Jun 9, 2015

The Big England Post (Days 1-5)

We've been back from the UK for about a week and a half now. Maybe time to post some pics? Sure.

Day Zero

With newly acquired passport in hand (yes...never had one before), a friend of ours was kind enough to drive us to JFK at 7PM on a Wednesday night so that we could catch our 10:50PM flight to London, Gatwick. I had hurt my back a couple of days prior doing yard work, so the thought of an overnight flight to England wasn't exactly thrilling to me. But I soldiered on. That's going to be a theme to for the rest of the trip. Not giving my back the proper time to rest, but soldiering on.

Having a cocktail at the lounge at JFK prior to leaving for England
Day One - London

We landed at Gatwick around 9AM local time. By the time we went through customs, gathered our luggage and took the Gatwick Express over to Victoria Station and our hotel, it was probably a little after Noon. But our room was ready and I was ready for a shower and a long nap since neither of us slept a wink on our overnight flight. Exciting, right? First day in a foreign land and all we could think about was a nap. But I made sure we woke up after a few hours and hit the town. We only had one night in London, and we were still tired. So we decided to just hit a few local pubs and have some food.

First pint of bitter at The Jugged Hare.
A five minute walk from our hotel found us at a joint called The Jugged Hare. We grabbed a couple of quick pints and headed out to the courtyard as it was a beautiful evening. See that wee man over Gia's shoulder? His name was Leigh and we wound up getting pissed with him and his buddy. Great guys and our first found English friends. We had to pry ourselves away from them because we were REALLY hungry and they wanted to keep drinking...hard. Normally, I'd be in, but food and a bed were calling to me.


More pints!
This would be a recurring theme. On our way to find food, we found another glorious pub called The Queen's Arms. Nice place and really nice people. But it was starting to get late, we had to get up early to catch our train to Northampton and we STILL hadn't eaten. It was after 11PM at this point so there wasn't much open in the way of non-fast food, but somehow we did find a nice restaurant (the name escapes me) that was still serving. A wonderful meal of roasted chicken and chips was more than sufficient for these two weary travelers. And I was able to figure out how to get back to the hotel all by my tipsy self.

Day Two-Day Four - Northampton

I woke up early to do a bit of a currency exchange. Took me a while to figure out the exchange rates (ripoff) and the best place to make an exchange. Our hotel clerk told us to go to a bookie, but nope...I've seen that movie too many times. By the time I got back to the hotel, we were ready to hit a cab over to Euston Station to catch our train to Northampton to meet up with our friends. Oh yeah...our friends. That was the reason for our trip in the first place. They had asked Gia to be the godmother of their daughter. Pretty cool.

It was still early and we hadn't had breakfast, and we weren't going to because our train was on the platform. It was a fairly quick ride up to Northampton. An hour...an hour and a half maybe? I do know this...the rail ads in the UK are much harsher than those here in the States.

Yes you are.
Northampton is an old city with lots of interesting history, but you can read about all that crap on your own. The economy of the area doesn't seem great, but several depressed areas seem to be in the midst of an urban renewal period. Our friend Adam met us at the rail station and it was a quick walk to our hotel. Not a real glamorous joint, but it was clean, relatively inexpensive and very central to walking everywhere we needed to go while in town. Gemma and their daughter Daisy met us at the hotel and the five us light out into town for a quick bite to eat. You know what, lemme just hit you with a bunch of pictures that highlight our time in Northampton.

All Saint's Church...it's a church AND a bistro!

Fried gherkins at The Mail Coach

Just a random street shot of estate agents

Gia, representing the Yankees and enjoying an Earl Grey tea

English Breakfast (first version) at some joint.

The gang, post-baptism.

Delicious cuppa

See? It's a bistro too!

The altar at The All Saint's Church

Beautiful domed ceiling at The All Saint's Church


The baptism was in this old church in the center of town. Most of the town burned down in a The Great Fire of Northampton in 1675, so it all had to be rebuilt shortly after that. Still very old by our standards, but it would have been pretty cool to see what it looked like before the fire. We spent three days visiting with our friends, hanging around the local pubs, having cappucino, English Breakfast and generally taking it easy. I even made dinner for the five of us one night and we just had a wonderful time visiting with our friends/new family.

Day Five - Brighton, uh...Northampton again

We had arranged to pick up a rental car on Monday morning and then take the whole gang down to Brighton for a day and night. We had a hotel booked right on the water in Brighton with two rooms and it was going to be an adventure.

It wasn't meant to be. We got to the car rental agency and found that it was closed due to a national holiday that we didn't know about. How could we? We had a reservation to pick up the car! Our friends told us about the holiday, but since we had made a reservation for that day we assumed, falsely, that it would be open. It wasn't. Nor were any other car rental agencies. After trying to figure out the rail situation to get four adults and an infant from Northampton to Brighton for a day...well, we decided to bail and stay in Northampton for another night. It just would have been too complicated to do it any other way. So we lost out on our room fee in Brighton, but we probably broke even considering the car rental and how inexpensive it was to stay in Northampton.

We were bummed, but we decided to turn lemons into lemonade. Gemma told us she would cook dinner for us so the family went out to do some shopping while Gia and I went back to our favorite pub in town called The Wig and Pen.

Representing our local pub, Nicky's, overseas

Me. Everywhere we went.

Emmental and ham sandwich, cheesy chips in background

Bacon, brie and cranberries. The bacon was cooked better than it appears in the shows in the photo

Let me give you my quick Top Three Pubs in Northampton:

1. The Wig and Pen.
2. The Mail Coach
3. The Lamplighter

The Wig and Pen was so much fun and we went back there several times. Great old appearance, even though we aren't sure how old it actually is. But fun at night and quiet during the day. Perfect pub. The Mail Coach was much newer, both in perception and decor. We went there every day as well. And they had a nice garden out back, actually most pubs seemed to have one of those. But it was good for Adam, Gemma and Daisy to meet us there as Daisy could run around a bit. The food there was fantastic too. And one of the bartenders was American! Weird. The Lamplighter was a little solo quest of mine. I had heard great things so I decided to explore one evening when I had an hour to myself. The walk over was bit dodgy through a depressed neighborhood, but the pub was filled with both the well-to-do and what we would call hipsters over here. And they were having a cask ale festival to boot! Nice joint.

As I said, that evening Gemma made us a delicious home cooked meal and we drank whiskey and ales and watched Arthur, because that's Gia's favorite thing to do. Introduce one of her favorite films with a new crowd. We had a blast!

All in all, a wonderful time. But the more hectic portion of our travels would begin the next morning as we would rent a car and head to the English countryside to stay at one of those classic country inns in the Cotswalds and then back to London for several days.

Details to follow soon...

PS - I tried not to post many photos of Gia or myself or our friends/family. I took a bunch, but I've just never been that comfortable with sharing others photos here on this blog. So just a few to let you know we actually were there. Hehehe...