Tuesday, February 22
Yup I finally got up around 8 or so - Jack was up cooking bacon - (most of you who have ever traveled with us have experienced Jack’s breakfasts - they are pretty awesome) and Stephanie was in the shower. Pretty good way to wake up. Stephanie went to work and encouraged her Dad and I to stay home today and get some rest and I must say so far we are doing just that.
I think today is a good break for all of us - Stephanie can do her work and we can kinda of gather ourselves and get ready for the last two days. Stephanie has really enjoyed us being here (especially her Dad’s spaghetti and breakfast) and being able to experience some new sites for herself as well.
Got an e-mail from Allison saying they are riding around town (in my car – which is fine) with the top down. Oh man, I can truly say we are looking forward to some sunshine – Stephanie is right – they don’t get much here.
Well, right now this is all I know - We have Wednesday and Thursday left with travel back home all day on Friday. Hoping to visit Cambridge and walk around Huntingdon one more time before we leave.
Wednesday, February 23
Didn’t get our wish for sunshine but off we went anyway. We went to the English grocery store – Tesco - absolutely amazing - puts Super Walmart to shame - I promise you if they don’t have it you really don’t need it. It is huge - on the first floor are all of the groceries - they have really different potato crisps (that would be chips here but chips in English are our French fries) – Chilli Prawn, Black Pepper Steak, Cheddar & Bacon, Black Peppercorn & Sea Salt to name a few of the crisps available. They do have wonderful “all butter” short bread biscuits (we call them cookies) and their crackers are also called biscuits - plus the selection of biscuits and cheese are so much larger than ours. They love chocolate and it is bountiful plus most of their candy is very very sweet. Their pancake and waffles are all ready made and packaged with six small pancakes or four medium waffles – they come with the syrup and all you do is put them in the microwave (if you want them hot) or just eat as they are - they are not frozen. Of course, the tea and biscuits selection is insane. They are incredibly busy (Stephanie says it is always packed – and the shoppers are very persistent). They advertise they are open twenty-four hours - check this out - they open Monday mornings at 8 am and don’t close until Saturday at 10 pm – and then reopen Sunday from 10 am – 4 pm and then start over on Monday; however, everywhere you look they “say” they are open 24 hours – oh well guess it doesn’t matter as long as you know when they are really open - found that amusing and confusing ).
Then you head to the second floor - we get there by an escalator that doesn’t have steps – ( it just goes straight up - experienced several like that in Europe - I had never seen that before) - plus – this is cool, if you have a cart - then wheels are magnetic and will not roll forwards or backwards on the escalator – pretty neat huh??) Well on the second floor they have clothes, TV’s, etc. - I promise I think they have everything except maybe cars.
Well off we go again to meet Stephanie’s friend Tina who took us to a wonderful “real” farm about 15 minutes from Alconbury - truly in the English country side –Unbelievable - a real English farm with a farm shop and a “tea” room. The menu from the Eccentric Englishman’s Tea Room describes the Farm Shop as – “Johnson’s of Old Hurst since 1899 – farmers, butchers and game dealers. Home and local farm reared beef, pork, lamb, poultry, game, venison, and ostrich. (we actually saw the live pigs, cows, and ostriches ) Homemade porkpies, haslets, brawns, pasties and sausage rolls – locally produced fresh fruits and vegetables, cheese, cooked meats and preserves. Plus a wide variety of homemade sausages. (Chef Scott Craig would have a fit) Then they have another little room with all sorts of beer and ales, crisps, biscuits, jams and pickled stuff.
Their Eccentric Englishman Tea Room is quaint –(located in separate building) – truly English setting. If you get breakfast (freshly cooked to order so allow 20 minutes - no one complains) - Order Henry VII – 3 bacon (kinda of like our ham) 4 chipolatas, 2 fried eggs, black pudding (yuk- made from pork blood), mushrooms, tomato, beans, toast and fried bread - or try a sausage, bacon, mushroom and fried egg baguette along with homemade pastry (mince beef and vegetable puff pastry). Lunch can consist of a sandwich with roast beef, brie & cranberry, ham, brie and bacon, cheddar cheese, egg mayo or tuna mayo with cucumber served on white or malted brown bread, or white or seeded brown baguette serve d with salad or coleslaw and Tyrell’s homemade crisps. They also serve hot items i.e. The Eccentric Ploughman’s - a piece of homemade pork pie, a slice of beef and ham, cheddar cheese, brie, pickle, sliced apple salad and your choice of half a white or seeded brown baguette –- just to mention one. To top things off - they had a selection of six freshly made cakes – i.e. – death by chocolate, an English pound cake, lemon with meringue and my favorite a cappuccino cake that was to die for . The cakes vary every day, depending on what they chose to make. Of course, all day long you can get cream tea along with a plain scone served with clotted cream and jam or a scone with butter and jam, or a cheese scone with butter. Don’t forget the cappuccino, lattes, espressos, specialty teas and or hot chocolate (with whipped cream and marshmallows.
I promise all of this is true and it is truly located in the English country side on a very large farm!!! - Nothing else is around.
Well the end of another awesome day full of adventure and new things. – one more day left.
Thursday, February 24
Today we wake up to a beautiful day and off to St. Neots we go. It is about a 30 minute drive from Stephanie’s and today is market day. Every Thursday there is a “big” auction (with furniture and lots of other stuff) plus market. The open-air market is amazing. Everything from clothes (new) to a butcher offering all type of fresh cut meats, to fresh cut flowers, to homemade breads, pastries, to fresh vegetables, to “dog food, including large dog bones for “big dogs” , to “things advertised on TV, to wheelchairs and scooters. You actually see a good many “elderly” folks on their motorized wheelchairs in all of the little villages. They go everywhere. The town is full of folks shopping at the market and all of the other stores. St. Neots is again one of those wonderful English village type towns - cobble stone streets – however they have traffic. They too have cathedrals, fish and chip takeaways, a river that runs through the middle with quaint restaurants and hotels everywhere. We don’t stay too long as we must get back to the base for the “Newcomers Luncheon . This again is where all of the newcomers are being introduced to all of the amenities of the base. Most of the newcomers have only been there a week or so. They come from all over the world. Stephanie does a wonderful job presenting Club Beyond and Chaplain Reedy is there informing them of the religious opportunities available. Most of the active duty today are young and single; and it makes me very proud to see the young men and women who serve our country every day.
After lunch we headed to Cambridge, and the day is beautiful. Cambridge is amazing – a large city full of colleges, i.e. King’s College, University of Cambridge (oldest, founded 13th century), Queens College, Trinity College, St. John College, Jesus College, Pembrook (3rd oldest founded 1347),Clare College (2nd oldest) , St. Catharines College (1473), and Corpus Christi College (WOW) . The day is so wonderful we go punting on the river Cam. Punting (very popular with “everyone”) is done in a wooden row boat with one person on the back of the boat moving and guiding the boat with one long oar. The oarsman stands on the back of the boat at all times. As we ride along the river, the oarsman points out all sights of interest – yes we had a guide this time – however, you can hire your own boat if you want to – maybe next time. The history is overwhelming. College students were everywhere along with the tourists. The town is chalked full of history museums and churches, yet with all of the amenities of the “new world”. Most everybody rides bikes and/or walks. We walked along King’s Parade and Grafton Center which houses all of the exclusive shops, souvenir shops as well as pubs, restaurants, candy stores (chocolate), cafes and clubs. The streets in the heart of Cambridge are set up so that the only traffic allowed is buses and taxis (and of course bicycles (everywhere)). They have these amazing poles in the ground that go up and down (rising bollards) and won’t budge for regular cars but do allow the buses, taxis and emergency vehicles with the appropriate transformers. Pretty cool. In the center of town there is an open air market Monday – Saturday. They always have fresh fruits. vegs, breads, cakes, clothes and even a bicycle repair. On Sundays the market becomes more of an arts and crafts center with pottery, ceramics, prints,etc. I can only imagine how beautiful this city is in full bloom of spring (their green areas are referred to as backs). We were beginning to see a little bit of evidence of spring as a few of the flowers were blooming.
On the way home we chat about some of the customs and traditions we have seen. The bathroom is the “loo”, chips (French fries), crisps (potato chips), biscuits (cookies & crackers). Another one, is there are designated areas along all of the roads where truck drivers (and/or I guess anybody) can pull over, park and just sleep. Nobody bothers them and they get a good rest. Of course driving on the “wrong side” is still amazing and a little uncomfortable to me; however, Stephanie has it down pretty good and knows in the round abouts to take the outside lane if you are exiting the first or second exit, or take the inner lane and then move over if you are taking the third or fourth exit (actually makes sense). She knows how to keep up on the M’s too – even though they drive fast (unless there is a major traffic jam where you can literally sit and/or just roll for up to a couple of hours), most people are not rude drivers and they don’t have near the on and off ramps that we have. Her GPS is a God send. As we traveled along, Jack rode in the front seat and constantly looked for the steering wheel and brake (they are on the wrong side too). We passed by table tennis clubs, farms, windmills (for energy), leisure centers, rivers and lot of green pasture land. In Godmanchester there is a large pasture area where folks can “rent garden space”. I’ve seen this in Hilton Head. They then can raise their own vegs and flowers.
When we get to Stephanie’s, I go upstairs with mixed emotions to gather our things and begin to pack. Tears roll down my face as I know our wonderful trip and seeing Stephanie on a daily basis is about to end. However, I then begin to look forward to coming home and seeing Allison, Chris, Jackie, our family and friends with the thought that we will be able to come back!!! What a wonderful spot to be in!!
To conclude our evening we walk over to the Bridge Hotel for drinks. Jack and I had been earlier on our visit and when we walked in this time, the young lady who had served us last time, greeted us with “Oh so glad you have come back to see us - and this must be your daughter Stephanie” . She had remembered, and I then remembered that her name is Stephanie also. What a nice warm greeting. After enjoying our drinks, we walked to Prima Bar Restaurant (right across the street from Stephanie’s house) for dinner. Prima is known as one of the best Italian restaurants in the Huntingdon area and it was delicious.
Now it really is time to go back to Stephanie’s and go to bed so that we can arise early (5 AM) to head to the airport. On our way, we were very fortunate and didn’t hit any traffic jams on the way, so arrived early at the airport. No problem - we enjoyed a good breakfast. Our travels had been so smooth, we weren’t surprised when once we boarded the plane for Philadelphia – we sat at the gate for almost 1 hour and then on the tarmac for 45 minutes. Needless to say, we arrived late in Philadelphia and by the time we went through customs and all of the other hoops, we missed our connecting flight. Lucky for us; however, there was another leaving for Charlotte in about 30 minutes and we got two of the very few seats left. We had no idea where our luggage might be; however, as they had taken it earlier during the customs process. But, again, luck being a lady - our bags were the last two to descend down the baggage chute in Charlotte. Jackie and Allison had been riding around the Charlotte airport for about 30 minutes; even though we were able to let them know we would be on a later flight. Charlotte Douglas was a zoo with the cell lot being full, people everywhere on late flights and luggage stacked up for people to find. What a mess.
Anyhow, travel weary as we were, joy immediately returned as we saw Jackie waving from the car telling his Mom he saw us. He shouted “hey grandma and granddaddy” and our hearts melted and Allison drove us home.
Footnote: For you folks who actually read all of this stuff, please know that this is just me writing about our wonderful adventure. A lot of the descriptive stuff came from brochures we got as we visited places (I think this covers me as not plagiarizing). I am so thankful that Jack and I were able to do this trip and visit with Stephanie. Her mission is so wonderful and I must say, as a Mom, it sure was good to see where she actually lives and to meet her new friends and co-workers. God is good. Thanks be to God!!