Monday, July 09, 2018

A Few (Now More than a Few) Wrap-Ups of Our Trip to Europe -- number three

Part One and Part Two (just posted, so you can read these two, two and three, like one longer post)

The first two weeks of our Europe trip were spent in the UK.  I rented a car in London on the second Monday for two, day trips, the first to Chartwell, the home of Winston Churchill.  For Americans, Churchill is high on name recognition and a very colorful figure.  However, many rank him as the most significant person of the twentieth century.  It's difficult to make up those lists, especially in a day of political correctness.  Without the leadership of Winston Churchill, how would the West have done against Adolf Hitler's Germany?  It seems very likely that England would have capitulated.  It's hard to imagine.

Chartwell is in the English countryside in the county of Kent, after which I was named.  Churchill's place sits on a beautiful piece of property.  From the back of his house, you can look down into an idyllic meadow with rock fences and ponds.  It is a fairly large house depending on your standard, but by no means extravagant.  Now it's a kind of museum.  You get the walk up the path from the parking lot, the trees and foliage and green grass all around, dotted by small ponds.  You pass through a stone wall and gate, his small koi pond with little concrete squares as a bridge in the middle, and the side of his home.  Churchill would cross that walkway to sit and feed his fish.

All of the rooms breath Winston and his wife Clementine.  Photographs and paintings hang all over, reminding you of his life, his deeds, his family, and his personality.  You walk into his study, a large painting of Blenheim Palace, his birthplace, childhood home, and where he was engaged to Clementine.  You are looking at the location where he did much of his planning and wrote many of his books.  Down the hill from the house is his painting studio and inside are a number of his paintings.  There was no television or internet and men developed hobbies as a diversion and painting was one of his.  I don't think he was very good.

In the very last room of the house before you walk out is a small store and then some items of historical value like a museum.  The house is his house.  The museum to Churchill is in the war room in London.  On the wall is a screen that will play various videos from his life, whatever you choose, and I picked his funeral.  Churchill had an elaborate funeral, and tears filled my eyes at the respect the English people showed this man at his death that very often disrespected in his lifetime.

Churchill, like Thatcher, was a Reagan type of figure.  One is given the impression that they are hated by the countries, even though they win elections and in Reagan's case, a landslide.  Thatcher was one of the longest serving Prime Ministers.  The hatred in my opinion is real, but the size is a media fabrication.  It's a small number of harmful individuals who show and then publish their opposition through forms of discrediting.  These historical figures were loved by the rank and file Englishmen and Americans, which is why Chartwell as a national trust property is one of the most popular.  Americans love visiting the Reagan library.  I hear it all the time.

I remember weeping as I watched the funeral procession of cars, driving out to Reagan's burial place.  I've been there myself and it is a wonderful location, similar in its own way to Chartwell for Churchill.  The ranch and the English countryside parallel well for the two men.  As I watched the footage at Chartwell of Churchill's funeral, I also teared up.  It was one of two places on our trip that I could have sobbed out loud, the other being at the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach in Normandy France.  Several times I cried, identifying myself with families of deceased young men, who had given their lives for their country.

We drove back to our flat in London and found someplace we could park for free nearby.  We took the 207 bus to Shepherd's Bush station and then the underground to the neighborhood of Notting Hill.  This is very different in kind than Chartwell.  At one time, Notting Hill was poor, but now it is fashionable and posh with its Victorian townhouses and colorful and eclectic small shops.  It's a destination for foodies, who want to sample varied cuisine in West London.  I have two daughters.  They went to Chartwell and I went to Notting Hill.


I continue riffing.  I had talked a little about coffee in Europe, but I must admit that England is a little different because of the existence of Costa, a coffee shop like an England version of Starbucks or Peets.  We drank coffee once there and you can get a large coffee, not just the miniature cups characteristic of Italy and France.  We visited there near Windsor Castle in the little shopping area of the queen.  We also stopped in Caffe Nero in Edinburgh, Scotland, which looks like a competition for Costa.  There's nothing in Europe like Dunkin Donuts.  We don't have Dunkin really in California either, but I'm a big Dunkin fan against the instincts of what Colin Maxwell rightfully called the coffee snobs.

Water.  When you visit Europe, you say, I want water.  They ask, still or sparkling.  Still?  Isn't all water still?  I want mine flowing and moving, please.  No.  What they mean, in my opinion, is, do you want to pay 6 to 8 euros for water in a fancy bottle that allows us to charge you for water instead of giving it to you free, like restaurants do in the United States?  I have noticed U.S. restaurants are starting to pick up on this too and it's the kind of trend Californians would accept, because they want to be Europe in most instances.

One bottle of still water in Europe will fill four small glasses about two-thirds full, and you will find yourself taking very tiny sips, so that you don't run out.  That is aggravating.  But then you get to the subject of ice in your drink.  Europe serves you tepid water.  It's not cold and it's not hot.  I didn't spew it out of my mouth, a la the Laodicean church of Revelation 3, but I'm informing you of the absence of ice overseas. If you wanted ice, you would have to ask for it and most places don't have it.  McDonalds has ice in its beverages in Europe, but it's about 6 small cubes huddled at the bottom, that melt within a few moments of arrival.  I went to McDonalds?

According to my observation, McDonalds is "American food" in Europe.  McDonalds is making it very big all over Europe.  It looks like Europeans love McDonalds.  You can be downtown Rome and McDonalds is advertised all over.  McDonalds is everywhere.  While my wife and daughters were shopping in Rome at one juncture, I went into McDonalds for the distinct purpose of getting a beverage with ice, or just seeing what it was like.

The other two American fast food restaurants I noticed were Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken, the latter mostly in England.  I talked to a man at the first church we visited in England and he said KFC isn't good in England, because the chicken tastes like fish.  He thinks they feed fish to the chicken in England, making their KFC chicken taste like fish.  He said it was nasty.

You order your food on computer touchscreens at McDonalds in Europe.   You touch what you want, pay, and then turn around and walk to the front counter, where they get your food to you very fast.  This is a major difference than European restaurants, fast food, with the emphasis on fast.  Fast isn't an outlier in the U. S., but it is in Europe, so it is a uniqueness that is itself an interesting quality to the Europeans.  I had the fries while I sat and read and those are identical to American fries.  McDonalds is booming in at least Rome and Paris.

I understand the value of the baguette in Paris at least.  They do great with it.  They have actual competitions for the best baguette.  Food is expensive in Paris, discouraging its purchase, but you can get a baguette, an excellent one, an award winning one for one euro.  That's a great deal there, so you buy the baguette and then some kind of cheese.  The cheese shop in France is the fromagerie.  The French get their baguette at the boulangerie, which is their name for bakery, and then some type of cheese at the fromagerie.  That can be lunch for them at a reasonable cost.

The next to last day in France in the morning we went to the Palace of Versaille.  I'll talk more about that later, but we had to take a train out to that, like going to Windsor Castle outside of London.  There are similarities.   I wanted to buy transportation to Versaille, but it wasn't on the screen, so I got the regular transit ticket for everyone.  We went underground to where the train leaves for Versailles, and our ticket got us all the way through to Versailles, not stopping us from passing through turnstyles.  I wasn't sure still if it was the right ticket, so as soon as I arrived, I walked up to a French train authority, showed the ticket, and asked if this should have worked, communicating that I wanted to make sure we paid for our ticket.  This person didn't know English very well, and just exclaimed loudly that it was not the right ticket.  Duh.

She took me to an English speaker and an higher authority and they said they would fine me only 35 euros for the wrong ticket.  I was very surprised.  I asked if that applied to the total for the trip and our return.  She said, no, these 35 euros was out of good will, not charging us 35 euros for all four of us, just for one of us.  This was unacceptable to me.  Totally.  It would not happen in the United States. I told them.  This is a cultural difference in France.  A socialist country wants to fine people.  It's not attempting service.  My assessment is that France is not a service oriented country with people who want to help.  It's an entitlement country that wants to milk you of what it can.

We took a train from York to Alnmouth in our second week.  When we arrived at our destination, all four of us were standing at the door, and first I waited to see if the door would open.  It wasn't opening, so I was getting nervous.  I started searching the door, wondering how it opened.  All public transportation I had ever seen at the worst had a button to push, but the door normally just opened automatically at a stop.  I looked around wondering what was happening and then the train started.  Wow.  We were moving on to somewhere else.  I left my luggage and found a conductor.  He was ver apologetic about not being there to help and not seeing us.  He assured us we could get off the next stop and catch a train back to Alnmouth for no charge.  He said we were required to open the door manually.

You opened the door to this older train by lowering the window and unlatching it on the outside with your hand.  Who would have figured that out?  I don't know.  I had never opened a train door by hand like that.  My first instinct is don't break the train door.  I would not have thought of lowering a window as a means of opening the door, but this was, it seemed, standard fare in England.  It took us about forty five minutes round trip because of this mistake.  We stopped in the next village, which was interesting, and then I talked with a Scottish train employee while we waited for the return train.

Trump is a conversation everywhere.  People talk about him in the United States.  I'm saying they do, but in California only in hushed tones.  The word Trump triggers leftists.  They can't hear his name without explosions occurring.  In Europe a regular conversation could be had, because Europe doesn't understand Trump.  Europe generally doesn't understand the United States.  I understood Europe.  It's sad, but I understood it.  I'll write more about that, but he said that the Scots complain about Trump and his new golf course.

When we got back to the U. S., I went to Turnberry online to see the course.  It's on the Western coast of Scotland, close to England.  It gave very positive reviews, glowing opinions, as one of the best place people had ever visited.  Again, this is a political, media creation, this widespread opposition.  Actual visitors love it.  I don't know how someplace gets close to 5 out of 5 with hundreds of opinions, and yet it is a disfavored destination.  This is just political opinion intended to damage Trump.

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