Visiting the UK
Last September, a friend and I departed for a trip to the United Kingdom. Since getting back, I've desired to memorialize that great trip in words. I first tried writing a chronological account, but it quickly became too long. Instead, the following is simply an ensemble of recollections.
At the end of my first day in London, Queen Elizabeth II passed away. I'll never forget, We were sitting outside a restaurant when our waiter walked over and asked, "Have you heard that our Queen died?" It was a historic time to be in London. Everywhere we went we saw people paying their respects to the queen. Every city and village had piles of flowers placed in her honor. In London, queues formed for hours or days to place flowers in her honor or to visit her lying in wait. One evening, the nation observed a minute of silence for her, and the day of her funeral was a national holiday. Because of all of this, some of our plans got disrupted. Still, I think it was the right time to be in London.
To get there, I rode on my first international flight. Thankfully, I found it to be pretty easy-going. We had to connect through other airports, but we still only spent about 10 hours seated on a plane. On the way there we rode a Boeing 787, but on the way back it was a Boeing 777. The former was definitely quieter and more comfortable.
For the whole duration of this trip, I didn't ride in any car. Everywhere we went, we used mass public transportation. The London Underground was my favorite. It made getting around so easy that I felt like I had acquired a superpower. Unintentionally, we stayed near the Victoria line. This was a good choice. Not only does it have some of the nicest train cars, but it is also excellent for connecting to other lines. Occasionally, we'd connect onto lines that still felt very old. Those rides reminded me that the Underground has a long history in London.
Speaking of public transportation, the water taxi on the River Thames is worth taking. It's much cheaper than a tourist boat and gives you just as good of a view. We used the water taxi on our way to another ship, the HMS Belfast. This ended up being my favorite thing we did inside the city. A sizable proportion of the Cruiser is open to the public, and we spent many hours exploring it.
My itinerary for the trip intentionally had several days with no plans. Thankfully, these ended up being some of the best days of the trip. For example, one day I decided we should go to Dover. The High-Speed train made short work of the trip, and the beautiful White Cliffs of Dover are worth seeing. We spent all day hiking along the cliffs, exploring the WW2 tunnels, and climbing around an old shipwreck.
On another day I figured out that we could take the train to Bladon. In this small English village, there is a church. Inside this church's grounds, is a cemetery where Winston Churchill was buried. I deeply admire Churchill's life and career, so it was personally meaningful to see his grave. Afterward we were pleasantly surprised to discover that Blenheim Palace was right next door. This palace was a gift to John Churchill, a relative of Winston's, and was where Winston Churchill was born. We ended up exploring it for the remainder of the day.
The best day of all was spent going to Chartwell, Winston Churchill's country estate. He loved this home, famously saying, "A day away from Chartwell is a day wasted." Thankfully, before he died the ownership was passed into the hands of the National Trust. This means the house has been largely untouched, and offers an incredible glimpse at Churchill's life. After exploring the house and grounds we joined four others on a guided tour that admitted us into Churchill's bedroom/bathroom. Both rooms are otherwise closed to the public in accordance with the family's wishes. Having read many biographical accounts set in these two rooms (he regularly dictated while in the bathtub) it was touching to see it in person.
We didn't spend the whole trip in England. Towards the end, we boarded a ferry and left for Jersey Island. There was nothing, in particular, I wanted to see there, but I had heard about the place and thought it would be interesting. We ended up going to the famous lighthouse and then explored a nearby cave. While we were near the shore, it was astonishing to watch the tides, some of the largest in the world, moving up and down.
Soon after getting back from Jersey, we flew back home. It was a great trip, and I'm ready to go back. In fact, I immediately began formulating plans to visit the UK again. Lord willing, it won't be long before I do..