Downton Downer

Today was an odd, interesting day.

I woke up at 6:15 and was out the door by 7:10. The wheels of my parents’ plane would hit the ground at 7:50. This gave me plenty of time to arrive at Heathrow before they made it to the arrivals gate… or so I thought. Nothing unusual happened. I don’t know how it took so long. But I was pretty well panicked when it was nearly 8:50 and I was still stuck on the tube, several stops away.

When I finally arrived, I sprinted from the platform to the arrivals gate. I saw my Dad almost immediately. I am sad I wasn’t there to greet them, but really worried because we had no way to communicate and they had no idea where I was. For all they knew, I could have been still asleep at the hotel.

Relief overshadowed the joy of our reunion. They had only been waiting for about 10 minutes, but it was long enough for them to get worried. After all I should have been there an hour before.

Getting the rental car was an interesting experience. It was really bizarre to see my parents on the wrong sides of the car, to see a steering wheel in the passenger seat and none on the driver’s side. I’ve been in cars here before, but seeing it played out in my own family somehow made it feel more surreal.

The whole idea behind renting a car is that it would allow us to see multiple attractions in the same region in one day: primarily, Stonehenge and Highclere Castle aka Downton Abbey.

Stonehenge was our first matter of business, because we weren’t going to be able to get tickets into Highclere til the afternoon. By the time we had gotten to Salisbury, we were exhausted from the stress of watching my Dad practically nodding off at the wheel while trying to figure out English streetsigns and traffic laws.

We made a 30 minute pit stop. Our chance to visit Highclere was a very narrow window, so we were on a tight schedule. Still, in that time, we were able to visit the Salisbury Cathedral, see the Magna Carta, hit PoundLand for some soda and Burger King for a purely-functional quick meal. My family has learned well the dangers of not eating when busy.

We would have loved to spend more time in Salisbury. It’s a cute town. The Cathedral is a really interesting place and filled with little historical details that we had to glaze over. At the Magna Carta (which only just glanced at) the sweetest old woman who worked there was so enthusiastic and so eager to help that it pained me to have to leave.

But we were on a mission.

Stonehenge was next. Again, we were tight on time. We wanted to spend 15-20 minutes there. This was not hard.

Stonehenge is really cool. I still think it’s coolest from the road, when first you see it at a distance. Even if you’re on the fence about the thing in itself, when you see it… it’s impressive. But dang, it is windy in those fields. I had to hold my skirt down with both hands the entire time. It was freezing. The wind blew so hard that you almost couldn’t breathe when you face into it. As much time as we may have wanted to spend there, the weather was so intense I don’t think we would have been able to stand it. So, we were on the road again and right on schedule.

This is when driving started to get really scary. The left-hand side thing was okay, but I could see my Dad’s eyelids dropping through the rearview mirror. None of us could wait to get to Downton Abbey

There are plenty of signs for it as you get close. The excitement was mounting. We turn down the final alley and… it’s closed.

It wasn’t open today. I think I saw a sign that said it was only open on 6 different days in May. This was a crushing blow.

This whole day had been designed to visit Downton Abbey. It was one of the top things my parents and I wanted to do. We went to so much trouble to rent a car, spent less time than we wanted in Salisbury, and went amazingly out of our way… all for nothing. It was such a bummer.

There was nothing else we could do. We drove straight back to Heathrow where we could return the car and take the train into the city. It was getting late. My Dad was the weird guy who fell asleep between every stop on the tube, but we were still talking about evening plans. Some ideas were a nighttime London Walk, my parent’s favorite London restaurant The Chimes, and going to see a West End show.

The walk was quickly ruled out when it started to drizzle. It was windy, cold, wet, and miserable. We didn’t have enough time to eat dinner at the Chimes and go to a show, so decisions had to be made. My parents will be able to do both before they leave London, but I won’t have the time. I decided that between the two, I wanted to go to a show. It’s an experience I haven’t had here yet.

We set off for Leicester Square, where the discount tickets are to be found. We wanted to know what show we were going to and what time it started, then grab a quick bite. Much to our dismay, all the cheap tickets for all the shows were already gone.

As a family, we handle setbacks pretty well. This just meant we would get to go to The Chimes after all, which I was very glad to be able to do. First we just had to figure out where it was. Since we weren’t planning on going there tonight, we hadn’t looked up directions before leaving the hotel.

Before we moved on, I noticed the top of Arrested Development’s banana stand peeking over a fence. It was under a couple of billboards for the May release. “Hey, that’s cool, I want to go take a picture with the banana stand real quick!” I said.

On the other side of the fence, there’s a crowd. A crowd, a bunch of photographers, and an orange carpet. This is the premier for the new season of Arrested Development. I hardly realize what’s going on before I see some familiar faces on the carpet. George Bluth and Tobias are right in front of me, followed shortly by Buster. Then, all the sudden there’s cheering, and it’s Michael Serra (George Michael) and Maeby.

I’m not really a person who gets excited about celebrities, but these are some of my favorites. It’s just an amazing show with a fabulous and talented cast. I admire them deeply for their work.

I was disappointed that Portia DiRossi and Jason Bateman weren’t there. I also would have loved to see Lucille and Job. Sorry for switching between the names of the actors and the characters, it’s just how I think of them.

Michael Cera was making eye contact with me throughout one of his entire interviews. He’s so much better looking in real life! Super cutie. And Maeby is drop dead gorgeous. I can see why Cera’s character would fancy his cousin. If my cousin looked like that…

Just kidding. All of my cousins ARE beautiful, after all, and I love them dearly.

While my Mom and I stargazed, taking lots of pictures for my brother (the show’s biggest fan), my Dad went off to try to figure out how to get to The Chimes. He’s never really watched the show, sadly. But the divide and conquer strategy worked again. Somehow, he found an internet café in Leicester Square that charged 1 pound for 2 hours of internet on their computers. He said it was in a pretty sketchy basement with some sketchy characters, but it got the job done and he made it back alive.

The story of the Chimes is one I’ve grown up hearing. My parents went there on their first trip to London, about nine months before I was born. It was late at night and they were lost and starving. My mom was having a meltdown. Suddenly, they see a light in the window. It’s a restaurant. The restaurant is closed for a private party… but take pity on my poor parents and let them eat in the basement.

The pot pies were fabulous, they loved every bite, and they’ve come back on every subsequent trip to London. Until now, my Dad has always forgotten that his favorite pie is the steak & ale. He orders the chicken every time, and is sadly disappointed when he realized how much better my Mom’s steak is.

Tonight, they both had the steak and ale. I had the Gloustershire, which has lamb and apples. Everything was delicious. Dad and I split an apple blackberry crumbe afterwards that was to die for. It was just cool to see a part of my parent’s history like that. Honestly, I think it was a better choice than seeing a show. We would have been too tired to enjoy it… and we were very much in need of a good meal.

It was a long trip back to the hotel. Fortunately, our huge (American-sized) hotel room could easily accommodate a rollaway bed and I won’t have to sleep on the floor. I have a feeling that we’re all going to sleep well tonight.

Guest Blog by Mom:

Hi Y’all! What a day! It sure had its ups and downs, but it is awesome to spend time with Anna in London. This town never gets old and we are enjoying every moment. Even the Chevy Chase “Vacation” moments…



4 thoughts on “Downton Downer

  1. Funny, I was envisioning Chevy chase from the get go! Hope you all slept long and well. Your kids report all is well. I am checking by phone. They very much want to be independent and I am trying to respect that. Hope their adventure isn’t as “Chevy Chasish” as your adventures have been.

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