I was trying to catch up with my posts for Scotland so that I would be able to keep up with them from London onwards. Well, Lancaster, London, Paris, a spot of Spain and Barcelona are now behind me and no posts for them!
I was in a little village outside Lancaster for New Year’s celebrations with friends at the family home of one of them. It was described to me as cottage, but I’d call it a townhouse, even if it is 400 years old. Huge exposed timber beams, one split as if it considered giving way some time ago and decided against it. Thick stone walls, plaster and a myriad of rooms including an attic with roof windows. Two sisters combined friends, lots of food and party games. Twister got more violent after the gin shots. Charades was rude even for innocuous words. And sparklers in the rain for the count down. Of course there was rain and we were in it. Sleep ins, hot breakfast, walks in the rain, pub lunch, banoffee pie for dinner, what a way to start the year! And then the train to London.
I liked London. Not just because it wins my award for being the most well signed place I’ve stopped in so far. And despite it making my hair terribly grimy and it being the most expensive, taking luggage storage as a yard stick. Much of the time was spent socialising, having meals and drinks with various relatives, friends and meeting new friends. I asked one who was particularly keen on living in London why he liked it so much. It’s the surprises. You go into the backstreets over there and there’s an amazing old stained glass window. Relatives told us about a Roman amphitheatre underground at an otherwise familiar place. We couldn’t go because it was closed the week we were there. For me the biggest surprise was one morning when I was walking from the hostel to Waterloo train station, I looked up and there was a skeleton hung in a cage at second storey height. Around the front of the building was the sign for The Clink Prison Museum on the site of a notorious old prison. I was also surprised by how much I was put off by the Thames at low tide on a grey morning.
I enjoyed the lights and life of Soho on Friday night. For once the fact that the crowds were mostly tourists didn’t bother me. On Saturday we did a quick tour of the Westminster, Buckingham Palace and St Paul’s Cathedral areas. It was grey and damp. We ate at cafes in crypts and at a restaurant beautifully built in new steel, timber, glass and lights against, between, around old buildings, brick walls, and timber framed windows. On Sunday we spent a few hours at the Natural History Museum. The size and detail of the building, took me by surprise. I stopped by the dodos, the flamingo, and the primates, wondering whether all orang-utans and gorillas will soon join the dodo. The Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition exhibition was on. Of so many great photos, I think the ones in the category for photographers under 10 years old were the most astonishing. One of them won the entire junior category with a shot of a scorpion with the sun in the frame above it. Understanding some of the information about the technical detail required to capture some of the shots, including the scorpion, added to my appreciation.
On Monday, my brother and I caught the train to Sunningdale to meet back up with older cousins, the only living British relatives we know. They amazed me in London on Saturday with their knowledge of the bus routes, gained from so many years working there. Anyway, they took us county hoping around Surrey. Mostly it was to see where our paternal grandfather’s family had come from, with a few royal sites thrown in for good measure, some even connected to the gardening and teaching employment of our ancestors. We stopped at the grave site of our common ancestor, and churches where various marriages or baptisms had taken place. I particularly liked the old church no longer in use that is clearly a hodgepodge of building undertaken at three very different times. The parts sticking out from either side of the original building apparently allowed carriages to drive through so people could step out directly into church. Was the weather really that terrible? The sun had set but there was still some light in the sky. Bare trees stood out about gravestones.
For somewhere out of town on Tuesday we picked Canterbury, the weather report was relatively promising and the train trip not too long. Pretty much all I knew about it beforehand was that I’d assumed it was the Canterbury of Canterbury Tales, which it turned out it was. We went to the cathedral, perhaps the first one I’ve actually been in. It was big and old. A few interesting bits were a spot of centuries old graffiti and the story behind two modern stained glass windows. All the fragile or valuable bits were stored elsewhere during the (second world) war and repatriated afterwards. These two were only plain before and were blown out during the war. Someone or other found a Jewish fellow who had escaped to England and was a highly respected stained glass artist to create these two modern pieces. I’d suddenly developed a cough overnight, so we spent most of the rest of the time sheltering in food places and a book shop. Apart from that, the buildings around town were an interesting mixture from various ages, including some that had tiles on the walls above the ground floor, a feature I’d also liked in a few places on Monday.
We had a deadline for getting back from Canterbury because I had a night photography tour in London as a Christmas present, which ended up being a private tour thanks to a proprietor who was intent that I got to do it in spite of a problem with the booking. Playing with manual settings and bus lights in long exposures. For our last bits of London the following day we walked around Old Spitalfields Market and from there to Cheapside for lunch, stopping along the way. The walk cemented my liking London’s mixture of old and new buildings. That’s all I’ve got to say about that!
I wanted to go a different way to the way I came, and with passenger ship crossings to North America suspended for winter, that left going east. A friend’s advice to not go through Turkmenistan and other Stans on my own as a woman ruled out the route through western China, and Pakistan forms a barrier in the remaining direction. Even if I was crazier than I am and wanted to cross it, visas for entry and exit by land aren’t generally issued. I looked into boats from Singapore or Malaysia to Brisbane, but the only option coming up was a cargo ship that was too expensive at €100 a day for 14 days. The result of all that is that my plan is to travel around a little, still avoiding flights, before flying the last leg home.
I’m looking forward to the trip I’ve got planned. With less distance to cover I made a conscious decision to stay a bit longer in more places, but that still only means up to about three days for each stop. I also decided to make sure I keep doing things, instead of just looking at things. Since it’s winter here, that’s ended up including snow shoeing and tobogganing or sledging, as soon as I work out the difference. Someone told me one has steering. Steering is good. I’ve got a few smaller places included too, so I don’t get too tired of big cities. Stay tuned, and I hope I can bring you along for another ride.