March 30, 2017

Our A330 touched down at London Heathrow Airport about 10:25am local time (about 5: 25am back in the hills of East Tennessee.) The trip had begun the previous day as we left for the airport at 4:15pm and so far we had spent just over 13 hours in airports and airplanes. After making our way through customs and gathering our bags, the next leg of our journey was to find our way to the Underground station to catch the Tube to Hays & Harlington. We were able to follow the signs to the general area but were stymied for the last bit. Fortunately, a local employee came to our rescue and walked us through the process, seeing us to our platform and waiting until our train arrived.

At Hays & Harlington, we had to cross over the tracks via an overhead walkway. Not easy for an old guy with a bum knee. But we managed it and awaited our Great Western Railway train to Reading Station on the outdoor platform. I must pause to say that we expected the weather here in England to vary from lows in the mid 40's to highs in the upper 50s (possibly in the 60s) with a reasonable chance of rain most of the time. Typical. Though I must say that my experience in the Isles is that the rain seldom comes in the deluge we often see at home but in the steady rain that can be borne though it does bring on a chill. The train was several minutes late but in due time, we boarded and proceeded to our next designation.

As we made our way out of London, the scene was much as you would expect leaving a large city. The track was lined with old buildings and, as Arlo Guthrie so aptly put it, “...the graveyards of the rusted automobiles”. When we finally cleared the limits of the city, we began to encounter the fields and rural houses with their tile chimneys with which I had become familiar in my journeys to Scotland.

Where Hays & Harlington had been little more than concrete platforms between rails, Reading (pronounced like the color red) was a proper station complete with escalators and gift and meat pie shops. It was with great reluctance that we had to pass up the latter as we had only minutes to find our next platform before our train to Bristol arrived. (As fate would have it, the train was late and our sacrifice proved to be in vain.)

We were truly now into the countryside of England and green fields rolled by with the occasional hamlet with it's skyline broken only by the square steeples of the local churches. One stop along the way was at the city of Bath. Bath harks back to the days of the Roman Empire and is, in fact, named for the fabulous baths that they built using the hot springs that they found there. (The Romans did love their leisure time when they weren't busy conquering and subjugating.) We hope to visit the baths while we are here but I do not look forward to navigating the narrow streets of this medieval city.

Leaving Bath, we finally rolled into Bristol and the lovely old Temple Meads Station. It was now nearing 4:00pm. From here we had to make our way by taxi to our car rental. As I attempted to open the taxi door into the traffic, I was reminded by the cabbie that we should exit the other side. This brought home that we must now look to the right rather than the left as we stepped off the curb, a lesson I had first learned on my previous trip to England when I almost lost my life to an oncoming auto along the Mall to Buckingham Palace.

After securing our auto, we ran into the first of several problems of the day. Not only was the GPS system extremely difficult to operate, it did not seem to recognize the street names that I had. We ultimately had to scroll the map and point to our destination. Finally set, we proceeded to ease our way into what had now transformed into rush hour traffic.

We had not gone more than a few blocks when it became clear that the GPS system that we had taken so long to program, had not an idea of where the hell we were. It would wind between streets, wander into parks and say things like “Turn left at the next round about” and then immediately say “Recalculating!”.

Let me take a moment to say that Bristol, much like Bath, hearkens back to medieval days and the streets, especially in the city center, are narrow and winding and, therefore, many are one way. Driving on the left compounded the problem by an order of magnitude! Finally we pulled into a parking spot to reassess our situation. Driving back to the car rental was not an option...we had no idea in hell where it was or how to get there from where we were. Finally, I pulled out my trusty Windows phone. It has a street app and I had loaded the England database so that we could use it off-line. It actually was able to provide a route from where we were to where we needed to be. So, with John navigating, we pulled back onto the road.

I've attempted some difficult tasks in my life, but making our way from somewhere in the city center to our flat in Bedminster proved to be among the worst. The turns proved to appear only as we passed by them and to make a u-turn in rush hour traffic was not something I cared to attempt. We finally began to pass landmarks that I recognized, giving me some reference as to where we were but no real help to get to where we were going. After much cussing and gnashing of teeth, we turned onto a street that I recognized would take us to our destination. My first act of the morrow will be to call the rental agent to get the GPS fixed or the car replaced.

We finally got checked into our flat about 5:30pm. Our journey had spanned 20+ hours and we had slept little along the way. (Sleeping on a plane has always proven difficult for me. John and Cissy dosed some on the train but we had truly slept very little along the way.) Originally we had planned to rest a bit (we also planned to get here earlier) and then make our way to the North Street area for dinner. We finally decided to walk next door to the Ashville for dinner and return and hit the bed.

The Ashville proved a right good choice as they had a short but varied menu. I chose to eat the seared hake (a whitefish caught locally) over risotto with a fine dark, but warm, lager while John and Cissy both had the chicken and wild mushroom pie which was accompanied by mash (that would be mashed potatoes) and some local greens. John had a pale ale, also warm. (My experience is that that it is quite difficult to find a proper cold drink anywhere in the UK.) Both plates were quite tasty and deemed by all a proper first meal on English soil.

We returned to our flat and, though it was only now about 7:30, within minutes, we decided that bed was the best option. I, of course, remained awake reading but that proved to be fleeting.

Tomorrow, we will visit Ashton Court Estates where our great great grandfather, William, and his son, our great uncle, William had worked as gardeners for Lord Ashton. Thus we get down to business.

The Smokies from near Taig an Drama Return to Long Ashton Somewhere over the Atlantic as day breaks. On the platform at Hays Harlington On the train, having a good time A few minutes later. Bristol Temple Mead Station Our rental. Yes, it's a Mercedes. And no, the GPS doesn't work! The Ashville. Our flat, the Ashville Mews. Day 2 - Pilgrimage to Ashton Court