Day 25: Back to Bath (Jane Austen Museum)

On the Friday of the second free travel weekend, we continued our adventures around Oxford by taking a train to Bath. We had already been to Bath at the beginning of June, but we did not have enough time to go through the Jane Austen museum. So we headed back.

We walked to the bus station and took a bus to the Oxford rail station.

Once we arrived, it was about 3 minutes until our first train!

We took a train to Didcot where we would have to get out and change trains to Bath. The kids were in a good mood and we almost had the entire traincar to ourselves. Traveling at 10:30 AM has its benefits.

Once we got to Didcot, we waited about 45 minutes for the train to Bath.

Micah enjoyed goofing off around the platform (while still being safe).

Once we got on the next train, we sat at the front of the traincar in the disabled section because that’s where the stroller could fit. We ended up talking to a nice American family from Florida during our 45 minute train ride from Didcot to Bath.

Once we arrived in Bath, it was 12:00 and we were all hungry. Right outside the train station was a BBQ place, so we decided to go with it.

On the wall behind us, they advertised for a “dream vacation” drawing. We all thought it was pretty funny:

Right after we finished eating, we went into a local pharmacy to get some baby wipes because accidentally left them at the flat. While we were doing that, Micah fell asleep.

We hopped on a bus and headed off to the Jane Austen museum.

Unfortunately, our GPS took us to the house where Jane Austen lived (where there’s only a plaque and nothing else to see). This put us on the other side of town. So we decided to make the best of it and walk to the museum (only about 0.5 miles).

Despite our delays, we made it!

We had a guided tour and learned about the Austen family. There was lots of read and some original Jane Austen artifacts there. The kids did okay until the end when they were tired, cranky, and hungry.

The girls dressed up with a wax figure of Mr. Darcy.

So we left the museum and walked back to the train station where we waited about 30 minutes for the next train to Didcot.

Once we got on the train, the kids were wild and made a lot of noise. It was a challenge keeping them occupied and quiet. Eventually we all joined in Zeke’s game of pretending to cook pasta and that seemed to keep them busy enough.

After arriving at Didcot, we waited about 25 minutes for the train to Oxford. It arrived a bit early and we were able to get on and find some good seats facing each other. Micah wanted to continue feeding daddy some pasta. Daddy was very tired.

When we got back to Oxford, we were all tired, so we went to a local pizza place. It’s a chain (saw one in London), but it was very good. A quick check on Wikipedia says there are over 400 of these restaurants in the UK.

Inside, we looked at the menu and tried to figure out which kind of pizza we wanted. It definitely wasn’t an American style pizza place – all the pizzas were Italian in style.

The pizzas we ordered were very good!

After we finished dinner, we headed to the nearby bus station to take the bus back home. The first bus wouldn’t honor our week-long bus passes because we bought them from a different bus company – a fact which no one bothered to tell us. So we had to wait 9 minutes for the next bus. Oh well.

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Day 22: London Part 1 (London Science Museum + Sightseeing)

After all the scary terrorist attacks in London and Manchester, we were unsure if we would be able to visit London during this study abroad trip. Things calmed down enough that we felt safe taking the students in for a day. So we got up early and headed to the train station.

We waited at the train station for our train to London. We had to take the 9:01 train because we had super-saver group tickets that cannot be used during peak hours (and peak hours in the morning end at 9:00).

On the train we sat near each other and this kept the kids reasonably entertained.

Holly looks happy. I think I caught Gideon off-guard.

Zeke and Micah enjoyed looking out the window.

And the occasional snuggles.

Micah also enjoyed playing peek-a-boo with John.

  

The kids got hungry, but luckily, Aunt Shelley bought some muffins at the train station.

Micah devoured hers.

We arrived at Paddington Station and transferred to the Underground.

We got onto the Underground and took the yellow Circle Line to South Kensington.

Along the way, some street performers got onto the tube with us.

London Science Museum

Our destination was the London Science Museum. When we got there, we immediately went to the floor with mathematics and computing. The first thing we saw was perhaps the best: Babbage’s Difference Engine. It was the world’s first computer. It could perform basic calculations and was not a general purpose computer (like what we all use today). However, Babbage ran out of money and never completed it, but this is a recreation to prove that it worked (and it did). Notice the printer to output the results of the calculations.

We went ahead and got a group shot in front of it.

My colleague, Dr. Homer, teaching class:

They also had an Enigma Machine, the machine that encoded Nazi messages, which the Allies were able to break thanks to Alan Turing and many others.

Here’s the description from the plaque:

We saw many other famous early computers. Below is the Pilot ACE, a computer designed by Alan Turing and built later.

Below is a panel about early pioneers, like Turing.

They also had some of the first personal computers, like this Apple Macintosh. My family had one of these and it was amazing in its time.

Lunch and Transit to Churchill War Rooms

After we finished our time at the London Science Museum, we broke up into smaller groups and headed out to see what we wanted to see. Everyone had their train tickets, so as long as you were in a group, you could go anywhere you wanted in London and meet back in Oxford later that night. We had 11 students come with us to see Churchill’s War Room.

So we headed back to the Underground.

Micah was already very tired.

We got in the tube and headed out.

Walking along the streets of London, we found a cafe and got lunch. We ate as we walked.

We passed by Westminster Abbey, but didn’t have time to go inside.

The line to go into the Churchill War Rooms was very long and it rained steadily while we waited outside, but we were prepared.

Erin and Micah chilling out in line. (Erin has the Ergobaby baby carrier on underneath that jacket)

Getting closer…

Almost there…

Churchill War Rooms

The war rooms were cramped and spartan. Below is a recreation of the meeting room as it would have looked during some of the final meetings of the war. Churchill’s wooden chair is in back in the middle.

We walked around a looked at the rooms and heard the stories of the people who worked there (through audio guides).

Here, Brighton contemplates the man himself (left) and a recreation of Churchill in his secret telephone room talking to President Roosevelt (right).

Below you can see the kinds of living quarters the officers had.

And here’s the map room:

We waited in one of the hallways while Erin changed Micah’s diaper and Shelley took Zeke to the potty.

Below is a panoramic of the room used by officers who collected the day’s intelligence reports and combined them into one report on that day’s happenings for Churchill, due every day by 9:00 AM. This room is almost completely untouched and exactly as it was when the war ended. When it was over they got up, turned off the lights, and walked out, leaving everything.

The threat of invasion was immanent for quite some time, so there were rifles in the hallways, ready to be used in case the complex was stormed.

Churchill’s own private bedroom was considerably nicer than all the others, though still rather spartan considering his aristocratic background.

After the war room, we decided to walk to get a group photo in front of Big Ben.

Big Ben

Just down the street from Her Majesty’s Treasury (where the War Rooms are located) is the Horse Guards Parade and the Royal Cavalry Museum. I took a panorama of it.

We went through the gate to the street on the other side and continued on our way.

We saw some cool buildings along the way.

We stood in front of Big Ben for a group photo. This is James with 11 of his students that decided to come along.

Shelley also kindly took a photo of Erin and I in front of it.

And then we got the kids in their strollers (sorry, “push chairs” as the Brits call them).

Four students in our group decided to go see Buckingham Palace, so we bid them farewell and we continued onward to our next stop.

Platform 9 3/4

We then jumped back into the tube and headed to King’s Cross Station to find the Harry Potter store and the place where you can take your picture like you’re headed to Platform 9 3/4, just like in the movie.

In one of our legs on the journey, the wind was quite crazy on the tube car. Here’s Jessica being silly as the wind blows her hair every which direction.

Once we arrived, we waited in a rather long line.

And we got our pictures taken as well.

Erin looks particularly beautiful in this photo:

Finally, it was time to head home. So we got some dinner.

Dinner and Heading Back to Oxford

We walked out of King’s Cross Station and saw this:

We looked for a place to eat and hard a hard time. We walked around in the rain until we found this little cafe. It was okay, but we were starving. The kids were hungry and cranky.

Since it was already 7:00, we decided to head back to Oxford, rather than trying to see more things. We were exhausted. So we took the Underground back to Paddington Station and then took the National Railway back to Oxford.

Here’s our group of students at the end of the day:

Micah fell asleep again, but it didn’t last too long. She woke up rather cranky.

We made it back to Oxford and collapsed in our beds. All in all, we walked almost 7.5 miles.

It was a long, exhausting, but very good day.

Day 13: York (Museum of York, Yorkminister, National Railway Museum)

We stayed in York at a local B&B. It was incredibly hot on our second floor room and even though we opened the windows, it did very little to help. It took way too long for the kids to finally sleep, but at last they fell asleep and we did too. In the morning we had a full English breakfast. Our host was wonderful.

  

And we left from there in a taxi to the train station “left luggage” lockers where we could put our stuff for the day. We then started to walk around York, headed to Yorkminster. Below you can see the train station straight ahead/on the left and the old city walls on the right. It’s a neat mix of old and new in York.

We headed to Yorkminster.

When we got there, we found out it was closed for mass (which we should have realized, it being Sunday and all), so we left to go to the York Museum and see the Vikings exhibit.

York Museum

Shelley paid for us to go into the museum, but unfortunately Micah was having none of it, so Erin waited outside. Zeke had fun, though, at the prehistoric exhibit and the viking exhibit. In the picture below, he’s not quite as tall as a Deinonychus dinosaur.

And here he is rowing toward English from Scandinavia.

And here’s Zeke posing like the statues. He thought it was funny.

We then decided to have lunch outside the museum. We found a food truck and got BLT sandwiches.

  

When we heard the bells ringing at Yorkminster, we packed up and headed back over there. It was a short walk.

Yorkminster

This was a massive gothic cathedral where the Romans built their headquarters when the town was a fort, then the Saxons built their church on top of it, followed by the Normans, and finally a gothic reworking and expansion of it.

Inside it was pretty amazing. The stained glass windows were taken down and protected during the World Wars, so they are quite old and still original.

We found out that Yorkminster almost collapsed several times, but quick work by engineers, architects, and archaeologists saved it from structural failure. I’m glad I learned about this AFTER I took the tower tour: climbing 275 narrow steps to the top of the main tower.

It was amazing at the top!

In the undercroft (below the church), they had an exhibit set up about the various layers under the church: Roman, Saxon, and Norman. They also had on display the York Gospels, which is a copy of the Gospels in Latin brought by an archbishop in 1020. It is one of the few surviving artifacts from Saxon-era York.

Below is a picture from their website.

And below is the picture I took of the York Gospels as they were at the display.

And here’s the sign that was next to it.

I also saw this (below) on the wall in the undercroft and it was moving for me. It reminded me that Yorkminster is a place of tourism and ancient heritage, but it is also a holy site and has inspired generations of Christians.

After this, we got a few things from the gift shop and headed to the next location.

National Railway Museum

This was pretty much all for Zeke, as he is currently obsessed with trains, but it was still a lot of fun to go to and see. We were able to ride a small train from Yorkminster to the museum.

Inside the train museum, Zeke could hardly contain himself.

He got to play in one of the engine cars and thought it was the coolest thing.

 

 

The bottom right picture above is Micah and I in the mail railcar.

After we had walked around the museum and looked at all the neat trains, it was time to head to the modern train station to head back to Oxford.

Return to Oxford

At the York train station, Zeke was exhausted from a full day and fell asleep in the stroller.

  

Micah was tired, but didn’t fall asleep. She had taken a nap earlier at Yorkminster.

Once we got on our train, she did eventually fall asleep. We weren’t together at first, but as people left, we eventually got four seats together.

 

Our train went from York to Birmingham where we would have to catch a different train to Oxford. We had planned a 35 minute layover in Birmingham to be safe. However, the train faced delay after delay and we were certain we had missed our connecting train to Oxford. But when we arrived in Birmingham, they told us that the train going to Oxford had also faced long delays. So we raced from platform 5 to platform 7. Perhaps a minute after we stepped up to the platform, the train to Oxford rolled into the station and we made our connection!

On the second leg of the trip we had four seats together from the beginning and it was quite nice.

We arrived in Oxford about an hour after we had intended (due to the train delays). We tried to get a taxi, but there was a long queue and were told it would be about an hour. So we hauled all of our junk from the train station to city center (about half a mile) to catch the bus up to our street. Walking to our flat from the train station is 1.1 miles, so it saved us quite a bit of work.

Finally, at last, we were back in the flat at Oxford and ready for a little bit of regularity.

Day 9: Traveling to Newcastle

Today I let out class a little early and we began our extended free travel weekend! We are headed to Newcastle Upon Tyne. So we began our journey with a taxi to the railway station (because we have so much junk).

Inside the taxi, we headed out!

    

We got to the train station and waited for our train. Zeke was super excited about riding a train!

Once we got on board, we took a few pictures.

  

   

We saw some pretty countryside along the way. We also passed through Birmingham, York, and Durham.

Finally, after 4 1/2 hours, we arrived in Newcastle! The train station was really impressive.

We’re staying in an apart-tel (apartment+hotel). It’s right by St. Nicholas’ Cathedral. Yes, the bells do ring all…stinking…night. Our host even provided us with ear plugs!

And here’s Zeke looking up at the cathedral from our lodgings.

Here’s the inside of our swanky modern lodgings.

   

   

Zeke got all snuggled into Aunt Shelley’s bed like he was going to sleep there (spoiler: he wasn’t). We brought his small pop-up tent for him to sleep in.

Once we got the kids settled down, we showered and went to sleep.

Day 7: Train Station and Evensong

We started out our day headed for the train station to purchase our tickets for our first long travel weekend which begins this Wednesday afternoon. Micah was in good spirits.

We walked along the canal and saw a lot of houseboats, some in better condition than others. It was a pleasant walk.

At the train station, we bought the tickets with the help of a woman at the ticket window who found us a good deal. Zeke got to see the trains through the doors (couldn’t get any closer without a ticket). Aunt Shelley bought the kids each a muffin. Zeke is devouring his in the picture below.

On the way back, Zeke got to see a woman making spaghetti. He thought it was pretty cool. She even waved back to him when he waved at her.

After this, we split up in the town center. James headed back to the flat to prepare his lecture for the afternoon class. Erin and Shelley headed to a bookstore to find an atlas and some maps for our upcoming travel. We had lunch, James taught class, and the kids took a nap.

After dinner, everyone met together at 5:15 and walked down a little past the center of town to Christ Church College chapel for Evensong. Evensong is a highly liturgical daily song service.

Christ Church College was amazingly beautiful outside. Here’s some pictures of the courtyard.

And here’s us waiting outside of the chapel entrance in the Christ Church College courtyard.

The Evensong service was amazing and wonderful. The choir sounded so heavenly. We weren’t supposed to take pictures inside, so I sneaked a few – hence why they are not at great angles. Below is a shot while the choir was singing.

I got this shot after the choir had left.

Zeke had to go potty, so we stepped into a side courtyard – also beautiful – and I saw this sign.

On the walk home, Micah fell asleep and flopped out on Erin.

Back at the flat, we had a meeting with all the students to discuss Evensong, reflect on our week together, and discuss plans for free travel coming up. All the students enjoyed the Nutella pie that Erin made for them – it got high praise – and there was none left!