UK/Scotland Trip of 2002 - Page 4
Met for breakfast in the hotel dining room at 7:30. Traffic was horrendous this morning and our bus was late. We stood outside and waited for a while.
We had a priceless moment concerning Kevin and a drunk. We'd seen the drunk shambling down the sidewalks, talking to strangers, walking out into the road stopping traffic, talking to plants, and behaving in a bizarre manner. He spotted Kevin, who had his back to him, and slunk up behind him. With a glint in his eye, the drunk dropped to all fours.
"Woof woof!" he said, barking up at Kevin.
Kevin turned and bestowed a raised eyebrow, then turned his back on the drunk. One could clearly read "You cretin!" in the expression. The Woof Man hopped up with an alarmed look on his face and strode quickly past us, muttering an apologetic "So sorry!" back to Kevin. Kevin's harem burst into laughter.
Once the bus driver showed up, Kevin's harem had another moment of merriment. The cockney driver was telling us that he was unable to park within a couple blocks because of the terrific holiday traffic. He told us we were going to have to walk to the bus.
Looking straight at Kevin, he said "It will give you a chance to work off some of that big breakfast you just ate."
Kevin's nonplussed expression put us into stitches.
Our guide to Stonehenge and Bath was a middle-aged, gray-headed gentleman by the name of Jeff. Our driver was a graying Italian by the unlikely name of Ozzie. Since we were sitting near the front, we heard many exchanges between the two. As a pair, this improbable duo was as entertaining as a comedy team. At one point, I looked over and saw LeAnne laughing so hard that there were tears in her eyes.
We got caught in a massive traffic snarl on the motorway, trapped behind another company's touring coach. Ozzie told Jeff he knew of a shortcut, and off he went on the nearest exit, occupants of both coaches waving at one another. Jeff noticed the other coach pulled off behind us, pursuing. Jeff told Ozzie he was dead if he didn't beat the competition to Stonehenge.
Jeff was amused at their willingness to follow our lead.
"I have half a mind to pull over and tell them "Stonehenge? No, we're going to Amesbury."
We followed a convoluted course to Stonehenge, loosing the competitors, Jeff chuckling with glee.
Along the way, we passed a barracks that started life as an Italian prisoner of war camp. Jeff apologized to Ozzie for mentioning it.
"That's okay. It's my second home" Ozzie deadpanned.
We stayed at Stonehenge about 45 minutes, wondering at the mystery of them (where they came from, why they were there, and how it was built) then went on to Bath.
Kevin and LeAnne, like Cindy and I last time, were expecting a smaller community. They loved the Georgian homes.
We zipped through the Roman Baths, grabbed burgers at the Burger King, and then went to do some exploring and shopping. There was a Carnival atmosphere in the piazza - extremely cheerful and European. It was crowded, with musicians, jugglers, and street vendors everywhere you turned.
Loading up the bus created amusement. Ozzie provided a count to Jeff, who recounted.
"You counted 42? I got 41!"
"Oops! I counted myself!"
"What school did you go to, anyway, Oz?"
"The other one."
Ozzie ventured out into the streets of Bath.
"You can't go up there Ozzie! Okay, we're going up there. Ladies and gentlemen, I can guarantee you that if we get stopped by the police, Ozzie won't know a word of English, just Italian."
We saw Windsor Castle on the way home. I realize now that I saw it by air the other day when we arrived. (Little did we realize that this was the final evening of one of the residents' life. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother died the next afternoon at Windsor.)
We stopped off at the Hard Rock Café Shop so that Kevin could buy a few gifts, then ate supper nearly next door at the Crown and Rose Pub. It was a tavern very close to Tyburn gallows, and back in the days when they hung the highwaymen (18th century) they sometimes used the tavern to house the prisoners on their last night, then used their tables for the post mortem. We ate there anyway. It was also the Duke of Wellington's local pub, although I don't know if he actually used it.
Came home to pack for Scotland.
The Queen Mother died today and the country is in deep mourning. She was deeply loved for her sense of duty, her strength, her courage, and her personal charm. I've been watching TV, showing her life. We are in Scotland tonight, and they see her as one of their own. Mixed with the grief is gratitude and pride.
We didn't hear about her death until we were eating supper at a smoky, noisy pub called 'The Tiles'. Kevin saw it as a message at the bottom of a soccer game broadcast.
'The Tiles' was ornate, with beautiful golden tiles, gorgeous "Tudor" ceiling and warm walnut woodwork. Someone obviously spent a lot of money on it - the Victorians? Kevin was wondering if it was once an office of a top official. It was across from the headquarters of the major banks in Scotland.
I had curried rice with a tomato sauce and mushrooms. Very good.
Edinburgh is pretty, but not as lovely as Bath. The stonework is stained with soot and there are a lot more modern buildings. We walked around this evening. The gardens, castle viewpoints ("underlooks"?) and mews are fascinating.
Our hotel, the Old Waverley, is a very European hotel, with an obscure entrance, no foyer and lots of stairs. The later was not good news after pulling everything uphill from the train station! A porter got it as far as reception, then left me to take it up another ramp to the next room, up two more steps in front of the lift, down the all on the third floor, down two steps an around the corner to my room (#305). Monster, as I've dubbed my large rolling suitcase, got heavier with every step.
My room is nicer than my London room, lighter, better chair, but my electrical converters don't plug in so I have to write everything rather than use the laptop. Outside my window, the view overlooks the Scott Monument and the gardens.
I love my room, but the others are even better! Kevin and Cindy have a tiny bay window which provides a reading alcove, and a nice sized bathroom with a tub. They have a great view of the castle and the Scottish Harrods, Jenners, across the street.
LeAnne's room is best of all. Her bathroom is large and light. She has three windows overlooking the Scott Monument. She was delighted with it, and it is good to see her looking so happy after the disappointment of her substandard room next to the lifts in London. She was due this!
It took longer to finish packing this morning than I thought it would. We walked to Covent Garden and got on at a deserted tube station. The worst part of the entire journey was lugging our luggage through the "stair-intensive" underground connection to the King's Cross Station in London.
We went through: London King's Cross, East Barnet, Hatfield, Stevenage, Huntingdon, Peteborough, Grantham, Newark-on-Trent, Retford, Doncaster, York, Thirsk (James Herriot country), Northallerton, Darlington, Ferryhill, Coxhoe, and Durham (saw Durham Cathedral and Durham Castle).
I had a couple of surprises along this route. We saw a lot of nuclear power stations, We could see as many as three at a time. Traveling down the track a few more miles brought us in sight of a few more. I hadn't realized that the area had so many power stations! The other surprise was that the part of Yorkshire I saw wasn't that hilly or scenic - it was flat. Maybe we were just missing the area that was so picturesque, but I expected more hills around Thirsk.
Since they were working on the railway line over the weekend, we were put aboard a shuttle bus from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Berwick-upon-Tweed. The bus was not as fancy as tour coaches, but fine for the journey. We sat near front and overheard the conversations between our driver and his companion. One bit of news relayed to the companion by mobile phone left us round-eyed. The previous train-to-train shuttle bus caught fire! The interior had been gutted and our bus was instructed to return to pick up passengers of burned bus. We didn't actually see it. We were "diverted" around the accident.
We listened to soccer match between Leeds and Manchester United. Manchester United won 4 to 3. It was oddly fascinating to listen to the commentary about a sport and league that we knew so little about. There were many references to players, politics and history that went right over our heads.
Berwick-upon-Tweed was a lot more spectacular than I was expecting. It had a wide harbor with beautiful stone bridges, one of them being the Royal Border Bridge. It was designed by the brilliant railway engineer Robert Stephenson, grandfather of author Robert Louis Stephenson. The train station itself is on the site of Berwick Castle where England's King Edward I awarded John Baloil the crown of Scotland over Robert Bruce in 1292.
The new train was better than the other one. It was easier to get in and out of the seats - the arm rests moved. The view out the windows offered some interesting sights. We saw a lighthouse on the North Sea near moderately high cliffs. Periodically, there were also impressive old ruins dotting the landscape.
All-in-all, our train trips were fun. It got colder as the day went on, but the best part of the day was sunny.
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