Monday, May 31 – July 20, 2004 LOOK OUT, EUROPE – HERE WE COME!
Monday, May 31, 2004. We were flying over the Atlantic; our dream trip to Europe was finally being realized! We had left our home in Mexico, had a whirlwind 36 hour stopover in Chicago for power shopping (our daily tropical Mexico wardrobe would not suffice for the various European climates!) and to pick up some goodies purchased online as well as maps my dad had personally chose for us. We were able to fit in a delicious Roberto’s pizza and a family get-together of a Bunko game, officially departing Chicago at 9:30am in our comfy Boeing 777 seats on American Airlines, on our way to England. The flight was excellent, a great deal at $500usd r/t including tax; every time we turned around we were brought snacks, meals or both. There had been decent movie choices throughout, as well as the flight pattern ‘You Are Here’
screen to see if we were there yet. The flight flew by quickly (pun intended); possibly our adrenaline contributed to that. WHAT, DOESN’T EVERYONE LIVE IN A CASTLE IN ENGLAND?
It was twilight as we made our descent over the London area; the time change and light tricked my overactive imagination into making me see castles everywhere with modern day Robin Hoods robbing them all and giving the jewels to the poor peasant flower girls like Eliza Doolittle and dowries to the Elizabeth Bennets- all while singing “All You Need is Love”.
After all, growing up in America (which translates to having been partly educated by Hollywood),
the things our minds conjure up when we think of about England are the Queen, the Beatles, Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes, 007, Robin Hood, castles, knights in shining armor and the like.. Well, at least I was not expecting anyone to be clunking around clad in armor, my imagination is not that wild!
I was bouncing out of my seat, the seatbelt fraying at the edges by the time we landed; it took all I had in me to not scream out the window to our awaiting friend, “NAOMI! WE ARE HEEERE!!!”; Vidal’s hand on my mouth may have helped keep my voice down to a low roar... THE EAGLES HAVE LANDED
We landed 30 minutes early, waltzed through immigration- amazing Vidal as well as myself; I had to force myself to stop bouncing so much lest the immigration people realize I was off my American rocker and have me thrown into the Tower. After receiving fresh passport stamps on our passports proving we were acceptable to step foot upon British soil, we got our luggage and changed some dollars- as we watched our hard earned Mexican Pesos fade away into the sunset… The Peso, which had been 9MXP to 1USD for a long time, had recently dropped; although it was great for changing Dollars to Pesos, we only had pesos so had to do the reverse- at 11.5 Pesos to 1 USD. The Gatwick airport exchange rate was 1.95 USD to 1 Pound, plus commission… Meaning our thousands of Pesos were pretty much the equivalent of a handful of peanuts. Exiting the luggage area, we saw 2 signs: ‘Nothing to Declare -This Way’
and ‘Declare -That Way’
. Fools we were not, we chose Door Number One, the Nothing to Declare door. Strange.
Basically we just walked by ourselves down a very long deserted hall at 10:35pm (apparently all the other people on our flight had lots to declare), feeling like maybe we went down the wrong way or were about to be interrogated in a remote wing of the airport, never to be heard from again… Suddenly we were OUT and hugging our dear friend Naomi, who like us, could not believe we had finally made it overseas to visit her. Oversized luggage in tow, Naomi drove us (on the wrong side of the street) to Mike’s (her father) home in Cranleigh, who had graciously opened his home for us to use as our base for the next 2 months.
Knowing us very well, Naomi had probably realized we would be loaded down with luggage and would need a house that could hold 10 oversized suitcases. In our defense, experience taught us we were not good at being backpackers and would be visiting various countries with varied climates for 2 months, most places for 1 night only with no time to do laundry, so we packed accordingly. And hey- a woman needs shoes, does she not?
An extra large suitcase was needed for that alone (okay, truth be told I only brought 4 pair),
another full of presents to bring and leave in Europe to make room for Italian shoes we planned to purchase. We quickly settled in before sitting down to catch up with Naomi; we all crashed at 2:00am (8:00pm our time!)ENGLISH BREAKFAST AND GARDENS
We were up by 9am with no jet lag at all and ready to start the day. Naomi had risen early to prepare a wonderful treat of a traditional English breakfast with coffee, tea, eggs, English bacon, sausages, muffins and crumpets. As we enjoyed our first English meal, we were able to see out the window at the gray day into Mike’s lovely garden; I was intrigued. Where I grew up, we would call it the backyard or just the yard, but staring out; I finally understand what an English Garden really was. It was so perfectly landscaped with paths and lots of trees in the background, a deck for sunbathing, even a Wendy House (playhouse) snuggled in the wooded area, a wooden fence surrounding it all for not just privacy- but tranquility. DON’T FORGET TO SALUTE THE MAGPIE!
Among the décor Mike had in his garden was a beautiful fountain, in which we saw our first magpie. When I pointed the magpie out to Naomi, she told us we had to salute it. Huh?
This was followed by her reciting the magpie poem:
‘One for sorrow, Two for joy, Three for a girl, Four for a boy, Five for silver, Six for gold, Seven for a secret never to be told’.
– It meant that you should hope to see at least one more magpie, otherwise it was sorrow for you… Hmmm…. And they say we people from the New World are strange!
CRANLEIGH: OUR SUMMER OF 2004 HOME AWAY FROM HOME
Our home away from home in England was lovely; enough cannot be said about the genius of Naomi’s idea and the generosity of Mike allowing us to invade his home. Mike was no stranger to us; he had not only been to Ixtapa several times both with and without Naomi, he had been a guest at our wedding, so were already quite at home with each other. Mike is a lovely person, very low key, relaxed, social with all of Naomi’s friends, and has a great sense of humor. He especially enjoyed the company of Vidal- teaching him about golf and horse racing, two of his passions which were constantly on the TV. The house was quite roomy with 4 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, living room, dining room, laundry room, indoor pool, pool (table) room, fireplaces, full kitchen and wet bar. Our room was in the rear of the house, next to a full bath and right by the pool; we did enjoy a few swims during our stay. The garden was equipped with a BBQ grill, which we took advantage of a few times for some lovely dinners with Mike. Other than eating, sleeping, and sharing a bottle or 2 of wine with Mike while brushing up on golf and horseracing, we were privileged to have been there for Mike and Naomi’s Midsummer Night Party. Though Vidal and I had side trips planned right before and after, we were able to assist. Naomi and I were in charge of setting up a gazebo. After a quick glance at the instructions (I do that only on special occasions), we put our brains and muscles to use, had a hilarious time of it, but we did it! Sadly, a huge storm came in while Vidal and I were away prior to the party; our gazebo blew down and it had to be redone…
CRANLEIGH, PART II: WE’RE JUST GOING TO THE GROCERY STORE, WE’LL BE RIGHT BACK!
Our days at the house were always relaxing; Naomi was around as often as she could between work and helping her pregnant sister. On the day after we had gone to Ascot, Naomi and I decided to take off for a bit while Vidal and Mike worked in the garden; she had wanted to show me a bit around her hometown without having to do so by pointing places out from the car. We parked downtown and naturally the rain began to pour, so we slipped into a pub to chat for a bit. The rain let up, and off we went again, to check out some lovely English gardens. Our walk took us to the local cricket grounds, where cricket had been played for 150 years. It was a Sunday and there was supposed to be a game on, but nobody was on the field, so I assumed the game was over. Naomi explained that a typical Sunday game of cricket lasts 6 hours or more… WHAT? Six hours? Yes, she said, they break up halfway through for lunch at the pub. Hmmmm… So when they say “Games have been played here since 1843” it could possibly mean “A game has been playing here since 1843”? I recalled hearing stories of Babe Ruth coming to play in Comiskey Park and sneaking across the street between innings to McCuddy’s to wolf down a couple of hot dogs, but both teams taking a break for lunch together at a pub? The Cranley Hotel and pub was across the street from the field; we went over for a cold drink to chat while we waited for the players to finish their lunch and resume play. The game resumed, we headed over; I commented that I was surprised that there were literally no spectators- no buddies, no wives, no kids playing in the dirt, digging for arrowheads... Oh, no! No digging in the cricket field! That was as harsh of a crime as it was to kill one of the queen’s geese; the Brits take their cricket fields very seriously! The game itself was very interesting, but weird. The pitcher does a circular motion overhand throw, while running… I was fascinated for all of 10 minutes; then we headed back to Mike’s house; Vidal and Mike had prepared BBQ mint lamb and achiote chicken for us. We were grateful, as the one other thing missing from the cricket field was hot dog vendors. Don’t tell me, let me guess: Mustard stains are just too difficult to get out of the grass, right?
BETTER A TEAHOUSE THAN A LOO
One of Cranleigh’s claims to fame is not that of any of its famous citizens (Mike), but that it is proclaimed the largest village in England. Also, its quaint 14th century Anglican church, St Nicolas, has a gargoyle which is said to have inspired Lewis Carroll to create the Cheshire Cat. Aside from famous individuals passing through such as Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Vidal and Sandy; Oliver Cromwell had passed through and left his mark as well. The Cromwell Tea House was named after him, from his visit in 1657. It is said that he sat in its main dining room where he signed a charter. So, if he had just passed through and stopped to use the bathroom, what would they have done- named the public bathrooms the Cromwell Loo?
LOTTIE AND SHANE
Our nights in Cranleigh were not always spent at Mike’s house. Charlotte (Lottie), a dear friend of ours through Naomi (and who had also been a guest at our wedding), had recently married Shane; they had a place in Cranleigh, not far from Mike. Naomi had taken us to see them on one our first weekend there; it would be our first meeting with Shane. It turned out to be love at first sight with all of us. We were highly entertained by their wedding video; they had been married in Vegas (we were not able to make it) by none other than Elvis, who would burst into song during the vows. Ya gotta love it!
EXCUSE ME? IS THAT ENGLISH YOU ARE SPEAKING?
Once in a while you realize that, even though you speak the same language, you’ve no idea what the other person is talking about. Naomi would have fun with us and cop an American accent if we did not understand her English one (i.e.: “I put in the Gare-ahsh.” ‘The what?’ “The GARE-ahsh, the GARE-ahsh! ‘The what, Naomi dear? I’m sorry; I have no idea what a GARE-ach is!’ “Eh!”, she sighed as she rolled her eyes and feigned an American accent “The gar- AGE!!” ) One afternoon, we were sitting with Mike (who is deaf in one ear); we were expecting Lottie to call that day. Mike answered his mobile phone; all we could hear was his part of the conversation, “Who is this? Nancy? Who is Nancy? I don’t know any Nancy. Who? I said I don’t know any Nancy, sorry. What? Oh, Lottie! Why didn’t you say so! You alright? Yes, they are right here...” After we stopped laughing about that, Lottie asked if we‘d like to come over for take away Indian. Excuse me, I said, what is that, a card game? Something like Charades? Goody, I love games! What? Huh? Oh, you mean we are going to order Indian food to go; Indian take-out… A few nights later, we went out for pizza with Lottie, Shane, Naomi and another friend who decided to tell jokes when we stopped at a pub for a nightcap. Vidal at that early point was still having trouble understanding the English accents, I however did not; having grown up listening to my brother blasting the Beatles on his stereo must have had something to do with that. But the jokes went way over my head, as if they were speaking another language completely. For once, Vidal and I were able to feel like idiots together!
THE MIDSUMMER NIGHT PARTY OF THE CENTURY
June 26th The day before, it had rained all day as well as all night, and it was still raining when we woke up. We helped with the party set up in the backyard (oops! I mean, in Mike’s Garden), including rigging up 'roofs' for the bars that were being set up. It was sooooo wonderful to see everything happening right on time: the band had arrived early to set up, the catered food was delivered early and the pig was up and roasting away on his spit, everything in place before the guests started to arrive at 5:00pm sharp; these were things I missed from My Life Before Mexico- people actually showing up on time! It was unlike any party either Vidal or I had ever been to; we were used to casual parties- t-shirts and shorts or jeans. At this party the collars outweighed t-shirts (unless they were underneath), although no ties; heels were the choice over flip flops. Everyone was fabulously friendly, Vidal even made a New Best Friend with Dange, one of Naomi’s who friends fell in love with his accent; he kept asking Vidal to talk! There was lots of champagne, Pibbs and other drinks; delicious spreads of food everywhere, besides the succulent pig itself. Kids were more than welcome; Naomi’s sis brought her newborn baby, I at one point caught Naomi’s neighbor Glenn shooting pool with his son and other kids. The Olympics were starting that evening, so there was the television crowd in the house as well. The band was fabulous, jazzy rock with a tad of disco thrown in; by the end of the night the band gave in to Lottie’s relentless requests for ‘Karma Chameleon’ and winged one line for her. I talked to the singer at the end of the night (they stopped playing at 1:00am), she told me she was a substitute for their lead singer who was ill..
The rain had let up for the party, thank God! Mike had plenty of overhead covering as well as ground coverage all over the garden and a covered dance floor. I will always remember Mike’s friend Wendy, who we called the dancing queen; she was the belle of the ball for sure, with more energy than most people half her age and just having a great time. Naomi was ever the gracious hostess and floated around all night long. On hand also were our buddies Lottie and Shane, Naomi’s friend Sexy Ange, as well as Dancing Fool Ben. Mike was having a great time himself between being host and dancing a strange sideways dance. Vidal was having a great time, refilling his beer bottle with water throughout the night, before excusing himself to go to the bathroom around 10:30pm, when he instead snuck off for a 2 hour nap. The party started to wind down around 1:30am, just in time for us to call for a taxi to get us to Gatwick airport for the bus to Stansted, and our next side trip… By far, the most awesome party either of us had ever been to!
PUBS AND GRUBS:
Between the fabulous party and the pub section below, I will note that I was very impressed when I was told that it is rare that people drive if they planned on having more than 1 drink. People take the law very seriously in England; I had heard the same good news from a friend in Spain. That unfortunately had not caught on in either the US or Mexico. One thing we learned quickly was about the English pub being very much a part of life. They were not just drinking establishments, they were a place to meet and eat; there were many which served excellent meals. I had heard rumors that the food in England was atrocious at best, I am glad to say that rumor was completely false. We only once had an awful meal, that was in London and I take full blame for having chosen it. Any time our friends chose the place, we had awesome meals. Below are those in the Cranleigh area that we graced with our presence, along with some notes I had written, starting with the one with the longest note (though neither for the food nor drink):
A SPECIAL PUB: HOW WE SPENT THE 60TH ANNIVERSARY OF D-DAY IN CRANLEIGH
LITTLE PARK HATCH: A traditional pub with Sunday roast, large beer garden with children’s play area and a wishing well that doubled as a BBQ. We went there on June 6- the 60th anniversary of D-Day. With the current war in Iraq and much animosity towards Bush those days (myself being a pacifist), I was hesitant wherever I went about opening my mouth, lest my American accent make trouble for me. That was never to be a problem for me (not even in France!), least of all on the anniversary of D-Day. It just so happened that we had chosen that particular day, a Sunday, to meet up with Paul – a friend of Naomi and Lottie who had also been a guest at our wedding, his sweet wife, Trudy and their adorable 4 month old baby, Lily. We had stuffed ourselves silly at Sunday roast in another pub, and met them in mid-afternoon at the Little Park Hatch’s beer garden. The pub was completely full and everyone was so very friendly; it seemed like every single person we passed by would smile and say, “Cheers!” - By that I do not mean the American raise-and-clink-your-glass-and drink-with-me ‘cheers’, but in the typical English “Hi, nice to see you!” sentiment. The majority of the clientele were older men, and on this particular day, many of those men stopped me when they heard my American accent with my “Hello!” It would start out with “You’re an American!”; my instinct was to utter a quick apology and run, but all I could manage was a meek “Yes…” , frozen in my spot-awaiting the onslaught of verbal American bashing. Instead, it was followed by an extended hand and warm handshake on their parts, while inviting me for a beer as they shared their love for Americans for what we did on D-Day; many of them were WWII vets. It truly touched me. I did not accept any offer, stating to each the truth in that my friends were waiting for me outside. However, I did end up returning to the interior bar once, and did accept a beer from one particular man who was English by choice, but not by birth. He was quite obviously Italian, and he had overheard my accent from me saying hello to someone else when he called me over. He too said he had a great love for Americans, for the same yet slightly different reason than the rest. He seemed very sad and in need of unburdening his story, so I stayed to listen. He was very emotional as he told me he was from Italy, and that his father (who he would refer to as “that Bastard”) was sort of a right hand man for Mussolini, and that shamed him. He said the cruelties his father had done to others were atrocious and he wished he had never been alive because of it; he had always hated his father for what he had been, and had moved to England for that very reason. He wanted nothing to do with him. Thirty years ago/thirty years after the war, his father was murdered. He said that in Italy, it is an unwritten law- the “Italian Family Law” - that if someone kills someone in your family, you were supposed to take revenge by killing them or someone else in their family (can you hear the Godfather theme song right now?). As he was the oldest, it was up to him to fulfill that law. But he did nothing; for one he had wanted the violence to end, and because he felt his father got what he deserved. I do not remember the man’s name; I did not write it down. I remember clearly his face, his anguish; his tears. His daughter came by about halfway through our talk; she apologized for her father’s ramblings. I told her on the contrary I did not feel uncomfortable; I felt and told them it was an honor to hear his story, as well as reminding him he was not to pay for his father’s sins. Vidal did eventually wander inside an hour later to find me… and then everyone wanted to meet the Mexican with the funny accent!!
AND NOW FOR THE GRUB:
CHEQUERS PUB: Lamb steak, salmon salad and jacket potatoes were a delightful treat.
WHEATSHEAF PUB: We enjoyed an excellent traditional Sunday dinner here of roast pork, roast beef, lots of broccoli, potatoes and carrots; I tried the yummy Yorkshire Pudding- it reminded me of a fluffy biscuit.
PARROT INN PUB: For tea and phone calls in an indoor red phone booth. Once owned by Procol Harem’s lead singer. Come to think of it, that might explain the strange tea...
THE ONSLOW ARMS: On High Street; has pool tables. I believe this is the pub where one must beware of men balancing TVs on their heads, but I will have to double check that with Shane.
THE THREE HORSESHOES PUB: 17 th century pub on High Street.
THE CRANLEY HOTEL: On the Common, right across from the Cricket field. Specializes in Cricket lunches...
PERCY ARMS: Lamb shank, tailor-made steaks by size/inch.
PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION AND THE JEWELER
The public transportation system was very easy, prompt and with exceptional service. Everyone we met seemed willing to go out of their way to assist us. From Cranleigh, the nearest train station was 20 minutes away in Guildford, then another 30 min-1 hr. to London, depending on the train. The very convenient bus service to Guildford ran about every 20 minutes, and although our trip to England was all about being with our friends with sightseeing for once taking a backseat, we did take a couple of day trips to London. On our last full day of our trip, we took the bus/train to London to do some last minute shopping. My mom had asked for only one thing, a scarf like the one her niece Mary had brought her from London many years ago. I had not found it anywhere in the Cranleigh-Guildford area; Lottie and Shane had taken us to many shops over our last weekend- including Swan Walk in Horsham- all in vain. So while our friends were at work, we hit London, did our shopping, threw in a few more sights, spent all our Pounds; I had to bring out my credit card for my mom’s scarf, as it ended up being quite expensive (she’s worth it!). We just made the short train back to Guildford, even found 2 nice cushy seats; we were happy. We got on the first bus back to Cranleigh, the bus driver made small talk with us. We got off in Cranleigh, walked over to grab our last bag of fish and chips and went to visit Lottie at work, at the Jewelers on High Street. We chatted about our day; she asked if we found the scarf. I said yes, and asked Vidal to give me the bag to show her. “Bag? What bag? I don’t have the bag, I thought you had the bag!”, he said. Panic set in, as I realized I had left it on the bus; I remembered having it when we got on. To make things worse, I had put my credit card receipt in the bag, something I NEVER do, so I was really panicking. While this was flashing through my mind, Lottie had already grabbed the phone book and was on the phone with the bus company, who told her there was no form of communication for the drivers; we would just have to wait for the bus to return on its return route. We did not remember which number bus we took, only that it was a female driver. They gave us the timetable; we had about 15 minutes to wait for the next bus. We thanked Lottie as we raced out the door. First bus goes by, different bus driver, but we asked nonetheless, he said another bus would be by in about 10 minutes, number 53. I just sat and prayed. 10 minutes later, another bus arrives, no number, empty bus. The driver opens the door, looked right at me and said, “You are waiting for bus #53?” I replied yes I was. “Don’t worry, it will be here in a few minutes”, as he smiled, closed his doors and left. I was convinced God had sent me an angel, and I felt immediately relieved, knowing my bag would be fine. Bus #53 pulled up a few minutes later. The driver opened the door and smiled; I asked her if she remembered me, that I had got off earlier but left a bag; she smiled and said just a minute, reached down and held up my bag! She said she noticed it right after we got off and kept it up front with her. WOW. Now that is service, with a smile! I thanked her and told her I was so happy I wanted to kiss her, but I wouldn’t. She laughed, said goodbye, closed the door and drove off…
ONE LAST PUB FOR MORE GREAT GRUB…
We took Naomi, Mike, Lottie and Shane out for our last dinner at the Percy Arms pub. A wonderful dinner shared by good friends – or better put- family. We were sad to go (although I am sure poor Mike was glad to have his house to himself once more!), but so glad we had the time we did with our generous “English family”. We would miss them the most. We’d also miss the friendliness of the English people in general – the “Cheers!” greetings everywhere, the genuine neighborliness feeling; how we were made to feel so welcome everywhere we went. So long, England! We will be back!
As we were flying back to Chicago on July 20, I reflected on England. The crazy driving on the left, the roundabouts, the waaay too narrow streets, oh, yes. Then there were the beautiful rolling oh- so- green -hills, the tunnel-streets through what seemed like ‘forests’ canopied overhead, the steep embankments on each side of the windy streets that were for 2 way traffic yet only wide enough for 1 car… The quaint cottages and old houses-how nice it was to see the real thing and not some copied style I’ve seen so often in the USA… The food which was excellent everywhere (although I had yet to have fish and chips wrapped in paper!); but most of all, it was the people that touched me the most; how everyone was so genuinely friendly! The friendliness especially in the cathedrals still blew me away. So much history, so much culture, so much beauty- and we had not seen but a tiny portion of the land; what a thrill it will be to explore more with our friends on our next venture… England was truly a lovely island, a lovely country and with the best of friends to be had, and we were grateful to be blessed with them and the time we were able to share with them.
For more information:
Bus links: http://www.surreycc.gov.uk/sccwebsite/sccwspages.nsf/LookupWebPagesByTITLE_RTF/Guildford+and+Cranleigh+bus+timetables?opendocument