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Thursday, July 9, 2009


Monday, July 6


Land Ho!  I awoke quite early on Monday because the cruise director’s announcement the previous night said we would be sailing past the cliffs of Dover around 6:00 AM.  I didn’t want to miss seeing them from the water.  The bonus is that there is a castle that sits on the top of the cliffs making the image all the more striking.  Thoughts of WWII filled my brain.  One can’t help but conjure up visions of soldiers getting ready to cross the channel.


The night before docking we had to pack all our luggage that would be hauled off the ship in huge containers and onto the dock.  We held back our carry off and a change of clothes for morning.  The luggage was late in being unloaded and that caused our waiting driver, Ted, to be a bit worried about us.  But, we made it off the ship and Ted found us.  Ted turned out to be a bit of a hoot.  He is a retired tour driver who now operates his own Honda van and can take you anywhere you wish. 


We told Ted we wanted to go to Canterbury.  So, off we went as Ted gave us a full education on the geology of the chalk cliffs, how the area had been under water for millions of years and the composition of flint.  The really good news is that Ted has a handicap parking permit and we were able to shortcut many parking regulations.  The center of Canterbury is a pedestrian area with very limited handicap only parking.  Ted is a sly one.  We got out and had a bit of a walk about as Ted filled us with more local history.  I must say that the sight of the gate to Canterbury Cathedral is a strange one.  The gate is a colorful archway with a Starbucks snugged up on one side and a McDonald’s on the other side.  Ted suggested that we not pay to tour the cathedral, as it wasn’t all that spectacular.  Instead, he wanted to take us to Leeds.


Off we went to Leeds.  Ted chose side roads rather than the highway so we could enjoy the countryside.  We stopped in several small villages along the way and took a few lovely photos while it rained a bit.  Not to worry.  By the time we got to Leeds the rain had blown over leaving intermittent sun.  And, I must say that Leeds Castle is rather interesting.  We parked about a half a mile from the castle and walked through a wonderful park.  The park is filled with gigantic cypress and oak trees and lots of birds.  Guess what.  Canada geese.   Ted told us how England regretted the introduction of Canada geese because they are such a messy bird.  Well, Ted.  Get in line with that complaint!  But the park is also home to black swans that were imported from Australia.  The strangest bird that I saw however was a white peacock.  The castle inside is quite up to date as it was a private residence up until recent years.  A widow who is descended from the Whitney’s of the cotton gin family owned it and she hosted lots of movie stars and lavish parties over the years.  She left the estate to a charity upon her death and they run it now.  As we toured the castle, Ted gave history lessons to anyone he passed in the halls and even quizzed a few of the resident guides.

Then back into the car for the terrifying drive into London.  Ted asked if we wanted to stop in a local pub for lunch but we declined, as we were weary and ready to reach our London flat.  So, Ted steered onto the highway and off we went.  As we neared London, Ted continued with his commentary of the local news of the day and the goings on around London.  He had opinions on the areas of public housing we drove through and the massive number of immigrants from African countries.  The most interesting news he gave us was a report on Trafalgar Square.  Each of the four corners of the square contains a plinth.  On three of the plinths there are equine statues to heroes.  The fourth plinth is empty. A contest was held to nominate something for the fourth plinth.  The winning entry is now being shown.  It consists of (I think I am remembering the numbers properly) several thousand people being individually hoisted up onto the plinth over the course of six or eight weeks.  They entered a lottery of sorts and were assigned a time for their stint up on the plinth.  I will describe the sight in tomorrows report! 


Ted delivered us to the flat and helped get our suitcases down the few steps to the door.  We are in a garden flat which means it is the lowest level of a three-story townhouse.  After many years of watching Location from the BBC, I thought we had stepped directly into one of the episodes.  Our flat is exactly as seen on TV.  It’s a cozy shotgun arrangement of rooms with a little walled garden in the back.  The dining area is actually a glass-roofed addition on the back of the house and the shed behind has been converted into a second bedroom.  This dining area is a very cheery place to sit and write a blog.  However, the best feature of this flat is free high-speed Internet.


After seeing Ted off and thanking him, we did a preliminary unpacking.  It was now late afternoon and we hadn’t eaten breakfast yet.  So, we set out to find a few things.  Linda had stayed in this neighborhood before and has a fairly good instinct for where things are and how to get there.  After a few wrong turns and consulting a map located at the bus stop, we made it back onto a main road.  We settled on a sandwich shop and ordered.  I had a lovely big bowl of gazpacho and a ham sandwich followed by an apple tart. 


Next stop was a little convenience shop where I picked up a bottle of wine and potato chips while Linda bought pastries and Pepsi.  Salt for me and sweet for her.  Then, back to the flat and the mystery of a German washing machine with no instructions.  Then entire remainder of the evening was spent with Linda in and out to the laundry room to try to figure out the cycles.  Now, when I say laundry room what I am describing is little niche under the front porch steps leading up to the flats in the rest of the building.  One must bend down and crouch in front of the washer to try to decipher the hieroglyphics on the front of the machine.  Several hours later I fell into bed and Linda stayed up God knows how long waiting for the spin cycle to end.  Thank God the landlady called the next day and was able to give me the secret to operating the dryer.  One must actually empty the water that collects in a pan under the dryer as the clothes sort of dry.  No matter.  This is all an improvement over washing clothes by hand in the bathtub on a cruise ship!

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