In Ealing, London, England at Cranleigh House
I had hoped to finish my entries for California before we left, but time ran too short. Very briefly:
Tuesday, June 24 we went to Bonfante Gardens in Gilroy, and spent most of the day there. It was warm but not horribly hot, and with plenty of shade, so we had a reasonable chance to enjoy it. This is a combination garden and exhibit of unusual circus trees, and amusement park (the latter to entice people to come and see the trees). The trees were originally the work of one man in Scotts Valley, in the 30s, I believe, and demonstrate extraordinary grafting and training techniques to create truly unique trees. They were saved and eventually planted in the park by Mr. Bonfante. It is well worth visiting, and a relatively low-key amusement park experience, too.
At the end of the day we drove over to Watsonville, ate a picnic lunch on a cliff overlooking the ocean (while Colin slept most of the time), and wandered up to Santa Cruz to find a hotel. I grew up in this area, so I was doing a lot of reminiscing!
Wednesday we visited the UCSC Botanic Gardens, which feature plants from, guess where, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. Figured we might as well get a sneak preview of coming attractions. Unfortunately, though we had come to the coast hoping for a respite from the heat, Santa Cruz was having a hot spell, too, so we didnt linger in the sunny gardens long. We did make a couple of purchases in the gift shop, only to promptly package them up and send them home with other things that were not going to leave the country with us.
After that we visited the Mystery Spot, which Emily had wanted to see - it is one of those skewed-perspective places which purport to be caused be meteors or some such, but really rely very heavily on converging perspective lines to distort perception. However, the tour guide was very good, with a fine combination of belief and honesty, so it was enjoyable even for a skeptic. Then we scooted on over the Palo Alto to spend the night with friends Donya and Allen, whose party I had attended on Saturday with Jan. Unfortunately the heat wave was bad and getting worse there, and their house not air-conditioned (which we had been spoiled by in hotels), so we stayed up quite late doing computer work and sorting our stuff for our final packing. It was very enjoyable visiting their book and collectible-filled house, though.
The next day we finished packing and went down to Saratoga to meet an old family friend, and an Aunt I hadnt seen in some 40 years. We had a nice lunch with them, then I took Emily through the amazing Winchester Mystery House (which varied from comfortable to way too hot) while Rich ran an errand and allowed Colin to sleep in the car. Then we spent the rest of the evening and following morning mostly in our hotel room getting ready to leave (aside from dinner and such).
Friday June 27 - the big day at last. We had a few hairy moments getting the the airport and our flight on time - there was such a traffic jam around San Jose Airport that we thought the traffic would never move, then we took a wrong turn and had to go through it all again. Then we had to wait in line for security, which fortunately moved very fast so we werent late after all. Colin greatly enjoyed his very first flight in an airplane, and in fact enjoyed the whole process of getting there tremendously (only the adults were stressed), since there were lots of interesting trucks, planes and buildings to look at on the way. It was a short hop down to LAX, then we had almost 5 hours to kill before the departure of our flight to London. This proved surprisingly easy to do. First we had to collect our luggage, then find out which concourse we had to go to (clear across the airport, of course), then catch a bus there, then check in. Security was very thorough, and pretty fast, where we were all thoroughly scanned, and our shoes removed and searched separately. Then we had a leisurely late lunch at Chilis (the only full-service restaurant on our concourse). Then we browsed every shop on the concourse at least once, got a book for Emily and some snacks, watched planes with Colin, attempted to change our lousy seats for better ones (no luck as the plane was already overbooked), and before we knew it it was time to board for the 10-hour flight to London!
July 1, Salisbury, Millford Hill House Hostel, England
We arrived in Salisbury this afternoon, and what a change this quiet, tree-shrouded corner is from noisy, overwhelming London! The downtown was very busy at rush hour, but quite quiet later on, and we are up the hill on the estate-like grounds of a very nice hostel.
But Im getting ahead of myself. We havent even gotten to London yet in this account!
The flight was a good deal less harrowing than we had feared. After hearing horror stories about tiny seats, bad food, stale air and late planes, we were worried it would be a real ordeal. But the flight left only a few minutes late, and made the time up en route; the seats were roomy enough that we didnt feel squished; the food was quite decent; and the air surprisingly fresh, though it got quite warm towards the end - they kept it warmer for sleeping than they did during the first few hours. Each seat had a private TV screen and earphones, so all the kid-occupying items I had stashed in my backpack were wasted, since they much preferred to watch the Nickelodeon channel. On one channel you could track the location of the plane, altitude, outside air temp (way, way below zero!)[-60F], time to arrival, and time in LA, local, and London. There were also a variety of movies, but with the constant roar of the engines I couldnt hear well enough to make it worth watching any.
We departed about 7:30pm, and dinner was served about 9; we had performed a three- or four-way seat switch with other people who also had less-than-satisfactory seats, and had managed to get all of us in the same center row, with one aisle seat, instead of the two-in-front and two-behind middle row seats we had started with; but we had no window seats, so the intervening time was spent peering out at what we could see of the ground during takeoff, then watching TV or reading. By the time we were done eating Colin was nodding off, it being well past his bedtime, and by the time the lights were turned down at about 10 or 10:30, he was asleep. Blankets and small pillows were provided for all, which were useful for attempting to vary ones position as well as warmth. Colin was the only one small enough to be at all comfortable, and he got about 5 hours of sleep; the rest of us dozed as best we could through the 5-hour night until they began serving breakfast at about 11:30 am London time.
We got a few glimpses of the English countryside coming in, but it was somewhat cloudy, and of course, we still didnt have window seats. We disembarked without incident, and proceeded down corridor after corridor (most of them with moving walks, fortunately) to customs,. When we saw the almost-endless queue space available, we were fervently thankful that we had apparently arrived at an off time, and had no wait at all.
Then all we had to do was make our way to the train station, get tickets, and ride to the South Ealing tube station, which, the directions I had assured us, was only a short distance from Ealing Guest House, our scheduled home for the next three days. (Ealing is a working-class suburb on the west side of London, easy to get to by tube from either Heathrow or London, which is why we chose it).
Well, the best-laid plans...the the guest house was indeed close to the tube, but the front yard was distressingly ugly and trash-filled, and when we got inside, the room was not much better. The shared bath was quite dirty, we had suspicions about the linens, and the maintenance was clearly nonexistent. Emily was particularly unhappy with it, but Rich and I, knowing how expensive London is and that this was a budget accommodation, figured we would have to put up with it. So we left off our stuff and wandered off to explore the neighborhood and, eventually, get dinner (keeping our eyes open for better accommodations, just in case). Although a moderately-run-down city neighborhood, there were many beautiful old churches and other structures, and Ealing Studios was just down the street (the studio Alec Guiness made his comedy movies with). We found some small parks, though no playgrounds, and a busy shopping district (Ealing Broadway), and after poking our noses into several restaurants that were too smoky, found a lovely little Italian restaurant with a secluded courtyard dining area. The food was splendid, but Colin slept through most of it, and didnt even taste the pizza he had badly wanted, which was one of the reasons we chose the place!
After dinner we headed back for bed, and found the room stiflingly hot. We used our travel sheets and pillowcases because of the questionable linens, and found the sheets rather too warm, too. But we got through the night (we were very tired, after all), and I, at least, woke the next morning (Sunday) feeling fully adjusted to London time. We were supposed to have a continental breakfast, but when 8:30 came and went without any sign of it, we went out to forage for ourselves. Not much was open, but we finally found a little shop called Munsons which had lots of lovely pastries, and bagel, ham and brie sandwiches. Also some of the best fresh-squeezed orange juice Ive ever had! But more than that, it had very helpful employees and customers who, when we explained our unhappy lodging situation, agreed that the Ealing Guest House was not at all a good place (Emily was vindicated), and had several suggestions for possibly-better lodgings. The one that finally bore fruit turned out to be the YMCA, just up the street - they didnt have lodging for children, but they did have several lists of guest houses, and a phone we could use, and after several calls, I found one not too far away which could accommodate us. (They had also heard of the EGH, and did not recommend people go there). Not to be disappointed twice, we walked to the new place, and found it to be much more acceptable than the EGH! Cranleigh House was at a very busy intersection, but the room was clean and fresh, as was the bathroom, and had many of the little touches one expects from a decently-run place. They also had a nice dining room, and promised to serve a full English breakfast, to Richs pleasure. (Continental breakfasts dont satisfy him at all). All this for exactly the same price.
So we took the tube back to our former spot, packed up, checked out, and got settled in with time still to go into London for the afternoon. We had hoped to ride on the Eye of London, a really huge ferris wheel that offers a 30 minute ride with views of all London. Alas, it was a very busy Sunday afternoon at that tourist hot spot, and a rather hot day, and even Emily, who had wanted to do it especially, didnt want to stand in line. Our fallback plan was to ride a double-decker bus, which Colin had been looking forward to for months. We got some ice cream, and considered taking one of the narrated bus tours, which would have been fun, but they were 2 hours long, expensive, and it was getting rather late. So we opted to take a regular double-decker (they are the most common bus there) up to Piccadilly Circus, where, after dinner, we could catch the tube home. This satisfied Colin (and was not the last double-decker we rode, by any means!), and wasnt too big a disappointment to the rest of us.
Piccadilly Circus - now this was London, at last! Crowded, noisy, chock-full of amazing old architecture and statues, side-by-side with modern shops of all sorts. We just wandered around for awhile, seeing what there was to see. Emily, being a small-town girl and unused to big cities, didnt appreciate it, but I found it exhilarating and fun, and wish we had had time to see more of it.
Finally it was time to look for dinner. I was determined to eat at an Indian restaurant at least once in London (I love Indian food, but seldom get it because no-one else in my family especially likes it, and there isnt a good Indian restaurant in Corvallis), so when we passed one that had a menu everyone agreed looked acceptable, we went in. As it turned out, the food was excellent, and everyone really liked at least one dish. It was also the most expensive meal we have had yet, even though we tried to economize on what we ordered, but was well worth it, and redeemed what had overall been a rather disappointing day.
Colin, however, after eating a modest amount, fell asleep sitting straight up in his chair, while chewing, and slept for the rest of the meal, earning good-natured comments from those around us. This is apparently his way of coping with not taking regular naps anymore; unfortunately, when he sleeps for even half-an-hour so late in the day, he doesnt get to sleep at bedtime until 9:30 or later; then he either needs to sleep really late in the morning, or nap again late the next day, or both. We havent quite figured out how to handle it, since our rooming arrangements (all of us in one room) havent been conducive to putting him to bed really early. We may have to wait till we get to Wales, where well have more rooms available.
With a train ride back to Ealing, we ended our first full day in London.
Monday was drizzly and cool, a welcome relief from the relative heat of the day before. Rich spent some time at a T-mobile shop trying to get our mobile phone working (he had been trying all weekend), and finally had success; unfortunately we were not able to keep the US number we had started with, as we had hoped to. Probably just as well, as it would have been even more expensive that way. Our only plan for the day was to go to the Natural History Museum, and that looked like a good choice in light of the weather. After going to the wrong tube stop and having to go back, we arrived without incident, and it turned out to be an excellent choice indeed. Not only is it huge, with dozens of fascinating exhibits, and incredibly gorgeous old buildings housing them, but most of it is free of charge, making it very easy on our pocketbooks. We saw huge dinosaur and whale skeletons, stuffed animals of kinds none of us had ever seen before, fossils, minerals, bugs, birds, earthquakes, and all sorts of fun stuff, and we didnt see nearly all of it before our feet gave out.
By early afternoon we were ready to leave, and though no-one really wanted to walk anymore, since we were just down the street from Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens and the weather had turned nice, I suggested we walk through the park to the tube station on the other side, which would save us a train change. This turned out to be an even better choice than I had hoped it would be - the park was green and restful, and walking on grass and soft paths was much easier on the feet than hard stone. We passed the Albert Memorial, an incredible Victorian confection of ornamented and gilded stone; the Round Lake, liberally occupied by Swans, Tufted Ducks (I looked them up in my just-purchased guide to the flora and fauna of England), Mallards, Coots with cute white faces, and of course, the ever-present pigeons, which Colin, like millions of children before him, couldnt resist chasing. I had planned for us to exit by a playground for Colin to play on, but he didnt want to do that, probably because he was getting tired, so instead we meandered along the Serpentine, a short stretch of river which I assume was man-made, and passed a statue of Peter Pan and a formal Italian garden before exiting right across the street from the tube station.
We had hardly sat down on the train before Colin was sound asleep, meaning that again that night he didnt fall asleep until way too late. However, at least he stayed awake for dinner this time, at a randomly-chosen Noodle Bar on Ealing Broadway, which provided yet another very good dinner.
Tuesday was our day to depart for Salisbury, but first we had to find an auto booster seat for Colin, since it appeared the car rental place wouldnt provide one. Again a local shopkeeper proved helpful; Rich asked the man at the store he went to for a phonecard where we might find such a thing, and he referred us to a department store (Daniels) a few bus stops down the street, which did indeed have a good selection of car seats (and Colin greatly enjoyed playing in their toy department, and got a book and a couple of small Bob the Builder trucks which were on sale). I then stopped in at a bank to turn in my travelers checks, which had proved useless despite being in pounds, for cash to pay the guest house bill, then we packed up, loaded up (*groan*), and hopped on the train back to Heathrow to get our rental car.