Christmas, for me, has always been in summer. Which, in it’s own way, is nice enough, but I’ve always wanted to have a Proper Cold Traditional English Christmas. Unfortunately, there was no snow, but everything else was pretty much perfect.
I left at six thirty in the morning and walked to the train station in the dark. It was raining lightly, and as the train came into Zurich I saw Christmas lights gleam dimly through the mist. I felt very much in the Christmas spirit. Got to the airport, booked in my bag, and went straight to the gate.
The plan was tiny, two seats either side of the aisle. It felt even smaller when we hit a batch of turbulence, and I’ve never been more grateful that I’m relatively tolerant of bumpy rides. People clapped when we landed- I’ve never seen that happen before. As we were waiting to leave the plane, a sinking feeling hit me. I’d had rather bad cramps all though the flight, and when I stood up, well, let’s just say I wished I’d worn red jeans. You know, camouflage. Yep.
Of course, the queues were rather long, I was right at the back, and forgot that I had to fill out a landing card until I was nearly at the desk. Finally managed to find a bathroom and, ahem, ‘bandage the wound’. And take painkillers and weep over pair of jeans. But yes, that was the most memorable part of Day 1.
Gr8 Aunty Hazel met me at the airport, and then we traveled via train back to their London house, where we lunched, and left left with Gr8 Uncle Dave and Quiddy to drive down to Devon. I actually fell asleep- it was very grey and rainy outside, but I woke up in time to see the sun come out over Stonehenge. It was actually the winter solstice that day, and we saw groups of people wandering around and among the stones.
We arrived at their house in Teignmouth in the dark and rain, and after the Strictly Come Dancing finale, I fell asleep.
The next few days were a haze of family, rain, Good British Tv, and endless cups of tea. Becky [Haze and Dave’s daughter] arrived, as did Joe and Penny [H and D’s son and his girlfriend]. I visited Great Granny Joan to chat and drink tea, and then on Christmas Eve we went with Mike and Wendy [another great aunt and uncle pair] to Midnight Mass. I have to say, if I’m still trotting around in the rain at 1 in the morning when I’m 93, I’ll be very pleased.
Christmas was lovely. We had a great big pile of presents [I had a stocking from both the English Santa and the Kiwi one], a big proper Christmas dinner [parsnip and nut loaf for me…very good!], The Queen’s Speech at 3, and the Doctor Who Christmas Special. Still not sure if that was the highlight of the day, or if the BBC has some continuity errors to answer for. Hmm. But yay for Peter Capaldi!
A couple of days later I got on the train up to Yorkshire- no, wait, I missed my train to Yorkshire. So, that mistake will haunt my memory for a while But thankfully because of the weather being awful enough to mess up the train services, I was able to get away with using the same ticket late that day.
I arrived in Yorkshire at ten, and Gr8 Aunty Jo sent a taxi to meet me. Half an hour later I got to her tiny, chocolate box cottage, but in the dark, so I only knew it was chocolate box like in the morning. She greeted me with a quick hug and warm cauliflower soup, and hurried off to bed. I did, after all, arrive much later than expected.
The next day we did a tour of both local second hand shops and the surrounding countryside, all the while talking about literally everything. It’s amazing to meet a family member that you’ve never met [well, technically we had met, but I was a baby], and immediately click. Thirsk, the village we went to, was gorgeous- classic tiny beautiful Yorkshire village. And the sun was out! I’m so glad we had beautiful [albeit cold] weather.
The second day we drove out to Whitby, by the seaside. We climbed up 299 steps to the ruined Whitby Abbey, up on the cliff. It had an assortment of ancient graves scattered on it’s doorstep, drowned sailors and visitors from ‘foreign lands’. The site has been a religious one since 657 AD, but the monastery there was ‘de-established’ by Henry the 8th when he went round ‘de-establishing’ religious places during his reign. This was partly because of the new Church of England, but he also took a lot of the riches from the monastery’s, so that may have had something to do with it. The abbey itself has been in ruins for a good few hundred years, and was badly damaged during World War 1. The area is also believed to have inspired Bram Stoker in his creation of Dracula- the windswept clifftops, the beautiful but ruined abbey, all those graves…and sure enough, we saw at least two shops selling polyester cloaks and plastic teeth, so definitely a very gothic atmosphere.
After fish and chips we wandered back the car, and drove home in the setting sun [yes, another beautiful, freezing day]. We got home just as night fell.
The next day Gr8 Aunty Jo drove me to the train station, where I took the train to Cheltenham, near Oxford, where my mum’s cousin Vicky lives. Her and Ella met me at the train station, and we drove back to yet another gorgeous little village, Northleach.
The next I took the bus by myself into Oxford, about an hour away. I planned to go on a free [with tipping at the end] walking tour at two, so I had a couple of hours wandering round. I bought a backpack [floral] and a diary [embossed]. It wasn’t really raining, just grey and overcast and glorious. Yes, I really do love that kind of weather.
The walking tour was great- http://www.footprints-tours.com/oxford-walking-tours/2-hour-free-oxford-walking-tour/
There only about five of us, so it was very laid back and casual and funny. We went round to the library, a few different colleges, St Mary’s Chapel, and just around the general center of the city. I learnt a bit about the history of Oxford, and oh my god I would love to go there one day. A very interesting history and culture.
After that I got sucked into a bookshop for around two hours [why does that keep happening to me???] and caught the bus back when it was dark. That day was New Year’s Eve- Vicky and her husband Andy were going to a party at a local pub, so me and 15 year old Josh were babysitting Ella. I was exhausted, to be honest, so I watched Storage Hunters [possibly the best show on television and i’m not even sure how sarcastic I’m being when I say that] until the fireworks came on. And then I went to bed.
The next day was rainy and lazy and that was nice- it’s good to have a down day in the middle of a busy holiday. And then on the 2nd I took the bus to London, and then the Tube to Wimbledon. Ruth, a friend who we met via couch surfing and Aunty Hazel, lives there, and she was my final stop on this holiday.
That evening we went into London, and took a bus around the streets of London to look at the Christmas lights [stunning] and to avoid the rain. Then we went to have dinner at a super cool old underground crypt-turned-soup-kitchen-turned-very nice restaurant. We had to rush a bit because at eight we had tickets booked for Spamalot, which is a Monty Python parody of sorts. It was quite funny- at some bits I thought it didn’t quite have the same level of humor as the original sketches/scenes, but all round very good.
The next I spent in London by myself, a.k.a. Actual Heaven. I started by visiting The National Gallery, which was amazing, of course. I wandered around for a while, kind of lost track of time, and when I came out I realized it was nearly lunchtime. Oops.
Then I walked down The Mall towards Buckingham Palace and looked at Clarence House, which was surrounded by tour groups. It’s a very nice place to wander round, right next to Green Park. But then it started raining, and so I took the Tube to the Tate Modern. There were a couple of big exhibitions on so there wasn’t a lot else to see, but I liked a lot of the art. And then I walked across the Millennium Bridge [destroyed in the film Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince]. It was raining quite heavily by then so I got a coffee, and took the bus to Charing Cross, where I did a bit of shopping for shampoo and things because Switzerland is expensive and I had a bit of cash.
I also looked at St Paul’s, which was beautiful and had a long queue to get in.
Then I took the Tube back to Wimbledon. Me and Ruth had cheese and onion tart for dinner, and then went and saw The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Which was AMAZING. Like, REALLY GOOD. WOW.
The next morning Ruth came with me to the airport. I got home at around eight o clock. After such an amazing holiday I was tired, but glad to be home. Time has simply flown since I first came in June. Only six months left here! Thank you to everyone that I stayed with for having me, I had such a lovely time with each and every one of you 🙂 All the best for 2014, everyone…