Preface; A Bringing Up to Date
I have decided that I'm going to call this, my inaugural trip into Europe, The Jaunt, as it was merely a little trip compared to its upcoming big brother, which will be named The Wander. From here on I will reference my explorations of Europe as The Jaunt & Wander. The following entries will pertain to The Jaunt and they will be extensive. So, for the sake of my mental and physical health, I will create three separate entries; one for each place I traveled on my previous trip. If this proves to be a good system, I may continue it for The Wander.
The tale begins with London...
It was on December 22nd just before noon that Grace, my seductively beautiful traveling partner, and I began our journey to London. After grabbing a quick cup of coffee we shuffled sleepily down to our local Boarders bookstore; our Coach was to meet us there.
It's hard to miss these buses. Besides being enormous, they look like gigantic bugs. After stowing our bags, we were off. There was nothing very notable about the coach journey, I believe I slept most of the time. It took a couple of hours, maybe.
Often I was very pleased to have Grace with me; She proved her metal many times over. The first time I saw her in action was upon our arrival to London. I had no idea how to use the metro (the British/European word for subway), albeit, it's a horribly simple system and I probably could have figured it out provided some time and a metro map. However, we were on a schedule and Grace got us there with time. Rickmansworth was our destination of choice, it's in section 7 on the Metropolitan Line if you're looking. That is where Natalie was raised, and that was where her family was kind enough to let us stay for Christmas.
I'll get to that later, but our first night in London deserves it's own special attention.
Getting off the Metro at Rickmansworth, I was full of a torrent of different thoughts and emotions vying for precedence in my mind; I hope it's not too imposing to be with this family for Christmas. I hope I can make a good impression. I want them to like me. How am I going to get my guitar home? Are the going to be like Natalie? God I hope I don't screw anything up! Can Natalie really take 4 whole days of Grace and I?
Worries are only worries, and many of mine were put to rest when Natalie met us at the station with hugs and a smile. She brought along a friend too! Vicky met us there too in her smart mini cooper! She's another Queen's Road dweller and a wonderfully vivacious woman. So, after hellos and hugs, the four of us, and the luggage, crammed into her tiny car. I would very much enjoy having a mini cooper, but the sad truth is that it is far too small for me. Our destination was Natalie's aunt's house, where we'd be sleeping. It was very close to the station, and even closer to Natalie's house.
I don't remember if Penny was there when we dropped off our things, but she's Natalie's Aunt. Err, I believe she's Natalie's aunt, perhaps it's just one of those relationships where you call her aunt but she's not actually. No matter, Penny is a wonderful lady! She's very fun and, rather suiting to her demeanor, she is a teacher at a nearby school. Her house was incredibly cozy; I wish I could have lived there myself. It was a terrace home, a rather skinny building with two stories. It had 4 bedrooms upstairs, and a large open living room downstairs. I wish now I had taken pictures of it, for a picture is worth a thousand words after all!
We dropped our things at Penny's and then went back to the station. After all that traveling to get to Rickmansworth, we got back on the metro and flew into London. This may be a time where some would complain, but hell! I was in London!! Not to mention surrounding by phenomenal company.
I was sort of out of it during our journey back into London, perhaps the slightest bit of travel weariness had crept over my consciousness. Before I knew it, I emerged from a the metro hole into a conglomeration of sights and sounds known more formally as the famous Piccadilly Circus. I was immediately invigorated; as if, by being enveloped in such a sheer mass of culture, I was instilled with life's energy. That pump up was exactly what I needed. After meeting up with some more Queen's Roaders, we were off to Benihanas. I had no idea what was in store for me there.
I've heard of Benihanas; I've been told of its wonders and its expense. There is one in Seattle but I'd never gone because I just didn't have the money. What was different about London? Well, I was in London for the first time with friends from Bristol for the beginning of an epic night! Plus, Vicky told us that Benihanas had a group rate. Superb.
That Benihanas will go down in my memory forever, for it was the place I enjoyed my very first Vodka Martini shaken not stirred. I could barely utter the words when the bartend asked for my order; I was trembling with what can only be described as childish glee. Was it worth the price? No. Will I make them when I return to Seattle? Without a doubt. We took our glasses to a nice table by the window and sat down to order. The Gods of Finance had it in store for me that night, and they dealt us all quite a surprise.
I wish this is where I could say some rich guy paid for our dinner, or that a movie star sat down at the table next to us. But instead, I have to say that our waiter declared that Benihanas only does the group rates before and after the winter season. In a nutshell, he took part of my soul, part of my youthful optimism, and I don't think I shall ever see it again!
We Queen's Roaders are troopers, we bit the bullet and paid the price. I understand why it's expensive; I don't understand why it's that expensive, I just don't think food should cost that much. However, to defend Benihanas from my own tirade, you're not just paying for food in Benihanas, you're paying for an experience. It is a wonderfully practiced show, much like theatre or the ballet. The Chefs are truly masters of the culinary arts as well as the most professional showman. They wield tools of the sharpest caliber and tempt the fates by dousing their workplace with fire. They fling sizzling comestibles into their tall white hats and create fiery onion volcanoes. The best part about the show is that at the end you get to eat it! So in the end, was I disappointed to have spent as much as I did? I must admit only a little. Unfortunately for our chef, I don't think a single one of us tipped him properly due to our student status and shallow pockets.
After Benihanas was when Queens Road split again and it was back to the fantastic four; Natalie, Grace, Vicky, and I. The night was only beginning for us! Very much prior to that night we had ordered tickets (upon my suggestion I may boast) to the Nutcracker! We saw it at a theatre called the Colosseum and it was put on by the English Nation Ballet. It was an interesting production to say the least. As I am used to seeing the very traditional versions of the Nutcracker put on by the Pacific Northwest Ballet, this was quite an interesting change. The costumes, the colors, and the stage were all different! Though most of the visual parts of the ballet were different, the music remained unchanged, the performers told the same story, and it was good! The Sugar Plum Fairy was absolutely breathtaking in this performance. I was transfixed; absolutely set adrift from all my worldly distractions and totally enveloped by her performance. What I learned from this Ballet is that I want to continue to go to Ballets, Operas, Plays, Museums, Concerts, etc! They are all expressions of humanity and I've enjoyed every single one I've ever been to.
However, the best part of that night may have been after the ballet, and after they did their final bows about 17 times!! We went for a wander and oh the places it took us. Conveniently, Trafalgar Square was right next to the theatre, so we went there. On the way the ladies almost got run over by a bus! That was due to Natalie's indifference to the traffic!! I often admire it when she sticks out her palm and forces a multi ton vehicle to stop while she moves with purpose across the street... it just didn't work for this bus. Well, with a minuet screech of fear and a leap, the gals were back on the sidewalk and we were back on track.
Trafalgar was all lit up, Lord Nelson stood on his Column looking down upon London with a loving fatherly gaze. The large metal lions rested at his feet, ready to protect their Lord if any danger arose, and some fountains sprayed and sputtered water into the surrounding pool. It was a very relaxing place but other famous monuments longed for our appreciative gaze.
Our curiosity led us down a very straight and comparatively deserted street. At the end of said street was a very famous Palace known as Buckingham. It was also beautiful; lit up from every angle for maximum effect. There was even a Christmas tree to show off, and it was all worth the walk. It took quite some time to get there, and quite some time to get back into the thick of London, but when we did, we emerged close to Big Ben and the Parliament. Of course I had to take the picture with Big Ben in the background, and yes I got in the red phone booths to make a call. I just had to!
That pretty well finished off our trip. We walked along the river Thames until we got to a Metro station. There we made our way back to Rickmansworth, haggard to say the least. We stayed up for a little longer but when sleep beckoned, I crawled into an incredibly comfy bed and slept more deeply than any night in my entire stay in Bristol. The perfect end to a perfect day. And I hadn't even met the family properly yet!
Day Two started late; late is quite the understatement. We didn't get up until 11, well, when I say we, I mean Grace and I; Natalie was up at half 9. It was foggy in Rickmansworth, foggy like they'd never seen so said Mr. Parker. We went to the local Nero's coffeehouse and near two we hopped back on the Metro and made our way to Tate Modern. We got off at the Embankment stop, right on the Thames then walked across a bridge towards Tate Modern. The fog was so thick we couldn't see the other bank of the Thames. As we leisurely strolled along the river, Tate Modern revealed itself from the fog.
It's quite an imposing building. It's tower rose up and disappeared into the fog. Outside is a giant iron spider thing. The red brick building itself must be 5 stories high, not including the tower, and had a basement as well. Inside Tate it's open and mammoth. We were there mostly for Grace's sake; she wanted to see some modernist and cubist artwork. It was interesting, but not really my thing. I did manage to commandeer a tea spoon from the Tate Cafe, though I wish I had got a mug from there, but I simply couldn't be bothered to pay the money for it.
When we left hours later, the fog hadn't lifted an inch. We trekked forth and arrived at Shakespeare's reconstructed theatre shortly thereafter. Sadly, it wasn't open. We crossed the Thames by the millennium bridge and Natalie thought that St. Pauls should be right in front of us. Looking at a map, the bridge lead directly to St. Paul's cathedral, but looking forward, it was as if the massive church had vanished. Absolutely no trace of it could be seen until we were about 100 metres away from it. Then its white form seemed to materialize out of the white mist.
From St. Paul's we made out way to the nearest metro station and went back to Rickmansworth around 7. Much to my surprise, Natalie's family waited for our return until they had dinner. I don't know why the simple gesture stunned me slightly, I wanted to be as non-imposing as possible, but they didn't seem to mind in the slightest. I suppose that was one of the major things about the entire family; they were all so incredibly accommodating when I was literally asking for little or nothing. I felt showered in generosity and caring with no expectation of reciprocation. I wish that I could have given equally back, created an experience for them that was equal to the heart-filling experience they created for me. I don't think I can ever say Thank you to them enough, though Natalie my grow tired of hearing it, so I'll be sure to ton it down! Haha
I have to say that Natalie's mother is an Amazing cook. The food at every meal was different and equally scrumptious! Not only that, but on Christmas day, she cooked for 20 people and there was still food left over. Surely, she is a Kitchen Goddess.
That night, after dinner, we watched a movie called Hot Fuzz. I'd never seen it but it was really good. Natalie's parents didn't join us, but her Grandmother did. Her Grandmother is a sweet lady and has a very interesting story. I suppose the place to being is with her inability to hear; she's been deaf all her life. It's really no problem for her because she lip reads and mouths words back to communicate. When she was growing up, she went to a school that frowned upon sign-language. So they taught her to lip read and speak as a way to reintegrate into society to lessen any differences that might set her apart. It was the societal view at the time I guess. Well, she is just the sweetest lady, often smiling at me then asking me how I was or what I was doing. Sometimes I'd need one of the family to help me understand, but for the most part, it was surprisingly easy to communicate with her. She has the most gentle eyes and a bright smile. With her family all around her, you can tell that she is proud of them and loves them all very dearly. She's had a great life and it shows every time she smiles.
(talk about Dad, Kathryn, Charlie and Archie)
Not long after the movie was over we went back to Penny's and fell to sleep again. The next day was Christmas Eve! There were many things happening on Christmas Eve and I was very excited to experience them all.
To Be Continued... (I have 5 days to write two essays so this may go on hiatus)