January 2008

January 12-13: Anniversary Weekend in London

It was a brisk walk to the train station, but a bright morning. It’s just about an hour train ride to London. At the new St Pancras station, we took the Tube to South Kensington, where we had made reservations at a small hotel near the Victoria and Albert Museum. We got to the The Claverly Hotel, dropped our luggage, and headed to the museum.

One of the first things you see coming into the V&A is a huge Dale Chihuly glass sculpture hanging over the information desk, right in the center of the main hall – he’s everywhere, albeit this one is a bit dusty!!

We had a great guide that took us through the English Galleries – with many anecdotes and stories about the items on display. I was amazed that we could take photographs of the permanent collection; the museum owns everything so there are no copyright issues. Flash is even permitted – a guard explained that the curators decided that the collection belongs to the British people, the most delicate things are behind special glass, and they would just risk any possible damage to anything else. It was really wonderful to be able to photos.

We spent the entire day walking through several galleries, but certainly only saw a small portion of the building and the collections, but it was great. We headed back to our hotel to rest our feet, scoping out a place to eat within walking distance, taking a short detour through Harrods, which was having a sale and it was a zoo – once we got in there, it took us half an our to find an exit. What with all that shopping frenzy, we needed to relax, so we bought a bottle of wine (we’ll need to add a corkscrew to our permanent packing list), headed back to the hotel and put our feet up, surrounded by rose chintz and lace.

We ate at the Racine, a delightful French restaurant with a great menu, lovely wine. We were seated in a back room (what? No reservations?), and we quickly started up a conversation with the only other person dining with us who probably didn’t have a reservation either. So, we had a delightful evening sharing information and stories with Iain, an architect/designer of ships. He’s one of a long line of ship builders; his grandfather (or maybe great grandfather) worked on the Cutty Sark. What an interesting evening!

On Sunday morning we had a great breakfast at the hotel, then caught the train out to Harrow-on-Hill to pick up our new-to-us Rover sedan. We bought it from Emily and Jereme, a PA who is leaving the UK to work for the US State Department. After careful instructions on how to get to M1, and after consulting the several maps we have, we took off for Bedford. Ah, how good it is to have a car, and to have made it home with nary a scratch, and only a few scary moments!

January 20:  Bird Walking

Now that we have wheels, we can venture farther afield. We decided to drive out to the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) preserve – it’s just about 15 minutes from Bedford in the village of Sandy. In the center of the preserve sits The Lodge, which is the headquarters for the RSPB. It’s a beautiful old building surrounded with gardens, ponds, tall trees, and meadowlands.

We timed our arrival for the bird walk given by a knowledgeable volunteer. The morning, cold and brisk, with clouds scudding across the sky, made for a vigorous walk through the woods and pastures, listening and looking for birds. I soon realized I was more interested in the vegetation: Den, what’s this? Look at this huge, gorgeous tree. Oh, sure there’s a bird, but what kind of tree is it perched in? And, then, I couldn’t keep track of which bird was the Great Tit and which was the one that made the “teacher, teacher, teacher” sound. I think I prefer the stability and nobility of trees and plants.

We stopped at a great coffee shop in Sandy that we had found in the Biking Around Bedford book. What a lovely day, despite the birds!

January 26-28: Birthday Weekend in York

I selected York for my birthday weekend – so, we pulled out several of the travel books that we had gotten before we left (thanks to several thoughtful friends), and planned where to stay and what to see. It’s so great being able to spend an entire weekend, rather than an afternoon or a day, to experience these places.

We started out rather early, hoping to make it to York before lunchtime, which we just managed to do. We hadn’t driven very far north, so most of this was new territory – and were surprised to see several nuclear power plants; England isn’t all country villages and rolling green hills.
York was wonderful – we stayed in a great B&B, walked all over. After lunch on our first day, we spent the rest of the afternoon at The Minster and stayed for Evensong. That night we had our best meal we’ve had in England at Cafe Concerto, an Italian restaurant just outside the city walls. On Sunday we took the walking tour given by volunteers from York; we have had such good luck with guides and tours, everyone loves to talk about their city or museum, and it really adds to our understanding and enjoyment. Of course, it was windy and cold, but we managed several hours of walking through Old York.

Den doesn’t start work until 3:00pm on Mondays, so we stayed Sunday night, had breakfast on Monday morning and headed Rover home, which took about three hours. Check out our pictures on kerlee.com | pictures | Den and Anne | England Adventures | Visits and Trips, there is commentary on most of the photos, so I won’t repeat things here.

Life in Bedford, so far

We’re settling in, sorting things out, as it’s said here. Our flat is pretty well furnished, it’s small, so it didn’t take much! We have our routines. Den gets up and fixes himself breakfast and if I’m awake, I get coffee and toast in bed – how’s that for nice? Then, Den is off to work, usually riding his bike, although he can walk, or take the bus with his “senior” card, it’s free.

I usually spend some time reading in bed. I open the curtains to our back garden, so that I can see the huge tree that is home to squirrels and all sorts of birds. I love this view. The tree is magnificent, and I’m anxious to see what it looks like when it leafs out. When we arrived in October, it was standing, naked, majestically against the blue sky. Squirrels really do live in the hollowed trunk – it’s all very Beatrix Potter!

After a proper lounge-about, I manage to roll out of bed, check email, and finish up the coffee. If there’s contract writing work to do, I’ll do a couple of hours of that, or straighten things up a bit. (I can clean the whole flat from top to bottom in an hour; there are good things about living a compact life.)
I usually plan an outing everyday. On Tuesdays it’s music at St Pauls, on Wednesdays it’s the Farmers Market, and now that we belong to a gym, I go there a couple of times each week.

I’ve realized I’m not as outgoing as I had thought – I certainly miss the boys and our friends, but I’m not really lonely. I know email and SKYPE have really helped us stay in contact with people, and I look forward to hearing news from home, no matter how mundane it may seem. (Thanks to everyone who keeps me up-to-date.) I keep busy enough, I love having time to myself and doing what I want to do, when I want. As yet, I haven’t felt the need to get out and meet a lot of people, perhaps that time will come, but for now, I’m enjoying the solitude and the excitement and satisfaction that comes of discovering a new place.