Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Beautiful Weather in Great Britain

Britain gets a bum rap. Everyone always talks about the rain. I think the weather has been great each time I've been there and last weekend was no exception. In fact, last weekend was extraordinarily beautiful.

Our drive up to Calais to the ferry was cold and gray and we were looking forward to a "typical" British stay. But as the white cliffs of Dover came into view, so did the sun and we debarked under blue sky. It was even warm.

We had one of those "Louette" sunsets on the way up to Northampton. I mentioned it and Claire told me that they had said the same thing in the Twingo. (The Lebelle family invaded in two cars - Louis' Twingo and our Previa with only about half of Claire's stuff.) We hit the M25 around London at exactly the wrong time and got caught in the evening traffic jam, although it looked worse in the lanes going south. Our 3-hour drive from Dover to Northampton ended up taking about 5 hours.

Geoff and Charlotte met us with a great dinner. Charlotte was excited by all the people in the house - 9 adults all after her attention! The car was emptied into the garage; we were fed and all settled down for the night. Geoff led us to our hotel and we collapsed into bed.

The drive to the hotel looked so easy, who could imagine we'd get lost going back to the house? But getting lost is really the only way to discover a place, so once we ended up back on the M1, we took a different exit and wandered to Duston and through the housing estates until we found the house. Geoff outdid himself again by serving up a full English breakfast. Claire had already gone out for an interview and came home just as everyone was dressed and ready to go. She just managed to eat her own breakfast and left for Stratford.

It was on the way to Stratford, under a cloudless blue sky, that we got to see the countryside - the perfectly trimmed hedges, the sheep in the fields, the very narrow roads, ... In fact, it was so nice, once we got to Stratford, we didn't want to go into the different buildings - we'll do that some other time, when we are less numerous. We just strolled in the streets, saw Shakespeare's birthplace, of course, but did not go in. We saw that there is a teddy bear museum up near the market (good for another visit with Charlotte)! We admired the Harvard house, which turned out to be where John Harvard's mother lived, not necessarily where he was born or lived. Still, it's a beautiful building on the High Street. (I think it's one of the two houses behind the family in this picture.) From there, we decided to visit the Butterfly Farm so that something of the day would be interesting for Charlotte. The town is so well-kept - the houses recently painted, pedestrian zones with clean streets and busy shops. It seems too perfect to be real - Disneylike.

The Butterfly Farm turned out to be interesting to all. Unfortunately, our own pictures did not turn out. There were butterflies all over - we could even sit on benches and watch them as they fed on the fruit that was laid out for them. Charlotte wasn't the only one running after them! We saw the caterpillars, the cocoons and the emerging butterflies. There were a few iguana in the tree tops and some birds. And then there was the room with spiders and scorpions - beautiful and safely behind glass.

After all this fun, we headed back to Duston and another of Geoff's fabulous dinners.
On Saturday, we headed down to Woking to meet the rest of Geoff's family. Again, we had the impression of an invasion. The table was set for 14! Another great meal - a real couscous! (This emphasis on food is starting to sound like Louette's letters to me! But I can't help it - the food was great!) But we had another surprise - Guy Fawkes day is not exactly November 5 any more; they celebrate on the closest weekend. So, in Woking, they had fireworks on Saturday night and the Husaunndee house is just opposite the park. They set up chairs in the front - like a theater - and we had a private show. And what a show they put on!

In Woking, the Lebelle clan all stayed at the Holiday Inn right in the center of town. Some of the kids went off to a pub and caught a live rock band show before going to bed. That made it a little more difficult to get all seven of us up and out for breakfast in the morning, but we did manage to get back to the Husaunndees and say bye before setting off for Dover.

The plan was to visit Canterbury before going to the ferry and we made it. I'm of a generation that read the prologue and a tale from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales when I was in high school. I remember the scene in the movie "The Lion in Winter" where Henry II talks about the murder of Thomas Becket. I remember reading Jean Anouilh's Becket and T. S. Eliot's play Murder in the Cathedral. All of this primed me for visiting the Cathedral. Paul and Emma too, but not the others, who decided to stroll through the town.

The cathedral is much larger than I think I had expected. That the Gothic structure should be on top of the Roman church is not surprising. It's the same in Chartres. But this church is so long! It seems to stretch forever. And it's multi-level, so the proportions are difficult to judge. I'd like to go back for a longer visit and prepare a bit more beforehand or take the audio guide next time. There's really so much to see. And you have to remember that I am absolutely sick of visiting churches, so this must really be impressive for me to want to return!

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