As a writer, it appears that piles of upturned notes, papers, file folders and edited manuscripts are gathered on my desk. During my recent efforts to sort this out, I found a picture of a group of forty strangers, really standing in the middle of the back row, a thatched roofed house as a backdrop. I stare at it now, and remember the group with sweet and sour nostalgia. They were all strangers to me, but after eleven days on a bus in England, I remember them dear.
When I tell my father that I wanted to visit England, he said in his heavy accent in Yorkshire, “What does bloo-dee & dia dia want to go there?” Mr. Said is not at the best of times, he had a low opinion on his former country. What I wanted to say in the response is, “I want to know if your psychological problems are societal in nature or based on individual peculiarities,” but I kept my tongue. I was determined to visit the land of my grandparents one day.
There were many reasons for visiting England. The main reason was, apart from being an Englishman with blood if not through citizenship, the country has a significant cultural influence in the modern era. The birthplace of many stars from Shakespeare to Churchill, the country produced an endless list of prominent historical names in every field of endeavor. Just because he was one of them was no reason to spoil them all.
Like hugging an octopus, one has to choose how to treat England. You can buy any number of rail tickets at reasonable prices that allow you to proceed, and get off at any time that suits you. There is a wide range of options, from walking tours in London to guided bike tours, or renting motorbikes and staying at the bed and breakfast. The problem is knowing which one is right for you. In the end, I chose a guided tour of a coach in England, leaving Wales and Scotland, both of which are great but I will extend the tour for another ten days.
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A friend of mine recommended the coach to me. The reasons became clear after a moment. Driving English to the other side of the road, and after a long period of easy easy work on the right turns here, they suddenly become very dangerous there. You will appreciate the instructor’s driving skill once you see how narrow some roads are. To make things easier, your itinerary is planned for you. On the first day you will see Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral at the hotel in Plymouth, then leave in the morning to continue the tour via Devon and Cornwall, and so on.
Be careful, rounds of indexes change frequently, if not every year. The tour I had decided to take a year ago is no longer offered. I settled for an eleven day tour in England. The coach will leave London and go clockwise across the country and stop in strange villages and towns along the way. The pace is listed as a “busy” path, a symbol that I say was not exactly leisurely.
Sometimes, upon stopping, we will only have time to buy coffee, use the bathroom, and then return to the bus. Slowing down the pace means that you will be able to spend more time on each station, but also means that fewer locations are fit within the same time frame. So if you stop at Bletchley Park’s ‘busy’ on a tour, it would be better for you to understand the subtraction cipher in twenty seconds or you can go back on the bus without using the full stimulants on the German Enigma machine. This is the thing about designing your own tour; you can stay as long as you want if something interests you.
Think of the Coach’s Tour as an introduction to England 101. It gives you an overview and decides what you want most on your next visit. Another good thing about England is that they speak some form of English there. Well, outside of London they do. Inside London, you will be under intense pressure to find any English people other than the Queen. In fact, all over England, except for the strikes worn by medieval hawks and your tourist guide, you may find it hard to find any native Englishmen. Great PBS programs like Downton Abby, Upstairs Downstairs and the like are all passing pictures, they reflect a nostalgic view and are not present to England – England as before. This, in a way, is what the coach’s tour offers.
As you can see, England has exported its lower ranks, and people like Schofields have not yet strangled the caste system, and they need to import a new group of butlers and miners from the colonies. This is where all foreigners fit. Wait staff, the hotel concierge, and the cleanliness of the rooms you will meet from outside, and a few who have good language management. He should have been the first customs official to be an African and he spoke with a heavy French accent asking me “Are you a rabbit? Are you visiting?” I thought that Blu-ray terrorists were transferred to the Middle East while I was sleeping! I was taken to my hotel by a Russian who answered all of my questions with incomprehensible rumors. The Egyptian concierge greeted him for us as colonists, the Polish room cleaner did not understand that I wanted to get out of the room, and the Serbian meter pointed to the buffet and gave strong hand signals – “Eat!” He said, “Zix – eat!” Ah, Jolly Old England!
All hotels have breakfast in buffet style. I have heard it said that if you want to eat well in England, eat breakfast three times a day. The British killed their food with a hammer and then boiled it for a day to remove any remaining taste. When you travel around the world, note that there are no English restaurants, there are many Scottish restaurants (MacDonald’s). Eat the buffet, it’s the best in the show and included in the price.
The tour was very reasonable at $ 2,200 Canadian and we put in somewhat good hotels. Be careful, however, that one of the four-star English hotels is probably a three-star hotel in the United States or Canada. After my bus tour, I stayed two days diving in which was less than a motel but was a three star rating. Our prisons contain the most beautiful accommodations. This room with one bed with paint hanging from the ceiling and strange red spots that falls on the walls costs $ 250 a night. There are better options I’m sure of, but they were in a convenient location for my planned trips to Oxford and the Imperial War Museum the other way the next day.
The visit was great after leaving London. We stopped at Salisbury Cathedral and saw a copy of Magna Carter. The lawyer in our group said that he made the trip worthwhile. Lawyers must be toastmasters by nature; every time he spoke to me I felt like he was talking to a sleepy jury, and his slow voice heard loudly in three provinces. We took a boat tour at Plymouth Harbor and saw the steps the first settlers could have left for the New World in Mayflower.
We visited some exotic towns on the Corniche coast, especially Tintagel, home of King Arthur’s stadium, and Clovisville, a quaint little fishing village on the cliff side, where donkeys still transported materials up and down the cobbled roads. A retired South Carolina judge knocked down his knees. We visited Stratford-on-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare, Bath, an ancient Roman village, and Chester, a quaint, narrow-lined Elizabeth Town lined with Tudor houses, where our talented tour guide helped us understand the history of the street toilets, which we almost contributed to the length of his discussion. At the old hotel in Stratford, directions to the rooms were “up two stairs, turn left, one flight, mind your head, then to the right and then go up the stairs.” By this time, I had developed Bill Bryson’s English accent. “Cheers,” or “Jolly is good, then,” you reply.
After that, Liverpool was stopped, and it is a surprise that it was not the city that I thought would be the city. I lived there as a baby and heard many stories about her terrible living conditions. It was also the second most important port of its day. The Beatles fans will get Cavern Club, Penny Lane and related homes. This is overjoyed a young lady from Texas whose mother purchased the trip for her nineteenth birthday. She knew more than the tourist guide about Fab Four. Now completely modern, Liverpool is home to Titanic fame’s White Star Line offices. I bought coffee from Liverpuddlian but his English was worse than the Russians in Devon, so I gave up trying to order milk and sugar, taking what was delivered to me. Be careful, the average coffee price is £ 1, $ 3.75 Canadian. Think of it as a visit to another planet and you will not be right, and do not try to understand everything. “Meat of Shuha Ufa da, mayite. Ta.” He says that, then I gave him the money. Smiling everywhere. Until you drink coffee.
From there, we went to the Lakes region and toured a boat on Lake Windermere, ten miles long, which is the largest lake in England. Home to many authors and poets in English, it made me laugh because we have thousands of lakes, all of them bigger. They made us hit the brood poets though.
After that, it’s outside York, the jewel of the city. We had dinner in a private palace, where a famous couple all served forty kindly. This evening, two women from Singapore asked, “How long do you have to stay married to a Canadian before you can get half of the property?” One year, the answer was, as they both smiled widely.
The last stop on our tour was Cambridge and King’s College. I have found a store that sells an old military surplus, including Grenadier Guards and Bear Leather. Street vendors were selling belts over the Cam River, the famous flat-bottom boats where a pole was used to drive the vehicle. Oh, yes, lots of girls on bikes in flimsy dresses! Sorry, I could not stay for a PhD or PhD.
I am a big fan of Inspector Lewis and added a trip to Oxford after completing the coach’s tour. I wanted to see the small university town where three people are killed every week, many of them suitable academics. I also wanted to be able to tell people “I went to Oxford” and were pleased with their reactions as they drew the wrong conclusions. I sat on a bench next to Thames chatting with an older couple who knew Colin Dexter, the creator of Inspector Morse’s original.
On my last day in England, I visited the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth, an easy subway trip to the south side of the Thames. World War II has been a constant concern of me since the age of fifteen. The museum turned out to be smaller and busier than I had imagined. One day is enough to cover the exhibits, but I doubt I have spent a lifetime in the library on the top floor.
I had an uncle who died in that war as a pilot and wanted to know if he was one of the few ‘Churchill mentioned in his famous speech. The librarian said that the military archives are now in Kew, but since my flight was the next morning, this will be another trip.
If you are looking for a fun and safe trip, I highly recommend England Coach. If you are from Angelopelli – well then what are you waiting for! And no, not everyone in England is as miserable as Mr. Saeed Al-Aziz.