Our first night away from the comforts of the Mear home was a hard adjustment, but we woke up ready to explore. The first part of the day was to wander around Oxford Circus and check out the insanity of post-holiday sales, and wow was today mad. We thought it was crazy when people were out doing their last-minute Christmas shopping, but this was much worse. Each store had signs advertising up to 70% off, and it made me wonder why anyone even bothers with shopping until after Christmas. We only braved the crowds in Liberty because we had planned to pick up a holiday ornament as a memento of spending our 2007 Christmas in England, and it seemed appropriate. The tough part was finding something we could bring back with us that wouldn’t end up as broken glass at the bottom our our luggage. We found a couple of cute little unbreakable items which were small, pretty and only cost a couple of quid.
Afterwards, we looked for a place to eat and decide to sate our desire for tapas by having lunch at a local La Tasca. The place was deserted when we arrived, and we settled in for a lovely meal. The menu was a bit overwhelming, so we ordered a pre-set sampling meal that had half vegetarian and half meat items. We also ordered wine, and after the meal a couple of glasses of sweet Muscatel. It was difficult to move after that large lunch, but the wine helped reinvigorate us for the crowds still out on the sidewalk.
We decided to head back to the hotel to drop off the ornaments we bought and the heavy backpack I was carrying. The latter was because we had the laptop with us to check-in with Tait about our plans to go to Reading to see him the next day. All day we had trouble finding anyplace with free wi-fi so we had to go to the local Apple store to check email, and firm up plans for the next few days. The lack of free wi-fi in the UK surprises me.
We dropped our stuff and got ready for the rest of our long evening of doing touristy stuff. We took the Tube to Embankment, walked across the Jubilee bridge, and took in the beauty of the Thames at night. It was a clear night and places like the London Eye, Parliament, and St. Paul’s were brightly lit and glowing in the rippling river which was at high tide. We wander along the river, past the London Eye and eventually crossed over on the Westminster Bridge just as Big Ben was about to chime five o’clock.
The day after Christmas (Boxing Day) we had a lovely breakfast of leftover Christmas sausages, eggs and toast. It was yet another delicious meal put in front of us by Jenny, but this morning we were a bit melancholy because our visit with the Mear family was coming to an end. We knew we had another week to our holiday, and we had no doubt we would have fun, but we were going to miss Chris, David, and Jenny. I joked with Jenny that she had spoiled us so much that the rest of our trip would be down hill by comparison.
That wasn’t the case on Boxing Day afternoon though. Jan swung by around 10 a.m. and we loaded our luggage into the boot of her car, and we headed of to destinations unknown… well, to us. Jan had a day planned for us. All we knew was that we were going to be shown Essex. We thought that meant we were going for a short drive to the near-by forest. It ends up Essex is much bigger than that, and Jan showed us a great day.
Our first stop was at Rod Stewart’s house for tea. Well, not really. We stopped in this little wooded area, and walked out to take in the view. Rod’s house just happen to be there. So, I shook my arse in the general direction of his manse while singing “Do you think I’m sexy” but he never came out to compliment me on my moves. Probably too busy making another crap standards compilation.
As Rod didn’t invite us in for a tour we decided to move on, hoping back in the car for the brief trip to Greensted where the oldest wooden building in Europe stands. The building also claims to be the oldest wooden church in the world. St. Cedd, a Saxon-trained at the Celtic monastery on Lindisfarne, began his religious work in the area around 654 A.D., and a church was probably started shortly thereafter. The building was added to over the next several centuries, but the oldest part—the nave—was probably built around the time of the Battle of Hastings. One of the most interesting things we saw was the grave site of a crusader, who was probably a local who was seen as a hero. Regular services are still held in the church to this day. This was just the sort of thing we like, and it was very nice of Jan to take us here!
Next we made our way toward Chelmsford. The idea was to stop in Chelmsford for lunch, but when we got there Sarah and I were still too full from our sausagey breakfast. We wandered around the town, admiring the pargeting on the homes, and checking out the village ducks.
But Jan had other plans for us, and so we hopped back in her vehicle and headed to our next destination. I found Jan’s road map in the back seat and tried to figure out where we were headed based on the road signs, in case she dropped us off in the middle of nowhere and took our luggage—not that Jan was capable of such a thing. I decided we were going to Maldon next, and it ended up I was correct.
Maldon is an adorable little seaside community on the Blackwater estuary on the east coast of England. We didn’t completely explore the town, but we did walk down the high street on our way to the docks. Along the water there is a walk path, that hugs the shore. People, young and old, stroll along the water; some with their dogs or children in prams. There are places to get food, and a little human-made pond for people to play with their radio-controlled boats.
As soon as we arrived near the docks, we saw huge crowds of people gathered. Some were watching dancers while others were gawking at a Bentley parked to attract attention. We wandered around, taking in the sites around the docks, before strolling down to the point where there is a statue of a crusader.It was a beautiful day, and it was a lot of fun to watch all the people enjoying their Boxing Day outings.
We eventually made our way back to the car and headed off in search of lunch, which we found at a newer pub that was designed to look old. There we had a nice pub lunch before Jan dropped us off at the tube in search of our hotel.
This is where our day went down hill.
If we thought we were being spoiled by Jenny with her Chinese food cooking and overall generosity for the week, she out did herself on Christmas. As I mentioned in the previous installment, we stayed up quite late the night before drinking and generally making merry, so when we heard Jenny yell “David!” on Christmas morning, we decided we had better get up and not make Jenny wait to open her presents.
When we got downstairs, Jenny had already put out some delicious mini breakfast baps, eggrolls, and had coffee ready, so all we had to do was fall into the couch and wait while Santa Jenny handed out gifts from under the tree. After opening gifts we enjoyed more tea and coffee and relaxed under dinner.
For the first time since arriving in England we took it easy today. No shopping, no site-seeing. Mostly we hung out drinking tea, talking, watching Christmas-related shows on the telly, and occasionally slipping away to wrap holiday gifts. A nice, lazy, Christmas Eve.
In the late afternoon Jenny surprised us with another scrumptious meal. Sarah had told Jenny how her favourite meat was lamb and so there it was. Jenny is amazing!
After supper Sarah and I watched our traditional holiday film, About a Boy. Not exactly a Christmas film, but with some elements that we think display Christmas spirit. David joined us and seemed to enjoy our silly little tradition. Once the film had ended, Jenny, David, Sarah and I played Upwords. It was the first time I had played, and while it seems familiar to Scrabble fans like me, it is a game that requires a different way of thinking. Jenny and David competed with each other while politely watching while Sarah and I struggled. It was still good fun to relax and play a good board game.
While we were playing games, Chris was off practicing for the night’s gig… playing organ at midnight mass at St. Mary’s Church in Walthstow. He came back after rehearsal to pick up Sarah and I so we could join him for the jam.
When we woke up this morning it looked like quintessential English weather as a fog hung over London. I assumed it would burn off as the day went on, but we lucked out that it remained for the rest of the day. It added a lovely aesthetic to our trip to Cambridge. The drive to Cambridge, however, was uneventful because the same fog made it impossible to view any scenery with the exception of the motorway. Thankfully Chris knew his way.
Once in Cambridge, we made a beeline to the outdoor cafe near the carpark for hot coffee, before making our way to the outdoor market to shop for last minute gifts. The market was an eclectic mix of art, knick knacks, and food shops all with interesting wares as well as shopkeepers.
We had no real destinations while in Cambridge. Chris guided us around in order to see the various colleges and their sites, all the while imparting little bits of wisdom on Cambridge history and lore. Many of the colleges were closed due to the holidays, including Emmanuel—Chris’ college—while others thankfully had their gates open. The buildings and chapels are breathtaking.