11 August 2008

Enveloped in fog

We were up this morning mere seconds after the 5:15 alarm. Tal was expecting Bruce at about 6:00 for a morning of fishing and I had to finsh preparing for a golf committee meeting later in the morning.

Feeling good I was definitely plugging along on all cylindars, through finishing the agenda, making copies, organizing packets for committee members. And, the meeting itself, efficient and productive, included moments of imagination and enthusiasm. I actually enjoyed it.

Once home I made lunch our lunch and then simply lost focus. Faded. A fog descended. Productive no longer, all I've managed for the rest of this day is to make myself do one thing followed by another thing, but without any fire at all. Just little tasks. Update Quicken. Wash the dishes. Answer an e-mail. Return a call.

I suppose the last couple of weeks are catching up. Could be a bit of a letdown, especially pulling off the surprise on Saturday with the sibs. But, I wouldn't trade a single day, wouldn't do anything different.

Now, for sleep.

10 August 2008

The A-Team

Our plan came together this weekend.

The MarshWalk in Murrells Inlet has one more plaque, this one close to the hearts of my siblings and me. Not only did we -- under the leadership of sister Joyce, cooperate New York state to Georgia -- to commission and word the plaque, we all managed, first, to arrive on the South Carolina coast on the same day for the unveiling AND, secondly, to keep the whole thing a surprise for the honorees, our parents.

It was a good, but too quick, weekend.

And, yes, we're pretty proud of ourselves.

05 August 2008

In six pieces

We made it home. In six pieces. The two of us, two checked bags, two carry ons.

The hotel/airport bus was on time this morning, depositing us at Gatwick's south terminal just before 7:30. And there we walked into an unbelievable, breathtaking sight. I don't think I've ever seen so many people in one place in my almost 55 years! It took several minutes simply to get our bearings and to begin moving toward US Airway's serpentine check-in queue. BUT, I have to say we were treated very well, assisted several times by people who were clear and polite, even in the chaotic coffee shop where we had breakfast. In other words, at no time were we made to feel stupid for not knowing -- by some magic happenstance -- our way around. I'm so grateful. (I cannot say the same for our reception in Charlotte. But, that's for another time.)

Of course, the flight was long, longer by almost an hour than the flight east nine days ago. We were fed well, twice. And, I managed to read nearly half the almost 600 page novel I bought in Canterbury on Sunday -- In the Woods by Tana French. It helped that the story is riveting ... It's going to be hard to get into the mail, laundry, bill-paying, house-cleaning with the second half whispering to me at every turn!

We left Great Britian in heavy rain and in temperatures that made the raincoat welcome, even though we didn't step out from under cover even once between the hotel and the terminal. Walking through the doors into the Charlotte afternoon was nothing short of shocking, the temperature hovering just over 100 degrees. Whew.

The car was right where we'd left it in long-term parking and we were home in under three hours. And, Whitby and Belle and the couple who cared for them while we were away were an energetic welcoming party when we pulled into the garage. Having been on the move for just over 19 hours, we are already headed to bed and dark's not even fallen on Edgefield County yet.

The suitcases are unpacked, but the laundry will have to wait until morning.

04 August 2008

Punting on the Stour

On our last morning in Canterbury Tal had a surprise up his sleeve. We ate breakfast, finished packing, deposited our luggage in the innkeepers' lounge and went out for a walk. Ending up at the Westgate bridge we engaged a craft and a guide for an hour-long cruise on the River Stour. It was the perfect way to end our visit, punting past the Westgate Gardens, under footbridges and railroad trestles, through fields and into the countryside -- upstream going out and downstream on the return.

Time came soon enough to say the inevitable goodbyes, collect our things and enjoy the short ride to the Canterbury West train station. The two+ hour journey, punctuated by one change of trains, was followed by a coach ride to our hotel for the night, where we arrived shortly before 4:00.

It may take some time to post this entry. Access to the internet is available here in the hotel, but at a cost of £15 per hour (that's $30), I think the BLOG can wait. When I do make the post, I'll give it the date it was written.

03 August 2008

Sight seeing

That's how we spent much of this day. Literally seeing the sights. Tal's knee woke him up early this morning and is, to put it kindly, bothersome. Rather than stay in our room we headed to the bus station, our £17 week passes in hand, and road the loop from Canterbury to Hearne Bay to Whitstable -- both north of Canterbury and coastal towns on the North Sea -- and back, a round trip of about two hours. While Hearne Bay didn't particularly tempt us to get off, it was hard to stay aboard at Whitstable. What a charming town on a drizzly Sunday morning. Given the dampness of the day and the condition of the coach window, photos were hard to get, but this one bespeaks something of the attraction.

We returned via Canterbury's Westgate. These two shots, while not particularly artistic, do demonstrate the challenge faced by the drivers. It's a slim fit! And, the scrape marks on the stone tell the tale: not every passage through is clean.

We had our usual tea back in our room and strolled to dinner in the early evening. Not sure of where we were heading and having one false start (once inside the menu wasn't very inviting and the drill of ordering and getting seated none too clear), we ended up at a place called The Old Weaver's House on High Street and alongside the canal running through town. We ate in the garden under a covered arbor, complete with ripening grapes overhead. Enchanting is all I can say. This is a view from the street along the canal. The boats -- just visible -- denote where the garden is, that also being where those who take the canal tour embark and disembark.

Given the distance between Canterbury and Gatwick and our mid-morning flight on Tuesday, we are leaving here tomorrow and spending our last night in Great Britain near the airport. Leaving is going to be hard. It has to be done, of course. And, we’ll both be grateful for the decision to head toward the airport early. Getting on the 5:16 train in Canterbury before a 10:40 flight out of Gatwick would simply stretch every nerve!

02 August 2008

Deal or no deal

We set out for Deal this morning on a bus – a local - which took a circuitous, fascinating and even exciting route through the countryside, first east to Sandwich and then winding south to the coast at Deal. Whether we ever reached Deal Castle, an artillery fort built by King Henry VIII and resembling the shape of the Tudor rose, mattered not at all. The scenery was simply too dramatic to take in, much less to describe, and seated as we were in the front seats of the bus’ second level we were treated to some drama as well.

For example: The day before, when we travelled south to Hythe, I’d wondered about the almost squared-off tunnels the roads take through heavily wooded areas. Sitting up top, I soon realized why (and perhaps how) those tunnels are as they are! The impulse to duck would take a long time to tame and I’m positive it won’t happen this visit.

And a question: What happens when the #14 from Canterbury to Deal is running five minutes early? It meets the #14making the Deal to Canterbury run. Head on. On a very narrow stretch of road – 6.5 feet in some places. One driver or the other has to, as they say, give way. The westbound driver did just that, backing to a spot where there was a wide place on the left side of the road into which our coach pull. The two gentlemen paused as their open windows came together. Rather than exchanging harsh words or even blows, our driver apologized for having not waited to glimpse the other coach before proceeding onto the single lane road, knowing as he did to expect him. The other man graciously accepting the apology and we all went on our way. Note in the photograph that the driver of the other coach gave up using the mirrors. He's hanging out of the right side of the bus, steering one handed.

Deal Castle, situated on the coast between Sandwich Bay and the Straits of Dover, is, as the rose shape would suggest, circular. From the outside it’s low and somewhat menacing in appearance; inside the rooms are oddly shaped and the passageways long, curving and dark, although all the interior rooms are lighted via skylights from the walls into the rooms one floor below. The king wanted/needed the coastal forts very badly and in a hurry; Deal Castle took just over a year to complete, from 1539-40, utilizing some 1400 poorly-paid laborers in the process.

By the time we arrived in Deal it was very grey and spitting rain, so for a second trip to the sea in as many days I have only this single, so-so photograph to show.

01 August 2008

Along the English Channel

With the Lambeth Conference drawing to a close and there being more than adequate staff at the VTS booth at the University of Kent, we struck out today to the south. One of the places we had wanted to go, for the romance of it I suppose, was Dover. Every time we mentioned it, however, locals would say something to the effect that they understood, by all means make the visit, but Dover’s not a particularly nice spot, as English spots go. Repeatedly Rye and Hythe were recommended as alternatives.

One of the proprietors of our B&B hotel is from Hythe, on the English Channel, to the south and east of Dover. He had business in Hythe and offered us a ride mid-morning. Our “GOLD MegaRider” bus passes would get us back. All I can say is wow! Hythe is a quaint, not-so-little town dominated by three things: a traditional, narrow, busy High Street (I’ve learned that most English towns have a High Street, which is the main business of the town is/was conducted); the rocky pebbley beach followed, just inland, by high bluffs; the Royal Military Canal, built for coastal defense during the Napoleonic Wars.

The day could not have been nicer. A long, leisurely walk on the very picturesque canal, complete with conversations with fishermen, young and old (two of the younger ones being pictured here). A venture out to the Channel where it was so windy and wild that we stayed for only a moment and I didn’t even take the lens cap off the camera. A quiet sit along the canal where we enjoyed the bottle of water and the biscuits (what we Americans call cookies) we’d brought from the hotel.

When we were ready to return to the Canterbury, we caught a bus which took us west along the coast to Folkestone. There -- with the kind assistance of the driver -- we changed to the Canterbury bus and found our way back to the hotel, another adventure to savor.