Today we woke up early. Really early. We went to sleep early last night, Karen significantly earlier than my 11:00pm. I woke up at 3:30a, thinking that the alarm hadn't gone off, and then went back to sleep until Karen woke me up about 6:10am. She was already up and blogging and such. We got up, ready and had a quick and simply, but good and filling breakfast downstairs before heading out.
We had to catch our train to Oxford from Paddington at 9:21, so we left the house around 8:00. It took only about 40 minutes to get to Paddington station via tube, so Karen stopped and got a coffee and a chocolate pastry for the train ride while I determined which platform we departed from. The train ride over was fairly uneventful, very sleep inducing. We left the station and found the car hire place very quickly. The staff there were wonderful and they got us in and out in a pretty quick time considering that they were helping 4 people and answering the phone. The adventure was about to begin.
So, we head out from the station and I took an easy left turn, knowing that it was not the way I wanted to go, but that it would be easier. I honestly expected to drive around for a little bit, get the feel of things, and then head into a gas station and buy an atlas. The first turn went well. The road sort of veered to the left, with an entrance into a business going straight. I began to turn left, and I saw a car in my lane, heading my direction, and I freaked out thinking that the road became a one way and I missed it somehow. I pulled into the business and turned around, realizing that the car in "my" lane was actually in the opposite lane and I was attempting to go the wrong way. WOOPS! I got back onto the road in the direction that we came from and headed back out, in the correct direction and in the correct lane. This time, things went much better.
We left Oxford in what I thought was the general direction that we needed to head, but was wrong. We were headed basically south and needed to go northwest. We kept driving, winding through country roads and through a few small villages before we found a more major road. A quick stop at a gas station for an atlas, one wrong turn, and we were in the right direction. We headed toward Stratford, passing through several quaint villages that were packed with people finishing their Christmas shopping. We found our way into Stratford, zipped around town and then headed toward our farmstay, Ingon Bank Farm (www.ingonbankfarmbandb.co.uk). This place is amazing! The couple that runs it are very nice, and I can't wait until breakfast tomorrow morning. Karen is finally going to get her full English, and I'm excited about the eggs, mushrooms, and tomatoes that we discussed.
After taking the bags up to the room, Karen had a cup of tea before we left back for town. We needed to get some lunch - we had "The Big Fish" which is fast food fish and chips, I had the veggie burger and Karen had another meat pie- and wanted to get some crackers and snacks for Christmas day. If you are not familiar with crackers, they are these tube shaped packages dressed in Christmas decor, they look like a wrapped cylinder, with a bow on each end and paper sticking out beyond that. You grab them by the two ends and pulled, igniting a small popper inside which then allows them to be ripped open to expose the gifts inside. We found this giant cracker on sale at a sort of dollar store (pound store? stirling store?), the thing being about 6 inches around and 2 feet in length. We also stopped into a Marks & Spencer grocery store and bought some biscuits, cheese and cookies.
We went back to the farm and promptly crashed for naps. I slept nearly 3 hours before Karen woke me up. We decided we should probably go get some food before it was too late. We ended up back in Stratford, not exactly sure where we were at nor where we were going. I found a few pubs and restaurants that were open and parked. I'm not sure I was even parked legally, I can't quite tell how street markings work here yet. I know it was after the pay parking hours though, so I felt okay about leaving the car. We headed to 5 places before we found something to eat. The first was only serving guests, the second had just closed the kitchen, the third and fourth were only serving alcohol, but then we found the Cafe Rouge (www.caferouge.co.uk), a French cafe. It was a great choice. Karen had a sort of deconstructed beef stew, and I had a penne with mushrooms and leeks. Simple but very, very good. The ingredients were very fresh. After settling our tab, we walked about for a little bit, checking out some of the lights and shops in the area. Nearly everything was closed as it was almost 10:00pm, but it was nice to look around.
We got back to the car and noticed that a helicopter was hovering nearby. It was sort of creepy to me, but we got in a drove off. I didn't know which way we needed to go, but knew that there were enough signs to find our road. We ended up driving past a police van that was stopped beneath the helicopter and their were police standing looking over a cemetery wall with huge flashlights. Not sure what was going on, but the use of helicopters by a small police force seems very bizarre to me. I guess the UK is a big brother state though. There are cameras EVERYWHERE.
After finally finding our way out of time, I realized we were headed almost exactly the wrong way. I turned around, and we headed back to the farm.
Today was a really weird day for me. I think I was very stressed out. When we got to the car rental place, they informed us that they had upgraded us to a Ford S-Max. This is a very cool wagon-crossover car and I really like it, but it is significantly larger than the car I had reserved and enormous when compared to the smart fourtwo. I found myself driving into the piled snow drifts on the left side of the road because I'm not used to having to watch that side of the road very much. Not knowing every single road rule, dealing with roundabouts, and odd yields and signals wore on me as the day went on. Everything went smoothly, but it was nerve-grating. Hopefully it will be smoother from now on.
Another thing that is really bizarre - I feel worried and homesick today. I'm not sure why, I mean, I miss the dogs, but I know that they are good, but for some other reason I want to be at home. I rarely really feel that when I'm gone from the house, unless Karen is not with me. I can't figure out what it is this time. I'm comfortable, we are seeing cool things, and I like the places were are staying. I think London wore me out, but the big nap today and the early night last night helped a lot. I am enjoying myself, just can't figure this out. I think part of it might be the amount of money we are spending, but we have enough to make it through the trip easily enough, it's just so much more than we would spend at home or even on vacation in the US.
I forgot to mention one thing yesterday. While we were in the Tower of London, one of the actresses was making King Edward II's bed and she asked if we thought it looked good enough. This guy standing next to us said "No" and the woman turned around and addressed me saying "I'm not done yet, I just meant this spot!" and sort of joking asked what my problem with it was. The guy that did it and I had a good laugh at each other and I said "Thanks!" before he turned back to here and said something about the colonists always causing trouble. It was really funny. I got called a colonist!
Pictures from today: http://s290.photobucket.com/albums/ll256/sandalscout/GB%202010-2011/Dec%2024-Oxford%20to%20Stratford-on-Avon/?start=all
Sorry for the lack of pictures in the post itself, once I get faster internet, I'll get them placed inline. (Done!)