London, Birmingham and a small English town

London, Birmingham and a small English town
In my last post we were heading from Marrakech to London. Now we are en route from London to Madrid after a week in the UK. We stayed with Nicola’s sister and her family: Jenny, Garry, Ruby and Amy. Plus their two new kittens, Pebbles and Hevie (sp?). It was very nice to visit with friendly faces. After two months in hostels and hotels; hauling our backpacks around; and staying with strangers was temporarily put on hold while we visited with family. Afterall, the reason we came to the UK was to visit with family.
When we arrived at Gatwick, we made our way by train to the Maze Hill Station in Greenwich. A simple change at London Bridge… the trains and Tube in London are so easy to navigate. From Maze Hill Station, Jenny and Garry’s home is only about a two minute walk away. At #66 Earlswood Street, Ruby was the only one home. She was home from school earlier than everyone else. Jenny, Garry, and Amy would not be home until after 6pm. Ruby entertained us with stories about school and the new kittens. The kittens are still not that comfortable with people but they sure enjoyed chasing a stick. After a while, they were both playing and two hours flew by before I knew it.
After everyone was home and we visited for a little while, we headed for the Cutty Sark Pub. I think it was for me that we went to a pub. I wanted some good classic British food… fish and chips were in order. After three weeks of tajine and other Moroccan foods, some comfort foods were what I was after. Comfort food and a good beer… or two. In Morocco, beer and alcohol is not on restaurant menus and I had barely any beer in the last month.
The Cutty Sark Pub has an excellent view of downtown London across the Thames as well as the O2 up the river. The walk to the Cutty Sark Pub led us through the type of neighbourhoods that I have seen on television and what I expected of London. The only other time I was in London, I mainly stayed downtown in the main tourist areas. I was strangely excited to see this type of neighbourhood in London. 
I enjoyed my fish and chips very much and the beer made it perfect. Sitting in an English pub was comfortable. We had a nice visit. A bar trivia game made it a little difficult to hear after dinner. We strolled back home with a brief stop for an ice cream along the way. 
The next day, everyone went off to work and school and Nic and I slowly got our day going. We had decided that we wanted to go to a show. The last time I was in London I saw Billy Elliot and Nic has seen Phantom in London. We wanted to see a show that neither of us has ever seen. We settled on Wicked. Wicked is a story about the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz. It tells her misunderstood past and why she is not really wicked. It was very well done. We had pretty good seats in the 12 row but off to the side. Before the show we wandered around near the theatre. We found another pub and I had my second great British meal. I had roast beef with mashed potatoes and Yorkshire pudding. I think that was perhaps the most tender roast beef that I have ever had.
Our 3rd day in Greenwich was Friday and Jenny doesn’t work on Fridays. Her washing machine had broken the day before we came so Jenny and Nic went to the laundramat just up the street to do a load of wash. It was nice to get a good wash of everything in our bags. Nicola wanted to cook supper. She has missed not cooking for the past few months. Me on the other hand, I do not miss it at all. I miss eating her cooking. Eating in restaurants is very tiresome. Nothing beats a good home cooked meal.
Saturday was a very busy day for the Pogson-Jones’. Jenny and Garry had a gig with their jazz band. The girls had dance and other things that filled their day. Nic and I decided just to roam around Greenwich and perhaps look through some shops. We also scoped out some geocaches in the area that we could find, mostly around the park. We left Jenny’s and headed up the street. Nic saw a hairdresser and decided to pop in to see if she could get an appointment for Tuesday. They could actually take her right away. She was getting highlights so it meant I was on my own for between two and three hours. So I went off to search for some geocaches. I looked for three I think and I got stumped on all of them. That can be frustrating. I need Nic’s eyes to help me spot the caches.
We had planned to go for pizza on Saturday but it turned out the place where we were going (the location of which was a surprise for only me by the way) was closed. Instead, Jenny cooked up a nice chicken curry. I was perhaps more happy to have another home cooked meal.
One of the things that Nic and I wanted to do in England was get out of the city. So on Sunday morning we took a train from London to Brockenhurst. Brockenhurst is in an area called the New Forest. The train took about two hours. We stayed in a B&B about a ten minute walk from the train station. I wanted to experience a small British town unlike the city life in London. We had thought about staying in a pub somewhere but settled on a B&B and eating in pubs… and drinking beer of course.
On the day we arrived in Brockenhurst, after dropping our bags off at the B&B, we went for a pub lunch. We researched a few geocaches that would help us to explore this small village. Our hunts took us to places to see things that we would have never found if we were not geocaching. Again, it was a good thing Nic was doing this with me because she is able to see the caches once we are in the right location that I often miss. We spent about four or five hours exploring and hunting. We logged three finds.
Brockenhurst and the New Forest area is pretty neat. Donkeys, ponies, pigs, and cows roam free in the town and forest. They are all owned by “commoners” but just wander around eating the grass and foliage. No need to cut your grass. They will do it for you. To contain them in certain areas, there are cattle grids built into the road and gates on the sidewalks that prevent them from getting out. Most homes have fences to keep them off of their property. There are agitors (individuals who work for the town or park) who annually give the animals their shots, etc. Each agitor is responsible for a different area and they distinctively cut the tails on the ponies which signifies which agitor and area the pony comes from. I pet a donkey with no reaction at one point but when I tried to pet a horse, he started to stomp is foot like he was getting ready to kick me. They are wild and unbroken… best advised to not pet them.
Our B&B was quite interesting. The lady that ran it had included some touches that seemed over the top to us. For example, she had little stickers on the toilet paper to hold down the folded edge. She had the paper around the toilet seat indicating that it had been sanitized. She had a little dish for used tea bags. She had disposable bath mats. For breakfast, we had the full English breakfast. Sausage and back bacon; two eggs; fried tomatoes; fried mushrooms; baked beans; toast, cereal, fruit and more. It was quite good… and very filling.
Our train from Brockenhurst back to London was at 6:30pm. So we rented bicycles for the day. We got very nice bikes but the seats were not so comfortable. We got a map for a bike tour that would take us to Burley. The return trip was about 22 miles. That is if you do not get lost along the way. The directions were not very clear… in my defense. It seemed that every time we got lost it was uphill. We got lost once on the way to Burley. By the time we stopped for lunch at the Queens Head Pub, our butts were very sore. The bike rental place closed at 5pm and we had about two hours to get back. No problem… if you do not get lost… again. Turns out I took us out of Burley on the wrong road. We thought there was no way we would make it back in time. After getting directions… twice… we were back on the trail. We had to cut out some of the trail riding to get on the road in order to make it back in time. We made it back by 4:50pm. Close call. If our butts were sore at the halfway point, imagine how sore they were at the end. It was a fun ride and a great way to see the area.
Back in Greenwich, the next day we decided to play tourist in Greenwich. We walked down to the O2. The O2 is a large dome that has restaurants and shops as well as an arena that can be used for sports and concerts. There are other touristic things you can do there as well. We had lunch in the O2 and then headed for the Emirates Air Line Cable Car. The Cable Car goes over the river. We just rode it across and right back. We had planned on taking a boat back down the river to central Greenwich but decided in the end to take a double decker bus. In the central area we went to the Greenwich Royal Observatory. This is where the prime meridiam is. This line divides west from east. We also took a few minutes to find a couple of geocaches in the area. I had Nic with me for her eyes otherwise I would not have found it.
That evening we went with Jenny and family to a very cool pizza restaurant. The restaurant was a double decker bus that was converted to a restaurant. We ate on the upper deck of the bus. How fun!
For our last day in England (ie. before flying out the next day), we went to Birmingham to visit my Aunt Fran. Aunt Fran is my father’s sister and she has lived in Birmingham all of my life. Unfortunately, we had booked a train to a different station than she was expecting. I had called and emailed and left her messages that we were coming into New Street Station instead of Moor Street Station. I did not talk to her though so I did not know if she got my messages. When we got off the train we did not see her. We looked for a while and then decided to walk to Moor St (only 5 minutes away). She was not there either. I called and left messages a couple of times. We were about to walk back to New St and she came walking across the street. She had gotten my messages but we did not find each other in the station. That is why she had wanted us to go to Moor St. Sorry about the confusion Aunt Fran. Thank goodness that we did find each other eventually.
Together with Aunt Fran, she took us on a walking tour of Birmingham. It was a lot nicer than I was expecting. I think I had pictured a big city which had lots of pollution and factories. What we found was a city that has worked hard to define itself as a retail centre for the midlands. I was quite impressed. It was nice to have our own personal tour guide. We stopped for lunch at a lovely Italian restaurant. Aunt Fran told us that it was her treat and for us to make it our big meal of the day. How very generous. After lunch, Aunt Fran gave us each a day bus pass so we could get to her flat. Nicola and Aunt Fran got along very well because of their shared passion for gardening and flowers. At her flat, she gave us a tour of her garden. She has a lovely area that her and a couple of other tenants maintain a beautiful garden.
We visited with her in her flat for a while. We had tea with strawberries and cream. After a lovely visit, Nic and I took the bus back to the train station and began the hour and half trip back to London. I am so happy that we were able to visit Aunt Fran. Since she has lived in England all my life, we have only visited with her in Canada a few times. She talked about our family history. I wanted to make sure that we visited her while we were in the UK. Thank Aunt Fran for everything.
We got back to Greenwich at about 9:30pm. It was just in time to have a nice dinner with Jenny and Garry. They were celebrating Garry’s good news about getting a new job. Congratulations Garry. We left the next morning at about 9:30am to get to Gatwick for our flight to Madrid. I want to thank Jenny, Garry, Ruby, and Amy for your hospitality. We took over Ruby’s bedroom. When you are on the road for months at a time, it is so nice to feel at home. We definitely felt at home even though we recognize that we invaded your space. Thanks so much.
We are now in Madrid. We are awaiting the arrival of Jenny and Moire today. We will spend the weekend with them. On Monday, Nic and Moi will head off to do the Camino de Santiago. Jenny will return to Greenwich. On Sunday, I will move in with a Spanish family for a week and on Monday I am starting Spanish lessons. Next update will probably happen from Geneva.

We went to see Wicked in London

Perhaps the most tender roast beef I have ever had

Westminster Cathedral

Let me give you a ring

Definitely need to ride a double decker bus

In Brockenhurst, ponies and donkeys roam around town

Pub lunch in Brockenhurst

The cause of a Brockenhurst traffic jam

Nicola, what are you doing to that cow?

Wild ponies in the New Forest

It is better if the horses approach you on their own… best not to pet them

Avid bikers… seem to get lost a lot

Focus on the map and directions… still got lost

The Emirates Air Line Cable Car line across the Thames

The cable cars run about 100 metres above the river

At the O2, people climb over the top

East meets West at the Prime Meridian

Miss Amy at the Double Decker Bus Pizza joint

Pizza for two on the upper deck

The even let me drive the #30 Big Red Bus

The Pogson-Jones’ and us at the Big Red Bus

Stained glass windows at St Phillips Cathedral in Birmingham

Me and Aunt Fran in downtown Birmingham

The Brummies call this fountain the “Floosie in the Jacuzzi”; I call it “My Lub in the Tub”

Queen Victoria statue in Victoria Square in B’ham