Hey Y'all!

It took me awhile to get here, but alas I'm finally joining the blogosphere of bloviation. It took a rant floating around in my head to send me toward this journey, but so be it. We'll have some fun here too. I promise. Thanks for stopping by! Don't forget to leave me a comment or two. ~ diane

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Trip of a Lifetime - Part 2

Good heavens. I've been back a month now, and still haven't posted "the rest of the story" of our London adventures! Life does get in the way of good intentions. I've got so many pictures to share. Consider yourself warned. Now where was I?

After our wonderful visit with Lydia and Steve Kirk, their kids Fliss, Tommy, and Betsy, Lydia's parents, and the incredible staff at the 390th/Parham Airfield Museum, Steve drove us back to London on Thursday, August 28th. We had lunch with Dad at Heathrow, then made sure he was safely escorted for his flight back home. Hannah, Aaron and I then headed for the apartment we’d rented for the next four nights. Through Airbnb.com, we’d found a gorgeous and roomy two story, two bedroom, two bath loft in the Wimbledon area for way less than what we might have paid for a cramped hotel room. We were all pretty tired, so we decided to stay in that night. I took a nap while the kids went to a corner market and picked up some groceries for us. Later, Aaron made us chicken alfredo. A man who can cook AND clean up afterward? It’s a beautiful thing.

Over the next few days, I have to admit I fell head over heels for London. As much as we got to see, I definitely want to go back sometime for a couple of weeks or more and do all of the guided tours. But we certainly got a feel for the city and its rich history.

 Westminster Palace, home of both houses of Parliament and Big Ben (the main bell, not the clock) which tops the famous Elizabeth Tower which leans, but certainly not as much as it appears to!
Concert before the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.
Had to laugh to hear them playing a Billy Joel medley instead of something more, I don't know, English?

Quite a palace! Sadly, Her Majesty didn't have time for a cuppa
when we stopped by. Maybe next time.
Off they go ... wherever palace guards ... go?


The iconic Tower Bridge (often mistaken for the London Bridge)

Can you imagine kayaking down the Thames?
 One of the highlights was getting to see the “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red" – an evolving installation of ceramic poppies in the moats surrounding London Tower to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I. By summer’s end, a total of 888,246 poppies would flow from that famous tower, each one representing a British life lost in that war. (You can read more about it HERE.) It was such a powerful image symbolizing the high cost of freedom.
We strolled through open markets ...
posed with large hunks of cheese ...
and drooled over these amazing desserts (well, not literally, of course).
We did "The Betsy" by a red telephone booth ... (private joke)
 bought roasted peanuts from a street vendor on the London Bridge ...
glammed it up in front of the Horse Guards Palace ...
 paid our respects to a guard on a horse ...
and enjoyed amazing meals at lots of quaint pubs.
On Saturday night, Hannah had planned a special evening for just the two of us. We took the Tube back into town and dined at St. George's Tavern, sharing the most amazing chicken pot pie.
 Afterward, she led me around the corner where I saw this ...
 Oh. My. GOSH.
I’d seen the musical Wicked with my sister Morlee last year in Nashville and absolutely loved it. Unbeknownst to me, when Hannah found out it was still playing in London, she went on the hunt for tickets!
 I was so shocked as we bustled our way into the theater with everyone else. As she led me down the aisle, she hesitated and said she wasn’t sure how to find our seats. Then she said, “Oh wait – that’s right. We’re on the FRONT ROW!”
I stopped in my tracks, and I’m pretty sure my jaw nearly touched the floor. Turns out, my Midas-touch daughter had discovered that the theater saves “day seats” – front row seats which are deeply discounted ($29), available for purchase at 10 a.m. the day of the performance. Hannah had snuck out before dawn that morning, rode the Tube into town, and waited in line for hours to get those tickets. Silly me. I assumed she'd gone to a nearby coffee shop to work. I still can’t believe she pulled off such a big surprise. Have to admit, I was still gobsmacked even as those colorful characters started singing and dancing mere feet from us! Best surprise EVER! 
 Hard to top such a spectacular night, but on Sunday we ventured out on our last day. Have I mentioned how much we loved London's subway system?

Stopped by Kensington Palace ...
 ... of course we had no idea that Kate was in there suffering from a wee case of morning sickness or we certainly would have wished her well. Or maybe given her a saltine. Instead we strolled the gardens and might have gotten a little lost ...

Thankfully, the clouds broke in time for our ride on the London Eye. The 365-degree view is breathtaking! Takes about 30 minutes for a full rotation. 


Got a little lost (again) on one of those red buses, so we never made it to Notting Hill. Maybe next time. But we did pop down to the Shake Shack in Convent Garden. Somewhere in the open atrium an opera diva sang familiar songs as we enjoyed our treats ...
After walking a bazillion miles for 3 days and seeing so many amazing sights, we chillaxed our last night at the apartment. I'm not sure, but I think Hannah was a tad travel-weary after 3 months of traipsing through 9 countries ... ya think?
As for me, I will always remember the unforgettable time we spent in England. From our visit to the home of the 390th where Dad served during WWII ...
to meeting forever friends like Lydia and Steve Kirk ...
 to spending time with Hannah and getting to know her travel buddy,
Aaron Bradshaw (and yes, they're just buddies) ...

 to the pleasure of seeing a part of the world
I've always wanted to visit ... it truly was the trip of a lifetime.
Thanks for letting me share!
P.S. You're never gonna believe my next post ... coming soon!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Trip of a Lifetime - Part 1

Taking off for Heathrow!
Never in my wildest imaginings did I ever come close to how incredibly amazing our trip to England would be. Even sacked with massive jet lag and a grueling wait through customs at Heathrow, Dad and I were thrilled to find Hannah waving at us as we finally emerged through the gate. Oh, what a heavenly hug to finally wrap my arms around our beautiful daughter who’s been traveling Europe all summer! With her, at long last we met Aaron Bradshaw, her back-packing buddy, and … Steve Kirk! Steve, along with his wife Lydia and their three kids, would be our hosts in Parham for the next four days.

I must confess to more than a few goose bumps as Steve turned into their property which housed the 390th some seventy years ago. Spotting that control tower – the same one Dad flew over on so many missions – was positively surreal, like stepping back in time. I could hardly wait to visit the museum which it now houses.

Just so you know, writing may now be my profession, but I’ll never find the adequate words to express how unforgettable our visit was with Lydia and Steve and their three adorable children – Fliss, Tommy, and Betsy. They’d decorated their home both inside and out with American flags and “welcome” banners to boot! Shortly after we arrived, Lydia served us a traditional “Sunday Roast” with all the trimmings - including Yorkshire pudding. SO good. We were astounded to each have our own room in their lovely home. Can you imagine having that many guest rooms?

Lydia had planned a wonderful itinerary for our visit, including plenty of time at the Parham Airfield Museum located there in that historic control tower. Earlier this summer, they celebrated a grand re-opening after a large addition was built to showcase more of the 390th memorabilia. It’s a fascinating museum, and the passion of the docents who volunteer their time is contagious from the moment you enter.

Just as I’d expected, Dad was quite the rock star once he set foot in that historic building. Visitors clung to him like Velcro, asking questions, wanting his autograph, and having pictures taken with him. Meeting Lydia’s father Peter Kindred (below), who oversees the running of the museum, was such a treat. Peter is a walking, talking historian who loves sharing his knowledge about the 390th and those who served on so many acres of the family’s farmland.

(Standing) Peter Kindred, President of the Parham Airfield Museum, with Dad and a museum visitor
Later, a reporter from the Suffolk BBC interviewed both of us, and we got to hear portions played on the radio the next day. What a joy to be able to stand back and experience all this with my father!

And if that wasn’t enough, they threw a belated, surprise 91st birthday party for him! Check out that cake with his picture on it! 

The next day we visited Framlingham Castle, the iconic 11th-century structure that was such a welcoming sight for the crews of the B-17s as they returned from missions. On a side note, Dad’s brother, my Uncle Ralph, researched our family’s genealogy several years ago and traced us back to Sir Roger Bigod, the Earl of Norfolk, who built the castle. Small world, eh? 
Other stops on our itinerary included a delicious lunch at a pub called the White Horse Inn. The cozy ambience was exactly as I’d envisioned the pub where “Danny” and his friends visited in my book. It was also where we had our first taste of Sticky Toffee Pudding. Yum!

Tuesday evening we ate fish and chips in the quaint village on the North Sea called Aldeburgh (which, pronounced to our Yankee ears sounded just like Oprah, keeping us confused to say the least.) Afterward Steve and Lydia took us to see The Late Edwina Black, a “whodunit” at Aldeburgh’s summer theater.

On Wednesday, we stopped by the Framlingham Church where in 1995, on a trip here to commemorate the 50th anniversary of VE Day, Mom and Dad attended services. (No, the building isn't leaning ... apparently the photographer was!)


We fell in love with Framlingham!
 Later, Peter took Dad and me to the building which housed the 390th's chapel/movie theater. Talk about stepping back in time …
Lydia had also arranged a phone interview with a reporter from the local newspaper on our last full day there. A photographer met us at the museum for a photo shoot, and later, we had a lengthy chat with the reporter.

Then, on our last evening, Lydia had arranged a dinner river cruise on the Lady Florence. The weather was perfect, the captain’s running commentary was fascinating, the meal in the boat’s dining room was lots of fun, and the sunset … the perfect ending to a day of memories.
Aaron Bradshaw, Hannah Moody, Peter Kindred, Lydia and Steve Kirk
Dad, signing Peter's copy of The Story of the 390th Bombardment Group
 (also known as "The Blue Book")
Before we left on Thursday morning, Lydia prepared a traditional English breakfast – including baked beans alongside eggs, bacon, and sausage. Fliss thought it quite odd we'd never had beans with our eggs!

Shortly afterward we had to say our goodbyes.
Tommy, Steve, Fliss, Betsy, and Lydia
Even as I’m writing this, my eyes have filled with tears of joy. Who could have imagined that two years ago I would write a novel based on Dad’s experiences during the war which would one day connect us to this family whose roots are planted in the soil that once hosted American allies who’d come to do their part in WWII. I’m so thankful that Lydia read my book and wrote to me, forever bonding our families together. Now, it's their turn to come to America, amen?!

Later that morning, we made sure Dad was taken care of for his flight back home. Afterward, Hannah, Aaron, and I checked in at a beautiful rental home in London where we stayed for three more days to see the sights. More on that next time.

Of course, I’ve only skimmed the surface here, sharing highlights of our visit, but thanks for letting me share them. I had a feeling this would be “the trip of a lifetime” – and oh my goodness, was it ever!