To the Mother Country We Go

One week after the boys arrived in Viterbo, we left for a week in England. Fred is a correspondent with a group called Urban Sketchers, as I mentioned earlier. He has attended symposiums in Barcelona, Brazil, and now Manchester, England, with sketchers from all over the world. It’s a very cool group. 

When the kids found out this year’s Symposium was in Manchester, and that Fred got accepted (he has to propose a workshop each year and get voted in), and that it did not compete with our time in Italy, they listened anxiously to hear if they’d be invited along.  And they were. Sort of our last hurrah for a while, since they (and we) really need to save money for their tuitions.

We got up very early on Saturday morning to catch the train to the airport, having turned in the rental car the day before. There’s no sound quite like that of the four of us clacking down the cobble stoned streets at the crack of dawn. People peek out to see what’s up. The Americans are leaving today, they must think.

First thing that went wrong was I booked us tickets for 6:10 pm, not am.  (18:10! I’ll never get used to military time!) When I realized this, I got in line at the bar where they sell train tickets to buy the right kind—morning tickets for the 6:25 am train. They only take cash. I had none. The nearest ATM? Down the street. Henry and I bolted/ran the few blocks to the machine, got the money, got the tickets, with ten minutes to spare. Standing around waiting for the train it occurred to me I had bought tickets to Rome, not further on to the airport. (It’s a two-legged trip.) Back we went to the counter. Thank GOD I had enough cash left. It was terribly stressful. We have really heavy luggage and when the train does come, you have to walk across four tracks to get to it.

Once we got on, it was pretty smooth sailing.  At Heathrow where we landed, we found a cab that I had booked already on line. Nice guy. Drove us the hour (!) to our Airbnb in the Peckham section of London. It’s kind of like the Williamsburg of Brooklyn. Hipster. Twenty minutes from the city by train. Our flat was GREAT. Clean as can be. Awesome decor (two artist owner—graphic and interior, I think). Kids’ beds in a loft, ours on the lower level. The place is on the fourth floor of a converted Victorian schoolhouse. Really good find.

We had asked our host for dinner recommendations for this night, thinking we’d stay local. Peckham Bazaar was her favorite, so that’s where we ate. Amazing place. Outdoors on a warmish night. Small plates of Balkan foods. We got seven plates and tasted flavors we’d never experienced before. So far, so good! I didn't take this shot, but this is EXACTLY how it looked that night. Mine was blurry.

Fred got a grant to add this quick stop in London onto our Manchester trip, so he spent his time in two museums: The British Museum and the Imperial War Museum. It so happens, the boys were interested in the former, so I went off to Notting Hill for the day. Turned out to be a little lonely, and NH was more hippy than I’d realized. But it was fun to see the blue door of the flat where Hugh Grant lived (in the movie, Notting Hill). I shopped and walked and visited the Cath Kidston store, which I find sweet. 

Here's Fred getting ready for his day of research at the British Museum.

This bench... I've never forgotten this sweet inscription of the bench from Notting Hill. Nobody can access it because the garden is private, but I found this online.  "For June who loved this garden from Joseph who always sat beside her."

The blue door!  Behind that tree.

Very British pugs.

A Cinquecento INSIDE a store!

No idea the significance of these buildings, but they were colorful and others were shooting them. Something from the movie, I imagine.

Henry's girlfriend asked for this : )

When I met them back at the museum we had to run over to a phone place to have some new SIM cards installed in our phones. We needed to be able to reach each other if we did separate things or got separated accidentally. So that was done. Ten pounds for each phone for a week of data and unlimited texting.

Dinner was at a very traditional pub—maybe more of a restaurant. Turns out pubs stop serving food at 8, which is an hour earlier that we’ve been used to eating in Italy. This took a little getting used to. 

That's pork in the middle... layers of meat and squishy fat, topped by crispy fat. Yep.

Hendrick's & tonic with cucumber. When in London!

There were a lot of less than pleasant times during these few days in London because it’s just too short a time to see a city like this and learn the tube and bus routes, etc. But we survived.  

Next day, up and out for Fred to the War Museum, and up and out for the rest of us to get Henry theater tickets to meet up with a friend from home that night (doing stem cell research in London for the summer!). After that, we grabbed lunch, then booked a Hop On/Hop Off bus tour to get around. First stop was Harrod’s for Owen’s birthday present—sunglasses. Then it was time to get back to Fred. Having not done much on the bus, we sent Henry off to his play and the three of us did a huge loop on the bus and saw all the sights. A really nice way to see a city. 

Harrod's candy shop.

Dinner was at a really cool pub called Gladstone’s (or The Glad) that had pre-made meat pies that were not bad!  The atmosphere was magical. There’s just nothing like these pubs at home.

Adorable little tonic water bottles.

We got home around 11 and around 12:15 I got a text from Henry saying his last leg of the trip was a bust because the tube stops running at midnight. He was about five miles away. He said he’d walk home, which of course was NOT an option in my mind. So I got an Uber to go get him. Actually, I got two Ubers to go get him, but the first one bagged after not finding him. It was tough because I couldn’t text with the driver because my Uber account has my US cell phone number as a contact. I tried texting and got an automated response that they did not recognize my number. So I had to agonizingly watch the little car icon on my screen back up and turn around and LEAVE the station where Henry was standing. The next guy, God love him, came immediately and found Henry.  YEARS off my life over this one. Turns out my bank doesn’t like Uber so they put our credit cards on hold the next day., without any communication with me. Just suddenly no money. Locked out.

Next day another cab would pick us up at ten to take us to the train station—on to Manchester!