18. Workouts and Weddings
After our morning in Gloucester we got back on the road. We had a general idea of where we were going but not enough of an idea to proceed without google maps and the car navigation. Even with these two trusty tools we had a dickens of a time finding our final hotel of the trip.
We decided to spend our last night in the countryside but close enough to London so we didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn to make our flight home. Our last trip we stayed in a hotel right across the street from Heathrow. It was plush and convenient and I vowed to stay there again on all future trips. So, you might ask- why weren’t we staying there this time? Why were we lost in the countryside in the county of Oxfordshire? Well, you see there was this little thing called the Royal Wedding taking place the day we were due to fly out of London. Said royal wedding had caused the price of the hotels in London and the surrounding areas to practically triple. Our splurge of a hotel last time was now so far out of our budget it was laughable. Plan B was put into action. We wanted to be within about a 30 minute drive from Heathrow so we zeroed in on the area known as the Chilterns, or Chiltern Hills as it’s officially known.
On our way to our final hotel we went through the outskirts of the city of Oxford and wound our way back through the Costwolds. It felt like we were bringing the trip full circle. We found ourselves so close to places we had already been early in our trip. I love that each time I go to England I start to feel more familiar with things and places. It’s exciting to go places you’ve never been before but I also love to know my way around.
Speaking of knowing my way around- as I’ve mentioned ad nauseam in my blog, I have no sense of direction. I also have awful short term memory so the two things together kind of make a scary combination. I think someday I’m going to end up all the way in Arizona when I just went to go for an afternoon stroll. This little combo caused a mini breakdown outside of a Tesco near Oxford. I can blame this on my hunger- or at least that’s what I tell myself. I was hungry and my husband was not, a common thing in our house- I have a Hobbit’s appetite. Daniel chose to stay in the car while I went in and got a sandwich. Who knew that would be such a mistake? I got my sandwich, paid and left the building. The problem was, I didn’t recognize a damn thing when I walked out of the building. I was so turned around. I couldn’t see our rental car anywhere and in fact the entire parking lot didn’t look right to me. It was at this moment that I had a total panic attack. When I have a panic attack I look completely normal and composed on the outside but inside my head I was screaming, “I’m going to die here alone!” I took a few deep breathes and realized that I had walked out a different set of doors than I had walked into. I didn’t notice the second entrance/exit when I walked into the store. I composed myself and turned the corner of the building, saw our rental car off in the distance and promptly pretended like I hadn’t just been trying to figure out how to entice my in-laws to drive 3 hours to come get me, cuz I was lost damnit and my husband had disappeared. To this day I’m pretty sure Daniel has no idea that I’d had that mini breakdown.
Now let me tell you, no matter how much you like your spouse there is going to come a time on a two week trip that you’re going to be snippy with each other. In my experience this snappiness is brought on by one (or more) of these things: being tired, being hungry, or being anxious. When I am any one of those things I will bite your head off without meaning to, sorry in advance. Daniel and I don’t argue really, we’re both pretty chill and have a lot of patience for each other. When that patience runs out there’s a lot of arms crossing, eye rolling and huffing like a snotty teenager (and that’s just me!). Basically we just get bratty with each other, so when we got lost trying to find our hotel in the Chilterns those snotty teenagers made an appearance. Our hotel was in the countryside and apparently it didn’t exist on our GPS or on google maps! One address gave it’s location as Watlington, one google search gave it’s location as Lewknor and another as Aston Rowant. We finally found it by just following the signs to Watlington and then finding London Road on the GPS. Before we found it we had a tense moment on a roundabout in the middle of nowhere. Daniel was asking which turn on the roundabout he needed to make and of course at the moment I needed to consult google maps is the very moment that the phone slipped through my hands and got wedged where I couldn’t reach it between the seat and center console. Wanna watch me outwardly panic? Make me think I’ve lost my phone. Like most people my phone is indispensable- I use it for both personal and for business so I can’t lose it. I have 2 people’s phone numbers memorized and one of them was with me and the other was thousands of miles away which was no help. Let’s just say that my voice went up a few octaves and we were winging it for awhile while we both struggled to get the phone out of the crevice.
We finally pulled up to the Mercure Thame Lambert Hotel, an 18th century coaching inn perfectly situated off of the main road. Our room was located off of the main building overlooking a central courtyard. We were also close to the gym which I was really excited about. The first thing I did was pull out my workout clothes and take myself down the hallway to the gym.
View from our room
This little gym setup was great! Two treadmills, a rowing machine, exercise bike, weights, I think there was even an elliptical but honestly I only had eyes for the treadmill. I’m a big fan of a good treadmill. Ever since my parents purchased one in the late 90’s I’ve enjoyed them. Personally, I work myself harder on a treadmill then I do walking or jogging outside. I just listen to music, watch my iPad or in the case of the one we own do a trainer led iFit video. Boom, Bob’s your uncle and you’re done!
I jumped on that treadmill and started Justin Timberlake pandora. I have to say this is the only gym I’ve been to where the view outside was a lovely field full of wild bunny rabbits hopping to and fro like little bunny foo foo- except these bunnies didn’t appear to be bopping any field mice on the head. It was charming. I kept having to pinch myself that this was really happening. That I was jogging on a treadmill in the English countryside listening to Beyonce whilst watching bunnies hop around.
Speaking of listening to Beyonce, a funny thing happened when I was on about the 3rd mile on the treadmill. I was in the zone and had the entire gym to myself. While the strains of Naughty Girl were in my ears and my feet were pounding the treadmill the door to the gym suddenly opened and a guy walked in. Scared me half to death. I nearly fell off the treadmill from shock. He pretended not to notice and walked around inspecting the equipment. A sobering thought entered my brain as I realized I was there all alone with a stranger between me and the only exit. Suddenly I got really uncomfortable in that gym. When the man finally left I finished up my miles tout de suite and hightailed it out of there. You know how when you creep yourself out there’s just no way around that? Well, I practically ran back to our room like someone was chasing me!
I had another interesting experience while at this hotel. Not long after I got back to our room I realized that I’d left something in the car. I took the room key and walked out to the parking area. First of all I did a stupid thing- I tried to use our key to unlock a car that was not our own. In my defense the car I was trying to unlock was identical to our rental car- it took me an embarrassing amount of time to figure out why the key wasn’t working. As I left the parking lot and walked back to our room I had to walk through an outdoor corridor and then use my room key to get into the building where our room was located. Two male guests were talking in that corridor right next to the door I needed to go in. One of them stopped the conversation and just stared at me. His eyes drilled holes in me, he unabashedly looked right into my eyes and didn’t blink. There I was in my tight workout clothes, feeling very self conscious all of a sudden. Without taking his eyes off of me he slightly pivoted out of my way and opened the door for me. I had to practically touch him as I walked past. I picked up my pace and when I turned the corner I took off running again towards our room. I didn’t want him to see what room I was staying in. I don’t even remember if I said anything to my husband or if I just dove straight into the chocolate. I took a shower to not only rinse off the sweat of the workout but the ick of his stare. Fortunately for me I never saw him again. I filed that incident away with other things I’d rather not experience again. Word to the wise people, don’t do this to another human being- it’s gross and creepy and in no way appropriate, regardless of what culture you come from.
Later that afternoon Daniel and I decided to head out to explore the area and also go in search of some food. I thought I might try my hand at driving. I intended to take over the duties on our way back from the store. I’ve never done more than drive around a parking lot while in England and once I drove around a neighborhood in Ireland. I’m incredibly intimidated even though I’ve been a driver for well over 20 year. The trip to the store was a little like wacky races. We dodged people on horseback, bicycles and cars playing chicken with us on the narrow roads. I lost my resolve in that moment so when Daniel handed me the keys I promptly handed them back. I suppose someday I’ll drive in England- if our dream of retiring there comes to fruition then I’ll certainly have to get over my fear- but this was not to be the trip.
Our time in England was coming to a close, but alas we had one more big event before we left Old Blighty’s shores. The marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle took place in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle the morning of our departure. As we drove the short distance from our hotel to Heathrow airport the evidence of that day’s event was everywhere. People were talking about it, it was covered on the radio and because we had to drive past the exits for Windsor on our way to Heathrow, it was announced on variable message signs (VMS) flickering along the way warning of traffic. I tried to get a photo of those giant electronic signs but the LED lights on them wouldn’t photograph. It was blurry at best and when I took a video it was both jumpy and illegible. So, alas I have no photographic proof that we were being warned of extra traffic due to the wedding of Harry and Meghan.
Arriving at Heathrow I was eager to turn in the rental car and get ourselves through security so we could find a television to watch the wedding. Again, signs of the wedding were everywhere. I found it really touching to see the electronic boards above the British Airways check-in congratulating the couple. We hadn’t planned it this way. Our tickets were purchased many months before their wedding date was announced so it was just coincidence that we were in England during this occasion and that our flight left after it was televised so I didn’t miss a moment.
Before we had a chance to settle in and find a spot to watch the festivities we had to first get through check-in. My husband is not a US citizen, he holds a permanent resident card- this adds a whole new element to traveling. Not only does he have to have his California driver’s license and his UK passport but also his green card (permanent resident card). If he doesn’t have his passport or green card he cannot travel. I’m super paranoid about losing either one of those things while we travel, so when the woman asked for his green card and he did that pocket patting thing, a little part of me died inside. Panic set in and he started pulling things out of his pockets, none of them his green card. The woman behind the counter was being very kind and telling us to stay calm, but in the same breath reminding us that he could not travel to the US if he couldn’t find his card. That was one of the tensest 5 minutes in recent memory. He finally found it but before he did my mind went to all the crazy places it can go. It was instantly decided that the next trip I’ll be in charge of all of the important things like tickets, green cards, passports and my sanity.
We got through security with a few minor hiccups- as always there’s that one dude who takes his job to the max and pulls me aside because my hand lotion isn’t in a plastic bag, (true story). Grabbing a late breakfast from Pret a Manger we found some seats near a large screen that was going to televise the wedding. Being an Anglophile as well as a fan of the Royal Family this was a big occasion and I was excited!
I watched with others while Harry stood with William at the altar waiting for Meghan to arrive. I waited impatiently with others to see Meghan’s dress finally revealed asI took copious amounts of screenshots from my phone. After so much speculation it was finally known as she stepped from the car and up the stairs of St. George’s Chapel that she chose to wear a bespoke gown by Clare Waight Keller for Givenchy. I will admit I was underwhelmed by her choice of dress. I can appreciate it’s simplicity but I had (and still have) a problem with the fit. It looked too big and bunched awkwardly at her elbows and waist. I read afterwards that she had lost weight in the week leading up to the wedding which caused the dress to be loose. I suppose that’s as good a reason as any for the fit issue. I will say I absolutely adored the bateau neckline she chose. It was both flattering and classic, a total thumbs up for me. (On another dress note, her Stella McCartney reception dress was stunning, just gorgeous!)
I was enraptured by the ceremony, the lone voice singing Handel’s Eternal Source of Light Divine as Meghan walked down the aisle, the choir singing Stand By Me. I shared a nervous giggle with the lady next to me when Bishop Curry went well over his allotted 6 minutes and talked about fire being responsible for us being able to text. I quietly clapped at their first kiss on the west steps of the chapel and smiled as I watched the new Duke and Duchess of Sussex in their carriage procession. It was a lovely fairytale to watch.
I couldn’t stay in the wedded bliss for long, I was fortunate to be able to watch the entire ceremony and carriage procession but alas, it was time to head to our gate. Terminal 5 (T5), the largest free standing building in the UK, is split into 3 buildings 5A, 5B, and 5C. There is a mini subway system in Terminal 5 called an automated people mover (APM) which connect passengers to and from the 3 buildings in T5. Our gate was located in 5C, so on the people mover we went!
Saying goodbye to the UK is always hard for me- it’s in my heart and each time I go it’s never enough time. I always want more. We promise ourselves that we’ll go every two years and we’ve stuck to that in 2014, 2016, and 2018. We’re holding out hope that we can make it happen in 2020. So with fingers and toes crossed for our next great British adventure we boarded that plane dreaming of our future plans and said a bittersweet good bye to my husband’s homeland and my home away from home.