Wednesday, 21 September 2011

All good things must come to an end...

That's what they say, right? Well, I truly think that after 19 days of holiday, the four traveling Babbitts are ready to go home.

But not before we spent an afternoon with lots of dead poets, kings, queens and soldiers.

On our last day in London Matt and I escaped for one more sightseeing experience. There is so much to see in this amazing city, you simply cannot do it all in a week. But I could not bring Matty all this way and not take him to my favorite place in London, Westminster Abbey. We arrived an hour early to be sure we would be first inside the magnificent church. Even standing in line, waiting to go inside there was so much to admire. The stain glass in the windows, the carvings in the molding, the archways over the doors. This place is a work of art unlike any other I know of. It gleams white in the sunshine, a sharp contrast to the deep golden hue of parliament that resides just one block over. It is a place of peace in the centre of a city in motion. Stunning and lovely.
We entered beneath the rose window in the north ambulatory and were immediately silenced by the reverence of this majestic church. It is a living pageant of British history with the tombs of people whose names I feel I have always known. Henry VI, Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, Geoffrey Chaucer, Robert Browning, Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Hardy and on and on. The further we wandered into the Abbey the more immersed we became in the wonder of a country whose history seems to stretch further than my mind can contemplate.
We spent well over two hours wandering the corridors, the nave, the chapels and the cloister. We paused in silence to observe a moment of prayer as the clock struck two and then again at three. We bowed our heads at the grave of the unknown warrior, buried here in 1920 and respectfully reflected at the memorial of Winston Churchill.
We stood at the very back of the nave, at the doors through which Princess Catherine walked only a few months ago on such a happy occasion. The same doors that Diana's coffin passed through on a markedly more somber day. This place has seen celebrations of life and mournings of tragedy. The energy here is palpable. My heart was full and I am not ashamed to say, at time my eyes were glassy with tears of awe and reverence. History is an emotional thing and I loved feeling it inside me today in this place. Really there are no words I could type to relay the feelings here, you will just have to go and see...and feel.
As our day slipped away we made our way to Charring Cross Station for the last time. We found our train and rode to Lewisham where my Uncle Richard met us and took us back to the house on Blackheath. We enjoyed our last english meal (fish and chips, of course) and a last visit with Maggie, Richard and Jake. It has been over 20 years since last I set foot in that house so for me it was like stepping back in time and seeing my own history replay. It is amazing what our minds can remember and what it choses to forget. I loved seeing Noah and Eden play happily in the same rooms I visited as a small child. It was truly wonderful.
Tomorrow we head home. Back to Canada, to routine and order. To cooking and cleaning and school work and driving. I am ready. But this has been one wonderful vacation. We are so lucky to have had this opportunity and to have been able to share it with Mum and Dad. I am certain they have enjoyed it too. I can tell by that grin on my Dad's face.

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Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Pints with an old friend, a look into war and viewing the time from way above.

It is amazing how so much can happen in ten years and then suddenly you are sitting in a pub in London, drinking ale as if no time has passed at all. Isn't life just full of gifts?

Finally the day arrived for the kids to ride the London Eye. We walked to the Greenwich Pier, took the Cyclone Clipper along the Thames and got off in front of the biggest ferris wheel I have ever seen. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't the least bit nervous. I don't love heights. But this was an experience I was not willing to forego just because of instinct. We bought the tickets and I was in the giant pod before I could give it much thought at all.

The London Eye is huge. Really. But it moves incredibly slowly and at times you don't realize that you are moving at all. You get one revolution which takes a full half hour and in that time you are given the most spectacular view of the city imaginable.

The kids quite enjoyed it, not because you could see all the major sites of London at once from way above, but because it was just so darn high up and everything below looks so very tiny. You will not be surprised when I tell you we had to ask Eden to refrain from "mooning" London. She thought that would be pretty funny indeed. My little lady.
Once back down to earth we walked across Waterloo Bridge admiring and posing with a variety of buskers and gawking at the enormity of Big Ben.

We actually were right there at exactly noon so we heard the chimes that usher in the afternoon. Very cool. Noah really liked that and counted the twelves " bongs" out loud.

Once over the bridge we enjoyed a pub lunch (I know, I know, so predictable) then crossed over to Westminster Abbey. Eden was thrilled to be seeing the place where Kate and William tied the knot a few short months ago. She saw the wedding on television andwas excited to be standing there in real life.

We walked on to the War Rooms Museum. This is the place that Winston Churchill directed the British military from for all of WWII. It is an amazing and sobering place. Matt, Dad and I did the tour while Mum took the kids to the park. If ever in London this is not to be missed. It was so interesting to see this place, maintained exactly as it was 70 years ago. So much history, so many stories. I loved doing this tour with my Dad because he had such a personal experience to share about this time having been born in London in July of 1940.

Once we had finished the tour we met up with Mum and the kiddies and walked through Horse Gate Parade and back to the Embankment Pier.

Here we said goodbye to them and Matty and I carried on to Victoria Station. We were due to meet an old friend nearby at 6pm. We saw Thomas walk into the King's Arms right on time and spent a couple of hours reminiscing and laughing over pints and snacks. He lives in London now, a far cry from Prince George, B.C. But he hasn't changed much at all. It was so nice to see him and hear all about is life here in the UK.
We said goodbye to Thomas and headed back to the river. We jumped on the Cyclone Clipper for the return trip to Greenwich Pier after a very long day. The sun had set and the city was lit up in bright colours that made it look completely different from the city we had come to know in daylight. As we sailed home admiring the lights of Big Ben, the glow of the Tower of London, the shining Tower Bridge, Matt and I both agreed that we will be back here before long.

London has won us over and we have barely scratched the surface. We are looking forward to seeing so much more of this wonderful city full of history and mystery.

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Monday, 19 September 2011

Popping in on Liz and a visit to an alien bird bath.

No run today. We were far too excited to get on the road. Matt and I took a day to ourselves, leaving the kids with their grandparents for a day of fun sans parents. Leaving strict instructions not to give them any treats (yeah, right) we were out the door by 8am.
Walked down to Maze Hill Station and hopped on the "overground" to Charring Cross Station and even managed the change over at London Bridge. We arrived at Trafalgar Square and found our tour company. Today we hired a bus tour for Stonehenge. Yahoo! The tour didn't leave until after lunch so we had some time to kill. We decided to walk The Mall to Buckingham Palace and pop in for a quick cup of tea with the Queen. It was a lovely morning for a stroll up one of the prettiest city streets I have ever seen. I am quite amazed by how green London is. There are parks and green spaces everywhere. I love how many people ride bicycle all over the city, especially on a sunny September morning.

Anyhow, we arrived at the gate of the palace only to find Liz unavailable. Too bad. Maybe next time we should ring first, eh? No doubt she will be disappointed when she realizes she has missed us.

Enjoyed a leisurely walk through Green Park and back up to Picadilly Circus. Lots of people watching here and a nice chance for Matt and I to catch up after so many days of travel and occupying the little jackals. We had an "English breakfast" (which was very nice) before getting ourselves back to the tour company for our bus.
At 12:30pm we pulled away from Pall Mall and were on our way to Wiltshire. Two hours on a luxury coach was a very peaceful way to travel. We approached the sight of one of the world's most celebrated prehistoric monuments.

Stonehenge it is believed, was erected around 2500 B.C. It is a world heritage sight and just about the weirdest thing I have ever seen. This collection of gigantic rocks that stand upright in the middle of the rolling countryside, are a real mystery. While their are many theories about how it was built and, more importantly I think, what the purpose of it was, we will likely never know for sure. What I do know for sure is that every time I have been (this is my third visit) I have had a very strange, uneasy feeling there. Matt agrees that there is something eerie and "supernatural" about the energy of this place. We have concluded that Stonehenge was clearly built by aliens, probably as a giant bird bath for the only creature they found on earth that could fly like them. The giant cross beam stones are the ideal location to hang birdseed bells or peanut butter pinecones. It's obvious now, don't you think?

So we left Stonehenge, confident that we had solved the age old mystery. Back on the bus for another relaxing 2 hour journey. Once we returned to London we hopped off the coach at White Hall and found a nice little bistro for a plate of spaghetti. Then we retraced our steps back through Charring Cross Station, London Bridge station and finally home to Maze Hill. We felt quite proud of ourselves for managing the journey rather effortlessly. Matty and I are one heck of a team!

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Sunday, 18 September 2011

Torture chambers and double decker buses.

Got out to see London on a cool but very sunny Sunday morning. Left the flat with Nana, Grandad and kids in tow and walked through Greenwich Park to Greenwich market where I bought the super cute skirt I had been eying up yesterday. Then we headed for the Thames and jumped aboard the Hurricane Clipper and motored down the river to Tower Bridge.

Dad pointed out all the important sights along the way as we sipped our morning coffee and enjoyed the ride. 20 minutes from Greenwich to the Tower of London, can't beat that!

We hopped off the Clipper and got our tickets for the Tower. So bizarre to see such an historic site in the middle of such modern architecture.

Noah was pumped because he knew we would be seeing a dungeon today. Once inside we were greeted by the first Beefeater who was quick to tell Noah he had better behave or be sent straight to the dungeon prison. Noah grinned nervously. The Beefeater then asked Noah if he'd like to be taller. "We've got a device for that, you know. The rack. It's lots of fun...for me.". Again Noah half-smiles, unsure if this fellow is pulling his leg.
We carry on through the grounds and head for the Torture Chamber. We climbed down the stairs to see replicas of "the rack", a chopping block and axe and something called "the scavenger's daughter" which sounded the worst. Not a kind bunch of people back in the day.

Eden got to have her picture taken with a Beefeater outside the White Tower. He asked her name and she said "Eden". He said to her "Lovely name...that's my name as well." She looked at him stunned and then ran back to Nana saying "That Beefeater's name is Eden too!" Hilarious! He looks like an Eden, don't you think?

We walked all through the White Tower and saw lots of armour, weapons and clothing from all through the ages.

Then on to Waterloo Block and a peek at the Crown Jewels. Pretty amazing stuff. There are a lot of fancy gemstones and headpieces in there. Even the kids were a little awestruck by all the sparkle. Eden saw one crown that was lined in fur and though it was nice they did that to keep the Queen's ears warm. Ha!
Our time at the Tower came to an end but not before Noah had to make one last pass through the Torture Chamber for another glimpse and the horrors of the likes of Henry VIII. Man, that guy was just pure evil!
We had a nice lunch at the Dicken's Inn and then walked across Tower Bridge, just about the prettiest bridge I have ever seen.

Got a real taste of London with the old taxi cars and double decker busses. Once on the other side we found a bus stop and hopped on the 381 to Deptford.

Rode through Dad's old neighborhood, saw his primary school, my Grandad's fire station where he was a fire fighter during the war, Dad's Auntie Connie's fish shop, and the park where Dad played as a child.

I loved revisiting all of that with him. Although it is all very different now, he clearly still sees it through a child's eyes even at 71 years old. What a wonderful opportunity for me and for my children to share this with him. I hope the kids will remember at least a little of it.
We returned to Greenwich and picked up an ice cream on the way back to the park. The kids were keen for a play so I took them while Mum, Dad and Matty popped into the Plume of Feathers for a quick pint. The rain held off for us all day, what luck!

Once done at the park we raced up the hill. Noah was the winner with Eden hot on his heels. Tonight they are knackered. A quiet dinner and they were to bed without a fuss. Dreaming of beheadings and ice-lollies, no doubt. I'm right behind them.

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Saturday, 17 September 2011

Pizza party and rugby in the rain...a perfect day!

This morning I got up and ran through Greenwich Park. Absolutely wonderful! It was so nice to run in a new place, with so much to look at and lots of other people, nodding "good morning" as they ran past me. I loved it! It was sunny and mild; an all around great way to start my day.
Got back to the house and cleaned up, then walked to the bottom of the hill with Mum, Dad, Matt and the kids. Matt decided to take the kids to the park and I went along with M & D to Greenwich market. We walked along the river and saw some sights I remember from my childhood. The Cutty Sark, the Trafalgar Hotel, the Thames. A lovely stroll with my parents pointing out some of their favorite spots. Got to the market and wandered about looking at all the booths. Made me nostalgic for Korea. We used to go to the market all the time there. We found a man selling the most delicious treats. They were churros rolled in sugar and then filled with dulce de leche and chocolate. So much for that morning run.
Walked back through the park and met up with the kids and Matty and then headed home. My Auntie Maggie was due to pick us up at noon. She arrived and we headed to a pizza place to meet the whole gang. Eden was so excited to meet all her cousins. Once everyone arrived it was very obvious that these guys were all going to become fast friends. It was quite a gang with my cousin Sam and wife Jo, their four kids Andre (8 1/2), Lewis (7), Leon and Tamsin (5), Jakes wife, Louise and their two girls, Sasha (4), and Olivia (2), friends Jeanie and Martin and then of course the six of us. what a party!

Once the lunching was done we walked over to the Old Colphian's rugby club for an afternoon of sport.

A really nice club with an awesome clubhouse. We all stood around the pitch with our pints and kids ran around playing touch rugby on the sidelines.

Just before the half the skies opened up and we ran for cover in the clubhouse with the kids. They continued to giggle and play like they had known each other all their lives. It was so much fun to watch.

Most of the guys stay out in the rain and watched the remainder of the game. Colphian's win 20-18!
A little cold and wet, we climbed back into Maggie's car for a lift back to the flat. Warmed up with a cup of tea and then Maggie, Jeanie and Martin headed out. We spent the rest of the evening recalling the day with the kids, working on journals and just relaxing. Loved seeing all those beautiful children today playing and laughing together. I sure hope they get to do it again very soon!

Tomorrow our adventures in London begin. This city has no idea what is about to hit it! :)

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Friday, 16 September 2011

London calling.

Short note today. We have arrived in London to sunshine, which is amazing considering that we left 11 days of sunshine in Yorkshire on a morning that promised drear and showers in the north. It was an amazing afternoon with us all out in t-shirts, walking and playing in Greenwich Park. We met my Auntie Maggie at the flat on Westcombe Park Drive. She has not changed a bit since I saw her last over 15 years ago. I love that! The flat is perfect. A stones throw from "the park" and walking distance from the Hare and Billet.
Took the kids to the play yard at the bottom of the hill for a run around after the long drive this morning. They were super stars in the car...again! Honestly, whose kids are these. They don't stop amazing us. Then on to the Plume of Feathers for dinner, a great little local with a beautiful beer garden and a play house for the kids while they waited for their food. Once back to the flat Maggie called round again to pick up Dad, Matt and I for a pint at the Hare and Billet. We walked in and met up with my cousin Jake and my Uncle Richard. So wonderful to set eyes on them. Shortly after my cousin Sam and his lovely wife Jo arrived for a drink and a visit. It has been more that 16 years since Sam and I were in a room together and it was like no time had passed. Except now we were chatting about our children (he has four!). It was a super night topped off by my big win on the raffle tickets Jake bought me. Haha, swamp photos, what a memory!
Walked home with Dad and Matty. A very warm evening, still in t-shirts. I suspect that a few pints would keep anyone warm, eh?
Tomorrow, RUGBY!
Sorry no photos today. I'll post extras tomorrow. :)

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Thursday, 15 September 2011

Rock climbing and bell ringing!

Our last day in Yorkshire. Hard to believe it is coming to an end. But we have seen so much and have so many amazing memories too. The kids have really enjoyed themselves as well and I really believe that they have learned so much in these couple of weeks. You can't teach these kind of experiences.
Today we did our last run through the paths of Brearton. We have been spoiled with perfect weather for our morning exercises. This morning was no exception. The sun shine down on us and the crisp autumn air gave us reason to get moving. It was the best run we have had yet. The horses snorted good morning as we ran past and the sheep in the dales ignored us as usual, but looked very peaceful as they grazed. With this kind of scenery it was so easy to start each day with a run. I became so fond of marking our distance by the number of holly trees we passed.
On our last day in the north we decided to check out a place called Brimham Rocks. This is a hiking trail that boasts some incredible balancing rock formations. Some of the formations are as high as 30 meters and were formed by glacial, water and wind erosion.

Needless to say, they were amazing to see and even more fun to climb around on. Noah and Eden loved it. We spent a good part of the morning exploring these wild and weird rock formations and trying to imagine what shapes they looked like.

After a pub lunch in a lovely beer garden we headed to a park called Studley Royal. It was a beautiful afternoon and this amazing green space provided a wide open park for the the kids to run and play.

At the top of the big hill was one of the prettiest churches I have ever seen. St. Mary's church was built in the late 1800's as a memorial to a man named Frederick Grantham Vyner who was murdered by bandits in 1870. His sister used the ransom money that was never delivered to build this Victorian masterpiece in his memory.

When we arrived at the church entrance a volunteer met us at the door and handed me a sheet with some information about the church and it's history. He then invited the kids to follow him on an adventure to find all the animals hiding in the church. The kids went exploring while I enjoyed learning about this magnificent building.

It was so nice because often children find no interest in wandering around an old church. This man obviously loves his job and has found a way to share that passion with EVERYONE that walks in the door. He took the kids around and showed them all the animals hiding in the carvings, paintings and stain glass of the church. They loved it. When they were done he even invited them to ring the church bell. They both had a turn pulling the giant rope and hearing the old bell echo out over the park. What a treat! I was a little jealous that I didn't get a turn.

We left this beautiful little spot and hiked a little more, the sun shone down as we strolled through the park and admired the deer that graze in the distance.
Then it was time to head home, get our bags and laundry organized and start thinking about heading out of this little cottage we have called home for the past 11 days. It has been the perfect jumping off point for all our adventures and has served us well. We will miss it very much.
We returned to the Hare and Hounds for our last supper in Yorkshire. This was definitely my favorite of all the pubs. The "Govenor" was marvelous and the food was particularly wonderful here. It also serves the best Sticky Toffee Pudding I have ever tasted! I thought of Amy and Michelle with every bite. (wink)
And now I sign off from the little cottage at Brearton. Next message will be from the big city of London after a pint at the Hare and Billet with my long lost cousins. I can hardly wait!

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