Since our adventures abroad we bit the bullet and applied for Kathleen’s UK Residence Card, which extends her visa for 5 years. Since I am her “sponsor”, I had to send my passport with the application as well as Kathleen’s. This means we are temporarily (it can take up to 6 months to get the passports back) anchored in Great Britain. Well OK then, lets explore Britain. We took two trips, one to Bristol and one to the Lakes District.
This trip was Kathleen’s brainchild. Bristol was hosting a conference K had interest in. We decided to make a long weekend of it and check out Bristol while we were there.
The train trip to Bristol was nice, brass band playing Christmas carols at Victoria station. Had to change trains once, were put into “first class” and got to see how other people travel.
The conference was….well, it was a conference. Doctor’s reports and the like. Although the presentations were well done and no doubt interesting for adults, I had a hard time envisioning 14 year old Tristan sitting through it for 8 hours. Relief was provided by one speech that mentioned the milking of rabbits to extract a certain serum. Milking of rabbits?! Tristan, Hannah and I looked at each other for a second and burst out laughing (we were the only ones who found that funny. NOBODY else thought this was weird). I mean, think of it! How do you milk a rabbit?! So yes, we became the annoying Americans in the back of the room, giggling. Of course, Tristan trying desperately to hold back his laughter, made the situation even more comic. Dragging Hannah and me down with him. Kathleen, sitting in front of us, was oblivious to the meltdown happening behind her.
That evening we walked into downtown Bristol and stumbled into Giuseppe’s on the Steps Italian Restaurant. All tables were booked and we were on our way out when we were asked if we can eat in 2 hours. Clearly we are in Europe now. I had the Scaloppina Salti n’ Bocca. By far the best veal I ever had. I’d consider moving to Bristol just to be close to that cookery. Tristan had the pizza, which I had my doubts about. However, the fresh ingredients on that pizza reminded me of what I saw on No Reservations’ Napoli show. T had a hard time cutting the pizza with his knife. No, you don’t eat it with your hands. That would be barbaric! Again, we are in Europe now. So I tried to be helpful, took his fork and knife and “demonstrated” how to let the knife do the work. What I was unaware of at the time was that at the table across from ours were two teenage girls, Tristan’s age with their mother. Apparently, I was told later, the girls noticed that I was cutting my teenage son’s pizza. The girls whispered to their mother, who then also turned around to see this and they all had a good chuckle. The poor kid. As a parent, we try to help our children, we try to make it easier for them. Every once in a while our intentions misfire. Since this event, we refer to potentially parent-teenager embarrassing situations as “Pizza” moments. We had a “Pizza” moment recently at the Levis’ store at Regent Street, London. Tristan was trying on new jeans. When he came out of the dressing room, wearing the new pants, I grilled him about how the pair felt. That would have been OK, I guess. However, when I started to physically examine how much room he had in the waist, Tristan said “Papa, this is a Pizza moment”. I laughed out loud and desisted.
Day two in Bristol was brief. We had about three hours to walk downtown, take in brunch, walk along the river. It was nice, a more relaxed feel as compared to London. Plus, drivers in this city stop for you in the crosswalk. A nice change.
The train ride back to London was more interesting than the way there. I discovered that just because you booked a ticket on a train does NOT mean you automatically have a seat. Kath and the kids had found seats. I stood for the most part of the trip in the lounge car, which had the most room to spread out. I was not alone in my predicament. My seatless companions were half a dozen severely hung over 20-somethings. Probably heading back to London after a binge weekend in Bristol or Bath. I stood next to a window and took in the countryside.
Christmas came and went. London was beautifully adorned albeit busy as always. There doesn’t seem to be a time of the year when this city is not busy.
Keswick, the Lakes District
Just after Christmas, Tristan still had some time off and Kathleen had taken advantage of the “Please use your vacation time” mantra. Hannah had made plans to visit Boyfriend in Spain for a few weeks. The North (Scotland) has always been of interest to us, so I booked us on a train operated by the Virgin empire. And yes, I made sure we had seat reservations this time. Virgin seems to be the only company operating trains on the route from London Euston to Glasgow. It was a pleasant ride. The trains, seemingly newer and modern, reached speeds up to 130mph, leaning into the curves as we zipped through the countryside…very cool. Heading north, the landscape gradually changed from England’s gentle rolling hills to a more rugged landscape, reminiscent of Ireland and very pleasing to my eyes. Got off the train in Penrith and took the 40 minute bus ride to Keswick. We stayed at The George Hotel and loved it. The room was charming, as was the entire building. The hotel had a pub. Cozy…fireplaces…throw cushions on pub benches. A good time was had.
On the first day we hiked Walla Crag, one of the mountains (Kathleen calls them hills) surrounding Keswick. The views were absolutely stunning. We were able to see all the way to Scotland. There were some hairy moments where Tristan and I helped each other not fall to our deaths, holding hands at time, bracing each other. Sheer drops to one side. The older I get the more acutely aware I am of my physical inabilities. Which, when confronted with a narrow, down hill, slippery passage, causes me to pause. Kathleen, mountain gazelle that she is, way ahead. Nonetheless, we survived to tell the tale.
That evening the hotel hosted a Pub-Quiz. Tristan could not be bothered. Really, why would you participate in a pub-quiz when there is online gaming to be done. He came down for the beginning of it and then sighed “Can I go now?!”. I was able to convince K to form a team with me. And…we had a really good time. Naturally, many of the questions were in regards to British culture. We had no idea which football player was hired by Machester United in the past 6 months and the like. When it came time to “grade” another team at the end of the quiz we realised how serious some people are taking their pub quizery. Of all the teams, we came last. Luckily that fact was only screamed into the pub by our team name and our ineptness remained anonymous. Still had a great time though.
The second day we walked around the lake that the small town of Keswick is situated on: Derwent Water. The circumnavigation was about 10 miles on paths and along the lake shore. Absolutely beautiful. At the end of the hike I did feel that there was nothing left of my feet but bloody stumps. Well, lets just say I got my exercise that day. Tristan made a point of counting the number of dogs we ran into on our walk. He was up to 97 as we reached the front door, but after the 4 additional pups spotted in the pub as we walked up the stairs, we hit the magic 101. No Dalmatians, though. They love their dogs in Keswick. If you are not a dog person, Keswick ain’t for you.
Our trip North was a welcome change from city life. No honking horns. No motor bikes screaming past. We shall be back. I want to explore the North and Scotland in greater depth in the months to come.
A quick note on Tristan’s school:
I have had now two calls from school. One in November from his French teacher, and one last Friday his Form teacher (home room). On both occasions the conversation started with “Am I speaking with the parent of Tristan?” Me, holding my breath, replying with a hesitant “Yeeees?!”. Thinking “Oh shit, what has happened now”. On both occasions what followed was a 5 minute report on what a great kid Tristan is and the achievements he received. “We just wanted to let you know that he is doing really well. Have a nice weekend!” Wow. I don’t remember ever getting a call like that from the boy’s previous school. Looking at this from an ex-school teacher point of view: What a great thing to do as a faculty. Don’t just call when things go wrong, also call when they are going right. Outstanding!