Cheesehead On The Move---Part 2--- A Tale of Three Towers
By Gayle Lange Puhl
Do not tell me how educated you are or how old you are, tell me how much you have traveled and I will tell you how much you know.
The Prophet Mohammed
I would like to begin this account of my trip by emphasizing that this is my account and no one else’s. Sixty-two people participated in this adventure and I am sure that sixty-two different stories could easily be told and each would be correct and truthful. I write the accounts of my travels for several reasons. First, I write because I want to remember and savor the experiences. Secondly, I write because I have always, in one fashion or another, written things and I enjoy writing. I write for my own satisfaction. And finally, I want my family and my friends to know and understand me a little better and I think the best way to do that, especially for those who will never meet me, is to read my adventures expressed in my own unique way.
Bill H. of the English department of the Evansville High School in Evansville, WI organized the first European Trip in 2006 thru EFTours of Boston, MA. The itinerary covered the United Kingdom from London up to the Lake District, over to Edinburgh, Scotland, and back down to York in Yorkshire. That trip was written up and posted by me. It may be read by paging pass this account deeper into this blog. I really suggest that you consider doing that first. I’m not going to do a lot of explaining about things I’ve covered in the first blog. Life is too short, time is a river, footnotes are a pain, etc. I did decide to look for the Sherlock Holmes connection each day of the 2008 trip like I did during the first trip. You go ahead and page forward and read the adventures I had in 2006. I’ll wait.
Finished? Yeah, it’s pretty long, isn’t it? I hope you enjoyed it. Continue, please.
These youngsters however, go everywhere and see everything. They are as sharp as needles too; all they want is organization.
A Study in Scarlet
The first trip had twenty clients and three chaperones. The second trip had fifty-four clients and six chaperones. Two tour directors from EFTours guided us around Paris and the U.K. It was planned as a 9-day trip to Paris and London. An extension was available for a 3-day continuance to Scotland. Fifteen clients and two chaperones took the extension.
Bill H. and Dan C. came into my study hall room at the high school on April 25, 2007. They waited until I had finished taking attendance and signed passes, then asked me a simple question: would I like to be a chaperone on the ’08 trip to Paris and London?
Would I? Would I? WOULD I?? I said yes.
Bill H. explained that they had decided to ask me some time before, but had waited until that day because it was my birthday. Here’s to the best birthday present ever!
They left, I did a little dance, announced to the students that this is what Mrs. Puhl looked like happy, and then just glowed for months. Later I found that I was also going on the 3-day extension to Scotland after Paris and London. Best birthday present ever!
Finally reality hit. As the date of June 18, 2008 neared, I started writing out list after list after list. There were things to be collected, things to do, things to pack. Finally, on the morning of June 18, I scratched off the last item, take out the garbage. My daughter Gayla and her daughters Ainae and Anicia picked me up in her van and drove me to the high school building where the Van Galder bus would pick us up for the trip to Chicago’s O’Hare Field Airport. I gave them directions about bringing in the mail and watering my Peace plant.
This year’s group of kids, parents, other relatives and chaperones was so large that it had been divided into three sections. One group of thirty had left at 8:30 am to catch their plane from O’Hare Field in Chicago. The second group of thirteen and my group of seventeen left Evansville together for O’Hare at 11:30 am.
Our 2008 EFTour was called “A Capital Connection”. The trip was 9 days long and covered Paris, France and London, U.K. A 3-day extension, chosen by the fifteen people Bill and I were chaperoning, covered Edinburgh and other points of interest in Scotland, U.K. The other chaperones were Dan and Mindy from the first trip, and Tanya, Dan’s wife, who knew French from college, and Dan L., who quickly became known as The Other Dan, a friend of Bill’s. The Other Dan had led a group from his own school back in ’06.
This trip featured a free day in each city except Edinburgh, with an extra day in London for those taking the night train northwards. This allowed for extra adventures, some of them quite surprising.
The Sherlock Holmes connection on the first day of the trip was the fact that of the seventeen people of our extension group Dr. Watson and his son Nathan were with us. He was a veterinarian with a local practice in Evansville who had a fine sense of humor. He had heard all the jokes and let me tell a few more.
The bus left Evansville on time, dodging the city road construction in Evansville and heading for Chicago on I-94. We got to O’Hare with no problems and gathered up our bags. Walking into the International Terminal we recognized the escalator that kids from the first trip had camped beneath two years ago. That escalator had become legendary in tales about the trip back at Evansville High.
We got thru the baggage check-in and boarding without mishaps, although I had a flash of déjà vu when I set off the metal detector again. I was searched because the shirt I was wearing had metal buttons. Our group of thirty from the bus was divided back into the thirteen and seventeen booked on different flights.
Our seventeen left at 5:30pm and the last group of thirteen left at 6pm. We went to London first and the other group went straight to Paris. Therefore, we would arrive last in Paris.
We boarded a 747 British Airways flight to London. I needed an aisle seat and one of the girls had been assigned a seat away from her friends. I offered to trade if the girls could find another aisle seat. They found me that seat so the girl could sit by her buddies. I sat next to a man named Jeff from Cincinnati, Ohio. He was going to Africa on a church mission to help build an orphanage. Jeff was quiet and had an elaborate tattoo on his right arm featuring roses. We were in the back of the plane in the economy section, right up against the back wall and handy to the lavatories. We also were served first from the refreshment cart.
The flight took six hours and went smoothly. I could not sleep on the plane, despite the nice little packages with socks and sleep mask they gave everyone. The dinner was baked salmon with penne, vegetables, lemon cheesecake, a malted milk chocolate bar and tea. Each seat had a little television set into the back of the seat before it. I watched episodes of “The Family Guy” and “The Simpsons” and the movie “This is Spinal Tap”. I saw the full moon outside the plane over a thick bank of clouds, so it does get dark on the way to England.
Just before we landed at Heathrow outside of London we were given a box with a roll, jam, butter and orange juice. Tea and coffee were offered during both meals. I preferred tea.
We had to catch a connecting flight to Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport from Heathrow. Our bags were checked to go on ahead automatically to the correct plane. There was a short wait in Heathrow Airport. In a large lobby area some European cars were on display on platforms. Nearby was a food stand called The Global Café. I wandered over to look at the posted selections and to marvel at the prices.
We left from boarding area M18 to board our Paris flight. That proved to be an Airbus with a center aisle and three seats to a side. Because it was a short flight, there were no TVs. Shortly after we took off, we were given a meal of scrambled egg and bacon sandwich with juice and tea. It ended up being our lunch. We arrived in Paris about 1 p.m. on June 19th.
At the Paris terminal we were met by Helen S., our new tour director from EFTours. Jim P., our tour director from the first trip, had met the group of thirty people and the group of thirteen that had earlier flown from O’Hare on different planes. They had left on their bus. Our group boarded a chartered French motor coach to leave our bags at our hotel. Then a problem developed. Jim had had to devise a new plan because the hotel where our rooms had been booked couldn’t handle sixty people as called for in the original plan. Another Quality Hotel in Paris had to be found. Since Helen was not familiar with the second hotel’s location, we drove back and forth down residential streets of the Paris suburbs in order to find the correct hotel. At one point we gave the bus driver a round of applause because he navigated a very tight turn between a brick wall and a stone pillar on the corner of a narrow street. We enjoyed many fine views of French buildings and businesses on the way.
It was established after a few enquiries that the problem was navigating that great big motor coach into the right street to reach the hotel.
Finally the correct route was located, luggage was deposited, and our group took the Paris Metro (subway) to the nearest stop by Notre Dame. On the subway ride I was amazed to see bright graffiti spray-painted on the walls of the tunnels we traveled thru. It reminded me of Chicago. The only saving grace was that most of the writing was in French. That meant that I couldn’t read it, so it became like unexpected flashes of abstract art. It was to be seen throughout Paris, but was most noticeable in the subway tunnels.
We had free time to explore the famous Gothic cathedral before we were to regroup with everyone under the statue of Charlemagne on the plaza in front of it. I had already hit an ATM and got some euros. I took pictures inside the cathedral made famous by centuries of pious Catholics, Victor Hugo and Walt Disney. The first thing I heard inside the building was an American woman saying “There’s a notice about pickpockets, Harry!” I got out the binoculars and my British Polaroid 35 mm camera.This was not the last trip’s camera, but it was the same make. I was so pleased with the performance of the camera I had borrowed from a friend in 2006 that after I returned I decided to get my own. After a phone and on-line search I discovered that it was not American-made, but British. I found one offered for sale second-hand on e-Bay from England and bought it, the first thing I ever bought on-line.
I walked slowly around the outer edge of the nave wondering at the interior and the stained glass windows that gleamed thru the gloom. I knew that my little camera and the press of the crowd wouldn’t get me the best photos, so I determined to get a good guide book, one loaded with professional pictures and informative text.
I picked out a guide book at the little souvenir stall in one corner at the back. The saleslady was talking in French to her saleslady friend and took no notice of the people waiting to purchase books, postcards and religious medals. I said, “Madame! Madame!” and finally “Madame!” All those Pepy LaPew cartoons were finally paying off. I was not more than four feet away from her, but I might as well been at the top of the Eiffel Tower for all the attention she showed my repeated calls. Around me, other people were crowded up to the stall, each waiting to complete their own purchases. Frustrated, I rapped the guidebook on the top of her cash register to get her attention. She stopped talking and glared at me. I was very impolite! I had interrupted her conversation with her friend! She began to complain, telling me that I should have said “Allo, Madame.” Someone behind me said, “She did.” Stymied by the gathering crowd, she grudgingly took my money and made change. As I turned away, I could see that others were pushing up to her station, keeping her from resuming her conversation and actually making her work. If I was Catholic, that might have bothered me, but I’m Lutheran, so it didn’t.
The sun was shining brightly as I exited the cathedral. Outside near the Charlemagne statue, I saw Jim P., our tour director from the 2006 trip, talking to Bill. He was surprised to see me and gave me a big hug.
“Why didn’t you tell me she was coming?” he asked Bill.
“I did.” Bill said.
“I didn’t know it was going to be you,” said Jim. Jim always did have trouble with my last name. We rejoined the travelers from the other two flights into one big hungry group.We all took the Metro to our dinner restaurant, the Casino. Jim didn’t know that I was a chaperone, but after Bill told him, he invited me to sit at his table. We talked and laughed, telling stories about the first trip to Helen and The Other Dan. In particular, I told my version of the Queen Mum story and he told his. The funny thing was, it turned out the stories didn’t match. I guess you had to be there.
The meal was chicken and carrots with strawberries and yogurt for dessert. I drank a lot of water. In fact, I ran that poor waitress ragged for water. It’s a problem in Paris, not drinking alcohol. It’s like visiting Monroe, Wisconsin, and not eating any cheese.
After dinner we divided again and went back to our hotels. One group went to Helen’s hotel and the others to Jim’s. I was with Jim’s group.
Everyone’s bags had been stored in two rooms and when it came time to sort them out, mine could not be found. I was worried, because my meds were in one of the bags. Bill and Jim were great, Jim even offering to find me a doctor if I needed one. After a search the bags were located and I finally retreated to my room. It had been a long time since I took out the garbage out back in Evansville.
It would be a great pleasure to me, therefore, if you could come on to the Continent with me.
The Final Problem
On June 20, I woke up in Paris! The Sherlock Holmes connection today was that the Great Detective had a French grandmother, the sister of the artist Vernet.
I had paid a premium for a single room throughout the trip, some of the best money I ever spent. My room was small but nice, painted in a neutral color with a wall of windows that slid open overlooking the front courtyard. There were no screens. It had a double bed with a reddish duvet and white pillow covers. The big windows opened on a sliding track but had no locks.
Down the hall of the suite the toilet had its own little room, with the bath/shower and sink in a room on the other side. The bathroom was large enough to hold a place to hang up my shirt after rinsing it out. I had chosen my wardrobe to be rinsed out as needed. The tub was large and had high sides, with a half door of glass. The TV in the bedroom had sleep controls and carried CNN, BBC and several channels in French and German.
The first night I had a shower and watched “Crossing Jordan” in French. I had no problem following the plot because I had already seen it at home. As I do normally, I woke up in the middle of the night, then again at 4:30. I found I could fall back into a nice sleep while a French voice murmured in the background. I wish I could adapt this knowledge to good use back home.
June 20th came with the dawn. Orange juice, tea or coffee, rolls, cheese, sliced ham, corn flakes and milk were offered for breakfast downstairs. At 9:30 we started off. Our hotel group filled a bus. The other hotel had their own bus and Helen as their tour director. During the day the people of each bus saw the same things and places but at different times. This pattern was followed all thru the trip, with the groups meeting for dinner at night.
Notes taken on the bus---a little house with concrete trees embossed on the outside—houses six or seven stories tall, four or five windows wide, iron balconies at each window with flower boxes planted in colorful blooms, tiny but lavish gardens in each front courtyard—public buses installed with strap hangers---long narrow automobile license plates that look like the ones in England---stores labeled pharmacies, the L’Acacia restaurant, Ban Hotel, Speedy Auto Shop---flea markets---large trucks parked on the side of the street with men standing next to them, the sign of a strike. Helen had explained the day before that yet another big strike was happening, apparently something the French considered a national sport. Motorcycles dodging thru traffic---Century 21 offices---houses of dressed stone with white stone hooded windows---walled gardens---houses of stucco, brick, flint, fieldstone, dressed up with white quoins at the corners and around the windows---fancy iron gates enclosing courtyards---out of the suburbs and into the city---a shop labeled Coiffures---Brasserie, a café and bar---into Paris---large grey metal oval containers on the sidewalks, French public toilets---flower beds of pansies and gardenias lining the avenues---the bus driving thru traffic tunnels with columns like those of the one that took Princess Diana---bridges over the Seine with barges and boats lined up below---fancy domed subway entrances on the streets---tall buildings with Mansard roofs studded with cute round or square windows---smart cars---trucks with tied-down sides---the Arch de Triumph placed in the center of an enormous roundabout with streets radiating out, each lined with trees trimmed in the shape of tall rectangles---little stone balconies over stone-trimmed storefronts on seven-storied buildings with Mansard roofs, windows behind iron balconies and apartment houses topped with chimneys sporting thick, round chimney pots---square cobblestones in the streets, patched with spots of asphalt---Speed A Rocket Pizza---more streets and we are at the Eiffel Tower.
This was the first Tower of my story’s title.
Everybody out of the bus! We landed at a plaza set over a museum complex, the Palais de Chaillot, with a great view of the Eiffel Tower in the near distance. This symbol of Paris was designed and built by Gustave Eiffel to celebrate the 1886 Paris Exposition. He was the same man who designed and built the Statue of Liberty as a gift from the French people to the American people in 1883. The Eiffel Tower was planned to be temporary, to be torn down for scrap after 20 years, but it became so popular that it escaped its original destruction date. The Tower was finally saved during WW1 when a radio antenna was placed at its top. That proved to be so useful that no one really thought it a good idea to scrap it after that. However, a con man during the 1920s was successful in selling the rights of scrapping the Tower to two different junk dealers in Paris at two different times because of the persistent rumors that the government considered the Tower ugly and wanted it torn down.
I took a picture for a German family on holiday as they stood before the tower. Bill took my picture in front of the Tower. I walked around and took pictures of some of the statuary placed around the plaza outside the twin museums. At the sides of the plaza were set gold-colored statues of men and women. At the back of the twin museums, facing the Eiffel Tower, were two bronze statuary groups positioned out to overlook the wonderful view.
I bought hats and shirts for the folks back home at a nearby souvenir stand. We got back on the bus and headed thru the previously military district of Paris to the Hotel de Invalids. This was a hospital built by Napoleon I for use by his injured and maimed soldiers. It was a large handsome building in the Empire Style with a huge dome. Under the dome is Napoleon Bonaparte’s tomb. A ticket was needed to enter, but we could only stay 20 minutes. I walked around and took a couple pictures and was the last back to the motor coach.
Much of downtown Paris was torn down and reconstructed on new and improved lines during the mid-1800s. The style that developed was called Belle Époque. It featured wide avenues, lots of columns, dressed stone, heroic Greek and Roman architectural touches laid on with a trowel, white paint, Mansard roofs, fanciful details, classic statues and a general air of power and intellectual superiority.
Our homegrown architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, of Spring Green, Wisconsin, hated Belle Époque.
The bus drove down the Champs-Elysees, the richest shopping street in Paris. Shops lined the sidewalks---Louis Vitton---Prada---Gucci---Hermes where Oprah was denied entry because the store had closed for the day---St. Laurent---expensive shops without number---movie theatres---huge Old England store featuring fine and expensive ready-made suits and shirts—on a side street the fabled Paris Opera House, built during the time of Napoleon III and reputed to have a secret lake underneath it---a street of perfume shops--- the home of the French Ballet---Cartier—Baccarat---Tiffany---Van Cleef & Arpel---more streets---the Ritz Hotel---the Rodin Gardens and Museum with a glimpse of “The Thinker” from the back among the trees---a statue of King Louis XIV.
We drove past the Place de Concord, the huge square where during the French Revolution in 1793 the enemies of the revolution, including Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette, were beheaded for the good of the state. It was the scene of the famous ending of Charles Dickens’ novel, “A Tale of Two Cities”. The spot where the guillotine stood was marked in the pavement.
The Chamber of Deputies at the end of the square---view of the Arc de Triomphe down one street---Tulleries Gardens---Musee d’Orsay, a former railway station converted to an art museum---the Louvre---driving down one side of the Seine then over yet another bridge---Ile de la Citi, the original island site of the early Paris---prison towers that held Marie Antoinette---dark green boxes that served as art stalls and book stalls attached to the balustrades along the side of the Seine---a bridge built with the stones that once made up the Bastille, the famous French prison---tour boats on the river---Pont Alexander III with molded heroic figures black and touched with gilt, judged the most beautiful bridge in Paris---bus stops with metal shelf seats that only accommodate two people---Metro tracks running alongside the Seine---and the motor coach headed out of the city, on the way to Versailles, built by Louis XIV.
Louis XIV was known as the Sun King. He ruled for 64 years, having come to the throne as a young child. He believed that he was the state, that everyone including the nobles had to do what he said, and the peasants were not to be considered at all in the great scheme of life. In other words, he was a serious candidate for “Supernanny”.
He distrusted everyone, and built the palace Versailles out in the country (12 miles, a day’s travel!). He forced the court (i.e. anyone who was anyone) to move in and live in cramped little rooms and be around so he could keep an eye on them and discover what they were plotting. If he liked you, he gave you the castles and property that belonged to the people he didn’t like. He spent a lot of money building Versailles and waging wars against other countries. The nobles and the regular people were squeezed to pay taxes to pay for it all. And he didn’t care! His son died and his grandsons died and when Louis XIV finally died his great-grandson became Louis XV. The new king continued the bad spending habits he had been taught. His famous quote was "Apre moi, le deluge."
His son Louis married Marie Antoinette but they were way too young (she was 14, he 17) for the responsibility of marriage. Young Louis had a medical problem that involved a surgical solution and in those days of leeches and unwashed sharp instruments and no anesthesia it took his advisors seven years to talk him into the operation. By that time Marie was a glamorous shopoholic Valley Girl and he was heavily into clocks. She settled down a little as the children started to appear but she couldn’t live down her reputation and Louis XVI (his dad had died) had the reputation for being a clod who couldn’t handle his government or his wife.
He supported the American Revolutionary War, mostly to annoy the British. That cost a lot of money and let democratic ideas spread freely throughout France. Because the money had been borrowed the economy went down the tubes and taxes and the price of bread went up and the next thing you knew the mob marched 12 miles to Versailles from Paris, grabbed the Royal Family and made them sit thru a heavy-duty audit of their lives. Things were just never the same after that.
Versailles was the capital of France for 100 years. The king(s) lived there and he wanted only the best. That was what he got. The best gardens surrounding the best buildings, decorated with the work of the best artists and sculptors, filled with the best furniture, peopled by the noblest in the kingdom wearing the best clothing and the best jewels and fancy 3-foot high wigs, eating the best food---and not one bathroom in the entire joint! How would you like to be honored as the nobleman who carried the King of France’s personal potty chair around, ready for instant use? Talk about your seats of power!
We got off the bus and grabbed a sandwich before entering Versailles. Well, “grabbing a sandwich” really meant standing in line in front of one of the only two restaurants in the neighborhood while 237 other people stood in line for a sandwich or got a sit-down meal at the same place. That didn’t take into consideration the 158 people waiting to use the only bathroom available. I gave up waiting for that, stood in line for something to eat, and put down my notebook on a window ledge while I ate my sandwich and washed it down with some pop.
The next thing I know we were climbing up to the courtyard of the palace thru a side gate and being led thru the most beautiful rooms I had ever seen. Our local guide, Isabelle, did a marvelous job leading us thru the major rooms, including the King’s suite, the Queen’s suite and the Hall of Mirrors, where international treaties were signed and heads of state were entertained. It was interesting to see that as each king added on to the buildings the decorations became more and more elaborate, as if each generation was bent on outdoing the last.
The Revolutionary mobs trashed the place after the Royal Family was removed, but they did leave the original paintings on the walls and most especially on the ceilings. It was like walking thru the middle of a series of enormous Easter eggs by Faberge.
After the tour I hit the toilet and the gift shop. I was wandering the geometric gardens filled with flowers and shrubs laid out in formal patterns and edged by wide gravel paths when I suddenly remembered that I had left my notebook back on that window ledge. My heart dropped to my socks. I searched for the correct side gate and crossed the street with my knees weak in fear to find---the notebook just where I had left it, joined by a few sandwich wrappers and a discarded paper coffee cup. I didn’t think my writing was so bad that if left to itself it would start a garbage dump!
At 3:45pm our busload rendezvoused at the gold-covered Main Gates designed by Mansard and got on board our motor coach to return to Paris. We drove to the shopping district and were given free time. Some went to tour a French perfume factory/shop. I’m affected by strong flowery smells so I passed that up and instead walked a couple blocks to the Opera National de Paris Garnier, more commonly known as the Paris Opera House. The large ornate building was built between 1862 and 1875. It had been compared to a big wedding cake and its building styles ranged from Classical to Baroque. There was a legend that deep underneath was a lake. That story was the basis of the novel “Phantom of the Opera”, a successful book later turned into several movies and a Broadway musical. There was no admittance past the lobby, but I got some pictures and bought some postcards.
I was glad to see the Opera House. Nicholas Meyer, a movie director and author, had written a series of Sherlock Holmes pastiche stories. One had been made into the movie “The Seven-Percent Solution”. Another was “The Canary Trainer”, which had Holmes investigating the reports of a mysterious stranger haunting the Paris Opera House and influencing a young singer.
Lots of Sherlock Holmes’ fans like the stories so much that after they read the originals, they feel inspired to write new ones. I’ve done it myself, finishing one short story just before this trip started.
On the way back I visited a French-American pharmacy (the American drugs like Advil and Tylenol were kept in a drawer) and bought more souvenirs at a temporary stand. I tried out one of those grey oval French sidewalk toilets and took back half of what I had said earlier about the French. Jim had asked us during our bus ride in why the door would stay closed for twenty minutes for each use if required. It was so the Paris “ladies of the evening” could give each “customer” full service.
We gathered again and walked to the Flann restaurant. It served unusual pizzas and we ate our fill, including the dessert pizzas which featured chocolate. I drank a lot of water and filled my water bottle.
Fifty-nine of our group decided to go to the Sacred Coeur, a church on top of Montmartre, the artistic area of Paris. It was situated on what looked like the only sizable hill in the city. Half of our group would normally have taken the funicular, a little cog-wheel train that carried people up to the top. Unfortunately, Helen got a phone call from another tour director that said it was closed for repairs. The Other Dan became separated from the rest of us on an errand and told us later back in Evansville that there was nothing wrong with the funicular and he had ridden it to the top.
We stood on the sidewalk near the Moulin Rouge, a famous nightclub, as Jim promised that he would take the easy route up Montmartre to Sacred Coeur, the route he used to lead up elderly tourists. I’m crazy about Jim, but our definitions of “easy” have never jibed. Never trust an Englishman when he murmurs that it is “Not very far”, or “Not hard at all.” These people “made do” and “managed” thru two world wars and years of peacetime rationing. The indomitable British “stiff upper lip” that carried them thru Dunkirk and the Blitz of WWII plus generations of English cooking had been inherited by their children, who thought nothing of rafting the Amazon River in shorts and sending trusting, white-haired David Attenborough out to Africa to interview prides of lions and hordes of locust. They even let John Cleese loose with a bunch of lemurs on Madagascar. It’s a real wonder these people ever lost the Empire.
Traditionally, the Left Bank of Paris area had low rents, good restaurants, and many garrets in which to starve to prove your artistic chops. Picasso, Cezanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, and many other known and unknown artists had lived and worked there.
The restaurants with their back rooms loaded with paintings by undiscovered geniuses given in exchange for meals were still there, but by 2008 the rents had gone up and French yuppies were taking over the best garrets, the highest ones with the finest views of other garrets. The houses, shops and bistros were all charming, lit in the gloom of night, and the cobblestones fitted right into the Parisian décor. All of this was prettily placed on a 45-degree angle up the side of a mountain.
O.K., O.K., maybe the sidewalks of Montmartre weren’t set at a 45-degree angle. Maybe they weren’t set at a 35-degree angle. But I’m not taking any bets that they weren’t set at a 25-degree angle. Paris had appeared flat except for this aberration.
I did not have an easy time keeping up with the others as we made our way up the cobblestones to the church. All the way up, I hummed inspirational songs like “One Foot in Front of the Other” and “It’s a Long Way From Tipperary”. Reaching the top was a victory for all concerned.
The Church of the Sacred Heart was holding a service, so no photo-taking inside was allowed. There was a large plaza set on the top of the cliff before the church’s steps and the view of Paris was spectacular. There we could take all the pictures we wanted. People looked at the view, checked out the bathrooms, and walked down the hill a little to go thru the souvenir shops. I sat with Sarah B. for a while, then sat with Carrie A., her parents Karen and Bob and her son John for a while before we started on down to regroup at a square a little below the church grounds. Others had already started to gather when we found it. It took quite a while and a little work, but finally we were all accounted for.
Walking down was much faster than walking up and there were no need for inspirational hiking songs. Brakes, maybe, a big net to catch us at the bottom of the hill, but not hiking songs. The Paris Metro got us back to our suburban street in good time and the brisk, lengthy walk to the hotel gave us glimpses of little courtyards behind the iron gates of the buildings on the way.
I had a shower and went to bed. Tomorrow is another day.
“You say he was painting. What was he painting?”
The Retired Colourman
The sun rose on June 21 and it was another day in Paris. The Sherlock Holmes connection today was that Holmes, fleeing Moriarty just as that evil mastermind was about to be arrested in London, let Watson’s and his luggage go on to Paris on the boat-train, secure in the belief Moriarty would follow and wait for it to be retrieved by Holmes and Watson in a few days. Instead, they got a couple of carpet bags and went to Brussels.
My knees were sore and I took care to rub in Icy Hot along with the sunburn lotion. After the Continental breakfast at the hotel we traveled the Metro to Paris again and spit into two groups. Sometime during our trek around Paris I noticed that we were standing next to the famous theatre, the Comedie Français, where the amazing French actress Sarah Bernhardt had performed during the 19th century. Cool!
Jim led a large group on a tour of the Catacombs. It was an underground complex where many years ago, to allow building expansion in Paris, the bones of thousands of former residents of the city’s graveyards had been gathered up and deposited in man-made caves deep below the city. This is a tourist attraction ranked right up there with the Paris sewers.
After due consideration, I decided to join the second group led by Helen and visit the Musee d’Orsay, a converted railway station housing the finest works of Impressionist painters of the latter quarter of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, like Monet, Cezanne, Pissarro, Degas, Gauguin and Van Gogh. Since I have over 55 art books at home on a shelf and at least 48 of them were about those artists, it was a no-brainer.
Before we set out, a young man dressed in a shirt and shorts, with a pair of swimming goggles and a snorkel on his head and a large yellow plastic inflatable duck around his middle approached us. There were four or five young men with him. I thought he was a peddler and shooed him away. Helen talked to him in French. It turned out he was having a sort of bachelor party and his friends had taken him out on a scavenger hunt. One of the things he had to get was a picture of himself in that getup with a group of tourists. We all posed with him and Helen thought it was very funny that I had shooed him away. I had never heard of such a bachelor party custom before. Peculiar people, these French.
Helen led us thru the Tulleries Gardens while I hummed “Tu-la-ree, tu-la-rah” under my breath. They were fashioned like the ones at Versailles and were very formal with gravel paths, clipped trees, benches and loads of statuary. It was originally the grounds of a French castle, and after the castle burned down the gravel paths were extended, more trees were planted and new old statues were found to fill the space.
The formal French gardens I saw in Paris were different from American parks because they do not have big areas of green grass edged by flower beds. The Tulleries had lines of trimmed and shaped trees with benches set out on gravel paths next to statuary. Designed in the 1700s and 1800s, the gravel drains the large spaces and would minimize the debris and moisture picked up by the fashionable long flowing skirts of ladies strolling along the paths. It also allowed carriages to drive along without damage to the paths.
The Musee d’Orsay was just across the Seine from the Gardens. We crossed on foot over a bridge and saw that the next bridge over was an old heavy stone bridge that looked just as I thought a bridge across the Seine in the middle of Paris should look.
As we stood in line for tickets, I got out my folding cane from my backpack. This move was at least three days overdue. It gave me more endurance, as it had when I had brought it out the night before on Montmartre. It was a brilliant move because, inside the museum, I found strangers would offer their seats and employees would direct me away from the escalators and toward the elevators and the handicapped restrooms. It also, along with my American accent, air of guileless friendliness and mild Mid-Western appearance, marked me as a harmless older lady to whom it was safe to reply if I asked any questions or attempted to strike up conversations. Parents smiled benignly as I questioned their children. The streaks of grey in my hair didn’t hurt, either.
The museum had five levels, three of which were set out as galleries. The inside was one huge arch with a glass roof, showing the railway station’s bones. I followed the map supplied to my favorite artists.
Theodore Robinson, an Impressionist artist and a friend of Claude Monet’s, who was raised in Evansville and for whom our intermediate school was named, wasn’t listed. I checked later and discovered that since he was an American, he didn’t rate a permanent display in the French museum.
The fifth level was devoted to the classic Impressionists, the second level was Art Nouveau, and the bottom level where the train tracks had been was devoted to statuary and special exhibits. There was a passageway over the gift shop at the front that revealed views of the entire arch and the art displayed below.
At the top level I walked out onto the outside terrace and took pictures of the city, including the Louvre and the Sacred Coeur on the other side of the river. I sat next to a young American family from Kansas. The little boy was about nine and was traveling with his parents and his younger sisters. He was enjoying the trip. I wondered how much he would really remember.
Slowly I walked thru the galleries. What a treasure trove! The Musee d’Orsay collection was small, fewer than 6,000 pieces, but each one was “choice”.
Impressionists to the right of me, Impressionists to the left of me, into the valley…wait, I’m thinking about something else. I picked out a Paul Cezanne as my new favorite: Uncle Dominick the Advocate. Very heavy knife strokes, thick layers of color. I saw Whistler’s Mother---turkeys by Monet---“Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe”---little studies for Le Grand Jette by Seurat---of course I’ve seen the original in the Art Institute of Chicago many times. It seems funny that Chicago back home has the finished painting while famous Paris gets just the preliminary studies. Several Rouen Cathedrals by Monet---several large unfinished canvases by Toulouse-Lautrec featuring people from the Moulin Rouge---Degas paintings of ballet dancers including “The Dance Lesson”---a great glass display case housing many Degas sculptures including “Young Dancer of Fourteen” wearing the cloth dress Degas put on it himself, an early example of “mixed media”.
One little boy was solemnly going around taking digital pictures of each painting. I don’t think he really looked at them, he just took their pictures. After the third time he got in my way, I thought, “Get a guidebook!” A grown man had refined the idea. He took digital pictures only of the pictures he liked, and then carefully took an additional shot of the little info card on the wall next to the painting.
Guards were all over the place, of course, but I was impressed by one female guard who was decked out in the dark blue coat and skirt uniform standard with her job, but sporting a pair of strappy gold high-heeled sandals on her feet.
Our group met at 1:30 in the lobby by the gift shop. The others wanted to go to the Catacombs but I didn’t. The Other Dan took great care that I knew the right Metro station stops to get to our regroup spot later in the day. He marked the stations and wrote Bill’s phone number on the map in case I got lost. I wasn’t worried. I knew that I could always ask directions. A lot of people in Paris spoke English and were very friendly. I just stayed away from any cathedral salesladies.
I was pretty tired and hadn’t had lunch. I went back into the museum and up to the Musee Café. Big windows looked over the Seine toward the center of Paris. The room was crowded but I got a little table in front of the pastry case. I ordered tomato soup and a crusty roll, a glass of milk and a chocolate bun. The milk was not like back home in Wisconsin. It looked normal, but when I tasted it, it was odd. According to the bill, it was some sort of French latte. Two long thin packets of sugar came with it. I added the sugar and found it palatable. I marked it down as part of the Paris experience.
The chocolate bun was like the chocolate croissants we can get in Evansville at the Real Coffee shop, but it didn’t have as much as filling as back home. I was sort of disappointed. I thought that every pastry in Paris would be memorable. After all, they had the original recipes.
The tomato soup was wonderful, more tasty and light than any I had ever had, including my mother’s. It was sprinkled with tiny particles of chive. I figured that they had to have made it from fresh tomatoes. Now I knew what Gordon Ramsey was talking about when he ranted on his TV shows about fresh ingredients. I mentioned the soup to our tour director Helen later and she looked skeptical when I said I thought it was made fresh. All I can say is, if the Musee d’Orsay uses canned tomato soup, I want nothing but French canned tomato soup after this.
I visited the gift shop and got a guidebook and some refrigerator magnets. My place back home is so small fridge magnets make more sense than posters. Outside on the entrance plaza was a row of 6 black sculptures. They were bronze allegorical groups, placed in a row, created for the Exposition Universelle of 1878 that was held in Paris. They represented South America, Asia, Oceania, Europe, North America and Africa. I asked a guard to take my photo next to them. That was another picture of Mrs. Puhl happy.
Then I walked two blocks to the Metro station. Bill had already given me my ticket. I caught the right train and with help from a woman with two young daughters got off at the right place. A question addressed to a young couple in the underground train corridors got me to the correct exit.
I was early, so I found a seat at a bistro across the street from the Metro station. I ordered a diet 7-up and sat at a tiny table next to the sidewalk. I wrote in my notebook as I enjoyed my drink. Back by the bar a wide-screen TV played Madonna videos in English. Despite that, I really enjoyed it. In fact, I savored it. I was sitting at a sidewalk café in Paris, writing down my impressions with a drink next to my elbow, waiting for friends. I felt like Earnest Hemingway or Gertrude Stein. Well, all things considered, I felt more like Gertrude Stein.
My group showed up 20 minutes early. We ate at a local restaurant and had salad, pork and rice, and a choice of little French pastries. They were not sweet and had crushed fruit fillings. I went with Jim and Bill as they walked across the street to Jim’s favorite wine shop and picked up a couple bottles at an inexpensive price. Another shop had cheese samples and I tried a Blue cheese. Not bad. We regrouped again and took our motor coach to the banks of the Seine just a few blocks from the Eiffel Tower.
Jim told the story of the Texan. A tour director named Jim once had a group of people to guide around Europe, including a big, patriotic Texan. Over the days of the trip, Jim learned that everything was bigger and better in Texas. In particular, things were done faster. When Jim mentioned that a cathedral had taken 237 years to build, the Texan squinted up at the building and said, “Why, back in Texas we’d have that thang up an’ decorated in three months, includin’ the carvings.” Given a view of the Coliseum in Rome, the Texan dismissed it as a “four month job.” After six days of this, Jim was pretty sick of the Texan. When they got to Paris Jim trucked them around to all the sights but one. They saw Versailles (it could be built in two months) and the Louvre (a month and a half construction time, tops). The tour bus kept circling a certain Tower, but Jim never mentioned it.
Baffled by the silence on this subject, the Texan finally asked, “Jim, what is that big ol’ thang thar?”
Jim said, “What? Where?”
The Texan pointed. “That ol’ thang, thar.”
Jim looked out the window, but turned back with an air of bewilderment. “My goodness,” he said to the Texan. “I don’t know. It wasn’t there yesterday.”
Now we boarded a tour boat to take a ride down the Seine past some of the most famous buildings in history. Jim advised us to sit on the left side. That gave us a great view of the bridges and buildings featured in the tour description given by a guide on the P.A. system.
Many of our group sat on the outside seats along the edge of the boat. We waved gaily at the people sitting and holding picnics on the quays and atop the brick walls of the opposite side. At one point we did the Wave a few times. The boat tour passed buildings like the Musee d’Orsay, the Louvre, Notre Dame and the Tullerie Gardens. At the gardens behind Notre Dame, huge bunches of greenery hung down the sides of the island walls, dangling towards the river. I used an entire roll of film on the bridges and buildings on the tour, including a lot on the Eiffel Tower. It was just a couple blocks away and clearly visible from the water.
The street that ran thru the legs of the Tower had been closed off and a fun fair set up on the pavement. A merry-go-round, carnival rides and music stages were surrounded by thousands of people. It was the night of the Festival of Music. The Musee d’Orsay had closed early because of the Festival. All of Paris and its suburbs were holding a party tonight. Later, on the walk home to the hotel from the Metro station, we could hear songs and see signs of revelry from nearly every house on the way. Later in the darkness of the night there were grand firework shows all over the city.
Back at the hotel, I found I had lost my room key. Before the clerk opened my door for me, I did my famous parlor trick, drawing a cartoon of Jim using the first letters of his first and last name as a base.
French television has its own points of interest. The set in my room got French, German and English channels. BBC and CNN carried stories of Midwestern flooding in the States and on the economy, including the fact that in Europe gasoline was $9.00 a gallon. There was a story about Kenya kids running to earn shoes and a mini-documentary about an English doctor who went to Burma and investigated how aid was reaching the worst-hit areas of the cyclone-ravaged land. He had to use a hidden camera because the government didn’t want the world to see how bad off everyone was. There had been reports of corruption in the distribution of aid. There were a lot of scenes of wrecked huts made of tin and palm leaves, beaches littered with rubble and shots of dead and bloated bodies bobbing in the water. He concluded that people were getting aid but not always the aid they needed.
My bath had only a half door of glass and a sprayer head on a flexible hose. That made it very easy to flood the room. After my shower I sopped up the water off the floor using all the towels and retired for the night after looking for fireworks out of the window. I hadn’t touched my paperback, Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods”, since the plane. I was too tired to read at night, so I decided to keep it for the train ride to London.
The richest and glossiest of curtains and tapestries draped the walls, looped back here and there to expose some richly mounted painting or Oriental vase.
The Sign of Four
It was Sunday, June 22 and we were going to the Louvre. I wore my white shoes yesterday and I felt a little hot spot, not quite a blister, on the bottom of my left foot. Back into the suitcase with the white shoes! I took no chances with my feet on this trip. I applied more Icy Hot on my knees and ankles and put a fresh set of Dr. Scholls’ foot pads in my black sneakers. As I did every morning I checked my blood sugar and found it acceptable.
We had breakfast at the hotel and took the Metro to the Louvre. All of us were getting very practiced at using the Paris subway system. Many of the stations were decorated with scenes of attractions found on the streets above. The cars each had a sign showing the line’s station stops on order. Jim made sure that we all knew the names of the correct stops for each day’s trip. It was very similar to using the “el” in Chicago.
The Louvre began as a fortress in 1190 and was added to and enlarged for nearly 900 years, first into a palace and then into a national museum. It stood before the Tulleries Gardens and just across the Seine from the Musee d’Orsay. One of the first things Bill and I did inside the Louvre was ask at the information desk about the Theodore Robinson paintings he had seen in the museum three years before. The guide at the computer explained that the Robinsons had been in a temporary exhibit then and really belonged at the Musee D’Orsay. I had not thought to ask about them the day before because his work had not been listed on the floor chart included in the price of the ticket. We were disappointed by the news but we resolved to enjoy the treasures of the Louvre anyway.
I saw the Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, the Venus de Milo, caryatides from Greece, Diana and the Hound, and other statuary. I saw a lot of paintings. I took note of the artists---Delacroix, Cimabue---de Gros---he did one of the King of Naples showing the king in military gear sitting on a rearing black horse with a tiger skin under the saddle, very striking, but then all the rulers back then had egos large enough to fill the Albert Hall. The famous “Victory Encouraging the French”---there were lots of people taking each other’s photo in front of that ---paintings by Ingres of what seemed to be the entire Riviera family---more Delacroix---D’Appollon---lots of Boucher---mostly rather naked picnics---Sherlock Holmes' ancestor Vernet with nice landscapes---acually there were two Vernets, Joseph and Herbert, both with nice landscapes---I met Bill briefly at one point and we exchanged notes---rested on a seat in a little round room decorated like the ceilings and walls of a room of Versailles and told a young Australian couple about Wisconsin’s House on the Rock, the Premier Tourist Attraction of the Mid-West---the man said that sounded just like the kind of place his dad would like---talked to nice Kansas ladies at the ladies’ toilet.
In one exhibit room there was a huge painting of a lady in a turquoise dress. I saw a woman posing for her picture before it. She put out her hand to steady herself and touched the frame. A female guard on my left suddenly clapped her hands and shouted and advanced on the bewildered woman with the dirtiest scowl I have ever seen one human being give another. The guard was muttering to her male companion in French but I could tell that she was voicing her opinion of stupid tourists that have no thought to the value of the works around them and that it was too bad the guillotine was no longer in use by the courts.
I saw Robert paintings and Boilly paintings. It really expanded my appreciation of artists other than Impressionists. The Louvre was enormous and I could have used three days to explore it. With an electric cart. And a native guide.
Downstairs I saw the Greek items and the Venus de Milo and other statues. The Venus de Milo was placed out on the floor with plenty of room around it. In front were some American tourists taking pictures of each other standing before it. Behind it were some Japanese men were taking each other’s photo as each stood in front of it’s behind. Tastes really do differ among nations.
I made my way to the pyramid that serves as the entrance and exit. I found a little food stand on the mezzanine overlooking the pyramid atrium. I got a ham sandwich, a chocolate muffin and a container of orange juice. A lot of people were eating and there were few tables so I shared a small table with an Asian-Canadian. He was a substitute science teacher who had just been fired from a job in London because the tough kids at the school disliked him for his race. They talked back to him and when he complained the administration found it easier to fire him than fix the problem. The other teachers were too cowed to do anything because the administration wouldn’t back them up.
He wanted to hear about U.S. schools because he thought that after President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act the teaching standards in the States had generally gone down the tubes. I was glad to tell him his fears were unfounded, at least in Evansville. I spoke of our science programs and our project of building an eco-car, the AP programs, the distance-learning Japanese classes, the Spanish classes, our program of hosting students from other lands, the conference-winning sports programs, the music and drama programs, the math department, the English department, the art department, how we had actually gotten an award from the NCLB for our test scores. I told him that Evansville was growing and how even though we had built a new high school a few years ago, there was talk of expansion.
I explained how if our kids talk back or misbehaved they were warned, then written up and steps taken and if the problem was bad enough, the police were called. He smiled when I told him that an Evansville police officer was actually on the school board. He told me a bit about Canadian and English school systems and said he was glad to hear that things in the States weren’t as bad as he had thought.
I met the others in the Louvre plaza in front of the modern glass pyramid. Travis A. gave me his seat. I told him I had never been so glad to see him before in my life. He had been in my study hall. Having grouped together, we broke up into traveling bands again. Some of the kids went to the Eiffel Tower to ride to the top. Others wanted to shop.I joined Cassie and her parents, Karen and Bob, to walk to the Ile de la Citi to see Sainte-Chapelle and Notre Dame.
We walked along the river and over a bridge to reach the island to our destinations. Green-painted bookstalls were lined up along the wall that separated the street from the river. They held prints, books and postcards, fridge magnets and tiny models of the Eiffel Tower. We even saw some “dirty” French postcards from the Victorian era. Mostly they involved young ladies with hair piled high on their heads dressed in white sleeveless vests and long bloomers. I bought two watercolor prints of romantic Paris street scenes. We waved at the tour boats below and some of the people aboard waved back.
Sainte-Chapelle was built in 1248 by Louis IX to house a crown of thorns purported to be Christ’s. It is next to the Palais de Justice and when France had the death penalty the poor condemned prisoners were allowed to pray there before they were taken out in the courtyard and executed. Karen and Bob and I waited on a bench outside the entrance of the Palais de Justice while Cassie went off to stand in line for the chapel tour. We sat a long time and watched a horse and carriage carrying a young couple trot pass.
My water bottle was nearly empty. I looked across the street toward a couple of sidewalk cafes flanking an important-looking entrance where a uniformed official was standing. He was guarding the door of the Prefecture of Police. Next to the entrance a woman was standing in a strange posture. I blinked and realized that she was standing next to a green water fountain filling her water bottle.
The water fountain was unusual. I think it was made of bronze. A tiny green roof was held up by three green classical nymphs standing on a decorated plinth. From the center of the roof a steady stream of water flowed down. Later I looked in my guidebook and saw a picture of it. It was called the Wallace Fountain. The woman was filling her bottle from the stream. I crossed at the corner and nodded to the guard, then filled my bottle from the fountain. It was beautiful and so very French, I thought. I never noticed another like it anywhere in Paris.
Cassie finally reappeared. She said the line was long but the chapel was very lovely. She had thought about all the poor prisoners praying there before they were executed and was glad they had the chance to pray in such a beautiful place. I took a picture of the fancy green and gold gates that led into the Cour du Mai from near our bench into the Department of Police compound.
We arrived at Norte Dame for the second time, and admired the massive, highly decorated outside. A couple of our people had actually walked to the top of the bell towers a few days before. Now we entered and slowly circled the inside. A service was taking place, so we were very quiet and respectful. The organ was playing and I admired the stained glass windows, the chapels along the sides, the black metal rood screen and the ancient wooden choir section covered with hand-carved figures depicting the life of Mary, Mother of Christ.
While the others looked over the gift stall, I put two Euros into a machine and received a souvenir medal of Notre Dame. I noticed that there was a nun dressed in a white habit sitting by the exit with a basket in front of her. She was handing a pamphlet to each person as they passed in front of her. I pointed her out to the others. She was taking donations and giving out info on the charities that benefited. The others dropped some money in her basket. She spoke several languages and said “Thank you” to each contributor in their own language. To sort of make up for my actions the other day, I gave her something too. Bob said later that the money went to children’s charities.
We walked across the street to a block of tourist shops. I got hats for the kids and a zippered hooded sweatshirt for Gayla, her one request. It was black with pink piping and had the word “Paris” stitched across the front.
We retraced our steps over the bridge. In the middle of the arch were benches. We sat and watched the boats below and the pedestrians around us. Bob and Karen noticed a young couple kissing as they stood by the balustrade. Karen said she had never thought of kissing anyone in public like that. I looked at Bob and said, “If a man doesn’t kiss his wife in Paris, where is he going to kiss her?” We walked to another bench and by this time they had considered it. Bob and Karen kissed, a kiss that lasted a good little while after their daughter Cassie had taken their picture.
On the other side of the river, we walked past more green bookstalls, these with a lot of DVDs and paperback books. I suddenly noticed two books on one shelf with English words on them. In fact, they had the best English words on them. Sherlock Holmes! I called to the others to stop.
The paperbacks were French translations of A. Conan Doyle’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles” and “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes”. My mind flashed back to my friend John Bennett Shaw, a Sherlockian who had accumulated one of the largest and finest collections of Sherlock Holmes-related books and items in the world. It was currently being inventoried by its new owner, the University of Minnesota.
I didn’t have any foreign translations of Holmes’s stories in my own modest collection. And after all, Holmes himself had once shown Watson a little volume he had “picked up in a bookstall in Paris”.
How could I pass the paperback books up? I couldn’t, not in a million years. I emptied my money pouch and thankfully, the stall keeper accepted the amount I had, although it wasn’t quite enough. That was the Sherlock Holmes connection of the day.
Now I was penniless in Paris. It was for a good cause, of course, but there wasn’t an ATM in sight. I was with great friends. Bob treated me and the others to a Coke at a little bistro as we waited for our Metro train and bought my ticket as well. I needed something to eat and Cassie let me share her French fries. All in all, it was a great afternoon.
We met the others of our group at another Metro station and walked to a restaurant. Dinner was a flaky pastry with a cheese filling, chicken with mushrooms over rice and a delicious peach tart. We sang “Happy Birthday” for one of the girls and Jim brought out a little cake from the kitchen.
We took the Metro back to the Palais de Chaillot. It housed 4 museums and was built for the 1937 Paris Exhibition in a Neo-Classical Style. The plaza between two of the museums was where we had seen the Tower the first time. It was just the most perfect place to view the Eiffel Tower.
It was dusk and soon the Tower would light up. Meanwhile, Jim and Bill and I went to a nearby bistro. We had refreshments and talked about plays in London and other aspects of London life. We all had a good time laughing and talking.
When we rejoined the others the Tower was lit up and just beautiful. More pictures were taken, including a couple with Bill, Dan and me in memory of “The best birthday present ever!”
A group broke off to visit the Moulin Rouge show. They told us later that it was amazing. There were singers and dancers and jugglers and a magic act, among other things. It sounded like a cross between Las Vegas and the old Ed Sullivan Show.
The Metro took the rest of us home. Unbelievably, this had been our last day in Paris. The days had passed so quickly. Some day, maybe in my next life, I would like to come back and spend a week. There was so much to see and do and it wasn’t until after I left that I realized all the things left undone.
The Eurotrain was taking us to London early the next morning. At the hotel I packed up my stuff except what I needed in the morning and took a shower. I dropped off to sleep so tired that I couldn’t even appreciate the murmur of French voices on TV.
“When an actor I had, of course, learned all the secrets of making up, and had been famous in the green-room for my skill.”
The Man With the Twisted Lip
June 23 appeared with a serene sky. Our departure time was 6 am. I woke up at 5:15. I got downstairs at 5:40 and had juice and cereal for breakfast. I grabbed some tiny muffins wrapped in plastic to eat later. We roused the late sleepers and finally left at 6:25am in the motor coach for the train station.
We were booked to take the Eurostar bullet train from Paris to London under the English Channel. When it got warmed up, the train moved at 250 miles per hour. The line to board it moved at 25 millimeters an hour.
As I stood in line I gazed around at the high arched ceiling and the immense space inside the station. It reminded me of the story of the old farmer and his son. The son had left the farm and gone to college. He became a successful lawyer in New York City. He brought his old father to the Big Apple to show off its marvels. One place he took him was Grand Central Terminal. They stood together by the Information Desk in the middle of that immense space and the son asked, “Well, what do you think, Dad?”
The old farmer looked around at the vast gleaming floor, the beautiful wide staircases, the soaring windows and the lofty ceiling and replied, “Well, son, it would sure hold a lot of hay.”
We finally got thru the train station to the tracks. There was a little space at the end of each car for the passengers’ luggage. Each took up about two seats’ space. I think the luggage toted on board by all the passengers took up more square footage than the actual train. Bags were stuffed in overhead racks, piled at the ends of each car, stacked in front of the exit doors and shoved under seats. I then realized that the train was full of Americans. Europeans can travel 4000 miles with one carry-on bag with wheels. A sample American would travel the same distance with enough luggage to maintain a family of four thru the cocktail parties, museum openings, gallery showings, and pub crawls of a complete season of “Sex and the City”.
Jim carried one of my bags onto the train and Travis put it in an overhead bin. Another stayed with me and my wheeled bag went to block an exit. Later an announcement was made on the train’s P.A. system that any bags blocking exits could be left behind at a station when it was tossed aside to allow passengers to board the car using that exit. Elijah T. and I got up and he kindly moved my bag. I watched later as at each station the people boarding the train sensibly avoided using that door because they would have had to transfer 3 tons of luggage just to enter a car that had no empty seats.
My tiny pre-packaged muffins had gone to the late-rising kids on the bus ride to the train station for their breakfast, but I did have a Ziploc bag of boxed raisins, Hershey kisses and Tootsie Rolls to munch. I sat next to a window gazing out at the French countryside. Flat red or brown roofs, white stucco or red brick or grey stone houses, trees in clumps, all under a clear blue sky. Some of the kids were going to the diner car to get pop and snacks. I was broke so I ate my raisins and chocolate. Church spires in villages far from the train tracks---large fields planted in grain----no farm houses like in the U.S.---perhaps farmers live in town and commute to their fields---some metal and wooden farm sheds---a red and green combine in a field---power lines---grain elevators---radio tower---hay bales wrapped in green plastic---open-sided machinery sheds---concrete overpasses---mesh wire fencing mounted on steel fence posts next to the tracks---bus station on the edge of a little town with a huge parking lot---factories---more fields---tunnels---red flowers on bushes next to the train tracks---clumps of bushes mixed in with the flowers---lines of trees by tracks---stone barn at edge along a ribbon of highway trimmed in round and rectangular crowns of leaves---a French trailer park!Another village with another church spire down the street---broad fields---small village by small lake—larger groups of trees---more fields---wooded hillside with a charming village complete with church and spire and brick and stone homes---A white water tower shaped like an enormous automotive oil funnel instead of the bulbous water towers we have back home---tall white modern windmills on the highest hills over the fields---rounded tunnels---more trees.
We crossed a river. It wasn’t until I was home after the trip that I learned from Paul Theroux’s new book, “Ghost Train to the Eastern Star” that that river was the Somme, the valley of which in 1916 became the bloodiest battlefield of the First World War. On the first day of the battle 60,000 British soldiers, laden with enormous heavy packs, were cut down by German machine-gun fire. That was the largest number of men ever lost by the British in one day. This first battle of the Somme lasted 4 months and the final toll was reported as more than one million men. The British lost 420,000, the French lost 194,000 and the Germans lost 440,000. No advantage was gained and no lessons were learned. Twenty-five years later the same countries were back in the same fields, killing each other again.
I had promised myself a session with the book I had packed, Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods”. Bill Bryson was my new find. Before the trip I had read “I’m a Stranger Here Myself”, a story of his and his family’s life in the USA after living in England for twenty years. He came from Iowa and had married an English girl. “A Walk in the Woods” was his account of an effort to walk the Appalachian Trail with his friend, out-of-shape Stephen Katz. It was hilarious. I decided to get every book of his after I got back home. That turned out to be a good idea.
White sheep in the fields---tall trees trimmed to leafy tufts along a road in the distance---windbreaks around houses---another odd-looking water tower---cell phone tower---red tile roofs---hills covered with woods---the train stopped at Calais.
I looked up from my book and noticed that it was dark outside. We were in the Chunnel. I had thought that the noise level, loud enough during the open part of the trip, would increase in the tunnel under the English Channel, but it appeared to be the same. I was as impressed by that as much as I was by the whole train tracks under the sea thing. What amazing soundproofing! My ears did pop a few times.
Arthur Conan Doyle had been an early supporter for a tunnel under the English Channel. He figured it could bring much-needed food to the people and send out war materiel for the Continental conflict he forsaw, later known as WWI. He feared German submarines could blockade England and starve it into surrender.
Just think, the entire fabled English Channel was rolling over our heads. Protector of the British Isles for centuries, conquered only by the Romans and the Normans, defeater of the Spanish Armada (with a little help from Sir Walter Raleigh, the British Navy and Mother Nature), obstacle to the Nazis, now no problem to us as we glided in cushioned, lit, air-conditioned comfort right under the age-old barrier on our way to London. Some of the kids were even asleep.
Suddenly the sunlight returned. England! Outside the window, industrial train yards---lots of trees---not much of interest until we arrived at St. Pancras Station (also known as King’s Cross), and loaded our bags on a motor coach. Off we went!
We were in the Elephant and Castle area, named after a long-vanished inn---Southwark area---taxis with high roofs---the Oval cricket ground---Brixton Road---more row houses like the 2006 trip---Camberwell area---shops and stores---a mixed population of people from all over the former British Empire---St. Giles Church---big brick blocks of council flats---the English equivalent of public housing but more charming to the eye with architectural touches and little window flower boxes---Peckham---Peckham Lodge---red brick with white quoins around windows and on the edges of each corner wall---three golden balls hanging over the door of a little corner pawnshop---double-decker buses---the Fox and Hounds pub---the Hobgoblin Tap---Deptford---Lewisham---St. Mary the Virgin, a big stone block church with a bell tower and arched windows filled with stained glass---thru thick woods---onward we went until we landed at the Croydon Travel Lodge.
It was not an impressive building. 10 stories tall, it was made of concrete and glass with an ill-defined entrance. It could be that we were to spend the next three days going in and out the back door, but since the back door opened onto a parking lot and the front door opened onto a principal street with a grocery store, a bank and a betting office right down the block, I guessed it must be the front. There may have been a large HOTEL sign facing the street, but I don’t remember one.
I needed a bathroom and some real food. Instead I got the wrong room key. Clearly marked with the correct room number, it failed again and again to let me into my room. When the elevator door opened near where I was standing and cheerful voices invited me down to the lobby I was afraid I did not respond well. Later I had to apologize to people for my ill-chosen words. Someone finally did come to my rescue. I hope I remembered to say thank you.
Because we were going to the theatre that night, Jim took us to a Japanese restaurant for lunch. Being a large group of sixty people slowed up the service some, but we did enjoy the large servings of noodles and dumplings.
I was so glad to be back in England again. I had warm memories of the 2006 trip and had great plans for this one. Again, it was a case of wishing for an extra week of time here. I would just have to do the best I could with the opportunities offered this time.
The wonderful London Underground (subway) system, known also as the Tube, took us to Embankment Station by the Thames. We walked by the houses of Ben Franklin and R. Kipling. Down an alleyway I could see the sign for the Sherlock Holmes Pub and Restaurant. Jim made no move toward it, but I knew I would see it later. That was the Sherlock Holmes connection of the day. In fact, the whole experience of being in London was the Sherlock Holmes connection. In the stories Holmes knew the city well, and was able to identify samples of soil from each part of town. He could name every street, and in the dark from a moving cab, no less!
We stopped at Oscar Wilde’s monument and continued thru Convent Garden and on to Trafalgar Square. The lions, the fountains and the statue of Admiral Nelson were gleaming in the sunshine. There was a concert set up there. Jim let us loose for supper and gave us directions to our theatre.
About half of us had earlier paid Jim for tickets to the musical “Lord of the Rings”. My grandson Andrew, who loves the theatre and performs and directs in local productions when he can, had shown me scenes from “Rings” on its website on the Internet. He said he would be so jealous if I saw it before he did, because it was playing nowhere else in the world. The production cost $12,000,000.00 and no plans had been announced to move it from London to New York when the time came. I chuckled as I paid Jim for my ticket.
I bought a sandwich and a drink at Covent Garden inside the big building that replaced the open space in use in Victorian times. I watched a little kid play with the pigeons that flew in the wide open ends.
I fed the birds some of the crusts of my sandwich and thought of the pigeons that flock to the tourists in Daley Plaza beneath the Picasso in downtown Chicago. There the pigeons have a system. They perch in the cover of the trees at the edge of the plaza and send out one or two birds to strut and peck around the sculpture. When an unsuspecting tourist drops a few kernels of popcorn or crumbs of bread for the “little birdies”, a sudden dark cloud descends upon the hapless Good Samaritan. It looks like the birds in the telephone booth scene in the Alfred Hitchcock movie “The Birds”. I once saw a little girl call out for her mother in the middle of a hungry feathered onslaught. When the last bit of food disappears, so do the pigeons, back to the cover of the sheltering trees.
The musical started at 7:00 pm at the Drury Lane Theatre. The show was amazing. We were seated in the balcony. Below us, the stage was decorated with brown woody growths reaching out from the proscenium arch into the box seats three stories high on either side of the stage. The floor was rounded toward the audience and draped in gloom in the back. A curtain made of more woody roots and branches arranged around an enormous empty hub was raised as the musical began. The floor, as the story progressed (and believe me, they included all three books), rose up and down in varied sections, one minute the floor of a Shire inn, the next a path thru the forest dappled with shadows, and then a mountain trail peppered with boulders and cliffs.
The special effects were mesmerizing and the characters’ depictions were true to the books. Many of the lyrics of the songs came straight from the story. There was no break-out smash hit song (Andrew Lloyd Webber, for a wonder, did not stage this epic) but my favorite moment was toward the end of the second act when homesick Frodo and Sam sang about telling stories around the hearth back home in the Shire. It was set in a cave on the way to Mordor. Chunks of the floor were elevated as a ledge for the Hobbits to rest upon as Sméagol slept on the rocks below.
The entire musical was a masterpiece involving the use of lights and shadows, colors and filmy lengths of cloth, bizarre creatures and a Gollum that entered by climbing headfirst from the upper flies down the woody branches of the stage curtain to the stage floor.
During the intermission a very British thing happened. The curtain went down, the lights came up and ushers set up little stands by the doors and at the end of the aisles to sell candy and little pots of ice cream to the audience. I had read that they did this during movies, but I was astounded to find that they offered this service during live theatre. Bill and I were seated together and he bought me an ice cream.
After the show we gathered on the steps outside the theatre before some “Lord of the Ring” posters and took a group photo. Then it was a brisk walk thru the darkness to the Tube station and home to the hotel. I couldn’t figure out how the shower controls worked so I took a sponge bath and fell into bed. What a night!
I remember the date very well, for it was in the same month that Holmes refused a knighthood for services which may perhaps someday be described.
The Three Garridebs
June 24th brought sunlight thru my hotel windows. My room was nice and large, so large that the front office could have added a couch, coffee table and a Laz-E-Boy recliner with its own floor lamp beside it and still had room for parking. The bed was a double one with a grey duvet.
Breakfast was available in the lobby. At the far end chafing dishes filled with eggs, bacon and sausage were laid out next to the tea and coffee urns. At the other end near the lobby desk were baskets of corn flakes and muffins with orange juice and milk. Neutral ground was the toaster next to the windows. Since we had the Continental breakfast, we were allowed only to get a hot beverage before being sent back to the counter with the Kellogg’s boxes and the vitamin C. There were two different kinds of bread by the toaster. The little cartons of corn flakes were larger than the ones sold in the States, however. Conversation with Bob revealed the mysteries of the shower and I resolved to try again tonight.
We gathered behind the hotel and found two vehicles waiting for us. One motor coach was not large enough to carry the entire group of sixty so Bill asked me to ride in a small white van with fourteen others as their chaperone while the large bus picked up everyone else. We led the way thru the suburbs to London.
Row houses---little flower gardens set behind brick walls with top ledges that swooped from point to point---bay windows---stone and brick walls---stone window hoods and sills---small houses lined up down the street---Chinese takeout---computer store---local bakery shop---irregular quaint rooftops above the two-story apartments windows---St. Leonard Church, an old fieldstone section with arched windows and a dressed stone extension added behind it, all surrounded by many sculpted, tilted, old gravestones within an elaborate brick and wrought iron fence---old trees in church yard---fruit and vegetable stands in front of shops on the sidewalks---colorful trim of blue, orange and green on storefronts beneath brick facades---every block sports lots of chimney pots---a sign of original old buildings, says Jim---the Crown and Scepter pub---red brick council houses with laundry strung out on balconies ---satellite dishes installed by apartment windows---gardens in pots on roofs and balconies---in Lambeth a pub named the Lambeth Walk, a popular dance step of the 1920s---the Houses of Parliament---Big Ben---the London Eye, an enormous Ferris wheel built for the Millennium celebration---we cross the Thames River---the van stopped at the Tate Britain art museum to pick up our local guide---the museum has a Doric front with Corinthian columns and an impressive show of steps---our guide for today was a red-haired woman dressed in green with a long skirt---we drove past London Bridge---the Courthouse where the former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney and his wife Heather Mills got their divorce---the pub The Olde Cheese, a favorite of Dr. Samuel Johnson, a famous author of the eighteenth century (more of him later)---stopped at St. Paul’s Cathedral---no tour this time but instead a short free time---thought ahead and bought a sandwich and a bag of carrot “batons” or sticks at a Marks & Spencer grocery for lunch---used the loo in the crypt at St. Paul’s---no time to stop at the gift shop---admired the monument of Queen Anne that graces the space before the cathedral---back on the van---again the Houses of Parliament---Whitehall---the Queen’s Horse Guards, decked out in red coats and mounted on black horses---past Trafalgar Square with the fountains and lions---a Starbucks opposite New Scotland Yard---wonder how many doughnuts they sell each day?---got off by Buckingham Palace.
Queen Elizabeth was expecting a dignitary from Japan that day but meanwhile there were a couple thousand people there to watch the Changing of the Guard. I got a spot to stand by one of the exits off the Mall near the Palace. It was a good place to see the troops leaving.
Buckingham Palace is the London residence of the Queen of Great Britain and was the Sherlock Holmes connection for the day. The quote at the beginning of this section told how Holmes managed to avoid a knighthood from “a certain gracious lady” for services to the Crown. The Literary Agent, A. Conan Doyle could not achieve the same result. Conan Doyle had worked to organize, set up and serve in a field hospital in South Africa during the Boer War in the late 1890s. After he returned home he wrote a history of the war and a book explaining the British view of the conflict.
Offered a knighthood for these efforts, he thought to refuse it but his mother objected, telling him it would be an insult to the Monarchy to do so. The man loved his mother and finally accepted the award. So it was Sir Arthur after that, although the common man “knew” it was really because of the detective stories and Conan Doyle was frequently addressed as “Sir Sherlock” for the rest of his life.
We only had to wait a little while until the action started. I was located on the north edge of the area before the Palace and was able to get some pictures as the uniformed band marched past. Other troops, some carrying loaded weapons and some riding black horses and all in colorful uniforms, marched out of the Palace’s courtyard and exited in different directions. Just as we gathered to return to the van two open carriages, each pulled by a snappy pair of horses, drove up the Mall and entered the Palace gates. One carried a woman wearing an elaborately decorated hat and sitting next to an Oriental gentleman. Having no Royal horse and carriage awaiting us, we ex-Colonials got back on the van and started up again, headed for Hampton Court.
We drove thru the ritzy section of Westminster---Harrods---Albert and Victoria Museum---going south-west---houses with enclosed gardens in the backs, walled with brick and equipped with arched garden doors painted green or dull red---cemeteries, including the aptly named Mortlake, stretched on for blocks, all sorts of monuments and headstones dotted among the trees and grass behind fancy tall fences and gates---on the three-lane highway we were taking to Hampton Court we were flanked by a large tow-truck that had hitched behind it a red double-decker bus with a crumpled front fender---the name on the truck was Sovereign Accident Unit-Truck and Bus Recovery---we saw cabs painted with ads, others with ads on plastic film stretched across the sides.
On the road to Hampton Court---road signs for Middlesex and Hants---toward Richmond and Twickham---traffic very stop and go---a fish and chips shop called “The Laughing Halibut”---modern glass buildings on one side of the street, quaint little cottages linked together with brick front walls on the other---much restoration going on---Kew Road---over the Thames again---semi-detached brick houses with walled gardens.
Henry VIII received Hampton Court as a gift from Cardinal Woolsey in 1528 in one of the most famous brown nose moves in history. It didn’t work; Henry still got his divorce by making himself the leader of the Church of England and Woolsey lost his job. But Henry was noted for his skill at real estate management. Hampton Court was a fine property before he got it and he expanded it to even greater heights. His son Edward and his daughters Mary and Elizabeth used it as one of their residences growing up. Later when William and Mary held the lease in the late 1600s more improvements were made. The Baroque Maze swallows visitors every year, but the British government has a strict policy of recovering them before nightfall.
My favorite room was the Tudor Chapel Royal. There was a special place in the Chapel apart from the other pews where English royalty sat during services. It was overhauled by William and Mary and featured dark woodwork. I walked thru different sets of rooms connected by arcades and courtyards---loved the Clock garden, which had a big clock set in stone over an outdoor doorway---Fountain Court---Henry VIII rooms---William and Mary rooms---Tudor kitchens---gardens in the back---got photos of the trees trimmed to mushroom shapes next to a pool of water.
I rested on a bench in the columned arcade lining Fountain Court and ate a chicken breast and bacon sandwich---talked to a 85-year old retired sportswriter of one of the newspapers of Fleet Street---back when newspapers were on Fleet Street---and his wife---he had an interesting career, mostly writing about racehorses.
I hit the gift shop. I had decided early into the trip that each time I visited a palace or castle I would get an affordable guidebook. I also bought postcards and refrigerator magnets. I picked out what I wanted, but the clerk didn’t hand back the guidebook with the magnets and change. Unfortunately I didn’t realize it until we were in the van and half-way back to London. I looked it up later on the Internet and to replace the $9 guidebook, with shipping, would cost me $27. I looked for a Hampton Court book in other gift shops all over the country and never found one---darn!
Back to that sandwich, the English really, really like bacon. The humble pig and his by-products hold a warm place on the menu of the British Isles. Bacon rolls, sausages, ham, it was available day and night, all year around. In fact, it was hard for me to find a pre-made sandwich for lunch anywhere in England that didn’t feature bacon. It made me feel at home every time I bit into one because my dad raised corn and hogs. Years ago I even wrote a paper about Sherlock Holmes and pigs.
Back in London Helen tried to get us to the restaurant where we would meet the others and have dinner. After we got off the van she found it was the wrong address. There were two locations, separated by blocks of Soho, the “arty” part of London. So we took “the scenic route” thru the cobblestone streets and back alleys. We picked our path through blocked passageways draped with steel chain link fencing hung with signs that cheerfully announced that the 110-year old Victorian-era sewer pipes exposed amidst the piles of rubble were due to be replaced and 2008 was the lucky year. I saw bemused men in hardhats and shovels standing by heavy machinery. What did they think of this ragtag, chattering band of American teenagers and adults, draped with backpacks and purses and lugging plastic bags of tourist loot? We passed lots of pubs, Chinese restaurants and “unusual” bookstores; at one point I jokingly put my hand over one boy’s eyes.
We reached the restaurant on Firth Street and were seated upstairs while the rest of our group of sixty sat downstairs. The place wasn’t very large. None of the London restaurants we ate at were what an American would call roomy. We were served the typical English food of “bangers and mash”, sausages and mashed potatoes, with strawberry cheesecake for dessert. Despite what had been said about British cooking it was all tasty and the cheesecake was light and delicious.
Next stop was “Wicked”, the hit musical. We walked over to the theatre district and waited across the street from the “Spamalot” theatre. When I asked Jim about it, he said the show was a huge hit and tickets were sold out for months. The front of the building sported an enormous plastic Holy Grail mounted over the marquee filled with figures of characters from the show. Posters by the lobby entrance had reviews like “Most fun since the Black Death” and “Bringing you entertainment since 907 AD”.
We waited by a bus stop where one sign said “Get on bus here” and another said “Bus route discontinued”. Justifiable confused people came by, stood for a while, noticed the signs or asked us why the bus just went by without stopping and then wandered off.
At the “Wicked” theatre, we climbed up to the second balcony and had a clear view of the stage. The walls were decorated with large fluted shapes hiding the lighting. A huge dragon hung from the flies over a curtain painted with a map of Oz showing each country (Munchkinland, Emerald City, etc.). I had never heard the soundtrack from this musical. I only knew a couple of songs from promos on TV talk shows. Amazingly, I hadn’t even read the book from which it was based. So everything was new and it was wonderful.
A set made of scaffolding with gears and platforms stuck all over it framed the story of the years before Dorothy Gale landed in Oz. In fact, she was only briefly mentioned at all. The main characters were the Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch. I liked the songs “Popular” and “Changed for Good”. During intermission they brought out the ice cream again and I bought Sarah B. one. A kid had traded with me so I had an aisle seat and could stretch out my knees. The whole evening was just so nice.
Afterwards we all took the Tube back to our hotel and I got the shower to work. I hung up my rinsed shirt and fell into bed.
“There were one hundred and forty-three diamonds of the first water, including one which has been called, I believe, ‘the Great Mogul’, and is said to be the second largest stone in existence.”
A Study in Scarlet
Wednesday, June 25th was the last day of the tour for forty-three of our number. It was also a free day. The sun was shining, the birds were singing and we were setting up little expeditions all over London as we ate breakfast in the lobby of the hotel. People were forming up to go to the Tower of London, the London Eye, even the British Museum. The adults were very nice about taking bunches of kids around with them so everyone could see the places they wanted.
Before we left the hotel Bill called on anyone who wished it to give spare money for tips for Jim and Helen for the great jobs they had been doing. I put my hat on the table and in a few minutes it was filled with pounds and American money. I sorted it all out and at Bill’s instructions wrapped it up and tucked it in my neck money pouch. Before the day would end I would hand it over to Bill who would divide it before giving the tips to our excellent tour directors. Jim was leaving that night for a job in Turkey while Helen would escort the extension group of seventeen to Scotland. I don’t know how much it was I was carrying but I never felt so valuable. It was safe in the neck pouch under my shirt. Nobody had been near that area in years.
A lot of us went to the Tower of London. Jim divided us up into groups. The admission fee varied according to age. I paid a little less because I was over 55. This policy extended to many public attractions in England, a benefit for older people or “pensioners”. Helen told me later that if I retired to Ireland, where she was from, I would pay no income tax, along with other breaks, because of my age. Hmmmmmm.
I joined up with my Paris friends, Bob, Karen, Cassie and John A., together with Michelle G. and her daughter Sarah G., to tour the Tower of London. The Tower of London was situated on the banks of the Thames to the east of the City, a prime defensive position. William the Conqueror had begun construction on Roman ruins and so the main feature, the White Tower, was made in the Norman style. Over the centuries many improvements had been added, including multiple curtain walls set with defensive towers, barracks, battlements, dungeons, Royal apartments, strong rooms to house the Crown Jewels, a Water Gate entrance from the Thames, an early version of the Royal Mint, administration offices, and a moat. There was even a well in the middle of the basement of the White Tower, so the defenders would have water during a siege.
That was the second Tower of the title of this account.
The moat was dry now, and strangers were allowed to enter each day upon payment of a fee. We entered near the Bloody Tower where the little princes had been imprisoned during the reign of Richard II. They were underage and a threat to his rule. Strangely enough, a few weeks after entering the Tower they were never seen alive again. Hundreds of years later, during repairs of the Tower, a wooden box was found under a staircase. Inside were the bones of two young males. Identified as the Lost Princes, the bones were reburied in Westminster Abbey.
We walked the Tower Green where noble traitors were executed, away from the common mobs that watched other hangings on Tower Hill, just outside the walls.
We walked through the Royal Crown Jewels display, quite a large and sophisticated exhibit. There was a film of the coronation of Elizabeth I in 1953. In large glass display cases were placed the crowns, scepters, Royal robes, orbs, swords, etc. called the Crown Jewels. I’m sure there were hidden cameras and other security devices all over the place.
The glass boxes were an improvement over the way the Jewels were displayed in the early 1800s. Then they were kept in a large cage where visitors could peer at them through iron bars. A nearly successful attempt to steal the complete collection had happened during the reign of Charles II in the 1600s. The aptly named Colonel Blood and his henchmen, having wheedled their way into the confidence of the Keeper of the Crown Jewels, attacked him one night as he was closing up the exhibit. The old man was tied up and stabbed and the loot bundled into a sack. Just as the men were leaving, the Keeper’s son returned unexpectedly from a trip abroad and interrupted them. The varlets were captured and the Jewels recovered. Charles II, oddly charmed by the swashbuckling Blood, pardoned him after the trial.
We saw the spot in the courtyard where the memorial to the chopping block was. Within a few yards of the pillow-shaped memorial were the execution spots of ten people, including Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey. The first two were wives that displeased Henry VIII and poor Lady Jane was forced by her ambitious family to declare herself Queen after Henry’s son Edward died. Henry’s oldest daughter Mary was the rightful heir and the whole mess was straightened out at the chopping block. I always felt sorry for Lady Jane. It just goes to show, in-laws can be a pain in the neck.
The site was in a rather beautiful place, just outside the Chapel Royal, surrounded by trees. The Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula was made of ancient stone with stained glass windows. We weren’t allowed inside because there was a service being held at the time. Within were the graves of Anne, Catherine and poor Lady Jane, plus the Earl of Essex and Sir Thomas More, and others. It served as a working church for the Yeomen Warders of the Guard and their families, who live within the walls of the Tower.
The Warders, also known as Beefeaters, were experienced members of the British military and practiced tour guides. They also kept an eye on the ravens that lived at the Tower. An old story said that if the ravens were ever to leave the Tower, England would fall. Charles II decreed that they should be forever protected, although they interfered with the observatory of his astronomer, mounted on the White Tower’s roof. The birds were allowed to roam freely during the day, but were locked up at night. As an added precaution, the key feathers of one wing were clipped on each raven and spare birds were raised at another location.
The whole place, though not large, appeared more like a tiny village than a fortress. A row of Tudor houses in one corner of the grounds made up the Queen’s House, where Anne Boleyn had stayed in the days before she was crowned Henry VIII’s Queen. They were also the same rooms she occupied three years later just before she lost her own head. The place of execution was clearly visible from the windows.
Being the most comfortable apartments in the Tower of London, Anne Boleyn’s daughter Elizabeth had lived there when she was imprisoned by Queen Mary while accused of treason. She was finally released for lack of evidence. She bided her time until Mary died years later. Then she stayed in the same Tower apartments in the days before her coronation as Elizabeth I. They were now kept ready if the current Queen had need of them.
We walked up the winding narrow steps that led to the chamber in the Beauchamp Tower where condemned prisoners carved their names and short messages in the stone walls before their sentences were carried out. Part of the White Tower was roped off for repairs, but Bob, as ex-military man, made a special trip to see the weaponry stored there.
We had sandwiches for lunch and took time for the gift shop. There I got a guidebook, fridge magnets, bookmarks for the grandkids and a special Henry VIII magnet for my youngest grandson, Brennen. He was ten years old and I held him spellbound one afternoon before the trip, telling him Henry’s life story, leaning rather heavily on the grabbing of church lands, the taking over of other peoples’ castles, and his solutions for marital problems.
The Tower’s toilets for women featured a roller towel. Of course, this being Great Britain, there were no paper towels anywhere.
Cassie led us on the Tube to the London Eye. It is an enormous version of a Ferris Wheel, erected to celebrate the year 2000, and now a popular tourist attraction.
We walked across the Millennium Bridge, then thru a plaza on the side of the Thames to the Eye. Under the bridge a small band was playing, with a cup for coins on the pavement before them. As we walked through the plaza we came across other performers, called “buskers”, who held licenses to entertain the crowds that throng the places of London where people gather or pass. On small plinths down the length of the plaza were stationed various mimes. One danced “The Robot” to music. Another was costumed as a statue, complete with real pigeons perched on his shoulders and head. I couldn’t tell he was a person until I saw his coattails flutter in the wind. Another mime had a costume with elongated arms finishing in large fake hands. He and the costume were colored copper and looked like something out of “The Wiz”. His act was to pose for photos as he embraced tourists. Each had a container for donations before him.
One mime was portraying Charlie Chaplin. He motioned me over. He flirted, winked his eye, gave me a hug, and posed for a photo. I played along, saying, “I’m so glad to meet you. I’ve always loved your work. I think “Gold Rush” was your best film.”
He kissed my hand and wouldn’t stop. I got a bit flustered. “Oh, my goodness, haven’t you had lunch yet?”
I dropped some coins in his cup as the others laughed. The last time my hand had been kissed was in Toronto, Canada, in 1986, and the man responsible was wearing a kilt.
The price for the ride was reduced for older people here, too. We got our tickets and stepped into a car as it slowly rotated past. The Eye never stops. After construction it became a London landmark, featured in postcards, guidebooks, and on TV. It played a pivotal part in a “Doctor Who” episode. I first saw it on an episode of “The Amazing Race”. The cars had glass walls and a long seat in the middle and carried us 450 feet up in the air, affording magnificent views of downtown London, including the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, just across the Thames. The trip took 30 minutes.
I noticed a neat optical illusion as we swung down back to the platform. If you gazed at the Houses of Parliament, across the river, there was practically no sign of motion. If you turned your head to the buildings near the loading platform of the Eye you could see the roofs sliding past. It was rather disorientating.
Cassie led us to the magnificent Classical façade of Waterloo Station and onto the Underground to Piccadilly Station. We arrived there at 4 pm. We were to meet the others under the statue of Eros at the roundabout in Piccadilly Circus at 5 o’clock.
I had been here during our first trip in 2006. The others went off to shop at the sports store Lilywhites and other places. I headed straight for the Criterion Bar, just a few steps from the station. As all Sherlockians know, the Criterion Bar was famous. This was the Sherlock Holmes connection of the day.
I pushed thru the revolving doors and stood just inside. On the left was the famous “Long Bar”, stretching back half the length of the room. Overhead, the gold mosaic ceiling arched from one wall to the other in a beautiful barrel vault. Beneath that was a large narrow room filled with two rows of tables and chairs and with a raised restaurant area in the back.
Set slightly aside from the others, on the right, stood a small round table and two chairs. On the wall behind the table was a plaque well-known to Sherlock Holmes admirers. It read
HERE, NEW YEARS DAY, 1881
AT THE CRITERION LONG BAR
STAMFORD, DRESSER AT BARTS
MET DR. JOHN H. WATSON
AND LED HIM TO IMMORTALITY
AND SHERLOCK HOLMES
The Sherlock Holmes Society of London
And the Baker Street Irregulars-1981
By the Inverness Capers of Akron, Ohio
This meeting, as told in the early paragraphs of the first Sherlock Holmes novel, “A Study in Scarlet”, led to the partnership of Holmes and Watson that resulted in the wonderful stories we all know and love. Well, I know and love them.
I was greeted by a handsome waiter by the revolving door. I smiled at him gently and said, “I am a Sherlockian, and I am sure I’m not your first.” He smiled back. I made my modest requests and sat down at the table by the plaque. I spent the next forty minutes bringing my notebook up to date. I don’t drink alcohol, so I think I may have made Sherlockian history as the first adult Sherlockian to ever sit at that table and drink a large glass of milk.
The Criterion Restaurant and Theatre was constructed all within one building in 1873. It was designed by Thomas Verity. It included an unusually large (by London standards) restaurant, along with reading, billiards and hairdressing rooms, a cigar divan, a concert hall, ballroom and a charming theatre. The entire building cost over 80,000 pounds (about 8,000,000 pounds in today’s money). During the London Blitz of WWII, the restaurant was fitting with false walls and ceilings to protect the ornate interior. After the war, it was turned into a Boots 24-hour chemist’s shop, then restored in the 1980’s to its neo-Byzantine origins. The Criterion Restaurant I saw featured potted palms, a vast bar with ornate drum lamps, beautiful marble walls and was finished off with a glittering gold mosaic arched ceiling, evoking images of fabled Arabian nights. I paid the bill, picked up an info sheet about the history of the Criterion Bar the nice hostess had copied for me and joined the others outside.
We walked to an Indian restaurant that served salad, curried chicken, rice, vegetables, nan bread, and huge crispy chips. The meat and the vegetables were very spicy. Frankly, that was my least favorite meal. At the table I handed the tip money over to Bill.
After we finished we walked to Charing Cross Station. On the way we passed a number of bookstores on one street. In one window there was a mannequin dressed as Sherlock Holmes in suit, shoes, deerstalker hat and an overcoat with a cape. It was very exciting. We couldn’t stop but I decided to find it the next day.
Outside the train station I saw the famous Charing Cross, commemorating the homeward-bound journey of Edward I and the body of his beloved wife, Eleanor of Castile. She had died away from London and in great procession her body was brought back to the capitol. Crosses were put up at each resting place during the trip. Now the Cross was sheathed in scaffolding as this replacement Victorian monument underwent repairs.
We took an Underground train to the East End of London. There we broke into two groups, each with its own guide, and were given a tour of the haunts of the infamous Jack the Ripper. I was very interested in this because it happened during the time the Sherlock Holmes stories were being written and it was a natural subject for Sherlockians. The big question is “Could Sherlock Holmes have caught him?” I had read a lot on the subject and seen the police pictures.
Working under the twin handicaps of it being daylight without a murky shadow in sight and the fact that the Germans had bombed the heck out of the area during WWII because it was close to the docks and fuel tanks that supported the English with supplies, our guide Heather put on a very informative talk. She walked us down several streets and alleys that hadn't changed from the 1880s.
There were some changes, though. The site of Mary Kelly’s little room where the last of the murders happened was now a parking garage. Visualizing that murder took a little imagination.
She was very graphic about the horrors performed. The kids liked that. The tour ended at Mitre Square, one of the crime scenes. It was not a large courtyard, and was surrounded by modern buildings, but it was paved with the original cobblestones Jack crossed on his nefarious mission.
She ended the tour by showing photos of some the crime scenes and some autopsy photos. As part of the tour we passed the neighborhood church where during the Ripper’s time the local prostitutes loitered outside, looking for business. During the years of Queen Victoria, the area just outside a church was one of the few places where people could congregate at anytime without getting arrested. The local police had to assume they were praying.
Between speeches on murder and dissection, Heather talked to me about Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock’s older brother. She and her writing partner had wanted to enter a film writing contest that lapsed just a month before. Their idea was to write a Victorian period film script that used Mycroft as a connecting link in the investigation of a series of murders. She wondered how important Mycroft had been to the British government. I explained that at times, Mycroft was the British Government. In the James Bond movies, who did you think was the first M?
Being a Sherlockian means that one can, if one wishes, attempt to connect Holmes and Watson to the real Victorian era. What was the real weather in Devonshire on the days of the year when the Hound of the Baskervilles case took place in 1889? Who was Prime Minister during the time of the theft of the Navel Treaty? What was Mycroft’s real place in the British Government? Linking Holmes to other literary creations like Ian Fleming’s James Bond and TV’s medical drama “House” is all part of the fun.
We took the Aldershot Underground back to Victoria Station. We had some time and people were hungry, unsatisfied by the Indian meal. We were allowed thirty minutes before the train was due. We split up to get food from the stands and vending machines in the station. I headed straight for a Burger King and got a Whopper. So good!
We rode the Tube back to Croydon. For forty-three of our party this was their last day in London. They were to meet in the lobby in the morning with their luggage at 6am to go to Heathrow Airport. They would board a plane to fly back to Chicago and home. The rest of us were to gather in the hotel lobby with our bags at 9am. This would be our last day in London.
“I have my eye on a suite in Baker Street,” he said, “which would suit us down to the ground.”
A Study in Scarlet
Thursday June 26 dawned bright and clear. Since I woke up early every morning of this trip, I had given up using my travel clock alarm. I showered, packed, and went downstairs for breakfast. There were only seventeen of us left, including chaperones, so all our luggage went into one room to await the bus that will take us to the train station tonight to start for Scotland. People were arranging to go to different places on this free day. One group was going to the Tower of London, others shopping or on various adventures. We were all to meet later for dinner and the train. Dr. Watson was going with Dan and a group to Wimbledon to see the championship tennis matches. I was going to Baker Street. The whole day was the Sherlock Holmes connection.
Running a little late, we took the East Croydon Underground to Victoria Station. Helen had given me directions to the Baker Street Underground Station. I didn’t know London had the Circle Line, which was a bit like Chicago’s Loop.
The trains took me to the right place without trouble but since I had started late, I decided to go first to the Marylebone Public Library. It contained the largest collection of Sherlockian items held by a public library in the U.K. That was begun when the Sherlock Holmes collection gathered for the festival of Britain in 1951 was broken up in 1957. The items making up the sitting room display of chairs, pipes, wax dummy of Holmes, etc. was sold to Whitbread and Co. who remodeled a pub around the Sherlock Holmes theme. The other articles, printed editions, books of commentary, bound copies of the “Strand Magazines” and other publications, uncounted magazines and scion publications, etc. were given to the Marylebone Public Library because it was the closest library to Baker Street, being only a block away.
People still wrote to Holmes, notably school children, and for years the Abbey Insurance Company on Baker Street maintained a secretary to answer the letters. Letters that needed more than a form letter response were sent to the Marylebone Library around the corner where Ms. Catherine C., librarian and Sherlockian, answered them. I had never met Catherine, but we had e-mailed each other over the years. Over the Internet I arranged with Catherine to view the collection during my free day. Unfortunately she was absent that week, but she left my name at the front desk so the other librarians would help me when I showed up.
I stood on the sidewalk in front of the Baker Street Station, totally bewildered. I hadn’t expected such a busy street scene. Marylebone was a divided boulevard thick with traffic and pedestrians. I asked a nice tall white-haired man wearing a brown tweed jacket for directions to the library since what I saw didn’t agree with the map I had gotten from the Internet. His directions got me across Marylebone, and then he repeated them. But instead of turning like I should have, I walked forward. He astutely noticed that I was obviously a brain-damaged American female and just when I was wondering what to do next he came up from behind me, rather winded, accused me of an inability to read a simple map, and set me back on course. Thank goodness I had a photo of the library entrance or I may have never have found the place.
The building was built in 1887 of dressed stone with a gabled entrance portico flanked by columns and topped with a stone helmet resting on a shield. Steps led up thru doors to the main floor reading room and information desk. I introduced myself and was introduced to Nikki S. and her colleague Michael. It was, as I feared, near her lunch time, but she took me down a labyrinth of stairs and corridors to the locked room that held the Collection.
I had seen the Sherlock Holmes collection housed at the Toronto Municipal Library in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, years ago. It was kept in its own room in a parlor setting, with bookshelves, furniture, a fireplace and framed pictures on the walls. The Marylebone Library didn’t have the space needed to properly display its Sherlockian treasures. Nikki said one day they hoped to have a proper display space, but for now everything was stored in a basement room in glass-fronted bookcases, file cabinets, on shelves and in cardboard boxes.
I could have stayed a week. The collection was constantly growing, and for me it was Aladdin’s cave. It seemed that every book or story Conan Doyle ever wrote and every book, article, essay, pastiche, parody, poem, picture, photo, club program, illustration, magazine, musical and play program, and cartoon ever produced about Holmes and Watson and their world was within those four walls. I thumbed thru bound copies of the “Strand Magazine” and even found myself listed as a contributor to the “Baker Street Journal” back in the early 1970s. I was delighted to find my name misspelled.
There were translations of Holmes stories in many different languages and items from scions, or clubs, from all over the world. The file cabinets held, among other papers, letters written to Holmes at 221b Baker Street from the public.
Urged to take whatever I wanted to look at upstairs, I took a file of letters, some issues of The Sherlock Holmes Magazine and some other things. Nikki, Michael and I went back to the reading room and she went off for lunch. I sat looking at the material for a while, then I went out to find my own lunch, a tuna sandwich on a roll and a rather dry brownie filled, in the British manner, with bits of dried fruit. When I returned, I spent more time with the material, reading the letters from the public and articles from the magazines. Reluctantly, I soon handed everything back to Nikki and set out for the next goal.
The Sherlock Holmes Museum, 221b Baker Street! Well, actually there never was a real 221b, but when you are encouraging a legend, what does it matter? Show me where Zeus sat atop Mt. Olympus and where he stored his thunderbolts. Show me the spot where Grendel’s mother gave birth. Indeed, show me Hogwarts. Reality never got in the way of a good story. Enjoyment of a good story should never get in the way of reality.
The letters written to Mr. Holmes at 221b Baker Street ended up at the lost property office on Baker Street. Across the road was an authentic 1880s lodging house still standing after decades of change around it. Registered as a historic building by the British government, it was a stroke of genius by some intelligent people to obtain possession and restore it to the same appearance known to the Great Detective and his Biographer. As a result the Sherlock Holmes Museum was founded as the only museum in the world dedicated to a “fictional” character.
It had a nice gift shop on the ground floor. An “English bobby” directed me to buy my ticket in the shop. I did so and then walked up the seventeen steps to the fabled sitting room. Accustomed to the rooms as seen in movies and on TV, I was surprised at how small they actually were. But this was really how small the lodging houses were in the 1880s.
The front room was filled with everything mentioned in the stories as being in the sitting room. The breakfast table was laid out in china and silver, Dr. Watson’s medical bag stood on his desk, Holmes’ chemical apparatus were on a table in the corner and his Persian slipper filled with tobacco stood on the mantelpiece. Armchairs were set before the coal fireplace and the very pictures on the walls replicated the famous room.
Off to one side was the door leading to Holmes’s bedroom, with his narrow bed and shaving stand across from a bureau holding his box of greasepaint. Pictures of famous villains hung on the wall over his mirror.
Except for its small size, the front room looked quite a bit like the sitting room of the Jeremy Brett TV series of Sherlock Holmes stories. Upstairs were rooms set up to display more items mentioned in the Canon. In one corner was a large bust of Holmes, wearing his dressing gown and holding a curved pipe. Included in the displays were mannequins portraying, among others, Irene Adler, the King of Bohemia and even Professor Moriarty. A case holding a diorama of a scene from the Hound of the Baskervilles stood beneath a window.
At the very top of the stairs was the one thing never mentioned in the stories; a Victorian loo with a blue and white china basin and toilet. There was a deep row of lace on the towel hanging by the sink. The bathroom fixture company Kohler from Wisconsin would be proud to claim it as their own.
Greeting visitors was Mr. Holmes, Mr. Stewart Quentin Holmes. After he changed his name on advice from his numerologist, his acting career picked up. He appeared on “The Amazing Race” several years ago, when one of the jobs required of the contestants was to go to the Sherlock Holmes Museum and complete a task. He and his acting partner, who portrayed Dr. Watson, had even been as far away from London as Texas to do readings at colleges. They traveled, like the original Holmes and Watson, anywhere their services were required.
He was very pleasant. With white hair and the correct profile, he looked the part and explained the various items in the rooms with easy knowledge. He even posed for photos in the deerstalker hat. He obligingly took photos of visitors as they wore the available deerstalker cap and handled the pipe and magnifying glass. I told him about the Sherlock Holmes story I had finished just before starting the trip and he handed me his card so I could send him a copy. He encouraged me and the others touring the rooms to see everything and even to sit on the chairs. Upstairs I found the guestbook and signed it. Everyone else in the museum that day seemed to be from Romania.
Downstairs in the gift shop I went a little crazy. Well, crazier than normal. I picked up bookmarks, pins, china cups, postcards and other things. My largest purchase was an authentic deerstalker hat. I just couldn’t resist. Won’t the kids at Evansville High School get a kick out of it when they look out the windows every day in winter and see me walking up with my deerstalker hat and long speckled wool coat?
Time passed much too soon. Finally I had to catch the Bakerloo Line down to Charing Cross Station. From there I walked to Northumberland Ave. and the Sherlock Holmes Pub and Restaurant. This place was where Jim had surprised me on the 2006 trip. Now I had time to really look around and even to eat something.
The upstairs had been redecorated over a year ago, but the glassed-in corner was untouched, showing the sitting room with all the things collected for the display for the Festival of Britain fifty-seven years ago. On the walls were playbills and photos of just some of the many actors who had portrayed Holmes and Watson on stage and screen throughout the years. The excellent oil painting of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle hung on the same spot on the restaurant’s wall as before. I walked out onto a little deck equipped with tables and chairs that I hadn’t noticed during my first trip. On the brick wall was a menu and a silhouette of Holmes, complete with deerstalker hat and pipe.
Downstairs I ordered Spotted Dick, just to say I ate it, and a glass of Diet Pepsi. Spotted Dick proved to be an English steamed pudding, somewhat like a bread pudding with raisins, sitting in a puddle of vanilla custard. Every dessert in the U.K. was referred to as pudding, even ice cream.
I sat in the taproom to eat it and brought my notebook up to date. I noticed with interest that while most bars and pubs have sports or game shows on their TV, in the Sherlock Holmes Pub and Restaurant they played episodes of Jeremy Brett’s TV program "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" with the sound off and the captions running along the bottom of the screen. Perfect!
I left the pub determined to find that bookstore with the Sherlock Holmes mannequin in the window. After a few minutes I realized I had no idea what the heck I was doing, so I went back to Charing Cross to get a train to Chancery Lane.
Everything went fine and I walked up the Underground steps to the street where I was to meet the others twenty minutes early. But there was no place to sit down and still see the entrance I had used. So I stood in the shade against a building a few yards away and watched for the others. Finally they found me (I had been there all the time) and I crossed the street to join them.
We walked for quite a while to find the restaurant. On the way Bill had us detour to see Dr. Samuel Johnson’s house. Dr. Johnson was a very interesting man who wrote the first English dictionary and was a great conversationalist. He said, “If a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” His biography was written by James Boswell, who gave his name to the idea of a biographer. Sherlock Holmes once said to Watson, “I am lost without my Boswell.”
We ended up at The Olde Cocke Tavern for fish and chips. A very large carved and painted rooster hung over the front door. The building was very narrow and we filled the upstairs room, lit by a multi-paned medieval-style window that filled the entire end wall and overlooked the busy street below. The room had dark paneling and a high ceiling. I wondered if this was the same Olde Cocke Tavern favored by Dr. Samuel Johnson himself.
Bill and I sat a small table supplied with two club chairs. I showed off some of my Baker Street purchases and modeled the deerstalker hat. All of it went over very well, but Bill really liked one of the bookmarks. It had an imprint of the quote, “Good old Watson! The one fixed point in a changing age.” He showed it around to the group and particularly to our own Dr. Watson.
The fish was a little overdone for my taste, but the chips were good. Afterward we walked to another street, where Helen turned us loose at an Internet café. Next door was a souvenir shop. While the others e-mailed home and shopped, she led me across the street to the very bookshop I had searched for earlier, the one with the Sherlock Holmes display in the window. She had to make a phone call, so I took photos and bought the latest mystery by Ann Purser, an author I had discovered on my first trip to London two years ago.
We rode the Underground back to our hotel in Croydon. Bill told us that he had gotten a phone call message from his wife saying that one of the kids on that morning’s flight had lost her passport at the airport. I didn’t hear the end of that story until later. She had gone to the bathroom right before boarding and couldn’t find her passport afterwards. The Other Dan stayed behind with her while airport officials searched for it. It was very serious. There is a large black market for American passports.. The student wouldn’t be able to enter the United States without that little blue booklet.
Everyone else boarded the plane. Just as it was lifting off the passport was found. They had missed their flight, but a very nice British Airlines lady arranged for them to board a flight to Chicago on another airline. That accommodation was practically unheard of. The two arrived in Chicago just two or three hours after their original flight landed.
I stopped at the ATM and got some money. English money was good in Scotland, although Scotland had its own money too. The pounds and pence of Scotland featured pictures of Scottish writers and other famous citizens. It was issued by the Bank of Scotland. English money was issued by the Bank of England.
We had left our bags in one room at our hotel. Now I picked out a clean shirt and some necessaries and put them in my day bag, making sure I included my new paperback. The motor coach met us and our luggage outside the hotel. At the station, the kids got some treats and water. Helen arranged for a golf cart to carry most of our bags to the train and included me in the load. I decided that it was necessary that I had my folding cane out all the time for the rest of the trip.
After the luggage was put on the train, we were assigned couchettes. Helen and I got singles, the others doubled up.
Each sleeping space in coach had two bunks with a ladder and two pillows each, four clothes hangers on straps on the wall, two mirrors, a fold-out sink with running water, carpeting, a waste basket, a sealed sanitary toothbrush pack for each bunk, and buttons for the lights, the temperature control and to call the attendant. The toilets were down the hall at the end of the car and resembled airline toilets.
I spread my stuff around and followed Bill, Helen and the others to the club car. Tables for four were on the left, smaller tables for two on the right. Strangers were scattered along the length of the car, but Bill, Helen and the others found an empty table on the left. I looked around for an empty table and saw none. I then asked a nice-looking older man sitting alone at a table on the right if I could join him. He replied “I’d be delighted.” I sat across from him with my cane under my hand.
My new companion looked to be a vigorous man in his late 70s or early 80s. He had pure white hair, a youthful pink face and a charming smile. He was dressed in a dark business suit and had a drink before him. We talked. It was the most amazing conversation I have ever had in my life.
After a few minutes of talking, I asked his name. He was almost apologetic. “It’s double-barreled, I’m afraid.” He was Mr. C-J. He was born in Nepal while his father was a British officer in the 5th Gurkas, Nepalese soldiers who volunteered to be part of the British Indian Army. His dad was a life-long British Army officer who later served on the Allied Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, D.C. during the early 1940s. Mr. C-J’s father was in on the planning of the North African invasion campaign and the Normandy invasion during World War II. As a brigadier general, he “took notes” during the Yalta Conference where President Franklin D. Roosevelt met for the last time with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union to discuss the future of the Western world after the war finally ended.
Mr. C-J worked as an investment banker in the heart of the financial district of London, the City, for over 50 years. He specialized in pensions. His wife died had three years ago. They had four children with one son working for a time in Chicago at a bank. Mr. C-J was going up to Scotland to attend a reunion at his public school. “Public schools” in the U.K. are what Americans call “private schools”. He said the name of his school, but it passed right out of my memory. Excitement, I suppose.
The reunion involved his being a “Fellow” of his class. He downplayed that, saying all he had to do to become a Fellow was “sign a piece of paper”. He showed me a couple pictures of his boarding school on his digital camera. I saw large, long multi-storied stone buildings ringing a green grass quad. He joked that back when he attended girls were not admitted, but now that he was no longer there, girls were all over the place.
For college, he had “read history” at Cambridge University.Because of his business background, he was asked to serve on the boards of trusts involving the Winston Churchill memorial and also the Church of England. He had just resigned as financial advisor to the Archbishop of York. He displayed a playful stripe in his personality. Mr. C-J told me that during his first meeting with the Archbishop he addressed him as “Your Grace”, and then worked down the list of the Archbishop’s titles to his first name of “John”. He grinned at me as he told the story.
He had a most charming smile. He liked to travel.He bought me a drink (Diet Pepsi) and another for himself. He listened to my account of our trip so far. I told him about Evansville High School and my Tillotson connection to England and how we knew so much about the family because of our ancestor John Tillotson, Archbishop of Canterbury.
When I mentioned Baker Street and Sherlock Holmes, he laughed and said he had a friend at the reunion that collected “Biggles” books. He showed me a copy he was bringing to him as a gift. Biggles was an air pilot who starred in a series of hardcover adventure books for boys, sort of like a grownup Johnny Quest, but in a very English Boy’s Own Paper kind of way. The author had the character flying in WWI and afterwards through the ‘20s and ‘30s in many types of aircraft. Sometimes he worked for the British Government and sometimes he had adventures on his own, with a band of friends. The last story was written in 1940.
I was originally from upper Illinois so we talked about Chicago, where his son had worked and he had visited. We found that we both liked history (he asked if I was an historian!), travel and American Presidents. We talked about President Lincoln. I was from Illinois and told him about my trip to see Lincoln’s home and tomb in Springfield.
We talked briefly about President Kennedy but we talked particularly about President Harry Truman. He tried to remember the name of the author of a book about Truman; I said “Merle Miller” and he pointed at me in delight and said “That’s it!” The book’s title was “Plain Speaking”, written from interviews Truman had given the author in the early 1960s.
We both spoke about Harry Truman’s ability to live for thirty-five years with his imperious mother-in-law in her house and how he had never answered her back when she gave her opinion of him, which wasn’t very high. She never thought Harry was good enough for her daughter. Even when she lived in the White House after Truman became President of the United States she would remark to the staff and the guests that her daughter Bess could have done so much better than Harry and she would give examples. Mr. Truman just grinned.
He had loved Bess Wallace since they were both six and nothing her mother could say or do changed that. When Mrs. Wallace died Harry Truman had to purchase the only private home he had ever known with his family from her estate.
We talked about how the times find the man, as they did Lincoln in the Civil War and Truman in WWII and Korea.
I told him I liked the Romanovs, the British Royal Family (he liked that) and many different kinds of books. He asked me my impressions of presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama.
About 12:30 am he excused himself to go to bed. He said he hoped to see me again in the morning. I realized while I was talking and listening to him that that this was one of the “old guard” Englishmen of the stories no one writes anymore. Mr. C-J came from a military service family, traveled in high circles, made money for himself and others in one of the most famous financial centers of the world, did public service as a private citizen, knew a lot of historic people and yet he was smiling at me and buying me a drink! I tried to be as quiet and intelligent and show how interested I was as I could. I knew this conversation was a real, live, honest-to-God, once in a lifetime privilege and experience that could never be repeated.
After he left I moved to another table closer to Bill and the others. I was bursting to tell of my encounter with Mr. C-J but instead I sat and thought, “I’m not going to say a word. I’m going to wait until they ask me.”
After a little time their conversation died down and Helen turned to me. She asked, “How are you doing?” I told her. It was fun to watch because as I talked, Helen’s jaw slowly dropped down as far as it could go. The others looked similarly stunned. When I finished, I asked, “Do I get the points?”
“Oh yes, you get the points!”
After I got home I googled Mr. C-J and found everything he had told me was true, plus some facts about his family I have included here. He had not mentioned to me then but I discovered on-line that he had received the Order of the British Empire from Queen Elizabeth II a few years ago for his activities on behalf of the Church of England. It was really him, for I even found a picture.
Maps were drawn and charts prepared, in which the future city was sketched out.
A Study in Scarlet
I slept fitfully in the bunk that night and awoke at 5am. It was June 27th, a Friday. The train had stopped. I got dressed and looked outside. Through the corridor windows I could see that we were stopped on the line somewhere in the country under a cloudy sky. A workman was walking up and down the tracks. I decided that we had either stopped to let another train pass or that the workman was checking the carriages for signs of wear and tear that could happen during a high-speed trip.
I took my notebook up to the club car to update its contents. I admit I was hoping to meet Mr. C-J again, but he wasn’t there. The attendants were delivering trays of food to the first class compartments, so I decided he wasn’t coming out anytime soon. I admired the Scottish scenery awhile and went back to my cubicle. I finished Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods”. Later an attendant handed in a boxed breakfast of rolls, jam and juice.
We got off the train at the Edinburgh station. There was no sign of Mr. C-J, but Helen came up to me in the station and grasped my arm. “You certainly know how to meet the most interesting people!” she said. A motor coach waited for us and swallowed our bags into its luggage maw. They would emerge when we reached our hotel at the end of the day.
We drove into Edinburgh. The entire city was the Sherlock Holmes connection of the day. Arthur Conan Doyle was born, raised and educated in Edinburgh, finally obtaining his medical degree at Edinburgh University. One of his professors was Dr. Joseph Bell, the model for Sherlock Holmes. Dr. Bell taught that the many tiny details of a patient’s appearance could help in the diagnosis of his medical problem. He taught that every doctor was a bit of a detective.
We stopped to see the grounds and exterior of Holyroodhouse, the palace where the Queen stayed when she was in town. She was expected this week for the Highlander Tattoo held at Edinburgh Castle. We peered at the flagpole over the roof of the palace, because the style of flag would tell us if she were in residence. There was little wind and we reached no decision.
We had a bus tour of Charlotte Square, a beautiful example of Georgian architecture where Robert Louis Stevenson had lived. We got a tour of New Town, which was built in the 1760s. All of original Edinburgh was made of stone, brick and cobblestones and built on top of an extinct volcano. Space was limited and that was why they had to plan out and build New Town.
Edinburgh Castle was visible from all over town. One could see where J. K. Rowlings, the author of the Harry Potter books and an Edinburgh native, got her ideas about Hogwarts. Later one of our party stopped at the café where she had written the first books, sitting before a large window with a fine view of Edinburgh Castle. There was a plaque on the wall designating the place as a landmark.
Our motor coach drove up to the Esplanade in front of Edinburgh Castle and we disembarked. The others walked thru the castle gates, past the statues of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce who were the greatest Scottish heroes in history. William Wallace was “Braveheart” who fought the British back in the late
13th century. Robert the Bruce was a contemporary who also fought the British in the early 14th century and became King of a united Scotland.
Helen and I rode a van (courtesy of the Castle) up to the top square. Quite a difference from my laborious climb of two years ago! Helen and I had tea and scones in a teashop in one of the buildings lining the Square. Afterwards I walked around and looked at the Castle.
I saw the Scottish Crown Jewels. I walked thru the Scottish WWI Memorial while paying special attention to the frieze in the apse representing the many different people who served (nurses, infantrymen, sailors, a man with a pair of snowshoes, etc.), and I strolled the Great Hall.
When the time came I walked down to the Castle entrance and joined the others. We broke up into groups again and began walking down the Royal Mile, the street that led from the Castle down into Edinburgh and ended at Holyroodhouse. We were given a meeting place on Princes Street and invited to see the Scottish National Gallery, the Princes Garden and to shop in downtown Edinburgh.
Bill, Helen and I walked down the Royal Mile a little ways and stopped at the Jolly Judge Pub for lunch. Bill and Helen had haggis over a baked potato. I was still working on the scone from the Castle so I had a tuna sandwich on a roll.
I walked with Bill and we explored. I bought some scarves and we watched a magician and a wool spinner perform on the sidewalk.
Bill took me to the Writer’s Museum, filled with the artifacts of Scottish authors Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott. It was a little house in a courtyard entered from the main street thru a Close, or alley. The stone building was perfectly proportioned inside and quite beautiful. It went up three or four stories but didn’t look that big from the courtyard.
We both had seen the Scottish National Gallery of Art on our first trip so instead we rested on a bench in Princes Garden. Bill rested so well he fell asleep. One of the kids came by and took his picture. So did I. I let him sleep for about twenty-five minutes or so before we started to walk again.
We walked along Princes Street while I pondered the fact that many of the shops and stores there two years ago had changed. The Marks and Spencer sign was gone, the little 1 pound store next to it was now a cell phone place, scaffolding surrounded several buildings, and in general the street looked differently.
Princes Gardens on the near side of the street had not changed. It was designed to fill an old riverbed and displayed the landscaping and flowers for which it was famous. The Gardens are long and narrow but there were winding paths and places to sit. A tiny outdoor theatre was located in the middle.
Long wooden benches stood on the sidewalk along the iron fence that bordered the length of the Gardens. Near the bus stop I showed Bill the bench with the plaque I remembered from the first trip. Each bench had a plaque on it in memory of someone. Each bench and plaque was donated by various people and organizations for use by the public. The one I showed Bill was donated in memory of Ludwig von Beethoven from a fan in 1986.
Our gathering place was next to a white church on a corner of Princes Street. I went inside while Bill walked on. It was St. John the Evangelist, a Scottish Episcopal Church of the diocese of Edinburgh. Construction began in 1816 and was completed in 1818. It was designed by William Burns, who chose the revived perpendicular gothic style of architecture.
Inside St. John’s was decorated in white and gold and had a beautiful ceiling. The plaster ceiling vault, with it’s hanging corbels, was derived from Henry VII’s chapel in Westminster Abbey. The stained glass of the windows was installed from 1857 to 1861. Memorial plaques hung on the walls between the tall arched windows.
I talked to the lady who was closing up the little table in the back that sold postcards and pamphlets. She invited me to walk around the church. I read the memorials and learned that most of them were for young Scottish men lost in WWI. The soldiers were all so young. I remember one was for an officer lost during WWII. I rested on a bench in the back until a man closed the building. Then I sat on the steps outside where I was gradually joined by the rest of our group of seventeen.
We dined at Dario’s, an Italian restaurant, on pasta and pizza. Helen quizzed me on Native Americans past and present and about Buffalo Bill. Thankfully I had read several books on those subjects, visited the South Dakota Badlands, and lived in Wisconsin with its history of Chief Black Hawk and the Ho-Chunk Nation. All those Tony Hillerman mysteries with Lt. Leaphorn and Jim Chee paid off, too.
he wanted to know if Buffalo Bill was an Indian. He wasn’t, he got his name by shooting buffaloes to feed the crews building the Central Pacific railroad and later went into show business with a Wild West show.
Why did the Native Americans have gambling casinos? She had never thought of them as gamblers. I explained that gambling went back centuries in Native American traditions and the profits received today were used by them to improve the lives of their people.
She asked me about their different lifestyles in different parts of the country (thank you, Tony Hillerman and Mr. Bodie, my American history teacher back in high school). She asked about Wild Bill Hickock and the town where he had died, Deadwood, SD. I had visited Deadwood and seen Hickock’s grave. She wanted to know about Calamity Jane and did she really have a relationship with Wild Bill. It was more a case of hero worship, I told her.
I explained that the modern Native Americans tried to hold on to their ancient culture as best they could, having gatherings and upholding their ancient customs and religions. The New York State Mohawk tribe was famous for working on the construction crews that built the tall skyscrapers in New York City. People thought it was because the Mohawks weren’t scared of heights. I told her that they did it not because they weren’t scared, but because it was a modern-day method of showing their bravery in the face of danger and fear. That was a very Native American thing to do.
After the meal we got on the motor coach and drove to our hotel in Falkirk, outside of Edinburgh. It was the Antoine Hotel. There was no elevator on the ground floor, so we climbed a set of stairs to the elevator. I used it to the next floor, and got room 102.
My room was narrow with a double bed, a strangely familiar grey duvet, a desk under the wall of windows with a TV on it facing the bed and a bathroom fitted out with a big tub-shower with (gasp!) grab bars in the correct places. It also had, as had the other hotel rooms on this trip, an electric kettle for coffee or tea and a short round wastebasket with a step-up lid just like the ones I came across during the last trip. The difference this time was that these wastebaskets worked.
“It was very broken country, you may remember.”
The Blanched Soldier
I slept 8 hours and awoke on Saturday, June 28th. Breakfast was laid out in a dining room set for forty. Since there were only seventeen of us and strange people were walking in and asking if this was the EFtours breakfast, I deduced there was another group in the hotel with us. I was right.
They were a combined group from Ohio and California on a 23–day tour of Ireland, Wales, England, Scotland, France and Normandy. One couple was going on after that to visit friends in Germany for an additional five days. I exchanged a couple of war stories with one of their chaperones as the room filled up.
After breakfast, our group boarded a motor coach for our day’s itinerary. We were going to Stirling Castle, the William Wallace Monument, the Trossachs area and then return to Edinburgh to have Chinese food at the famous Jimmy Chung’s.
But first we went to see the Falkirk Wheel. I had read a short article about this in Time magazine a few years ago. Scotland, like much of Great Britain, was threaded with canals, built and used as a mode of transportation before being overtaken by the railroads in the middle of the 19th century.
Tourism still used the canals and at Falkirk there was a special problem. The area was hilly and there were two levels of canal outside of the city. The original eleven locks between them had deteriorated and so the canals were no longer connected. An engineer had designed an unusual solution. It was an enormous wheel, or propeller screw, that had two compartments to carry canal boats. They rode in watertight containers and as one rose up the other came down. Thus a maximum of four boats could be conveyed up or down using a minimum of energy because gravity did most of the work.
It had been “opened” by Queen Elizabeth II in 2002 with great pomp and ceremony.The Wheel not only worked moving the boats, it had become a tourist attraction in its own right. The boat canals were now open from Edinburgh to Glasgow, from the River Forth to the River Clyde. The canals had been refurbished and walking paths, landscaping, and other services were also improved at the same time.
The motor coach drove thru some nice countryside until we stopped at the edge of the road. A set of steps and bridges led up to the plaza and gift shop just beside the Wheel. I examined a scale model displayed in the shop and got a guidebook. Outside in the sunshine the large white Wheel stood between a canal below and a canal at the top of the cliff. A man came out and offered to turn it for the kids to see.
While they watched I walked back down to the bus and talked to the driver, Ian. He explained how the innovative Wheel worked and how popular it was and about the tourists it brought to Falkirk. He also told me about other attractions in Scotland and how much he liked to drive people around to them and hear the comments.
After the others returned we set off thru the greenery of the countryside to Stirling Castle. Drystone walls surrounded fields holding sheep and cattle. Some fields were edged in lines of trees. The land was gently rolling with rounded mountains in the distance. It had rained the night before and the skies were overcast. The sun was trying to break thru the drizzle.
Small sections of woods were scattered about. Pylons carrying power lines marched over the hills past Scots farmsteads of stone and concrete buildings. Train bridges crossed little creeks. A fast-moving stream paralleled the highway for a while. Closer to Stirling Castle the ground rose and the hills became more prominent. We were in the Trossachs area, where the Scottish Lowlands and Highlands met.
In legend, Stirling Castle was captured from the early Saxons by King Arthur. In truth construction appeared to have begun in the first part of the 1100s. In the 15th and 16th centuries it was rebuilt in the Renaissance style and became the finest example of that castle building style in Scotland. Mary Queen of Scots was crowned here. It was near here that William Wallace fought the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297. Farmers were still finding arrowheads and spear tips in their fields from that conflict.
The Trossachs area with its mountains, lochs and many hiding places was an important area in Scotland’s history. The Romans were here but found the native people too tough to conquer. In 120 AD the Roman soldiers eventually retreated to the South and built Hadrian’s Wall in an effort to contain them.
South of Stirling was the battlefield known as Bannockburn. This field was the site of an important victory over the English by the Scotts in 1314 led by Robert the Bruce.
Driving thru Stirling I saw tiny homes of pebble-and-dash adorned with stone quoins at the corners and windows. Small houses in a cold climate were easier to heat. Men carrying plastic trash bags and pointed sticks with which to pick up trash along the street were wearing yellow rain slickers striped with grey reflective tape. We passed many stone and brick buildings along the streets as we drove up to the Castle.
There was a sign for a Baker Street estate agency in Stirling. I took that as the Sherlock Holmes connection of the day.
After we all got off the motor coach, I rode a van courtesy of the Bank of Scotland from the parking lot up to the inner courtyard of the Castle. It was a regular service for older visitors to the Castle.
I saw the Royal Chapel with its 17-century frescoes by Valentine Jenkins. I walked thru the Palace rooms which were under reconstruction.
The Castle Experience display was very good. It showed the history and inner workings of the Castle. I entered each room of the Experience thru stone arches that had been padded with leather so people wouldn’t hit their heads. People back in the 15th century were shorter than we are today. Either that or the Castle designers wanted people to duck entering each room so it would be easier to attack them during an invasion.
I checked out the rampart defenses and the flower gardens. The Castle was built on a ridge so the flower gardens were laid out right next to the walls of the buildings. Informational plaques on supports were scattered around telling tourists what they were looking at. There was a fine crop of cobblestones, too.
Efforts were underway to make the Castle self-supporting, because a military force was no longer stationed there. Now a tapestry industry was active, copying famous European tapestries from medieval times for sale. I think special orders were also filled.
I met up with Helen and we went to a teashop in the Castle for lunch. I felt bad for wimping out of eating haggis the day before in Edinburgh, so I ordered it now. The name of the dish was haggis and tatties. I knew it was spices and other ingredients boiled in a sheep’s stomach and served over a baked potato but to me it tasted like roast beef hash over a baked potato. The only thing missing was the ketchup. We had slices of dense chocolate cake for dessert.
I never did find out what the “other ingredients” were.
Back on the bus, we drove to the William Wallace Monument, a Gothic tower standing 220 feet tall on top of a ridge.
That was the third and final Tower of this trip’s title.
The gift shop was down by the parking lot. Some kids rode the shuttle up to the Monument. I didn’t feel up to the stair climbing I knew would be required at the top of the ridge. I stayed down and admired the rolling scenery.
Nearby was the River Forth with a narrow stone bridge arched over it, the site of the Battle of Stirling Bridge, where William Wallace slaughtered 5000 English soldiers as they tried to cross a wooden version of the bridge two abreast. The soldiers crossed the bridge but got stuck in the marshy ground in front of Wallace’s army. The English never had a chance.
At the William Wallace gift shop I got a guidebook, some postcards, refrigerator magnets including one for my sister with the MacGregor clan tartan, and little booklets about the MacGregor clan, to whom my grandfather’s family belonged. I would send one set to my sister Lori.
In the far distance I could see a community of little houses with walled front yards and clipped hedges and flower plots around them.
The Scots we met talked about the Mel Gibson movie “Braveheart”. They always pointed out the Hollywood mistakes in history, but they were proud of the attention it had brought their country.
We drove to Calendar because that was where a star from the movie lived. Out in the countryside on top of a hill was a little wooden shed inside a fenced field. Inside the fence lived “Hamish”, a Scottish Highland steer. Even though he didn’t have a speaking part, he was part of Hollywood history. He appeared in the Mel Gibson “Braveheart” movie in a very small part. I carefully watched the movie twice after I got back home. I decided that Hamish had been one of a small herd of cattle in a sloping field far in the background of the scene where Braveheart put his wife on a horse to escape the English soldiers.
Hamish had a most remarkable spread of horns upon his head and a red mop of hair that was typical of the Scottish Highland breed. It was a real Cinderella story for Hamish. He was slated for the butcher’s shop, but when the movie was a big world-wide hit, his owners realized that dead, he was steaks, but alive he was a tourist attraction. So Hamish retired to this grassed-filled field next to a big sign in four languages that gave his bio and filmography. He held court each day as travelers and film buffs and Mel Gibson fans from all over the world came to take his photo and buy his postcards. I figured this was as close to a movie star as I would ever get, so I took his picture too.
Briefly, I wondered if the gossip show TMZ would be interested in my photo. He wasn’t drunk, but he wasn’t wearing underwear, either.
Back on the bus and on through the countryside---small stone houses---multi-arched stone bridge over a stream---mist over distant hills---a tiny stone church with drystone walls around it---trees lined up along a ridge---another stone house, this time with white stone window trim---a Smokey Mountain feel to the landscape---woods on both sides of road---stone walls running along beside the pavement ---I was getting sleepy---half the people on the bus were asleep---a sign said the River Teith---we were in the Trossachs, the country before the mountains of the Highlands of Scotland---into the streets of Callender---narrow twisty streets---Bed and Breakfasts and pubs along street---book shops---country store---pharmacy---a chocolate shop---busy High Street---the whole town quaint and very active because the Trossachs was a popular area for hikers and thronged with tour buses even during the winter---on to Loch Katrine---signs of deforestation---foxglove flowers---ferns---a loch below, the mountains above---hills crowned with forests---other hills bald at their summits---twisty drystone walls along the roadside---old bent trees growing out over the flat sheets of water next to the road---steep and narrow two-lane road---passed the Tate Moor Highland House---on the Trossachs Trail---this area looked like Wisconsin around La Crosse.
We stopped at Loch Katrine. This was the territory of Rob Roy. His legend was told in Sir Walter Scott’s novel, “Rob Roy”. His real name was Robert MacGregor, a herdsman turned bandit in order to feed his clan. His particular target was The Duke of Montrose, who at one point burned down Rob’s house. For harassing the rich and taking care of his extended family he got a reputation as Scotland’s Robin Hood. He was captured several times and usually managed to escape until the last time. He went on trial and was convicted but was pardoned in 1725 and retired to Balquhidder, north of Loch Voil. My Scots-Irish grandfather was of the Clan MacGregor.
Loch Katrine was also the site of Sir Walter Scott’s inspiration for the novel “The Lady of the Lake”, and several other romantic Scottish novels. Sir Walter was instrumental in reviving interest in Scotland’s national heritage. Scottish culture had been suppressed by the English for centuries until Sir Water orchestration of King George IV’s visit to Edinburgh helped to establish tartan as the national dress and allowed other customs to resurface. We had visited Sir Walter’s house during the first trip in 2006.
Our motor coach pulled into a parking lot carved out of the hills next to a stone gift shop and restaurant. A walking road had been blasted out of the living rock surrounding Loch Katrine, and was completed with bridges and explanatory plaques mounted on posts. There were fine views in every direction. Tour boats were moored near the restaurant. We split up and strolled along the road or went into the handsome building housing the restaurant.
Next to a closed tourist kiosk a boy was trying to climb up the cliff along the walk while his father urged him to come down. The boy was up about twelve or fourteen feet and was beginning to think his father had a point.
Most of our group walked ahead, down the asphalt path. I strolled along the side of the loch until I reached the white metal bridge, taking pictures as I went. I noticed that the massive rock walls edging the walk were covered with lichen of many colors, tiny green mosses, ferns and other miniature vegetation. It was very peaceful. I realized that this setting deserved more than just a postcard or a refrigerator magnet.
I began to write a song. It was to be sung with a lilt.
Old Drystone Walls
Over the fields on left and on right
Old drystone walls make a checkerboard sight
Standing so long, their origins lost
I like a wall with lichen and moss.
Older by far than any can ken
Old in the stories told by old men
Lichen and moss, lichen and moss
Give me a wall with lichen and moss.
Stretching across the green British hills
Sturdy and strong without any frills
Built up of stone by workers long gone
I like a wall with lichen and moss.
Rough grey and brown rocks for a crown
Gathered from field, from moor and from down
Pitted and splotched, cracked by the frost
I like a wall with lichen and moss.
‘Round meadow and fell, through valley and dell
Ribbons of stone cast a wide ancient spell
Set by a road where two pathways cross
I like a wall with lichen and moss.
(Repeat first verse and chorus)
Of course, I finished and polished this song after we returned home. I did sing an early version on the bus later, by request, and the kids seemed to like it. One girl even suggested that I sing it at the annual Christmas talent show at the high school in December. My musical son-in law later told me that it sounded like a British drinking song.
Our next stop was a woolen mill at Aberfoyle, set among hilly fields and sloping meadows of ferns and dried heather. The woolen shop was inside a stone building. A display of birds of prey like falcons, owls and eagles and a pen of different kinds of Scottish sheep were set up outside. Dr. Watson enjoyed these very much.
I bought a small picture book of Scottish castles and some postcards and a baseball cap with “Scotland” embroidered on it for my son-in-law. Outside was an ice cream truck selling cones and soda.
We rode back to Edinburgh on our trusty motor coach. Our tables weren’t quite ready at Jimmy Chong’s Chinese restaurant so some of us walked around the block to a nearby Internet Café. I sent an e-mail to Gayla and then returned to Jimmy’s to eat. This was the same place we had dined during the first trip. The food was good and plentiful and everyone enjoyed it. Unlimited refills from the buffet didn’t hurt either. I sat with bus driver Ian and Helen and Bill.
We got back to the hotel at 7:30pm and I went straight to bed. Others stayed up to enjoy themselves, but I took advantage of a good long rest.
I did watch a little TV. The most interesting thing I saw was the last 20 minutes of “Dr. Who” on the BBC. The plot development was unnerving but since the show will be shown nearly 2 years later in the U.S. I decided not to write of it here.
“It’s just as I imagined it,” said Sir Henry. “Is it not the very picture of an old family home?”
The Hound of the Baskervilles
We left at 6am the next morning, June 29th, without breakfast, on our way back home. We and our bags were deposited at the Edinburgh Airport to await our flight. We said goodbye to our tour director Helen. I wrote out the travel rules I had formulated during our trip and gave her a copy.
Puhl’s Rules of Travel
When you can---sit.
Where you can---pee.
What you can---drink.
Who you can---like.
How you can---enjoy.
Orange juice and “jam butties” packed by the hotel were handed around for our breakfast. The “jam butties” were soft buns with margarine and jelly inside. It was not what was expected but they were eaten anyway.
We were flying from Edinburgh to London’s Heathrow on our way back to Chicago. On the Airbus plane we were given a hot English “fry-up” breakfast of eggs, sausage, ham, fried mushrooms, fried tomato, juice and tea or coffee.
That was the day's Sherlock Holmes connection. Breakfast was often mentioned in the stories. In “The Naval Treaty” Holmes used a hot breakfast in his rooms at Baker Street as the setting for the restoration of an important stolen document, much to the shock of his client.
At Heathrow we had to stand and wait in long lines to get thru customs and reach our boarding area. Dr. Watson, his son Nathan and Mitch B. were very kind and carried my red bag thru the terminals right thru Chicago.
I decided that good travel tips included bringing many bandanas and to pack half what you think you’ll need along with rolling up your clothes in your bag. You should wear a shirt with a front pocket on the days you travel by plane so you have a handy place to carry your passport and plane ticket.
There was a large shopping area in the Heathrow International Terminal with lots of shops like WH Smith, Harrods, and Godiva Chocolates. I noticed that in one shop there was a display of cartons of cigarettes. Each box was marked with large letters on the side that read SMOKING KILLS. Not much subtlety there.
I ducked into a shop and bought some Cadbury candy bars for my family back home. I looked for a paperback copy of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows” but they only had it in hardcover. I bought one just as Bill came by saying, “Hurry up. We’re boarding”. We collected a couple more kids on the way back and made the plane without problems.
On our British Airways 747 over the Atlantic I was served a dinner of baked chicken, carrots and green beans and an English dessert, trifle. The ride was eight hours long and during that time I watched “Horton Hears a Who”, “The Other Boleyn Girl” and “The Story of Dewey Cox”. Again I could not sleep.
As we approached the Mid-West we were given a breakfast of bacon and egg sandwich and fruit. I wasn’t very hungry so I just ate the fruit and saved the sandwich for later. We landed safely and I ate the sandwich while we waited for the scheduled Van Galder bus to pick us up at Chicago’s O’Hare Field and return us to the bus depot at Janesville, WI.
I borrowed a phone at the airport and called my daughter Gayla for a ride home to Evansville. Because I underestimated the time it would take to get to Janesville my accommodating son-in-law, Steve, waited an hour before our bus arrived.
The day was sunny and hotter than the weather in Europe as we drove up the highway to Wisconsin. It was good to see American farmhouses and barns set among the fields of corn and soybeans so familiar to me.
In Janesville Steve was waiting with the other parents and friends who had arrived to pick up our group. On the ride home I told him some of the highlights of the trip, including my journey to Baker Street and of Mr. C-J.
After Steve dropped me off at my place I called Gayla and checked my plant and the mail. The Paris, London and Edinburgh trip was over. It was a great adventure but I knew I would probably never go abroad with Bill’s group again. I just couldn’t keep up with the kids. They could walk far and they could walk fast. We must have had to walk five or six miles a day in Paris and London and I just didn’t have the stamina, not even while using my cane. Obviously my best walking days are behind me.
The students’ wonder and enthusiasm were amazing. I think they and their family members had a great time. I know I did. I would love to go back again, but it would have to be at my own pace. I didn’t have any problems the day I went to Baker Street on my own.
However, I am very glad I went this time. Now I have to get my photos developed, and sort out the souvenirs and gifts I’ve brought back. I will polish my song and write out my notes to put on this blog. I will fill another set of three-ring binders with all the photos and postcards I bought back for easy viewing later. I have the e-mail address of Mr. Holmes of the Sherlock Holmes Museum and I promised to send him a copy of the Sherlock Holmes story I had written earlier this year. The diet Coke I bought at Heathrow just before we left London for home cost me four American dollars. I have no idea how much money I spent. I’ll think about that tomorrow.