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.
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.
Heather: 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.
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.
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 café – 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.
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 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.”
“Well....er.....ah.....the 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….