Have just returned from a visit (with DH) to England where we walked in some gentle continuous rain, strolled around country lanes, caught up with some friends and family, and am now firmly ensconced back in Texas. I enjoy traveling, and I really like coming home. (I am hopeless at living out of a suitcase, I’m afraid.)
The plane ride out there felt a bit like this (see pic below).
(I think the seats were designed for humans who have normal-sized torsos and toddler-length legs.) Luckily, the plane ride passed quite quickly. Still, the first thing that we did when we arrived at my mum’s house was to purchase Economy-Plus seats which made for a much roomier and more comfortable ride back to US. (Recommended for anyone flying United and who has long-ish legs.)
The trip was great and the weather was just what we were looking for: coldish, rainy (some days) and just lovely for us (since we live in a semi-arid climate). We managed to meet up with a few long-time friends (Hi Gaynor and Rozalind!) and have a delicious dinner with our favorite uncle whilst looking out over most of London’s skyline glittering under a night sky.
My mum was a lovely host, and kindly transported us to Cambridge where we gawked at the architecture (has it always been this fantastic?), had a cuppa tea at Auntie’s Tea Shop, and, of course, found a great second-hand children’s classic bookshop called The Haunted Bookshop. It’s a tiny place and packed with books, but lots of nostalgic fun for both mum and I as we came across books from long ago.
Another memorable visit was to Cambridge’s American war cemetery which was very moving and a complete contrast to the higgledy-piggedly layout of your more typical English graveyard. It also happened to be Remembrance Sunday in UK which made it all the more special as poppy wreaths had been laid to commemorate the men who had died in war (mostly WWI, it seemed). It was a very poignant experience to see the hundreds of white markers and see the names of all who had died, including those whose bodies were never found. Definitely makes one think about the futility of war.
What was also special was how widespread the appreciation of the veterans’ sacrifices was across the communities, and how the day is taken seriously. (Poppies serve as a symbol of those who have died in action and are worn on your clothing in memory.) (I think this is a big contrast to Veteran’s Day in the US which seems to be mostly an excuse for retail sales. Perhaps the reality of war is closer for English people as the island is only a few miles from France and it was a real-life concern that England could be invaded?) Whatever the reason, thanks to the vets who served to protect country!
London was a bit overwhelming. Walking around, I kept remembering the old Grace Jones song which has a line which says “tourists limping home having bitten off more than they could chew”… You definitely need a plan if you visit. We visited Trafalgar Square and the fantastic (and free!) National Portrait Gallery. It has been a long time since I’ve been in an established art museum, and this was really enjoyable. (It did remind me of the character Mrs. Bridges (by Evan Connell) when she visited one of the Parisian art museums and saw the original Mona Lisa for the first time…)
Then we went and had a sit-down and a lengthy browse at the Waterstone’s on Piccadilly (which is the largest bookshop in Europe – you know I couldn’t resist that.) Had a fun time browsing through the thousands and thousands of books and only bought one. (Kudos to me, I think.) By then, we were knackered and it was time to visit my uncle who lives in the Barbican area (very arty) and to drink champagne and eat great food looking over the city lights.
A visit to the Shard was on the books as well (thanks to mum), and this was super. It’s one of the highest and newest buildings in London (and Europe) and we were lucky to have a clear day with no rain, mist or low-hanging clouds so the views were spectacular.
And then came the piece de resistance – I finally found the Hunterian Museum, a collection of historical medical artifacts from the Royal College of Surgeons going back in time as far as the Egyptian mummies. I am very interested in medical things for various reasons, and have been longing to visit this place for years. It’s rather hard to find though, and so it had turned into my own personal White Whale for the last few trips to London. It’s an amazing journey through time and features medical-related items ranging from dissected pregnant sparrows to skeletons and ulcerated stomach linings, and it’s all done in such a good presentation. After looking at some of the older surgical instruments and seeing how they were used, I became very grateful that I have benefited from modern medicine! (Early peoples used pointed rocks for rudimentary brain surgery with no pain management – ouch.)
Most of the museum’s collection came from Sir John Hunter who was one of England’s Victorian surgeons (thus the name Hunterian Museum) and it was excellently curated. So – although this place may have been hard to find, it was well worth it and I recommend it if you have even the slightest interest in historical medicine.
And then fish (or, in my case, sausage in batter) and chips with my bro and his family made the day complete.
And, of course, I managed to let a few books squeak through in my suitcase, but those, my friends, are for another post.