Hope 2012 is off to a good start for you. I started the year in England — my first transatlantic trip — at the invitation of The Captain who for 10 days squired me around, arranged transportation and lodging, suggested venues and menu choices, translated, guided – all in all, the consummate host.
My first attempt to fly out was a bust as my scheduled flight on Continental was canceled due to fog in the Houston hub. So I took a cue from the popular British series Doctor Who and tried a different means of transport. Here’s me arriving on New Year’s Eve Day in Maidenhead, in the borough of Windsor, on the River Thames.
First order of business after flying all night was breakfast, as in “full English.” And I do mean full: eggs, meats and fish; pastries, breads and cereals; yogurts, vegetables and fruits; juices, jams, condiments and spreads. And beans. Not refried — baked. The locals like to put them on buttered toast. Of course there was tea but fortunately for me, coffee is everywhere too. In the name of being a good guest I did try the Marmite, a popular yeast extract spread. OK, that I could cheerfully live without. I also tried the omnipresent HP Brown Sauce, which to me tasted like ketchup minus the tomatoes.
Then it was on to tour Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world and the Queen of England’s preferred weekend residence. It’s huge. Touring the public spaces is like visiting a museum. Swords and castles feature prominently in my latest novel, The Lost King, so I found Windsor Castle especially fascinating. Between the history – it dates back to the 11th century – the grounds, the architecture, the furnishings and exhibits on display, a day just wasn’t enough to see it all.
But jet lag and hunger were setting in so it was off to a pub. There were way too many cute and quaint ones to choose from, including this one, the Crooked House. Pubs used to be just drinking establishments but most have found that they need to offer food also in order to be successful. We sampled several different beers (“local bitters”) and contrary to the rumor, British beer is not warm. It’s not ice-cold either but it is cool. And tasty! As was the food. I guess British food is reputed to be bland but the steak-and-ale pie that I had was was really yummy.
That evening I was invited to a congenial New Year’s Eve house party with plenty of champagne and hors d’oeuvres, including samosas, deep-fried snacks found in Indian cuisine. Having traveled the better part of the previous day and flown most of the previous night before spending hours touring Windsor, by now I was pretty tired so I didn’t greet the New Year exactly at midnight. Besides, there was more adventure in store for the next day.