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E-Mailing Through Europe >> On the Road 2001


Always look on the left side of life...

Date: Thu, 12 Jul 2001 08:45:27 -0700 (PDT)

From: k p ken@kpny.com
Subject: Just left of the Magna Carta


First off: thanks for the great responses. I'm quite pleased everyone is enjoying these dispatches. Keep them coming. And if you haven't sent one, you may be
removed from the list.

A lot has happened since I last wrote. So I may have to send a few in succession to catch up just before we leave Britain on 13 Friday to La France.

When we last left off....

Eva and I spent a final day driving around suburban London looking at interesting sites in the rain with John and Diane.

We saw a buddist temple, an English Manor and downtown Wimbledon, without tennis. We closed out our fantastic days in London with a fantastic traditional English supper of spagetti and meatballs, red wine and Bread Pudding, courtesy of Chef Diane. Stuffed, we packed up and fell asleep.

[A rant about English food, after suffering with it in restaurants for almost 2 weeks: It sucks. They seem to overcook everything, and add several courses of starch for good measure. We keep saying to ourselves: We'll be in France soon...

I've been eating Traditional English Breakfasts each morning (overdone eggs, overdone 'Bacon,' which is really ham, and overdone sausage, which is really sawdust, and, well, coffee. Which is fine, but really it's just overdone tea, isn't it?). Anyway, our palattes generally and specifically disgusted, the final straw came when we saw an English 'Bakery' in Oxford selling Hot Dog Buns with Vanilla Icing on top. For £1.50! No wonder the Empire collapsed.]

[One pleasant note about English food: They always serve toast at breakfast, and when one slathers on strawberry jam, it makes the most pleasing crunch. In fact, it's the exact crunch made when the characters on Wallace and Gromit eat toast. Rant complete.]

The next day we searched round London for Waterloo station to pick up our car for 4 days of travelling around south west England. And guess what? They drive ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD. Everthing on British roads is exactly opposite the way it is everywhere else in the world. No wonder their empire collapsed.

Avis was kind enough to give us bad directions out of the city of London, so I had ample time to get used to shifting with my left hand from the right side of the car while bumping things on the left side of the car, including one pole in the Avis garage, several curbs, and a few bikers who were out enjoying Bike London day.

Actually, the reason they were not miffed is we drove a Fiat, which is slightly bigger than a Vespa and is Italian for "little piece of *@:(*&\ that drifts left for no apparent reason." [Note to Amanda: How do you say "shit" in Italian?]

Driving was actually quite hard, and at times scary. One's natural reaction when encountering a difficult situation is to head for the slow lane or even shoulder. And that should be on the right side. But in England that's the fast lane, and it's disconcerting.

Eva did an excellent job navigating and reminding me to stay left. "Watch for that curb! Curb, CUrb, CURb, CURB!" she would scream just before I hit a curb. No
Worries, Mate," I would say, mixing up cute local sayings, "didn't hit anything important." Eva's map reading skills in the UK have been brilliant, even if everything is backwards here. (She's been holding the maps up to the mirrors)

Anyway, stayed left until we got to Stonehenge. It is extraordinary. The day was gray and cold with a brisk wind, which made viewing the ancient stones somehow
even more mysterious. We felt like ancient druids about to sacrifice a sheep or a virgin. Unfortunately, they don't sell sheep or virgins at the gift shop.

One can only get within a few hundred feet now of the oldest calendar known to man, but it's still impressive and enigmatic. And amazingly, you don't have to throw it away every year and get a new one.

From there we continued onto Salisbury. It is a charming little place with a big church. The church has the oldest clock still working in England. Oh, it also has an original copy of the Magna Carta. We learnt some interesting facts about this important hiftorical document. It was written to give specific rights to the people and noblemen of England, who were generally abused by King John. John is one of those losers of history: he was the younger brother and usurper of Richard the Lionheart AND is the bad guy who was defeated by Robin Hood AND Erol Flynn and Kevin Costner, for god's sake). Anyway, surrounded by angry Englishmen, he negotiated a settlement at Runnymeade on June 15, 1215, that gave many rights to the people of England, including the right to Habeas Corpus, the right to remain silent, and the right to drive on the left side of the road.

A sample quote describing Important Human Rights from the Magna Carta:

"All fish-weirs for the future shall be removed altogether from Thames and Medway, and throughout all England, except upon the sea Shore."

From Salisbury, we continued to Bath. And that'll have to wait until next time...

COMING NEXT: Eva and Ken roman' the baths of Bath, sleep on the cots of Cotswald and stow wold at Stow-on-the-Wold. Plus, bonus Shakespeare Edition as we strut at Stratford-upon Avon.

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