Below is the bare bones of the first day of Project Petticoat. It’s bare because 1) I wrote it on the way to Winchester and I was still pretty tired, and 2) That makes it a simpler read and shorter. (I filled in almost half of my journal over the week, so short is good, trust me.)
Since I listened to Jon Foreman’s Seasons EPs every time I turned on my iPod during this trip, I’m going to use a bit of his lyrics as an introduction to each day. Why? Because I want to.
I’m going to try to upload my pictures per day on Scholar’s Art as I update my blog. So check there whenever I post these daily reports.
^Me looking retarded in front of the Hampton Court Palace.
Day One – London
October 10, 2008
And heaven knows, heaven knows
I tried to find a cure for the pain
–The Cure for Pain, Jon Foreman
Since they don’t let planes land in London before 6:00 A.M. (without charging a huge fee), we circled the city for about twenty minutes before the landing. I had my nose pressed to the window, and was contemplating the star-like appearance of a city in the night, when I saw the Ferris wheel. I grinned and almost laughed out loud–Doctor Who and the Christmas Eve alien Santas playing in my head–but I managed not to. Nicole wouldn’t have gotten the joke, and all the sleepy people on the plane probably would have glared at me.
We arrived early in the morning. I had not gotten any sleep, but Nicole had slept a little. We got off the plane and went to customs. There was no line. We went up to an open guy and gave him our passports and landing cards. He was sort of snooty. He was like, “How are you related?” and Nicole’s like, “We’re family friends through the church.” And he’s like, “Where’s your letter of permission?” And we’re like, “Uh… O.O” And then he’s all snappish. “You know she can’t legally enter the country until she’s eighteen.” We then majorly panicked in our heads. After giving us a long lecture on the rules, he siiiighed. “I’ll let you in but you know it’s illegal in some countries to do what you’re doing. You better hope you don’t have an accident before your birthday.” We were like, “Ok, thx, bye.”
We got our luggage. Then we went to find a cab. The driver helped us in and then sat in the front. It was still dark outside, since it was about five thirty or six in the morning locally. We pulled out of the airport and onto the highway. At first we passed a lot of buildings with huge ads on them. But then we drove through a section of green woods and fields. It reminded me a little of D.C., with the bit of green even in a city. (D.C. actually has more green life/trees than Virginia Beach.)
We had been going for a little while when our driver asked us where we were from. Nicole answered that we were from the U.S., more specifically Washington D.C. and Mississippi. He said, “Were you guys just trying to get away from that bloody election? It’s on the news half the time here and it drives me nuts!”
We were like, “Heheh…” Silence…
He pointed out a few sights, and gave us a few tips about getting around town. The sun rose in a deep red that was very pretty to look at. (Though, I have to admit, I thought of Legolas saying, “A red dawn. Blood has been spilled this night.”) I really do like seeing dawn when I travel–aside from the fact that it means I have to be awake at an ungodly hour in the morning. But it makes me feel a kinship to the places I’ve been, and often a place looks its best in the first light of the morning. [/sort of sappy poetical stuff]
At last, he dropped us in front of the Queen’s Park Hotel. We went to drop off our luggage, since we didn’t expect to be allowed to check in yet. But the man at the desk smiled and said everything was ready. So we got our key and went to our room. As soon as we opened the door, a suffocating heat flowed out. We went in for a quick change of items in our carry on luggage, and then left as quickly as we could. We asked the man at the desk to turn down the heat (we couldn’t figure out how to do it ourselves) before we went outside. It was the perfect fall day–chilly but not cold. We walked to the tube (metro), bought our ticket for the week and took on the task of figuring out a way around.
After some quick discussion, I decided we should visit Hampton Court Palace first. It would take the longest, and the train ride out of town would provide the perfect opportunity for me to try to sleep a little. Nicole and I took the tube to Waterloo so that we could catch a train to Hampshire. (Yes, I did have a look around for Jason Bourne.) I dozed on the ride to Hampshire, which only took about thirty minutes, and awoke refreshed enough to be comparatively alert. It was a short walk from the station to the castle. Nicole paid and we went in.
It was very big and confusing, and we got lost more than once. But it was beautiful, in a dark, dank sort of way. I noticed here and at other places that in these sorts of places it’s all open. You’re allowed to walk almost everywhere, whereas in America you’d be roped onto a strict path. There were several open, smallish courtyards that were completely empty and would have made excellent photoshoot spots. (By the way, if you’re a photographer in England, thank God and then get busy. It’s amazing how much potential there is, what with the foggy mornings, rolling hills, cities, ruins, etc. When compared to Mississippi, I sort of want to cry.) Anyway, there are restrictions, of course, like you can’t sit on Henry the VIII’s pew. But it’s much more liberal than Mt. Vernon or other historical homes I’ve visited in the U.S.
Nicole got yelled at in the King’s Apartments, because there was a sign somewhere in a corner that said we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside. (I swear it was invisible. I don’t think we found it.)
Everything was very medieval and dark. I thought it was probably pretty depressing to live there. What was interesting is that when you enter the chapel, it’s like you’ve stepped out of boring stones and average architecture into the Renaissance. There’s deep red wood everywhere, and the roof is painted dark blue and… My knowledge of architect language fails me. But it’s really cool. (Unfortunately, you aren’t allowed to take pictures in there.)
There was a “Young Henry” section that sticks out in my memory. It was well put together. I know very little about English history (just enough to scrape by), and I rarely read all the little signs they have around. But in the Young Henry part, they had these three tall chairs with writing on them. One represented Henry’s first wife, Elizabeth, one represented his main adviser (a minister–I forget the name), and one represented Henry himself. Each had about a paragraph of their story, so you got their different struggles and points of view. As you went from room to room, the chairs moved and separated as Henry’s relationships became strained. It was visually pleasing, and the writing sucked you in so that you read every bit.
After walking for several hours, we asked for directions to a cafe. We were aiming to go to something local, but we were sent to the cafe that was part of the museum/castle. It was pretty much just like the cafeterias in the Smithsonian, which was okay. I got some chicken with sauce and we got a chocolate cake slice to share. I ate about half the chicken and a bite of the cake. I was still extremely tired not at all hungry.
We paid a brief visit to the gift shop, then returned to the train station. On the way back, a distraught businessman stepped into our car, talking on his phone to someone who was obviously upset. I eavesdropped a little. He was telling the man to pull out all the savings, get cash, etc. This was somewhat unsettling, but I didn’t mention it to Nicole and merely resolved to catch the news that night. (It’s worth noting that my phone wasn’t working. I thought I would be able to text Mom internationally, but apparently I was wrong. This wasn’t a big deal, it just made me feel rather isolated from the world.)
Once in London, we made our way to Westminster Abbey. I got to see Big Ben and the Parliament buildings in passing.
Westminster was pretty cool. It reminded me a bit of an antique mall or flea market, because they have a main walkway and then little separate rooms off to the side for little clusters of graves. I think it’d be a little creepy to attend church regularly there. There was one ambassador or something who had (I kid you not) a porcupine at his feet (on his grave statue thing). There was another one that had a lot of crosses and Jesus and stuff and then this very freaky set of sculls. Aside from the weirdness, a lot of the statues reminded me of Aragorn at his death. I’m sure they based that scene in the movie off of the graves from that time period like the ones I saw.
We saw the graves of Lewis Carrol, Charles Dickens, and Darwin, as well as a lot of kings and queens. We also saw England’s oldest door (quite by accident). We were peering into this big room out of curiosity, and on the way back to the main corridor we passed this little sign that alerted us to the presence of the ancient door. We also passed Poet’s Corner several times, but never saw Shakespeare. The sign that had an arrow on it pointed literally into a corner which was about three inches away.
Nicole was desperate for a bathroom, so she left me to sit in a corridor next to a courtyard. I played around with my camera some. When she came back (quite a while later), it turned out that she’d gotten snapped at again. She asked the girl at the little shop if she could give her directions, after looking on her own several times. The girl was all snooty and was like, “It’s by Shakespeare’s grave.” Nicole was like, “Um, where is that?” She answered, “In the Poet’s Corner.” Nicole gave up and went back to stare at the sign pointing at the little corner which had nothing. One of the monk people walked by, and Nicole asked him for help. He very kindly gave her clear directions, and everything was solved, about twenty minutes after the beginning of her quest.
I stopped at the gift store and grabbed a few postcards and a little red double-decker bus keychain for Philip. We left as the priest was beginning the service. He opened with a prayer for the market, which reminded me of the businessman earlier that day.
We walked back to the tube and went in search of Charles Dicken’s house (now a small museum). We wanted to do this last thing so that we wouldn’t get back to the inn and bed too early. When we came out, there were signs directing us. But after a few turns, they disappeared. We were left standing in front of a children’s hospital and a lot of streets that weren’t on Nicole’s map. We eventually gave up wandering around, and went back to a cafe on the way to the train station. I just got a crescent (which wasn’t amazing) and we ate by a fountain/pool. (This was also when I learned that there are different prices between eating in and eating out–which was fine, because I wanted to eat outside anyway.) I’d also ordered a fruit cup for protein but they gave me a weird fruit tart instead. I didn’t eat it, which was okay because I was too tired to really want anything more anyway.
We caught the underground and returned to our rooms. It was cooler than it had been before (thank goodness!). We were on the first floor, so we had a door instead of a window. We could get it open a little, which let in a nice breeze. We both took showers and watched the news. It turned out that the stock markets had all crashed, which was much better than what I was worried about. Then we watched the Weakest Link for a little bit (I was again reminded of Doctor Who). Finally we fell asleep.