England – 2004

Nick and Janice are heading to England in May 2004 for two weeks of adventuring.
Written by janice

I’m continuing my goal of taking each of my five nieces and nephews on a big trip around their 12th year. Nick is #4 (Whew!) and we’re heading to England for some tea and crumpets. Cheerio!

Start of travels: May 08, 2004
End of travels: May 23, 2004

Entry 1 of 10

In Which We Prepare to Leave
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Apr 28, 2004  18:46 ( local time )

Well, Nick and I are getting ready for our trip to England next month. I don’t know about him, but I’ve started packing already.

I’ve been taking each of my five nieces and nephews on a big trip, usually around their 12th birthdays. Twelve is a good year; they’re old enough to enjoy and remember the experience, but they’re still young enough to follow my instructions.

Greg’s and Alyssa’s trips weren’t quite as exotic as the later ones (Vancouver/Victoria for Greg and San Francisco for Alyssa), but I wasn’t as adventurous and experienced a traveller then. Nevertheless, I treasure the memories of my time with them and the adventures we had. I hope we can go on more trips together another time.

By the time Megan’s trip rolled around (read our travelogue, Paris-Megan2003), I was game to try Paris. Nick opted for London and Hilary’s talking about Hawaii. At this point, I’m inclined to say: Why not?!

A few weeks ago, I asked Megan if she had any advice for Nick. Here’s what she said:

1. Make sure that Auntie Janice doesn’t forget her driver’s license. [I’m never going to live that one down.]
2. Always keep your stuff close to you, because you might lose things — we did.
3. Don’t over pack.
4. Take a lot of film for your camera.
5. Take stuff to do on the plane.
6. Try new experiences, because you never know. If you’re able to do something, but you’re nervous, do it anyway.
7. Even though you’re tired when you get there, go to bed late because you will wake up in the middle of the night.
8. Have fun at museums and make sure you have good walking shoes.
9. Have fun!

Pretty good advice for any traveller!

I also asked Nick to write a little about his upcoming trip. Here’s his first contribution to our travelogue:

“On my trip, I’m going to go to England for the first time. I can’t wait to go because I want to see the English culture. (That’s a good comment for my teacher!)

“The first place we’re going to is London where we’re going to stay in an apartment in Kensington. We’re going to see Big Ben, the London Museum, the British Museum, the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London and the Changing of the Guard.

“When we’ve finished seeing London, we’re going to spend a week in the countryside. We’ve got a cottage in Somerset. That week we’re going to fly eagles and other birds of prey. We’re going to see the world’s biggest hedge maze and Roman ruins in Bath and ruined castles.

“I feel that this will be a very interesting and learnative experience that will expand my knowledge of the cultures of the world. (Another good comment for my teacher!)

“I can’t wait to go and I hope we have a lot of fun!”

I can see already that this trip is going to be quite different from the last one. Megan and I were of one mind in Paris — museums and shopping. I’m prepared for some rather different experiences with Nick — his stated desire to shoot the guns of the HMS Belfast springs to mind! However, he knows I’m holding out for evensong at Westminster Abbey and a concert at St-Martin-in-the-Fields.

Ten days before we leave …

Entry 2 of 10

Getting There
London, United Kingdom
May 10, 2004  13:20 ( local time )

Janice: Well, travelling is hard work. And the best laid planes — oops — I mean plans sometimes go awry.

Our Saturday evening flight was to leave Toronto at 10 PM. Wrong! We didn’t leave Toronto until 1 PM on Sunday. In fact, the airline — which shall remain nameless to protect the guilty — had to put us up in a hotel for the night. Something about a mechanical problem with the plane.

Nick was not happy. His opinion was that the entire trip was ruined.

However, after spending two days in the same clothes (yuk!), we finally arrived at Gatwick airport outside London at 1 am Monday morning.

Nick: Luckily, we caught the last train from the airport to London. We caught it by two minutes. Actually it wasn’t luck at all … we were praying!

We got to our apartment fairly quickly and we greeted by a very nice caretaker. We walked about four blocks with him to our building and then had to carry our luggage up two flights of stairs, me dangling behind the pack. We finally got up to a very nice studio apartment. The bathroom is fairly good. It has tunnel-like doors — very small. There are two pull-out beds (one from the couch and one from the cupboard). Before bed, we had some homely soup that put us right off to sleep for about five hours.

I woke up at about 9:30, sleeping through my aunt’s hair dryer, alarm clock and walking around the apartment! Did I mention I was a heavy sleeper? [He also snores! JB]

We started with breakfast at Starbucks, having a muffin and yoghurt. I had a hot chocolate and Auntie Janice had a coffee.

We went closer downtown looking for the double-decker bus tour, snapping pictures here and there, when we saw the Royal Mews. We thought we could get a little sightseeing in before we went on the bus tour.

The Royal Mews is where the Queen keeps her horses and carriages. Henry VIII kept his hunting falcons there hundreds of years ago. The Mews is beside Buckingham Palace.

When we started, we got there just in time to catch a bit of a tour. They told us the history of the place, then we got see some royal horses, then the royal horses that actually pull the Queen’s carriage. We saw the suits of gold that the men that drive the horses and stuff like that wear. Then we saw the horses’ harnesses that were all engraved with gold. And then, at the end, — fancy, schmancy — we saw the Queen’s State Coach. It was AMAZING!!! It is the biggest carriage I will ever see in my life. Every bit of it was engraved with gold and sculptured to the perfect touch.

Then we saw other coaches that, through the years, the royal family has used and has been given by Australia, Scotland and Ireland. A lot of them were very beautiful, but the best was the one from Australia, because it had air conditioning, power windows, power doors and about every other power you can think of. Nice!

After that we got to go to a gift shop where I got a cool little toy soldier. Then we left.

Janice: We spent the rest of the day on the top of a double decker bus seeing the sights. We saw many things (from the outside) — Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, the London Eye, the Parliament Buildings, the Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, the Aquarium, Westminster Abbey and many other places — some of which we hope to visit later to see the insides.

The weather turned gorgeous; so far we haven’t seen a drop of rain. After several hours on the bus, we decided to leave and take a boat cruise on the Thames back to where we could pick up the right subway home. While we waited for the boat, Nick fell asleep. I think we’re a tad jet lagged!

Nick: Scratch out what she said about me falling asleep. It doesn’t matter. Anyone who reads this and let’s this out — my wrath will fall. [He was so cute! JB]

We grabbed a subway back to our area. Then, for dinner, had some bangers and mash! In Canadian English this means sausage and mashed potatoes with peas. Yum!! We had some ice cream and then came to type this. Soon we’re going to get groceries and tomorrow — more travelling. And hopefully, another travelogue entry!

So, bye for now. Sincerely, Nick and Auntie Janice

PS: This place is like Disneyland so much to do but so little time.

PSS: I wasn’t cute and i wasn’t sleeping I was aahhh resting my eyes ya resting my eyes that’s right –whistle, whistle …

Entry 3 of 10

Sightseeing
London, United Kingdom
May 11, 2004  19:32 ( local time )

Janice: We still haven’t seen any rain! It was very overcast today and, at times, cool, but we had a fabulous day sightseeing. Nick will describe what we saw …

Nick: Well, last night we went grocery shopping and got a few things to keep us satisfied. We woke up at about 7:30-ish today and I sort of lay in bed and watched tv while my aunt got pruned up.

The first thing we did this morning was go to the Tower of London. I really wanted to see the Bloody Tower, just because it’s bloody, but that’s not the point of the story.

We started off by getting there just in time to get a tour. The guide wears a uniform for the Queen and I think his best name would be Beefeater. Because that’s what they’re all called, so really that’s their name. He started off by telling us about the castle, about its history, who owned it and who made it. Then he got into the good stuff about all the prisoners and all the torture and all the head chopping off and how they put the heads on pikes and then put them over the Thames River for all to see and let the ravens peck their eyes for a mid-noon snack.

It was very interesting to hear about all the people who got their heads chopped off. I think the best part was probably learning about the two young princes who were smothered to death and later they found their bones under the stairs of the castle. A cool story about the White Tower is that they say that when all the ravens leave, the White Tower will crumble and the Tower of London will fall. But, in this case, they kind of cheated and clipped the last six ravens’ wings. So now every little while you can look on the grass and see a fat raven hopping along.

We got to see where they buried about 1,500 bodies — one with its head still attached. Out of them all, they only identified 33 when they dug them up.

One of the amazing things I saw at the Tower of London were the Crown Jewels. Practically every other step you’d see something engraved in gold or something gold or with jewels and mink. We saw many swords and shields and things like that. Then we had a bit of fun at the gift shop! I learned that when you were a prisoner here you could pay to be treated nicely, almost like a king. But they were prisoners — I don’t get it! Weird.

After that, we had a small lunch, then went up to the Tower Bridge and got a small tour. We saw how the first one they had there was destroyed and how they got the idea of making a second one. Also, how who came up with it and how it works. A cool part of that was going into the engine room and looking at all the hydraulic pumps and engines. There wasn’t too much to see, but it was very interesting.

Now, one of my favourite things of the day that we did was go on a warship!!!

It was so cool! We had a can of hot chocolate and then were off to the HMS Belfast. The first thing I did was go in and check out the turrets. It was brilliant! The inside of the turrets was cool because we got to see how the aiming and firing was done. Then we went a bit higher until we were at the very front of the boat which was very cool. After that we went to top of the ship where they drive it and control the guns. Right after that we went down under deck and had some fun looking at the infirmary and stuff like that. We learned about its history and got a little lost. I learned my Auntie Janice has bad knees. She couldn’t go down the ladders much. I would go down and she followed slowly after. There were about eight levels to the ship, but I still think the coolest were the turrets and the guns.

After that, we went to the front of the ship and watched the Tower Bridge rise for a cool old-fashioned galleon go through. Brilliant.

Janice: Nick can certainly give you a play-by-play! Not much gets past him. We sure had a full day and we’re having loads of fun! After the HMS Belfast, we walked a few blocks to visit the Britain at War Experience. This museum explains what it was like in London during the Blitz. It would be very interesting to visit when it wasn’t full of school kids as it was today!

We’ve now had a few hours rest, watching British TV and enjoying our leftover Bangers and Mash from last night and we’re about to head out BACK to the Tower of London for the Ceremony of the Keys. We wrote to the Tower several months ago for special passes that will allow us to accompany the guards while they lock the Tower as they’ve done every night for hundreds of years.

Tomorrow will be another full day with museums and the Changing of the Guard.

Stay tuned.

PS:aunty janice is the one sleeping on the job not me shes taking 2 hour naps and i hope her knees don’t give out.

Entry 4 of 10

Questions? and Answers!
London, United Kingdom
May 12, 2004  21:01 ( local time )

An interview with Nick the World-Traveller.

Janice: So, how’s your trip so far?

Nick: It’s fun and interesting. It’s very cool. I like the castles and the bridges. Very neat.

Janice: We’ve seen a lot of different sights so far. Which was your favourite?

Nick: That’s pretty easy, actually. My favourite would be the Tower of London.

Janice: Why?

Nick: I like it because of all the interesting stuff that’s gone on through the years there … all the things that have been kept there like jewels and stuff like that … all the people who have lived there like kings and queens … all the people who have died there and, mostly all the cool stories and ramblings our guide said. Plus curses — like the raven curse.

Janice: What have you enjoyed the least?

Nick: To me, I would say the thing I disliked the most was the National Portrait Gallery. That was hard. All it had was stupid pictures. It was boring. Nothing to do but walk around. Boring!

Janice: So what do you find different about London.

Nick: Everyone is really nice. There are a lot more sights. There are two levels to buses. Everywhere we go there seems to be a lot of stairs … they seem to like things high. And everything seems to be red. And there are a lot of policemen and guards.

Janice: Today we visited the British Library, the National Portrait Gallery and saw the Changing of the Guard. Did you enjoy any of these?

Nick: One. The Changing of the Guard. The other two were special in an unspecial way, if you know what I mean. At the Changing of the Guard there were a whole lot of guys walking back and forth and riding horses back from Buckingham Palace to some other place and making a lot of noise. It was great for tourism though. The British Library and the National Portrait Gallery can be explained in one simple word … BORING!

Janice: Ha! I enjoyed them both immensely! Tomorrow we’re going to visit some more museums and ride the London Eye Ferris Wheel.

Nick: My turn to ask questions. What do you like the most about the city?

Janice: I think I enjoy two things the most: the friendly people and the huge sense of history that everyone lives with here.

Nick: What do you like the least?

Janice: There is a lot of traffic and Nicholas is sometimes very annoying. (Ha! Ha!) But other times — most of the time — he’s huge fun to be with!

Well, we’d better go for now … One more day of London sightseeing and then we head for the countryside.

Entry 5 of 10

The Trauma of the Eye
London, United Kingdom
May 13, 2004  19:32 ( local time )

Janice: This has been our last full day in London and a long one at that. Nick wants to describe it for you.

Nick: Our day started off very interesting. I woke up at around 9:30, when the museum opened at about 10:00. That kind of sucked. We left around 10:30 am and got to the underground and went over to the London Museum. When we got off the subway, I was more interested in something else that would have been the highlight of my day if we were allowed to go. Sadly, my aunt wouldn’t let me go and check out the nearby all-girls school. Also, I didn’t have my binoculars. So, that was the downfall to my day! But, other than that, the museum was mostly boring. [JB – No, it wasn’t!] And the other part of it was boring. So pretty much the whole thing was boring!!!

After that, we went over to the British Museum which was, surprisingly, not boring. I really wanted to say boring there, but I can’t. We saw interesting things like the Bog Man. He was killed three times, I’m really not sure how. He was hit on the head with a rock that made a hole, then he was strangled, then someone cut his throat and bled him. Poor guy. They think this happened about 100 BC. He’s very preserved. You can still see his hair and the manicure he had. But the really weird thing about this, is that he had eaten a cake and the scientists could tell what temperature the cake was baked at! Weird.

The part about the British Museum that really impressed us was the Courtyard. It had a beautiful glass roof and it was massive. I mean HUGE.

After that, we went over to the title of this story. The London Eye is a giant observation [Ferris] wheel that I really thought I would pass out on. We bought tickets and got on after only ten minutes of looking at it and weighing the pros and cons. This is the biggest Ferris wheel in the world. On the bright side, I could have lots of fun and see lots of things. But, on the dark side, it could break down and I could fall to a watery death in the Thames River. But, obviously, since you’re reading this, you know that I didn’t land in the Thames.

When we got on, the first half of the half-hour ride was me cowering and crying in the middle of our capsule because I’m afraid of heights. But then, I started to get a bit better and stand up and take pictures and get closer to the glass wall, which I didn’t like much. But after I’d been taking a lot of pictures, I went over to the side and I think I’ve actually conquered my fear of heights. So, all in all, it was a great ride!

Right after that, we ran as fast as we could over to Westminster Abbey across the river and saw the Evening Prayer Service. When we got there — all out of breath — we went inside gasped because it was purely beautiful. The stained glass windows were perfect. The stone walls and sculptures were sculpted with amazing control and magnitude. [I hope my teacher’s reading this because it will get me some great brownie points for the big words! She’ll like that!]

The service was very nice. We sat in the choir stalls and they had cushions so you could kneel when praying. All in all, it was a very nice service in a very beautiful church.

And now, from here, you can let my faithful Auntie Janice finish off the writing.

Janice: Actually, I don’t think there’s much to say. Nicholas is seldom at a loss for words!!!

Tomorrow we pick up our car and brave the wilds of Wessex (the West Country of southern England). Assuming I remember to drive on the left side.

Nick: And she did remember her driver’s license, people. Don’t worry.

Janice: At least, I won’t be watching the trees for koala bears this time, as I did in Australia!

That’s all for now. We’re not sure how soon we’ll get to another computer, but will be on the lookout for one.

Sincerely, Nick and Janice

PS. If you read this message we are already gone this may be our last note if so don’t get help remember it happened in peace. good bye for now and mabey forever (or not at least hopefully not)

PSS. NA I’M JUST MESSIN WITH YA FUNNY JOKE EH HEHEHEHEHAHAHAHAHOHOHOHO

Entry 6 of 10

The Trauma of the Eye, Part 2
Castle Cary, United Kingdom
May 17, 2004  09:32 ( local time )

Janice: We’ve been in the gorgeous countryside of Somerset for the last few days. It was a little hairy driving out of London, but I’ll let Nick tell you about that.

Nick: OK, then. I’m going to be doing a chart of my aunt’s driving.

Stalls — too many times to count.
Getting Lost — too many times to count.
Getting Honked At — five to six times – and I don’t mean a goose.
Wrong Turns — too many times to count.
Forgotten How to Start the Car — twice
Leaving It Unlocked — twice (nothing stolen).

My Aunty Janice does something we like to call The Drift Factor. She starts on the right side of the road and makes her way to the left where she bounces off the curb and hits plants and things like that. Let’s just say she’s not the sharpest tool in the shed.

Janice: Let me speak in my own defense. You try to navigate out of London during rush hour, drive the extremely twisted and narrow medieval roads of rural England, navigate, remember how to drive with standard transmission (which has a very peculiar transmission in this car), drive on the left side of the road and drive from the right side of the car. All while Nick is either singing songs about selling his puppy who can read braille with his tail or who’s yelling, “Drift Factor” in my ear every ten minutes.

Nick: I do it every ten minutes because every ten minutes she hits the curb.

Janice: Nevertheless, we’re doing fine. No damage to the car yet.

Nick: Before we continue, we forgot to tell you last week about the Ceremony of the Keys at the London Tower. In lame people terms — oops, I mean in laymen’s terms (not) — the locking up of the Tower of London.

We had special tickets that we ordered by mail ahead of time and we arrived at the Tower gate at 9:30 pm. They let us into the castle and told us about the history of the Ceremony of the Keys. They used to only have the Chief Yeoman Warder do the ceremony. A Yeoman Warder is a Tower protector and is commonly called a Beefeater, which you know from our earlier entry. He told us that, in the early years of the ceremony, they had to get guards to protect him because, every night when he went to lock up, the people of the village would riot and try to break into the castle. So, from then on — for the last 700 years or so — they’ve had the Queen’s (or King’s) guards protect him as he has done the deed, or so they say.

During the Ceremony, the guards came down from the Bloody Tower and started yelling — right in front of me, so it hurt my ears. They’re yelling to “Stand at arms” and stuff like that. The Chief Yeoman Warder comes with a little lantern and the keys. The guards escort him to the two front gates and he locks up. They walk back, him being escorted, and one of the other guards pulls out his gun and yells, “Who goes there?” They say, “The keys.” He says, “Whose keys?” They say, “The Queen’s keys.” And he’s pretty much satisfied with that and I don’t know why. I would go, “What’s your name, what’s favourite colour?” That kind of thing. They played music to end the day and told us a ghost story before we left. Which ended pretty funny, but that’s not the point.

And then when we went up to the door, it was locked. How were we supposed to get out? I seem to be selected by tour guides and everyone else for special things, so obviously I was picked. Do I stick out? Do I have a big red sign on my back that says, “Pick me please?” So, the Yeoman Warder told me to go up to the gate and say a magic word and try to open it. I said, “Alacazam,” and pushed and pulled but it wouldn’t open. So then he said go to the little door that was set into the gate and say, “Ormish gormish.” And it opened! So we got out and headed home.

This is where our story picks up back in Somerset.

Some of the things we’ve seen in Somerset …

One of the my favourite things so far is Stonehenge. Dah, da, dah. It’s very interesting. They say that there were actually two stonehenges built here before this one. It looks very cool and they think that it could have been a calendar, or a sacrifical circle. But they’re not sure. I learned a lot about it and it looks super cool.

We’ve also been to the Wookey Hole caves. It was very interesting inside. At some point these caves were flooded by water and we only saw nine rooms, but they’ve actually found 26. But they’re all flooded. To go to see the 9th room from the 4th room, we had to go through a tight space. The guide sent us on our own and gave us the flashlight or torch and obviously, who did he give it to? Me! And I had to act the guide. Watch your head people. Look at that people. It was so annoying. But fun.

We learned about the legend of the cave — a witch there. The Saxons tried to catch her, but she always ran back into the cave and they thought that’s where the devil lived. Until a monk came down and turned the witch into limestone, no one went into the cave. They think they even found her bones.

After that, we went to the paper mill and I go to make paper the old fashioned way by taking water filled with paper pulp, shaking all the water from the frame and laying the paper straight. The paper then needs to dry for five days. We didn’t wait for that part.

Janice: Yesterday we visited another set of caves at Cheddar Gorge — a beautiful, but touristy location. I even bought some smoked cheddar cheese and something called Drayton Blue. Actually it looked more green than blue, but was very tasty with quite a zing.

The countryside here is gorgeous. There are many fields and hills — all covered with blossoming bushes and trees. There is another village every couple of kilometers, filled with old stone houses.

In fact, out cottage is one of them. Nick can describe it.

Nick: It is so weird. Our cottage has a name. I feel like we’re living in someone. It’s called Fairdene. It has stone floors on the first floor. I was supposed to sleep in the attic, but I don’t really feel like it. It has a tiny tv. And the kitchen! The kitchen is special.

They told us there was a well in the back, but we couldn’t find one in the back yard. However, Aunty Janice was making dinner in the back kitchen the first night and I heard her scream. I ran into the kitchen only to find that the whole time she was making dinner, she’d been standing on a mat that was covering a glass window in the floor — showing a well 35-feet deep! It has a light in it that shows the water dripping into the bottom. It was freaky!

Janice: Now, you may be wondering why we called this entry The Trauma of the Eye, Part 2.

Nick: The reason for this is that soon after we got here, I started getting big pains in my left eye. My aunt took me to the hospital the other day to have it checked out. It turns out that I have scratched my eye. But now it’s getting better. So, that’s life.

The countryside here is very, very nice. Rolling hills and tumbling valleys. The magnificence of its essence captivates me. (I hope my teacher likes that too.) It also has a lot of green — photosynthesis! (Hee, hee. Added that, too)

Janice: Another thing we did was visit a Toy Collector Show yesterday. It was held in a local arena and was full of antique toys and railway collector kinds of things. It made me want to hand out my Hilary’s Special Honey business cards!

Nick: Yesterday was fun. We went shopping! We saw lots of stores. My Aunty Janice bought a necklace and shoes at the Clarks store. I bought a cool dragon holding some jewells. I almost bought a blow-up chair, but there wasn’t the right colour, only purple (Yuk).

That’s pretty much all we’ve done so far. See you next time …

Sincerely, Nick and Janice

Entry 7 of 10

Motors and Mayhem
Castle Cary, United Kingdom
May 18, 2004  09:35 ( local time )

Janice: Yesterday was a relatively calm and quiet day. And let me set the record straight. My driving is NOT that bad!

Nick: Yes, it is.

Janice: No, it isn’t.

Nick: Yes, it is.

Janice: No, it isn’t. Just ignore him. Back to yesterday. We finished our very fine visit — up close and personal — with Britain’s National Health Service. At our Friday night visit to the emergency department, when Nick was in such distress with his scratched eyeball, they made an appointment for us to see the eye specialist yesterday morning. The specialist could see that Nick’s eye was improving nicely and we were just to continue using the eye drops they gave us. We didn’t have to pay a cent (or pence) for either visit or the medication. Bonus!

I’d forgotten to describe our drive to the hospital and home Friday night. Remember, we’d just arrived in the countryside and I didn’t have my bearings at all. There are NO straight roads. There are almost NO roads with more than two lanes. In fact, MANY roads consist of about 1 1/2 lanes at best. Not to mention the fact that cars are parked EVERYWHERE in each village you pass through (of which there are MANY). Nick was no help navigating because he couldn’t open his eye and was being happily miserable. I considered throwing him out of the car once or twice.

I managed to get to the hospital while it was still daylight, with only one or two wrong turns; it was about a 45-minute drive and this was still my first day driving in England.
I was nervous about going home, but — a miracle — managed to find our cottage in the pitch black darkness, manouvering around cars and pubs disgorging customers as they prepared to close at midnight. We stopped at a phone booth in Castle Cary at midnight so Nick could phone home and watched the pub customers throw each other into the horse pond. Great entertainment!

Nick: Let’s talk about yesterday.

Yes, her driving really is that bad. Don’t fight with me ’cause I’m going to win no matter what. I’m Nick the Conqueror. Ha. Ha. Ha.

Yesterday we went to two museums. They actually weren’t really that boring, but, they were kind of boring. Auntie Janice says they were not. The first and the second one, they were kind of cool. But that’s not the point of my dragging agony talk.

Anyways, the first museum we went to was the Fleet Arm Air Museum. I don’t understand the name, either. (JB – It’s a museum devoted to the air branch of the British Navy.)

Janice: This really was an interesting museum located on a miliary base — jets flying around in circles, etc. It was in a huge hanger and contained airplanes from earliest days up to modern times, including an actual Concord that we got to walk through. It also had a very cool exhibit of a naval carrier that made you feel you were walking through and on the real thing. Nick got to sit in a helicopter simulator and it made him seasick, because he was going over the sea most of the time. I got a good picture of his little green face when he came off! He also got to sit in the cockpit of a jet and push buttons. Fortunately, no missiles were released.

Nick: Our next museum was the Haynes Motor Museum. When we got there there were two tanks, a big army truck and a little truck (I wasn’t sure what it was) in the yard and there were some old guys starting them up. But sadly, not the tanks.

We went inside and started walking. In the first small hall of the museum there were only old ugly cars. Some of them didn’t look like cars, they looked like bikes sewn together (JB – Ha! They were some of the oldest cars I’ve ever seen — antiques in pristine condition!). That’s why they’re in there; they’re old and they’ll break down. The next room we went into … my dad would have been drooling and taking pictures and wanting to take the cars home! It was called the Red Room (to us), because the WHOLE room was filled with beautiful red cars … porsches, corvettes, lambourghinis, t-birds … Dad, you would have LOVED it! The next room was filled with old cars, just not as nice. Some of them were nice, though. The next room we went into was sports cars … ooh, beautiful! They were SO NICE! Some of them looked like streamlined jets! I loved it. I wanted some more of it. But sadly, there wasn’t much more good stuff. There was the odd car that was nice, but the rest of them were pretty much old. (JB – as in antiques!) Antiques, just like Auntie Janice. She’s special in her own way. Let’s just leave it at that. I don’t want to get into trouble. (JB – Oops. There he goes out the car door.)

After the car museum, we pretty much went home, took a walk in the village, rented two movies, went home, watched them and went to bed. Don’t worry, sports fans, ’cause today will be much more interesting. Today we’re going to Longleat where they have the world’s longest hedge maze and other fun things. We obviously can’t get lost there more times than Auntie Janice has gotten us lost so far.

So, tune in tomorrow for our next thrilling adventure!

Janice: Again, for the record: I don’t get lost; I just take the scenic route.

PS. Scenic route my …. eye more like lost route she says those thing to blind you from the truth open your eye see the light she a …. oops got carried away for a smidgit there got to go bye.

Entry 8 of 10

Magical Mazes
Castle Cary, United Kingdom
May 19, 2004  10:21 ( local time )

Janice: The weather during our trip has been phenomenal. People say we must have brought the good weather with us. We haven’t yet seen a drop of rain. Oh, correction. About five drops fell on the windshield the day we left London. Maybe we’re really in Camelot where it doesn’t rain after dawn.

Another thing we’ve experienced is a very warm welcome just because we’re Canadian. People usually think we’re American first, but when we correct them we’re welcomed like members of the family. Which we are, geopolitically speaking! I find that I feel very at home here, as well. There are many symbols and themes that I find very familiar — such as the British flag, Queen Elizabeth’s face plastered on everything, etc. Even though there are many differences, I feel very comfortable here.

Nick: The only thing she’s not comfortable with is her driving. And, for the record, she’s not that good at it. But I think you already know the record.

Janice: Ignore him. Now, yesterday we had a very interesting time, spending the whole day at Longleat Stately Home. Longleat is the seat of the Marquess of Bath and the current Marquess has turned his mansion and grounds into something of a theme park. I’ll let Nick describe it.

Nick: It took a little while to get there, but once we were there it felt a little better because Auntie Janice’s driving was done. We went through the front gate and we were swathed with the captivating flowers and ravishing bushes that surrounded our living beings. (I know my teacher will give me extra points for that!)

After we’d done our journey through the beauty of this garden of Eden (she might like that, too), we went into the Park.

The first thing we decided on doing was going into the Longest Hedge Maze in the world. We went in and, after the first five minutes, we got lost but somehow found our way back to the beginning. Oh, yeah. The goal is to get to the middle platform, then to get out of the maze. It takes some people an hour and a half to do. But, me being the expert navigator, compounded my knowledge and assessed a way to proceed through the maze. (I’m scoring some big brownie points today!) Afterwards, we tried again and we found our way through the maze in a record 45 minutes. Then we went to get some lunch.

After lunch I went onto a motion simulator. It was so cool. After the motion simulator we to the butterfly garden. It was inconcievable … the magnificence of its essence sourrounding me. (That’s a good one too, but it’s my last for today.) It was a very beautiful garden with lots of butterflies flying everywhere. But it was hot, very hot. I actually had a butterfly land on my leg and Auntie Janice took a picture of it. There were so many in there, it was very interesting. And when we left, the outdoors seemed very cold.

Janice: We also took a boat ride on the river, constantly entertained by the sealions swimming alongside. Nick even had a chance to throw fish to them. They jumped for all the food and splashed us royally.

Later, we toured the mansion itself. It is very interesting and expansive. The furniture is overwhelming. There were many, many portraits hanging on the walls. Most seemed to be of the Marquess’ ancestors, some dating back to the 16th Century.

Nick: We also went to an awesome Safari Park on the property. We started off by getting out of the car and taking a Wallaby Walk. I got to look at a wallaby two inches from my face. It was so cool. The little baby wallabies were so cute! They had their heads and two arms hanging out of the pouches. If we got too close the mother would put her arms down to protect the baby. Some of the babies were bigger than my two fists together and when they got in the pouch the mother’s front dragged on the ground.

We looked at a few giraffes and then we got back in the car and started to drive. That’s when it hit us. Well, it didn’t really hit us. It pecked us! We were watching an ostrich walk down the side of the hill and stand not far from the front side of our car. It started doing the wing thing — moving it’s wings up and down. Then, it approached and started to peck the hood of our car. We tried to back away and then go around it, but it ran in front of us. Then it started to try to eat the side view mirror. It would bounce its head off the mirror and seemed agitated. So, we backed up more and sped around it.

In the first few enclosures we saw monkeys, rhinos, zebras, ox, camels, giraffes, llamas and a variety of deer. But our favourites were the last three enclosures … lions and tigers and wolves. Oh, my! They were so cool. The first cage had tigers, then lions and then wolves. And wolves were from Canada! They were like buddies in Britain.

And that’s about all we did at Longleat, but it took all day.

So, folks, tune in tomorrow for a Bath you won’t forget!

Sincerely: Nick and Janice

PS. I love that i’m missing school i’ve been asked once if i was soposed to be in school so i’ts interesting oh ya about schools we went pass another girls school but this time i had me binoculars ready oops shouldn’t go there might get in trouble see you later.

Entry 9 of 10

Splish, Splash, We’ve Been to Bath
Castle Cary, United Kingdom
May 20, 2004  16:31 ( local time )

Janice: This is our last night in Castle Cary. It is a beautiful, little market town — although without public internet access. For that, we’ve had to come to the nearby and slightly larger village of Shepton Mallet.

We’ve had two full days. Yesterday morning we started with a drive north to the beautiful village of Lacock. We arrived about lunch time and, since when Nick’s hungry he wants to eat right away, we stopped at a tea room. I ordered a Ploughman’s Lunch — homemade bread, Stilton cheese, a bit of salad, half an apple and ginger and lemon tea. It was delicious. Nick had — believe it or not — creamed leak, pasta & something soup with home made rolls. He loved it as long as he ate the bread dunked in the soup. No need for a spoon!

The reason we were visiting Lacock was to see the famous Lacock Abbey, a beautiful, very old home dating from the 14th century. We had fun because Nick finally consented to use one of the children’s trails — a paper with questions and things for kids to look for as they go from room to room. This quiz had us looking for scorpions in almost every room.

However, the main reason we were here was because the Harry Potter movies were filmed here.

Nick: It was so cool. The Harry Potter scenes are when they were at the school and there was a courtyard with a little fountain. I walked into the cloisters and I knew exactly where I was! I could see exactly the places where they had the classrooms and where the actors walked. It was very interesting. But, the rest of it was boring.

Janice: Next we drove a few miles to the historic city of Bath. Now this is a place I’d like to come back to for shopping. However, on this trip we only did two things. The first was visit the Roman baths. It was fascinating to see how the Romans developed their baths over the natural hot springs. Nick almost gave me enough time to listen to the audio guide at each exhibit! Immediately afterward we stopped at the Pump Room, a very elegant dining room that’s been used for a couple of hundred years (I think). We sat in the middle of the room at a small table with several white table cloths on it, had beautiful silver cutlery and, while Nick enjoyed a hot chocolate with whipped cream and marshmallows, I had a pot of tea with scones, clotted cream and preserves. All the while, there was live piano music playing off to the side. It was lovely.

Nick: Later that evening we went off to the meeting point of Bizarre Bath, a cool little walking tour that’s more hysterical than historical. It started off with the guide taking our money and stamping our hands. Then, he began with the first thing. He asked for a person in the audience and I put my hand up. (JB – Of course, he did. I started having flashbacks to Megan riding at the front of our Paris bicycle tours with the tour guide!) He took out two glasses of water, handed me one and I had to copy everything he did with his. I did perfectly until the end. When he took a drink, I did too. Then he poured out the rest of his water and I did too. Then he spit out the water he’d holding in his mouth — but I’d swallowed mine! Boo Hoo. For the next 1 1/2 hours he walked us around for a few blocks, making jokes and teasing people and doing magic tricks. It was a lot of fun.

Near the end, he was going to give me his balloon, but then he let it go just before I grabbed it. Darn! I was disappointed. So I planned to get him back and soon had my chance. We took a bit of a walk and then stopped. Since he’d let the balloon go, he said he’d make it up to me by making a balloon animal. So, he took a balloon out, stretched and blew it up; it was one of those long thin ones. He asked me what was my favourite animal and he would make it with the balloon for me. So I knew this was my chance to strike back and show him up right in his own crowd. Mu ha ha ha ha ha. So, I said, “A snake.” Since the balloon is already long and thin, you can’t really make a snake. He was flabergasted! The audience applauded! I was happy now because I’d gotten him back. He still made me a balloon animal — a little dog — which I liked anyways. Altogether it was a great evening.

Janice: I had great fun watching Nick enjoy himself during this tour. The humour tended to be perfect for pre-teens!

This morning we headed a few miles south of Castle Cary to the tiny village of South Cadbury. This place is famous because an ancient hill fort is on the top of the hill next to the village. Why is the hill fort famous? Because many people believe it is the real location of the the real Camelot. Not the movie version, but the Camelot that Arthur really ruled about 500 AD.

Nick: To me it really looked like a hill fort because around the top of the hill I could have sworn there was a wall. The rocks are still there. You can still see the dips where the gates would have been. I got a bit of rock from the wall for you, Dad. But the view was awesome. You could see everywhere. You could see everything all around you. It would be the perfect place because you could see attackers coming from every way. To me, I think it actually was Camelot. Auntie Janice does, too.

Janice: We had a great picnic lunch on the top of the hill. It was a beautiful morning. Then I talked Nick into doing some more of what Nick calls “evil walking.” We went to another nearby Stately Home that is famous for its gardens. Stourhead has a lake, several follies (small-ish buildings made to look beautiful, but that are not functional), and spectacular plants. The rhododendrons are in full bloom and spectacular. They are simply stunning. The House itself was closed, but we walked through the gardens and around the lake. It took us a little over an hour and Nick had a great time identifying birds and beating off the ducks that were following him hoping for food.

Nick: I had these two ducks, a male and female, that kept following me, even around the pond. When we went onto the path and away from the water’s edge, they still followed us until we reached the water again. They were like little dogs. Scary, man!

Janice: Now we’re both tired and hungry and are going to head home to our cottage for a last supper of chicken soup and Kraft dinner and clean out the fridge. We’ll pack our clothes and be ready to head to Exmoor National Park tomorrow morning to fly falcons!

If we have a chance we’ll make one more entry, but we’re not sure if we’ll find a computer. Failing that we’ll make a last entry from home.

sincerely: nick& janice

PS. I’ve learned what the british like to say its lovely and grand … odd! see you all when i’m back in my own country eh!

Entry 10 of 10

The Finale
London, United Kingdom
May 23, 2004  09:47 ( local time )

Janice: We’re at Gatwick Airport and are ready to come home. I gave Nick about six pounds and he’s spent them all on arcade games — having a great time. Now, while we have a bite to eat, we’ll bring you up to date on our final adventures.

On Friday, with reluctance we left our cottage in Castle Cary. It is such an interesting place and was perfect for us. We loaded up the car and drove west for about two hours, taking mostly back roads and winding in and around the hedgerows and through many beautiful little villages. We marvelled at all the fabulous blossoms and farm fields. The landscape first became much more level, although never flat. As we approached Exmoor and the coast, the hills became higher and steeper.

Exmoor is known for its moors — high windswept, treeless expanses. They’re starkly beautiful. We were headed for the Exmoor Falconry Experience and were booked to stay at the 15th century farm B & B.

We located the farm and then headed for a nearby village for lunch. Nick picked out a cute little cafe where he had his new discovery for lunch: a Jacket Potato (baked potato). They’re available with many different toppings, but Nicholas, true to form, takes only butter. I had a wonderful home-made mushroom quiche.

After lunch and browsing the village shops (Nick under duress), we headed back to the farm for our afternoon with the birds of prey.

Nick: I had been looking forward to this for the whole trip. I wish you could have been there, but, sadly, you weren’t. Too bad. I’m being forced to tell you this. I’m a stand-up comic, but I’m sitting down! Anyways …

First, they gave us a glove for the birds to land on (JB – A hot and smelly leather glove for the left hand, previously used to feed the birds with the heads of dead chicks!). Then, the guide, Tony, brought out one of the birds — a peregrine falcon. It’s my favourite bird. It had a little hood on, too, that covered its face so that it thought it was dark and wasn’t so rambunctious. (JB – Maybe I should have tried this with Nick!) Tony took us into a field and put a hunk of meat on a piece of string; this is the lure. He swung it around in a big circle so the bird would dive at it. We and the other two guests stood in a line with about 20 feet between each person. Tony began to swing the lure and the bird, who he had set free and was flying about, would dive at the lure, flying between us such high speeds! It was so cool. Tony said the bird was travelling at more than 100 miles per hour. We could feel the wind rippling beside our very essence as the bird swooped to the other end of the field. (My teacher will like that one!)

After, we got to hold a variety of birds, including owls, a kookaburra, hawks and falcons. The heaviest one was an eagle. I had to use my right hand and arm to brace my left arm where the bird was sitting. (JB – Each bird Tony brought out would fly to the four guests for food — about three or four times per person. So, we got to have these incredible creatures land on our outstretched arms about 20 times each!) And there were these cute little baby owls, only five weeks old. They were SO CUTE! I got to feed them dead baby chicks!

A little while later we got to go on a hawk walk. The falcon would fly through the trees and Tony would give us food to hold up to him. The hawk would fly down to our gloves and eat the food, then fly off. A little while later, we went into a field and we called the bird to come for more food, but he didn’t come. Fifteen minutes later, we realized that the bird had gone hunting on his own and had caught and eaten a vole or small mouse. Once he returned, we got a little more holding time, but then it was done. And it was SO MUCH FUN! I almost want to have a bird of my own. But, don’t worry, Mom. I won’t get one. I know you’d scream and run around in every direction. Your secret is safe with me.

Janice: That afternoon, Nick was in heaven. He wandered around looking at the birds and mumbling, “It’s like a dream!”

During the evening we had dinner in Porlock, the nearby village. Nick had pizza, but I had the most unbelievable creamed carrot and coriander soup with fresh, fresh foccacia bread.

The next morning, after a fine English breakfast at the farm, we were picked up for our Exmoor Jeep Safari. With two other guests, our guide, Richard, drove us for about 60 miles through the back country of Exmoor National Park.

There are two things in Exmoor that everyone wants a chance to see: the famous red deer and the wild moor ponies. We were no different.

Richard started off by driving from Porlock straight up a narrow road behind town. I mean straight up! I wouldn’t want to take a car up some of those roads. Most of the locals we saw were driving 4-wheeled SUVs. We were soon rocketing over rutted roads … no, they were tracks. Before we knew it, we were on top of the world!

When you reach the summit of one of those hills, it feels incredibly high because they’re rounded, with no clear edges and with no trees to speak of. It makes everything feel open and expansive. The view extended over the sea and Wales was clearly visible.

Before long, Richard stopped the jeep and we got out to have a look and take some pictures. As we left the vehicle he said, “Don’t forget your bynos.” He was referring to the binoculars that were supplied to everyone. No sooner had we all lined up outside the jeep, but Richard had spotted a couple of deer moving through the heather. We all tried to see them with our bynos, but didn’t have his eyesight. He did say that the deer were moving quickly and were quite distant to begin with.

Soon we were back in the jeep and heading over another hilltop. Suddenly Richard pulled off the road and stopped. This time, we could all easily see the herd of deer he’d spotted — even without our bynos. They were, perhaps, a block away from us. The herd consisted of about 15 females and young from the last couple of years (no newborns from this year, yet). We didn’t see any stags.

What a glorious sight!

We saw a second herd later on, but it was farther from us and not so easy to watch.

One of the most interesting sights during this three-hour tour was the Tarr Steps. Archaeologists believe that this stone footbridge was built about 3,000 years ago. The large stones that you walk across (about two feet wide and six feet long) are laid across a shallow, but swiftly running river. Space for the river water is left beneath each cross stone. The end of each stone sits, as I recall, on low stacks of rock. These joining points are protected from higher water flow by cunningly angled vertical stones that deflect the water flow away from the joints and the supporting stacks. After the jeep took us across the river by actually driving through the water on the river bed (!), we stopped and walked across the stone footbridge. It was completely steady, with not a bit of movement. Amazing!

Our last great sight of the day was of some wild moor ponies that were grazing just by the road. They didn’t seem frightened of us at all, but were busily eating and grooming themselves.

This jeep safari was a wonderful experience and a great way to end our two weeks in England.

Immediately after the tour, we hopped into our car and headed back to Gatwick, a four-hour drive, mostly on six-lane highways. We spent the evening at an airport hotel repacking our luggage and hoping the airline wouldn’t charge us extra for heavy bags! (They didn’t.)

This has been a wonderful trip. Nick has been more homesick than we’d expected and was quite distressed by our flight delay at the beginning of the trip and by his injured eye. However, he still enjoyed every activity … from watching the ducks at the Stourhead Gardens to hearing stories about executions on Tower Green at the Tower of London to overcoming his fear of heights on the London Eye. I suspect he’ll be raving about his experiences once he’s home safely in Canada.

I enjoyed England much more than I expected. It was green and clean and friendly in every circumstance. We found the people to be excessively friendly and polite. The weather was spectacular — praise God!

I would love to visit again. In fact, the places we went were so wonderful, I’d be happy to just back to the same spots again!

As soon as we have our photos developed, we’ll add the best pictures of our trip to this travelogue.

Thanks for reading!

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