The first Sunday afternoon of our trip to Europe my wife, two youngest daughters (17 and 20), and I took the underground to Bunn Hill Fields Burial Ground, which is an old nonconformist cemetery. We started at the Elephant and Castle Station, where Metropolitan Tabernacle is, and took the Northern line to the Old Street Station, then a few minute walk. You couldn't be buried in the official boundaries of London for a long time, unless you were Church of England, hence a nonconformist cemetery then outside the city limits. The people buried at Bunn Hill really are a who's who of true believers for true believers.
When you walk to the entrance, you would have trouble knowing Bunn Hill was of any kind of special historical significance. It would look almost meaningless, a very old cemetery that almost no one cares about. It is overgrown with grass and weeds, relatively without care, especially in contrast to the famous burial places in England that are kept in pristine condition. There is one main path that goes right through the middle that serves more as a shortcut between two streets. We came to the center, where there is a "T" and a very small run-down building, the only one in the burial ground, really a shack with a sign that says it's for the caretaker.
The little building also posts a map that indicates where significant gravestones and memorials are. No one was there on a Sunday and gates blocked little paths that lead through most of the cemetery. Out in the open were the tombs with large monuments to John Bunyan and Daniel Defoe. Over one of the fences, you could easily see the large tomb of John Owen, someone who has edified my life greatly. We knew where the graves of Isaac Watts and Susanna Wesley were, but we couldn't get to them without some extreme climbs over difficult fences in our dress clothes. I was happy to have seen what I did.
We walked to the very end of the grounds to find any other avenue through, then headed back to where we entered, stopping a moment where we thought we might be able to glimpse the Susanna Wesley marker. Right there at the same time was an older English lady, who asked what we were doing. She was a Methodist, who attended Wesley's chapel, which we discovered was just across the street from Bun Hill. They met there that day for the retirement of their minister. She pointed toward the Susanna Wesley grave, which we really couldn't see from that distance, but we continued to talk with her.
She told us that Susanna Wesley never left the Church of England, even though her son started Methodism. However, she requested burial in the nonconformist cemetery near her son, so he could see her grave from his house there every day. Wesley's house is in direct alignment with the large tombstone of his mother and he could see it looking out of the front window of his house. John Wesley himself is buried near the chapel across the street, not very far away. He built his house in 1779 and lived there the last twelve years of his life. It is now a museum to Methodism, which was closed on Sunday.
We talked to the elderly Methodist woman for awhile and she had a great sense of humor. Margaret Thatcher was a member of the same chapel as her. Thatcher was married in that chapel. I don't speak fondly of this, but this woman was present at the christening of Margaret Thatcher's twin children, Carol and Mark, at the same chapel.
A giant statue of John Wesley sits in front of his chapel. We didn't see the grave site, because it was behind the chapel, which was also closed. Wesley has historic significance to me, but not personal or theological significance. In general, I view Methodism in a negative related to the faith of Christ. However, I saw several memorials to Wesley on our trip.
Wesley had the statue in front of his chapel, but we also saw a statue outside of St. Paul's Cathedral, where he had attended. About two blocks away from there North is a wall memorial to what is said to be Wesley's conversion experience, having been a priest in the Church of England. We viewed a frieze in honor of Wesley in Westminster Abbey. In the floor of Christchurch chapel at Oxford is a memorial to the Wesleys, students in that college, for starting Methodism. The Wesleys and Methodism register in England as a major impact in English history.
I'll call this a riff on various subjects I haven't yet covered in no particular order. Restaurants in Europe function different than the United States related to time. You sit down and wait. You look around and it doesn't look that busy. They aren't waiting on you because that's just how they roll. Finally someone visits your table and you order. Then you wait a long time again. You eat. You wait a long time for the check. You really don't know if you're supposed to walk to the desk. No. They are coming. Expect eating to be a much longer experience.
Italian pizza. We ate several, once in Venice, a few times in Rome. They don't taste like pizza in the United States. Who is to complain about the origins of pizza? I like U. S. pizza better. The best I've ever had is under the Brooklyn Bridge in Brooklyn, Julianas. Amazing. I can only speak for the four times I had pizza in Italy, but it is bland. They didn't work with the spices like America. They've got good thin crust due to their wood fired ovens. I'm sure the sauce and cheese is legitimate. It's top notch. It just does not taste as good. America wins on taste. You'll get the authentic pizza in Italy, but it does not taste as good as the United States.
Gelato. I loved all the gelato in Italy. We ate it every day at least once and a few times twice. Gelaterias are everywhere there. If you pass one, another will come along soon. It was all good with some a little bitter than others. However, the best gelato I ever had was hands down in Brunswick, Maine, which seems like a strange place to beat the gelato of Italy, but I really did like it better. It is Gelato Fiasco in Maine, and they ship it all over the United States. It started with some brothers in Maine, but their gelato is out of this world wonderful. Maybe somewhere in Italy, the gelato is better, but I haven't tasted it.
Eating on the sidewalk. Very common in Italy and France especially is eating on the street. You sit at a table on the sidewalk very close to the street and people walk right by you. This is a great experience that hasn't been matched by outdoor eating in the United States. Our last meal in Europe was at a cafe in Paris. They have cafes all over the place and these are very different than a cafe in the United States. We sat at a table on the sidewalk for breakfast. They brought a basket of bread, which included several baguettes and croissants with various toppings. Then came freshly squeezed orange juice, coffee, and scrambled eggs.
When we came out of the underground in Paris, which, by the way, is the best public transportation of the major cities we visited. It's very fast and convenient. Every city is different with its tickets, but Paris gets you everywhere by train mostly underground. We didn't need to take one bus there. For London, you have to take the big red double decker buses for which it is famous, to get everywhere you might need. When we stepped out on the Paris street, we turned and saw four different cafes. I stood there and checked the numbers of the stars for each, and they really where all equal, so we picked the neatest looking and ate there.
Coffee is a different experience in Europe. They don't do the bottomless cup, the American cup of joe, a mug and refills. I love that about America. I missed it. Europe has its coffee benefits, but in my opinion it doesn't beat the carafe placed on your table or the waitress who walks by and asks to top you off.
Europe is the king of little cups. Do they understand how small their cups are? How do they get away with it? I've read that Howard Shultz studied coffee in Europe and brought it to the United States. I walked into the coffee shop that was his model in Rome. It's right next to the Pantheon, same neighborhood or piazza as that ancient landmark. It was very busy and it did look familiar, convincing as the Starbucks model.
They don't serve you coffee in Europe. They don't have "coffee." If you want coffee, you order "Americano," and they don't give you the little creamers or usually a cup of creamer. They don't offer cream. They offer milk. You can ask for it hot. They don't have glass containers of sugar. Very often it is sugar cubes in a small bowl. The cups are small. You take one little sip and you are a third done with your cup. You know how much you paid for it and you regret any haste. As I see it, coffee hasn't replaced tea in the UK. Coffee is very popular in Italy and France. I've got two little stories to end this installment of my tales of Europe.
We were walking to get on public transportation to the Vatican on the Rome side of the Tiber River. It looked like a big storm was going to happen, with large raindrops slapping us in the face. We ducked into a little Italian restaurant and asked if we could just get coffee. It was almost empty at that moment and we were seated. We ordered coffee and two desserts to share. It immediately started storming, rain running through the streets like a river. The restaurant was instantly packed. We had chosen well.
Our four various coffees came. Very small cups. The desserts came and the Italians and the French are amazing with those. A whole different level even in what might seem like an average restaurant. I can't say the same for the English. I nursed my coffee, knowing no refill, no top-off, no nothing was coming. We ate every dessert to the final crumb. Like I explained before, we waited and waited and waited for the check. It had already stopped raining. We had to get the waiters attention.
Let me take a break for a comment about Italian waiters. Italian restaurants have more waiters than waitresses and they are masculine in general. I didn't have one Italian waiter that gave me any effeminate impression. Italy has the best table service as a whole I have ever seen. The waiters seem like normal men with no lisp or female mannerisms. Half of what I get in the United States is like this. I can't say why this hasn't reached Italy, but I have my theories.
Our masculine Italian waiter came with the little credit card gizmo everyone uses everywhere in Europe. They bring it right to the table. They don't take your card and come back with something to sign and add a tip. They don't even ask for a tip in Europe. However, we paid to sit down in that restaurant, called a service fee. I think they expect you to get a whole meal at a restaurant if you are going to sit down there. We were charged 35 euros for what we consumed. However, he punched in the wrong numbers, 95 instead of 35, and I paid 95 euros for four cups of coffee. I told him it was the most expensive coffee in the world. He laughed. He gave me cash to make up the difference, which I needed anyway.
We were on the highway back from Normandy and we had to pay tolls both ways. That was a surprise. Sometimes their little automated booths took your card and sometimes they did not. I found machines were very often not trustworthy in Europe. It's a bummer in a foreign country to have a machine rip you off, because you just don't have the feeling of the same means of finding justice when you aren't on American soil. You've got to learn to deal with the little things. I knew I would need euros for these toll machines and I was out, so I looked for a place to get cash, and there was a stop with a gas station. I pumped diesel into my rental car by the litre and went in to ask for an ATM. They had one.
A good idea on foreign trips is to get a debit card with no foreign transaction fees. I did that and it worked out very well as a consistent way to get cash when I needed it. Credit goes to Thomas Ross for that one, no pun intended. I got my cash but I needed coinage, so I ordered a coffee in this gas station to get it. I looked at the menu and there was no Americano, so I said to these French only speakers, reading off the sign, 100% Arabica, small. They came back with my small coffee. I'm not kidding. It was the size of a dixie cup. I'm not exaggerating. Think a dixie cup. That's not all. It was half full. I ordered a half full dixie cup of coffee for 1.90 euros. When I arrived at the car with that dixie cup of coffee, it was a big laugh in our car. It was the price of getting coins for the toll. I don't think someone can call what they do with that little liquid, drinking. You can't even sip. This is a true representation of wetting one's tongue.