a dress already but it was frightfully farby. Heather and I decided she needed a new one and we snuck off to Walmart and bought fabric and made the dress based off the other dress’s measurements. We s’prised her. :D

I made my Spencer jacket and most of Mom and Heather’s. I had to cajole Heather into making one. She said, “I’ll just wear a shawl or something” but I know three things about Heather.

1. Heather hates being cold. She melts, just like the Wicked Witch of the West.
2. Heather hates flippy-floppy droopy draping things around her when she’s trying to use a camera.
3. When conditions 1 or 2 are present, Heather gets GRUMPY.

So let’s just say I insisted she needed a Spencer jacket out of self-defense. 

I’ll crow about the bonnets I made later. Consider yourself forewarned on that topic. But meanwhile, I’ll mention that we had to bring an extra little suitcase just to house bonnets. :D

All sewing was finally completed the day before we left. MINE was completed at least TWO days before we left. Don’t clap, just throw money. Pounds, preferably. Savin’ up for next time....

While I was sewing, Heather was organizing our travel.

Heather: Thankfully, Jennie was in charge of getting us from Point A to Point B on the tour part of the trip. But we decided to come a day early to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. So I was in charge of getting us from Point A to Point B during that part. Scareeee. However, I did feel rather smug with myself that I managed to get train tickets at a discount because at least four people make a “group.” We may have wound up in Banff-ff-ff, but at least it would be 10% off.

Raquelle: We all packed carefully, with systematic precision and logic. There is, however, some sort of Murphy’s Law about packing. I believe I’ll call it Morgan’s Law, after my first name. Morgan’s Law states that amount of suitcase organization at the beginning of the trip is directly proportional to the disastrous chaos that ensues the moment you open your suitcase at your destination.

We got some vacuum-locked plastic bags for our suitcases, which maximized space. Two of us even thought to, y’know, use the vacuum function to suck the extra air out of the bags. I am usually a mechanical idiot, but I Saved The Day when Heather tragically announced that all her stuff wouldn’t FIT. I sez, “Did you squeeze the air out of the plastic bags?” and when she gave me a blank look, I did it for her. *pats self on back*

Finally, all costumes completed and all bags packed, we headed for the airport on Friday morning, September 7.

Too many suitcases!

Our flight from Greenville to Newark was uneventful except that Raquelle and I forgot to take Dramamine so we were pretty queasy by the time we got off. So when everyone looked at the travel agent (me) to figure out directions to the next gate, I was a bit blithery. However, I soon recovered and we easily found a bus to take us to the next terminal.

Raquelle: We were supposed to take a tram or something but somehow we ended up on a bus instead. The advantage to this was that the bus took us directly to the secure area and we didn’t have to go back through security again, unlike what happens when you take the tram. Suits me. One less hassle.

Heather: And you don’t wind up in Banff-ff-ff.

We had a six-hour layover in Newark. We were wondering about finding enough stuff to do for six hours. But as it turned out, we had a very pleasant time. There was a nice little food court where we indulged in sandwiches, salads, smoothies, and – for Raquelle and Mom– a Dunkin Donuts coolatta. (Of course!)

Raquelle: Coolattas are more expensive in New Jersey than in South Carolina. Humph.

During lunch we were discussing traveling and Jeannie convulsed us with the spiel she used to use as a flight attendant. It went something like, “Please remain seated with your seatbelts fastened until we reach the gate. Never in the history of airline travel has a passenger made it to the gate BEFORE the plane.”

Being a very proactive individual and Highly Suspicious of gloppy airline meals, I bought a Greek salad to take onto the plane. I put it neatly in a plastic bag and Felt Smug.

Heather: We found a nice little snug corner near our gate and plopped down. Then Jeannie and I decided to go for a brisk walk. At the end of our walk, Jeannie saw a currency exchange place and decided to go ahead and get her money changed.

Now, I had checked out the current exchange rate online, so as I watched the clerk counting out Jeannie pounds, I was confused. When we got back to where Mom and Raquelle were sitting, I had her pull the receipt out to check. Yes, indeed, they had used a higher exchange rate. Instead of $1.60 equaling 1 pound, it took almost $2 to equal a pound. I grabbed my money to exchange and we went back over to figure it out.

Well, the nice folks there explained that the rate of exchange is not what you will pay at currency exchange places or banks. That’s because they are in the business of selling money and have to make a profit. So I decided to only exchange part of my money and do the rest of my purchases with credit cards (which have a lower rate). Somewhere in the conversation, I mentioned that Mom and Raquelle wanted to exchange money too, and they suggested we do it all at once so as to only have one transaction fee. So Jeannie ran back to get Mom and Raquelle and watch our luggage. We FINALLY got all three of us in one pile of putty, exchanged our money and tried not to think about all the things we could have done with that extra fee money. Phooey.

Raquelle: Suddenly I understand biblical references to money changers and get why Jesus was so put out with them! :D

Heather: Then I laid down for a nap while the rest of them took walks and chatted with a nice couple of ladies in our corner. Mary and Christine were also flying to the UK, to Scotland. Since we have been there, we had fun talking about what they wanted to see.

Raquelle: I amused myself by working on a tiny craft project, some 1860s-era wristlets. I had brought some bits of ribbon and velvet and whatnot to sew on during quiet hours. Turned out this was the only “quiet hour” on the whole trip and I never touched the stuff again. :D I also amused myself by people-watching. I snickered at a pilot who strode by pulling a suitcase with a sticker on it that said, “New Jersey....don’t worry, we hate you too.”

Heather: At last it was time to board, and we managed to get ourselves seated and our luggage stowed without creaming anybody. You think that’s funny? Then you haven’t been one of our hapless victims that we creamed! Haw haw. Jeannie ended up switching seats with a couple that wanted to sit together, so she sat in front of us instead of beside us. However that was fine because then we could pester her from behind. And I also enjoyed watching her movie from behind – I hate using the headphones to watch my own movie because they hurt my ears.

The couple that changed seats with Jeannie I have privately named Mr. and Mrs. Oblivious. They were an obviously nice older couple but they seemed to think the world revolved around them. When they boarded the flight (which was late) they leisurely stood in the aisle and lifted bags up and down from the overhead bin, rooted around in them, and had a little private committee meeting about what to do with their stuff. The airline attendants hinted on the broadcast system that “everyone needs to please get out of the aisle for the incoming passengers,” but it didn’t faze them. Finally, one of the attendants came up pointedly asked them to step out of the aisle.

That didn’t slow them down any, however. Mr Oblivious stuck his legs out in the aisle, in spite of the attendants loudly announcing that the cart was coming. He accidently whopped people by pulling his luggage down and putting it up over and over again. Generally speaking, I found them entertaining. But of course, I wasn’t the one being whopped.

Another couple on board the flight was Mr. and Mrs. Hapless. They had a toddler with them. They looked a trifle old to have a toddler so maybe it was their grandson. He was a good little boy except for about an hour at bedtime. Then he cried. And cried. I smiled and waved and him and he smiled back. And then cried. And cried. His parents/grandparents didn’t seem to know what to do with him and walked up and down the aisles with him, letting him bang the handles of the overhead bins and do whatever else his little heart desired. Finally he fell asleep, bless his heart.

Sitting in front of the Hapless couple was Mr. Humorless. When I first saw Mr. Humorless, he was blissfully dozing off for the night, earphones in place and legs stretched out. Then the Hapless Toddler tuned up. First his eyes opened. Then he rolled them balefully towards the toddler. As the cries got louder, Mr. Humorless slid lower and lower in his seat. By the time the toddler was banging the overhead bins, Mr. Humorless had his shoulders up around his ears and if looks could kill, the Hapless Toddler would have been a tearful corpse. I was far enough down the aisle from the Hapless Toddler to find both him and Mr. Humorless entertaining as well.

I also enjoyed the Cranky Yankee Flight Attendants. The pilot told us cheerfully that the crew was based in Newark, which explained a lot. One lady was grumpy about having to answer people’s questions. “Why do I make announcements?” she fumed to her fellow attendant. I’m not sure if she was aware of the fact that most people don’t sit with baited breath, hanging on the every word of the flight attendants’ endless announcements. Another lady was peevish when someone answered her respectfully. “Don’t call me ma’am,” she snapped. If it had been me, I would have given her a couple of second options, heh heh.

Now, here’s a little tip about airline food: If you want the good stuff, order gluten free. Good ole Dad asked for gluten free meals for Raquelle and I when he bought the tickets. Turns out the gluten free people get served first. AND the food is way better. Not nearly as much of the Glop Factor involved. Just real meat, real veggies, and some tasty bread and fruit. Yum.

Then they turned the lights down and everyone tried to sleep. I don’t think we succeeded. Jeannie ended up watching movies all night. Mom read her Kindle for a while. Raquelle and I kept our eyes closed but only dozed. However, at least we all got some rest.

Raquelle: I had fun listening to a couple of new songs on my MP3 player. I knew Mom would enjoy them too, so when she began to display unmistakable signs of fed-up-edness with the long flight, I passed her my MP3 player. She enjoyed the new songs....and the other songs....and the other OTHER songs....and was having so much fun I didn’t bother asking for it back.

I began to watch for the sunrise. The sky turned from black to blue-gray and finally gorgeous pink light shot over the clouds. I enjoyed this beauty for quite awhile and then had to squint when the sun suddenly popped into view, a giant hot pink orb. (I like the word “orb.” It sounds cultured or sompthing.)

Heather: As the sun was coming up in a beautiful sunrise, we all enjoyed a “breakfast snack.” Or rather, us gluten free peoplez enjoyed it. Everyone else got stale croissants and half-frozen fruit. We got lovely little blueberry muffins and fruit salad.

Raquelle: As we got close, we could see the Thames River and I even saw the Tower Bridge! Cool!

Heather: And then finally – landing in London! Ahhhh, grab our bags, stretch our legs, and prepare to enjoy the city!! Er, wait… what’s this?,… customs? … oh, should be a breeze… :build to ominous music:


Because of the Olympics (almost over) customs was moving very fast. It’s just that there were TONS of people. They had signs posted in the queue: “45 minutes from here,” “30 minutes from here” and so on. Rather discouraging. We were Highly Gratified, however, when it came our turn to find that we were allowed to be interviewed in a group since we were together. It took a mere couple of minutes and THEN, on to enjoy the city!!

Raquelle: Oh, come come now, it’s not that simple. You forgot about the Saga of the Phones.

Our cell phones don’t work in the UK, of course. The simple solution was to go to the Vodafone store in the Heathrow airport and buy some little cheapo pay-as-you-go phones. Like TracFones or something. Don’t ask me, I’m not techie, I still don’t know what a SIM card is. Anyway, on our last trip to Europe there were a couple of occasions where we were EXTREMELY grateful to have had a cell phone on us and we (that is, Mom and Heather and I) were nervous about being without one. Jeannie didn’t share our sense of urgency but she humored us. Jeannie likes adventures and goes with the flow. Mom and Heather and I are control freaks and go with the PLAN. If the PLAN doesn’t work, we bog down into committee meetings making another PLAN. Which isn’t too bad....keeps you from accidentally ending up in Banff-ff-ff, for instance.

Anyway, on paper it sounded easy. Arrive at terminal 3, the Vodafone store is in terminal 5. (We knew this because we’d researched it ahead of time as part of the PLAN.) In a U.S. airport, going from terminal to terminal is a minor nuisance but is simply a matter of following the bazillion helpful signs and popping onto a little dedicated tramway or bus—if that. Not so in Heathrow. Meaning no disrespect to my good English friends, but Heathrow airport is Vastly Lacking in helpful signage or transportation. I henceforth christen it Hijous (Hideous) Heathrow.

First we walked some long hallways in Hijous Heathrow. Then, after milling about for awhile, we took the lift (i.e., elevator) to some other floor in Hijous Heathrow. I think we might have gone to the wrong one and had to go back up. Or down. I forget. Then, after a period of Extreme Confusion we boarded the Heathrow Express. The problem with the Heathrow Express is that it takes you to the other airport terminals, but also sometimes (randomly and secretively) takes you into twenty minutes into downtown London. And it is poorly labeled as to which direction it is going at any given time. We closed our eyes, crossed our fingers, and hopped on board, hoping to simply wind up in Terminal 5 of Hijous Heathrow instead of, say, at Buckingham Palace. (Or Banff-ff-ff.) By some miracle, we landed in Terminal 5.

Should I mention that by this time we were all frazzled and exhausted? Because, y’know, we’ve been up almost 24 hours and our suitcases are too heavy? We parked ourselves at a tiny coffee kiosk and ordered stiff caffeine drinks. I decided food was what I needed most and I bipped over to a delightful little food store that featured all sorts of yummy sandwiches and salads and interesting concoctions. I bought some lemon-lime yogurt, knowing that English yogurt is a major step up from American yogurt. It was cool and refreshing and restored my energy for at least five minutes.

Of course, arriving in Terminal 5 of Hijous Heathrow did not mean that the phone store was anywhere close by. So Mom and Heather went on a quest to discover the phone store. I decided to make myself a fizzy vitamin drink while I waited. I had this nifty little collapsible travel cup that I had been dying to use, so I opened it, filled it with water, and added a packet of vitamin fizzy (Emergen-C, if that means anything to you). Then I started to sip it, feeling Excessively Pleased with such a nifty travel gizmo. However, ladies and gentlemen, be forewarned that this particular gizmo is an Epic Failure. The durn cup began collapsing on itself and made a big sticky wet mess all over the table. Alas. *moment of silence*

Mom and Heather were gone a long time. Jeannie is very patient. She’s a lot more patient than we are. “Are you sure these phones are worth the trouble?” she asked sweetly. I tried to think they would be.........

Finally Mom and Heather came back with two phones and a Bag Full Of Junk. You know, users manuals that tell you everything but how to make a call and other typical cell phone nonsense.

Just then I had a Perfectly Brilliant Idea. “There is this lovely sandwich place right across from us,” I pointed out. “If we all grab something now, we won’t have to fuss with going out to dinner tonight.”

A Committee Meeting ensued. This should have been a simple decision but none of us had any brains left and it appeared to be the Momentous Choice of the Century. “I mean, I don’t need anything...I have that Greek salad I bought in Newark,” I said, feeling proud of my foresight. Er, just where WAS the salad? “Where’s my salad?” I demanded anxiously, pawing about through our stuff. Oh. Yeah. I, uh, left it under my seat on the plane. Smooth, real smooth.

Heather: It’s prolly in Banff-ff-ff by now.

Raquelle: Shuddup.

I finally won the Committee Meeting (please note the use of the word “won”—it implies a dynamic other than mutual sharing and collaboration :D) and convinced everyone to justbuyastupidsaladorsandwich, kthxbai. Finally, armed with a few weird salads, we began to think about actually leaving the airport. We call this sort of thing “achieving escape velocity.” You know, how space stuff has to sling around the earth a few times before it can build up enough speed to break the gravitational pull of earth? Yeah, you got the picture.

Heather: We took the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station.

Raquelle: Guess what greeted our eyes in Paddington Station? A Vodafone store! All that durn headache in Hijous Heathrow for nothin’! *throws breakable objects*

Heather: Then we took a taxi to the hotel. It was a hotel we’d stayed at before, so I felt a little more confident about navigating everyone there. The bellhop was exceedingly patient with we four ladies as we sorted through our luggage which, of course, would need to be checked until we could get into our rooms later in the day. Luckily, good ole Dad’s status with Marriott allowed us access to the Executive Lounge so we went up there to grab something to drink and relax for a few minutes.

Raquelle: We all fixed a cup of tea and propped up our feet. I e-mailed Dad from the lounge computer to let him know we’d arrived safely. This was a mildly complicated process because A) I was exhausted and B) the “shift” key was in a different place. I kept typing slashes instead of capitalizing things. This is, of course, unacceptable to a Grammar Nazi no matter how tired you are, so I dutifully corrected it all. Kudos to me.

Heather: As we sat resting, we remembered that the cameras were still in the baggage. Oops.

Back downstairs to pester the nice bellhop (yes, we tipped him!) to let us dig through our luggage AGAIN to find the cameras. And then, off to explore the city! (Is this sounding familiar?)

Armed with a street map from the concierge, I confidently led everyone down the street to the tube station. Er, except we sorta went the long way around… but we weren’t LOST, I knew exactly where we were! :nods confidently: Arriving in the tube station, we marched over to buy tickets. After running a quick price check, we realized that we could get a taxi for the same amount as the tube tickets – and be delivered right to the door. BACK up the stairs we went and asked someone about taxis. “Oh, there’s a mini cab place right down the street,” we were told encouragingly.

We pop into the mini cab place and tell the feller there that we want to go to the Victoria and Albert Museum. No problem, he’s on the phone at once. It takes us a few minutes to realize that the cabs are not right there – he’s waiting for one to show up. Oh phooey, looks like we managed to take the long way again. We could have just hailed a regular cab. Sheesh.

Not to worry though – we turned out to have a friendly cab driver from Aghanistan. Jeannie has a knack for recognizing accents and ethnic origins because of all her world travels. So she had a lively conversation with him about his family, his roots, and the problems in Afghanistan. “There are two problems in Afghanistan,” he said emphatically. “The first is ignorance – the people can’t read so they are easily led. The second is the imams – they lead the people in the wrong direction.” Very interesting perspective. Even though he’d been in the UK since the 1980s, he assured us that he and his children still viewed themselves as Afghans.

Raquelle: The conversation was interesting, but I was too distracted by the traffic to fully absorb it. My general rule of thumb is to always ride facing BACKWARDS in London taxis but I was stuck facing forward this time. Rats. So, for instance, I heroically muffled high-pitched screams of terror as the taxi driver effortlessly dodged an oncoming bus by whipping in behind a line of parked cars. (This is perfectly normal over there but I had forgotten.) I bit my tongue when several cabs cut our driver off and nearly caused a collision. The taxi driver wasn’t fazed....he merely sighed dolefully about how the regular cab drivers just don’t care about traffic etiquette. This is true. They all drive like madmen. But then, so did he.

What do they drive like in Banff-ff-ff?

Heather: FINALLY, we made it to the Victoria and Albert Museum! It’s too bad we were so tired because they had some lovely displays. We spent a lot of time looking at a clothing-through-the-centuries exhibit and a jewelry exhibit. We were particularly impressed with a tiara made from coral – not coral beads, but actual pieces of coral. Very pretty and unusual looking.

Take a look at this snazzy red cage crinoline!

By now, we were exhausted and hungry. Nobody was thinking straight. We decided some sustenance was absolutely required so we stepped outside into the courtyard and got some light snacks from the sidewalk cafĂ© – ice cream and fruit. We plopped down on the grass to enjoy our repast. It was a gorgeous sunny day and there was a large crowd out enjoying the fountain in the middle of the courtyard. It was a big walk-in fountain and the kids especially were having a great time splashing in it. Pigeons sidled up brazenly to the passerby looking for handouts.

The courtyard of the V&A.

We were still really tired however.


We had enough energy left to grab a taxi (Raquelle sat BACKWARDS) and head back to the hotel, where we all took bee-you-ti-ful NAPS.

Groggily awaking from our naps, we decided it was time for dinner. Rather than struggle to navigate to a restaurant, we decided to enjoy salads in our rooms and then crash.

Raquelle: See? I TOLD you that getting salads at the airport was a good idea. Nobody ever listens to me. *stalks off muttering*

Oh, and to provide a bit of cultural normalcy (American, I mean) and help us acclimate, I passed around miniature Snickers bars for everyone for dessert.

A relaxed supper in the room!

A hot shower to remove the grime of travel was followed by setting me setting my travel alarm clock. None of the hotels on this trip, chains or otherwise, were equipped with nightstand alarm clocks. I found this Most Peculiar.

Mom and Heather roomed together and Jeannie and I roomed together. We assigned rooms based on several qualifications, including, but not limited to, the following:

1. Mom is a Cleanie.
2. Raquelle is a Messie.
3. Under stress, they both increase these respective habits exponentially.

They cannot possibly share a hotel room together without collectively driving each other BONKERS.

Jeannie is a great roommate. She’s neat and tidy. She wears noise-cancelling headphones and eyeshades to bed, which means disorganized night owl roommates (like me) can stumble about the room till all hours without disturbing her. Jeannie was a much better roommate to me than I was to her. More on that later......there’s a really funny story coming up in another entry.......

Heather: Mom and I were on a different floor than Raquelle and Jeannie. And for some reason, we kept having trouble with our room keys. After having to get them re-magnetized twice, we once again found ourselves locked out of the room just as we were about to get ready for bed. We stalked disgustedly back to Raquelle and Jeannie’s room to call the front desk for help. They sent someone to our room to check out the problem. After a few minutes, we received a phone call in Raquelle’s room. “Go ahead and meet the technician at your room and he’ll show you how to operate the door,” they said cheerfully.

“They KNOW how to operate the door,” Raquelle said politely. “The key just doesn’t work.”

“ technician needs to show you, can you meet him there? Oh thank you!” the clerk gushed.

We stumped back to our room and met a delightful gentlemen with a tool kit who gave us a flow of encouraging words (you have to imagine the British accent).

“Not to worry ladies, we don’t have any spare locks to put on, that’s what really needs to happen, these old locks, you know, but if you give it a good WHACK when you put the key in, that should suffice.” He demonstrated by smacking the lock with the heel of his hand. Okay. No problem. “Cheerio!” he grinned, as he headed down the hall.

Thereafter we had no more trouble, but if we had, we now knew the secret: Just hit it. Not a hard thing to do at the end of a long, exhausting day.

Raquelle: Jeannie and I crashed into bed and zonked. At 11:00, unprompted, the television turned itself on. It woke me up. In my befogged half-asleep state of mind, I politely asked Jeannie if she had turned it on and was watching it. At least, I tried to. I think it came out more like, “Hey, whadza there’s a have you will you eggplant frozen your cat treat cancelled?”

Jeannie lifted her head and responded in like manner with her usual bright and friendly smile. She didn’t even remember the exchange the next morning, so I expect she said something like, “If you blanket sweet no problem watercolor I’ve always, bless your heart.”

Satisfied, I staggered out of bed and turned it off.

Then we all slept blissfully and dreamed of Banff-ff-ff, I’m sure.

Stay tuned for the next installment….

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Mind the Gap

Well, we obviously haven't had as much time to blog as we thought we would. :sheepish grin: HOWEVER, we are taking copious notes so as to write some highly interesting entries later in our trip... or maybe when we get home. :)

So far, we have been wowed by a lovely coral tiara in the Victoria and Albert Museum, a gorgeous plaid taffeta dress from 1865, not to mention a triple rainbow as we drove through the Midlands today AND a humongous, elegant meal at the end of the day.

We've been running our legs off (literally) from dawn till dark so we haven't had lots of time to write. But we're storing up fun memories to write up for y'all so stay tuned!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

We're Here!

We are here in London and are POOPED from being up about 28 hours straight. Hopefully we'll have a blog entry coming soon....

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Off To England... Almost

Three suitcases, six carryons, lots of chocolate and partridge in a pear treeeeee! We're almost ready to go on our Jane Austen tour of England!

Last year, our long-time friend Jennie posted pictures from the 2011 tour. We were like, "Hey, how do you get to be on that tour?" She said you had to sign away your first-born son and give all your chocolate as a bribe.

Haw haw, jest kidding. Actually, Jennie said she'd put us on the email list for the 2012 trip. So last year, when she emailed that the tickets were for sale (on Saturday) we hastily conferred with ourselves about whether to go. It went something like this:

Heather & Raquelle: Let's go!
Mom: Can we afford it?
Dad: Let's be clear on this - I DON'T want to go.

On being pressed for the reason he didn't want to go, Dad observed, "Because you'll just spend all your time looking at old clothing in museums and I'll have to carry your suitcases the whole trip." Huh, HOW did he know that?? :grin:

So we finally convinced Mom that we could afford it but then she was worried about us navigating the world (or at least, England) without Dad. That's when we had the brilliant idea of asking our world-traveler-friend Jeannie to come with us. A hasty phone call to her confirmed that she would be willing to go.

And so, we emailed Jennie on Sunday and said to save four tickets for US!!! Which was a good thing, because the tickets were sold out by Monday.

So here we are, one year later, almost packed and ready to roll. Some pressing questions are still on our minds however.

Will our bonnets make it in one piece?

Will our supply of chocolate hold out?

Does English gluten free food taste as nasty as regular English food?

Will we survive SIX HOURS of layover in Newark airport?

And finally, are the four cats going to survive only having good ole Dad to watch after them?

Stay tuned to find out!

One final note about future blog posts: Yes, our friend JENNIE is leading the trip and our friend JEANNIE is traveling with us. This will be confusing. We're trying to get used to it. I do foresee many hilarious occasions of us hollering, "Jen - Jean - JennieJeannieWhateverYourNameIs!!!"

So Cheerio, y'all! Check us out in a day or two to see if we're still alive!