Meet the Parents

Trip Start Nov 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 21, 2006

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Hotels and B&B's, all on the parents' dime!

Flag of United Kingdom  ,
Friday, October 27, 2006

The  near-11 months that passed between when I shook my father's hand outside of JFK and when I greeted my parents at Heathrow represented the longest time span I'd gone without seeing them at least once. It seemed, though, that England was going to do everything in its power to prevent this inevitable meeting. The adventure that never should have been one started in Leeds the day before when I cut way too close catching the bus from Elle's dorm to the bus station. Of course, there were two problems -- first, Megabus changed the time without ever alerting me and second, it never mentioned that buses don't leave from the bus station from the train station (you get what you pay for when you book with a company that allows
you to travel from Edinburgh-London for as little as 1p, plus a 1-quid
booking fee). So out of breath I sprinted to find my bus to learn that it had never been there to begin with. I hopped on a bus to the train station to find out when the next bus was leaving and all the times were terrible so I was forced to take a regular Intercity bus and had now purchased two tickets for one bus ride (doubly bad on the heinous British pound).

After only a little delay and a lot of drama I was on the bus to London where I was set to stay with Kevin, my friend from my East Coast swing in Australia. When I'd last seen Kevin he was having a miserable time getting over a girlfriend that had dumped him because he left to travel. I bore witness to his spiral as he went from merely sulking poolside while listening to cheesy songs like Nelly's 'Dilemma' (he was in a bad way, what can I say) in Coffs Harbour to talking non-stop about Kelly in Byron Bay. By chance I would have seen him again in Brisbane, but Sam (his traveling mate, in case you havne't been keeping up) had told me Kevin had a bit of a freak out, storming out of an internet cafe and getting on a plane to the Whitsundays the next day. Fortunately I found Kevin in much higher spirits once I finally arrived in London. Since I had to be up early the next morning to go to the airport we had a quiet night at his local, throwing back a few pints while catching up on old times (including his side of the freakout story).

The next morning I woke up to a glorious London morning. It was pissing down rain like nothing else. I also found out the Tube line I needed was shut for the weekend so I had to go through a whole song and dance to get to the airport. I got there late, but my parents were later, and again with some drama but not much delay we had our happy reunion.

My parents were coming out to see me and travel a bit of England and Ireland. This meant for the next couple weeks I wouldn't have to fend for myself nearly as much -- no more hostels (although my days of staying in hostels were dwindling thanks to the numerous friends I had spread around England), just hotels and B&Bs and restaurant meals. No more worrying about where to be or when, just sitting in the backseat of our tiny Holden and going along for the ride. And we'd be eschewing most of the more touristy places for spots that many English people have probably never heard of. This is because we had at our disposal my Dad's college buddy, Jon. Jon is pretty incredible in that he's probably driven every side street and country road in the United States and Europe and also remembers where everything is. Whenever we're getting ready for a Blank Family vacation Jon is always consulted. What we get in return is a multi-page itinerary filled with nuggets that most tourists never discover. It makes for fairly non-traditional holidays but it can also lead to some very pleasant surprises.

The parental leg of the trip started with a short drive to Oxford as my Dad fought jetlag and driving on the left side and I rested my head and hoped I wouldn't have any flashbacks to Heather's driving. Oxford, as you all well know, is a very old university town. It's very pretty and all with the river snaking through it and the spires of the buildings and cathedrals piercing the sky. But it's not very big and can be thoroughly walked in a few hours. So let me add this. Over the course of this trip and meeting so many English, I've developed a pretty decent ear for locating different English accents, from the London cockney (as in, would you like some bu--uh for your bread, bruvuh), to the ugly Midlands drawl and the awesome dirty accents of the Northern Moonkays in Manchester and beyond. But Oxford is home to that very stereotypical English accent that you get on BBC programs in America that sounds snoody and pretentious. And I mention this because, as much as I like most English accents (give me a good Scouser accent any day of the week) and enjoy the diversity, the one thing I absolutely can't stand is that Oxford-type accent on little kids. You hear little kids talking in it and they just come off sounding like some snoody, pretentious, pipe-smoking Oxford-educated, I'm-better-than-you asshole, except trapped in a 5-year-olds body. Man, I can't stand those kids.

The next day turned sour as we set off to the 'charming village' section of our journey. I knew what this meant. We weren't just oohing and ahing cute little houses and lovely countryside. It meant I would have to endure the evil 'A' word when traveling with the parents. Antiquing. We spent the day hopping from one tiny town in the Cotswalds to the next. And since in short order I found this relatively boring, I will describe this day in painstaking detail so you can completely share the experience. Of course, I'm not serious, I would never do that to you. After a day of towns like Stow-on-the-Wold and Boreton-on-the-Water we turned north to start seeing castles and Shakespeare's birthplace. But not before spending the morning checking out a few more 'charming villages.' I was all charming villaged out and they were all starting to look the same.

Partly because we spent too much time being charmed and partly because it looked terrifyingly toursity, we gave Statford-upon-Avon a miss and went directly to Warwick, home to one of England's largest and most famous castles. We heard impressive things about the castle and for the 11-pound 50 they extort from you (and that's with the student discount) we were expecting greatness. What we got was overrated, over-commercialized junk. The grounds are expansive and there are some nice views of the complex and the river that winds behind from the turrets, plus an enjoyable torture room and a working catapult. Otherwise, it's just boring stately rooms with wax figures of royalty doing things royalty does. Yawn. Plus there's the commercialization. Everywhere are stupid gimmicks, like the people who dress up like plague victims and sing for the little kids. Not only does this mean there are obnoxious amounts of little kids (I've stated my opinion on that subject already) but you have dopey 'plague victims' displaying the lighter side of the plague and encouraging kids to come up and hug them and join along. Because if anybody needs a hug, it's a plague victim, right?

That night we had our best B&B and best restaurant experience. It was in a place we nearly never found off narrow country roads where the grass and crops grow so high you can't see above them. It's like getting trapped in a maze. Fun during the daytime, annoying when it's dark and you're lost and hungry. Howard and Sue took us in and offered us a drink and then sent us to the Three Horseshoes for a spectacular dinner. Not only was the food spectacular, the dessert delicious (dessert? am I turning into a flashpacker?) but the hospitality was fantastic. We talked to the owners well past closing time and they even brought out their son who as it turned out was in New Zealand and Australia at roughly the same time as me. The best part of the B&B, though, was I had my own room and my own TV so I didn't bother anybody when I turned on Monday Night Football (mind you kickoff is roughly 2 a.m. local time) to watch the Giants kick Dallas' ass.

The next day saw a brief return of the 'charming village' theme, but this time it was unanimously agreed that the villages we visited were boring and uninspiring. The highlight of the day though was in Ludlow, which also had a castle, but much better and reasonably priced than Warwick. It was more ruined and had more opportunities for exploration, plus the weather was far better so the views were much more worthwhile. All in all, a much better spot than Warwick. We spent the night just outside the walls of Chester. It was the first decently sized town we'd stayed in and my parents were sensing that I was starting to suffer from a bit of nocturnal boredom. But our B&B was too far from the downtown (which seemed like it might in theory have a decent nightlife) and I instead decided to bide my time until Dublin.

Another great thing to come of staying at B&B's -- the full English breakfast. While my parents, who were trying not to over-indulge and try to somewhat adhere to sensible diets didn't enjoy them as much, I (not really accustomed to eating so nice, most breakfasts were at best toast and jam) was loving it. For those not familiar with English breakfasts, you get bacon, sausage, eggs, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, fried toast, you name it -- basically enough to feed a small nation. Properly stuffed for the day, we ducked the raindrops and checked out Chester for a bit, walking along the city walls, checking out the clock tower and the overrated Roman ampitheater. The weather chased us from Chester quickly so we drove north to the Lakes District, which has been the absolute highlight of the parental leg of the trip.

We only had a couple hours in the area our first day, so we could only tread so deep into the area's narrow, winding roads before having to turn around before it got dark. Sadly, my uncanny ability to fall asleep in cars struck and I missed out on some of the natural beauty around me. It wasn't a total loss since it was raining so hard there wasn't much to see and we didn't cover that much ground. The next day was much better though. The rain was gone, but in it's place was a bitter cold. We started the tour of the area by going to Aira Force Falls for a nice little hike along a river up to the impressive falls. A worthwhile stop, even if I couldn't feel my fingers. We then went to Keswick for the Standing Stones, kind of like Stonehenge on a much smaller scale. It would've been much more enjoyable if the wind hadn't picked up to gail-like speeds, to the point that you had to focus to not get blown over. Since we decided to blow off going to Hadrian's Wall, which was built by the Romans and used to mark the border with Scotland, we took a drive over to peak at the ocean and through the delightfully named town, Cockermouth. And that was the end of the Lakes District. Another characteristic of family vacations, whirlwinding from place-to-place at ungodly speeds. We spent the night in a small Welsh town, Abergele, a short drive to the port town of Holyhead. From there it would be on to the ferry and across the sound to Ireland.
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