Well, it is about time I finished up with England so I can get on to more recent events. So, I shall attempt to have speaks about Blenheim Palace and English Cream Tea all in one go, which may be difficult, as the Cream Tea requires quite some telling.
Blenheim Palace, for those of you who are uninformed (as I was myself until shortly before my visit) was the birthplace of one Winston Churchill, and also where he proposed to his wife. It is a giant, sprawling English Baroque monstrosity, situated in the midst of grounds so beautiful and picturesque, they could hardly be natural. Which would make sense, because they weren’t. Apparently one of the previous owners was so obsessive about his landscaping, that he would actually hire workers to move an entire hill ten feet. Apparently he inherited it from one of his ancestors, who was responsible for the beautiful bridge leading up to the palace which he constructed over two hills that were made just so that the bridge could bridge them. The bridge was so huge that some thirty chambers fit underneath it. Of course, the whole thing was also rather ridiculous looking, as the bridge didn’t really have anything to bridge worthy of its size. This was later fixed by our landscaping friend, who flooded the lower chambers when he decided he wanted a couple of lakes to make the bridge more incongruous.
The entry fee for the palace was more than I thought I ought to spend after my pickpocket, and since the grounds were free, my friend and I took a walk through them instead. I was not in any way disappointed with my decision. In fact, I would even dare to consider it the better option. Stalwart Austenian that I am, a chance to walk through an estate that could have passed for Pemberly was quite a trill. I understand that the paths my friend took me down were actually right-of-ways dating from medieval times, that the owners of the state are required to maintain by law. This would explain the small sheep gates we passed through on occasion that were only gates with no fences. I had a wonderful time, enjoyed the walk as much as Elizabeth Bennett herself would have, and had Mr. Darcey actually made an appearance, it would not have startled me any more than if I had stepped into Narnia the next minute. Both of these at the time struck me as distinct possibilities.
Following the romp, frolic, stroll, whatever you choose, my friend and I headed into the neighboring village to pay our respects at Winston Churchill’s grave. This was immediately followed by Cream Tea. Cream Tea is so called not because of the tea itself, but because of the accompanying scones, or rather, the clotted cream accompanying the accompanying scones. I had never had clotted cream before, although about a year or so previously I had wikipedia-ed information on it, and followed links around until I was left reading about nomadic Mongolians (who apparently have a similar product in their cuisine.) I was somewhat surprised to find that my scones were not very like real English scones, and my poor dears hardly stood a chance once the bona-fide ones allied themselves with the cream. Prone to exaggeration as I am, even I do not think I go overboard to say that sitting in a cozy little English house furnished just like someone’s living room, with tea cups and china lining the windows, drinking English tea with warm, freshly-baked scones covered in cream and jam was one of the most delightful experiences of my life. I bought a teacup there. That’s how special it was.
To conclude my stay in summary form. Heading back from the tea place me and my friend got out of our bus a stop too soon, and were obliged to stand and wait at the stop in the dark and the damp and the cold for an hour and a half until our very same bus driver came back and picked us up again. I seemed half amused and half sorry to see us standing there, and kindly told us when the correct one came, which was only around the bloc, but of course we did not know that. I caught a cold from the experience, which stayed with me for the next week. The following day I was treated to my first ever mass all in Latin, at the Oxford Oratory. I was very thrilled about this, and though the priest delivered an incredibly homily (more like an Address with a capital “A”), I am sorry to say I was somewhat distracted by the quaint old English gentleman ushering people in. (Why I found him so amusing to watch I am not sure, but he just seemed so… English, that I couldn’t take my eyes off the jovial old chap.) Mass was followed by fish ‘n chips at the Eagle and Child, which I also thoroughly enjoyed. (Given the number of pubs in Oxford, there had to be a reason why Tolkien and Lewis preferred the E ‘n C over any others. I would place my money on the food being top notch. As far as pubs go, I mean.) After that we visited the Ashmolean museum, which among other things housed a collection of rings that is thought to have inspired Tolkien’s One Ring. I did manage to see these, but not some of the other fabled wonders, partly due to the museum being under construction, and partly due to it closing before I had a chance to thoroughly enjoy it.
On Monday I spent a great deal of time in the Botanical Gardens, more to relax and allow the warm, humid air a change to help me with my cold than to actually see the plants. (I did take a good look at the plants, however, and ended up with some very stunning pictures, none of which I can take any artistic credit for, as my camera did all the work for me.) I mis-timed my head back by train, and ended up arriving at Heathrow only an hour before my plane was due to take off. Miraculously I ended up having no trouble at all, getting through check-in and security with half an hour to spare… which would have been perfect, had my flight not been delayed some ninety minutes do to weather conditions and other such things. I arrived in Stuttgart safely in the end, although somewhat later than I had hoped, only to find that my luggage (which I had been obliged to check due to a very dangerous jar of orange marmalade) had not arrived with me. I was vaguely worried about it for a while, but it was found and delivered within twenty-four hours, for which I am very grateful. The end.