Talk about your action-packed trip! I left last Wednesday evening for London, arriving at Heathrow around 6:15 a.m. I caught the Heathrow Express train to Paddington and then took a cab to my hotel, The Duke's, near Green Park. This is a hotel I've been staying in for several years now - it's convenient, quiet and close to the major restaurant areas of London.
My client, Diane, had arrived just before me - she was flying from Philly too, but flew US Airways into Gatwick. I had booked a room in my name for Wednesday night to make sure that we had someplace to clean up and rest a bit in case her room wasn't ready yet - which it wasn't.
We went and had a bite of breakfast, then took showers and flopped down to catch a couple hours of sleep. Diane went to check into her room around noon and we met at 2:00 to walk around a while. We walked down towards Piccadilly Circus, and stopped at Fortnum and Mason's gourmet store for tea.
At 3:30, we hailed a cab and went to our first meeting with the London lead underwriter on Diane's treaty. We also met up with Ed Harrison, our London broker. The meeting went well, and we moved on to meet with one of Diane's London colleagues for a while.
After our meetings, we caught a taxi to Covent Gardens and walked around. There was a band playing VERY LOUDLY, so we went into a nearby pub and had pints of bitter. It reminded me of the night the Jeff and Ron and I went out "pub-crawling" near Covent Gardens. What fun that was!
Dinner was at a restaurant called Christopher's that I have been to a couple of times. Ed, one of his colleagues and one of our reinsurers from Swiss Re met us there. We had a fun dinner and stopped for a nightcap at a nearby club where we drank caipirinhas - a Brazilian cocktail. We got back to the hotel around 12:30 a.m.
Luckily we didn't have to get up TOO early on Friday. We met at 9:00 for breakfast, then checked out and went to the Avis rental agency. They were very slow, but by 11:00 we had our rental car and were making our way out of the city. Diane did a great job driving - I was the Navi-guesser.
We had our directions plus some tips from our morning's cabbie and we made pretty good time heading out to the West Country. Diane has quite an impressive lead foot, enhanced by the narrow streets and opposite side driving. We took the southern route through Dorchester, stopping at a pub for some fish and chips for lunch. We made it to Evershot where we were staying around 3:30 p.m.
We were staying at The Acorn Inn, a 16th century English Inn, in a town with a population around 220. Diane and I shared a cute little room tucked up into the eaves, and we unpacked and rested for a bit. Ellen and Andrew had left a little welcome bag for us with a bottle of wine, a copy of a Thomas Hardy novel, and a historical flyer about the village where they would be married. Very thoughtful.
After a while I got up and went downstairs to the bar to read and have a drink. Around 7:00, Ed Harrison appeared, as did Anne and Jeffrey came in, along with Rich, who was supposed to be with our other two friends, Nan and Janet. Apparently Nan and Janet didn't make the train they were supposed to be on from Waterloo Station, and Rich ran into Jeff and Anne and decided to go with them. Now we just had to wonder what happened to the other two!
We all ended up sitting together at a table in the bar and had just ordered when our two wayward compatriots arrived. They had indeed missed the original train, but then spent some time at the other end looking for Rich before they picked up their rental car. They ordered some food and we all had a nice meal.
After dinner we went to the bar and spent some time talking to the owner, Martyn, about the upcoming protest march in London. It is scheduled for Sunday and is called the Liberty and Livelihood March wherein several hundred thousand farmers, hunters, landowners and rural residents and workers were planned to come into London to demand Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour government must do more to protect their traditional way of life. We're just hoping that they've all left town by the time we have to head back into London.
It was a beautiful morning, and after breakfast we all split up and went walking or driving around. Diane and I drove over to see The Giant, a huge, ancient chalk drawing on one of the local hillsides. We also stopped at a local manor home's gardens and walked around. When we returned to the Inn, we found Ed and walked through town [which isn't tough because it only has two streets].
I went back up and took a bath and got cleaned up for the wedding. Ellen and Andrew had arranged for a shuttle bus to collect all of the Americans and transport us to the ceremony and the reception - which was a good thing or else I'm sure of us would never have made it. The shuttle picked us up at 1:45 and after stopping to pick up some other American friends at a nearby inn, we arrived at the church a little after 2:00.
The ceremony was at St Mary's Church in Corscombe. It is a beautiful little church, and we were given seats on the Bride's side. Andrew and his brothers and brother-in-law all looked very nice in their morning coats. Ellen's sister Megan was her matron of honor and her daughter Lizzie and Andrew's sister Sarah were attendants. Ellen's brother John walked her down the aisle - she was stunning. A strapless ivory satin gown with a tight bodice and a split train revealed an ivory and gold lace train underneath.
There were two clergymen - Reverend Ian Brown and The Very Reverend Patrick Mitchell, Andrew's father. Rev. Mitchell is the former Dean of Windsor, the Queen's Vicar. They had a nice selection of hymns and readings and the only problem was that Rev. Brown kept calling the bride, "Helen." Luckily, Andrew's father officiated over the vows, so he got it right for that part. The choir sang as they signed the Register, and they were pronounced husband and wife - but no kiss, as this is England.
Afterwards, all the guests and the wedding party stood outside the church and talked and took pictures for a while. A beautiful antique convertible was waiting to take Andrew and Ellen to the reception. Our shuttle picked us up and we went to Andrew's aunt's home, Forde Abbey.
What an amazing place. This is on ALL of the tourist guides, and we were able to walk around the grounds and through the halls. There was a kind of Dixie band playing music and servers with champagne and hors d'ouvres. While the photographs were being taken, we explored the gardens and talked. It was a perfect day - blue skies and not too cool yet. Couldn't have ask for anything more.
The receiving line was in The Cloisters, from which we made our way down to the dining hall. They had a great buffet dinner, with 5 or 6 different desserts. Speeches were made, and much light-hearted fun was made about "Helen" and Andrew. Andrew gave a lovely toast, thanking everyone that could make it, especially his new daughter, Lizzie, and ending with a toast to "the lovely Mrs. Mitchell."
Around 9:00 the newlyweds were ready to leave in a Mercedes decorated with Union Jacks and the Stars and Stripes. They were spending the night somewhere and leaving the next day for Australia for two weeks. I know that Ellen has really been looking forward to the trip.
We went back to The Acorn and went to the bar around 10:00. And unfortunately stayed there for several hours. Jack, the bartender, was quite liberal in his pours. I went to bed around 2:00 - Diane and Nan stayed until 3;15 and Jeffrey and Ed closed the place with Jack at 4:00. Poor Jack - he's also the cook, so he had to get up and start making breakfast a couple of hours later.
We got up just in time to have breakfast. We said our goodbyes to Anne and Jeffrey - they were going to take a week's holiday in Ireland. Nan and Janet finally surfaced and we checked out and packed up the cars and said goodbye to Ed who was driving home to London. The rest of us with Diane driving one car and Nan driving the other headed south to the coastal town of Lyme Regis where we shopped and walked and had lunch. Diane and I said goodbye to the others who were going to return their rental and catch the train back into the city. We headed north and stopped by Stonehenge. It was neat to see - much smaller than I'd expected. I guess I've been a bit spoiled by the Incas, though.
We made it back to London and dropped off the car around 7:30. Traffic wasn't bad, but there were very few cabs - many had stayed out because of the protest march. We got back to The Duke's and checked in again - this time they gave me the Lord Nelson Suite! With a living and dining room. Not bad.
Diane and I went across the street to a restuarant called Avenue. Ehhh. It wasn't great, although my crispy duck spring roll starter was nice. I had the lamest cheese plate I'd ever seen. But it had been a long day, so we were both eager to get some rest.
On Monday morning I got up and packed and met Diane for breakfast. We said goodbye - she leaves from Gatwick again - and I caught a cab to Paddington. There was quite a bit of traffic and I just missed the train, so I was a bit late checking in, but they didn't snarl at me. Quite the security search though - all checked bags going to the US are hand searched.
I had enough time for a coffee in the lounge - since the plane was delayed about twenty minutes. I went to the gate and found my seat and off we went. I was a little bored on the flight since it was my fourth transatlantic BA flight this month, so I've seen all the movies. At least they'll change them before I go back again in ten days!
Made up some time in the air and landed about 2:40 p.m. Took a cab home and Suki said I was never, ever to do that again. She hadn't trashed the place, but she did eat all her food, so I'd better stop and get more tonight.
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Quote du jour:
"For most of my life the only ceremonies I've been to at which women were the stars were weddings. So I like weddings."
-- Anna Quindlen (1953 - ____) US journalist, novelist
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