Getting out to the countryside at last

Trip Start May 27, 2009
Trip End Jun 17, 2009

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Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Don't get me wrong, I like London, but after two weeks, we all agreed it was high time to get out into the countryside for a few days.

We figured our timing was good because the tube and transport staff on the Underground had just called a strike. Notifications were published regarding other modes of transportation including bicycling and walking, but the strike was sure to have an impact. Getting around on public transportation (which I absolutely depended on for my touristy outings) was going to be tricky for a few days. As Mark Twain might have said, it was the perfect time to light out for the territories.

The good news is that Londoners really use public transportation. That's the bad news, too, because without it, things went crazy. Little did Claire and I realize when we set out from Hackney late on Wednesday morning that it would take us four hours to get across London and onto the M4, bound for the idyllic Dorset, Devon, and south coast. This is normally a 45-minute trip, but with stalled traffic in every direction, Claire's nifty, 15-year-old Mercedes station wagon started to lose its cool.

As luck would have it, we were in the general vicinity of Regent's Park, one of my favorite places, as you know. Just one street over from sea of stalled cars, Regent's Park seemed a world away from the congestion. Since we'd been here three weeks ago, even more roses were in bloom and now the park's award-winning delphiniums were also in vivid display. What a place!

We tailgated our lunch which we'd packed in an English-style picnic basket I'd sent to Claire and Damian a few years ago for Christmas. Oh, we've had some picnics with this clever basket! (Some day I'll tell you a little story about the basket, the bicycle, and the bitch, but not today...)

This classic hamper is fitted out with plates, napkins, salt and pepper shakers, etc., everything you need for a storybook picnic, except for the vittles. While we hadn't exactly planned on having an urban picnic, it worked out fine and the break gave the car time to cool down before we set out again. I can't say the same for myself.

I haven't actually written about the driving deal here yet in this blog. In brief, I have to take a valium when I get in a car. Not only do the English drive on the "other" side of the road, the roads are narrow, the signals confusing, and for a nervous Nellie like me, it's just all too much.

Also, do you know about Sat Nav?

Claire and Damian have it (a GPS-type application) on their iPhones. They put in the postal codes of the points of origination and destination, and coordinates, a map, and step-by-step directions appear on the phone. Theoretically, great. In my hands, disaster. As the navigator, I was faced with following the tiny iPhone display, watching the road atlas, and praying...clearly too much for a person like me.

We had booked a room at a bed-and-breakfast in Dorset called the Wooden Cabbage. The name made no sense to us, but it was the only room we could find, so Claire plugged in the Sat Nav coordinates (51.51 N 02.38 W) and we proceeded accordingly.

About five hours into our trip I noticed a familiar name on the map: Stonehenge! And just at that moment I looked up and there were the iconic stones that I'd seen reproduced so often in photographs. Hello, Claire, that's Stonehenge! We have to stop.

"We can't stop now, Mom," she said. "We have to get to the Wooden Cabbage!"

Next: What the heck is a wooden cabbage?

Slideshow Report as Spam
Where I stayed
The Wooden Cabbage Bed and Breakfast
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claireptak on

the basket and the b*%@ch!
I don't know if any of you have the luxury of having a writer in your family, but it is truly fantastic. Especially if they are writing personal essays. The power of the pen to make you look back and laugh is remarkable! What mom doesn't say is that I practically forced the valium down her throat to stop the constant gasps and repeated deep sighs. What she also generously left out, is that I drive like Mario Andretti. Damian and mom were white-knuckling-it the entire journey. Sorry mom. I should really slow down. x

the_assistant on

I totally agree with you about your mom and her backseat driving. She does tend to drive like a little old lady when she has passengers and then provides unsolicited assistance when she is the passenger. However, I love her anyway--it is her only fault (I'm sure you have other opinions on this...). I will try the valium treatment on our next excursion together--thanks for the hint.

E, I am absolutely shocked that you used the 'b' word. That vacation with the young folk must have broaden you linguistic skills or you are taking lessons from my book (not a good idea). We did read about the strike and were concerned for your touring but, as always, you find alternative plans.

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