When we left Austria on the 29th of August, we flew to London to spend one week visiting some good friends and exploring this beautiful island (but there is SO MUCH MORE to explore there, and we can hardly wait to get back at it). It was a strange feeling to watch Vienna fade underneath the clouds from my small airplane window. We hated leaving. But knowing that it wouldn't be for long, and also knowing that there were great memories just over the horizon offered some comfort.
Folks, this English experience could not have been any better. We were welcomed to London by our friend, Kit, and her wonderful husband, Rich. We had served with Kit on the OM ship, Doulos, back in 2008, and it had been nine years (!!!) since we had last even spoken with her. If you can believe it, when we decided to take our week in England, we reached out and told her that we would love to see her and meet her husband over dinner.
Well, it turned out to be much more than a dinner....
Rich and Kit not only picked us up from the airport, but had us stay in their beautifully cozy fixer-upper home in Teddington, London, not far from the tranquil Bushy Park and the, less tranquil but convenient, London rail. Something that I hope to never take for granted is having old (and new) friends all over the world. Nine years ago, I would never have thought that I would see Kit again, but there I was, sitting on her living room sofa with a cuppa and biscuits catching up on all of the things the Lord had done for us.
We stayed with Kit and Rich for one day and two nights, ordered Chinese takeout (because com'on... yum), woke up early with coffee in our hands as we walked through chilled autumn air and dewy grass in the park, and watched the Queen's deer show off their impressive antlers. It was perfect.
After Kit headed off to work, we hopped the train into Waterloo Station to spend what turned out to be a very wet day in London. But would we have had it any other way? Absolutely not. After wandering around the Eye, Parliament, Westminster and Buckingham, we found ourselves in the Piccadilly neighborhood. Ironically, I was reading A Tale of Two Cities (my first Dickens) at the time, so when we ducked into a coffee house for a warm afternoon pick-me-up I was able to picture the places Dickens refers to in both London and Paris. How cool is that?
We left London the next morning by bus and headed to Chippenham, which lies just thirty minutes east of Bath. We were there for only one night to visit some great friends of ours and thoroughly enjoyed our visit, although it was definitely too short.
Our friends, Becky and Andy picked us up from Chippenham and we drove to Bath-- an old Roman city where the likes of Jane Austen, among others, lived and wrote. It's a beautiful city, and I would like to share a bit of my journal entry from this experience with you.
We arrived in Bath late last night (actually, early this morning) and now Becky and Andy are showing us around this beautiful city. Christian and I ate our first Cornish pasty, stopped by a tiny hole-in-the-wall pub for a beer, played the most hilarious game of mini golf, and went to see the Crescent. Apparently, the movie Persuasion takes place at the Crescent and the main character runs the entire length of it. The Crescent is where Andy proposed to Becky after she decided to run the length of it just like the movie. She kept shouting "The Crescent!" and we all laughed so much.We just finished a tour of Bath Abbey where we saw the giant bells and the clock tower, too.
Right now I am sitting in one of these old wooden pews surrounded by breathtaking stained glass windows and the most ornate ceilings, listening to perhaps twenty red-robed choir members lifting their voices in strong harmony. I already teared up listening to this. They vertically line the walls near the front of the abbey and are framing the largest of the windows, which is by far the most ornate. The church is bright, made with light sandstone. We found out that it was first built in 757 A.D., but became today's abbey in 1499. It was the last medieval cathedral built in England.
Just listening to these voices is unbelievable. I can hardly believe that the Lord has given me these moments in my twenty-eight years of life.
Concerning Lyme Regis:
We left Bath yesterday morning in order to head down to the southern coast. It was cold and wet, a curious contrast to the weather these previous days. In fact, it is still quite cold and wet. We made a quick stop for breakfast at McDonald's and then sped away through the English countryside. It really is just so beautiful, and looks just like the movies-- all these old stone walls dividing fields and roadways.There are tons of sheep scattered all over these hills, and strong oak trees trailing in between.
On our way to Lyme, we stopped in Becky's hometown of Chard to see her old house and the church where she and Andy were married. It was so beautiful! The church was old, classical Anglican, built with pointed wooden doors and complete with that cold, wooden, musty smell that floods your nose when you walk in. The narrow streets had these fun carnival-like banners crossing back and forth overhead due to the previous day being Chard's annual "faire." We ended up stopping by the home of an older couple who Becky says are like her second parents, John and Dorothy. We needed to use their toilets which they were more than happy to lend, and they greeted us with warm hugs. John is a wood craftsman and their home is filled with his beautiful shelves and cupboards. The front sitting room was completed with built-in, arched bookshelves and a large brick fireplace-- the kind with the deep-set stove and surrounding hole filled with odds and ends, including wood. They had old classics on their shelves along with the complete works of author, Roald Dahl. (I like it when adults have sets of children's books along with their classics and gardening books. They act as proof that just because you get older doesn't mean you have to grow up.) Dorothy loaded us up with leftover cake (honestly, the most delicious cakes I have ever tasted) that the townspeople made from scratch for the fair, and we were on our way.
As we drove the sky decided to pour its rain and the clouds lowered themselves to become a moody fog. We laughed and had great conversation the whole way to Lyme Regis and, once we had parked the car, we grabbed our day bags and made our way to the beach which was lined with pastel colored changing huts, stacked surf boards and the most quintessential coastal restaurants. It was actually colder outside than in the water, so Andy and Becky went in and swam a bit. I only put my legs in knee-deep, then when Becky and Andy went to change, Christian and I walked along an old stone wall which protected the fishing boats from the unpredictable sea waves. I could well understand why Lyme was a favorite writing place for Jane Austen. The grey skies, the salty smell, the sound of waves and the white lines stretching out as far as the eye can see set the tone for great inspiration.
After the four of us walked on the curved stone wall and had some of those massive waves shower us with salt water, we decided to head into town to look at some shops and get ourselves some fish n' chips. Of course after that we got ourselves some hot tea to carry around with us as we meandered around in the rain before quickly running back to the car before we were soaked through.
The drive to Portsmouth (where Andy and Becky live) was much like the way to Lyme Regis, but this time, much to my great happiness, I found out that B & A are also huge fans of Christmas. So we listened to the entirety of Michael Buble's Christmas album and sang at the top of our lungs. Christian hated it. I mean... it was only September....
We spent the next couple of days laying low and resting in Portsmouth, playing Ticket to Ride, watching Jane Austen movies and drinking several pots of tea. Visiting Becky and Andy was such an incredible memory. They were so incredibly generous, so thoughtful, and so loving.
We could truly not be more grateful to all of our incredible friends who gave us one of our greatest life memories and experiences: England. We pray that the Lord will allow us many opportunities to love you all the same way that you loved us this year. We can hardly wait to see you all again!