Tuesday, 7 June 2011

London with the Matt and Parents

Tuesday the kids, Heidi and Braden went back into town.  They had a busy day at the Bank of England museum, science museum, V&A, Harrods and Picidilly circus (sovienier shopping).  They liked the Bank of England museum, they learned about the money, and economics... it was a neat find (and free).  They didnt get home until after I did.  I had started dinner and then it was pretty much bedtime.

Wednesday the kids had to get back to work again (school).  After work we went to the grocery.  We went to the first Tesco.  We got some nice bargins, but it was a disaster.  They wouldnt take my credit card, I dont know why.   They wouldnt take my Dad's since his signature since it didnt match his drivers liscense.  That is because he had written SEE ID after his name.  His drivers liscense didnt say that, so they didnt match.  Finally, I went out and got cash.  When I got back inside, in the meantime, they accepted Dad's credit card.  I was left with a lot of cash.  We went out for the bus and waiting over 45 minutes for a bus that is supposed to come every 10-12.  Very frusturating.  I just wanted to go home.  We finally made it.  We went to bed after I made some delicious peanut noodles with vegetables.  (all on clearance, so I fed the family for less than 2 pounds, I was so proud,.) 

Thursday – finally Matt came.  His parents are visiting London too.  I had to work all day.  Matt and his family arrived around noon.  It was torture to work those last 6 hours until it was time to go home.  Finally, it was time, I made sure I was on the first van home.  I pretty much raced to the flat, went up stairs, opened the door – and – no one was home!  After coming home for lunch, and depositing their stuff, they decided to into to London.  They left about 3:30, but with so little time till I got home, they did get to see much.  They got home a little after 7.  I went ahead and started dinner, so at least that   was (almost) ready when they got home.  My mom had to finish it up, because after Matt got there, I was a little distracted.  They said they had gone into London on the Tube.  For a while, it had rained very hard.  They saw Westminster Abbey from across the street, and they were able to walk to the middle of the Westminster Bridge.  We had dinner, and sat and talked and pretty much went to bed.

Friday I had planned for people to sleep in a little.  By Friday I had already worked around 50 hours so I decided I didn’t need to work.  I thought it would be best to let the jet lagged people sleep.  We finally got up and got going around 9 or 10 and we decided to go to Kew Gardens, the Royal Botanical Garden, and Kew Palace (in the Gardens).  Matt’s Dad really likes plants, and my Dad does too.  We hadn’t been to the Kew gardens so it seemed the perfect plan.  We had a wonderful day at the gardens.  The weather was a little cold, but pleasant and no rain.  We walked and walked to see everything.  They had Japanese gardens, and a warm weather plant house.  They had a redwood walk.  They had a more recent planting of a tree which until recently had be believed to be extinct.  Until they finally found it in New Zealand, the tree had only existed in the fossil record.  It was called the Wollemi Pine.  They had some really huge trees that were planted in the 1700’s.  The walk with the Rhododendrons was so beautiful,  They had a fun place for kids with caves, which was supposed to be like where badgers lived.  We met a woman whose husband grew up in Champaign there.  We were recognizable by our Illinois clothes.  You could crawl around, I had to be on my knees.  My knees got a little dirty.  We had a picnic there.  They had a very high tree walk, which was built above the trees.  Matt liked the engineering as much as looking down at the trees.  Kew palace was interesting; it focused on Queen Charlotte, who was married to the King George, who was the King George of our revolution.  They used Kew Palace as a summer getaway, and one of their 15 children started the Gardens. 

After Kew Palace and Gardens we went home.  We had cooked hamburger before, and so we chopped stuff, warmed the hamburger and had Tacos.  Then we all winded down before bed. 

It is light so early in London, before 4 am.  It is light very late, after 9pm.  You end up eating late, like at 8 all the time.  Maybe because we are always going places and getting back later, or maybe because it is light so long.  Londoners eat late too, the company dinners are always planned at 7-9.  That is a little different.

Saturday it was time for the big adventure.  I decided to drive.  I wanted to get an early start because we were going to go down to the white cliffs of Dover and to Leeds Castle.  It is a two hour drive down to Dover.  We were able to leave early, I had a few problems finding the right road to get on and it was not comfortable to get used to driving on the other side of the road.  Without too much stress or yelling, we got on the highway (M25) and we were on our way.  I liked driving on the highway much better.  The funny thing about that was the slow cars are supposed to go to the left, not like on our roads where the slow cars are on the right.  The white cliffs were very impressive.  It was a cloudy day, and it was VERY windy by the coast.  We hiked around along the cliffs, it was so windy, sometimes it was a little scary.  We saw some wild ponies who live there.  Instead of National Parks, they have National Trusts.  We found a step path down the cliffs and  Matt and I and the boys hiked down.  My dad came with us.  Down by the ocean we could see two old gunning stations, with a connecting cave left from World War II.  They would be stationed there and make sure no boats crossed the channel.  The white cliffs were made of chalk,  They had round rocks of flint in layers in the chalk.  The beach was made of these large round rocks.  When the waves came in, it sounded like marbles, you could hear the rocks rolling against each other.  The tide was going out, and so you could start to see a couple shipwrecks.  I think there were many in this area, one of the signs said it was a protected shipwreck (preservation) area.  After hiking we ate lunch, which was cold and windy, but we all enjoyed seeing the cliffs.  Then we all piled back in the car and headed to Leeds castle. 

Now the thinking reader is probably counting in their head, the four London Schwenks, Michelle’s two parents, Matt who is visiting, Matt’s parents, what in the world car are they driving.  And I don’t really know, it was some kind of a Chevy, and it was PACKED full.  Fortunately it had three rows of seats but really because of the wheel well there were only two seats in the back.  Jacob, Paul and my mom had to sit back there.  In the middle there was a bench, matt’s mom, matt, my dad and Elizabeth sat there, in the front, I was driving and Matt’s dad got the other seat, I guess there is an advantage to being the biggest.  It was a very tight fit, but I think we got to do some things that would be difficult by train, and fit a lot into a couple days, so I think it was worth it.  You will have to ask everyone else if they did.

Leeds castle was build in the 16th century.  Or at least started back then. It was bought by an American Heiress in the 1940s, and so she had spent a lot of money, restoring and updating.  When we arrived, they were having a bird show.  The heiress liked birds so she had started an Aviary.  They had a outdoor flying birdshow.  They had a macaw, and an owl, but the most interesting to me was two falcons.  They had trained them to dive at a target, which they would swing above their heads.  It was amazing to watch those birds fly.  It was really windy that day, so you could see the birds the using the air currents.  The little falcon, called a Merlin falcon would fold his wings in and dive down so fast, then pull up at the last minute when you thought he would crash.  It was amazing. We enjoyed the bird show.  There was a hedge maze so after the bird show we thought we would do that before going into the castle, though we knew we couldn’t dilly dally or we would miss the last entrance.  Well, my mom, me and Matt’s mom stuck together and got very lost.  It wasn’t very comforting to have everyone standing on the platform in the middle saying we were going the wrong way.  Finally Paul (and my Dad) took pity on us and came back to get us.  Paul lead us, and a lot of other people we picked up along the way, out of the maze.

The Castle was interesting; part of it was from Norman times.  There was an old cellar and storage rooms.  Part of it was updated and renovated more recently and so it had an interesting personality.  The heiress had an uncle who founded Standard Oil along with Rockefeller.  He died without children, so she and her sister inherited 40 million dollars, just think how much that would have been back then, no wonder she bought a castle.  It was a very pretty castle with a moat and gardens all around.  When she died she left the castle to a trust, which is who manages it today.  Her daughter still lived in the castle until 2001 when she died.  They had a picture treasure hunt for the kids, they had to look for certain animal pictures in different rooms, which kept them looking around while they had a reading guide and signs in the rooms.  They had knowledgeable people standing around, but you had to ask a question, if you did, you learned a lot.  After the castle, we headed home.

Since it was Saturday we had frozen pizzas when we got back, and then it was bed time again.

Sunday we were slow, which was ok, because church didn’t start until 11.  I took the whole clan to church and they got to see my interesting and ecletic little church.  I will have to ask when this church was built, you can tell it is old.  It is made out of stone with stainglass windows and beautiful woodwork.  We walked to church and then walked home.  We had made a nice lunch in the crockpot so it was ready when we got home.  We ate, and then I don’t know what happened, but it seemed like we could never leave, we finally did around 2 which was much later than I wanted.  We drove (yes, I drove again!) to Stonehenge, it was very impressive, like taller than I thought, but closer together than I thought.  They had a display with the two kinds of stones used at Stonehege, one is a stone from nearby but it has a cold feel, one is from all the way in Wales Called Bluestone.  It has a warm feel.  They had the two stones side by side and you could feel a difference.  I never noticed that in stones before.  It was kind of amazing to think how people back then could have brought those huge stones for 200km away!  Though there are many stone circles in that part of England, Stonehenge is unique for a couple reasons, one is that it has stones on top going horizontal, the other is that the stones are all smoothed and uniform.  Did I mention that we didn’t pay to go in, but stood on the other side of the fence?  It seemed like a good way to do it, you couldn’t get much closer, it is all roped off, even on the other side of the fence. 

After Stonehenge we went to another stone circle called Avebury.   It seemed like a good idea at the time.  The guidebook said Avebury was nice because you could get right next to the stones.  Stonehenge and Avebury were not too far apart either, so it seemed like we could do that and still make it to Bath.  Well, let me tell you, driving on the M25 on the left hand side is a lot different than driving though the English countryside on the left side.  The roads are SO NARROW, and winding, and you had to stay on your side of the road, but there doesn’t seems to be enough room for you on your side.  I hit the bushes on the left more than once.  Someone in the car noticed I seemed to speed up when I got in a dangerous spot, rather than slow down.  Maybe I did, because I wanted to get out of there quickly.  I tried to be mindful to be more slow after that.  At one point, I said to my riders, does it disturb any of you to know I close my eyes every time we pass a car.  They said, that is what they did too.  Oh it was scary and stressful, but I made it to Avebury.

We made it to Avebury, and it was neat because we could get out and walk right up to the stones and touch them, climb on them etc.  It was a HUGE stone circle all around the town, at one place there was a smaller stone circle inside the bigger one, though not in the middle.  It was a really cute little town, and a nice thing was that when we were driving in, a guy gave us his parking pass so we didn’t have to pay.  We didn’t say too long because it was getting late and we still had to get to Bath.

I was a little concerned about driving more, but hey, at this point we were already out, and this was our one chance to see all this stuff, so on to Bath we were. 

We got to Bath after 6 so we missed the Roman Bath tour.  I had printed out a walking tour from the internet, so we started that, only I wanted to be efficient, so we started the walking tour in the middle (close to the parking garage where we parked).  That made it a little tricky, but maybe it was fun to try and find the next plaque on the ground.  The kids liked looking for them.  We started at number 15 or so and made it back to the beginning, so we could do some of that in order.  We saw all the houses in bath, they all looked the same, and they were all connected.  It as a very clean and neat town.  We went down and saw the bathhouse and Bath Abbey.  We walked around and saw the Avon River, and a famous bridge, one of only three known bridges with shops lining both sides.  (we saw one of the other two in Venice).  Bath was a really interesting town.  We wanted fish and chip for dinner and we wandered aimlessly for a long time with my map of resturants, not really finding what we were looking for.  Finally my parents had the brilliant idea of asking at a pub.  They were only serving pizza but they had a brilliant suggestion of a place with "crackin" fish and chips.  We walked there, and they were right, the fish and chips were crackin.  YUMMY (and I dont like fish that much).  After dinner it was back to the car and back home.  We got home very late, but it was a great Sunday.

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