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part one: london and gloucestershire trip report
2004-06-12 - 7:39 a.m.
Note: This page is part one of my trip to England. For my
bird list and photos, click
right here. For a short photo essay on the colorful
click right here. All photos © 2004 by Elaine Radford.
May 27, 2004
We flew to London via Detroit. Our long layover at DTW gave us the opportunity
to see three House Sparrows living in the trees at the Detroit airport -- three
more than we would see in all of London.
Since we spent the night on the plane, where it was impossible to sleep
because 1) they forgot to turn off the lights in the cabin, or perhaps the
lights were jammed so they wouldn't go off, despite customer complaints, and
2) they came by constantly with food and drink, we were a bit weary and glad
to be greeted by lots of sunshine when we landed in London. We took a long walk around
the parks of the Belgravia area, exploring most particularly Green Park
and St. James Park, and passing Buckingham Palace and various monuments any
number of times in our rambles.
St. James, with its Birdcage Walk, once the site of a large royal collection
of waterfowl and still well supplied with water birds from pelicans on down,
presented quite a challenge to the lister, as I didn't want to accidentally
list any birds that weren't truly wild. I felt safe enough listing if I
saw birds fly a good distance across the sky -- Mallard and Canada Goose, for
example -- or if the birds were clearly well established native breeders, such
as the many Eurasian Coot families putting their nests any old place
around the park. I wrestled a bit before adding Mandarin Duck. The complete
family, with male, female, and newly hatched ducklings, was free-roaming
and unbanded, but I didn't feel entirely comfortable listing them until I
read that they'd been accepted as introduced breeding birds for over a
century. A great many of England's birds are recent introductions, including
such highly visible symbols of the English countryside as the
Eurasian Collared Dove and the Ring-necked Pheasant. If you didn't list
any of them, you'd end up with an awfully short list.
I felt a bit sad, remembering when I visited in 1982, that
the abundance of the
House Sparrow was such that one of the attractions was to stroll in the
park and see one of the local eccentrics allow Sparrows to perch over
his entire body. Now they are Red-Listed -- an endangered species --
for the area, and we didn't see so much as a feather.
D. had heard much about the famous Indian restaurants of London, and
we picked one called the Buckingham Balti House, where we enjoyed
two different kinds of well-spiced chicken.
May 28, 2004
Today we took the "Big Bus" tour of London, which allowed you to hop on
and off the sightseeing bus all day, and which also included a free boat
ride on the Thames River. We pretty much saw it all -- the Tower, Trafalgar
Square, Piccaddilly Circus, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, Westminister
Abbey, and the Marble Arch under plastic because it is being restored.
We all know what London looks like, so I'll try not to inflict too many photos
on my picture hosting, but I can't resist including a few, so if anyone
is reading this on a dial-up modem, they are probably cursing and gnashing
their teeth by now.
Our new bird of the day was the famous Magpie. There was a big sloppy nest
complete with begging fledglings in a tree near the river, allowing us good
looks at this classic species of English folklore.
We walked all around the Tower but never got a hint of the famous Ravens. I read
they are actually tame birds anyway, which seems like cheating
to me -- no wonder England lost its empire with that much respect paid to the
old superstitions. When I visited London in 1982, the crown jewels were being
cleaned, so I briefly considered entering the Tower again, until we saw the long
line. There were too many other sights to see to wait! Later our friends
said they had gone in, and they rather bitterly reported being rushed
by the jewels on a "conveyor belt," so I think we made the right decision.
I'm not sure when it happened, but London has thrown open its great museums to
the public -- no lines, no ticket sales, just walk right in. Having made this
discovery, we couldn't be torn away from the National Gallery. Indeed, we left
once and then visited again, and still didn't get close to seeing everything.
We had to set priorities, so we concentrated on the Renaissance artists.
The mystery of "The Ambassadors," 1583, by Hans Holbein the Younger, captured
our attention with its photo-realistic detail broken by the distorted
skull in the foreground of the painting. The meaning of the piece is
said to be unknown. I have to confess that I suspect a little bit of
show-boating -- I can paint everything exactly as it appears to the
human eye but if I wanted to I could just as well paint things as they
could never exist.
link to the National Gallery's page about the painting, but
it doesn't even give a hint of true weirdness of this piece in
person, where you can see every thread in the fabric.
Outside the National Gallery, a street artist worked on a copy of
The Last Supper, here being strolled upon by a disrespectful pigeon. The
painting actually seemed done, except for the constant cleaning up of
pigeon poop, but the artist managed to collect a few coins in his cap
May 29, 2004
What is a diary without some bitching and moaning? Today is the day we
set out for our cottage in the country, only to discover that 1) it wasn't
where we were told it was, 2) the bus no longer went all the way to where it
wasn't, so we actually ended up stranded in a third location,
and 3) when the taxicab driver finally figured out
where to actually deliver us, we found ourselves way
out in the way out
without a telephone. So much for the plan to call up a taxi or a rental
car to be delivered to our cottage as needed.
for our friends, who claimed
to be able to drive British style, I'm sorry to say that their confidence
exceeded their abilities. We may as well skip ahead and confess that the
car was totalled by Wednesday evening, fortunately without any injury to
anyone. In theory it was possible to walk
to and from the nearest village
with actual stores and pubs in a mere 7 mile round-trip; in practice, the
confusion of cryptically signed footpaths meant we could (and did) wander
for hours without getting much of anywhere. Sigh. Long bitter sigh.
And that's enough of the bitching.
On the positive side, after the bus dumped us bag and baggage at
Cirencester at what clearly wasn't a bus station or transfer
point, a taxicab driver kindly took the time out of his schedule
to phone around until he found someone with the time to help
us locate our cottage. The courtesy of the British people
never fails to astound me. People in Louisiana are friendly
and fast with a smile,
English people truly go out of their way to help strangers.
Anyway, our cottage turned out to be not 2 miles from Stow-on-the-Wold
(I'm guessing it was more like 7 or 8 miles) but 3.5 miles
Had we known our actual destination,
we could have taken the train and
reached our destination at a fraction of the time and cost. I still
have a print-out of the internet ad for the cottage, and there
is no getting around the fact that it's a remarkable work of short fiction.
The sad thing is, there was really no reason to fib, for
the place could have attracted visitors on its own merits.
The stone buildings, including the old Norman church,
were quite beautiful, and
we were greeted by singing Blackbird and even a
Skylark. As a bonus,
we quickly discovered that the House Sparrow still
thrived, at least for now, in the tiny village.
We all had dinner together at the Marshmallow House in Moreton, where
most of us enjoyed the roast duck with cherry sauce and indulged
in the Villa Rosci 2002 Merlot from Chile.
Note: You have just read part one of my England trip report. The
rest of the story is coming soon. For my
bird list and photos, click
right here. For a short photo essay on the colorful
click right here.
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