OK, so I went through 2 days of jet lag and 8 days of denial that I’m in America. I still have to finish the story – don’t I?
Easter Sunday we meant to go Greyfriars Church… but I misplaced the service details and we were uncertain about Ian’s ability to meld into a strange Sunday School. So we read the Easter story in Ian’s comic book Bible in our pajamas before going down to breakfast at the hotel.
After spending our last hour in Quark’s Internet Cafe, we hopped on the train to Guildford. None of us, Megan included, were up to London after our experience at the Tower the day before. All we wanted was a quiet place to walk and look a High Street and some castle ruins. We were not disappointed.
The Guildford train platform was a bit of a puzzle. Unlike every other platform we’ve ever been on, there was no “Way Out” sign. There were signs to other platforms and the university, but in our confusion we tried going down a tunnel only to turn around and go up some stairs – eventually finding the way out. The streets of Guildford were much less confusing. Just outside the station, a giant map of the city let us know where the castle and High Street were. There were plenty of brown directional signs to help us at each intersection as well.
We ate our Easter meal at Yates’s (also spelled Y8’s)…after waiting a half hour for the “chef” to return from his break. We had the entire place to ourselves. Kurt and Megan split a burger, I had the “Sunday Roast” special complete with mini-Yorkshire puddings (they were out of steak & ale pie), and Ian had his cheesy garlic bread. The whole thing was a bit surreal: it’s Easter, we’re sitting in a bar with our kids, smelling stale cigarette smoke, hearing our favorite Brit bands on the muzak, and watching a muted version of “Keeping Up Appearances” on the big screen TV. (We later saw much more appetizing options on our explorations through town, but hunger overrode patience.)
We found the castle ruins smack in the middle of the prettiest garden we’d seen this trip. The tulips and daffodils were HUGE, the grass was GREEN, the sky was BLUE, and the stone paths were so TIDY. Best of all there were NO LINES. The castle was inexpensive and newly restored. They had some interesting displays on the ground floor with plenty of signage on the other floors. Best of all, I could enjoy being on top of the keep (don’t laugh, Sid). There’s always such an anxious mystery to what awaits you at the top of spiral castle stairs. But this time, the whole viewing platform was enclosed in an iron cage that not even my wiggly son could squirm out of. I actually enjoyed the view, took more pictures than usual, and allowed my children and husband more than 5 milimeters away from me!
We walked through a closed shopping district. All the great British and American shops were represented – must be quite an experience during business hours. Ian needed a loo, so we followed the signs and found a clean and serviceable one not connected with any shop. We saw the Guildhall with it’s ancient clock, a statue of George Abbott (one of the Archbishops of Canterbury), and another Quark’s Internet Cafe tucked into a side alley. The historic “hospital” had it’s gate and door open with a sign that read “If the door is open, come in.” We did. Just inside the courtyard was a sign that told us to stop there and just look. Apparently it is now a retirement community. We obeyed the sign, and were then rewarded by one of the staff who took us beyond the sign into another garden at the back. We got to see a huge copper pot that the historical occupants used to wash their clothes and cook festival meals in – now a planter since the bottom rusted through. We also saw the Hershey’s-kiss-shaped niches in the garden wall which used to house bee bowls. As he led us back out with a “please use the path through the center” (not the one that traces the courtyard near the buildings), our gregarious host quickly changed moods. New visitors had not respected the boundaries and were greeted with an icy-yet-formal “Actually visitors are not allowed past this sign unless you are invited to a tour, and I must go. I don’t have time.” Ooooo, glad we obeyed the sign.
We got ice cream from the van parked outside the train station and waited for a non-Virgin train to take us back to Reading. The kids used their own pence to buy sweets at the station shop. (Megan discovered Cadbury Cream Eggs for the first time.) The kids had their last swim and I watched my last proper BBC while packing.
Our trip home was unremarkable, except for a Bank Holiday snag. We arrived at Paddington Station expecting to take the Heathrow Express to the airport. Unfortunately, it was Easter Monday – a holiday that the US does not observe. The Heathrow Express does not run on Sundays or Bank Holidays. A very kind attendant wearing a black jacket over his Heathrow Express purple suit told us our options were: 1. the Tube (been there, done that, no way with kids), 2. the Heathrow Connect which is a train to Hayes and then a bus (20 minutes before the train would arrive & when would we see the bus?), and 3. a cab (which he said would be hard to find since everyone will want them). We walked to the Connect platform and quickly decided we didn’t want to wait. We walked to the taxi stand which was deserted of passangers and chock full of black-cabs (it’s the shape, not the color). The head cab’s driver estimated ₤55 to Heathrow. A quick talley of the pockets and purse yeilded ₤65 – so in we went.
The ride went smoothly, except for Ian’s obsessive reading of the meter. I’ve never been on the M4 before, though I’ve heard it on traffic reports from BBC radio streamed over the internet. There was NO traffic, so we got to Heathrow for a mere ₤49.80 plus tip. We breezed through check-in, thanks to our online boarding passes printed at Quark’s. Security was a piece of cake as well. The kids enjoyed shopping in the international terminal while we waited to board. Our flight was smoother than the trip over – only turbulence over Greenland. We saw an agriculture-sniffing hound catch a woman with an apple in her handbag at the baggage claim (quite exciting, actually). My mom was there to take us home in our car with home-baked pretzels as a bonus.
All in all, I know Kurt is glad to be home. Ian wants to go back to England so he can swim. Megan wants to live in England. And I think I’m STILL in denial that I’m even home.
Ian, to the driver of the ice cream van as we threw our rubbish in his bin, “That was the best 50 pence I’ve ever spent. That ice cream cone was the best one in the universe!”
Megan, after resisting pictures the whole trip, “Ooh, take my picture next to these flowers. No wait, take my picture while I smell the flowers.”