Friday, July 26, 2013

England {day 1}

I have loved England since I was a little girl. I fell in love with it through reading: first through The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, The Chronicles of Narnia, all of Roald Dahl's books. . .and later still more so with Harry Potter and Jane Austen. . .until finally I became an English major with a British Literature concentration and wrote my master's thesis on E. M. Forster. 

I have been waiting my whole life to get to go there. Six years ago, we had a slightly-less-than-24-hour layover in Manchester so technically I had been to the country before, though I hadn't seen anything beyond an airport and a hotel. Then nearly four years ago, Thomas and I were planning a trip very similar to the one we took this summer: we were going to go to France for several weeks and for one of those weeks, head over to England. I was giddy with excitement at the prospect. The dates were set. We already had our plane tickets to Europe. And.....then I found out I was pregnant with Jamie. Our tickets were for June 5th. He was due June 1st. That was the end of that particular dream. 

So when everything worked out this summer for us to have another chance to spend a week in England, I was BEYOND elated. Finally! Finally I would get to visit the country where a piece of my heart has lived for so much of my life, to walk in the footsteps of so many authors and characters about whom I care so deeply. Pure joy. I was slightly concerned that it wouldn't live up to the picture I had in my head, but I needn't have worried. Our trip was magical.

While I was nervous about leaving Jamie for that long, never having left him for more than a few hours, I knew he would be just fine with his Grammy--to whom he is devoted--and it made me appreciate our week so much more: no nap times or bedtimes or tantrums or accidents or sippy cups or {etc etc} to worry about for a whole week! Especially after having four weeks without Thomas earlier in the summer, this seemed like the height of pleasure and relaxation. And Jamie did great without us--apparently a few times he asked why we had to go to England, but he never cried. And it wasn't as hard to be away from him as I expected, mainly because we were so busy every day that I didn't have very much time to think about it. When we left Dampierre, he was busy running around the garden and I think he had just managed to pull down the laundry line... He barely seemed to notice our leaving, and I think that was the best possible scenario. 

We had a small setback at the train station in Gien (a city maybe 15 minutes from Dampierre). We had ordered our tickets online and were supposed to print them at the station. . . but the station was closed. So we ended up having to buy new tickets and will hopefully be reimbursed for our first set through the mail. Fortunately that was by far the cheaper portion of the trip. Other than that, we had no problems. It only took us about 5 hours to get from Gien to London. I love how easy the train system is in Europe. 
our first glimpse of England's green and pleasant land, just after coming out of the Chunnel
Here I am, just after arriving at St. Pancras. You wouldn't believe how excited I was at this moment. Thomas was stressed and tired of dragging around a big suitcase, but to me everything--and I mean everything, down to the pigeons wandering around the train station--was magical. Just magical.
We stayed in a flat in Kensington that we got connected to through Thomas's dad's office at Truman. Though we didn't spend a lot of time there, it was really nice to have that much space, including a kitchen. We were exhausted when we got back every night and it was nice to have somewhere that felt homey. Best of all was the location--it's in a great part of London, a very nice area close to grocery stores, restaurants, Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, and, most importantly, only about a 3 minute walk from an underground station. 
heading into the flat for the first time!
After arriving at the flat, we finally set down our luggage, unpacked, went grocery shopping, freshened up, and then set out to enjoy our first evening in London. Our dinner that night was the fanciest (and priciest) of our whole trip. We ate at a restaurant called Maggie Jones's, just about a 5 minute walk from our flat. It was decorated in the style of an English farmhouse, with baskets of dried wheat and lavender hanging from the ceiling, candles dripping wax down the sides of old wine bottles, farmhouse tables, and willow ware dishes. We adored it. And the food was you will see, I took a few too many pictures of it :)
 And the food... we just loved everything. Hands down our best meal of the trip.
First course: onion soup for me--oh my word. so, so, so flavorful and delicious.
and for Thomas, venison terrine
main course: for me, Scottish sirloin steak with a red wine and mushroom sauce, and for Thomas, guinea fowl, along with mashed potatoes, vegetables, and two delicious kinds of gravy for both of us
finally, dessert: bread and butter pudding for Thomas and apple crumble for me
After thoroughly enjoying our meal, we went on a loooong walk. We walked to Kensington Palace and through Kensington Gardens, to Marble Arch on the far side of Hyde Park, did a self-guided walking tour through the park, and then decided to walk back to our flat all the way from Hyde Park Corner.
Kensington Palace
me with the Queen Victoria statue
Peter Pan statue (Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens is another J. M. Barrie novel)

we thought these looked like Truffula Trees from The Lorax so we took a picture for Jamie
Marble Arch
None of our pictures after this turned out that well because it got too dark. As I mentioned, after we spent considerable time in Hyde Park and exited at Hyde Park Corner, we walked all the way back to our flat. It was rather a long walk but an interesting one, that took us past places such as Harrods and the Royal Albert Hall. You can tell it was our first night because every subsequent night our feet were in such excruciating pain by the end of the day that we never for one moment would have considered such a thing. But that night they weren't killing us yet and it was so great to be out, just the two of us, walking through London late at night. A perfect first day in England.

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