Terra firma. I love it. Nothing vibrating, more air, lots of space around me. From this you can guess that I was very glad that we had landed. Michael covered the process through the airport pretty well. All I’ll add to that is God bless the person who thought “Hey, I’ll put wheels on the suitcases!” I’ll say here that all over England you see people taking their luggage for a walk through the airport, on city streets, even through Westminster Cathedral for Pete’s sake. We, too, did our fair share of it, though not as much as some since we were not relying on public transportation and could often leave the suitcases in the car. Again, remember the packing mantra – lay it all out and put half of it back in the closet. You will appreciate it later.
So, we stepped outside the airport and, oh my lord, it was cold. Not just chilly, but downright cold. They’d had a frost the night before and it was maybe middle 40’s or possibly 50 degrees out, and since it had been in the middle 90’s when we left Houston it was a bit of a shock to the system. Right away I pulled out the scarf and gloves that I had packed into the outside pocket of the suitcase and put them on. We rode the shuttle to the car rental place and, as Michael already described, settled in for a long wait. I mentioned previously that I have a little asthma and lying down is the thing that helps most to open up my airways. So, nutty American that I am, I just stretched out on the floor of the waiting area behind the chairs where I would be out of the way and tried to get my breath back. I was too tired at this point to really care much if I looked ridiculous. I was flat, I was on solid ground and I was happy to be there.
After we got our car we both took a really deep breath and set off. My advice for you, if you are going to drive through a foreign country, is to get a good road atlas in advance and study not just the roads but how pavements and signs are marked. Some are pretty straight forward: red octagon with the word Stop (stop), circle with a right angle and a line through it (no right turn), circle with curved arrows (roundabout) and the like, but one was a real stumper. What does that zigzag line on the pavement mean? We found out later that it meant no parking except for school buses. Something that I didn’t know at the time but would learn the hard way as we went along was that most roads are not marked with a route number and a direction as they are in America. For example, driving along in the USA you will see a sign with state road 290 and it will be marked, at the top, either north or south. From what I figured out, when driving in England don’t worry about whether you want to go north or south, decide which little village, town or city you are heading for next. That they tell you. This is especially important as you drive on the smaller roads, but it applies even when on the very large M roads.
One of the scariest things I have done, to date, is get in a car with my husband after having had almost no sleep, not being sure where I am, not certain of how to get where I’m going and having him drive on, what to me as an American, is the wrong side of the road. It is very disconcerting to have cars coming at you from a lane which 30 years of driving experience tells you is just not where they are supposed to be. I give him full credit for being brave enough to tackle the task, and for trusting me to direct him, but I must say that first day especially he didn’t really measure up to staying in the proper lane. We bounced off curbs, we came very close to sideswiping shrubbery on the roadside and, well, other cars if I’m going to be honest. At one point we were waiting at a stoplight and I said something undiplomatic like “Get in the lane!” He said he was in the lane and I replied that I would ALSO like to be in the lane rather than sticking out into oncoming traffic. Truth be told, we had that conversation more than once.
Anyway, we tried to get on the M25 but that didn’t happen. First thing I know, to my astonishment, we are passing Windsor Castle. Actually, I think we passed it a couple times. My thought was that later in the trip when we were trying to get there we would probably never be able to find it again. Still we did get on an M road, headed in the proper direction toward Bath. When we saw the exit for Fleet Services I said take it. It was less a matter of needing food than needing to get out of the car before my head and heart exploded from the stress. I wobbled in beside Michael and we went to the food area. There I saw a sign that made me feel like everything would be all right. One of the offerings was, and I quote, “a lovely pot of tea.” I thought, “These are my people, we are going to get along just fine!” I was tired, cold (we were too busy trying to figure out where we were to try to figure out how to turn on the heater in the car) and seriously sleep deprived. The tea was a life saver. And most likely a marriage saver as well.
Reluctantly, I got back into the car and we actually got to Salisbury and found a place to park. We walked the short distance to the cathedral and I goggled at the gorgeous flowers along the way. The wisteria, as you can see in this picture, was stunning and so wonderfully fragrant.
Then we got to the cathedral and I was awed, dumbstruck and humbled all at once. In America, if something is 300 years old it is considered ancient. Here, in England, it would be just a youngster. We had a wonderful guide who told us so many little bits of lore along with the basic history. For example, regimental flags are hung in the cathedral until they literally age away.
The soaring architecture was inspiring, but to be truthful, what really struck me was how so many people through so many years had walked where I was walking. Stone steps worn down into shallow scoops from feet passing that way. There were stone effigies whose features had almost been obliterated with the caresses of multitudes of hands. I could touch columns which had witnessed the joys of celebrations and the grief of life’s woes for centuries. What stories that building could tell. And then to see the Magna Carta, not just a representation of it, but the real, honest to goodness, actual Magna Carta which was the backbone of all democracies to come. Goose bump time, for sure.
Knowing we had to get on our way we walked back to the car, passing a building with delightful, quirky brickwork in the eaves.
Everywhere I looked I saw something else I wanted to take a picture of but, despite my reluctance, we had to get back on the road. Somehow we got to Bath and that’s when the real fun began. I couldn’t tell Michael where to turn because I never could tell what street we were on. There were no signs down on the street, just small signs up on buildings that you could only read as you passed them, leaving you no time to formulate a plan on where to go next. And, of course, half the streets were one way, very few went at right angles, and more than a few just stopped. Eventually we found our way to the car park at the railway station, got our suitcases out, and took them for a walk to Anabelle’s. At this point I didn’t think I ever wanted to get back into Flio again. I was very happy to be on foot where I didn’t have to make such rapid decisions on where to go next, and was unlikely to get into a wreck if I made the wrong choice.
After a brief rest in our charming room we set off into town to find someplace to have our supper. Even though I had added a few more layers of clothing before leaving, it was a very cold walk. Finally we stumbled onto Sally Lunn’s. It is a wonderful old building, the oldest house in Bath, made of that lovely golden Bath stone.
The dining room was warm and cozy with candlelight, and the food absolutely delicious. We had ratatouille served over Sally Lunn buns with several kinds of freshly cooked vegetables on the side – little fingerling white potatoes, carrots and snow peas. It was just perfect. The day had been so stressful with the driving and getting lost, so stimulating with the sightseeing we had done, and so long when you add in the jet lag, and Sally Lunn’s was an absolute oasis of peace, calm, warmth and good simple food. I cannot imagine a more perfect way to end the day.
What was a perfect moment in one of your trips?
Next up is the photo album for May 8th.