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|How my dreams came true|
(or unusual England)
Guerasimova Irene, an English Teacher
I'm an English teacher, and for all my teacher's life the only dream I had in a professional and emotional sense was to visit the country of the language that I teach my children to speak. I've read a lot of literature of various kinds, I was brought up on W. Scott, A. Conan Doyle, Somerset Maugham, Jerome K. Jerome and many others. But this dream was rather phantom. You can guess about the income of an ordinary school teacher and the price of tours to the British Isles.
But all happened like in a fairy tale. At first I got rather a great and unexpected deal of money. Then I decided to prepare for my touring. I didn't want to take many pupils with me, because don't forget, it was a dream, and I didn't want it to be spoilt by an awful behaviour of some boys and girls. That's why our group consisted of three girls, I trusted very much both in language skills and in culture, and one mother. The next problem to solve was getting VISA for me in the British Embassy. They didn't usually give Visas to those who have a clear passport (without any other European Visas). Mine was just like that. So I was preparing for a conversation in the Embassy. I was very nervous, but I spoke without an interpreter and tried my best to show the official how much I wanted to see their country by mentioning some rare sights and places of interest which are not usual for common tourist groups. And I got it!
Now I was to work out the plan of our excursions and trips in order not to lose a minute of our visit. This plan included usual sights in London: St. Paul's, Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, The Tower of London, London Bridge, the British Museum and the Museum of Sherlock Holmes, London Aquarium, Buckingham Palace (they call it Buck House), Kensington Palace, The Natural History Museum, Hampton Court Palace and park, Windsor castle, the famous Roman town of Bath and the "place in nowhere"- Stonehenge, and, at last, Kew Botanic Gardens. And all that was to be done within eight days. My companions were not very sure that we could do without a guide and tried to persuade me to book more excursions with a Russian guide. Later they understood that our two official excursions were too much.
All I had instead of a guide was historic knowledge of this country and its monarchy, geographical knowledge, a very good map of London and an ability to orient myself in this city. And as it proved to be, it was quite enough.
And at last, there came the great day, when we were in London. We stayed at the pretty hotel of Henry VIII in Kensington. Kensington Park was just across the road of our hotel. When we got into a coach from the airport, we saw streets full of exotic trees in blossom. Every window was in flowers. The day was cold, but very sunny. If we hadn't known we were in the capital of Great Britain, we could have thought it was some southern town in Europe (palm-trees, Japanese cherry-trees (sacura) and something of this sort).
While we were unpacking and making ourselves comfortable in our rooms, the weather changed and it started raining "cats and dogs" or pouring if you like. But Russians are not afraid of anything, especially weather. We took our umbrellas and went out bravely. The first place to search was Kensington Park. Though it was raining hard life outdoors went on very cheerfully: people were busy with their usual occupations, they ran, walked, went shopping. To tell the truth, they've got nice umbrellas, those Londoners. Their umbrellas reminded me of their famous "My home is my tower". We walked along the wet avenues of the park and enjoyed fresh green trees and grass, squirrels and birds, dashing about to ask somebody for something tasty or to find a partner (I've quite forgotten, it was in the end of April).The park was full of tulips and other spring flowers. We breathed in fresh odour in our lungs and quite forgot of the rain. In spite of the fact we got drenched to the skin we didn't catch any cold and the next day were fresh and ready for adventures.
Now I'm not going to waste your time telling about all our trips and excursions, but just about the most interesting of them, some funny incidents, some interesting details.
They were annoying. They had an awful accent and the appearance of Cherkizovo market. Every time we were to meet them they were late. On our last day in London we nearly missed our plane, 'cause our guide was later than usual. The only idea they had was to have more from poor naive tourists – their compatriots. At the beginning of our tour they frightened the tourists with different things: "it's so easy to lose your way in London without a guide", or "toilets in London have a very high fee, and only your guide knows where it is the cheapest", or "you won't be able to understand a word without a guide" and so on. The first toilet with a high fee in London, which our guide advertised, seemed to be the only thing of this sort. We didn't face this problem any longer. The most expensive excursions to museums and other sights are those with a guide (a Russian one). Almost all museums and galleries have got electronic guides in different languages free of charge. Guides mix up all the names and dates of English history (they think an ordinary Russian tourist will have it). Now it's enough of them. I hope they have respectable, high-educated guides, and simply we were not lucky.
Tower Bridge. The symbol of London, a very interesting museum inside, a magnificent view of London from the Thames.
The Tower of London. The heart, the beginning. How old is this grass with daisies? Through these gates nobles were brought in to wait for execution or death. Little Princess of York, what happened to you? Arms and armory, Royal Regalia, jewelry, instruments of torture. I was very interested in one having an opposite action to a rack, but my companions didn't want to share my interest and made me go further. Ravens. They are all in cages. The Government seems to be worried of British stability and flourishing. Mc Donald's – the final point.
Saint Paul's Cathedral. It was under restoration, but visitors were allowed in. The Gallery of Whisper – it works, we checked it up. The stairs up to the top, it's a hard work to go upstairs in St. Paul's even for teenagers let alone ladies, the stairs, are erased by the Time, very slippery. But the view from the top is magnificent. There's a very nice churchyard around St. Paul's, all in flowers. London down-and-outs like having a relax here.
A walk along the embankments of the Thames.
We didn't just enjoy the scenery but tried to put our noses under every bridge – we didn't find a sign of poverty and mud. Visited Cleopatra Needle, sat on the sphinxes – very slippery and difficult to climb up.
Parks. We were able to reach almost every point of our interest by walking through the parks: St. James Park, Green Park, Hyde Park, Kensington Park. Paradise! Birds, pelicans, tangerine ducks, squirrels – everybody wants something tasty and, at least, attention. They walk freely everywhere. No one will hurt them. Dogs with their masters without leads pay no attention to anybody, even monsters are peaceful. We saw only one representative of dogs who was aggressive – it was a Yorkshire terrier, but nobody noticed him. Dogs are in plenty, all of them have masters, one person often has two dogs – one of a high breed, the other is a mongrel – but both beloved, washed and brushed. But, to our great surprise, we didn't see a single cat outdoors! Football fields are everywhere, our girls were often invited to take part in soccer-matches.
There was a funny incident, when I was walking alone to our hotel after a long and interesting day. My companions were brave and strong enough to finish this day by going shopping, but I preferred a walk. On my way I heard wild screams and there was something familiar in them though I didn't see the whole picture. Coming up nearer I found a group of Russian pupils riding a horse monument of some English King, or trying to have their turn to ride it. Poor Londoners did their best not to pay attention at guys as they usually do. But I'm not a Londoner, I'm a Russian teacher of the English language, and I couldn't bear that. I came up and shouted at them in simple Russian words, saying they were a shame of the country to behave this way. They were so surprised to come across a Russian teacher while having such a nice time, that they disappeared in no time. If we had been in Russia my fate would have been very sad.
And, of course, I can't help mentioning beautiful swans of Kensington Park. They are the masters of the pond opposite the Palace.
Kensington Palace. The residence of Princess Diana and Prince Charles. Now the part of it is not private and became the Museum of Dress. Very interesting! What a good taste in clothes Princess Diana had! And what a great deal of hats Her Royal Majesty has!
Buckingham Palace. Buck House. The most boring of all royal palaces. Without flowers and the statue of Eros it has nothing to look at. And, of course, changing of the Guard. While watching this I was nearly crushed by a police horse. (I was watching this with my camera on my eye and didn't notice the creature.) This impresses greatly. To tell the truth, old uniform of all nations and styles could make men very attractive.
The British Museum. I think, if we even lived in London, we couldn't search all the treasures of this museum during our lives. So we visited Egypt's halls and Celtic halls (how it all started). I was surprised at the sight of little children sitting on the floor or on little benches and drawing something peacefully. No adult person could be seen nearby.
The Museum of Sherlock Holmes. It begins with a shop on the ground floor, where you can buy the same souvenirs as in any other place but much more expensive. Every floor is devoted to some novel or story and one can see wax characters of it. I wanted to have a photo of myself and one of the most intelligent characters. At last I succeeded. He was tall, intelligent, handsome. He had clever and sad eyes. He was a "man of my dream". The girls took our photo and I read the label "Professor Moriarty". No comments.
Not far from this museum there's a pretty "Beatles" shop. Everything with their brand: from disks to toilet paper. Unfortunately I can't describe the shop-assistant – that is something beyond me.
The Museum of Natural History. A very interesting and clever museum for those who are fond of natural science. Moving dinosaurs. Dodo-birds.
London Aquarium. You're starring in the movie "Sharks". You're nose to nose to various sea monsters. It's very exciting. And, of course, a special shop at the exit.
Going up the Thames.
The idea was to repeat the famous trip from "Three men in a boat" by Jerome K. Jerome. We started at 11 a.m. from Westminster. Boats go slowly up the Thames because of a low water level. The final point of our journey was Hampton Court. We passed by Greater London: Chelsea, Battersea, Kew, Kingston, Richmond. There are several floodgates on the way. It's very interesting to watch the water level rising when you wait aboard. We saw nice cottages along both banks of the river. There Londoners have their week-ends. Each cottage is small and has a small grass-plot (no larger than our kitchen), a boat. A boat floats very slowly and you can greet people boating up and down the river, people near their cottages. They are very friendly and often smile. The way to Hampton Court takes 4 hours.
Hampton Court Palace is the palace, presented to Henry VIII by his cardinal Wolsey (Henry would have taken it by force all the same). Then it was the Palace where this "Mr. Blue Beard" had a short love story with his second queen Ann Boleyn (her symbols can still be seen). You've got an impression, you found yourself in the 16th century. Hampton Court has got two parks: a French Park looking at the Thames (quite an ordinary one for all European royal parks) and an English Park with the famous labyrinth. Our girls went there, they even lost their way but were not upset as they got acquainted with young French guys and we nearly missed our boat. Of course, their personal life was ruined.
Kew Botanic Gardens.
It was a necessary point of our journey as mу girls study Biology of all kinds at our Lyceum. Kew is a very small and old quiet town halfway from London to Hampton Court. But it has one of the most world-famous botanic gardens. You can find everything on this subject here. Hothouses, houses for water plants, the exposition "Birth of Life on the Earth", and many other magnificent things on a botanic theme, and, of course a burst of flowering everywhere. Old people come here without any fee to have a walk. There are a lot of quiet and secret corners in this garden. Every person can find something special for relaxing. We saw benches with carved signatures of people who had their rendezvous here, very sentimental ones. Some of them outlived their authors.
Before visiting Britain I've read a lot about the British, their national character, temper, customs. Not a single bit of information I got a proof of when meeting and communicating with them. They are different, but very polite, communicative. Looking at people's faces I saw open and clear eyes without a sign of depression. Even if they've got it they never bother the others.
We used buses at the time of traffic jam, but we didn't see it (I mean the traffic jam), as the traffic in London and surroundings is very well planned. Lorries and trucks are not allowed into in the daytime. The English seldom use their cars to get to work. It's more comfortable for them to use the tube or buses (especially double-deckers) or simply their own feet. We never heard anybody curse or swear, just excuse and smile even if you step on someone's foot or push someone.
People in London wear very plain clothes in the daytime. Women don't use jewelry and cosmetics (or you can't notice it). If you meet a woman dressed brightly and with lots of trinkets, I bet, it's an American woman or a woman of easy virtue. They don't smoke everywhere, and you won't see drunken in none person before the night (at night it's possible but not very often). But some of them like having a drop of brandy (especially from the rooms of foreign tourists when they are not in).
The best impressions.
As I had mentioned above the best book for me about the English is "Three men in a boat" by J. K. J. And I think for this reason we had a lot of funny situations and incidents during our visit. I'll try to describe you two of them which took place on the same day.
It was the seventh day of our tour. The next day we were to leave for Moscow. We bought tickets to a coach tour "Windsor-Bath-Stonehenge" (with an English guide), having spent the last pounds (75£ for one person) on it. Our coach was to wait for us at the neighboring hotel at 8.15. We were warned not to be late because the bus would start off 5 minutes later. The way there took 5 minutes. So we calmed down. That hotel occupies the whole block and it has a lot of gates. When in the morning we got to the nearest gates they were closed. We searched the next one with the same result. When, at last, we found open gates, our bus showed us his back side and disappeared round the corner. Just imagine how much we were shocked! On our last day in London, without money! One of the girls expressed this in an unusual way: "Oh, can't we visit picture galleries now?!" (Picture galleries in London are fee-free at the week-ends.) With a sigh of despair I entered the hotel and explained our situation to the clerk asking to help us. The clerk shook her head, she didn't see any way to help us. She sent for the chief manager. I repeated our sad story to him and saw badly hidden disdain in his eyes. He repeated the clerk's reply (Oh, those Russians, can never be in time!) and was about to leave but I asked him to give a call to "Golden Tour" office and ask them about the last stop of our coach in London. Something changed in his eyes, but it was still doubt. While having a talk the expression of his face slowly changed to respect and he answered, that the coach would be waiting for us at Victoria station in half an hour. He showed us the exit, we said our thanks and started. But he all the same took his revenge: the gates were closed! Politeness and other kind feelings were absent in our souls at that moment. We climbed over the fence and found ourselves directly at the bus stop where Londoners were waiting peacefully for some transport. They were shocked but pretended everything was all right and that was a usual thing when respectable ladies climbed over the fence of the 5-star hotel with three girls (I love you, Londoners!). We took a cab and soon were at the station; we were just in time, but so tired that after our coach left Windsor I fell asleep.
When I opened my eyes I thought I was Alice in Wonderland or something of this sort: we passed by green-woods; deer, pheasants walked along the edge of it, primroses covered everything around. I began pulling my ear trying to wake up. "You're not sleeping" – my companion's comment followed. How much they love their small country! How much they take dare of everything they have!
We had adventures every day and in a great quantity, but I won't take your time with my reminiscences. The greatest presents I got as a foreign teacher of English during this journey were the following: the first – my young ladies were chatting constantly with all gentlemen of any age and had a great success; the second –
when our English guide asked us, which place of those he offered us we would like to choose for getting off on the way back and we explained he told it was impossible to stop there according to the traffic rules. But when we reached the closest point to our hotel the driver all the same stopped the bus. "Ladies, quickly!" – our brave guide said and our tour was over. I think of the most pleasant and honourable praises which a foreigner can get in the British Isles that one was the highest. To break traffic rules for a foreign lady – it has no comments!
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