Tuesday, June 8, 2010

"What are men to rocks and mountains?"

If you know me well, you know my favorite author, without a doubt, is Jane Austen. My dear little sister might say I border obsession. My trip to London has always included seeing Jane Austen's home and museum, and that is how I spent my Friday.

I read online to take a train to Alton, and from there catch a bus to Chawton, where the family home, and now museum, are located. I left the train station, but saw no signs of the bus I was to take. I decided to walk in the direction of tourist information, certain someone there would point me to the house. But before I found tourist information, I found a sweet looking used bookstore. A sucker for book stores in general, it was the collection of Austen works in the window that lured me in this time. I picked out a few books, very old, hard bound copies of Emma, Persuasion, and Pride and Prejudice, and a book of letters written by Austen (though I was hoping for a complete set of her works). I chatted with the sweet lady at the store and she asked if I knew how to get to the house. I said no, and she replied that it was an easy walk. She said after about a mile down the same road, I would come to a grassy area, and there I would see signs for the house. That sounded easy enough.

It was a sunny, hot day, and I set off on my walk. I found the grassy area, and just beyond it a roundabout leading away from town. The signs I saw pointed down a highway. A bit confused, I cautiously crossed the roundabout and began walking down the shoulder of the highway, through prickly grass. After about a quarter of a mile, without seeing anything promising a museum, I convinced myself I was wrong and walked back to the grassy area. There was a map there, and as I was studying it, trying to figure out where to go, a girl about my age passed by with a bag from the Austen House gift shop. She kindly told me how to get there, which is what I originally thought: walking along the highway, for about 25 minutes. So I did just that, wearing flimsy flip flops, carrying my purse, now heavy with the books I purchased, in the hot sun. I had to laugh at myself.

Eventually, I came to the village of Chawton. I saw someone unloading a service van, and asked him if I was walking in the right direction. He said: "Oh yeah, just across the street. Do you see it?" I thanked him and walked passed the van, only to realize that I was literally, just across the street from my destination. I toured the house and property, which was modest and well-kept. And then I had a cup of tea across the street at Cassandra's Cup (Jane's sister and closest friend was Cassandra). And then I set off on my trek back to Alton, to catch the train back to London.

I arrived in London, hoping to get lucky with a last minute ticket to a show at the Globe, but due to issues on the Tube, I was late. Instead, I toured the Tate Modern. Modern art isn't my favorite, but there were some neat exhibits. I collected my luggage from my hostel, checked my email, and then went to the airport for the night, so that I would be able to catch my flight in the morning.

The next morning was an adventure in itself...I will summarize it by waiting in line over an hour to check-in, being rushed twenty minutes before my flight through the line, depositing my luggage on a different belt (which is why it did not arrive with my flight) and then running, literally, through the airport. I found my gate as I heard over the intercom system: "Last and final boarding call for flight EZ7545 to Madrid. The gate is now closing." I yelled across the waiting area: "Please wait!" And somehow I made it on the flight, thank goodness.

London was quite an adventure, to say the least! I cannot wait to go back some day.

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