Things never seem to be as I expect them. Before this trip Matt kept expressing concern over driving in England. Not only would we have to drive on the opposite side of the road, but he would have to shift with his other hand. And then there are the round-abouts. I told him he would have no problem! Years ago, we had visited St Croix and they drive in the left lane but with the driver still on the left side. Matt had done great there and I had complete confidence in his ability to drive successfully in England. However, I was picturing quiet, country roads…
I was sad to leave Italy, my first taste of travel abroad. But work was still to be done in England, so we boarded a plane in Venice and headed to London. I admit it. We are green, stupid, American tourists. Since we knew we needed a car for driving all over England, we reserved one to be picked up at the Heathrow airport in London. I also had a B&B, 69 the Grove, all set up too. I didn’t realize that again, we would be landing in the dark and getting to the B&B late. So, I added 2 hours to when we landed and let the hosts at the B&B know our expected arrival time. First, though, there were several things to be done at the airport.
My answer may not have been the best as we went through customs. The official asked why we were coming to England. Matt explained that he was there for his job. She asked what I would be doing while he worked. In my tired state, I brilliantly said, “Oh, I’ll find things to do.” She looked stern and said, “Do you have a credit card?” Uh oh. I figured she wanted more identification then just my passport. I said, “Yes,” and started digging for it. She laughed and said, “I’m just kidding. I hope you have a credit card so you can shop while he works!” Whew! She let us in this new to us country: England!
It was much easier finding the Hertz rental car desk in London than in Sicily. This was going to be a breeze. We could understand everyone when they spoke! And we could read the signs. Then we approached our car. I headed to the passenger side where I promptly found a steering wheel. I laughed heartily. This was going to be fun. We settled into our appropriate places and Matt turned on the car. We were in England, so of course it was drizzling. And the windshield immediately fogged up. It took us a bit to find how to turn on the inside lights and familiarize ourselves with this new car. Matt set up the gps to take us to our B&B and away we went. It was fairly easy getting out of the parking lot. They didn’t even give us the choice of heading down the wrong side of the road. It was all clearly marked with arrows and divided lanes. Then the real fun….torture….began. The Brits are good at that, torture, but more on that later.
We were on a highway, in the dark, heading towards our next bed. Every once in a while, Matt would get very close to the curb on my side. And the wipers. We didn’t need them anymore and yet he couldn’t figure out how to turn them off. So, here we are whizzing down the road, on the left side, trying to turn off the wipers and find the correct turns. I started getting nervous. We headed towards downtown London. In my planning, I thought it would be best to be close to all the wonderful places we wanted to see. Right? Suddenly, we were off the highway and into Friday night traffic in London.
We really aren’t city people. In fact, even though we live near Washington, DC, when we go there we never drive in the city. I guess we just usually avoid cities whenever possible. WHAT WERE WE DOING?!?! My confidence was wavering. In fact, I was starting to panic a little. Actually, a lot. Matt was really doing well in the circumstances. But, think about it. Here I was, sitting in what is usually the driver’s side for me, and I wasn’t driving this moving vehicle. I had no control and everything seemed all wrong. Matt every so often scrapped the tires on the curb on the left. It was difficult for him to know where the car was in the lane. And everything was moving the wrong way in the rear view mirror. This was much worse than I thought it would be.
Then, as it seems to go with this trip, we couldn’t find the B&B even though we were on the correct street. We crept slowly down the street but we missed it. We had to circle around, with round-abouts and one way streets, four times before we got back on that street. Rather than just trying to find the house number in the dark, we called and our kind host came out in the street to find us.
Our B&B in the daylight.
By this time, I was pretty shaken up. No way did I expect driving in England to be this scary! But we had a lovely room to settle ourselves into and a fun day to look forward to in the morning. I had a friend to meet for the first time!
How could she be a friend if I hadn’t even met her? I know people often criticize Facebook, but it can be enriching. I have found kindred spirits that I never would have found without it. One of them is Laura Moore. We met in an art journaling group and once she asked if I was going to paint that day. I told her I wasn’t because I was trying to find B&B’s in England for our trip. She said, “I live in London!” It’s funny; somehow I just pictured her as living in the USA like I did. I promptly asked if she would be willing to meet and she agreed. So, we were set to meet my friend at 11:00 on Trafalgar Square.
First, we needed to figure out how to get there from our B&B. After our previous night’s escapade, we did not want to drive anywhere else in London. The car would stay put until we drove it out of the city. Our host, Kanley, suggested that we take a bus to the square and pointed us in the direction of the station.
Our host, Kanley, was very helpful.
I really felt like a country mouse in the city. It was confusing and difficult to know what sort of ticket to buy. Someone told us to get an oyster ticket which would allow us to get on and off all day. So, we got one. But rather than bus, it looked like it was for the “tube” or subway. Actually, this was more familiar to us than figuring out a bus route since we ride the Metro back home. So, on the tube we went.
The tube was a lot like the Metro in Maryland.
We got to Trafalgar Square a bit early. I hoped I was remembering the correct place to meet Laura and her husband, David. Would we find them in this crowd? Would we hit it off as couples? Or would we sit there with nothing to talk about?
I was grateful to Matt for being willing to spend our first day in England with people we didn’t even know. “We are meeting for coffee,” I said, “so probably in an hour or so, we will have to figure out the next thing to do.” I shouldn’t have worried.
What a highlight of our trip, meeting my friend, Laura and her husband, David.
Laura and David are wonderful people! We had no problems finding things to talk about like art, London, art, our families, art, life in general, and art. We did have coffee together, and lunch and dinner! Laura and David became our personal tour guides and took us all over the city showing us famous sights.
We had coffee with Laura and David in The Crypt.
The beautiful church above The Crypt.
Somehow, I expected there to be an old part of London where I would feel like I stepped back in time. But everything was scattered together with modern buildings. Old and new altogether. History and potential all in one. It was fun finding the landmarks hidden by the beautiful new buildings. And as we walked, I looked at the many faces passing by us, each with their own history and potential. The many faces of London.
While at The Tower of London, you can see the modern city of London.
I enjoyed walking over the Tower Bridge.
The Tower Bridge
Big Ben is beautiful and we heard it chime several times.
A view from St James park.
I really wanted to go on the London Eye. But the queue was long and I decided against it. If I ever go back…
Diana is remembered fondly here.
The changing of the guard.
I had read about this place which claims to be the inspiration for Dickens’ “The Old Curiosity Shop.” Laura and David had never heard of it and we had quite a time finding it. But here it was stuck in the middle of modern buildings.
We had a gorgeous view from the Tate building.
This is the Beefeater guide that we had at the Tower of London. Very entertaining. Here is he pointing to the Tower Bridge and instructing us to never make the mistake of calling it the London Bridge.
Our Beefeater made a point of explaining that this portcullis still works and is a “marvel of British engineering.”
You know how I love jewelry! The crown jewels were beautiful and fascinating. And they wouldn’t let me take photos.
They always keep ravens at the Tower of London. The superstition is, “If the Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it”
A beautiful cannon that a raven enjoyed as a perch.
Many beautiful pieces of armor were displayed.
The Tower of London held prisoners and many of them were tortured and executed. This is the ax and block from the last execution.
These guards were at The Tower as well as at Buckingham Palace.
Typical view. Double decker buses, taxis and modern buildings.
We met this mother and son at the B&B. They were from Germany and invited us to come visit!
More people we met in London. A couple from Hong Kong. It has been so wonderful to meet people from all over the world.
We enjoyed London, but it was also a relief to drive out of it. Matt got us out safely!
Read about our adventures in Italy! Start here: Italy 1