In reflection: England with the teen

A few reflections on traveling with the teenager…

We are both really glad we did this trip with Symone. She learned a lot – not just about the places and the people we visited, but little things that make life more functional like how to navigate putting your passport somewhere you can reach it quickly, or paying attention to addresses and train numbers so you know what’s happening and can get around.

We both feared that she would put up resistance around food, but she shocked us with her adventurous choices. Wood duck pate, pigeon, cuttle fish in wasabi ink sauce, lamb curry, and beetroot cole slaw were things she ordered that she’d never had eaten if I served it to her at home. She ate without complaint and enjoyed most all of it.

She loved all the things we did and she noticed and delighted in all the little differences. She loved the quaint touches of the Cotswolds, and actually enjoyed the more traditional museum-like stops we made. I never once heard, “I’m bored” and I never found her on her phone outside flopping at the end of the day in bed. She loved eating in the pubs and quietly eyeballed all the dynamics at the bar.

We noted a persistent symptom of teenage hood – not really understanding where your body was, where other people’s bodies were and where to position your body to take advantage of what was next. She’d often be facing backwards, standing in the middle of the road, knocking over old-ladies with her backpack, and not reading the social cues of others to understand when to start moving. This teenage feature was less annoying than dangerous. More than once we had to shove her out of harms way as cars came speeding along narrow roads.

Another notable transitory teen affliction was not knowing how to alleviate one own discomfort. She’d be hungry, tired, frustrated, wet, entangled, or stuck between one awkward place or the other, and not know what to do to help herself – she’d get snappy or sullen when we tried to assist.She felt shame at being stuck in a physical or emotional spot that she couldn’t navigate out of, and didn’t like that we had to intervene. We explained more than once that we weren’t down on her, and that any correction we made was about giving her more tools to be awesome.

While it didn’t surprise me, I was delighted how deeply she dove into the art. Even the lace work and the tapestries caught her attention. She noted the ages of the ‘ladies’ of court not being much older than herself and was horrified at how they spent their days. The Tate modern really exposed her to a lot and she seemed to process it all pretty well. There was a video of a performance artist walking down a market street carry a bowl of blood and periodically dipping her feet in so that she’d leave bloody footprints where her she walked. Symone asked a lot of questions about that piece, and really picked at the notion of breaking social convention to make art.

A number of artists represented in the museum had works that explored gender in various ways. These artists were breaking ground in the 50’s and at the time their work was completely off-the-charts controversial. Symone didn’t even blink. A sign that maybe we’ve moved the social needle a bit?

She really came alive in London – and seemed to feed off the city’s energy. Kaety and I get drained of our super powers in the city so the contrast in our collective energies was a bit wonky. We let her agenda drive things while in London and she got a taste of what the city offered.

We saw very little of the sullen teen and much more of the young woman – we were both relieved that she was able to take advantage of the trip and really stepped up. Valuable, good time!

Cost breakdown of 7 days in England for three

_DSC6007A lot of people think travel is expensive and unattainable, so we like to show all the costs around the travel we do and how we get good deals, and which things just cost what they cost. 

We purchased plane tickets Seattle to London on Norwegian Air for $381 round trip per person.  Total for three people = $1143. We used our Alaskan points to fly from Portland to Seattle for free. We bought the tickets in December so we had plenty of time to pay down the balance on the credit card well before the trip. How do we get good deals like this? Lots and lots of work!

The first step towards getting a good deal on plane tickets is to block out time. Once we have the week or ten days set aside on our calendars, we start searching for the destination and waiting for a good deal to come along. We subscribe to Flight Deal on Facebook, and we subscribe to NextVacay – which alert us to super low priced travel deals. Our list of places we want to go is pretty long, so we open ourselves up to priced based destination uncertainty. When we saw ta FlightDeal alert for Seattle to London we jumped on it!

Another way we get good prices on airline tickets is to search GoogleFlights. It’s a map based program that visually represents all destination airports that are served by carriers from your ‘home’ airport. We often lay in bed with our laptops and run searches from Seattle, Portland and Los Angles for different dates. Sometimes the difference of a day of the week, or the time of day will make a huge difference in price. 

We’ve also gotten familiar with airport and countries that subsidize their own domestic airlines. Iceland Air is subsidized by Iceland – they want to make it easy for you to get to Iceland so that you will spend your available cash in their country. Helsinki is another airport that is subsidized to encourage tourism. 

So back to the England trip costs. Our flights for the three of us totaledl $1143. 

Enterprise rental car for 5 days – $281 (the tax was more expensive than the rental fee). Getting the smallest car possible was for once the wisest choice due to the narrowness of the roads. This was also one of the only times I’ve purchased the supplementary insurance which was another $60. I figured that would cover me ripping the side view mirrors off in a narrow hedgerow.

We reserved four nights in a two-bedroom Cotswolds cottage through AirBnB which cost $700 total. We got a nice one with moderns upgrades and a washer and dryer as well as a kitchen. There were many cottages available for much cheaper – but we were targeting a certain vibe…and found it. Two bedroom places were difficult to find throughout England and were much more expensive than a single bedroom unit. Charming lodging in The Cotswolds through a pub or AirBnB were priced as low at $70 per night. 

Once we ditched the rental car we needed to ride the train from Bath to London, which for three people was $68 total. Booking three weeks in advance saved us hundreds of dollars (Thanks Dan!). 

International cell plan – $10 per day, per phone. 

Throughout the whole trip our entries to museums, car parks and national heritage sites cost us a total of $300ish.

Our biggest expense aside from airfare were two nights in a crappy two-bedroom London apartment in the Soho district, $800 (taxes hit hard on this one). The closer we got to London the more expensive things became. There were cheaper places to stay in London but the transit times into the heart of the city would have eaten a lot of the day so the decision came down to money or time. 

Taxi charges and airport transfer in London – $200ish. There were lots of app based taxi options. They ranged in price and all were normal ‘city expensive’. We walked to many of the city locations we wanted to see. The airport was an hour out of the city’s core. 

Food for three people averaged $100 per day. Some days were cheaper, others were more. A meal for all three of us at a village pub with a few beers was 45-55 pounds. Light breakfast for everyone -24 pounds. In London a decent meal and several glasses of wine was 80-120 pounds. 

A few days before we were too depart we took a swing at auction upgrades to premium seating (1st class) and won at our bid of $200 each. While somewhat opulent seeming this choice helped phenomenally with minimizing exhaustion on the return home. Being able to lay mostly flatish and sleep was huge!

Our total for a 7 day trip to England for three people  – $4500-5000.

Oddly If it had only been the two of us the trip would have cost us half of what we spent because the lodging options that included the second bedroom tripled the price over a traditional one bedroom lodging.

So…the auction that allowed us to upgrade to first class….

Almost all the airlines offer some sort of mechanism for ‘gambling’ into an upgrade. Alaska Airlines is pretty straightforward. They usually send you an email, or give you a link through their app to simply ‘upgrade’ The price is based on the number of seats they still have open and what they perceive the commodity to be worth. We’ve seen upgrades as low as $49 and as high as $1000. It all depends on the timing and how empty first class is when the flight time is nearing. Asking at the ticket counter when you arrive at your gate is worthwhile. 

Delta, Norwegian, Iceland, and American have gone to auction systems. You bid on the upgrade a day or so before your flight and they let you know a day before you leave. The values of these upgrades and strategies for success are detailed nicely in this article.

For us, it’s only worth the upgrade on a flight greater than 6 hours. The value of being able to lay somewhat flat is pretty high on an overnight, or 8 hour timezone change flight. 

Exhaustion in London

…and come to find out the antithesis of a cure for exhaustion is a visit to the Boroughs market. 

The throngs of squished together, shambling market goers redefined the word ‘throngs’ for me. 

Kaety was getting cranky and decided she’d medicate herself into a better state with a Prosseco peach spritzer. It worked. 

We took one pass through, dodged into a cheese shop to admire the many, many, beautifully white powered and waxed rounds, and then up to a chocolate restaurant to recharge and enjoy artistic and delicious food. As we entered the restaurant the hosted informed us that the table had a two hour limit. I had to reiterate just to make sure I understood, “You mean we can’t sit here longer than two hours?”. Funny. 

Symone wanted to see a few more British icons, so after a lunch of beef, rum, butternut squash, and chocolate we headed to Buckingham Palace to watch the guards move around in very stiff and specific ways with two thousand of our closest friends. 

We got our second wind and were in much better spirits as we strolled through James park and enjoyed the flowers and an odd encounter with a tree full of parrots. 

We were chatting about how the place looked a lot like Washington DC. Kaety made the statement, “…except their aren’t as many statues of giant white guys here…” just as we broke out onto a boulevard filled with giant white guy statues. 

The Tate Museum of Modern Art

After we finished visiting the galleries of the first and second floors of the Tate Modern art museum, Symone paused and asked, “Now what exactly is ‘modern’? Because I really like it!”

I had a suspicion that Symone would like the Tate but hadn’t set my hopes too high. 

I mustered up an explanation that I knew she would connect to and be mostly accurate, “The modern movement was a rejection of painting pleasing fruit and fat ladies. Artist wanted to press the bounds of what aren’t meant and often tried to use their art to evoke feelings and thoughts that challenged the viewer to alter the way they perceived the world. Sometimes the art could be very confrontational”

She spent a lot of time looking and talking about the pieces she saw. She grokked it. She was super curious why certain pieces ‘worked’. We talked about how words were employed in odd ways to evoke feelings, we talked about size, repetition and pattern being used to create awe, and we talked about performance artists being confrontational and breaking social rules.

She was really struck with one piece that was a tower of audio devices that started with a base of old radios and ended a the top with bluetooth speakers. As she walked away she said, “ kind of freaks me out when I look at it, but I like it.”

The museum itself was a huge austere place perfect to house such a collection. 

Come to find out, Kaety does not love the modern art. By the time we left the Tate, we were hitting the exhaustion wall….

Shakespeare’s Globe theater

Weeks ago I had booked a 9:30 am tour of Shakespeare’s Globe theater on-line well before I knew how exhausted we’d be on the last day of our trip. 

We cajoled and harassed Symone out of bed and out the door into the deserted streets of the soho district. Finding breakfast at 7:30 am was challenging. The all-night pub crawlers who were still up with the dawn had already staked out the best places well before we arrived. Fortunately you only have to throw a rock and you will eventually hit a cafe that isn’t has hip and cool as the one you just tried to get into.

Accompanied by a bitingly cold wind, we arrived just in the nick of time at the Globe where our gregarious actor/tour guide was laying the scene of London in the 1500’s. Seeing the Globe was fabulous, and our guide was funny, informative, and deeply invested. 

Symone was jazzed and excited to share the experience with her theater buddies in Newport. 

After the tour, I approached the actor who had been our guide and asked him if the tour gig was mandatory, or extra credit for him. He shared that they joined the Globe company for life, and as their careers offered them other opportunities they keep up their responsibilities to the company by acting as guides, ticket takers, and promoters. He had stepped away from the Globe for a number of months to take an MSNBC gig in a 70’s detective period series – so he was on tour duty.

Vintage stores and civil unrest

Symone had one last desire to fulfill before we left in the morning – she wanted to do some vintage clothes shopping. Kaety crashed facedown on the bed once we arrived back from our outing, so I took Symone out on my own. 

The vintage store was fabulous…and filled with interesting characters making their wardrobe melange from the 60’s 70’s, and 80’s totally work for them.

Our walk back through the city was filled with fun sites and interesting characters – and as we neared our apartment I heard a loud rally of some sort. I diverted us a block to check it out. 

It was the conclusion of an Algerian march we’d seen earlier in the day. Symone didn’t want to go, but I insisted that she couldn’t visit London without experiencing some civil unrest. 

We watched the rally for a moment and then made a hasty exit as punches start getting thrown and the police rushed in. 

London! Slumping in the British Museum

After a lovely train ride from Bath to London we found our way to our London AirBnB apartment. It was fashionably ‘city grunge’ and nothing like the Cotswolds. I looked out the window onto the row of pubs lining both sides of our streets and knew we’d be in for a night full of hootin’ and hollerin’.

We were all kind of beat but wanted to make the most of our time in London so we drug our tired butts to the British Museum. 

It was only a short walk but somehow turned into a long walk after a few missed turns and some anomalous digital blue dot city antics. 

We finally arrived at the most overwhelming museum collection I’ve ever seen. 

As I have visited various ancient sites throughout my life I’ve always have wondered, “Where had all the stuff gone?!”

Come to find out the British Museum has it all! And I mean ALL of it!

Room after room blew me away. Huge artifacts filled huge, seemingly endless, spaces. After many surprises startling me in ever room I started wondering if the next room would contain the Lost Tribe of Isreal, the UFO from the Roswell crash site, and maybe Napoleon’s mummified remains. 

Oh…and they have the Rosetta Stone. And all of Babylon. And Egypt. 

At some point during 800 BC Kaety got cranky. She said, “Assyrian wall panels are making me hungry. I want to eat now!”

Unfortunately ‘Eating now’ isn’t something you just do in London. It seems hard to believe but among the 18,000 restaurants in the city, 17,000 of them are farther than walking distance, and the other 10,000 near you don’t have a table open until midnight. 

While I made calls to find a reservation Kaety slumped on the floor under a cultural heirloom with a whole lot of other tired museum slumpers.  

After many calls I found a seemingly mediocre Italian place that had an opening. 

As we emerged from the museum the sky opened up and it began to pour!

We dashed across the street and into a shop – walking out with a matching set of the tackiest umbrellas ever. We had a moment of frustration and consternation when a lagging Symone was standing half a block back, soaking wet, fumbling with her umbrella. Kaety yelled back at her, “What are you doing?!”

Symone yelled back over the sound of the rain, “I’ve never used one of these things before!”

Bath – “Slavery and human sacrifice sounds so cheery when discussed in a British accent”

We left the narrow but charming comforts of the Cotswolds and headed for Bath and ultimately on to London. 

We ditched the rental car, hopped into a surly taxi and in moments found ourselves in front of the Roman Baths…surrounded by a henge of luggage.

I pointed at a sandwich board outside a barbershop that offered what we needed. Kaety whispered, “Are you shitting me?! We are leaving all our worldly goods at a barbershop?”

Moments later we were luggageless and heading to meet our timed entry to the Roman Baths. 

Kaety and Symone opted for the audio tour devices. I opted for jackdaw mode – racing back and forth between whatever attracted me most. 

The upper levels were committed to a historic preamble before seeing the actual bath site. 

As we looked over the mandatory diorama Kaety turned away from her audio feed and said, “When you talk about slavery and human sacrifice in a British accent it all sounds so…cheery”.

The ruins were in phenomenal shape. Dating from 60 AD and in use for 400 years – the extensive complex of pools were fed from one of England’s only consistent hot springs. 

While walking on the main pool level we marveled at the lead water pipes and the Roman foundations that had been coopted and were still holding up the nearby Bath Cathedral. I was admiring some intricate mosaic when Symone interjected, “I just thought about something someone did to me once that hurt my feelings”

I turned to her, “Darling, we are in a 2000 year old Roman ruin, can we wait to process your feelings once we return to our own century?”

As we neared the exit we made all the bath puns we could muster, which lead me to realizing that I actually needed to use the bathroom. 

The restroom hosted a cacophony of odd international cell phone use. On one side of me was a Japanese guy yelling the same phrase over and over again into his cell phone. The guy on the opposite side of me was watching a Full House rerun dubbed over in French. All of this was juxtaposed with loud Venetian choir music playing over the bathroom speakers. 

I emerged from the restroom to find Symone and Kaety in the gift shop, which was full of bath products. Literally. I guess we aren’t the only ones with a sense of humor. 

We returned to the street level, leaving Ancient Rome behind – next stop London!

Kennet Long Barrow and the tomb dust

Kaety was staring at the blue dot on Apple maps, and I was trying to navigate out of the car park. We were trying to find a tomb, but every time we typed in ‘Kennet Long Barrow’ it directed us to the middle of a roadless field. 

So…we drove towards the field with high hopes. 

I screeched to a halt and whipped into a ‘lay over’, which is what we’d call the shoulder of the road, as I saw an ancient tomb in the distance. It was indeed in the middle of a farmers wheat field. 

There was a track that lead up the hill to a 5000 year old tomb that had contained 36 bodies. At some point up the track Symone asked in a slightly sarcastic and dry tone, “Why are we walking up this hill to see a mound of dirt?”

I looked over at her, “It’s not a mound of dirt, it’s a 5000 year old tomb?”

She replied, “Haven’t we been in like 40 graveyards during the trip?”

I smiled at her, “Honey this is better than a graveyard, this is a tomb you get to crawl into”

She started looking a bit worried, “Crawl into where the bodies were?”

I jumped up and down, “Yes, isn’t that great!”

The view was stunning and the tomb was just a small alcove but still pretty amazing. 

I had to do another round of laundry when we got home because I realized that I had limestone tomb dust ground into my pants. That stuff doesn’t just brush off!

Avebury – prehistoric musings

I brushed up on human pre-history over a cheese and quince paste breakfast. We were going to visit the Avebury Henge and I wanted to be vaguely informed.  I went back about 500,000 years and started working my forward. The Henge was constructed in 3000 BC – making the site 5000 years old. The henge contained a number of nested circles made up of huge rocks – all running through a ‘modern’ village. The site was added to over a time period of 1000 years. An outer circle was added as well as a boulevard of huge stones acting as an entryway extending over a mile from the site. As a prehistoric person visiting this region, you knew early that ‘this was the place’! 

If you stood in the midst of the boulevard of stones on the crest overlooking the approach to the great nested circles of stones sitting in a huge earthworks henge and looked north you’d spot the enormous Uffington White Horse decorating the distant hillside. If you looked to the south you’d see the Silbury Hill – one of the tallest man-made hills.

Yep – this was the place. Some serious folk lived here!

I reflected on our visits to the cathedrals and thought about the time span in which they were created and the people of the times intention for creating them. People have been in the cathedral making business for about 600 years and how they have been used has altered significantly. The role and power of the church changed over time, plumbing and electric lights were added, and the community began using them in different ways – 12 step groups, community action committees now use them as much or more so than the worshippers. They still act as a place of religion, but they have become places of community culture as well.

I had thoughts about the evolution of the Avebury site along those same lines.

It’s conceivable that after 1000 years of building a gigantic religious site that everyone in the region would still be using it, but perhaps in different ways. Maybe it became more about the human sacrifice…or less. People may have gotten practical about allowing concession stands on-site. Seminar series and lectures in small outbuildings: “Making it in the new agrarian world: leaving the hunter/gatherer behind”?

The stones were pretty impressively large but what struck me equally impressive were the earth works around the circle. The builders moved staggering amounts of dirt…using deer antlers as a shovel. 

All of it an impressive feat – almost inconceivable in an era that had just invented ‘the planting stick’…although I had to pull on some first hand knowledge from having a lot of boys in my life. They can move a lot of huge rocks, dig enormous holes and move a staggering amount of toys over long distances in short order. People have always been good at moving things and being ridiculously over-the-top. 

We spent a better part of 2 hours wandering through the rocks and letting them talk to us. I regurgitated all the archeological facts I had gleaned over breakfast. Once we ran out of facts Kaety started pulling information from episodes of “Ancient Aliens’ she’d watched. 

When we asked Symone if she’d had a good time she rolled her eyes and said, “Yay, rocks!”