Monday, January 13, 2014

England - Our Day in London

We had already warned the girls that we'd be getting up early.  There was so much to do on our only full day in London!  

It had been decided by a very brave and wonderful Dana that she would take the girls shopping, Steve and I would do some sightseeing and we'd meet up for dinner later.  Melanie had her heart set on going to Top Shop and Dana wanted to take them to Primark which was described by Roger in his lovely British accent like this:

Have you ever seen those scenes on the news where there is a big earthquake and people are digging through the rubble with their bare hands searching for lost relatives?  That's what it's like shopping at Primark.

Definitely not something Steve and I would be interested in.  Have you ever heard of someone preferring to go to the Tower of London than go shopping?  Yep, that's me.

Our first stop as a group was the Tate Museum.  I knew the girls wouldn't be interested in a museum so we only went to the gift shop since I was told they had a cool calendar I wanted to pick up for my office.  

The four "kids" leaving the Tate Museum
with St. Paul's in the background.

The Anchor built in 1615.
If only those walls could talk!

Borough Market was something to see.  Vendors of all sorts and people packed in buying their goods.  It has quite a history according to their website:

Borough has long been synonymous with food markets and as far back as 1014, and probably much earlier, London Bridge attracted traders selling grain, fish, vegetables and livestock. In the 13th century traders were relocated to what is now Borough High Street and a market has existed there ever since.

Borough Market!  I'd give my eye teeth
to have a market like this near me!
The place was bustling and the variety of vendors was amazing!  I bought some middle eastern snacks from one of them and shared them with Steve, Mike and Dana.

Next stop was the Mayflower Pub for lunch.  We walked there through neighborhoods, over bridges and along the Thames.  Again, I was completely astounded by Dana's knowledge of the geography of the area.

This pub describes itself as the oldest pub on the River Thames and the spot from which the Mayflower took off for America.  The inside was cozy and inviting with a fire burning in the fireplace and lots of different beers from which to choose.  They even had blankets and hot water bottles in a basket for those brave souls who wished to dine outside on the river during the colder months.  I was surprised to find a framed copy of the Declaration of Independence in the ladies' room.

Dana and I sampled a couple of beers before deciding on our favorites and joined the rest of our party at their booth.  I scanned the menu but had already resigned myself to the usual.  Chips or maybe olives and bread.  What's this?  
Veggie Rosemary and Red Onion Sausages on Sweet Potato Mash with Veg Gravy

Be still my heart!  Steve and I both ordered this and enjoyed every wonderful bite!  What a treat to find this in a tiny pub in Rotherhithe Village.  

Our bellies full, we walked back to Tower Bridge, the enormous drawbridge over the Thames, where we would soon go our separate ways.  

Walking over the beautiful Tower Bridge.
Once on the other side of the bridge, we said goodbye to Dana, Mike and the girls before heading to explore the Tower of London.

We got in line hoping to be able to get in for a guided tour before they closed.  I had to use the ladies' room so I popped into the building near the ticket booth.  I walked through a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant (I know...weird, right?) and found the public bathroom.  I also found that they charge 50 pence to use it!  A quick Google search just now revealed that it's one the few in London that charge.  Lucky me.  I will hold it, thankyouverymuch.

I quickly got back in line just in time to buy our tickets.  The next guided tour with a Yeoman Warder (what we think of as Beefeaters) was coming up so we stood in the appointed spot and were soon joined by others.  A lot of others.  By the time the tour began, there were so many people on the tour we decided to do a self-guided tour instead.

It was a good thing we did as there was far more to see than I expected.  I am a big Tudor history buff and was looking forward to seeing all the things I'd read about in my research.  

I wasn't prepared for this at Tower Green:

This is a memorial built in 2006 dedicated to those who were executed at Tower Green.  Among them are three queens; Anne Boleyn, Jane Grey and Catherine Howard and the others' names are inscribed around the outer edge. It's a solemn place and one in which you cannot help but feel sad thinking about the fear that permeated the air around it. The round design of the piece forces the visitor to walk around the entire memorial to read the names as well as this inscription:

Gentle visitor pause awhile, where you stand death cut away the light of many days. Here jewelled names were broken from the vivid thread of life, may they rest in peace while we walk the generations around their strife and courage under these restless skies.

Next, we visited the chapel directly behind the memorial where Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey are buried.  Catherine Howard was reportedly buried there as well but the Yeoman Warder in the chapel said her remains were never found.  This is a working church with a baptismal font that dates back to the 1400s. I was told it was last used the previous week for a christening.  
One of the things that really stood out and surprised me was how much the inside of the Tower of London looks like a little village.

I was struck by the number of ravens during our visit but soon found out their wings are clipped so they cannot fly away.  Superstition says the British crown will fall if the ravens leave the Tower of London.  

The ravens are now treated almost like royalty. Like the Royals, the ravens live in a palace and are waited on by servants. They are kept at public expense, but in return they must show themselves to the public in settings of great splendour. So long as they abide by certain basic rules, neither Royals nor ravens have to do anything extraordinary. If the power in question is political and diplomatic, the Royals now have hardly more than the ravens. But the word "power" here can also mean the aura of glamour and mystery which at times envelops both ravens and monarchs.[17]
This guy didn't look like he
was in a hurry to leave.
We explored all the grounds climbing narrow spiral staircases in the towers which set my claustrophobia on edge.  I was fascinated by the etchings on the walls of names and messages that survived so many years; those who wanted people of the future to know he existed and suffered in this prison.

We finished up at the Tower and took the Underground back to the Barbican station.  Since we were running early, we stopped at a pub near Dana's apartment for a beer before meeting the rest of the crew.

We all met at Dana's and the girls excitedly shared their purchases and experiences from their day of shopping.  They'd had fun and I was happy to know they'd enjoyed their last day in England.  Roger was able to join us for dinner and I was glad we'd all have a chance to say goodbye to him.

We walked downstairs to Barbican Tandoori for dinner.  The food was excellent and I'm always happy to see how many Indian dishes are or can be made vegan.  We ordered and tried a variety of dishes and enjoyed them all.

Saying goodbye to Roger
We walked upstairs to Dana's apartment and did a last minute check to make sure everything was packed.  Tomorrow would be a long and depressing day as we made the long journey back to the States.  

Friday, January 10, 2014

England - Leaving Nether Burrows Farm for London

The taxi driver had a hard time finding us down that narrow lane but Dana was finally able to coach him through to find the cottage.  Steve, Mike and the girls and I piled into the taxi leaving Dana and Roger to drive his car home. 

We got to the train station in Derby and bought our tickets.  Finding the platform for our train was easy however the first train that arrived was full. This was just the beginning of a journey that would involve a few packed trains most notably the one where we had to stand for the 90 minutes to London.  The only room I had was for my heels as I tucked my feet under a seat and held onto my ginormous suitcase for dear life.  

A very kind man offered me his seat but I declined as I was afraid of upsetting this delicate balance I had with my luggage.  As crowded as the train was, everyone was very polite and understanding even when they had to climb over suitcases to get out the door for their stop.

The last leg of our journey was on the Underground from St. Pancras to the Barbican station near where Dana lives.  On the train, I stood near a very young mother who was seated with her two-year-old son.  He entertained all the travelers and was cute as a bug.  His mother noticed my luggage tag.

"You're here from America?"

"Yes.  New York."

"I've never been abroad before."

"Neither had I.  This is my first time abroad."

"This isn't abroad," she sniffed.  "This is rubbish!  This is London!"

Her thick accent told me she was a hard working mother who had never seen the beauty in her own city.  She told me about her dream to someday take her young son to Disney World.  I took the little stuffed duck I had attached to my luggage and handed it to the little boy.  He eagerly took it and started playing with it on the floor of the train.  I just smiled and hoped his mother would someday remember the American lady who'd given it to him and sent a silent prayer to The Universe that someday she does get to take her son "abroad".

Mell insisted I take this picture at Barbican station
We finally arrived at Barbican station and walked to Dana's flat where she and Roger were waiting for us.  Dana lives at the Barbican Estate which is a fascinating bit of history.  It was built in the 60s and 70s on a 35-acre site that had been bombed by the Germans during World War II.  The Museum of London is part of the complex and there is an amazing view from Dana's flat of the steeple of St. Paul's Cathedral.

The Barbican Estate

The view from Dana's flat
The same view after the blitz in 1940.

My jetsetters right at home in London
In true Dana fashion, she had lots of energy and was ready to show us the sights even though it was late in the day.  She put on Mary Poppins as we researched restaurants for a dinner destination and went over our must-see list before taking off for the city.  Buckingham Palace was definitely on my list!

The next few hours were full of all modes of transportation which I cannot even recall to chronicle here but I do remember all the places we ended up thanks to Dana's mind boggling knowledge of the city.  

Syd looking like she fits right in on the Underground

Buckingham Palace.  Unbelievable.

The Nelson Mandela statue.
Notice the flowers still surrounding it
honoring the man who died only a few
weeks before this was taken.
The flowers that had already been removed.

Me and my darling man
The London Eye.
A blight on the London landscape,
in my opinion

Covent Garden

Street performers have been entertaining the crowds
at Covent Garden since the 1600s.
Punch and Judy were among the first.

On the double decker bus!

Big Ben.  I never knew it was part of the
Parliament building!

By the time we had hit all the sights, it was 7:30 and we had reservations at Amici Bio.  This restaurant turned out to be one of the culinary highlights of my entire trip!

The food here was amazing!  So many vegan options yet the omnivores were happy too.  Steve and I were still talking about the meal days later.  I'm so used to saying no to desserts as most aren't vegan but this restaurant didn't disappoint me.

Chocolate cake with soy vanilla ice cream

We walked down narrow side streets on our way home and I was reminded of scenes from movies I'd seen and books I'd read.  It was so hard to believe we were in this magical place.

Our first day in London was exhausting but so much fun and an amazing experience!  I fell asleep to the sounds of the end of Mary Poppins snuggled up in Dana's guest bedroom.  One more full day in England before heading home.  Where had the week gone?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

England - Our First Boxing Day and Meeting the Robes

Our lunch destination for Boxing Day

It was Boxing Day!  This didn't mean much to us Americans but it was still fun to wish each other a Happy Boxing Day.

Our plan for this day was to hike to The Three Horseshoes Pub and meet my friends Emily, Pete and Haydn Robe.  I was looking forward to another hike and seeing more sheep.  Yes, sheep.  I'm fascinated with them.  I took more pictures of sheep on this trip than anything else.  I was really interested (and saddened) to see how fearful they were as we hiked through their pastures.  The sheep at Farm Sanctuary are friendly and come to greet you.  This could be because they know we mean them no harm.  

Glorious sheep!

Just look at them!!
Of course, none of them compare to Farm Sanctuary's
Ryan with his luscious lamb-y lips!

So enough sheep, let's get back to Emily Robe. Emily and I had been friends for years but had never met. Fourteen years ago when I was first pregnant with Melanie, I subscribed to a Yahoogroup called May2000Moms.  This group consisted of women from all over the world who were expecting a baby in May of 2000.  I got to know these wonderful women very well.  We shared fears, joys, hopes and plans during our pregnancies and ultimately, shared our birth stories.  Many of us stayed in touch throughout the years and with the advent of Facebook, were able to continue to be a part of each others' daily lives.

One of the moms I got to know was Emily Robe.  She and her husband, Pete live in Derby, England so when I found out we would be spending Christmas in Derby I knew I had to finally meet Em.

Before our trip, Melanie and Haydn, Em's May 2000 "baby" got to know each other on Facebook and it was fun to watch this friendship form.  Emily and I had arranged to meet at The Three Horseshoes.  They had seated us in the back so I talked to the waiter to let him know to look for them.

"Do they have the same funny accent you have?" he asked me, smiling.

"No.  They have the same funny accent you have," I replied and smiled back.

I sneaked a picture of our waiter because I
thought he was a dead ringer for Inigo Montoya.
Waiting for Emily and finally having my Guinness!
Mell had a proper British tea.

We all were so excited to meet one another.  I recognized Em and Pete right away and there were hugs all around.  I introduced them to the rest of our table and Em and I talked non-stop.  Pete is a great guy and Steve was very interested to learn about Britain's educational system from him.  Melanie and Haydn hit it off immediately.

Our May2000 babies!

Haydn teaching Mell about English money.

If you ever wondered what happiness looks like.
This is it.  Right here.

Me and Em right after she knocked the
picture off the wall exposing the dartboard.
It was hard saying goodbye to the Robes knowing we may not see each other again for a long time if ever.  But what a great experience it was to meet this lovely, funny woman I'd considered a friend for such a long time.

It was time to hike back to the cottage and again we chose a more paved path home.  That doesn't mean we didn't go through muddy pastures though!  The fog had settled in and it was chilly.  

The long walk home

Tonight was Mexican Night at Sunshine Cottage and Dana, Mike and I set to work when we got home chopping vegetables for a Mexican buffet!  After dinner, we used up the rest of the Christmas crackers and packed up our things as it would be an early morning for us with a taxi arriving at 10:00 am to take us to the train station.  

It was so hard saying goodbye to our sweet little cottage and all the memories we made there but London was waiting for us and we were all excited about that part of our journey!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

England - Happy Christmas at Nether Burrows Farm

I woke up late on Christmas morning and went downstairs to find Steve and Dana in the kitchen.  Steve was working on blueberry walnut pancakes (vegan) for breakfast.  No sooner had I had my breakfast than Dana asked if we were up for a hike.  Absolutely!

The girls and Mike were sleeping and had no interest in joining us so the four of us headed out.

We stopped at the local church where I had intended on going to Christmas service but had decided sleeping in was a better idea.  It was a beautiful old church dating back to the 1600s but I noticed most of the gravestones were 19th century.

Except for this beauty from 1750.

Yours truly

A paved road!  Yay!

More mud

By the time we got back to the cottage, the girls were up and had eaten breakfast.  We scavenged the kitchen for leftovers for lunch knowing in a few hours we'd be having our Christmas feast.  There's nothing like working up an appetite during a long walk and then having an unconventional meal after.  Famished!

For dinner, Dana had gotten a roast but all the sides were vegan for me and Steve.  Dana and Roger were hard at work in the kitchen and the girls set the table with the Christmas crackers none of us were familiar with.  

They were so unfamiliar with them, the girls stood
them on end instead of laying them down.  Cute!
We enjoyed a wonderful meal and opened our crackers at the end.  The tradition, so I'm told, is that you hold the end of the cracker in your hand, cross your arms and share the end of the cracker with the person next to you.  Everyone pulls at the same time and they POP! open to reveal goodies inside.  All of these have a silly joke, a crepe paper crown and a little toy.  We crowned ourselves and took turns reading our jokes out loud amidst groans due to the punniness of them.

The Princesses with their crowns
It was right about this time my phone rang for a FaceTime chat with my family back home.  Everyone had gathered at my sister's house so I was able to say hello to my mom, sister, and daughter and see my precious granddaughter, Juliana.  We missed them but I felt better knowing they'd gotten together despite our absence.

After dinner, the Christmas pudding was served.  Definitely not vegan, the rest of the family thoroughly enjoyed this traditional English Christmas treat.

Must. Find. Vegan. Recipe.
We didn't have any gifts to open and it certainly wasn't like any Christmas the girls and I had ever spent together but it was probably one of the best ones I've ever had.  I had my girls and my darling man with me.  He was happy to be spending the holiday with his wonderful kids at the end of a year that was heartbreaking and life changing for all three of them.  All was right in our world and we felt peaceful and happy.

Our English Christmas