22 January, 2012

1 Week, 2 Friends, 3 Cities

Last week my dear friend Betsy came to visit!  We hadn't seen each other since she moved to Nashville last spring.  It was so exciting to show her some of my London favorites and discover new things with her!

Kew Gardens (= heaven)
On Monday we went to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.  I had forgotten about Kew Gardens amongst the endless list of sights and experiences London offers -- but it sounded like a good non-hectic way to kick off the week.  We were unexpectedly, entirely bowled over!  It's no exaggeration to say that we spent the afternoon wandering in a wide-eyed, open-jawed, dreamy daze, repeatedly asking each other if we'd stumbled into Alice's Wonderland or found the backdoor to heaven!  It was an expansive haven swimming in that otherworldly golden afternoon light that seems reserved for winter days...  I was struck by the realization that as Kew Gardens was established and developed over the 18th and 19th centuries, travel (or at least long-distance travel to faraway lands) wasn't yet accessible to a great many people.  For many Londoners, coming to Kew Gardens was their opportunity to "travel" and experience another part of the world by seeing its flora.  They could walk through a reconstructed tropical forest, see how coffee beans grow, or stroll through a Mediterranean garden.  Kew Gardens brought the world to people who couldn't go see it. 

On Tuesday we visited Bath, takingthe train there through countryside thinly veiled by frost.  This is just what I dreamed of as a young girl brought up on things like "Wind in the Willows": the rolling fields loosely divided by hedges; the distant hill with one lone tree left to stand atop it like a sentinel; the tiny sudden clusters of brick houses and centuries-old churches to watch over them.  Bath itself was lovely -- not the amusement park-y tourist trap that I expected, but a regal, rambling old town.  The Roman baths reminded me that people have been dwelling in these streets much, much longer than my country has even existed!  No Captain Wentworth sightings to report, sadly, but we still had a great day.

Alice's gate & the Cheshire Cat's tree - Photo by Betsy Walker
Friday was Oxford day!  We explored Christ Church College, St John's College, and Lincoln College, as well as the Ashmolean Museum and just generally rambling and enjoying the "dreaming spires."  We had lunch with my dear friend Per at the Turf Tavern, and an evening drink at the Eagle and Child pub of Inklings fame.  Another highlight came from hitting it off with the docent at Christ Church Cathedral; after a couple minutes of pleasant chatter and corny jokes, I guess he decided we were alright, because he pulled us aside to a door labeled "PRIVATE."  The door opened onto a walled church garden.  There is a green door in the wall through which Alice Liddell would run to go to church services; this was the inspiration for the gate whose keyhole Alice peeks through in "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and sees the beautiful garden she wants to find.  On the other side of the wall stands a tall tree on which Carroll based the cheshire cat's perch.  Carroll's office windows look directly onto the garden, and he clearly found a lot of inspiration in it! 

Me & Bets
Other highlights of the week included touring Westminster Abbey together and exploring Greenwich and Borough Market....but most of all, it was just wonderful to be in the same place with Betsy again -- that always means laughter, stories, good advice, and encouragement!  I think a trip to Nashville will be in order once I'm back Stateside...

1 comment:

carrie said...

I just love this. Two of my favorites.