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Another good Saturday

The weather on Natasha’s birthday was beautiful – a bit crisp and windy, but bright sunny skies. We did not want to miss an opportunity for a day out, so we decided to take a train to the city, visit a museum and then stroll around…

… but the train station greeted us with a sign that no trains would be stopping due to some construction work. Taking a bus to another station (and repeating the exercise in reverse on the way back) would be too much of a hassle. Fortunately, we had a plan B in mind all along. So instead, we got into our car and drove away from the city, towards the coast, to visit Dover Castle.

No traffic all day – what a blessing! The distance was over 60 miles, mostly on a highway, where speed limit is known to be 70 mph, but where are neither signs to remind you of that, nor police to scare you into driving slower. There are occasional work zones, with a 50 mph limit and “speed cameras” warnings (I tried but did not happen to see an actual camera – and I know what they look like) – the traffic does slow down to 50 on those intervals, but it does not cause congestion. The rest of the way we were flying…

Dover is a major connection to the continent. There are several ferries and a car-transporting tunnel train in and around the area. Yet, probably because of the time of the year, in the middle of the day on Saturday, the town and the roads looked rather sleepy. We did not linger much, as our goal was the castle, but we then drove around the town later in search of a place to eat, and everywhere was fairly deserted.

The castle’s major structures were built in 12th century, and it was an important coastal residence of the kings for several generations. There is a number of attractions spread on 70 acres of hills. We visited a couple, of which the main keep is the most interesting one, providing a good insight on travel accommodations of medieval kings (as it often happens, the toilets were especially revelatory). There are also tremendous views onto the English Channel from a number of vantage points. The outside views of the castle structures are more impressive than what you see inside, overall.

Kimmy played a part-time guide in our walks. Apparently, in school, they have been having classes on English history or something, talking about castles and palaces. So she knew some of the specifics (“Castles were built on the top of the large hills, so that nobody could come by”, for instance).

As we have joined so called English Heritage membership a couple of weeks ago, the entry to the castle was free. The membership costs £65 a year for a family of four, and provides free entry to over 400 sights around a country. Last week, Eltham Palace would have cost us about £23 straight up (we could bring it down to £15 with a coupon). Dover Castle would have cost us £29. With our next visit to one of the Heritage sights, we cover the membership expense and start getting ahead. Surprisingly good deal!

Even membership could not get us onto a tour of Secret War Tunnels, which is another primary attraction in the castle. There is one tour every hour with a limit of 30 people, and you better book in advance. Even on a slow day like today – I estimate maybe a hundred cars in the entire parking lot – we were told that all tours were fully booked. Oh, well, there is always next time.

While the two oldest members of our family can spend hours on purposeful, yet relaxed, sightseeing, our younger members have a limit of a couple of hours, give or take. After that, a change of scenery – preferably a restaurant – is the only remedy. We drove to the center of the town, and spent some time trying to locate a place to eat – everywhere we went was either closed until 6 pm, closed for a private function, or closed altogether. In a word, closed. We eventually found a rather nice restaurant, masquerading as a pub, but with a feel of a chain a la Appleby’s. The food was very nice and then the girls got chocolate fondue for dessert, followed by a major sugar rush…

On the way back, we were following the primary road for cars arriving from the continent and heading for London. Every half-mile or so, a sign greeted us in 4 languages reminding that we should be driving on the left side of the road…

In other news, Becky is getting fully into the swing of British student life. She already joined the school theater production for performance next week (her role is, obviously, quite small, but it’s a start). The drama club at her school holds a lot of activities throughout the year, and she is very interested in being part of that.

The school plans a trip to Shanghai next spring for her grade. Only the best students are supposed to go – and whose parents can afford paying for the trip in addition to the exorbitant tuition… Since she is not far behind in studying Mandarin – it starts in 7th grade, so the rest of the girls are only a couple of months ahead of her, – there is a reasonable chance that we’ll have to pay up…

We started leaving the house at 7:15 in the morning, and on both Thursday and Friday, I managed to come back to the house by 7:55 – which is exactly the length of the round-trip that I had been always counting on. In other words, the worst of the traffic starts around 7:30. I guess this is what we will stick to. Poor Becky has to now be in school good 50 minutes before the start of classes. She’ll likely join the breakfast club, which will allow her to sleep a few minutes extra in the morning, skip breakfast at home and enjoy company of the girls while she waits for the first class to start.

In the spirit of trying to fit in the new organization, I am participating in various outings with coworkers. Yesterday, we spent several hours after work in arcades. I stunk in pool and in various car and motorcycle races, but handily beat everybody in laser shooting. There was also bowling, killing zombies (I must have really beem missing something in my life before, as I have unexpectedly done exceedingly well in a couple of different shooting activities…), air hockey (we had an undisputed champion, whom I came closest to unseating – but still lost), and tons of other games. The best of all were bumper cars – which are called dodge’ems here – the non-comptetitive nature of the activity truly allowed for unbridled excitement. Several pints of lager helped too…

Posted in Chronicles, In London

4 Comments

  1. MAMA, again

    Hi, all my dearest children,
    It seemed to me that I am the most devoted reader of your diaries, but what a vonderfull idea!
    I read everything at least 2 times-1st quikly, then more careful with all detailes mulled in my mind and imagination. I feelling myself so close to you at this time and so involved in all your activities.I know that your papa do the same,secretly, when I cann’t catch him with this. I see that he does not want to show his weakness-that he missed all of you as much as I am.
    So, to resume my today comments:once more-happy bithday to you, dear Natasha! Good luck, big patient, keep your mood up and remember that you, kids and our estranged son always welcome back!It is not more than 2 years (hopefully).

  2. Tamila+Yan

    Privet Rebyata,
    Happy Birthday, Natasha!!!
    May this be a year full of wonerful surprises for you!!!!
    My tozhe s udovol’stviyem chitaeym vash blog. Ilyushka, spasibo chto pishesh obo vsem tak podrobno.

    Becky, Good luck with Chinese!!!
    T+Y

  3. sasha

    Natashka, happy birthday.

    We are joining a massive flow of congrats on your first official offshore celebration; miss you all a little bit more than usual, while planning a near future trip to London.

    As I was reading through terrifying morning commute experiences of my cousin a suggestion to an obvious problem came to my disturbed mind.

    A pre-paid Car service for Becky might be an answer. Although I am not sure if such a convient service exist in a ruined by traffic lights and speed limits country.

    Love and kisses, sashamarina.
    Cheers!!!

  4. Shemper

    Natashka!

    Privet,
    Happy belated birthday! We have a good excuse for the tardiness. We just came back from Thailand. What a vacation!!!
    Lina and I wish you all the best.
    Love you and miss you!

    Ilyuha! What can say. You the man. Love your writing. On my first day in the office after the 3 week hiatus and about 500 emails “v zasade” I spent an hour today catching up on your blog.

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