A very Clifton Christmas

Despite the disappointment of having our flight to Barcelona cancelled (eased considerably by the tapas Shelly’s aunt treated us to in Nottingham…known for its Spanish food, of course), spending Christmas day in Clifton ended up being wonderful, and I imagine a lot more fun than celebrating in my minimalist dorm room in Nantes, comfortable as it may be.

The day was executed expertly, though was much more elaborate than any of my family Christmases, where the guests number no more than three (me, ma, pa).  But in Clifton, the plates of cookies and sweets are endless and it was entirely too tempting to grab a tin of gingerbread and head off on your own.

Shelly and I made the gingerbread…delicious, but difficult.  Half the measurements were done with the metric system, the other half with some goofy approximation (American ingenuity!).  There was no molasses to be found, so we substituted in some treacle.  And when we wanted gingerbread man-shaped cookies but had no cookie cutter, we found some cardboard, made a stencil and cut out our own!  Success!  A Christmas Miracle – which, oddly enough, is what I insisted people call me all day.  Yep, the very people who were so kind as to take me in for two weeks.  Shelly was the Christmas Gift.

Scarthin Books

There seems to be a pattern forming.  After getting teased a bit for our affinity for the written word (it must be that new book smell?), Shelly’s aunt suggested we take a trip to Scarthin Books in Cromford.  Even though we had only met a couple of days earlier, it seemed she already knew me all too well.  I loved wandering the aisles of Scarthin Books and if I hadn’t made such an effort to keep my pack light, I’m sure I would have walked out with armfuls of great things.

In addition to their huge selection of both new and used books, Scarthin also had a nice café upstairs, where we dined on spinach tarts and vegetarian burritos.  And for dessert: two freshly bakes raisin scones!

Cromford

Realizing we had both cabin fever and the opposite of cabin fever (gazebo pox?  sorry, I know, I know…shouldn’t have even tried), Shelly and I once again thought it better to brave the cold, so on Christmas Eve, we jumped on a train to the teeny tiny village of Cromford to see the sites – Cromford Mill!  Cromford Canal!  Cromford Wharf!  And things seemed promising from the start…the train station looked like Hogwarts!  So if anything, I could spend a few hours living out my Harry Potter dreams.

Quaint and picturesque, it was wonderful to get to see England outside of its biggest cities.  If I’m ever in the market for summer homes, and in the future, I picture myself with no less than eleven or twelve, I would certainly consider Cromford!  So charming!

But we didn’t just look at a train schedule and decided to come to Cromford haphazardly.  No, no, we came with a mission, one far more nerdy than hoping to befriend Luna Lovegood or Ron Weasley while waiting on the platform for the Hogwarts Express (yikes, or maybe not).  Wait for it…

Nottingham?

After days of wanting nothing else than to head south, Shelly and I somehow wound up in a car (aaah!  left side of the road!) heading further north into the English countryside.  We ended up in Clifton, just outside of Nottingham, with some more of Shelly’s lovely family.

After a pleasant but cold (but not pleasantly cold) day in downtown Nottingham, Shelly and I settled down with hot chocolates here, at Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem.  It’s an inn built right into the mountain but despite its stone walls, it was still a cozy spot to be at dusk.

Peak times

Backpack packed, out the door by 5, at Luton by 6, flight to Barcelona canceled by 6:05.  Oh, lovely.

That snow I thought would melt by morning, turned out not only to be the kind of snow that doesn’t melt by morning, but also the kind that cancels flights to warm, Mediterranean destinations.

Well, Shelly and I suddenly found ourselves with a whole lot more time to spend in England, as nearly all flights were grounded and trains through the Chunnel were standing room after hours of queuing.  So then the question was: what are two friends to do in London, having already exhausted all potential ideas?  The answer: Bookshops.  (a-haaaah!  bet you didn’t see that one coming!)

My personal goal was to find a book by P.G. Wodehouse, a task which ended up being just too simple as Wodehouse is both a popular and prolific writer.  “Carry On, Jeeves” now sits proudly on my shelf, a bit taller than the others (as all French poches are the same, small size).  How distinguished!  Haven’t cracked the spine yet, but I will soon, I say!  I say!

Foyles at Charing Cross Road was a particularly fun place to spend the day.  Shelves and shelves of books, and a great café upstairs that serves wonderful lattes and vegan food!  Ah yum!

And I found a nice, linguistic-y fifty pence piece (complete with IPA notation)!!  What a nice day!

Snow day

I knew that by heading north for the winter, I ran the risk of encountering snow.  And in a way, maybe I wanted exactly that.  Snow piling on the ground, snow falling from the sky, walking around in the snow.  Well, wish granted!

And perhaps even more precious than a bright, wintery morning, is the adorably naïve belief that it’d all melt by the time your flight was scheduled to take off the following morning.

Underground

London is a big place, and during my time there, I found myself on several means of transportation.  And after spending so much time navigating the tube and rushing to the front of double-decker buses, I decided to take out my camera on a few of the trips.  Not to mention, inside buses and underground were some of the only places where my hands were warm enough take a photograph.

London

Well, well, I’ve made it back to Nantes in one piece!  After a full month of traveling, I’m back sitting in my little French dorm room, getting ready for classes which resume in just a day.  I’m quite excited about it actually, because this semester I am taking real classes with real flesh and blood (and cigarettes and nasalized vowels) French people!  Youpi!

Mais avant de crouler sous les devoirs, I’ll try my best to make some posts about the past month of travel…First stop: London!

I took a short flight from Nantes to London and met my friend, Shelly, at Victoria Station.  From there, we were off and into the night (3 pm sunset!), with mandatory stops at Buckingham Palace and a lovely pastry shop.  Missing France already, Sar?  Oh laaa…

By the time we had finished roaming the streets, it was late and I was sleepy, so we hopped on the tube to Pinner and called it a night.  But then we were up early the next morning to go back into town to explore some more.

At the Apple Market in Covent Garden, Shelly and I found a stand selling some beautiful desserts.  I couldn’t pass up one of these raspberry and orange tarts (Shelly had a tiny tiramisù!).  Delicious!

But let’s keep in mind, of course, that the day’s temperature was in the “definitely-not-remotely-warm” range, so between darting into museums (the National Portrait Gallery had an amazing collection) and various bookshops, cafés and bookshop-café hybrids for warmth, Shelly and I decided to hang out at…the ice rink at Somerset House?  Well, we didn’t lace up our skates or anything, but we did find a place by the window in the heated (aaaah!) tent nearby to comfortably watch people skating (and occasionally falling).

What a lovely start to the trip!  There’s more to come soon!