Pond Hopping

After taking a couple of weeks off, it’s great to get back to my Saturday morning writing routine. As you may know, the Mrs. and I were abroad for the last couple of weeks. One of my fraternity brothers, an Englishman from Birmingham (Bur-min-GUM, UK  not Birm-ing-HAM, AL), finally decided to tie the knot. This was not an event I was going to miss. I considered a daily blogging of the trip, but I'm sure that would have worn y'all out, and I’m not sure I could have kept up (to say nothing of the shockingly poor state of wireless connectivity over there). I tried to jot down some thoughts and observations while I was there, but when I got home and read through everything it turns out that it was more a travel journal than it was an observation of urbanism. In any event, it was an entertaining trip and my brain hasn’t really reengaged, so this post is a series of excerpts and observations from the travel journal. Be warned: this is a long one, and has naught to do with urbanism or Chattanooga.

I'm on a plane from Hell-on-Earth (ATL, Baby) to Amsterdam. It will be a miracle if I survive this flight. It appears that the flight attendants are on a mission to get everyone on board housed. I was greatly anticipating a cocktail, this being the first night of our vacation and having sat on the runway for an hour before our plane departed. I watched with great anticipation as the attendants rolled the cart up the aisle- it was like watching a slow motion wave- you could see the jubilation as each successive row was served. When our turn arrived, I ordered a glass of red. I was handed a 14-ounce Dixie cup filled with the finest boxed merlot that the Deltoids could muster. Kick ass. I love wine and generally prefer to partake in a manner that allows me to appreciate and savor it. This, however, was not one of those times. About a third of my way into the "glass", I looked up to see that another cart was wheeling down the isle, handing out more booze. The first three times this happened, I was fair game. It feels like we’re kindergarteners at nap time and the attendants are filling us "juice" so that we will all pass out. It turns to that Delta Flight 6012 is filled dozens of lushes- and I am not the worst one (that award goes to South African lads sat behind us). I'm not complaining, I've had box wine from a Dixie cup before, but this is quite an auspicious beginning to the trip....

Delta- keeping it real.

After the booze cruise that was Delta flight 6012 we arrive in Amsterdam for a connecting flight to Birmingham…only there is no connecting fight to Birmingham. At this moment I realize what Amsterdam Schipol and Chattanooga have in common: 2" of snow brings the joint to a screeching halt. All flights to the UK for the day are cancelled. The best the KLM folks could do is get us a flight tomorrow morning (which means we're going to be cutting it close for making the wedding…like, putting my tuxedo on in the cab close. We'll see how that turns out.) The silver lining to this cloud is that we have an overnight in Amsterdam that we did not anticipate. We checked in to the hotel, and then went back to Schipol to catch a train to Amsterdam Centraal. We didn't get to spend much time, but I loved it there. Being unprepared for the trip, we didn't have an itinerary, so just we just walked around (in the bastard cold) until we got lost, then found a little place to have a few beers and a bite to eat. The architecture there was awesome- a great mix of old and new. The thing that impressed me most though, was the sheer number of people of the street. Everywhere we went, there were people (despite the bastard cold). There were also tons of bicycles. I'm hoping to get back there sometime soon and spend a little time (perhaps in the spring though). From the "you can't make this up" files, our hotel room number at the Steigenberger was 420 (but let me be quick to point out that despite the reputation of the city, we did not partake).

My first view of Amsterdam.

Up bright and early, and back to Schipol. Our flight left (more or less) on time and we're on our way to England. At this point, the only question is whether or not Ms. Rushing’s checked luggage will be coming with us. This is not an issue for me since I packed 10-days worth of clothes into one carry-on bag (tuxedo included). All of D's clothes for the week (including formal wear for the wedding) are, for the time being in European airport baggage limbo. Oh, the anticipation...

Touchdown in Brum, and yes, it appears that D's luggage got here before we did. Not sure how that works but who's complaining. The father of the groom, the incomparable Alan Jones, met us at the airport. I could go on forever about the man, but the fact that he would spend his time two hours before his son's wedding picking up Americans from the airport gives you some insight into the measure of the man. Alan whisks us away from BHX and off to our destination- the lovely village of Henley-in-Arden. We checked-in to the hotel (a lovely number called the White Swan), had a quick shower and shave, then met the wedding party in the pub downstairs for a quick pint before heading off to the ceremony. Off we go, I’ll give you the details tomorrow.

An international, All-Star line-up...not quite Reservoir Dogs.
by DC Photographic

The wedding was held in St. Nicholas Beaudesert. A beautiful church that is only about a thousand years old. I bullshit you not...ten centuries...1 Millennium...a hundred decades. Interesting bit about the church- I noticed that the arch is not centered on the space and asked if anyone knew why. Apparently, in the early years of the building, the north wall started to sag and it was discovered that the wall was built atop an underground stream. So they simply moved the wall a couple of feet, redid the roof and called it a day. Brilliant. The ceremony was an awesome experience, a hundred people in black tie, gathered in a 1000-year old church in a quaint English village- it doesn't get much better than that.

St. Nicholas Beaudesert
Who needs symmetry?
After the ceremony, the town crier (yes, town crier, and yes, it was very cool), announced the newlywed couple and led us to our first reception at the Medieval Guildhall (a youthful building, having been constructed in 1448).  After a nice, warm Winter Pimms, the crier led us to the wedding reception at the Blue Bell- a proper English Pub (and restaurant with 2 Rosettes)  in a mere baby of a building, being only about 500 years old.

With the mother of the groom at the Guild Hall.
Chattanooga needs a Town Crier.
by DC Photographic
How to describe the wedding reception...hmmm...I don't think I can do it justice. Lets just say that I have some very good friends in England who enjoy life, and we celebrated the bride and groom well into the night.
Father of the groom, the incomparable Alan Jones.
Belting out some Sinatra with the groom and a some Villa fan.
Always looking for a chance to show off the Phi Delt pin.
 It is worth mentioning that during the evening some of the lads were having a go at my patent leather opera pumps. I tried to assure them that these shoes are quite traditional, and that in even more recent times they were favored by the likes of Sinatra. I sent them off to do their homework, but was left to defend my “girls shoes” for the rest of the evening. (A quick note on current language: literally everyone over here says literally...a lot…literally).

My new favorite shoes.

I don't recall exactly when we called it night, but I woke up the next day at 1 pm, just in time for Sunday lunch with the newlyweds and the groom’s family. This will be a day of rest: time to see my friends, have a pint while watching the Manchester Darby, then off for a curry and an early bed. The highlights of day however, were the texts and calls of formal apologies from the lads for slating my footwear. One of the men noted that he found a quote saying that the shoes were “preferred with formalwear by many leaders of style.”  Ah, the joy of getting one over on my English friends...in formalwear no less. US of A-1, England-nil.

If they're good enough for Ol' Blue Eyes,
they're good enough for C.
Today we hoped in the car with Bride and groom for a day in the Cotswolds- through Stratford-upon-Avon, then down to Stow-on-the-Wold, Bourton-on-the-water, Moreton-in-Marsh and Broadway. It doesn't get much more beautiful or English than the Cotswolds. Virtually every building is built of Cotswold stone, a honey-colored, oolitic Jurassic limestone. Each of the villages feel unique, permanent, and welcoming. The scale and atmosphere of each place is outstanding. We finished up the day with fish and chips back in Henley, thus completing my English culinary trifecta in one day- full English breakfast, steak and ale pie for lunch and the aforementioned fish and chips. Time for bed, travel day tomorrow.


Off to Paris. I think I’ll leave that as a topic for another blog post, but I will mention one of the highlights of the trip.

Those who know me, know that I love food. On that Wednesday, I had the dining experience of a lifetime- a meal at Le Taillevent. The restaurant has been called the “high court of Haute Cuisine” and one of the “best restaurants in the world”. They recently lost their third Michelin star after holding it for 34 years, but this is still a serious restaurant. This is the big leagues- high french cuisine in Paris. This is what my mother was training me for all those years ago when teaching me what all the silverware and glasses were for.  Despite lofty expectations, the food and the experience delivered. It was everything I thought it would be – stereotypical French waiters, more service staff than guests, and sights and flavors that I can’t begin to describe. I’ll stop short of saying it was the best meal ever, because the place was pretty stuffy and I was a nervous wreck throughout. I definitely out-kicked my coverage on this one. But in the end, I managed not to spit in the soup, and we had a fantastic meal -  definitely the dining experience of a lifetime (sorry Charlie Trotter).

Also, the view from our hotel room did not suck.

Friday was a relatively uneventful return trip to England. That evening we had a night on the town with the Jones’ for a few pints, a curry, and a few pints.

Saturday is of course game day in England. We returned to St. Andrew’s – home of my beloved Birmingham City Football Club. I have a sterling record as a blues fans when watching the boys on English soil- they have never lost when I've been in attendance. This time we had an in-form crystal palace to contend with. After going down 2-nil, it appeared that my record was in jeopardy. However, a header by Zigic, and thundering a header by (my man of the match) Papa Bouba Diop evened the game, won Blues a point and preserved my record.

Now that we're playing a league down and our owner is in jail,
attendance has suffered. On this day 17,000 of 30,000 capacity.

The return trip was fairly uneventful, minus the obligatory delayed flight out of Hell-on-Earth (ATL, baby). It was a fantastic trip and one that I will never forget. It was, however, great to get home to Chattanooga!!

Ya'll have a very Merry Christmas! See you next week.

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