Okay... Thursday afternoon, as I was making what turned out to be the best cake I've ever made (and possibly the best I've ever eaten), Bob called from work with a brilliant idea.
"Why don't you see if you can find us a good deal on a hotel for Friday night?"
So I logged in to Priceline.com (the US site, not the UK site) and looked around. I got a room at a Holiday Inn just outside of Ashford, Kent, that had 2 double beds and some floor space (according to the picture). Holiday Inn - children stay free! I wouldn't pay that much for a room in the states unless it was pretty snazzy, but for England it was a good deal. (It was about 11pm by the time I got the reservation made.)
Bob got home about 11:30 and we went to bed. I figured he would sleep in, then we would pack, and it would be after lunch by the time we left. But Bob was up by 7:30, and by 9:30 Friday morning we were ready to go (helped considerably by Taryn, who was very excited at the prospect). Since our check-in time was 2pm or later, we decided to drive straight on to Dover Castle. I'd printed out directions from Google maps, and was ready to navigate. We pulled up to High Street (at the end of our road), and I said, "Turn left." Bob said, "You mean right?" (Sometimes I get my directions mixed up.) "Yes, it says left." Bob said, "I know how to get there by going right. Do you want me to go the way I know, or try to follow the map?" So I figured to let him do what he knew how to do, and tossed the map in the back seat (NOT out the window!) and prepared to relax and enjoy the ride. We stopped to pray first.
Well on our way, we decided to exit the M25 (the London Orbital car park) at the M2 instead of the M20, because we'd been down the 20 before. But there was construction, not to mention heavy traffic... I saw a sign that said the M2 was 16 miles... about 1/2 mile later we noticed the M2 exit, on the far side of a few big trucks. So we went on to the M20. :-) Finally, finally made it to Dover. Got to drive through town, found the castle easily enough. It was about 2 hours, and Bob was about worn out. He's decided Americans are better drivers than British. We certainly have better road systems.
We found a parking space, got out; coats, baby pouch, shoes back on Ella, etc, and went to the ticket counter to wait in line to show we were members. Everybody got a sticker to prove we'd paid, and we went in search of a toilet. Had to ask a blind man where they were. Really! He was an employee there. Oh. I didn't know beforehand, but they were having an even day to celebrate the end of the "Easter break" where the local school children are off for 3 weeks. As we were getting our stickers, a worker asked the children if they would get their faces painted - that was our first clue (Riah said that face-painting was for girls). After the toilets, we went back to the car to eat lunch.
Now, on to the castle! It was COLD and WINDY!! We looked through the church which is totally cool. Richard Lionheart camped out there before leaving the country on his crusade. Then we walked up to the inner bailey and the keep, etc. A man was shooting apples with a toy crossbow, and let each of the children "have a go." The keep here is huge - the biggest we've seen so far, but it was also the most crowded. Sorry to disappoint you, Ganieda, but the English don't "queue" anymore. What with the crowds, cold, and rudeness, we really didn't enjoy ourselves as much as we wanted to. (Besides the stress from the drive.) But it is a really neat place, and in better circumstances it would be a blast. We skipped the "secret wartime tunnels" and most of the outside parts; there is a LOT there.
So, we went down to the ocean and watched the waves for a few minutes, then decided to drive on up north a ways. We took some back roads and tried to relax a bit, and wended our way toward Deal. Arrived at Deal castle about 5pm. William was asleep, and the boys needed to use the toilet again, so Bob took them in and I stayed in the car for about 10 minutes till William woke up. Then I called Bob on my cell phone (I am glad we each have one) and he met me at the entrance, and we all toured Deal castle. It is interesting, being made of a circle surrounded by 6 semi-circles, designed to deflect artillery shells, and it looks very short from the street.
When we left there we drove on through Canterbury and down to Ashford where we hoped to find dinner and the way to our hotel. Ashford is under construction. Not a road in Ashford, but the whole city. Once you get into town, you are trapped in one-way and dead-end streets, and there is no way to get out. Plus all the shops are closed by 7pm on a Friday night. Finally we found an outlet mall that was open till 8pm. We drove slowly around the parking lot, hoping to see an eating place. Hey! They have a food court! We park, get out, and the children ask if they can play on the playground between the parking lot and the food court. Umm, it's 30 minutes till closing, and it's COLD and WINDY! Inside, we find the place we wanted to eat at has stopped cooking already. So we ate from Mcdonald's, even though Bob has learned that they have also signed a contract with GLCC - the same as Wal-Mart- so we won't go there if we have a choice.
Okay, now it's after 8, and time to find the hotel. Did I mention Ashford is hard to get around in? After twice turning around, we decided to get on the M20, and exit after we got around Ashford, then get on the A20 toward the hotel. So far so good, but when we got off the M20, the signs only indicated A20 going the wrong way. We drove around the roundabout twice trying to figure out what to do, and finally decided (keep in mind we were tired, stressed, William was screaming, and we'd had too much caffeine) to get back on the M20, go to the NEXT exit, and then come BACK on the A20. It's about 16 miles to the next exit - all the way to Maidstone. When we got there, the signs only showed the A20 going further west. This time we figured it was worth a look, and followed the sign to A20 west; upon arriving at the road we saw that it was not a problem to go east there also. So BACK to Ashford, 14 miles on the A20 in the dark, and really hoping the hotel has a sign up. It did. William fell asleep a few minutes before we arrived, so our nerves began to recover.
The room looked just like it did in the picture (how often does that happen?), and the baby bed was all set up for us. We did what we had to do to get ready for bed, and settled in to listen to Ella fuss and try to get up, and William kick and laugh. About 10:30 we were starting to nod off.
The friendly check-in lady told me they had breakfast if we wanted to charge it to the room - 7GBP for continental, and 13GBP for full English. Yikes! Funny thing, people from some regions can't say "th," and I could tell she was trying to talk slowly and carefully so I would understand, but it still came out "frirteen." (We brought milk and cereal with us, so we had that for breakfast.) William woke up at 5:30, ate, and went back down till 6:45, at which point others started waking up. Woo-hoo!! I'm gonna start drinking coffee!
We didn't have a plan for Saturday, so it was all winging it. We decided to go to Rochester Castle, in Rochester. So, driving along... Arrive in town and start looking for the castle... Well, there's a sign for Upner Castle, let's go there! It was a little way out of town; not far, and easy to find. The car park is a short walk form the castle, and as we were walking we met an elderly man. Bob said, "How are you" and he seemed pleased enough to be asked. Then he asked if it was our "First time in the village" and wished us a nice visit. Sigh. THAT's the England I remember. Small towns, friendly people. The weather was much nicer Saturday; there were scattered showers, but sunshine in between, and much warmer and less windy. We walked and climbed and ran and shouted our way through Upner Castle. Someone was going to have a wedding there later in the day, and one room was set up for it. Upner was last used to store kegs of gunpowder, and they had a room full of replica powder kegs. In the wedding room, several kegs were set up with a red cushion on top of each, for chairs for the wedding guests. I wondered what kind of character would choose that for a wedding!
When we were leaving, we asked the front desk clerk how to get to Rochester Castle, and she tried to tell us. We tried to follow her directions, but ended up in an industrial park on the wrong side of the river. Oh well. On second attempt we saw a McDonalds and decided to get some lunch, as it was about 1pm (and we'd won 3 free sundaes the night before). There was a stretch limo parked out front! Got some lunch (Taryn ate 3 cheeseburgers), tried to get out of town, drove around a bit, finally found the motorway.
On toward home. But wait! Bob wasn't done! So we exited at Epping and found the Tube station. Epping is the farthest north-east of the London underground, and we'd been told that it's the cheapest way to get into London. It was 4pm ish. We paid the 1GBP to park, went in and bought Bob and I each an Oyster card, which is pre-paid travel card. There was a train ready to leave, and we got on. Taryn was so excited she couldn't sit still. The underground is actually aboveground for quite a few stops, but it finally went down. We rode into town, got off at the "Bank" station, climbed out, and walked to St Paul's Cathedral. It was raining again, so we went back down at the St Paul's station and headed back out.
We got off at Stratford, where there is a shopping mall, and walked around before getting supper at Subway. This is a big Muslim area, apparently, and the Subway is certified Hallel (sort of Islamic Kosher). The children got a "Subway melt" with turkey, turkey ham, and turkey bacon. They said it was really good. We decided to take the sandwiches and eat on the train. Going out of town the trains were a lot more crowded, and the first leg of the journey I actually had to stand up (as did Bob, with the stroller). But it thinned out as we progressed.
Back to Epping, where we discovered the street signs actually give you all the needed information. I think I like that town.
Then we wended our way toward home, arriving about 7:30. Wow, what a day.
As we sent the children to get ready for bed, Cedwryck made it right up to the toilet and wet himself.
This morning Riah announced that he'd "leaked" last night and his sheets, pillow, and blanket need washing. Also they were out of underwear.
Lots of laundry tomorrow!
Congratulations for reading the whole thing! My fingers are sore.