Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Jane Austen, William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens --- Part I

It was the best of trips, it was the worst of trips. It was a trip that almost didn't happen, but eventually did! First it was the passport that almost never arrived, then it was DH's visa drama, then it was the Icelandic volcano again! All in all, by the time we knew for sure that we were going to London, we had 3 days to plan our trip, including getting the flight tickets and booking hotel rooms! No exaggeration. This, coupled with everything that needed to be done before we left, meant I completely forgot one ground truth about Europe --- the amount of smoking that goes on. So I forgot to pack my antihistamines, which almost made this trip memorable for all the wrong reasons!

Although I was not sure that I would make the trip, I had made up my mind that if this trip ever did materialize, I would go see Jane Austen's Bath (which she hated for the most part) and the Bard's birth place. Since the trip straddled two official events, we decided that we will do some aimless wandering in London on the day just before the first conference and after the second one and use the time in between to visit Bath, Stratford on Avon and the Stonehenge. The plan was to drive to all these locations starting from the Stonehenge, passing Bath and working our way to Stratford on Avon before driving back to London via the castle where Churchill was born but where he never really lived.

That was the plan. Of course, that was not what happened. By the time we finished the first conference  it was so late, that we were worried we would not be able to find hotels to stay. Frantic late night search revealed that all hotels in Bath were already taken and the only one available in our price range was a Best Western in a place called Limpley Stoke, 6 miles from Bath. Chafing at the fact that we could have found a charming B&B in Bath for about half the price, if we had planned earlier, we booked this boring Best Western anyway. All we had to do now, was wake up early in the morning, pick up the car, drive to Bath, check in by noon, grab lunch, then head out to Old Sarum and Salisbury then to Stonehenge to see it in at sunset. Simple.

Stonehenge and Old Salisbury: Yeah, simpleLike all self respecting travel plans, it fell flat on its face.  The hotel staff forgot our wake up call (which they remembered very well for our conference thankyouverymuch), we woke up at 10:45 (still jet lagged at that point) and called the car rental to tell them that we would not be able to get to them until about noon! Then came the issue of driving on the left in a country where the streets are so narrow, that I kept crossing them accidentally before even realizing that I was on a road! Long story short, we drove like we were in an electric bump car. Krr-Bump! Krr-Bump! Dhadank! The bumps where from hitting the sidewalk and the Dhadank was from climbing on one!

DH kept over compensating to the left and I thought we were going to rip a few parked cars in half by the time we got out of London. Thankfully this phase didn't last too long and we were finally driving in something resembling a straight line. When we entered Limpley Stoke my irritation at not have a quaint little B&B completely evaporated. Limpley Stoke was beautiful! Of course, now the roads were so narrow and hilly that only one and half cars would fit in them. So every time two cars were approaching the same point, heading in the opposite direction, one of them had to drive in reverse until the road widened a bit and wait there until the other car drove past.

After a bit of driving in reverse and forward directions, we got the point where the road made a steep up hill turn. Now it felt really like a thrill ride, you know, one of those things, where one minute you go hurtling down and then the next the only thing you can see is the sky! We were seriously beginning to doubt the wisdom of the GPS when it decided to give out on us with the final declaration "Arriving at destination on the right". Hmm... The destination on the right was, in fact, somebody's house with the guy pruning some branches in his hedge! We decided to carry on in the same direction since driving downslope in reverse, with tall houses on both sides did not seem like a wise thing to do anyway!

Out of the blue we saw the signs to the Best Western pointing into someone's yard. Closer inspection revealed that there really was a road in all that thicket. We went up the drive and saw the first glimpse of the Best Western and my jaw dropped! Certainly no run of the mill Best Western this!
Turned out that the place was a residence built in the late 1800's. It stayed with the family until the 1960's or something and was then run as a private hotel. The current operator/manager/owner has been running the place for the past ten years or so.

Once I saw this, all I wanted to do was retire then and here and sit on this porch and drink decaf tea!
Do you blame me? Look at this view from the front porch!
Even now, when I look at this, I sigh with contentment.

                                       ------------------ To Be Continued .....

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varsha said...

Ah -the pleasures of travelling -are always quite complicated :)) But writing as good humouredly as you do multiplies them manifold.Thanks for the Chuckle.
Limpley Stoke Indeed -trust the British to Christen.I remember Belly Button and Sandy Bottoms.

Agnija said...

@Varsha: I know, the first time I heard Limpley-Stoke, I wanted to skip and dance around going "Limpley-Stoke, Pimply-Poke". But I guess that would have been very immature of me! :)