My travel wish list is very long. Back then, I didn't realize that almost six years later, I would be in England.
And what better way to view the Tower of Big Ben, The Thames, Buckingham Palace, and the people......than the London Eye.
Walking towards my next adventure, I thought to myself. "That thing is HUGE!". I live in Dallas, the home of one of the largest Ferris Wheels in North America. But thinking about Fair Park, where that Ferris Wheel is, I felt it didn't come close to the London Eye. This is more than likely a trick of the mind, you know, when you're about to conquer a mountain, it looms in front of you, seemingly bigger than the planet earth. When built in 1999, The London Eye was the tallest Ferris Wheel in the world, standing at 443 feet. Since then, a few have surpassed it, one being in Las Vegas, "The High Roller".
The London Eye adjoins the western end of Jubilee Gardens, on the South Bank of the River Thames between Westminster Bridge and Hungerford Bridge, in the London Borough of Lambeth. What a view it provides, I could barely take it all in, although there is plenty of time to do so. Once you are locked in, up it goes but at a very slow gate, allowing everyone to look around at the many sides of what I call, the egg.
Although London was the second half of my trip, it still became so clear to me while riding in the egg, that I was actually there. When Buckingham Palace, and Big Ben came into view, I thought, "I'm really here" and I'm not sure that I want to leave.
What I really felt grateful about was that the first half of the trip was spent in a little hamlet in the English countryside, Hemington, Derby. There is no better way to experience an international vacation than to live amongst the locals, sharing stories and getting to know them while drinking pints of ale and grilling food near a tent in the backyard of our gracious hosts. I found them to be extremely friendly, outgoing, and having unparalled senses of humor that had me laughing so hard I thought I would stop breathing. You hear me Brits? I LOVE YOU. When my best friend Brian and I saw the itinerary label for the first Saturday, "BBQ and meet the Americans!" we both had the same thought without sharing with the other one until after the fact. 'Oh dear God, this is to meet US? I hope these people don't get bored.' HA! There was no boredom or awkwardness, no silence to speak of, no feeling strange, whatsoever. It was as if we had known these friends for years, and it was probably the best day we had while in Hemington. A note to Mark (and I don't know if you spell it this way) when you took my hand and sang a song from Frozen to me, that sealed our friendship for life. I will never forget the friends we made and will cherish the memories for a lifetime. Until we meet again.
Out of so many, another favorite moment was meeting "Lottie" the lamb. This little thing was named after the Royal Baby, Charlotte, recently born to William and Katherine. She wears a pink jeweled collar and bleats loudly to let you know she hears you and she is pleased with your offerings.
Every morning that I stayed in Hemington, I woke up to Lottie letting the world know that she was awake, birds chirping, fresh air wafting in through the open window (that stayed open the entire time I was there) and this beautifully green view of the English countryside. Notice the bench. Obviously strategically placed so that I may do my best thinking, in the fields, with the cows and natures vibrant colors. Right?
My first pub experience was in Hemington, appropriately named The Jolly Sailor. Come on, it's England. And when people go here, they are definitely Jolly, whether they've sailed the ocean or not.
We immediately made friends with everyone we talked to, including Shannan who waited on us from behind the bar, (Hi Shannan!) then ended up joining us at the table as other friends of our hosts arrived and joined us as well. This is the greatest thing about facebook if it must be mentioned. We can now keep in touch even though we all live on different continents.
I must also mention that one of our gracious hosts is missing from this photo, she had to take the picture. We did our best taking turns so that we could get a few photos of all of us, even if not all in one.
Shannan, Roger, and Pam, we so enjoyed spending time with you that day. Each one of you hilarious in your own right, and very entertaining. Thank you for everything, and sharing a slice of your lives with us.
The first excursion out of Hemington lead us to Nottingham. Now let's say it like we were taught, "Nottingum". There is no HAM in this recipe. I don't know if I had any sort of accent or lack thereof, but I think our new friends got a kick out of teaching me the proper pronunciation of Nottingham, as the requests for me to continue saying it, loud and proud, kept coming, and there was cheering after. So obviously I kept saying it. I don't mind cheering.
While known to be the home of Robin Hood. it's definitely not just about Sherwood Forest. Englands oldest pub is found here, along with a castle, quaint streets and alleyways, and multicolored doors leaving you to wonder whether you should enter, or keep going. I knew I had to get fish 'n chips at least once while in England, so that became the first meal I had outside of Hemington, and my friends that urged me to try this were right. The British have cornered the market here. It was absolutely delicious, and unexplainable as to why. It just was.
With the thoughts of London in our minds, we headed back to the patio at Hemington, as we did each night, to discuss the days events and what was to come. I've mentioned before, that all one really needs is the right people in our lives, and a patio. Some of the best stories are shared there.
If I had to summarize London in key words and phrases, much like I did with Paris, France, it would go like this:
City noises, crowds of people but often vacant sidewalks, takeaway, (we call this takeout in America), walking, walking, and yet more walking, Oyster Cards (you can't ride the underground without it), the Monarchy, The Queen and everything she entails, history, thousand(s) year old architecture, train tracks and the click-clack, jeweled crowns and scepters, Towers that must be climbed, hidden passageways and body armor worn so long ago, Cadbury Chocolate and uncountable kinds of ale, Pubs and Pints, pounds instead of dollars and scurrying to destinations unknown, Palaces and Royal Residents, Castles, balconies and British flags flapping in the breeze, tall clock towers that chime on the hour so that everyone can hear for miles, Scotland Yard and "Bobbies" keeping the public safe, theatres named after a Prince, politeness, and the most proper and eloquent use of the English language that I have ever heard. Even phrases like "bloody hell!" and "bollox!" sound proper, don't they?
And let me not forget to mention, tea. England is a tea drinking nation, let me tell you and it is absolutely the best. I came home with a huge box of PG Tips, the infamous pyramid tea bags. I don't think I will run out until 2017, but when I do, I'll just have to skip back over the pond and get some more. Yes, I know, I can order it online, but that's silliness and must not be thought of.
"Please mind the gap, between the train, and the platform"
We heard this over and over again, as we sailed through the underbelly of London on the underground transportation, to the point of each one of us saying it randomly even if we weren't on the train.
At the time of the end of this post, I've been writing for hours and know for certain that I have not captured even half of my thoughts or shared my best memories of my time in England. Please forgive its faults. And even in life, not on a train heading east or west, or north or south, or to Westminster or wherever you may go, "please mind the gap". Make good use of the downtime of regular life, but for goodness sake, get around when you can, out of that town you live in that you see every day, out of the working world, and the day-to-day 'ness of the regularly scheduled program. Go on holiday as they say, even if you just get in the car and drive somewhere.
See you soon, friend
PS the area we stayed in London was called Stepney Green. This became my new name. Call me Stepney. "Hi I'm Stepney Green, lady of leisure". Breakfast At Stepney's. It's not Tiffany, but it works. =)
This post is dedicated to the Hemington crew. Brian, Terry, Ruth and Rosanna, thank you for one of the most memorable weeks of my life.