Posted in Musings and Mutterings

Sherborne and Bath, Part 2

After lunch we boarded our coaches for our trip to Bath. Our coach driver took the scenic route for us, pointing out various places that were used to film portions of the “Harry Potter” movies. Even though the hedgerows were tall, our coach afforded us an optimal view of the countryside. Sheep grazing in green pastures and sweeping views from the top of one of the lush rolling hills were in order for the day. At one point, our coach got held up by a bit of local traffic in one of the idyllic towns we traveled through. It was the drop-off time for the town’s school and our students cooed and waved as we watched a line of adorable young children, each dressed in their red school uniform and carrying their lunch boxes, filed into the building while moms with babies on their hips waved them good bye for the day. Soon we were on our way again and moments later we began to descend into the city of Bath.

Bath is an ancient city, which includes a temple built by the Romans in 60-70 AD, who used the local hot springs to bathe and honor the goddess Minerva, which was their equivalent to the Celtic goddess, Sulis. Most of the architecture of Bath is Georgian and many of the streets are terraced into the sides of the hills surrounding the baths. We took a tour of the city and stopped to take a picture of the famous Royal Crescent.

Our coach pulled up next to Bath Abbey and let us off for our tour. It was drizzling and while we waited in line at the entrance to the baths, we were entertained by a street performer who was singing and playing his guitar and views of the plaza and the Abbey. We were each given a token that looked like a Roman Coin that served as our entry ticket.

Once inside the baths, you are treated to an abundance of information on the life of the Romans and the traditions and rituals surrounding the baths along with archaeological artifacts that have been reclaimed while restoring the baths. Below is a likeness of the goddess Sulis.

This was one of the original mosaics that lined the floors and walls of the Bath.

The Romans had a few different chambers for different types of bathing and rituals. We saw how they channeled water into and out of the bath as well as how they used the hot spring and tiles under the floors to keep the upper floors warm for the bathers. If you wanted to curse someone for a crime, say, stealing your clothes while you were bathing, you would scratch your curse onto a metal scroll and toss it into the bath, asking the goddess Minerva/Sulis to grant you the curse upon your foe.

There were no foes in our group and the children really loved seeing the baths and taking a few moments to snap some photos of their friends!

After we exited the baths, we were able to visit Bath Abbey. This building sits on the site of an earlier Norman church, but Bishop Oliver King decided to reclaim the then ruined building and rebuilt the current abbey around 1499.

The front of Bath Abbey represents a dream had by Bishop Oliver King of the ascension of the royal family. Note the angels climbing the ladder of the throne!

Some of the children took a few moments to do some shopping and a few others were introduced to the delicacy of a pastie while we waited for our coach to pick us up.

On our way back to Sherborne, some wise souls took the time to catch up on a few winks of shut-eye  before they ate dinner and returned to the Big School room for more rehearsals and their chaperons enjoyed a much deserved evening at a local pub before it was time for curfew and lights-out. The next day was our first performance in Sherborne and we wanted to be prepared.

Posted in Musings and Mutterings

Day 2 – Sherborne and Bath, part 1

The next morning, we were scheduled for a fire drill at 8:00 am, with breakfast in the cafeteria and rehearsal for the children there after. I was up bright and early that morning and in our house commons enjoying a cup of coffee with one of the other chaperons. We peeked through the window on to the sleepy little street  to see two men walk by in the drizzle and exchange pleasantries. It was 6:30 am in England and both she and I wondered when rush hour would begin. It was so still and quiet and calming, when all of a sudden, the fire drill goes off in our house. As I rounded the corner to the doorways, sleepy children and chaperons were filing down the stairs in orderly fashion and out to the courtyard below. We cleared our building in less than 3 minutes and I couldn’t have been more proud of how well everyone did. The house manager came to see if all was well and then checked the building, only to find that water had seeped through a window and had set the alarm off, thus we had our fire drill a tad early! This began our second day in merry old England!

Since everyone was up, we started the day and began to get ready for the days adventures. After breakfast, the students had rehearsal in the Big School Room for most of the morning, so an excursion had been arranged for the chaperons to Glastonbury. Anyone not wishing to go was encouraged to enjoy the town of Sherborne. I had explained to many of the uncertain chaperons that Glastonbury was worth their while. I later found out that they were delayed in leaving, got stuck in some traffic and ended up in Shaftesbury.

Prior to our trip, we had collected lunch money for the students and had exchanged it before leaving the USA. When we got to Sherborne, our thoughts were to exchange some of the larger bills for smaller ones so we could give the chaperons exact change for their family groups. (Each group of chaperons and students was considered a family and had either an American composer or and English composer as their surname!) Being from the big city, we didn’t realize that our request to exchange these bills was going to be the equivalent of “breaking the bank” in such a small town. The look on the three tellers faces was priceless when we walked in with a wad of pound notes and began asking for 10’s 5’s and 1 pound coin. They asked if it would be possible for me to fill out some paperwork and come back shortly and they’d be able to see if they could fulfill my request.

When I returned, they assessed their situation and were more than happy to help me out. I must say, they were extremely thorough in their system and I was quite impressed. When I left the building it had taken them just over an hour to complete the whole transaction and I had to have Frank carry my bag with all the exchanged coin. (I’d needed 792 one pound coins and they are extremely HEAVY. It felt like 792 pounds in my bag!) After such an heroic effort on the part of the banking staff, we went to a local florist and purchased a bouquet for each of them. I had Frank go deliver the bouquets with profuse thanks!

Such an experience demands a to be followed by a good cup of coffee, so Frank, a chaperon and I, found a pub/coffee shop. I enjoyed a delicious freshly brewed cup of coffee and Frank went for the tea. Both were fantastic and we enjoyed our biscuits as well. The hospitality of the town of Sherborne had been outstanding!

Once we had enjoyed our refreshments, we decided to stroll about the town and see what it looked liked while shops were open. The retail district in Sherborne closed up shop promptly between 5:00 and 5:30 pm, which was something new for the children to experience.

Fresh fruits and vegetables spilled out into the street on their trays and shelving. Flowers were abundant at every turn and the folks of Sherborne were out and about for their day. Light foot traffic was in the streets and an occasional vehicle passed by. It had occurred to me that I was experiencing that rush hour I had been asking about earlier!
Sherborne is not very big, but we found a very nice pub that had Wi Fi, where we tried to post to our blog the next day. The fish and chips were delicious as well.

You could feel Sherborne’s age just coming from every stone. It was a very comfortable and solid feeling.

We returned to the cafeteria for lunch with the kids and then we were off to the town of Bath. Follow the magic “brolly”  to the next part of my blog, just like we did for our time in Bath!

Posted in Musings and Mutterings

Day 1 on the PCC London Express

We met at Dulles airport for an evening flight. We were all very excited and very awake, which, I think, set us all up to be exhausted for the rest of the trip. With our matching royal blue shirts, we were a bobbing sea of color as we went through the airport. Each chaperon took their family group of 6 students through check in and security.

Once we got to the terminal the motto seemed to be, “Let the shopping commence!” I saw children in every store that was still open, all purchasing coffee drinks, snacks and goodies for our flight. I’m not entirely sure why they bought all that, since while we were on the flight, the attendants did their best to fill us with food and drink. Some of us slept, but most watched the in-flight movies. We had to keep the cabin window shades down because we were chasing the sun and otherwise, we’d never have gotten any rest. London is 5 hours ahead of our normal ESDT, so our flight left at 10 pm, we flew for slightly more than 6 hours, but when we got to London, it was already 10 am!

We met our tour guides Debbie and Maeve, split into our two motor coach groups, and off we went. It was a little strange sitting in our seats and watching the traffic come towards us from “the wrong side”, but we quickly got used to it. I suppose it would have been different if we had been driving ourselves around.

Our first taste of the English countryside wasn’t that out of the ordinary. Since it was summer, we saw greenery, but being a large road, we also only saw what you’d normally see. Brush and shrubbery.
We stopped for our lunch at a service station (rest stop). I found it funny that as we were pulling into the station, there was a sign for Burger King. Some things are universal, apparently. The service station was very busy with travelers and there were multiple places to get food, coffee, or other items you might like while traveling.

The first thing I noticed when we stepped off the coach was
how cool the air was. The temperature there is lucky to get up to 80 degrees and there seems to be a constant light breeze. Just enough to make you want a sweatshirt when you are out of the direct sunlight. It felt like a clear day in mid-October back home. It was delightful.

The kids were still running on adrenaline and were starting to figure out how to work the money differences. One of the girls left her wallet on a table and a German tourist was kind enough to find another person wearing one of our matching T-shirts and returned it to her. That was our first positive experience with items that were lost and found, and returned!!

Back on the motor coach and we were on our way to Stonehenge. Debbie, our tour guide, sent around a little “pot” of coins to help us get acquainted with the British Monetary system. We knew we’d love her when she described the ten pence as a “horrid little piece of shrapnel”.  Just our kind of gal!

Now the countryside began to open up and we were treated to lush and rolling green hills, dotted with little houses and sheep. The hedgerows that marked the property lines were zig-zagging across the hills and reminde
d me at times of the Great Wall of China in their never-ending trek across the fields. The sky changed by the second, showing shafts of sunlight through dark clouds and then morphing into puffy white bits of fluff in a bright blue sky.

As we topped a hill, Stonehenge came into view. Even at this distance, it was breathtaking sitting in the middle of cleared fields in all its majesty. The green of the grass in contrast with a storm system racing to greet us was the perfect setting for the mystical standing stones.

As we pulled into the parking lot, the heavens opened and the deluge began. Little did we know that the Shadow Tour (parents and siblings who were there to see our concerts, but not touring with us) were standing on the hill at Stonehenge, getting their first taste of the variable English weather!

We waited for the storm to pass and piled out of our motor coaches to walk over to the stones, passing our drenched shadow tour members as we went! (grin)

With cameras clicking away, we began our journey around the circle of stones. We were allowed to use the self guided tour wands and many of the students were listening to information at each stopping point, however, others were enjoying taking pictures of themselves and their friends at the site. Just before it was time for us to re-board our coach, it was our turn to get baptized by an English cloudburst. Dripping, but happy, we were all back on our bus and on our way to the Sherborne School.

By this time, our bodies started to realize that we hadn’t really slept and within minutes of boarding the coach, many of us were fast asleep. Debbie entertained those of us who were still awake with facts about England, Stonehenge and Sherborne, but eventually, I think we all were down for the count for awhile. I woke up not too far from Sherborne to see homes with beautiful gardens as we wended our way through the twists and turns and hedgerows towards our destination. There was one home that was getting it’s roof re-thatched and that was a very interesting sight to see. I never realized that thatch could last upwards of 30 years.

Pulling in to Sherborne, I heard one of the students say, “How quaint!” with wonder in her voice. It was a sweet sound.

We stopped in front of Sherborne School and began to offload our luggage and find our way to our home for the next few days. Some of us were in Abbeylands and others in Abbey House. Both buildings were well kept, even though they were over 400 years old and were a warren of halls, stairs and doorways. I completely “get” the moving stairways in Harry Potter now!! With a few minor adjustments, we were all settled into our rooms and freshening up for our evening meal and meeting.

We reported to the cafeteria for our first meal at Sherborne and were greeted by lovely and helpful staff. After filling our plates, we found a place to sit and began to survey our surroundings. There were 4 other groups there with us, although we were quick to realize that we were the largest and very visible on any day, due to our matching attire. (Great way to keep track of everyone, though!!)

With full tummies, we met in the Big School Room for introductions, a few rules and regulations and some rousing and fun sing-alongs with both of the artistic directors for the festival, Emily Ellsworth and Michael Kibblewhite.  Afterward, the school staff had arranged for the students to have a meet and greet in the form of a disco. Some of the kids went and enjoyed treats, music and making friends and some chose to explore the immediate area around the School which is the town of Sherborne!

Curfew was 11 pm and with everyone tucked in and exhausted, we drifted off to sleep, reviewing  the day and preparing for tomorrow.

Posted in Musings and Mutterings

Sunshine, Flowers, Mini Golf and a Corpse

It was quite a day for contrasts.

Yesterday, I lost 37 pounds, but gained some cash! I took our leftover GBP to the currency exchange. They happily took the notes and the one and two pound coin, but wouldn’t take the 5 pounds in change. That means I’m pretty much stuck with the change until I figure out what to do with them. I think I may have a home for them eventually.

Hubby and I decided to go play a round of mini-golf by the airport. It was a glorious day today. The temperature was warm with a bit of a breeze and the mini golf course has enough trees around it that there were some lovely patches of shade.

While we were playing, we came to a rather large bush with some pretty pink flowers that I recognized as a Rose of Sharon bush. (A member of the hibiscus family) I walked over to a partially opened flower to tilt it’s center to the sky, when a large honey bee crawled out and flew away. This probably means nothing to you, but to me, it was mother nature saying my name.Rose of ( Sharon) and Melissa means honey bee. It was nice to have the earth say hello!

To round out a nice afternoon, we went to a local Dairy Queen and had a small dinner, and a bit of ice cream.

On our way to the mini golf and all the way back we saw a number of accidents. It seems as though today was a rotten day to be on the road. There were virtually no cars on the road, but of those that were, we saw six different auto accidents. At one gathering of officers, I glanced over to the grass by the patrol cars and it was obvious that someone had been struck by a car and was lying dead on the side of the road. Poor guy.

While unsettling, seeing the dead man made me appreciate the afternoon and the time spent with my Hubby even more. You just never know.

Posted in Musings and Mutterings

I Finished The Scarf

I started the scarf almost a year and a half ago. I had promised Hubby that I would have it done before we got to London. (I knew better than to promise it would be done before England and I was wise to have done so!)

When we left the shores of the USA behind us, I was still knitting. I had almost 86 rows left and all the tassels to attach. Luckily, I had thought to cut and bag the tassels in advance of my flight, so I didn’t have to carry around 7 skeins of wool all over England.

Our tour, to say the least, was whirlwind, and I’m still recovering. This did not leave much time for knitting, so I made sure I knitted while riding across the English countryside and then set myself up in the lounge of one of our hotels so I could monitor the comings and goings of my charges while still clacking away with the needles. The result was success! On the last possible travel day, before we reached the city limits of **Westminster, the scarf was complete!

** Trivia Fact – LONDON is unique as a capital which comprises TWO CITIES .

The CITY OF LONDON dates from Roman times, and now measures , and is referred to as , THE SQUARE MILE, having its own police force, and as boss, the Lord Mayor of the City of London. Traditionally, he acknowledges the monarch, but is top dog in the City. The Kings were royal, but they often needed the city merchants’ money for their wars or whatever, so had to get loans from them . So it has continued to be the centre of financial matters, where the Stock exchange is based as well as all the City guilds etc.

Referred to simply as ‘the City ‘ e.g. I work in the City = with a capital C , means within that heartland of business. Otherwise you would say ‘I work up in London’ . N.B. One always goes UP to London, no matter whether you travel physically south and downwards according to the map!

The City of Westminster contains Buck Palace, Westminster Abbey , shops , restaurants, theatres et al.It is known as the West End.

Originally, Westminster grew up on a little island in the Thames where the Benedictine monks settled in the 7th century, founding their abbey. Minster in the west. The saxon regional kings lived in various places and England was only one united realm in 973 when Edgar was crowned King of all England in Bath. Then William came from Normandy and we got tainted with French blood – fact, 205 of England is still owned by those of Norman descent!! and that’s after nearly 1,000 years. He based his capital at the Tower site, just within the Roman eastern boundary line .

The picture above is of Hubby with the Scarf’s debut at the Tower of London.

It was a big hit with the lime green shirts we had assigned for the day and made it’s rounds around many different necks.

It’s slightly over 14 feet long and seems to be growing longer with every wearing as the yarn pulls and stretches due to its weight.

Posted in Musings and Mutterings

UK vs. US – Loo Awards

When you travel, the idea is to experience new people, places, cultures and traditions. Along with those lofty ideals comes the simple mechanics of how people deal with the every day functions we all participate in. As soon as we landed in Heathrow, there was a rush for relief so one of our first learning experiences was the loo.

To begin with, part of the experience is learning the name of the place you wish to go. In the US we have multiple names, such as bathroom, restroom, lavatory, ladies room, powder room, potty, etc. I think it’s safe to say that one of the more common names is the restroom.

If you ask someone where the “restroom” is in UK, they’ll direct you to a funeral parlor, so perhaps that’s not the best option!

In UK, the normal signage to look for is simply “Toilets”. There it is, bold as brass. Toilet. In conversation, however, you’re more apt to hear people inquiring as to where the “Ladies” is or perhaps they simply ask for the “Loo”. Occasionally, I saw the letters WC, which stands for Water Closet.

No matter. Whatever name you choose to use, the end result is the same, so there we were in Heathrow, standing in queue (line) and all I hear are kids marveling over how different the facilities were.

In England, the basic concept is that you have an individual ROOM in which to take care of your needs. There are solid walls on either side of you and a full, fitted, floor to ceiling door.  No bending down and peeking under the stall door to see if there are feet in the UK. More often than not, there is an “Occupied” or “Vacant” dial that changes as you lock or unlock this door so you know if someone is using the facility.

The actual toilet itself was another difference. Some of them were square in shape and most had a different flushing action from the toilets in US. In the UK it was always an issue of figuring out how to flush for the next patron. There were chains to pull, levers on the wall, or buttons on the wall that you simply passed your finger over to do the honors. I found this to be far more efficient than the automatic flushing system in the US where you walk into the stall, and it flushes, you do your business, it flushes, you re-arrange your clothing and go to leave and – it flushes again. That is, of course, assuming it worked at all.

And finally, cleanliness. The UK actually has a Loo of the Year award, which if won will be displayed proudly on the wall of the winning loo. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to use one of these award winning loos at the Tower of London.

I must say, if nothing else, the British certainly do keep a clean loo. I’m afraid, dear old US of A, you are going to have to clean up your act, because in this smack-down, the UK is clearly the winner!!

Posted in Musings and Mutterings

And Away I Go!

YAY!! All the packing, the meetings, the details and itineraries are done and I’ma leavin’ on a jet plane, this afternoon.

I HAVE to blog for work, so at the very least, I can copy and paste over here, but I’m sure there will be things I’d rather talk about here that I can’t talk about there. Have I confused anyone yet?

I’m so glad to be able to get back in here and catch up with everyone!

First things first, I got a new camera – again. Yes, yes, yes,… I did just get one for Christmas, but I HATED it. So I got a new one yesterday and I’m quite pleased with my new addition so far. I ended up with a Panasonic Lumix, TS1. Since I already have a digital SLR I was really looking for something that would have the features I liked in my SLR, but in a compact version that had to take SD cards.

Off to the airport, with my bulging bags of AV equipment and a lot of coffee!

Posted in Musings and Mutterings

Not Much Left

I’ve dotted all my I’s and crossed all my T’s and I’m not sure there is anything left for me to do before this trip.

Wait, I do know what is left to do….. pack. I haven’t purchased or packed one dog gone thing for this trip. Tomorrow will be the day for me to get my own things in gear and to run the errands I need to run before we leave.

Tonight we had a meeting of the families. About 150 people turned out to ask a few questions and clarify some information, hear the kids sing and eat some cake.

I must say, I was proud of a few things:

1. There were very few questions. That means I’ve done my job right!
2. The few questions there were, were very easy to answer. That means I’ve done my job right.
3. The amount and duration of the applause I got was humbling. The boss even was surprised by it and it ended when I signaled that that was enough! WOW…. I mean WOW…. um, did I say WOW?!

I believe in doing the best that I can. I don’t want to put my name out there attached to something that isn’t the best I could do. I’d like to think that everyone is this way, but I guess they are not. So when I get thunderous applause I wonder how to take it. I’m not someone who must be front and center, dancing in the spotlight. Far from it. I’m very happy I’m appreciated and the thanks and applause and the well wishes are all very very much appreciated, I just don’t seem to take them as well as I should.

But tonight, I smiled and nodded and smiled and it felt good for awhile.

Ah… life is good sometimes!