Thursday, July 05, 2007

To the faraway towns: An English photo-essay

Well, helloooooooo!

I'm back.

I had a great trip, gallivanting around, seeing lots of English things, eating delicious food, and very carefully not getting blown up. All good things, if I may say so.

Christine and I went here:

and I was tremendously graceful clambering up onto the lions. I was. Are you saying you don't believe me? Fine.

We also went here:

(that's King's Cross Station, Platform 9 3/4, if you can't tell) and took a series of mildly embarrassing but totally necessary photos. I'm dying to know what kind soul decided to put up the sign and the cart and to not even charge! Or were they just pestered into it? The world may never know.

We tracked down 84 Charing Cross Road. This is all that's left of Marks & Co.:

but at least it's not the Pizza Hut next door, as previously thought.

We went to St. Paul's cathedral, which I think might be the most beautiful church I've ever been inside. I loved it. Plus: a crypt, 300-something steps to the second deck, and John Donne's grave. Win!

We also saw Mary Poppins in the West End (forgettable except for the completely awesome "Step in Time" tap-dance number), went to the Tower of London, checked out Kensington Palace, walked across the Bridget Jones Millennium Bridge, and visited all of the state-run museums. Going to the art museums with Christine was fun, since she a) cares and b) actually knows things about art, whereas I just get bleary and bored. I was, however, disappointed to find that the Elgin marbles at the British Museum are not, in fact, spherical.

And the food! First of all, I love European hotel breakfasts. There's something about muesli with whole milk or a croissant with jam and yogurt and tea that makes me feel especially civilized, and yet ready for a long day on my feet. Maybe it's that I would never dream of drinking whole milk or eating plain yogurt in the States. I'm not sure. Either way, it's delicious. There's also my mild obsession with bangers and mash: sausages, mashed potatoes, and gravy. The Brits have comfort food down, I'm telling you.

I also need to make one thing clear: I love pubs. I don't understand why we in America can't make pub culture work for us. Why do we have crazed and/or totally depressing bars when we could just as easily spend our evenings ensconced in the plushness of leather and dark wood, good friends, salty food, and a nice pint of cider? Doesn't everybody like a nice game of darts? Is this not an obvious choice?

London was fun.

But eventually I left London and went here:

and hiked from here:

to here.

It was fantastic. Doesn't it look fantastic? I walked the Coffin Track, which was the road used to transport dead bodies out of Ambleside before they had a consecrated church. I stopped off at both of Wordsworth's houses (and I don't even like Wordsworth all that much) and made friends with an older gentleman on the trail. When I got to Grasmere, I ate fresh bread and root-vegetable soup, and the rain started just as I caught the bus back. Good times.

On my last full day in England, I went to Bath. First I ignored the advice of Rick Steves and the fine folks at Lonely Planet and went to the Jane Austen Centre. I knew it would be lame, and it was, but I couldn't not go, could I? Jane Austen lived in Bath for five miserable years and set Northanger Abbey and part of Persuasion there. The Centre was mostly concerned with the BBC miniseries, and the docent actually made a snotty remark about the Keira Knightley Pride and Prejudice, which I thought was...uncalled-for, especially from a woman without anything directly Austenian to offer. Afterwards, I walked up the street to the house Jane Austen actually lived in, which is now a dental surgery:

And on a girl's last day in a foreign country, when she just can't take another historical site, what is there to do but wander in the rain and shop? I didn't buy anything, though I actually considered checking my carry-on for the flight home just so I could bring a vintage cake stand with me. Common sense prevailed.

Bath is beautiful, all honey limestone and Georgian everything:

Doesn't it make you want to wander in the rain and shop? Pretty.

So that was my trip to the UK, minus a couple of lostness incidents, a trip to the British Film Institute, baked beans for breakfast, and everything else crammed around the edges. Coming home wasn't totally unwelcome, but I had a great time and I've already got some itinerary points in mind for a return trip. A fine place. Cheers!


Glenna C said...

OOOOOH. I'm so jealous. And Boo, hiss on the Bath woman snotting on KK's P&P! Psh.

I didn't even know there was a Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross, otherwise I might have looked for it when I was there!

Liz said...

I don't know how long it's been there, but I think it's so sweet of them to cater to the HP crazies of the world without making it a tourist attraction. Oh, those wacky Brits.

Dogeared said...

There's also my mild obsession with bangers and mash: sausages, mashed potatoes, and gravy. The Brits have comfort food down, I'm telling you.


I found this so funny - we don't all eat this for breakfast, but it's common in hotels to offer a cooked breakfast.

And platform 9 3/4 has been there for at least *ponders* since summer 2004, as I went there then. I remember, because it was on the way home from a weekend house party where I'd gotten very drunk on the Saturday night and was still hung over on the trip home on Sunday.

The trolley-immersed-in-the-wall wasn't there then, though! Nice touch.

I'm glad you had such a good time, and you seemed to get some decent weather, considering the north of England got heavy rain, and even the south west where I am, got pretty wet.

Here's to the next visit!

Heather D said...

I totally missed 9 3/4 at King's Cross too. Hmm. And it's also cool there's a plaque about 84 Charing Cross Rd.

Christine O. said...