England

Our adventure begins! First stop: Burmingham, England.

Even though we are from Northern Califirnia, we caught a plane from Ontario in southern CA to London, with a layover in Dallas (because it was a great deal). Both girls acted like true veteran travelers, which they are. Tim and I couldn’t have asked for an easier time with them.   

 From Heathrow we rented a car and drove to Birmingham where my youngest sister, Felicity, and her husband, James live.

The car rental place took sooo long because the guy responsible for renting the car to Tim decided he was going to try every trick in his bag to get Tim to rent a more expensive car. Tim was like, “You do realize that is six times more than what I reserved, don’t you?” Guess who didn’t budge?

Hey, it’s totally cool to waste over an hour of our time after an international flight with two toddlers, who are waiting outside in the bitter wind, tired and hungry, said no one ever.

The drive to Birmingham was a little stressful in that our directions didn’t start until we were close to Felicity’s house. And we were dead tired. We got there by making educated guesses about which roads to take. 

Tim seemed pretty relaxed about driving in the other side of the road.

We did make an amateur parenting mistake with Vanessa. She has been practically effortless with potty training, so we didn’t think to put a diaper on her for the drive. Big mistake. Pee all over the brand new car seat. Oops!

Felicity and Becky expected us to arrive hours earlier, the look of joy and relief on their faces was apparent when we finally appeared. We hugged, got a tour of Felicity and James’s cute little house, met Pepper the cat for the first time, took the girls to a park and stayed up way too late enjoying each other’s company.

   
 

  

  

  

  

    
 

On Friday Felicity and James worked and Becky was left in charge of us. We took a trip to Iron Bridge to see the oldest wrought iron bridge in the world. The weather was pretty chilly and the clothes I packed for our trip were geared toward much warmer weather. Iron Bridge was a cute little town sitting above a gorge and the river Severen. 

   
       

  

  

 Felicity and Becky’s mutual friend Carlie showed up Friday night from Cambridge. She arrived while James and Tim were exploring a huge beer store, poor, poor fellows.

Carlie is the cutest thing ever, with brilliant red hair, a huge smile and the physique of a pixie. Carlie, my sisters informed me, is the fourth Larson sister. Ok, well maybe not physically, as we tower above her, but I’m willing to adopt her in. Especially when she let Zara try on her boots. Did I get a proper photo of my new sister? No. Fail. 

We stayed up way too late playing Cards Against Humanity and drinking alcoholic things like beer, wine and champagne. James appeared to be quietly sipping on a tumbler of whiskey. My abs hurt from so much laughing.

  
Like a herd of turtles, we took forever getting ready to go to an Asparagus Festival on Saturday. Imagine a large group of people, some with hangovers, some with jet lag, and some with little kids. It was an hour drive and we took three cars (Carlie was taking her car back to the Cambridge area where she lives after the festival).

The festival was on a gorgeous farm in the countryside. The day was warm and dry. In fact, I removed my jacket during the drive and put it back on after we parked in a field. Usually I keep my cell phone in my purse but I had ditched my purse to travel lighter.

As we stood in line to get into the festival, I patted my pockets and realized my phone wasn’t on me. I thought I had put it in my jacket pocket but maybe it was in the diaper bag in the car? I’d check later, I decided.

One of the first things we saw in the festival, which was fantastic by the way, were some traditional English dancers called Morris dancers. They wore bells and white shirts.  

Some of us plopped down on the grass in front of the stage so the girls could run around with the other kids “dancing” while others in the group set out for the beer tent to supply us with libations. Again I thought about my phone.
   
 

The Asparagus Festival was great. There was live music, dancing, storytelling, kid activities, rides, ponies and food. Felicity bought a small tub of asparagus ice cream (better than it sounds but not my new favorite flavor). 

The festival lived up to its name. Besides the ice cream, there was asparagus slaw on the pulled pork sandwich James got, asparagus in my crepe, asparagus on Felicity’s pizza. Thankfully, though, there was no asparagus cider.

Felicity maintains that asparagus is a summer vegetable. I maintain that it is an early spring vegetable. This debate reflects how the weather in England seems to be two months behind Caliifornia.

When it was time to go home, I checked the diaper bag in the car for my phone. It wasn’t there. Maybe it was back at the house?

When we got back to Felicity’s, an hours drive later, I did a thorough search for my phone and turned up nothing. Nada. It was officially lost. 

Reviewing the events, I determined it had fallen out of my jacket pocket in the field were we parked. Shit.

Everyone was tired, especially Felicity, but she offered to drive me back to the festival. We made the best of it by having a chance for a real conversation with no baby interruptions. 

When we got to the field it was almost dark. A quick scan of the area where we parked did not turn up anything. Disheartened, we walked to the entrance tent. “You do the talking,” I told Felicity, as if they didn’t speak English in England.

A young man greeted us and Felicity proceeded to explain our situation. The man, a boy really, asked me to describe the phone. I told him it had a blue and white cover. Without saying anything else, he got on a walkie-talkie and asked the person on the other end if they still had that iPhone with the blue and white cover. As he said the last bit, he broke out into a smile and we gasped in surprise. Cheeky bastard! 

A woman arrived a few minutes later with my phone, which still had 75 percent charge. Hallelujah! There are some wonderfully honest folks attending asparagus festivals.  

  

  Sunday we had a magnificent lunch at a nice pub called the Red Hart, near Worcester. With full bellies we headed to a park. The girls played on slides and swings for a bit and then we took a walk.  

       
  After a bit we ended up in a beautiful English meadow. Soon we were laying around, playing with the girls, and having a glorious time just being together.    

  

            Then, almost reluctantly, we got back into the cars and went to see Becky’s house in Worcester. Becky just completed a year long course at the University of Worcester to be able to practice as a RN in the UK. It was fun to see where she lives and meet her housemates. 

As it got dark we did a little walking tour of Worcester and ended up in a pub with sleeping Vanessa. I failed to take any photographs of Becky’s place.

  
      
  

James and Felicity fed us a late night iconic English meal of beans on toast when we got back to Burmingham. It was so delicious I have vowed to recreate it at home.

We also drank a lot of tea while we were there.   

   

 Our last full day in Birmingham was Monday. We took red double decker bus into downtown Birmingham for an  Indian buffet lunch. It started to rain as we walked to the restaurant. And by rain, I mean pouring raining. Tim got the worst of it since he didn’t even have a waterproof jacket. And of course the restaurant was farther than we thought. I’m sure we looked quite the sorry sight when we walked into the place.

The food was excellent and we soon felt much better (and drier).

We walked along a canal afterward until the rain forced us into another pub. It was terrible, waiting by the fire with our beers and ciders, for the rain to let up enough for the walk back to the bus. Poor us.   

           That night James and Felicity fed us an epic cheese dinner. Various cheese selections, olives, pickled onions, jams, chutneys (including a homemade pineapple chutney Becky made-yum!), bread, crackers, fruit and homemade wine Felicity and James had made at their last house.

(All three of them, Felicity, Becky and James worked very hard at making us comfortable and welcome. It can’t have been easy having us.)

Of course we had to play Cards Against Humanity one last time.

Tuesday came all too soon and after a leisurely morning savoring our time with Becky and Felicity (James had to go back to work), we packed up the car and headed for London. We brought Becky with us. 

You may remember the last time we gave her a ride, in Ireland, packed in the middle of the backseat like a sardine with no seat belt. I am happy to report she had a nice seat in the front this time, with a seatbelt! Yay for lowered expectations!

Our last night in England was spent walking through some great spots in London. We walked from Victoria Station to Covent Garden, which brought us past the clock tower, past number ten Downing Street (I don’t remember guards armed with machine guns when I was last there in 2004), through Trafalger Square, etc. Vanessa is a big fan of Peter Pan, so showing her the clock tower was super fun. She also like the lion statues in Trafalger Square.

Dinner was at this delicious restaurant called Bills. The girls were tired but we managed to avoid meltdowns, it helped to have three adults.   

                 The next morning Becky helped us catch our flight to Croatia before taking the bus back to Worcester. We had such a lovely time with her and Felicity and James. It was hard for me to say goodbye.

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