I wanted to save money on my last hotel night in London before I caught my flight home from Heathrow, and still be able to do something interesting. I love, love, love the Royal Botanic Garden. If it is not the best in the world, it is in the top three. It also is conveniently located to hotels and a subway station. So my plan was to take the train from Essex to London and the Tube to Kew Gardens, check in and spend the rest of the day in the gardens.
Whoopsie, no one told the London Underground and they decided to do maintenance and close the station at Kew Gardens on Sunday.
I could recount the perils I faced finding my way to Kew, instead I am going to recount the many kindnesses I received:
UK Sarah driving me to the train station and staying until the train arrived.
Woman offering me the tip about taking the train to Kew Bridge station and then catching a cab.
Security man allowing me through with my goofy train/underground ticket.
Young man who carried my 50 pound bag up the stairs at the Kew Bridge station.
Pub man in Kew calling a taxi for me.
Hotel reception that included carrying my bag up the stairs and setting up my fan on a 90+ degree day.
Was it worth all the trouble? Definitely yes. Just look at this beauty!
The Royal Botanic Garden at Kew is constantly changing. It has been a few years since I last visited and it now has a Treetop Walk. I really enjoyed the experience of walking through the tops of trees with a bird or squirrel view. Please don’t make people who are afraid of heights go up. I saw people really suffering. It is not for everyone.
Another new feature is The Hive, a fascinating interactive experience to celebrate the role of honeybees in nature. I love bees and this was a joyful time for me.
It was a very hot day and I was already worn out from traveling all day. I found the gardens motivating me, still, some old men (one with a cane) were walking down the path faster than me. I stopped for an ice cream cone and it melted faster than I could keep licking and I used napkins to mop up my continuing mess. I tucked them in my bag because there wasn’t a trash can nearby. Later when I wiped sweat from my face, I must have spread chocolate all over my face! When I was on the treetops walk, a kind woman leaned over and whispered, “You have chocolate on your face.” I was chagrined but had to laugh. How long was I walking around with chocolate all over?
The Kew Gardens Hotel is a lovely, relaxed pub hotel. There is no A/C, but the fan did it’s work. The food was just okay but the environment was convivial and the staff super helpful. The journey to Heathrow Airport in the morning was a cinch. I hope I can return in a few years.
I was looking for a pub for lunch when I discovered Creative Crafts kitty corner from the Winchester City Museum and the Cathedral grounds. I wasn’t looking for wool since my suitcase was already bulging. My imagination was caught by the crocheted shark toy and the book of crazy sea creatures that featured the pattern. I purchased two pattern books and added them to the box I’d ship home from the post office.
The women who offered assistance in the shop were friendly and interested in what I was working on. I showed them the pineapple baby hat I was knitting for my grandson Calvin.
If you need any type of needle craft supplies while you are traveling or want to purchase a project, stop by Creative Crafts at 11 The Square in Winchester.
One of the joys of travel is squeezing in quick shopping expeditions to a wool shop for new knitting projects or a great book store. I had identified Mrs. Hedgehog’s Knit Bits in Cowes on the Isle of Wight before I left so I didn’t look for wool in Denmark. I also packed a few patterns that I plan to knit (after my disastrous assumption that I could translate Norwegian patterns when I got home).
It turns out that Google thought the shop was one place, and it was not. So I found my way there by asking other merchants on High Street until I found it on the corner of York Street and Mill High Road. It was the Big Woolly Weekend and I was hoping to find a public knitting event to join. There wasn’t anything planned for Cowes so I focused on looking for yarn for a baby sweater.
Mrs. Hedgehog offers only acrylic yarn but in a great range of colors. The shop also offers everything you’d need for tools and some kits and patterns. I found a range of colors I loved and I might still have held out for washable wool, but the women in the shop were so friendly and helpful, I made a purchase.
August, 2017 postscript
I just finished the sweater inspired by a sweater Princess Charlotte sported in a photo in People magazine. I used Purl Soho’s “Little Girl Fair Isle Sweater” for the sizing (12 month) and adjusted for higher weight yarn. I adapted the sheep graph from Donna Smith’s “Baa-ble Hat.” I gave it to Amy’s expected baby girl.
I am about to embark on a wonderful holiday in Denmark and England. Even though the logistics of the trip are mostly planned out–I have all of my hotel rooms, but not all of my train trips and ferries sorted–I am getting clear on my travel stake before I pack my bag.
In my leadership training with CTI I learned to be very clear about my stake, that is what my goal is for myself or for the organization or group I’m leading. I have found this concept helpful in planning a travel adventure–especially with others, and even when solo. When I haven’t thought about my stake I tend to get overwhelmed by all of the competing agendas of other travelers and my trip experience is diminished.
For example, for this upcoming trip, my stake is about reconnecting with old friends and keeping space open for meeting new people. My intention for this adventure is mostly about relationships. If I look back on my time in Denmark and England from Heathrow airport lounge, I will be very happy if I had plenty of time for long talks with Susie and then UK Sarah, and if I had a few memories of conversations with new friends I made along the way. Sure, there are things I want to do (bike rides) and places I want to see (Winchester Cathedral), but they can make way for people if that is what is needed in the moment.
Being clear about your stake is even more important when traveling with others. I often ask the question of my travel companions: What is your highest priority for this trip? Or what would you regret not doing on this adventure? I share mine, and then we are clear and we each do our utmost to make sure that everyone is able to experience at least this one thing. It may be eating at a fantastic restaurant, or having time to hike a certain trail, or time every morning to sit in a cafe with a flat white and read a book. Or maybe it really is spending time with the person you love and the rest is just background.
I have a tough time traveling with medium size groups. There are so many competing stakes and I get swamped by the friction. You would think that the trip itinerary is everyone’s stake, but each arrives with another sometimes secret agenda: gelato from the famous place in Siena, cycling around Lucca, or tasting as much wine as possible in 7 days. A good tour guide or group leader discovers what those things are for their guests and works to make it happen. I now accept that my travel style is either solo, with one other friend, or in a small family group, or maybe in such a large group that I can still carve out my own stake. Medium size groups are not for me.
Of course a wise travel planner also leaves room in the schedule for the unexpected invitation to join a birthday party for an 80 year old woman who does an awesome Tina Turner impersonation. But that is an Irish tale for another day.
Any year is a good year to celebrate Jane Austen. If you agree with this statement then you don’t need the 200th anniversary of her death to do a little Jane Austen inspired travel. The good news is that many places in southern England are using it as an excuse to offer plays, special exhibits and special events. If you have complete flexibility in your travel check out Hampshire county’s website.
I have a specific time in June when I will be in Hampshire county and Winchester, so I will be able to see three exhibits at the Winchester Cathedral where the novelist is buried:
The Mysterious Miss Austen
Jane’s Winchester: Malady and Medicine
Jane and the Alton Apothecary
The Jane Austen Story
My favorite is an ephemeral event called #RainJane. “Explore the city of Winchester and be delighted as 12 of the writer’s quotes from her novels or correspondence magically appear various locations across Winchester city centre when it rains. Rediscover Austen’s words in Winchester, her final resting place, and re-experience their enduring relevance. Copies of the trail can be downloaded here or hard copies can be collected from Winchester Tourist Information Centre. Explore the city to find the quotes and share your images on social media with #RainJane. A carved wooden and wrought iron bench is placed in College Street in the Winchester College garden as a place to reflect upon a living wall of ivy showcasing one of Austen’s memorable quotes “Know your own happiness. Call it hope.”
If you have flexibility, the week of March 13th there are a number of plays and other events scheduled in surrounding towns. It looks like fun. Events are scheduled at Steventon, Chawton, and Southampton.
England to far away for you? North America has two celebration for Janeites.
The largest Jane Austen event in North America will be in Louisville, Kentucky from July 14 to 16, 2017. The theme this year is “Celebrating Jane Austen’s Legacy: 1775-1817.”
The Jane Austen Society of North America hosts the 2017 Annual General Meeting: “Jane Austen in Paradise: Intimations of Immortality,” at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa October 6-8. Registration fills quickly in early summer, so become a member in good standing so you can take part.
The poet Shelley stayed here when he was sent down from Oxford.
I set aside one of my days in London to follow the path of Walk 5: Soho to the British Museum from Walking Jane Austen’s London by Louise Allen. I started from Paddington Station, but the Bakerloo line was closed for maintenance so I walked to the next station and got off at Oxford Circus.
Oxford Circus is a busy shopping area with a Top Shop, Marks and Spencer’s, and street performers, people raising money for charity, and tourists. It is hard to imagine Jane Austen might have once walked here. I walked towards Poland Street and glanced down Argyll Street before crossing. I spied the Liberty Stores and took a detour (see earlier post).
I rejoined the walking tour and entered Soho. The book gives a variety of historical facts not all of which are directly related to Austen but from the same time period. Occasionally, there are tidbits like, “The house of Doctor James Stanier Clarke, the Royal Librarian who showed Jane around Carlton House, was on the north side of No. 37. In December 1815 he wrote to her to offer the use of his personal library and to assure her that there was always a maid in attendance. There is no record of Jane’s response to the shocking invitation to visit an unmarried man’s home.” (p61)
I got to the brink of Chinatown and I was beginning to flag. I realized I was also a few blocks from the famous Foyles bookstore. I left off the walking tour and went in search of books, a loo and some hot tea. Little known fact, the creator of the mystery series Foyle’s War named the lead character Christopher Foyle for his favorite bookstore. There a number of outlets but 107 Charing Cross Road is the flagship. I started on the 5th floor at the cafe and then leisurely worked my way through every floor.
I rejoined the tour and walked to Bedford Square where I discovered not every blue historic marker is so special. On to the British Museum. The British Museum’s collection is first rate. The empire gave them the opportunity to haul a lot of cool loot back to London. I was disappointed that a few things have changed since I my last visit. I do not remember so much junk for sale in the center reception area, plus cafes. The museum is free of charge (although a 5 pound donation is suggested). I was not interested in a sandwich wrapped in plastic so I moved on to find a place for dinner.
The most direct way to get back on the Tube at Tottenham Court Road was also closed so it took a little longer to get back. By this time my ankles and feet were not responding to the signals from my brain so I went back to my room at the Hilton and put my feet up. I had yarn and stationary to sort through from the Liberty stores.
There are 8 walks in all to appreciate Jane Austen and the rich history of London. It also helps to pay attention to the layers of detail all around.
Traveling alone is a choice that I make regularly. Sometimes people tell me, “I could never do it.” When I ask why it is sometimes because they cannot bear the thought of dining alone. Experience has taught me that sometimes the best encounters with the place and its people happen because I am seated alone and so I am more accessible and open. And the food tastes the same.
Recently my friend Ray shared with me how he uses opportunities to eat alone as a date with himself. While in France and England I had the chance to enjoy dates with myself on several occasions and it does change the atmosphere in a very positive way. Or travel with a group for a long period and suddenly dining alone, eating just what you want, taking only the amount of time you want to take, leaving before or after dessert and coffee. It is divine.
On the last page of the September 2014 issue of Bon Appetit, actor Jason Segal shares his “Rules for eating out alone:
1. Bring a book. When you have a book You aren’t really alone. It’s more alone adjacent.
2. Don’t be bashful. The other people alone probably feel the same way you do. You’re all “alone together.”
3. Think of it as a date with yourself. Get to know yourself. If you get along with yourself, there is a very good chance you will get to go home with yourself.”