Friday, June 1, 2012

Becoming 40 With Jane: Europe, Part I

My birthday trip went off as planned, with very few catastrophes.

Saturday 19th May

Our flight landed on time, and the news reports about the three hour long queues at Heathrow's immigration were greatly overstated. All of three people waited in front of us (compared to the hour plus wait we had at Chicago on our return trip, this was a breeze).

We collected our rental car with even greater ease, and soon we were on our way on the M-4. We drove past exit signs for Windsor Castle and Legoland, and it was only about 30 more minutes before we passed one of the greatest road signs I've ever seen: :You are now entering HAMPSHIRE" and underneath that was written, "Jane Austen Country."Not sure how I failed to take a picture, but I didn't. Possibly because my gasp at seeing the sign was so loud that Carl slammed on the brakes and wasn't the happiest when he discovered the cause of my gasp. No sheep in the road, and not a heart attack. Just a Jane Austen sign. So he didn't exactly welcome my idea of backing up for a kodak moment.

I caught this one a few minutes later:

The village of Chawton, and Jane's cottage, was every bit as picturesque as I imagined. We had some tea and lunch at Casandra's Cup, located across the street from Jane's home, before we went in.

I picked a window table for us, and just sat looking out at her house. I couldn't believe I was finally about to go inside.

We walked around the newly restored gardens, crushed up some lavender, and practiced writing with an inkwell and quill.

They also have some little games children could play, presumably with their father while their mums tour the house. ;) I really, really, wanted to play this version of Snakes and Ladders. I wish they would have sold it in the gift shop!

Finally, it was time to walk inside the sanctuary. There weren't too many tourists around, which was nice. My favorite places were her writing table, and her bedroom.

This was Jane's view from her windows (albeit, perhaps with a few less Jubilee decorations).


 Jane lived at Chawton from 1809-1817. She wrote most of her published novels here, and she lived here until she was finally so sick in the end of her life that she was moved to Winchester for her last two months to be closer to doctors. Its the only house of Jane's which you can tour. Her home in Steventon (where she was born and raised) is no longer, and her homes in Bath are now businesses or private residences. The house in Winchester, where she died, is also now a private residence. Jane died at 41, also known as one year from my current advanced age.

Carl was a good sport about our Chawton visit, but he did spend the last 30 minutes or so resting in the car park while I perused the gift shop. Sadly, it wasn't possibly to bring home everything they sold. They even had Jane Austen wrapping paper! Perfect for my birthday gifts. Oh wait, I told Carl no gifts but my trip were necessary. ;)

From Chawton, we headed to Winchester. Jane is buried in the cathedral there, and her grave was high on my list of places to visit. The Cathedral was beautiful, and having recently watched 'The Pillars of the Earth,' both Carl and I found it extra fascinating.


 We also walked around the town and found the house where Jane died, and a castle in ruins.

We also spent some time at their market, since it was Saturday.

Finally, it was time to depart for Bath. This was a bit more of a drive than I had thought - its only fifty miles, but it was fifty miles on what I don't think Elizabeth Bennett or Mr. Darcy would call "good roads." Small, single lane roads, with lots of roundabouts.

And we literally drove right past Stonehenge. Literally. 

The road runs between the yellow rapeseed field and the green fields beyond the rocks. So you know we had to stop for five minutes.

We made it to Bath around 7:30 p.m., just in time for dinner. I'm a bit stunned we made it all the way until 11 pm that night with no nap - that's never happened to me on an international flight before. But we had fun going around Bath in the evening, before we finally crashed.

  Our hotel is on this street, on the left, about two houses down.

Sunday 20th May
We headed out of Bath after sleeping in, to drive to Stourhead. Its part of the National Trust, and its gardens are some of the most famous in England.


Notably for me, bits of the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice were filmed here. Elizabeth runs across this bridge.

Before Mr. Darcy joins her at the Temple of the Apollo and proposes marriage.

I advised Carl that a roleplay might be in order, but he didn't seem too keen on that idea.

 Still, we enjoyed the beauty and splendor of the gardens.

The house, well, I could have taken or left that one. A good chunk was not able to be viewed by the public, since the family still lives there. (By "lives" I mean, they visit for the odd weekend here or there). It was odd seeing a television and the liquor bottles in these rooms, I feel strange visiting a house that is still in use, although... I did entertain a feeling similar to Elizabeth's when she and her aunt and uncle tour Pemberley, and run into Mr. Darcy. "Of all this, I might have been mistress."

No Mr. Darcy appeared in a wet, white shirt, alas.

We then returned to Bath, and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening sightseeing and shopping.

Our hotel was a one minute walk from Pultney Bridge.

I just love, love Bath, and this was a beautiful time of year to be there, and we couldn't have asked for more perfect weather.

Since this was my birthday, we opted to eat dinner at Sally Lunn's. We had had afternoon tea there on our last visit to Bath in 2000, and the Sally Lunn bunns are incredible. I had an appetizer that was basically a garlic toasted bunn, and Carl was very jealous he hadn't also We had a great meal, and they even brought me a treacle tart with a candle to blow out.


 Up next: London, baby!

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