Trip Journal - Glastonbury & London




Glastonbury -- 22 July 1998

I had looked at some maps the night before to see if it looked like it was better to take the train or the bus to Glastonbury. Note to self: just because there are railroad tracks going through a town, don't assume you can take a train there. The very thorough and polite man behind the counter at the train station in Chippenham explained that trains had ceased to run to Glastonbury before we were born. He spent quite a bit of time making sure that everything he told us was correct, consulting many books and time tables. We could take the train to Bristol, then catch a bus near the train station south to Glastonbury. He even sold us the entire round trip ticket. Brits may complain that the quality of public transportation has declined, and it's true that the trains are never on time, but it's still pretty easy and conveinent to get around, especially compared to the States.

We arrived at the old town hall, right in the middle of Glastonbury. My first impression was of a really cute, incredibly old little town. Then we took a closer look at the shops which are full of crystals, Celtic Green Men, books about the Goddess, and aromatherapy potions. And the town has a disproportionately large population of hippies. Glastonbury is the New Age capital of Britain, the Sedona of GMT. I guess it makes sense since Glastonbury is associated with the ancient, mystical (and probably mythical) Isle of Avalon, where Morgan LeFey, King Arthur's half sister ruled as High Priestess of the Goddess. Avalon in Celtic means Isle of Apples, and was said to be the Isle of Blessed Souls. The Welsh name for Glastonbury is Ineswytrin, which means Glass Island, and somewhere in time it began to be assumed that the two places were really the same. When you look at the map, you can't understand how Glastonbury could be called an island, as there aren't even any lakes nearby, but apparently about 1400 years ago, the low lang around Glastonbury Tor was all swamp land, and for much of the year, the hill was surrounded by water. The land has gradually been drained, starting with the romans, so that now there is no standing water. An old, christian myth has it that Joseph of Arimathea, who was Mary's uncle, Jesus's great uncle, came to Glastonbury in 64 A.D. and sailed up the marshy sea to Wearyall Hill (one of the three island-hills around Glastonbury). There he planted his staff in the ground where it took root and grew into a thorn tree which blossomed twice a year near Easter and Christmas.

But first things first, and that was lunch. We walked around a little bit, and as usual, we ended up at the first place we looked at (we really ought to learn this lesson some day). We always worry that we'll miss something better if we don't check out everything first. But we're usually wrong. The important thing is that we ate and I had a cup of coffee, which is something I get less and less of as the trip goes on. After lunch, we went to see Glastonbury Abbey, which is now only in ruins, but still very impressive ruins. St. Dunton was the Abbot from 940 - 956. In 1184, the whole thing was destroyed by fire. It was rebuilt, but in 1593, the monastery was dissolved by the King and some of the buildings torn down. But the really interesting chronology takes place in the late 12th C. The fire had devastated the Benedictine community in 1184. The next few years were very lean. Then in 1191, the monks discovered a Dark Age burial next to a cross which read, "Here lies buried the renowned King Arthur with Guinevere his second wife in the Isle of Avalon." Truth? Hoax? Isn't it convenient that the monks happened to find Arthur's grave on Abbey soil? In a time when they desperately needed funds? Edward I (the guy who swiped the Stone of Scone) obviously bought the story.He and his wife Eleanor have the grave moved and the remains reinterred in 1278. But isn't it odd that the inscription says Guinevere is Arthur's second wife. The legends make no mention of a first wife, so why make something like that up? So who knows what's real. I think that's Glastonbury's whole point. By far the most interesting point of the Abbey and the only part still intact was the Abbot's kitchen. The benedictine creed was quite strict, but the rules were relaxed a bit for the Abbot, because he had lots of guests who would never accept what the rest of the monks ate day in and day out, except for the time between Easter and Whitsun, when the rule of one meal a day was waived. The Abbot had his own kitchen and cooks. It's a beautiful building and was built with lots of space inside because the animals were slaughtered on the premises. Ugh. Everything was made in one huge cast iron pot. Bags and little cans of food were hung in or over the boiling waters of the cauldron. The ceiling is quite high and it topped with a big, vented dome. While we were there, an actual monk, or someone just dressed like a monk, came in dressed in sandals and brown robe and sat behind a table filled with food stuffs. He idly kneaded some bread dough and looked shy, going about his business as if the tourists weren't there. I felt certain that we were going to have and "experience" with him, but some other woman asked whether he was actually going to cook something, and he sheepishly answered no, he was only there for show, and the stove didn't really work. Oh well. We also went and had a look at the Abbey Museum, since it was rainy and cold anyway, but I was frustrated by the Christian "slant" on history.

Next we went to the Sacred Well, or Chalice Well, so called because joseph of Arimathea was supposed to have brought the chalice from the Last Supper with him and hid it in the well. More Christian slant. But the sacred well has supposedly been around much longer than that, and was revered by the priestesses of the Earth Goddess and the Druids. It was still raining when we arrived, but the garden was beautiful even all wet. The property around the well is long an narrow. Then entrance is on the street at the base of the island hill, Avalon/Glastonbury Tor. The property goes up the slope to the well at the far end. In between is a garden brown up into a series of "rooms" The outflow from the well flows down through each room and ends up in a beautiful pool at the bottom. The "rooms" are set up so you can sit and quietly reflect to the sound of the running water. The source of the well is unknown. It was once a natural spring, but was capped at some point to keep it pure. It's never been known to run dry.

Paul and I sat in the little are called King Arthur's Court, under the huge old trees with the sound of falling water in our ears. I closed my eyes and I swear I had an image of myself in some other lifetime walking to the well from the North. I was wearing a blue dress, very simple and I had long, brown hair. But the best was tom come. We left the well and walked up a cow path up the side of Glastonbury Tor (Tor means "hill"). In 1961, excavations were done which showed that there had been a maze on one side of the Tor and that people had lived there in Neolithic times. It is supposed that it was a place of worship. Today there is a tower which is all that remains of a Christian church which once stood there. Someone was hanged there (don't remember who or why). I didn't like it at all - in fact I hated it. It really felt like it wasn't supposed to be there. When we started up from the foot of the Tor it was drizzling, but as we climber higher we ascended right up into the clouds. The wind was very strong, and I didn't realize it until we came down, but we were getting soaked. It felt wonderful, powerful and alive. I looked down and there was a feather at my feet. As I picked it up, a strong gust of wind blew up and I knew that if I jumped off the Tor I would be able to fly. I knew it. I didn't try it, and part of me wishes I had, but I knew I could have flown.

When we came back down the path, it felt like we were leaving one reality for another. I can see myth would accumulate around the top of that hill, I seems to be a whole other world. We went in search of tea, but there was none to be found. We went into one really funky place, full of hippies with blond dreadlocks and smoking clove cigarettes. It claimed to have millions of drinks and more seating upstairs. Not much more though. The little room contained three small tables, a few more chairs, and one thin, dark-haired man. He was facing away from us when we came in, gazing out the window, and instead of turning his head to look at us the way most people would, he bent his head straight back so that it seemed the top of his head would touch the middle of his back. He glanced at us for a moment, then slowly straightened his neck and resumed gazing out the window with a long pull on his dark brown, filterless cigarette. It was spooky. He'd been there all day from the looks of it, the ashtray was full of butts and the room full of smoke. Paul went downstairs to find out what our options were and I sat down in a chair where I could keep an eye on the guy, in case he made any sudden moves. He seemed so mellow, it didn't seem likely, but snakes can sun themselves on rocks and then suddenly strike with a deadly intensity. Paul came back to report that the kitchen was closed and our options were minimal, so we decided to try elsewhere and headed back out. The guy by th window didn't seem to notice us as we went back down the stairs.

Before we started looking for some tea, we had a look in some of the shops. Paul found a used Asimov book he hadn't read yet in a little book stall tucked away in a little alley. At the end of the alleyway were an assortment of shops all situated around a tiny little courtyard. It was adorable. We spent quite a lot of time looking around there. There we found a brochure for the "Sanctuary of GLastonbury: A New Vision for a New Millenium", sponsored by the Isle of Avalon Foundation, a registered charity. It's supposed to be a place where all faiths can come together for healing, meditation, etc. From the sketchy designs in the brochure, it looks like a big Fuller dome with seven little domes around it in a neo-gothic style. The brochure says its supposed to represent an egg - rebirth etc. And it will be made of "suitable durable and tradition materials". I think they aren't very far along with their plans yet, and there isn't a lot of time left. They are trying to raise £5 million. We've since heard of other millenium projects like this one. They seem to be as big in Europe as in the States. At 5:45, we were getting really hungry. There was a pizza place near the bus stop that opened at 6:00. All the wait staff were just sitting around and the door was open, so we just walked in. There was a little flurry of "we open at 6:00" and we said "well, could we just wait inside then, instead of standing out on the sidewalk" so they relented and then we got waited on immediately anyway. We had wine and mushroom pizzas and it was superb. Warm and dry. Paul went out to call Irene to tell her we'd be getting back late. He meant by that the we didn't want dinner, but when we got home, Irene had food waiting to go into the oven. This was our last evening there with Irene, so we hung out at home, watched a movie on TV, and then headed up to bed.

London -- 23 July 1998

We packed up the gear, checked under the beds, then stood outside the front door, ready to lock it and drop the key back through the mail slot. We were pretty sure we had everything, so after a moment of hesitation, we threw the key in and set off. We didn't get far before Paul said "Where's my jacket?". Before the sound of the question had ceased ringing in our ears we knew the answer - it was still hanging up in the entry way, just on the other side of the now locked front door. Since there was no way to go back, we went forward, and on the way to the train station we discussed strategies for getting it back, including asking Irene to ship it overnight to London. Then Paul realized that all our solutions were based on the assumption that we had to take the train we had planned on, simply because we had a reserved seat. But we had rail passes, so we could really take any train we wanted, and the train to London runs every hour. So Paul and I went to the station and dropped all our gear there, then he walked back to Irene's office, which is not too far away at the edge of Monkton Park. There he sheepishly confessed his mistake to our gracious host, obtained her other house key, walked back and got the jacket, returned the key, and arrived at the train station in time for the next train. A stupendous performance. In the meantime, I sat guarding the bags and worked on the journal, which we all know is currently running several decades behind. While I sat there, the railway workers too a break to sing an impromptu, a capella rendition of "Dancing in the Streets" (Petual Clark).

When we arrived in London, we spent some time figuring out how to take the Tube out to the airport where we would hopefully find a way to Julie's hotel to drop off our bags. TOo late we realized that we could have used our railpasses to take the Heathrow Express train straight there. While Paul acquired tickets, I watched the packs. There are "Watch your property" signs plastered everywhere, and signs warning you not to leave you bags unattended or else they might be destroyed. We had read in the paper about a bag left unattended in Edinburgh that the bomb squad took outside and exploded, only to discover it contained a tuna sandwich. We decided to be careful. We considered leaving the packs at the Left luggage, but due to the extensive security required - they take it at a counter, x-ray it, and carry it into a long storage room with huge, thick concrete walls, it costs £3 per piece, and the packs with sleeping bags and pads count as 6 pieces. Yikes! So we decided to take the packs with us. Another consequence the bomb fear is that there are no trash cans anywhere. Its very frustrating. People just leave their trash everywhere in the Underground, and even on the steps of St. Paul's because there's nowhere to put it (there's also no recycling, which seems pretty primitive for such an advanced culture). We took the Tube, which has designated places for luggage, and stood al the way to the airport. It took almost an hour. From there we were to take a shuttle to the Heathrow Hilton. We got off at Terminal 1,2,3, which was where we were Paul was told to go by the woman at the information desk back in the train station. While we were passing through, we decided to re-confirm our flight to Budapest at the Malev ticket desk. We had to wait in line, and then we found out that they can't do that at the ticket counter, you have to call. Fortunately she called for us, so we didn't have to figure out the pay phones. We went out to where the hotel shuttles stopped, and when after some time we didn't see one for the Hilton, we asked around, and discovered that the Hilton is at Terminal 4, and you have to take a bus to get there. We eventually found this bus and got to Terminal 4. As we drove in we saw the Hilton with a pedestrian bridge inside a shiny, silver tube reaching over the roadway and connecting the hotel to the airport. This turned out to be a very long passageway that was too warm, and punctuated with annoyingly cheery signs saying "You're just 6 minutes from the Heathrow Hilton!" (Okay, I was getting a bit cranky). We finally got there, settled the luggage and me in the lounge, and Paul went ot go call Julie. Only they had no registration under that name. That was strange, because we had called her in her hotel room that morning. So we pulled out the laptop to review the email she sent to see if we had missed something. It turned out that it wasn't the Hilton at all, but the Heathrow Marriott where she was staying. Paul had gotten mixed up when he wrote it down on a scrap of paper. So we picked our packs back up (I had left my nice leather chair a bit sweaty) and went to ask the concierge how to get to the Marriott. He told us, erroneously, that we could get a shuttle bus from Terminal 4, so we walked back through the passageway, through the terminal and out to the bus stops. No bus. We thought about just taking a cab, but the cab stand attendant warned us off, telling us that the fare would be outrageous since the Marriott is actually outside London in Langely. However, she did tell us that the shuttle we wanted was free and it was available at Terminal 1,2,3. So we boarded the inter-terminal bus again and headed back the way we'd came. Eventually our Marriott bus showed up, and at the end of yet another half-hour bus ride, we were there. When we got there, Julie had just returned from her day of meetings, so we took our bags up to her room and collapsed on the bed. The room was in the Executive Wing, and it was really nice. Julie told us that her clients were paying so much for it that we shouldn't feel guilty at all about staying without telling the hotel about it. At these rate, you should be able to bring your whole family along if you want to.

The first thing Julie said to us was "Boy, are you two scruffy-looking" and I though, well given the ordeal we've just been through... Julie, on the other hand, practically sparkled, and she had flown in lad night, got no sleep on the plane, and had straight meetings since 9:00, and she had to shower in the gym because her room wasn't ready when she arrived in the morning, and she hadn't had anything to eat since breakfast. So maybe we really do look scruffy. You loose track after a couple of months without work and friends to keep you "decent". Or it could be that Julie looks so wonderful because she's IN LOVE. We took showers, raided the mini bar (at the client's expense) and heard all the details of the big romance. The "L" word had been spoken and even the "M" word had been mentioned. Julie is joyful and terrified. I know exactly how she feels. It was pretty terrifying that Paul was THE ONE. I can't really speak for Julie and Rob, but it sounds quite serious. I suppose the age difference makes her a little nervous too (he's younger). But I'm happy for her and she's obviously happy as well. And she brought us out first Altoids in months. Julie was understandably tired and not interested in going out for the evening, so we quickly agreed that it was best just to stay in the room and order room service and watch an in-room movie. We got three different kinds of pasta and shared, drank some more beer and then decided to watch "The Man in the Iron Mask". I think it was the only one on at the time. We didn't expect much from the movie because it didn't run long in the States, but we really enjoyed it. Julie was asleep after the first half-hour of it, so we turned the volume down and sat up close to the TV to watch the rest. We slept on the floor with our mats and sleep sacks. We would have used the sleeping bags as comforters except that mine was mysteriously missing. Julie slept in the bed which was bigger than our deck at the house in Woodbine. And she never moved all night.

London -- 24 July 1998

Julie had an 8:30 meeting, so after she left, we took advantage of having a whole luxury hotel room to ourselves. You have to keep your priorities straight when travelling. After we'd had showers, we went down the ask the concierge if he'd spotted a renegade sleeping bag running loose, and he said "Oh yes, is it a blue one?" and my heart leapt for joy. He had it corralled in the luggage room, and promptly brought it out to us. Londoners are so funny. They're terrified of bombs and muggers, but the concierge never even asked me first what my lost sleeping bag looked like. I suppose its not really a very common item to lose in a luxury hotel. We got on the shuttle to the airport, got off at Terminal two (we knew the airport very well by now), got a day pass for the Underground and headed out to Covent Garden. Nothing in London is what is sounds like it should be. Covent Garden has no flowers, Piccadilly Circus has no big top, no clowns or elephants. But once I'd gotten over the disillusion, I managed to have a good time anyway. Covent Garden is a wonderful place, full of eclectic shops, cafes and street performers. On this day there were street performers being living statues, which I had only read about and never seen. The paint their clothes and exposed skin all one color, one was white, another silver. They stand on a platform and then pose as a statue. Occasionally they shift gracefully into a new position and sometimes interact with the gathered crowd. Pretty cool. I wonder how hard it is to get all that paint off the skin and out of the hair at night. Maybe the hair is dyed to make life easier. We watched a little girl put a coin on the plate in front of a female statue, dressed in a robe and looking like an ancient roman statue. When the girl placed the coin, the statue began a fluid graceful movement, like a mother loving her child, bending down toward the girl. The little girl was startled and didn't know what to make of it, but she didn't run away. Covent Garden has a set of pavilions, 4 I think, where all the shops and cafes are. There is one level upstairs and one down, which is really below ground, but doesn't seem so because the courtyards are open to the level above. Its there that some of the musicians play. We watched a couple of classical groups do their thing. It's all about entertainment at Covent Garden. Some people entertain, and some come to be entertained, and its very important you know which you are. We had lunch at a NY Deli (an impostor) whose redeeming feature was some excellent lemonade. Paul had a baked potato all gooey with cheese and bacon and I had an unremarkable turkey sandwich.

After lunch, we walked down Charing Cross Road, which just like the film is full of booksellers. I couldn't remember the number of the shop in the file - 88? If so it is really a theatre ticket seller. 54? 64? I can't remember. But it's very gratifying to see an entire street dedicated to books. We walked to Trafalgar Square which is a huge square full of tourists and pigeons. People feed them, some are trained. I had no idea. I quite a touristy place, with artists doing caricatures, postcard sellers, etc. But there is a terrific monument, Nelson's Column, with a huge lion lying alertly at each of the four corners of the base. We took some closeup photos of ourselves here, so everyone at home could see that we're really okay. We turned and headed down to the Thames and walked through the Embankment Gardens. Seeing the Thames is a little like seeing the Mississippi in St. Louis. It's so built up, and here in London you can't even get down to the water, so it doesn't feel very connected to the city, rather contained within it, and maybe trapped a little. I'm a country girl at heart, I guess, and think rivers should flow free, preferably along grassy banks. Still, for all that, it's still quite an impressive river, very wide. There are boat restaurants and cafes all along the shore. The coolest thing I saw down there, however, was Cleopatra's Needle. Again, I'd heard the name but never knew what it was. It's an obelisk that was originally cut out some 4000-5000 years B.C. It was inscribed much later, maybe around 1000 AD. It was given as a gift to an admiral or ambassador, and now it sits by the Thames, right out in the open. It's amazing. We walked along the Thames until we got near St. Paul's Cathedral. Again, I feel bad that I can't do it more justice. It's a beautiful place with a soaring dome, stained glass, huge sepulchers, but as I said before, I was saturated with churches. While we were there, a priest came up to the pulpit and asked the shuffling crowds to take a seat. Amazingly, everyone complied quickly and quietly. He then reminded us that this was a still a place of worship, and asked us to join in the Lord's Prayer, together, each in his native language. It was quite a mix of voices. Then he made three petitions, one for the people in New Guinea who were recovering from the tidal wave, one for the Arch Deacons or some such group in the Anglican Church, and the third for the people of Michigan. The people of Michigan? We asked around, and no one had heard of anything exciting happening in Michigan. It's a mystery. After St. Paul's, we took the Tube to Hyde Park and had a listen to the weirdos at Speaker's Corner. This is one corner of the park where people traditionally come to rant and rave about whatever is on their mind. On Sundays you can listen to some really good political speeches, but on this day, there were only a couple of evangelists preaching to the drunks. We walked on, picked up two Magnum Classics (vanilla ice cream covered with chocolate on a stick), and walked into the park, which appeared to be a sea of blue and white striped sling-backed canvas lawn chairs. There were lots of them available, so we picked out two and sat down in the glorious sunshine (You'll recall we had very cool, rainy weather for most of the trip thus far). Pretty soon we had our books out and were relaxing and feeling like we owned the place. I closed my eyes for a moment, enjoying the warmth behind my eyelids. I opened my eyes to see a young girl smiling at us. She was the Keeper of the Chairs, and she told us the chairs cost 50p for two hours. Now we understood why so many people were sitting on the grass when there were these great chairs just sitting there unused. We happily paid up, and went back to relaxing.

We eventually made our way back to the hotel, via the airport again. It took over an hour and a half in rush hour, and so we were very late for meeting up with Julie. I think she was getting ready to call the police. But we finally made it in, brushed our hair, changed clothes, and headed out again for the evening. Since public transport had been so awful, we decided to take a cab (fixed rate - £35!). It got stuck in traffic though, so it wasn't much better, though it was one of those nice big black ones with the two back seats facing each other, so it was a nice ride at least.

We went to a little italian place Julie used to go to when she was working in London. The maitre d' was trying desperately to convince us to go to the upstairs restaurant, be we pushed our way through to the downstairs wine bar, where Julie had always gone before. Good thing too, or we would have missed our incredibly droll, dead-pan waiter. He almost gave me a heart-attack by grinding the pepper mill over my pasta right after I'd said no thank you. Then with a flick of the wrist he turned the pepper mill over, showing me that he had been holding it upside down, saying "don't worry, the pepper comes out of this end". Stuff like that. He probably longs for the life of a street performer, but stomach craves the perqs of working in a fine Italian restaurant. We had two plates of garlic bread, pasta, and then desert & coffee/tea. I don't know how we managed to get ourselves back out on the street on into a pub, but somehow we ended up there with pints of Guiness in our hands. There's an interesting custom in London. When the pub gets too full, the people just spill out into the street. The serve the beer in plastic pint glasses to minimize breakage and someone comes around and picks the empty ones up off the ground. It feels strange, but you get used to it. Its a really nice atmosphere with people passing by, comments tossed back and forth, singing, and general carousing. There is a sign outside this particular pub advising us to stay off the sidewalk, which means we have to stay in the street. I found this quite amusing. We took the Underground back to Heathrow, and it got stuck somewhere for a while. I asked a kid with a Michigan University cap on if he knew anything about what had happened in Michigan, but it turned out he was from Texas. We got to the airport too late for the free shuttle to the hotel, so we had to pay another outrageous fare for a taxi.

We all ended up sleeping in the big bed, and it was so huge,we never touched the whole night. Its was very comfortable and the sheets were very soft.