A babymoon, for the uninitiated, is the last Big Deal Vacation a childless couple takes together before their first child arrives. Custom dictates that this trip is planned around 28 weeks of pregnancy; my work schedule, meanwhile, frowned on travel in late August while Hugecase was scheduled to go to trial in September. (It then got moved to October, and then was stayed completely when the parties reached a provisional settlement. Lesson learned: don’t ever depend on work deadlines when making personal plans.)

So we rescheduled the babymoon back to early July, which turned out to be a better plan in any event. When you’re seven months pregnant, you don’t much feel like tramping about. At 19 weeks, though, you’re still able to spend days happily wandering around medieval British cathedrals and modern London museums. Also, your bump is small enough that you can comfortably sleep on sofa beds and air mattresses, but big enough that people on the Tube immediately offer you a seat.

Button courtesy of the Tube

In roughly chronological order, here are all the bits of my brilliant babymoon that I want to get down before I forget:

Part 1: Ye Trippe Yonder

  • Sleeping the whole flight over = minimal jet lag. The secret was a delayed departure (plane took off near midnight) and a bunch of salty food, which always makes me sleepy.
  • But OH the EPIC cankles and swollen feet that result from eating salty food and then taking a transatlantic redeye. & thought that my ankles looked like they’d been attacked by bees. It took two days for them to return to near-normal.
  • There is wi-fi on the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station.  This is good news if your cell phone is a Droid. &’s is. Mine is not.
  • If you have AT&T service on your cell phone, however, your phone will latch onto the Orange network and you can send texts. (Still awaiting the verdict on how much this cost me.)
  • The Tube is not air-conditioned. Perplexingly, it’s consistently much warmer than the temperature above ground.
  • Ubiquitous chains include Starbucks, Costa Coffee, Caffe Nero, and my personal favorite, the Cornish Pasty Co.
  • There is wi-fi at every Starbucks in the UK. This is, again, handy if you carry a Droid.
  • Someone has reserved every single seat on the East Coast trains leaving from King’s Cross. The only vacant seats belong to people who did not show up to claim their reservations. If you want to sit down on the trip to York, you’d better be lucky. Or pregnant.
  • The bucolic British countryside is, implausibly, peppered with huge nuclear power plants.
  • Don’t rent a car in the UK.  In any major town, everything is either walkable from the train station or easily served by a taxi.
  • I did not feel Mayhem kick once while in transit.

Part 2: Ye North Country

  • Even in York, where you’d expect them to be best at it, Yorkshire pudding is little more than sliced roast beef and gravy served on a pie crust.
  • Everything tastes better with a bit of HP Brown Sauce, a ubiquitous condiment with a flavor halfway between worcestershire sauce and A1 (which it resembles).
  • York is a precious place: winding medieval streets (including the adorably-named “Shambles”), winding Norman and Roman city walls, over eighteen hours of daylight in July, and the best tea and pastries in town at Bettys.
  • Did not see a single Yorkshire terrier.
  • Constantine was crowned Roman emperor here.  Guy Fawkes, of Gunpowder Plot fame, was born a few blocks away a millennium later.
  • The York Minster is a cathedral, but don’t call it one.
  • Huuuuuge WALL of stained glass.
  • At the York Minster you can see the last surviving twelfth-century masons’ tracery. The walls of the small tower room are still festooned with old masonry stencils, and nine-hundred-year-old sketched lines and curves are still visible on the gypsum floor (as are a child’s footprint and a dog’s pawprints).
  • While the York Minster staff are quite nice about arranging private access to cathedral secrets like the masons’ tracery, they absolutely forbid pregnant women from taking the tower-climb tour. (sigh. I could totally have handled it.)
  • Highlight of the regular tour: the organist interrupting our tour with the startling first chord of the Saint-Saëns Maestoso. First we jumped out of our skins, then we squeezed hands and giggled in delight as we realized that the choir-school orchestra was playing the whole thing — a bit of our favorite personal theme music.
  • Highlight of the crypt/undercroft tour: the continuity (recycled masonry!) from Roman to Norman to medieval infrastructure. Also, the American woman married to a Yorkshire villager who fastened on to our accents and desperately seemed to wish that more Americans would move to York.
  • I did not feel Mayhem kick once while in York.
  • Don’t walk from the train station in Lincoln. Get a taxi.  We laughed at the road called “Steep Hill” until we saw it.
  • Lincoln Cathedral is a minster, but don’t call it one.
  • Most magnificent cathedral in all of England, if you ask me. Of course there are plenty that we haven’t seen yet, but I’d be awfully surprised if they matched, let alone surpassed, ginormous glorious Lincoln.
  • Two rose windows: the swirly flamboyant Bishop’s Eye, and the Dean’s Eye, an oculus which I liked so much I brought a miniature version home.
  • & got a kick out of the tipsy architecture — and not just the famous crazy vaults in the choir.  If you look closely, many of the window lancets are off-center in the pointy Gothic arches.
  • Lincoln Cathedral’s resident saint-shrine managed to escape the crazed iconoclasm of Henry VIII. You can still make a pilgrimage to the relics of St. Hugh, but note that his body and severed head are stored separately.
  • Go to the gift shop first if you want to find the Lincoln Imp. We could not locate the telltale imp in the Angel Choir until after we’d seen his likeness for sale several dozen times.
  • One of the niftiest things about these ancient cathedrals: the carvings. Not even the intentional ones (statuary, bosses, etc.), but the bratty kids who etched their initials in the cloister columns…in 1702.
  • Regular Sunday services at Lincoln were cancelled on the Fourth of July, since it was Petertide, the official ordination day of the Church of England. “But you’re welcome to attend the ordination ceremony,” the lady at the door told us. Thus did we find ourselves in a capacity crowd at our first real English Anglican service — bishop and all.
  • “Are there any Americans here?” the bishop asked in his opening monologue. We applauded. And were the only people in the entire enormous cathedral to do so.
  • We didn’t make it through the whole ceremony; after two hours we slipped out through the cathedral cloisters, anxious not to miss our 12:30 lunch reservation.
  • If you ever go to Lincoln, you MUST eat at Brown’s Pie Shop. It’s an easy-to-miss storefront at the top of Steep Hill, and you’ll need a reservation, but make the effort. HOLY AMAZING PUDDING MEAT PIE ENGLISH FOOD. Our best meal of the whole babymoon. Even if Lincoln didn’t have a spectacular cathedral, the little town would be worth a visit just for this restaurant alone.
  • Exploring the cathedral close, we happened upon a cherry tree in full fruit. I reached up, picked one, and found it so sweet and ripe that I promptly retrieved one for & too. Ah, summer cherries!
  • We saw our first Magna Carta in Lincoln. Four of the “original” dispatches from 1217 still exist; by the end of this trip we’d have seen three (the British Library holds two, but only puts them on display one at a time).
  • I did not feel Mayhem kick once while in Lincoln.

Part 3: Olde London Towne

  • The weather, which had been perfect all weekend, stayed that way for the rest of the week. The only blip on the weather map was a few drops of rain that fell on us as we changed trains on the way to London.
  • No need to hop the Tube: Jonathan was a dear and met us, and our bags, at King’s Cross Station and drove us up to his smashing pad in Hampstead.
  • Hampstead! We loved this neighborhood. Not just for the jaw-dropping fanciness — Ferrari and Lamborghini parked nose-to-nose on Fitzjohn’s Avenue? But of course — but for the fantasies inspired by the people we saw. In particular, the school uniforms had us imagining Mayhem as a little girl in a little striped pinafore, cardigan sweater and straw hat.
  • I had a strange hankering for Welsh Rarebit. Strangest, perhaps, because I’d never before tasted the stuff. We went to Jonathan’s pub, the Holly Bush, but they didn’t have any on the menu.
  • We eventually found it at “my” pub, The Audley, which I’ve now decided will be a pilgrimage destination whenever I visit London.
  • Other excellent pubs discovered this trip: the Charles Lamb, where we had a lovely dinner with Mike and Ros Innes, and the Black Friar, which we found thanks to the recommendation of Tim Winkle.
  • Three of the four Harrison Clocks were on display at the Royal Observatory; we’ll just have to come back to see H2 as well. Otherwise, Greenwich was glorious: we stood astride the Prime Meridian, enjoyed an ice cream in the perfectly-warm sunshine, and joked that they should change the name of the town to “Yellowich” since the heath was looking a bit dry for want of rain.
  • An afternoon stroll through South London took us inside Southwark Cathedral and across the Millennium Bridge, where St. Paul’s (“Sin Pows”) had already closed for the day.  We wouldn’t make it there this trip. “That’s OK,” said &, “it’s not Gothic anyway.”
  • Yummy Indian dinner with Marinn near Spitalfields, which had also already closed for the day. We were so perplexed by all of these “early” closings when it was still so clearly daylight. Of course, when the sun doesn’t set until 10pm, this will throw off your entire sense of schedule.
  • Westminster Abbey: Gothic Cathedral FAIL. If you’re interested in funeral monuments, especially elaborate Victorian ones, it’s an interesting museum. But if you’re expecting a thirteenth-century masterpiece, save your £15 and go to Lincoln or York. (Props to the audioguide for playing “Spem in Alium” at the twin tombs of Mary and Elizabeth, though.)
  • Completely at random, we walked right in to the middle of the Changing of the Guard — a marching band of redcoats in beefeater hats crossing the street in front of Buckingham Palace.
  • Two words: FORTNUM and MASON. Grocerygasm!! The spirit moved me to buy Stilton in quantity. It moved & to insist that I purchase the largest available quantity, a kilo in a ceramic crock. Pure heaven!
  • A quick dash through the British Museum (which, again, closed many hours before sunset) — just time enough to see the Rosetta Stone, the Elgin Marbles, the Lewis Chessmen and the Mildenhall Treasure. We could not, alas, see the great reading room, as it was under renovations. Again, another reason to return.
  • Better luck at the British Library (which, again, was a quickie stop on the way home from a day trip): we saw the original manuscripts of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Handel’s Messiah, Alice in Wonderland, a handful of Shakespeare folios and another 1217 Magna Carta (the burnt one).
  • We traded our deluxe accommodations at Hampstead for deluxe accommodations in south Kensington, spending the last night at Marinn’s and loving the sunrise off her roof deck.
  • Random culinary highlight/lowlight: Walkers potato chips (perplexingly not called “crisps” — wonder why?) in flavors like Yorkshire pudding, American cheeseburger, Japanese teriyaki and Bavarian bratwurst.
  • Other freshly-discovered loves: Full English Breakfast, ploughman’s lunch, Cornish pasties, sausage rolls, and curry chips (french fries with tikka masala sauce).
  • Huzzah for the Tube, where they give you a free “Baby on Board” button if you’re preggers, and people gladly offer you their seats even if you’re not wearing one.  This started out as charming and cute, and by the end of the week, grew into a grateful necessity. We timed this trip perfectly: I’m not sure how much more walking I’ve got in me.
  • I did not feel Mayhem kick once while in London.

Part 4: Ye Daye Trippes

  • Since we had exhausted the Gothic cathedral supply in London (with Westminster Abbey, which should hardly count as one), we trekked eastward to Canterbury.
  • For the seat of the Anglican Church, the cathedral was surprisingly simple and humble. Or maybe it just looked that way after Lincoln.
  • No joke: there was a Folk Eucharist taking place in the crypt as our tour passed through.
  • Best vaulting of any cathedral we’ve yet seen.  The ribs are so elaborate and intertwined, it’s almost like lace.
  • No rose window (!), but an entire section of the north transept was designated the “Martyrdom” and indicated the exact spot where Thomas Becket was murdered in 1170. Apparently thugs sliced off the top of his head, causing his brains to splash all over the floor. For some reason, the splashing brains figure prominently in almost every retelling of the martyrdom story.
  • The actual shrine to Becket was destroyed by crazy King Henry VII, as were almost all of the cathedral shrines in England. (Only Hugh of Lincoln, as far as we saw, survived.)
  • Lots of broken statuary, too: we can thank the Puritans for that. What is up with people taking iconoclasm so damn literally in the Church of England? Can’t we appreciate the fancy bits aesthetically without feeling the need to smash them just because our opinions differ?
  • Thanks to the clever north winds, Canterbury Cathedral survived the “Baedeker raids” (the Nazis’ attempt to bomb the biggest tourist attractions in England). When the Luftwaffe dropped flares to indicate the location of the cathedral, the wind blew them across town before  the bombers arrived. Conveniently, this meant that they managed to miss the cathedral completely.  (This was much better for posterity than for the poor sods who lived where the bombs actually fell.)
  • The smart folks at Canterbury decided in any event that the medieval stained glass would stand a better chance of survival if they took it down and hid it away in the crypt. This is why most of the windows are clear today. It makes for a lot of light, but not much color.
  • My secret treasures in Canterbury Cathedral included a stained-glass window in the cloisters featuring Thomas Tallis and a railing on the pulpit featuring carved pomegranates.
  • A secret treasure of Canterbury in general can be found about fifteen minutes’ walk out of town, where St. Martin’s church, the oldest continuously-operating church in England, sits atop a hill with a smashing view of the town and the cathedral. A gorgeous place to sit down and rest your swollen feet while your husband takes pictures of the ancient graveyard.
  • I did not feel Mayhem kick once while in Canterbury.
  • Our last day trip took us to a town (and a cathedral) that I’d visited before, back in the ages before I could tell a Gothic cathedral from a gothic novel. I hoped that the effect of Salisbury hadn’t been wasted on me in my ignorance, the first time I saw it.
  • It wasn’t.
  • My favorite feature of the cathedral initially was, and remains, the chantry chapel built by Sir Edmund Audley. For obvious reasons.
  • Like Canterbury, there is no rose window. So much for my collection of rose-window suncatchers.
  • New discoveries since the last visit: the uninterrupted nave (no rood screen), the Victorian painted vaulting, the crystal and ivory croziers by the cathedra, the Amnesty International “Prisoners of Conscience” chapel in the chevet, and the cathedral’s newest gem, a modern font whose design is halfway between a reflecting pool and a Feng Shui water feature. Loved it, in a way I do not love modern additions to medieval cathedrals.
  • We bought a small charm at the gift shop, a periwinkle-blue enamel Celtic knot, which & hung on my necklace next to the Chartres labyrinth charm from our honeymoon.  Now I have souvenirs from both of our ‘moons always with me.
  • Unlike York, Salisbury allows pregnant women to take the tower-climb tour. At this point I was almost too big to fit on the tiny spire balcony — but not quite. The Big Swingin’ Tummeh amused everyone else on the climb, though.  I successfully bit back my vertigo, made it up the rickety wooden spiral staircases, and ahh, was the view ever worth it.
  • Third 1217 Magna Carta seen on this trip: check.
  • We didn’t make it out to Stonehenge or Old Sarum, but that wasn’t the point of this trip. We can take Mayhem there later, I figure.
  • On the train back to London, I passed an earbud to & and together we basked in Peter Gabriel.
  • Just when it seemed that the weather couldn’t get any nicer, it did. We came away from sunny breezy Salisbury with an actual tan.
  • Just when it seemed that our babymoon couldn’t get any sweeter, it was over and we were back at Heathrow Airport, leafing through the Daily Mail and noshing on our last bag of Bavarian Bratwurst potato chips.
  • I did not feel Mayhem kick once while in Salisbury. Or on the way home.

And now we’re back to the grind: I head back to the office tomorrow, and & is already gone, off to a conference in Denver. I still have not felt Mayhem kick. Our next ultrasound is a week from tomorrow, though, so I won’t worry until then. (Yes, this is the ultrasound where we find out her actual gender! Stay tuned.)

I am already homesick for the magnificent weather and endless daylight and glorious cathedrals and greasy-carb-a-riffic cuisine of brilliant Britain. I doubt this will pass as quickly as the jet lag has. Thank you again to the wonderful friends who shared meals and living-room accommodations with us; we are sorry to have missed you, friends with whom we did not manage to connect; and we can say to a certainty that we will, some day, be back. As soon as we can.

Advertisements