Day 3: I was up at 3 AM, and again at 4:30. Our sleep schedules were way off. The travel alarm went off at 5 AM Saturday, May 26. We got our marching orders the night before. The plan was for Trafalgar to give us a wake-up call at 5:45. At 6:15, we were supposed to put our luggage in the hallway outside our rooms. The bags would be collected and put on the coach. At least, we hoped they'd be put on the coach. At 6:30, we were all to meet in the hotel restaurant for breakfast, and then hit the road by 7:15. It sounded like they had everything figured out. 

After a shower, I wandered downstairs to look around. I guess I was afraid the coach would leave without us. There was already a crowd of people in the lobby. I overheard a blonde lady in checked pants talking to a friend. The day before, she went shopping at the famous Harrad's department store, and then she toured Buckingham Palace. "Of course, it's old," she explained, then added, "it wasn't what I expected." She said the interior was "dark" and "gruesome," and commented, "I could see why Princess Diana was so uncomfortable." 

Back upstairs, I met up with a family in the hallway, Sharon from Illinois and her parents. They were on our tour, too, but their timetables had different times. Donna and I went down for the "full" breakfast, which was actually in the hotel's pub. There was fruit and juice, and cold cuts I could make into a sandwich. The chocolate bran muffins were delicious. I stuck an apple in my bag for a snack. An Enya album played on the loudspeakers. The morning Times predicted a "maximum" (not a "high") of 64F for southeast England that day. We met up with a nice girl named Jocelyn who was on our tour. She was also on our same flight from Chicago. 

We all filed outside and into the coach. It was cloudy and chilly out. Nick, our tour guide, announced, "This is the Amazing Britain tour– it does not go to Ireland." Apparently, there had been some confusion. At 7:40, we took off. Nick pointed out interesting places as we rode through London. Passing Hyde Park, he pointed out the Queen's Gate, which narrowly escaped being melted down for scrap during World War II. We rode down Grosvenor Place, past the fortified walls of Buckingham Palace. Small roofs were visible over the walls. Nick explained those were houses for palace gardeners and "people to walk the corgis." We picked up some more tourists at the Trafalgar office on Bressenden Place. Our coach carried about 44 people. We passed Harrad's, where Nick commented, "A pound doesn't go very far in there." Entering the suburbs around London, Nick explained there was a property shortage in England. The average income was between 25,000 and 26,000 pounds, but the average house cost 200,000 pounds. 

Down Cromwell Road, we got on the M4 (the M is for motorway) past Heathrow Airport, then onto the M40 westbound. The M25 was called the London Orbital, because it looped in a big circle around the city. We all got nametags to wear during the tour. A quick census showed about half of us were from the U.S., with others from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Canada. Heading towards Oxford, we went through wooded hills, farms and meadows. The road curved between fields of canola and barley, with patches of red and white flowers along the way. An average farm in England was about 300 acres. A light rain fell. Nick said Britain hardly ever saw snow, except in northern Scotland, and in places like Devon they rarely ever got a frost. A little after 9 AM we stopped outside Oxford for a pit stop. The Welcome Break rest stop had several places to eat, including a KFC and a Burger King. I didn't recognize anything on the KFC menu. A Whopper cost about $10. There was a breakfast buffet with bacon, eggs and sausage... as well as grilled tomatoes, baked beans and mushrooms. It seems baked beans on toast is a traditional English breakfast. The snack bar had jelly babies and Chunky Kit Kat bars. Outside, there was a pond and some lovely flowers and plants, including phlox and lobelia. We spoke with Noreen, a psychiatrist from San Diego who was traveling with her friend Jasmine. 

Back on the road again, we passed sheep grazing in fields. We were in the Cotswolds, famous during the Middle Ages for its high-quality wool. Gentle, rolling hills passed by. It looked like something from a Tolkien novel. We saw a barge going down a narrow river. All new houses in the area had to be constructed of Cotswold stone, to blend in with the existing structures. Many had thatched roofs (held on with chicken wire). We made a brief stop at the thatched home of Anne Hathaway, who was William Shakespeare's wife. Scaffolding covered one wall as workmen repaired some of the thatching on the roof. The house was surrounded by a beautiful English garden. From there, we headed straight into Stratford-upon-Avon. 

Originally an old market town, Stratford had about 20,000 residents. Every year, millions of people visited. The coach parked, and we followed our guide down the preserved streets to Shakespeare's birthplace. The house was built in the mid-1500's. An exhibit building gives an extensive history of the house, Shakespeare's family, and the town. Inside, great care had been taken to restore the house to how it looked when Shakespeare lived there. The house is full of period furniture: the ones in dark wood were originals, and the ones in light colored wood were reproductions. Photography was not allowed inside. 
It was a big house, with many rooms. I could imagine a big family living there. It was a thrill to stand in the room William Shakespeare was born in. (Probably.) Outside were pretty gardens with many flowers and sculptures. The downtown was charming. Donna and I got some baguette sandwiches for lunch, and ate on a bench beneath a statue of a jester. At the bus stop, Donna wondered if the coach was late returning for us. Noreen joked she might have "abandonment issues." At 12:55, we were all back on the coach and headed for Coventry.  From miles away, we could see the dark tower of Warwick Castle. The castle dates back to 1066. I wished we'd had time to visit that. 
Every day on the trip, Nick would give us history lessons about the places were passed. On the night of November 14th, 1940 hundreds of German bombers attacked Coventry, which was at the time vital to England's war production. The raid was in retaliation for an attack on Munich several days earlier. Five hundred tons of bombs were dropped on Coventry over the 11-hour raid. Four thousand homes were destroyed, three-fourths of the factories were damaged, and hundreds of people were killed. Fire spread quickly through all the old Tudor buildings in the city. The damage was so extensive, Germans would use the word "Koventrieren" to describe other bombing attacks. St. Michael's Cathedral, which stood since the 15th century, was destroyed in the raid. Rather than tear it down, the citizens of Coventry built a new cathedral right next door, leaving the ruined shell in remembrance. We pulled up alongside the ruined cathedral. Dark, low clouds had moved in again. The group set out to see the statue to Lady Godiva, which was a Coventry landmark, but by the time we caught up they were already halfway back. There was a small concert playing on the steps of the new cathedral. A vibrant young girl was singing "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" to an excited crowd. Lots of high school kids and gothy college youths lounged in the grass around the structures. The interior of the old cathedral is open only for tours. We could still look through the bombed-out windows and get an idea of how magnificent it must have been. It must have been heartbreaking to worship in such a place your  whole  life and then see it hollowed-out by fire. The Allied bombing of Dresden was in retaliation for Coventry. The inside of the new cathedral was dark and solemn, but the modern stained glass windows were glorious. 
At 2 PM, we were back on the coach. Nick warned us "we've got some driving to do." It was 90 minutes to our next stop, through some pretty but monotonous landscape. Actually, the trees and green fields looked not that different from eastern Oklahoma. I fell asleep for a while. Nick the guide promised we wouldn't have any more long driving days like that. At 3:30, we pulled off at Stafford for a tour of the Wedgewood China factory. We had to stop for a passing train. Huge lime trees lined the road. I honestly thought the china factory would bore me to tears, but it was really interesting. The pottery on display, some 200 years old, were truly works of art. It turns out Josiah Wedgewood was the guy who invented the money-back guarantee. There was no photography allowed inside. Of course, they had a gift shop, and we got some stuff for relatives back home. I was a little surprised to discover the prestigious Wedgewood factory made "Simpsons" dishes, but hey, if it sells, more power to them. I got a Coke and a scone for a snack. I wasn't sure how to pronounce scone. I asked the counter girl if it was pronounced like rhyming with "stone" or ‘fawn." She laughed and said it rhymed with stone, but added, "It depends what region you're in." I was just getting used to English accents when we started to hear Scottish accents. Back on the road, we saw a farmer in one field, checking out his "coos." 

The coach slowed down next to a street that was so narrow,  I felt glad we wouldn't be trying to drive down it... And then, the driver backs down that narrow street so that we could turn around, passing mere inches from road signs and telephone poles. I learned to not watch the driving. We drove past fields of fat, unshorn sheep and a liquor store called Bargain Booze. I couldn't remember ever seeing a store with the word "booze" in the name. We saw the turnoff for Darby, site of the Rolls Royce factory (now owned by Volkswagen). Back on the highway, emergency phones were labeled "SOS." I saw a sign for the town of Uttoxeter, and saw many blackthorn trees, fringed with queen anne's lace. 

The sky got too cloudy and dark to take pictures, so I put away both my cameras. The hedgerows alongside the roads cut down the views, anyway. Just after 6 PM, we got on the M1 northbound near Derby. We passed the ruins of Bolsolver Castle, blown up by Oliver Cromwell. He did that with a lot of castles. In the distance, there was a line of five tall cooling towers, like at nuclear power plants. I think they were actually coal power plants. Lots of people in England wanted nuclear plants, but nobody wanted them nearby. The Ferrybridge Power Station looked like spaceships about to take off for Mars. We saw the rooftops of Hull, home of William Wilberforce, who was the 19th century abolitionist portrayed in the movie "Amazing Grace." In the west, the Sun was a ghostly blob high in the clouds. The modern highway was lined with new tree seedlings protected in little tubes. 

A little after 7 PM, we took the Wetherby exit for the last leg to Harrogate, where we were spending the night. We passed streets called Castle Gate and Wentworth Gate, and a beautiful waterfall on the side of the road. Harrogate was a huge city, with streets named Wayside Crescent, Cold Bath Road and St. Winfred's Avenue. There was a big memorial to soldiers killed in World War I. I could see it was later changed to include World War II, and was dedicated to "our glorious dead." There's war memorials all over Great Britain. We got to our hotel at 7:40 and got checked in. In the room, we noted the beds had no top sheet. It was like that most places we stayed in England. Supper was in the hotel restaurant, a buffet affair with pork, potatoes and salad. I ordered a beer. After an hour of waiting, and reminding the waitress three times, my beer finally arrived. We finally got to bed about 10 PM.

Preparations -- Day 1 -- Day 2 -- Day 3 -- Day 4 -- Day 5 -- Day 6
Day 7 -- Day 8 -- Day 9 -- Day 10 -- Day 11 -- Day 12 -- Epilogue
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