Day Five: Are We Dead Yet?

blog day 5

TUBE: Gloucester Road to Embankment. Embankment to Waterloo.
TRAIN: Waterloo to Alton.
TAXI: Alton to Chawton. Chawton to Alton.
TRAIN: Alton to Ashford. Ashford to Guildford. Guildford to Gomshall.
TAXI: … nonexistent at Gomshall.
TRAIN: Gomshall to Guildford. Guildford to Waterloo.
UBER: Waterloo to the hotel, as fast as you can, please.

 

A conversation with Rhett upon our return to the USA:

Rhett: So, you went to Jane Austen’s House Museum?
Me: Yes.
Rhett: That was fun?
Me: Yes!
Rhett: You saw a dead lady’s house–a dead lady who probably didn’t have a happy life and it was just the house and that was what you went to see?
Me: Yes! It was a blast, okay? We practiced calligraphy! And made lavender bags! And we SAW HER WRITING DESK!!
(Rhett dies of laughter because he is heartless and doesn’t get it, but you do, right?)

Pub, Alton. Let me say something about the pub across the street from Jane Austen’s House Museum. The place knows what’s up.

We didn’t go to the Jane Austen themed tea room across the road. I read poor reviews online, and besides its name (Cassandra’s Cup), it didn’t really sound like anything was very Jane Austen-y. I don’t need a Darcy impersonator (or do I?), but if you’re going to have a Jane Austen themed tea room, the least you can do is make a bit of an effort, right? Emma’s match of scone and clotted cream. Fanny Price’s spooky tea (weak tasting). Something.

So, we went to the pub instead AND IT WAS AMAZING. Imagine a super old, classic English pub. Got it? Now fill it with female patrons over 50. Add the soundtrack to every Nancy Meyers movie ever, and you have yourself the best pub outside of London.

I guess I should say take this moment to point out that our waiter was almost cute and somewhere in his twenties. (Looking back, I bet he got amazing tips.) It’s important to note that I am not good at talking to people I find mildly attractive. (Exhibit A.) This is exacerbated by the fact that we are across the street from Jane Austen because honestly, was there ever a more perfect meet-cute moment?

Mom: What’s your soup of the day?
Almost-Cute Waiter: It’s roast vegetable.
Mom: What?
I have to take charge. He has to see that I’ll hear him even when my mom doesn’t.
Me: Root vegetable, Mom. He said root.
Waiter: No, roast. I said roast vegetable.
Me: Oh.

Mom and I break into giggles because it’s how we cope when one of us is an idiot. The waiter sort of slinks away, and magically another waiter has been assigned to us for the rest of the meal. I start feeling bad because obviously this dude thought we were super rude and we hurt his feelings. He’s probably trying not to cry. Look at him. He has to bite his lip when he pours the beer–he’s that overcome.

I start thinking about how this boy is probably super embarrassed because the girl he’s falling in love with made fun of him with her mother. The poor kid. I knew I had to do something. Anything!

Me: Hi, there. It’s me.
The one who you can’t stop thinking about.
Me: My mom and I were hoping you could call us a cab to get to the train station.
Waiter: Sure.
Gosh. Worse than I thought. He’s so… broken.
Me: Look, I just wanted to say that I’m sorry.
Cute. He’s pretending not to know what I mean. Bless him and his almost-cute face.
Me: For the whole root/roast thing. I’m so sorry.
Waiter: Oh, well. Roast vegetables are roasted like you’d roast meat.

He pantomimes putting a roast in the oven, and my heart. just. drops.

Not only is the almost-cute boy (who should be lucky I ever LOOKED his way) not hurt by the roast/root saga, but he thinks I’m the kind of dumb person who doesn’t know what a roast vegetable is. That’s, like, beyond Lloyd Christmas dumb. Suddenly, I want to die.

Me: Right. I just couldn’t hear you correctly. I’m sorry. It’s my ears and I’m not used to your accent.
Waiter: Okay?
Come on. At least look like this breakup is hard on you too!
Me: We’ll just, uh, wait for the cab outside.

Mom and I finally get back on the train and go to Gomshall for the sole purpose of heading to nearby Shere to see the town where The Holiday was filmed. (I’m not proud.) We expected to take an Uber to Shere. We got off at Gomshall in the fading afternoon light and… uh, where are we?

In the middle of nowhere is where.

Exactly one other person gets off at Gomshall, a station without a conductor or a real station at all. It’s more like a block of concrete next to the train tracks. The other person is a red-haired teenager who must be laughing his rear off when these two American women frown and say, “I don’t see any Ubers nearby.”

I call the advertised cab company. “We can have someone there in about an hour and a half. Maybe two.” Click.

Me: Well, hey. Shere’s only a mile and a half. I bet we can walk it. Right, Mom? Mom?

We walk into the bustling downtown of Gomshall (two pubs), and I decide that we will not be walking to Shere. Light is fading. We don’t know exactly where we’re going. Oh, and the train back to the train back to our hotel only leaves once per hour. So, we do what we do best and eat.

Then, it’s time to walk back up the hill to the train station, and here’s where our overactive brains take a detour. Mom is worried about it being dark at the station, which makes me worried about it being dark at the train station. We try to time it so we won’t be staying at the creepy, almost abandoned train station in the middle of the woods for very long.

I get so scared of getting mugged that I steal a fork from the restaurant in case I need a weapon. (Current Hilary to past Hilary: Um, really? And also, why not a knife?)

When Mom and I make it to the train station without dying (by some miracle) there are two adult men waiting for the train. Were those our soon-to-be rapists? We were convinced they were. Mom takes short breaths. I grip the fork in my pocket and my eyes dart to follow their movements. If they want to charge, they’ll have to charge me head-on. And then,

the train arrives and we get on and they get on and we have zero problems whatsoever our entire way home.

DAY FOUR: Notting Hill, Paddington, & Kensington

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17,000 steps. (I almost killed my own mother.)

We took a morning stroll through a rainy Notting Hill. I was only a little sad to miss Hugh Grant, but comforted myself by singing that Bee Gee’s song that plays during his sad-man montage:

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We bought Mom a hat. It’s adorable.

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Breakfast: We stopped at a quaint bakery, Gail’s. We found out later that Gail’s is a chain, but it was soooo delicious, I didn’t care. I’m convinced the scrambled eggs were made by someone who really loves what they do. Mom had delicious porridge. We also had a hot cross bun, which was the first time I can really remember having an actual hot cross bun. I loved it so much that I made them for Easter from a recipe Gail’s published here.

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Paddington Station just because.

My parents love Paddington Bear, and that inexplicable love has rubbed off on me. (Okay, embarrassing aside: I thought of Paddington as the British Pooh Bear for quite a while before realizing that Pooh is also British.)

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Victoria and Albert Museum. I love Victoria and Albert. I think it’s one of the most beautiful love stories. He gave up so much for her! She mourned his death for forty years! They had a million children!

That’s why it was a surprise when we finally got to the Victoria and Albert Museum, and instead of seeing Victoria’s gowns and Albert’s love letters, I saw signs for “Art Deco” and “Asian Fashion.”

Me: This is probably the stupidest question in the world.

Museum Curator: You’d be surprised.

Me: Is there a section of the museum on the actual Victoria and Albert? Because that’s kind of what I’m erm well here for.

MC: There are a few things on Floor Five.

Me: Well, that’s a relief.

Twenty minutes later…

Me: Mom, I made us walk here for a bust of Albert (that was rejected by Victoria) and a five-minute montage of Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.

We walked from there to Kensington Palace. We got a little turned around in the gardens, but eventually made it there. It’s hard not to be just as enamored by the wildlife as the palace, honestly. There were so many swans.

From there, we were hangry, so we made our way to Goat’s Tavern.

We walked home, tired and full and tired.

 

Day Two in London

DAY TWO, or breakfast breakfast breakfast.

I love breakfast, and it seems that London–in its heart–really gets that (and really gets me).

Breakfast at the Raison D’etre.

“What can I get for you, sweetie?” Sweetie? Me? This guy’s ridiculous.

“For you, sweetheart.” Thank you, darling.

He calls Mom Cleopatra. Am I in love with him? It’s hard to say. We have at least a decade between us, but what’s a decade when he can make hot chocolate like this:

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“The Very Naughty,” indeed.

Things are all very French and sophisticated until my eggs fall on the floor. I cover them with my shoe before the waiter can see. Good thinking, Hil.

Double-decker bus. Mom and I are on the top level even though it’s freezing and raining. “I’ll mark down the places we want to go back to.” “Great idea.” “Do you have a pen?” No, do you?” “No…”

Thames River boat ride surrounded by a school group of French children. It turns out teens are teens are teens, no matter where they come from.

Tower of London. Okay, but really, can someone explain Henry VIII’s armor to me? CHILDREN SEE THIS.

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Speaking of crown jewels. Hello!

(Also, photo cred here because I was waaaaay to embarrassed to take a photo of that.)

I didn’t realize I was on this trip to see diamonds, but yeah, it was the actual crown jewels that showed me I’m only in it for the stones. This is sounding very weird if you think I’m still talking about the armor. Get your head out of the Tudors’ gutter! I’m talking about the diamond rings and the sceptres and Queen Victoria’s little crown (that I think I really could wear every day).

They don’t allow you to take pictures of the Crown Jewels; it’s kind of nice to be told no photos or phones. I liked not having to worry about getting the perfect photo.

Dinner/lunch: fish and chips. Feeling right British, we are, we are.

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Buckingham Palace coming in hot with breathtaking light. I’m not sure the house is much to look at without it. (Sarcasm.)

Day One in London

For Spring break, my mom and I went to the UK for eleven days. This is our story. Dun Dun.

DAY ONE.

The tickets were on sale. Cheap, they were. The kind of cheap that allowed me, a true cheap skate (who is not above walking the Costco samples for lunch), to buy them instantly. The only catch? The flight to London flew out of Chicago. Chicago is three hours away. Four and a half by train.

I always say that a breezy, five-hour train ride is the proper way to begin any international vacation. If you’re leaving before dawn and the train station smells like liquor and weed? Well, that’s even better.

We really did things right.

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My mom and I went on the trip together. We were so excited. Sitting in the Amtrak station going over the week’s schedule, we felt like no one alive had ever done something so cool, so… unique. Then we said hi to the people next to us, an aunt (around the same age as Mom) and a niece (around the same age as I am).

Okay, so there were other female duos out there. That’s great! Room for everybody! Oh, you’re going to London too? That’s good. Good for you. Good for us, right? You’re going to Stonehenge? Well, everyone goes to Stonehenge, right? Right? Suddenly, Mom and I realized we were like Lorelei Gilmore hiking the PCT à la Cheryl Strayed. We also realized it didn’t matter one bit.

We were so keyed up for the trip, we thought we’d go from Union Station to O’Hare via the L. Six bags + four hands + public transit = NO PROBLEM. We made it, but some of our knee skin didn’t.

Food from Indianapolis to London: two (three?) Pop-Tarts, Cliff Bar, one cheese/nut pack, Auntie Annie’s cinnamon pretzel, two airplane meals, so much coffee, another couple of Pop-Tarts in there somewhere.

In London, we arrived at this very strange hotel, the Avni Kensington, that would become our home. Not exactly a home in the sense of welcome place, but more like a home is a person—that person being the great aunt you know you’re supposed to like, but you kind of hope you never have to smell again.

We couldn’t check in since it was six in the morning, so we got ourselves on the Underground and went to Westminster bridge and walked around for a bit. It turns out, not much is open at six in the morning. We found a breakfast spot that as far as we could tell was run by exactly one person.

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Purchases so far: Breakfast. Touristy London sweatshirt (because I thought it was a good idea to not wear my coat?).

Double-decker bus. Brief fight with the ticket man over printing our tickets. Mom’s phone died, and I only had the confirmation number. I was explaining this to the man, and he walked away from me. Walked away! You don’t know how almost mean we can look like we’re getting until you’re super rude to our faces, sir. It’s the kind of half-committed, near-death stare that makes people rethink their decisions, okay?

London Eye. Waiting in line for hours means getting to watch two nine-year-olds touch (feel up?) and almost knock over a wax figure of Angelina Jolie. It’s only a week later that I question why a wax figure of Angelina Jolie was at the London Eye at all.

The view is gorgeous, even in a little rain.

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“Is it fatigue?” you wonder. Or are you really the kind of person who gives a stink eye to the little boy hogging the computer that tells you about the buildings? What does this say about you?

Every wild trip starts out with a 6pm bedtime.