Greetings from Julie and Ivan in Kendal, England: gateway to the beautiful Lake District. For the last ten days, we’ve been sightseeing in England, travelling around by train, underground and local bus. What a time we’ve had! Now, on our last night, we sat down with some red wine and very affordable Stilton to co-write a blog post describing the highlights of our travels…
We arrived at London Gatwick after a red eye flight (Air Transat had the best price) and caught a pre-booked train into central London and then transferred to the Underground to Ealing where our friends, the Ellis family, live. Although Ealing is the last stop on the busy underground Central line, it has a great village feel with a charming, relaxed main street. We caught up at their local, doted on their adorable kids, and had a relaxing evening at their lovely home (featuring high ceilings and gorgeous crown moulding). A big thank you to the welcoming Ellis clan!
The next day, Big Ben struck 11 am as we emerged in front of it from the underground. From Westminster Bridge the Parliament buildings and towers are gothic masterpieces and quintessential London. You really feel at the centre of an empire when you take it all in.
As big Churchill fans, we went to the Cabinet War Rooms: a secret underground office and living quarters where Churchill and his military staff lived and led the WW2 campaign.
Tea in the Orangery (Kensington Gardens) was quite posh. We thought of Diana who once lived just across the yard from where we sat.
We adored the Victoria & Albert (Decorative Arts) museum. Even the grand building itself is part of the display. As with the British Museum, one could spend days here and not repeat any part of the experience. Julie loved all the exhibits but was excited to see those on 20th Century design movements that she’s been studying including: Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Modern and Post Modern.
For a tour of modern art and architecture, the Tate Modern is not to be missed. We had a laugh at a few of the installations like ‘Giant pile of sunflower seeds’ and ‘Twisted metal dog shits.’ On the brighter side, the Tate Modern is housed in an unforgettable building: a massive former power station that was architected mid 20th century (by the designer of the famous British red telephone box). It’s the perfect venue for a modern art gallery and from it you can walk across the fantastic Millennium Bridge.
We caught the mighty Thames at low-tide and Ivan suggested we walk down the steep stairs to stroll the edge of the exposed riverbed. We were startled to find tiny pieces of crockery, brick and other remnants of the past amidst the stones. Julie gathered a few tiny pieces and intends to make jewellery with them (after a very thorough washing).
The Ellis’ introduced us to Song Star (a karaoke game) on Play Station, and Julie sang Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and Somebody to Love while Ivan toned it down with ‘80s classics like Blue Monday and Don’t you Forget about Me. Good fun.
We even had a mini family reunion with Ivan’s cousin who lives in London and his Aunt who was there from Australia on a visit. We had a great dinner and visit and got to meet two new nephews.
Cambridge is a lively medieval town with a great central market (surprisingly only an hour’s drive from London.) Our hosts are Cambridge grads so they gave us the insider’s tour. Punting on the Cam River was precarious and hilarious. Ivan and I took turns and we managed to steer and not fall in. After, we had tea and Chelsea buns (very tasty and similar to cinnamon buns). It was commencement / graduation day, so we got to see the timeless tradition of black robes, sashes and mortar-board hats as the thrilled graduates walked down the cobblestone streets.
Off to Brighton to begin our whirlwind tour of the south coast. The rain continued to hold off (we’ve been incredibly lucky with warm dry days). After dropping off bags at our B&B, we took the local bus towards Eastbourne, alighting in the tiny hamlet of East Dean. It’s a short hike down to the Beachy Head shore: the grandest cliffs on the English coastline! We beachcombed and hunted for fossils. After a few hours we hiked up and along the soaring chalk cliffs far above the Channel surf. We got caught in a tiny bit of rain on the hike back, nothing bad. It was a welcome excuse to pop in to the Tiger Inn for a warm up. It’s the quintessential pub on the village green, where dogs are welcome. In fact, inside we counted three dogs, one fireplace, and four ciders on tap. Julie was in heaven and Ivan was smitten with the mini-Dachshund that kept giving him shy glances with his sensitive face. (The regulars were very friendly, too!)
That night was Brighton Pier in all of its tacky, lamp lit glory, and finally our first English Fish ‘n’ Chip meal. Yum!
On to Bath, the tea-time and social Capital of England, steeped in history, architecture and Jane Austen. We were awed by the incredibly well preserved Georgian architecture (which we saw much of on our free two hour walking tour operated by the town council). Bath is certainly deserving of their World Heritage Site designation.While walking, we looked into a studio and met Olympic sculptor Ben Dearnley! He showed us a work in progress of British Olympic swimmer Mark Foster as well as another monumental piece he is doing for the Prince’s Trust. What a friendly, unpretentious encounter with a real working artisan. We hope his work gets exposure during the Olympics.
Finally, we cursed our bad luck at deciding to spend only the one night in Bath when we discovered that one hour after our train departure, a killer classical line-up was to be performed in full gusto right IN the Bath Abbey: Saint-Saen’s Organ Symphony, Danse Macabre, and Sorcerer’s Apprentice! We were VERY sorry to miss this Samhain Spectacle… but at least we caught some of the rehearsal during which the organist made the earth move with those giant opening chords to the second movement of the Saint-Saens.
And finally way up north to Kendal in North Western England. What a beautiful little town, nestled in the river valley. Though it’s the rainiest part of England it was still sunny and glorious! We headed across the river Kent and up a hill to ancient Kendal Castle (family castle of Katherine Parr: King Henry VIII’s last wife). Would you believe Julie can see the castle right across the river from her flat’s living room window?
Our second last day was spent exploring Kendal’s pubs, getting groceries, getting a library card, and sorting out internet connectivity in the flat – life’s essentials. We finally caught Woody Allen’s new movie Midnight in Paris (highly recommended) then went out to dinner to celebrate Ivan’s 40th! Julie wishes she could be 40 again.
On our last day, we took a local bus for 45 minutes to Grasmere, the home of William Wordsworth. I can’t imagine a more idyllic setting. We embarked on a hike and just kept climbing – incredulous as the view got more and more spectacular with each turn. Old stone fences and streams meandered o’er the verdant hillside. At the top, from our vantage point at Alcock Tarn we could see three different lakes. We met quite a few Brits on the bus, while hiking, and while walking in Kendal. They were always friendly, enthusiastic, and eager to make us feel welcome.
One could really get used to the relaxed lifestyle of the Lake District and northern England. And fortunately Julie has the opportunity to do just that as she’s staying on for six weeks taking a furniture restoration and upholstery course at the Kendal School of Upholstery.
By Ivan Kosir and Julie James