Spring was a season in which we had several visits, two from family and one from a friend. We had already had Lydia’s parents visit during Christmas, and now we would entertain visits from Nathan’s parents, Nathan’s brother and family, and our mutual friend Cornelia. It was wonderful to be able to show friends and family around our new home, and to travel with them as well, including trips with various guests and family members to each of Edinburgh, London, Bath, and Hampton Court. Some of these trips were interesting enough to require multiple posts; in this one, I’ll introduce my (Nathan’s) parents, Nick and Kathy, their visit, and a bit of the tourism we did together. We managed to get in enough activities that I won’t be able to finish it in one post, and we’ll come back in a future post to describe the rest of our time together.
Family Visit Time
My parents were originally supposed to visit earlier, but ended up postponing their trip until the end of March because the aviation authorities of several nations grounded all Boeing airplanes of a certain class due to recent failures that had resulted in crashes. This required redoing a lot of hotel, train, and air bookings (most of which got refunds), and in the end, they arrived in Edinburgh on the morning of Saturday, March 30, after an overnight flight. I picked them up at the airport and drove them back to St Andrews.
Their visit spanned two weekends and the week in between. The weekends were time with our family in St Andrews, and the week in between was when I went with my parents to do some tourism near London. But before that, we got some time as a family to…
We also got to go to church as a family on both weekends, so that our church friends got to meet Nick and Kathy. We also took walks through St Andrews’ downtown, including Topping and Co, along the Old Course, and to my office, so that they could see the town.
Since this was the first time Nick or Kathy had been to the UK, we wanted to make the most of it. We’d been strategizing together for some time in advance what kinds of tourism would be best, and had planned out a sequence of sightseeing in and near London that I (Nathan) would be going to with my parents. The kids couldn’t skip a week of school and Lydia volunteered to stay home to watch Meg, so it was just the three of us.
Monday was mostly just train travel (early bus to Leuchars, train to Edinburgh, change from there to King’s Cross). Because it was spring, many of the sheep in the fields you could see from the train had lambs. When we got to London, we dropped our stuff at our hotel (the Tavistock) and managed to see the Sherlock Holmes Museum before dinner.
We then returned to our hotel to rest up because we had a big few days coming up.
The place that was of the greatest interest to my mom in our itinerary was Bath, because she is a big Jane Austen fan, and Jane spent a lot of her life in and near Bath, and it featured in several of her works. Furthermore, there are many sights to see in the town that are very related to the regency period, most notably the Jane Austen Centre.
Unfortunately, the day started inauspiciously. US-to-UK power adapters work fine for things that somehow regulate the flow of electricity, like computer chargers, for instance. Devices that just convert the electric power into something else (like heat, say) may not fare as well. For instance, if you were to transport a US toaster to the UK and plug it in through a power adapter, it would heat the toast up far too much, expecting US power levels but getting something much larger. Of course, who would do that with a toaster? However, a hair curling iron is a more natural thing to pack in one’s suitcase. At the time, none of us knew that this would not end well.
Thankfully, no one was hurt, but also, no hair was curled (only slightly singed). So even though my mom thoroughly enjoyed the day in Bath, she wishes the photos were on a day she had curled her hair. The good news is, we use no last names on this blog, so her secret is safe. (For a sufficiently forgiving definition of “safe.”)
We also tried to go out to buy a curling iron, didn’t communicate this clearly to my dad, who was showering, and confused him mightily when he came out to find us gone. We all found each other at the hotel breakfast room some time later, without having found a curling iron. It gets better from there.
While I’m off-topic, I’ll also mention that, in a very uncharacteristic setup, I was the travel planner for this whole affair. Normally my wife handles such things, and is extremely good at it, and thoroughly enjoys it, so that I have neither need nor desire to be the logistics czar. In this case, however, I was the more seasoned traveler as well as the host, so I had my little notebook of train tickets and bus schedules and so forth, as shown below. Those of you who know me may be surprised that I was able to organize a week’s worth of travel without fouling up something crucial, but it actually happened!
But Bath is beautiful! We walked all around, and I actually remembered where a lot of things were from having been in Bath in 2013 for a conference, without having to hit Google Maps very much. To my wife, who is my perpetual navigational crutch, this is probably quite a shock, especially since she wasn’t there at the time. We did a little souvenir shopping and saw sights like those below.
When we were near the Royal Crescent, there was a docent in period costume who was very friendly. My mom asked him about something she’d read in regency novels and was hoping to get some specific assistance with: Where were “the upper rooms and the lower rooms?” This helpful man explained that both were ball rooms that existed in Jane Austen’s time, and while the lower rooms no longer existed, the upper rooms still did, and were now called The Assembly Rooms. Re-enactments of balls still take place there today on weekends. (Unfortunately we were there on a Tuesday, but we could still see them.) He told us where they were and, as they would say in a Jane Austen novel, we went directly. This was perhaps the highlight of the day for my mom, who really enjoyed seeing restored regency ballrooms. These were the very rooms in which some of Jane Austen’s novels were set, and in which Jane herself also surely danced on many occasions.
We then ate lunch at The Salamander, a place I remembered from the last time I’d been in town. At first, I was disappointed because the chef had changed and thus the fabulous pie and mash I’d gotten in 2013 wasn’t available. But as the new chef promised, the menu did contain “many lovely things,” and we had them! I ate Toad in the Hole (a giant Yorkshire pudding with sausages baked in, topped with greens and gravy), Dad had the Ploughman’s Lunch (cheese, ham, greens, bread, pickled eggs, pickled onions, etc.), and Mom had a mature cheddar, chutney, and greens sandwich on thick brown bread. We all had a pint of the local beers (Sulis Lager and Beerd Cubic). All excellent.
Our next stop was the Jane Austen Centre, where we did the full tour. This included a welcome film, a biographic lecture, several period artifacts and artworks, a life-size waxwork statue of the author, and a film on that part of Jane’s life that took place in and near Bath. And of course a gift shop. But the part that you’re most likely to want to see is when we tried on regency costumes. Well, some of us did.
We also got to see the Bath Abbey, and even attended a brief prayer service in it. We considered going to the Roman Baths, but by this point we were getting tired, and still had to get the train back to London. So we had tea while waiting for the train, then caught the train back to London to arrive at about 9:15. We clocked almost 20,000 steps by my pedometer that day, so we were way too tired to go out to dinner, and just grabbed some Pizza Express on the way back to the hotel and ate it in the room. A full but very fun day!
No, you must be kidding. There can’t be more!
Oh, but there is. This is a little over half of the fun we got to share with my parents, but as you can tell, it’s too big for one blog post. So we’ll come back in a future post to finish the chronicle. See you then!