Saturday, October 8, 2011

From the Queen's Digs to Ours

Winchfield Inn - Hook, England

Thoughts this morning as I ponder life. (1) We had an interesting experience in the parking lot last night in Bradford-on-Avon. Seems the parking meter machine accepts only credit cards with the electronic chip on them. When will the US catch up? This issue has bitten us in the butt on auto-routes and gas stations as well. Not even sure who we could lobby back home. A very nice young man used his card for us and was reluctant to let us pay him. You can never underestimate the generosity and goodness of people. (2) The sign above the entrance to our Inn is the classic coat of arms with a Latin phrase below ,AUSPICIUM MELIORIS AEVI, and for the second time in as many days I paused to think of the long lasting effects of decisions made early in life. Does one take Latin in school and understand more of life, or French and understand life more? And then there are the words themselves. I am fascinated by words, and how the right ones in the right sequence can provoke strong emotions. And the sounds; Latin spoken or sung during the Latin mass was beautiful and magical, the French language lyrical and soft, and I always enjoy hearing the Portuguese language spoken. German still irritates a little, but less so now that we have visited and heard it in situ. Arabic is awful on the ears (and I lived in an Arabic speaking country for 2 years, so I know of what I speak). Today we will be immersed in good old fashioned English and may even have a "chin-wag" with someone. (Ed. Note: the Latin phrase translates to: "An Omen of a Better Age" and given our random encounter with the generous young man, it all makes sense. Sorry, I may have gone a bit Glastonbury on us here.)

I mentioned that staying in this little Inn feels a little like being at home, and wondered what I would have found had I ventured beyond our door in the middle of the night. Can you just go down to the pub or the kitchen for a nocturnal snack or pull a tap for a bevvy if desired? I should have asked the very nice Mrs. Rooney as she checked us out. It was a good experience, and sleeping above the pub was fine, not noisy as we had feared, and found the rumble of the train as it passed across the street not annoying; not soothing, but not annoying.

It was a grey day, fine for motoring with no sun in our eyes as we headed east. Checking the map as we sat in the Winchfield Inn parking lot (with the cool London Taxi adorned with WI data) it dawned on us that we had a very short drive (about 50 miles) ahead of us to get to our last hotel of the trip, and a full day to get there. What along the way seemed interesting? This is one of those things that makes traveling so much fun. We both sparked on the same little town: Henley-on-Thames (with the dashes by the way), which seemed familiar to us. We liked the name, that much was certain, but then it came to us. An accounting manager where we had worked, was into sculling in college, had raced in H-on-T and had a poster on his wall of the event with big block letters spelling out the town name across the top. We had looked at that poster many, many times. Another omen all those years past? We had to go.

Henley-on-Thames, England

We have not adhered to the admonition not to drive into these small towns in England. It seems there is always a big blue P(arking) sign prominently displayed with excellent directions to the lot. And getting out is even easier as they post signs at the exits pointing to major "directions." If only the street signing people were as good. Henley-on-Thames is a very pleasant, very picturesque village situated (obviously) along the river. It's notoriety comes from the regattas that are held on the river and it is host to the most famous of them all: The Henley Royal Regatta. It is a pilgrimage site for rowing enthusiasts. One area of the river is called "the reach", a straight passage ideal for rowing competitions.
There are pleasant walks along the river, places to tie your boat if you are just motoring through, and beautifully landscaped gardens. And the architecture is interesting. All we needed to complete this picture was a place for lunch and this time we hit the jackpot.

Maison Blanc, is a chain of French boulangeries, and their product is as authentic as anything we have eaten in France (and much better than the American Au Bon Pain. As we took our bounty out to the village square and planted ourselves on a park bench, the sun came out in all it's glory. What a great way to spend an afternoon. As we took inventory we realized we had left something back at the Inn (a piece of jewelery), so we got on the telly (we got the number from picture of the WI London taxi - how fortuitous), confirmed that they had it, and thought how grateful we were that this had happened in England and not France. The food might be better en francais, but our language skills were not, particularly on the telephone.

The drive back was enjoyable. Keeping to the back roads we marveled at the various road hazard signs we had encountered, some got us laughing: Bumps, Dips, Deer, Elderly People, Falling Rocks, Severe Curves, Humped Zebra Crossings, and one plain old exclamation point (!) all by itself. What is left? Beware of raining frogs? Recovering our left jewelery, we again bid farewell to Mrs. Rooney and headed for Heathrow.

LHR Windsor, England

It was about 1600 when we arrived and Emma, the desk clerk of the Marriott Windsor, quickly became our new best friend. We have business lifetime relationship with Marriott and have never been disappointed. With a quarter million points in the bank, most of the airport hotels are a great bargain (some only costing 20K points a night), as they cater to business people and have all the amenities expected. Once settled in, you are sure to make your flight with a minimum of hassles. We asked about where we might do a little sightseeing and find a nice meal to boot. We asked about Slough (Sow, like the pig, with an L in it). Emma, in a very Bridget Jonesesque-like voice said; "To be honest - it's crap." Stay local. Looking at the hotel sign, we finally got it. We were in Windsor, for heavens sake, neighbors of the queen for a night.

On this Wednesday night Windsor was pretty much deserted, and we snagged a parking space with little effort. It's expensive to park, but so what? We wouldn't be long, just dinner, it was our last night and a good way to get rid of the bulky English coinage. (The printed receipt you place on your dashboard was good until midnight, long past when our eyes would still be open, so upon leaving we handed it to a woman who was just coming in to park. A small payback to all the nice people we had met.) There are picture ops at each corner, and we strolled around taking pictures as if we owned the place. It was nearing 1800 and we were hungry.
We fleetingly thought about going into the Windsor Royal Shopping Mall (which looked very upscale), but decided instead to stick to the main street. Right next to the local Mickey Dee's we found just the sort of food we were in the mood for: The Thai Place Restaurant and Bar. It doesn't look like much from the outside, but inside it was tastefully decorated and the food was excellent. A great choice. And I'm sure it beat Slough by quite a mile.

Thursday, October 6 - 32K feet above the English Channel

At Heathrow - 0730 after awakening at 0530, showering, etc. and returning the car. - I try to leave out, and forget about those little negative things that happen when one travels. Life is way too short, and it seldom makes me feel better just to vent, however .... Arriving as required 3 hours before departure, the board showed our airline had 3 wide body flights all leaving in close proximity to one another: first JFK, then Miami, and finally ours to Boston. So roughly 800 or so passengers to check in and screen. The airline, in it's wisdom decided to open two check in counters, each staffed by relatives of Attila the Hun. The nearer we got to the counter the farther away we seemed as they continually cut the lines with passengers of the two earlier departing flights. Finally all that was left were the Boston passengers, steam rising from scalps, tired of standing for an hour and a half. At that moment 4 more positions opened (bringing it to 6) and we were through in 5 minutes. Delta Sucks. At times like this it is worthwhile to pull out the camera and mediate upon one of the more peace inspiring photos taken: the cloisters of Salisbury Cathedral -

Whew! I'm done. Thanks for listening.

We are happily cruising along in our flying palace, a nice big 767 with the 2-3-2 seat configuration which gives Kat an aisle seat and me a window seat. Perfect. There are movies on demand, TV, and a progress map on the display in front of us. I love Delta. It was seven hours of peace, after which we landed in Boston, cleared customs and waited for our domestic flight to Dulles. The cool, brisk autumn air outside the terminal was continuously punctuated by car/bus horns. Why did this seem so alien? It had been almost 3 weeks since we heard anyone beep one. Love the Brits.

Our flight to IAD was comfortable, we were a little tired, but not overly so. There is something invigorating about being back in your own country after being away for a while. Rick (our good friend from Centreville who was keeping our car for us) picked us up and drove us to his house where his wife Carmen and daughter Victoria seemed genuinely disappointed when we told them we would drive directly back to Studley, rather than spend the night with them. We would not have been good company, and it was only 90 miles back to home.

Saturday, October 8 - Studley, VA

Another trip in the log book. And a great one. This old journal might have seen it's last trip, and will take it's place alongside the others in the study bookcase. It's been a good friend. Spread across the kitchen table is most of the shopping we did while on travel. There are small souvenirs for the grandkids and refrigerator magnets for us, just to prompt memories. They all fit neatly into one of our backpacks.

Best part of the trip? It's hard to say. The weather was glorious, the food excellent, the accommodations more than satisfactory, and the people we met along the way were friendly, gracious and memorable. We love the British sense of humor - like the sign outside a restaurant in Chepstow, Wales - the Five Alls. What would we skip? Glastonbury probably, but that's about it. What was the most enjoyable? That one is easy. The time spent in Rhode Island, with the kids and grandkids. They make us laugh - a lot! We are both feeling pretty healthy (Kat has a slight case of the sniffles), I'm down 5 pounds in weight making me think maybe travel should be our natural way of life.

And of course, spending time with Rich and Lu in London was a blast. They are great travel mates, so generous, and fun to be with. Great not only because we love them, but because we like them as well. Enough said.

No comments: