Archive for June, 2011

Awards to Share

It’s the last day of the month and the last day before we officially step into the second half of the year.

So while everyone else is fretfully awaiting their paychecks, I thought I’d take the time to share some awards.

I received these awards months back, but haven’t had the time to spread the love due to the A-Z Blogfest, and my own England Trip Series.

Now, I can finally share them with you, my awesome friends and readers:


First up, The Irresistible Blog Award, which I received from my good friend Jennie Bailey last November 18th, 2010.

Although I had passed this on previously, I thought I’d pass it on again to a special blogger – HILARY!

Hilary at has a great blog, which is full of writing tips and inspiration.

Hilary has also been a great “Travel Reminiscing Partner” – she’s followed my England Trip Series from Day 1, and commented everyday without fail.

Another blogger who joined me on my England journey, and whose comments never failed to brighten up my day,  is the  one and only, Mr. Creative Novel Guy,  Alex Cavanaugh.

Thanks guys for joining me on my trip down memory lane!


The New Follower Award, given to me by the awesome N.R. Williams on March 2nd of this year, is dedicated to the following awesome new followers who followed me as I followed my memories back to the jolly old England.


Colleen Van Tillburg

D Heath

Jennifer Shirk

Lisa Taylor

Mary Aalgaard


Vanilla Mama


The Liebster Blog Award was given to me on April 3rd, by the beautiful Maria Toth whose awesome blog just keeps on getting better and better.

The award spotlights bloggers who have less than 300 followers (like me!). As recipients pay it for forward, the Liebster love keeps growing. Recipients are also asked to share their 3-5 top picks, then include the following in their blog:

1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who awarded you.

2. Reveal your top 3-5 picks & let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.

3. Copy & paste the award on your blog. (see super cool blog award above!)

4. Have faith that your followers will spread the love to other bloggers.

5. And most of all—have bloggity-blog fun!

I know the rules said pick 5,  but there are so many of  you out there, that I’m breaking the rules and doubling my picks to 10!




Colene Murphy

Cynthia Willis



EJ Wesley

Karen Strong



The Creative Blog Award was given to me by the very creative Deirdra Eden-Coppel last April 12th. No rules here, just a recognition of the bloggers who ooze serious creative skills:

Angela Ackerman

Anthony Stemke

Arlee Bird

Elizabeth Mueller

Kari Mari


Lydia Kang

Milo Fowler

N.R. Williams

Rosalind Adam

Sharon Hamilton

Sharon Mayhew

Siv Maria

Stephen Tremp

Susan Oloier


The Irresistably Sweet Blog Award was given by the irresistibly sweet Susan Oloier last May 3rd.

In accepting the award, I need to follow a few guidelines:
1. Thank and link back to the person who awarded you.
2. Share seven things about yourself.
3. Award 15 recently discovered great bloggers.
4. Contact and tell these bloggers about the award.

Seven things about myself:

  1. I have 594 books in my possession and my bookshelves are practically bursting.
  2. I bake the meanest cookies—just ask some lucky friends who have tried my chocolate chip cookies and marshmallow cloud cookies.
  3. I’ve lived most of my life in an archipelago (composed of 7000+ islands) and yet I never learned how to swim.
  4. I am acrophobic, but I managed to climb up 225 feet and look down from the Salisbury Cathedral tower.
  5. I read Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows in 5 hours.
  6. I’ve decided to stop querying for my first book so I can work on my shiny new idea.
  7. I can read people’s personalities just by looking at them. Just ask Liz.

And now, I pass these on to the few special people whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in person or in the blogosphere, and who I’d like to get to know better:


Elizabeth Briggs

Jennie Bailey



Kristen Kittscher

Lisa Gail Green

Lynn Kelley

M.J. Fifield

Maria Toth


Rachel McClellan


Sophia Chang

Theresa Milstein


Rosalind Adam, whose blog I simply adore, has taken pity on my bruised ego (yes bruised from all those query rejections –but not to worry. It’s nothing that a little Bengay can’t handle J ) and has gifted me with  the Seriously Cute Blogger Award to cheer me up.

All I have to do is to list out 5 books/films/TV programmes I’ve read/watched in the last 12 months so here goes:

1.  FILM: Tron and Tron Legacy. I watched them last weekend and I have to say, after seeing the original Tron and watching the newer Tron Legacy, I feel incredibly lucky to be living in an age where visual effects in Sci Fi movies have improved beyond imagination.

2.  TV: I haven’t been watching too much TV lately. I feel guilty every time I sit down and think of watching TV instead of writing or doing chores—so I haven’t been watching much TV. Except for the one time I chanced upon a program called Extreme Couponing where people who call themselves extreme couponers manage to get thousands of dollars worth of groceries for $0 – $40!

3.  BOOK: Although books give me extreme pleasure, they are also part of a writer’s normal duties. I don’t feel as guilty when I sit down to read a good book—so I’ve been reading a lot of them lately. I read Books 1 and 2 of The Mysterious Benedict Society  by Trenton Lee Stewart and enjoyed it so much that I have had to stop myself from spending money on buying the 3rd one in the series.

4.  BOOK: Witch & Wizard by James Patterson was a good read and I was fascinated by his fast-paced style of writing.

5. BOOK: Nightworld Volume 3 by L.J. Smith is another book (or should I say books as there are 3 of them in one volume) I enjoyed.

And now I pass this award on to the following cute bloggers:


Deirdra Eden-Coppel

Heather Hellmann



JL Campbell


Julie Musil


Lisa Taylor

Medeia Shariff




Talli Roland

The Golden Eagle

Tony Payne


I might have missed some of my other favorite bloggy friends out there (forgive me if I did!) but I’m sure I’ll have another opportunity to shower you with awards.

Now that I’ve shared these awesome awards with you, I’m going to take a little break from blogging. Don’t worry, it won’t be a long one. Just long enough for me to catch my breath and enjoy the long weekend.  I’ll be back next week for sure.

In the meantime, enjoy your 4th of July celebrations if you’re in the US, and if you’re somewhere else– declare the 4th of a July a holiday and enjoy your free time anyway :)

Have a great weekend everyone!

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England Day 10: The Journey Home

May 14, 2011 Saturday

I woke up at 8:00am, got changed and woke a groggy Maiko up. She was feeling much better after sleeping for 17 hours.

We went down to the hotel restaurant where they served breakfast. The hotel offered an awesome breakfast buffet for £7.99.

Premier Breakfast

After finding a seat,  I ordered some bacon, eggs and sausages while Maiko ordered some mushrooms and beans. She was starving as she hadn’t eaten for a whole day, but she knew she had to be careful not to shock her still tender stomach.

Maiko is a great big foodie and I felt bad that she couldn’t enjoy the variety of foods that the hotel offered for  breakfast.

They had a rack full of different cereals:

A rack full of cereals

with a choice of several toppings:

Cereal toppings

They had toast, muffins and croissants with a variety of jams, yogurts and fruits to add to the hot breakfast option of sausages, bacon, ham, egg, porridge and so on.

Toast and jams

Yogurt and fruits

They also had an awesome drink station where you could get coffee, tea and several different kinds of milks (soy, half and half, whole).

Drink Station

I’m a tea lover and I had a difficult time choosing from the variety of teas they had .


It was the best breakfast buffet I’ve seen a hotel offer and I only wish Maiko could’ve enjoyed it as I did. But after the horrendous bout of food poisoning (at least we think it was food poisoning), it was just right for Maiko to be cautious about the food she ate.

After breakfast, we headed back up to the room for some last minute packing. Our flight was at 3:30pm and so I figured that if we left at 11am, we would make it just in time.

Of course, it’s never good to assume anything when you’re traveling as we would discover later on. I learned a lot of lessons that day, and I’d like to share them with you:

Lesson 1: Always leave for the airport earlier than intended.

At 11am, we lugged all our heavy things down to the reception area and requested for a cab. The cab arrived 15 minutes later. The tube station was only 10 minutes walk away, but we wanted to avoid  walking with all our things as much as possible.

The cabby dropped us off at the street across from the station and bid us a good day. Maiko and I got our travel cards ready and organized ourselves as best as we could before joining the throng of people  at the Colliers Wood Tube Station.

From there, the plan was to hop off at the Leicester Square Station. Of course, nothing ever really goes according to plan on a trip. We hadn’t realized that we had gotten on a different train route, so we ended up taking the roundabout way and hopping off at Euston Square so we could get on the Northern Line to Heathrow.

Lesson 2: Pack light and travel lighter.

Lugging those bags around was killing our shoulders. I swore to myself that I’d learn to pack lighter and I’d only bring one bag (or at least two very small bags)  if I ever went on another trip again.

The trip should have taken us an hour, but because we had taken a roundabout way, it took us almost two hours to get to the airport.  Sufficed to say, we were getting pretty nervous. It was already 2pm and we still needed to go through security and all that.

When we were nearing Heathrow, Maiko and I suddenly realized that we didn’t know what terminal we were supposed to get off at. We asked the other passengers but they didn’t know where the Virgin Atlantic terminal was.

So when the train stopped at terminal 5, Maiko and I lugged our bags and hopped off the train. Thankfully, there was a big poster on the platform announcing which terminals the airlines were on. We had enough time to lug all our stuff back on the same train. Apparently, there was an 8 minute wait period if you’re on terminal 5, before you get to the other terminals, as the train was waiting for other passengers to arrive.

As soon as we arrived at terminal 3, we dumped our bags on one of the luggage carts and made a mad dash for security. I had checked us in earlier at the hotel, but we still had to get our boarding passes and drop off our baggage.

It was 2:40PM when we finally accomplished all of this. We were finally rid of our heavier bags, but we still had one bag each and we had to go through security and make a mad dash for the gate.

Lesson 3: Empty your water bottle (and your bladder) before going through airport security.

On the way to the checkpoint, Maiko remembered that she had to empty her water bottle as liquids weren’t allowed through. She had to look for the nearest restroom while I waited for her outside. I had wisely drunk all the water from my bottle on the train, because I remembered the no liquid rule.

Of course, this would prove to be an inconvenience once we had gotten through security.

I had forgotten about the two mile walk from Heathrow’s main building to its gates!  As Maiko and I made a mad dash for our assigned gate (which had to be all the way at the end), my bladder got bounced around and I suddenly regretted having drunk all that water on the train.

People were already boarding the plane when we got to the gate. We had arrived there just in time to join the long queue.  While in line, I called up Frances to let her know we were at the gate. She had been texting me throughout, but our mad rush to make it on time made it impossible for me to call her back. She wanted to know if we were alright and if Maiko was feeling better and I told her about our mad adventure.

As soon as we got on the plane, we placed our big bags on the luggage rack and settled down. Well–Maiko settled down. I had to use the toilet.

Lesson 4: Take the window seat if your travel partner has a small bladder and has to use the restroom every other hour.

Maiko had offered me the window seat so I could get a view of England from the skies. It was generous of her to do so, but maybe not to her benefit.

I had decided to keep myself awake the whole flight so that I wouldn’t have any jetlag when I got home. We were arriving in LA at 7pm and I wanted to be able to sleep the whole night.

And since I was awake for the duration of the 12 hour flight, I kept on drinking water, and consequentially, kept having to leap over Maiko to get to the toilet. At one point I tripped on my feet and sat on Maiko, waking her up with a start.

Sigh. The rigors of travel.

Well, at least I succeeded in staying up all flight. I ended up watching five movies that day: No Strings Attached,       Black Swan,  Submarine, Hereafter,  and The Green Hornet.

By the time the plane landed in LA, my mind was all slow and the stories had gotten all muddled up in my mind.

I was so looking forward to getting home and finally being rid of the heavy bags. I figured it would take about an hour at the most for us to go through immigration and get our baggage.

But it wasn’t to be.

Lesson 5: Expect the Unexpected

LAX was a crazy zoo the day we arrived. It was probably due to the whole  Bin Laden thing (you know the one where US finally got him, and now his friends are angry and looking for payback). Airport security was at its highest level ever.

After waiting an hour to go through immigration, Maiko and I had to wait another hour (and a half) just to get out of the airport!

Before, we only had to go through security once–and that was before we boarded the plane. The thing is, they were now checking all luggage at the exit as well. Two airport agents were assigned to go through everyone’s stuff at the exit–and if you’re like us and you had big bags, then you had to go through a different line and put your luggage through the X-ray machine.

In other words, the line was so long, it snaked twice around the luggage carousels. It was chaos.

We couldn’t use our cellphones in the airport to call our friend Lena. Lena was supposed to pick us up that day and we were worried that she was driving around in circles for two hours.

We were so relieved to finally go through the checkpoint and out into the night air. We were so happy to be back home.


And so ends my England Trip Series! Thank you so much for going on this re-adventure with me. It was (time-consuming) fun to relive this very special trip and I’m grateful that you all went along for the ride. A special shout out to the following  awesome friends and co-bloggers who followed me on my journey and encouraged me to the finish line with their comments:




Colene Murphy

Colleen Van Tillburg


Cynthia Willis

D Heath



EJ Wesley


Heather Hellmann



Jennifer Shirk

JL Campbell

Julie Musil

Karen Strong


Lisa Gail Green

Lisa Taylor

Mary Aalgaard


Sharon Hamilton

Sharon Mayhew

Stephen Tremp


Vanilla Mama

And a very special thanks to the following friends who read  every post and left encouraging comments everyday. You are an amazing bunch of folks indeed and I am truly grateful for your comments.


Alex Cavanaugh


Anthony Stemke






Talli Roland

Lynn Kelley

The Golden Eagle

Theresa Milstein



Angela Ackerman

Arlee Bird

Elizabeth Mueller


Medeia Shariff


Tony Payne



Sharon Hamilton

Sharon Mayhew

Stephen Tremp


Vanilla Mama

Thanks again for enjoying this journey with me. You all deserve awards for being so patient! In fact, as soon as I re-learn how to use Inkscape, I’ll definitely set about giving you the awards you deserve.

And now, I can finally go back to my twice/ thrice a week posts about writing!

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England Day 9: Wimbledon

We spent the rest of the evening packing. I wrapped some of the more fragile souvenirs in my newly laundered clothes and had a bit of trouble figuring out how to fit all my things in the two bags I had brought with me.

Thankfully our hotel room was much bigger and I had more space to spread my things out. I don’t know why, but I find it difficult to pack in a tiny room.

May 13, 2011 Friday

Maiko had gotten really sick during the night. She couldn’t sleep at all due to her stomach pains.

That morning, Maiko couldn’t even think of eating. She was feeling very ill and I was already beginning to wonder how we would survive the last day of our trip.

I called for a cab around 7:30am, thinking it should be enough time to get us to the station. After all, the station was only 5 minutes away by car.

15 minutes later, the cab still hadn’t arrived. I walked to the nearby Tesco grocery store where I had seen a line of cabs last night, but there were no cabs there either. At around 8am, I hailed an empty cab.

The cab driver stopped and asked where I was headed. I told him we needed to get to the train station fast. And then he asked me if I was the one who had called for a cab earlier.

I said yes, climbed in, and instructed him to go to the Qudos Inn across the street where I had left Maiko with our bags.

The cab driver helped us load our big bags, and Maiko and I got in. It was already 8am. The train for London would leave at 8:15am and we still had to buy tickets and walk to the platform.

As soon as we got to the train station, I paid the cabby, and Maiko and I hurried inside. Maiko purchased our train tickets from a young man who took his sweet time. As soon as he handed us our tickets, we dragged our heavy bags through the ticket gate and ran to the assigned platform.

I was worried about Maiko. She was sick and weak and had two big bags to carry. I would’ve carried her bags for her, but I already had 2 big bags, plus the extra duffel bag Maiko had brought to act as a catch-all bag for last minute things we might have forgotten to put away.

We ran to the platform. If we missed the train, we would have to wait a few more hours to get to Wimbledon. A train attendant saw us running and gave the train driver a signal to wait. We jumped into the train and five seconds later, the door closed behind us.

Maiko found an empty seat and I arranged our bags in the baggage shelf in the corner of the train.

Train tickets

Maiko slept the whole train ride. At one point, I encouraged her to eat some of the Danish pastry and drink some juice. One bite was all she could manage.

Two hours later, Maiko and I gathered our things and moved closer to the door. Our stop was still minutes away, but we wanted to be ready.

Before the train arrived at Clapham Junction, Maiko went into the train’s toilet and threw up again. She felt better after throwing up, but still felt weak.

I was really worried about her. She couldn’t seem to keep any food down and we still had a long way to go before we reached our hotel in Wimbledon.

We dragged our bags up some stairs, walked across to the other side of the station and lumbered down more steps to the platform. We got there just in time to see the train to Wimbledon open its doors.

We stepped inside the train and waited for our journey to end. I was cursing myself for bringing too many things and buying too many books. I promised myself that next time I would pack so light that all I’d bring was a toothbrush and some underwear—and my camera, of course.

As soon as we arrived at the Wimbledon Station, I immediately went to work looking for a cab. The construction going on around the station added to the heat of the day made for one uncomfortable journey. I left Maiko with our bags and asked a nearby shopkeeper where I could find some cabs. He pointed me in the right direction, and minutes later, we were in a cab bound for the Premier Inn Hotel.

The cab dropped us off at the parking lot entrance and Maiko and I dragged our bags through the elevator and up to the reception area. She rested on one of the chairs while I asked the clerk if I could check in earlier. Luckily, she said our room was ready.

She handed me the card keys and I picked up my bags and we trundled back toward the elevators up to our 3rd floor room.

Each floor of the building had a door that required a card key. I was getting annoyed at the many doors we had to swipe and push open before we finally got to our room. It would’ve been okay if I didn’t have three huge bags with me.

As soon as we got to our room, I threw the bags to the side and breathed a sigh of relief. Maiko found the nearest couch and lay down to rest.

Premier Inn shelf

At least the hotel room was nice. Twice as nice as Qudos and ten times better than Arriva’s tiny room.

Premier Inn Desk

I inspected all the amenities and found that the lights wouldn’t work—and that there was no electricity. I was about to call the concierge when I noticed a small card slot by the door.

Clean bathroom at Premier Inn

I inserted the card into it and the room immediately came alive. All the lights I had been testing earlier switched on.

“Cool!” I said, amazed at the whole “hi-techy” feel of the room.

I let Maiko rest on the bed while I organized our things. It was already 11am and the Wimbledon Tour we had booked was at 12:30pm.

Maiko was feeling so sick and I felt horrible that she had to go through that on this particular day. Today was the day she had been waiting for. This had been her only request when I planned our itinerary—she wanted to visit the Wimbledon Tennis Stadium. And now she was so sick she could barely sit up.

I asked her if she just wanted to stay in and rest.  But Maiko, being the trooper that she is, said she didn’t want to miss out on Wimbledon. So she dragged herself from the bed and we walked downstairs.

We spent half an hour looking for the bus that would take us to Wimbledon. We followed the instructions the front desk clerk had given.

Halfway on our journey, we realized we were on the wrong bus. The front desk clerk had said to go on the 57, but when Maiko checked her London Pass guidebook, it said to take a different bus number to Wimbledon. We hopped off at the next stop and tried looking for the right bus.

I was getting frustrated. Maiko wasn’t feeling well and I didn’t want her to have to walk any more than she had to. I found a cab and we hopped in to go to Wimbledon.

We arrived at Wimbledon Tennis Stadium at 12:30pm. We went to the museum/shop and I asked one of the workers there about the tour. I explained that we had missed the tour we had booked because we had gotten a little lost on the way there.

Wimbledon Museum and Shop Entrance

They said it was no problem, and set us up for the 1pm tour. The tour would’ve cost us £27.50, but since we had our London Pass card, it was free.

Maiko just wanted to sit down so she found a bench at the museum below the store and just rested there.

Wimbledon Tennis Museum

I checked out the various things they sold at the shop so I could report to her, and then I joined her by the museum bench.

Five minutes before 1pm, we walked outside to wait. A tall lady appeared and introduced herself as our tour guide.

bench outside the Wimbledon Museum & Shop

The tour guide led us a few steps toward the ticket office. She pointed to the several ticket booths, which were at the moment covered up with green tarp. This was where thousands of tennis fans would stream through  in June to get into the stadiums.

The main entrance into Wimbledon

The guide then led us up the road to our first major stop of the tour: the famous No. 1 Court.

Outside Court No. 1 Level 3

Wimbledon Court No.1

I didn’t know much about tennis, but I appreciated the sport and enjoyed learning about its beginnings and about the many historic games played on the various courts.

Maiko at Court No. 1

In front of Court No. 1 was a hill  known as Henman Hill, where crowds without a ticket gather to watch live tennis matches on a giant video screen. Now the hill is known as Murray Mound, after current British No. 1 Andy Murray.

Beside the hill were some giant steps, and this is where the tour guide led us.

Steps beside Murray Hill

Maiko had a difficult time climbing the steps, but she slogged on through. From the top of the steps, we could see a good view of the various buildings within the Wimbledon stadium.

View from the top of the steps

To the left was Murray Mound, and our guide let us walk on the grass and take pictures of the Wimbledon logo and year fenced in on the hill.

Wimbledon 2011 Sign on top of Murray Mound

The guide led us back down the steps towards another famous court.

Court No. 18

Court No. 18

Last year, history was made on Court No. 18 when John Isner and Nicolas Mahut played the longest game in tennis history. After 11 hours, 5 minutes and 183 games played over three days, Isner finally ended the match with a win.

Soon, our group was moving again. We stopped in front of a large well-tended lawn and the guide talked a little bit more about the various buildings surrounding us.

I made sure to take lots of pictures of the stadiums for Maiko. She was so weak she could barely walk. Every time Maiko found a place to rest, she would sit down.

well tended Wimbledon Lawn

Our tour allowed us special access into areas normally restricted to players and other court officials.  So we lucky ones got to go into the Press Centre, where press conferences  are held.

Building housing the Press Centre

The Press Centre is where players go after matches for interviews. I could almost picture Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal sitting on the the stage and being interviewed by hundreds of media people.

Inside the Press Centre

The tour guide encouraged us to go on the platform to take pictures.  We were on the first row of seats, so Maiko got to go on the  platform and take her picture first.

Maiko at the Press Centre

I wanted to take a better shot, but Maiko was already so weak, she didn’t want to stall the tour any further. We followed the rest of the group out of the press centre room and into another part of the building.

The guide led us to the players only area. This is where players would sign in before their tennis matches.

Where players sign in before their matches

Behind the counter hung pictures of the 2010 Wimbledon Champions Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams.

The guide then led us out onto a gangway leading to another building.

View from the gangway

We entered a small door and found ourselves in a room where the names of all the tennis champions were displayed.

Maiko by the champions wall

We didn’t stay too long in this room however. We walked down some steps and followed the guide outside toward the final stop of our tour.

The Centre Court at Wimbledon is the most famous of  all the courts there, as it is where all the championship games are played.

Centre Court Scoreboard

The guide told us that the Centre Court is only used for two weeks out of the whole year. It is tended to by a gardener, whose only job is to maintain the lawn and keep the grass at a specific length throughout the year.

Centre Court, Wimbledon

I wish Maiko had been felt better.  As it was, she was too sick to fully enjoy the view. But being the trooper that she was, she struggled to finish the whole tour and even put on a brave smile for the camera.

Maiko at Centre Court

Once everyone had finished taking pictures, the tour guide left and we all went our separate ways.

Maiko and I passed the great wall near the Centre Court, where giant posters  of past champions hung.

Posters of Past Wimbledon Champions

The tour had taken an hour or so. It was already 2PM by the time we got back to the museum, where we had started. We needed to each lunch, so we headed for the cafe across the museum/shop. A quote by Goran Ivanisevic hung on the wall right at the entrance into the cafe. I took a picture of Maiko beneath the quote. I felt that it fitted her nicely. She was a champion for finishing the tour despite her sickness.

Maiko being a champion on tour day

I ordered some sandwiches for myself and some bread and soup for Maiko. I didn’t mind that the food was overpriced and not so tasty. We both needed to get some food into our system. Maiko was afraid that she would throw up again, but thankfully she managed to keep the food down.

After a quick lunch, we went back into the museum/shop. Maiko immediately found a chair to sit on. She just wanted to go back to the hotel and lie down.

I felt really bad for her. She had been looking forward to Wimbledon the whole trip. She’d even withdrawn extra cash so she could buy tons of souvenirs at the shop. But now she was so sick, she couldn’t even think about shopping.

I didn’t want her to miss out, so I quickly went around the shop and bought her some souvenirs.  As I paid for them, I asked the cashier where we could find a cab. She offered to get us one and quickly picked up the phone to call us a cab.  I thanked her, and Maiko and I went outside to wait for our cab.

Beside the statue of F.J. Perry

We were finally Wimble-done with our tour. We took pictures outside the gate while we waited for the cab.

Gate entrance to the museum

Museum Hours

The cab arrived 15 minutes later. Maiko tumbled in gratefully, and slept the whole way back to the hotel.

As soon as we got to our room at 3PM, Maiko changed into her bedtime clothes and slept.

She slept from 3PM until 8am the following day.

Meanwhile, I went about quietly, organizing my things and trying to get internet service so I could check my email.


We were supposed to meet up with my former student Frances again that day. Maiko said I should still meet up with Frances and she was fine just sleeping at the hotel.

When Frances heard that Maiko was sick, she insisted on meeting up with me at the hotel so that we wouldn’t be too far from Maiko if she needed us. We ended up having dinner at the hotel’s restaurant.

I had my first taste of bangers and mash while Frances  ordered some kind of curry.

bangers and mash


Frances and I talked for three hours, and were the last customers to leave the restaurant that night. At the end of our long dinner, I asked one of the waitresses if she could take a picture of us. The waitress must have been wondering about why it had taken has 3 hours to finish dinner, and I felt the need to explain that Frances and I hadn’t seen each other in 7 years.

Frances and I on my last night in England

I invited Frances up to our room so she could say hello to Maiko and give us our goodbye presents. Maiko woke up for a little bit to talk to Frances and drink some water before falling right back asleep.

Then Frances and I said our goodbyes and promised to keep in touch.

Tomorrow Maiko and I were leaving for home and I prayed that she would feel much better as we had a long journey ahead of us.

Tomorrow–The Journey Home

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England Day 8 Part 2: Amesbury

We had traveled on Woodsford Road for about 10 miles when we finally reached Stonehenge Road—and the sign welcoming us to Amesbury.

Amesbury Sign

We took a right on Stonehenge Road, excited to finally get to our destination.

Signpost on Stonehenge Road

A few minutes later we came upon a thatched roof cottage on the right side of the road.

Little Thatch House

My characters come alive for me when I’m writing their story. And I’ve been writing Will, Finn and Taylor’s story for almost two years. They had become real people in my  mind, and to go on the same journey they had gone on was an incredible feeling.

In front of Little Thatch House (my character Will’s House)

And now I was standing before the little cottage that I had chosen for Will. I could see almost see Grandma Sophie’s green pickup truck in the space where a van was parked.

When I was writing my book, I had to rely on Google Earth and pictures gleaned from Google Maps to imagine the path my characters took on their daily adventures. Little did I know that years later, I’d see the place for myself and experience what my characters would have experienced had they been real people.

I felt truly blessed and I stood there just taking it all in. Maiko took a picture with Will’s house–appreciating the moment as well. She too had read the book and was excited to have it come even more alive in her mind. Then she left me have my moment.

Maiko in front of Little Thatch

While I was having my “moment”, Maiko was having her own “moment”. Across from the several people were shearing sheep and Maiko was so absorbed in watching the whole process.

People shearing sheep

I joined her and watched, too, fascinated at the whole process. The sheep were marked with different colors. They were herded up a ramp and placed on a shearing platform where someone was assigned to shear them with this electric razor. The sheep must have weighed a lot, but the workers easily flipped them over. The sheep were docile and would just lay there letting them shave the wool off.

Sheep being sheared

After a while, we moved on. A few steps from Will’s cottage, we  found the bridge over River Avon where Will and Finn often hung out.

River Avon

I imagined Will and Finn scrambling down the banks to fish in the river.

Banks of River Avon, Amesbury

Across the bridge was a bench were passersby could sit and enjoy the view.

Bench by the River Avon

I sat for awhile, and then we moved on. A few meters from the bridge, Stonehenge Road had turned into Church Street, and we found Amesbury Abbey.

Amesbury Abbey

Old gravestones, some covered in moss, littered the church yard.  I imagined my characters exploring the various gravestones here as well.

Maiko and I went inside and we were welcomed by a cheery church guide.

Inside the Amesbury Abbey

The guide was eager to show us various historical details of the church, such as this old medieval clock.

Medieval clock inside the Amesbury Abbey

Compared to Salisbury, Amesbury probably doesn’t see as many visitors so our guide was bursting with happiness at the chance to show us around. She asked us where we were from, and we told her we were from LA. I told her why we were in Amesbury and she was happy to find out that I had chosen it for my book’ s setting.

The guide wanted to show us more, but it was already 1230pm, so Maiko and I were starving and eager to find something to eat. I bought a sketch of Amesbury Abbey for 5o pence and a £2 pamphlet on the Abbey’s history and thanked the guide for her time. We were almost out the door and called out and gave me a postcard of Amesbury for free. She said it would be a nice souvenir since I was writing a book featuring Amesbury.

I thanked her, and left the abbey smiling.

We hopped on our bikes and from Church Street, made a right on Salisbury street.

Salisbury Street, Amesbury

We parked our bikes on some racks in the corner and walked around the street looking for a place to eat. Amesbury is a sleepy town and wasn’t quite as commercial as Salisbury. We finally decided to have lunch at Reeve the Baker–a bakeshop also available in Salisbury.

Reeve the Baker

Maiko bought some pasties while I went into the bakery’s cafe, which was really just a small room with a few tables and chairs. The server told me that we had to order from the cafe itself if we wanted to sit there for lunch. So I ordered a coke and Maiko ordered a cappuccino, and we had them with the pasties she had bought.

lunch at Reeve the Baker

After lunch, we walked around the small town of Amesbury. We walked a little ways on Church Street, and then back down Salisbury Street where we had left our bikes.  I could see how Will, a kid from LA could get bored here as there weren’t too many shops to check out.

Church Street

We passed by the bus station where Will would’ve taken the bus to Salisbury.

Amesbury Bus Station

As we biked on Salisbury Street, we saw the Amesbury Library and decided to check it out.

Amesbury Library

My character Will is a bookworm like myself, and would hang out at the Amesbury library a lot.

At the Amesbury Library

Inside, we found a nice little children’s section–and as I always do, I made  a space for my future book in there.

Amesbury Library children’s zone

After awhile, Maiko and I headed toward the final stop of our Amesbury tour –Stonehenge School. We asked a nearby teenager where we could find it and he gave us some directions. We followed it and ended up on a street at the other side of the school (Cold Harbour Street). We went back the way we came and made a right on Earls Court Road and then a left on Antrobus Road, where Stonehenge School’s main gate was located.

Stonehenge School is where Will goes to school. I wanted to see if I could walk the hallways and maybe peek into the classrooms, so I left my bike with Maiko and went inside.

Stonehenge School, Will’s school

I found the visitor’s office and asked the lady there if I could walk around. She called for the principal to ask, and the principal said that unfortunately I couldn’t wander within the school unless I had some sort of special letter. Well, it was worth trying. I thanked her and asked if I could look around outside, and she said I could.

I took pictures of various places in the school and then headed out to join Maiko.

Stonehenge School, Will’s school

Maiko showed me a picture she had taken of several students who were more than happy to have their photos taken.

Stonehenge School boys

I imagined what Will would look like wearing the uniform.

It was already 3PM. Maiko and I needed to start cycling back toward Salisbury so we could get there by 5PM to return the bikes without a fee.

It was serious biking this time around and I didn’t have time to take pictures. I had to try and bike continuously. It was difficult going and my crotch was sore from sitting on the hard bike seat almost the whole day. I didn’t know how to stand on my bike so I had to just endure the pain.

The hills weren’t my favorite things at all. I would hop off the bike and walk my bike up the hill briskly. This time around, since we had a schedule to keep, there weren’t too many breaks either.

I was so happy when we finally reached the Salisbury border, 10 miles and 2 hours later.

Back in Salisbury

It was 5PM so Maiko and I made a mad run for Hayball Cyclesport. We reached it 10 minutes later and returned the bikes.

I was exhausted by the time we got back to the hotel, but I was happy I did the ride. I took a quick powernap on the floor of the room (I didn’t want to stink up the sheets), freshened up, and then we headed out.

I carried a big bag of our dirty clothes to the Washing Well laundromat near the hotel.

The Washing Well Laundromat, Salisbury

We had bought tons of souvenirs, and I for one didn’t like the thought of these souvenirs getting mixed up with dirty clothes on our way back to LA. So I convinced Maiko to go to the Washing Well laundromat with me. We rented out two washers, stuffed our clothes in it, added some woolite and headed out to dinner.


We had been wanting to try out Wagamama since Maiko had bought the Wagamama cook book at a bookstore in LA. Luckily, there was a branch in Salisbury.

Maiko was so happy to finally get to try some Wagamama food. I ordered some Yakisoba and some iced tea.

Wagamama dinner

Maiko ordered this fried rice–which would cause us tons of problems later on.

bad rice at Wagamama

Maiko kept on offering me some of it, and we’re lucky that I refused to have some. Half way through the meal Maiko started complaining of slight stomach pain. I paid for the meal and we headed back to the Washing Well to wait for the laundry.

Maiko stayed at the hotel for a little bit, and then she joined me to help me fold the laundry. Her stomachache was worsening by the hour and I was getting worried because the following day was the day she was looking forward to most of all, because we would finally get to see Wimbledon.


Next Week: Wimbledon

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May 12, 2011 Thursday

Today was our last day in the Wiltshire area and Maiko and I wanted to take in as much of it as we could.

By 7:30 am we were walking around Salisbury. We saw a lot of school children in different uniforms heading to their respective schools.

We had seen a restaurant yesterday that was selling the traditional English breakfast for £5.99. When we got there, however, the restaurant was still closed.

We wandered about and found that the King’s Head Inn was offering the same traditional breakfast for £4.18. We decided this was a much better deal. Besides, it was 8am and we were starving.

Ordering food at the King’s Head Inn

The Traditional English Breakfast platter consisted of  sausages, English bacon (here in the US we call it ham), hash browns, egg, sweet beans, grilled tomatoes and grilled mushroom.

Traditional English Breakfast

It was a heavy breakfast, to say the least. And I finished every single scrap of it. I knew I’d be needing the energy for the 20 mile bike ride ahead of us.

By the time we finished breakfast, it was 9am. We headed for The Compleat Artist so Maiko could buy the watercolor paint her mom requested.

At The Compleat Artist buying art supplies

We headed back to Qudos to grab our bags and bikes and then started our journey.

I was very nervous as we biked up Castle Street.  I had only ever ridden a bike maybe about 5x in my whole life—and three of those times, I was on a bike with training wheels.

The longest bike ride I ever had stretched about 5 miles—and that had been on concrete roads, complete with stop signs and stoplights. Back then, I had been scared out of my mind and trying to focus on not overbalancing and getting run over by the cars that zoomed past me. I’m okay once I get on the bike—my biggest problem was stopping. My legs would somehow manage to get tangled up in the  bike chains and I’d flounder around, trying not to fall over.

Yesterday, I had conquered my fear of heights. I found out later on that Warwick Castle’s tower (which I had chickened out of ) had only been 147 ft high. Salisbury Cathedral’s tour took us 225 ft up.  If I managed that, I could manage biking on narrow country roads. I was ready to conquer my fear of getting run over while biking and to fully enjoy my first real bike ride.

Up Castle Road we went until Castle Road became Stratford Road. We passed by South Wilts Grammar School—an all girl’s school which I had chosen as my character Taylor’s school.

South Wilts Grammar School, my character Taylor’s School

We stopped and took pictures & videos of the school buildings and the surrounding area. Seeing the location in person would help me describe my settings and write my scenes much better.

Maiko advised me to tuck my trouser cuffs into my socks so that they wouldn’t be caught in the bike chains as I pedaled. (I’m calling them trousers and not pants, because apparently in the UK, pants are what we in the US call underwear).

Maiko’s advice definitely helped. I found it easier to pedal.

It was 10 miles to Amesbury. Maiko could have done the 10 miles in 20 minutes, but because I was with her, the bike ride lasted 3 hours.

And it wasn’t because I biked really slow. It was because we would stop at every interesting sight we saw.

After stopping to take pictures of South Wilts, we passed by a farm with two horses grazing. We don’t often see horses in LA, so we just had to stop and admire them.

Maiko taking a picture of the horses

Posing with the horses

Further on Stratford Road, we saw a nice thatched roof cottage. (After passing the fifth thatched roof house, we realized it would take us forever to get to Amesbury if we stopped to take pictures of every single one).

Thatched Roof Cottage

An hour into our bike ride, we passed from Salisbury into the town of Stratford Sub-Castle. We saw an old church and decided to stop for more pictures.

St. Lawrence Church, Stratford Sub Castle

The Church of Saint Lawrence lay beside a green pasture. Sheep were grazing there and we watched them for awhile, before heading back onto Stratford Road.

Sheep resting by the church

5 Seconds after we had started biking again, the overcast sky decided my bike ride wasn’t challenging enough, and decided to splatter us with big fat pellets of rain.

Maiko and I biked on in the sudden shower. I was wearing glasses and had to wipe away water every time so I could see where I was going. If the rain kept on, we would be drenched to our bones.  I was so afraid that we wouldn’t get to Amesbury at all.

Thankfully, the rain stopped after a few minutes, and Maiko and I were free to continue our bike ride.

Following the signs

We followed the signs to Amesbury and soon Stratford Road became Woodford Road.

Though I wasn’t used to biking, I was thoroughly enjoying the sights. Everywhere I looked were green pastures and rolling hills. The sun had finally come out in full force and was adding to the beauty of the scenery.

Beautiful scenery

We soon came to some crossroads and Maiko decided to consult the map the bike shop owner had given her. While she figured out our next path, I stopped to catch my breath and enjoy the view.

Consulting the map at the crossroads

Seconds later, Maiko got our bearings straight and we continued up Woodford Road. A few minutes into our ride, we saw a sparkling lake in the distance.

As we rode closer, we realized that the lake wasn’t a lake at all. It was a vast field of beautiful purple flowers.

A like of purple flowers

Beautiful purple flowers

We simply had to stop and take pictures.

Maiko in the lake of flowers

We continued on Woodford Road, passing more green pastures and a field of gold.

Field of gold

Maiko took pictures of me huffing and puffing on my bike behind her.

Huffing and puffing on my bike

Half an hour later, we reached Lower Woodford, and passed the Wheatsheaf Inn.

The Wheatsheaf Inn

A mailman was delivering some mail and he waved and posed for a picture.

Post man

We moved on and soon arrived in Middle Woodford.

Middle Woodford

There we found another beautiful church and posed for pictures in front of it.

A Church in Middle Woodford

Maiko is an avid cyclist and she was happy that I was sharing her love of biking. She made sure to take lots of pictures of me on my bike—

Biking in Middle Woodford

Happy cyclist

Or walking my bike. Whenever we would reach a particularly hilly spot, I would hop off my bike and walk it up the hill.

Walking my bike

Middle Woodford soon gave way to Upper Woodford. We passed a couple of ladies riding on their horses.

lady horse riders

Since I was a slower cyclist than Maiko, I gave Maiko my big camera (which I had to take in and out of the bag for pictures). I went on ahead while she stopped to take interesting pictures, and she would catch up with me a few minutes later.

two horses and a cottage

A building with a blue clock depicting a unicorn and a griffin

It was already 11am and we still had a long way to go before we reached Amesbury. Maiko and I biked onwards, traveling on the same road we had traveled the day Pat Shelley took us on the Stonehenge Tour.

the road still ahead

We passed by Sting’s house gate, and Maiko took a picture of his house—or at least the tip of it.

The tip of Sting’s House

The road from Upper Woodsford to Wilsford and Normanton often dipped up and down. Tree canopies shaded some parts of the road and made us feel like we were biking through a forest.

Dipping Roads

I wanted to reach Amesbury by lunch time, so I biked on ahead while Maiko took pictures of whatever caught her fancy.

an old church

a cute cottage

We reached West Amesbury and pushed on.

West Amesbury

Biking through West Amesbury

At around noon, we finally reached Amesbury.


Next – Amesbury

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May 11, 2011 Wednesday

After a refreshing lunch at the inn, Maiko and I ventured back outside and headed toward the Salisbury Cathedral. We took Silver Street, and stopped to take pictures of the pagoda that marked Salisbury’s City Centre.

Salisbury City Centre Pagoda

An ambulance passed by with its sirens blaring, and I snapped a picture of the yellow emergency car.


Maiko stopped to check the map, and I followed her down High Street. We passed by the chocolate shop again, and this time Maiko took a picture with the gigantic ice cream cone.

giant ice cream cone

I had to take a picture of the cute red van passed by as we were walking down the street.

Cute red van

Then we saw the gate marking the entrance into the Salisbury Cathedral Close.

Cathedral gate

A group of school children passed by on a tour. They were wearing cute little bonnets and gray coats. I don’t remember my elementary school uniform being that cute.

School children

There were many things to see within the Cathedral Close, but it was almost 2pm and most of the attractions close around 4 or 5pm.

Cathedral Close signpost

Naturally, we decided to see the biggest attraction of all—Salisbury Cathedral.

Salisbury Cathedral , north side

Salisbury Cathedral was breathtaking. It towered before us majestically, and I felt the exact same awe I had felt when I first saw Canterbury Cathedral.

Salisbury Cathedral, West Front

Even the gloomy skies couldn’t detract from the beauty of its gothic architecture. I could have spent a whole day admiring the sturdy buttresses, the lifelike statues within alcoves, the many arches and the intricate details placed on every carved area of the cathedral.

Statues within the walls of the cathedral

Maiko and I spent some time taking pictures of the Cathedral from various angles.

When we had taken as many photos of the cathedral’s exterior as we liked, we headed toward the entrance into the cathedral.

Cathedral Entrance

The entrance into the Cathedral was located on the West side.  We were greeted by a beautiful arched passage way.

Cathedral corridor

There were chairs and tables arranged on the left side, as the corridor was an extension of the Cathedral’s restaurant (located at the end of the passageway).

At the very entrance into the corridor was a model representing what the castle and cathedral of Salisbury had looked like  centuries ago.

Model of old Sarum enclosed in a glass case

Model of the Castle and Cathedral of Old Sarum

To the right side of the arched corridor was the cathedral’s cloisters.

Salisbury Cathedral Cloisters

Maiko and I entered the main cathedral building through an arched door within the corridor. We were greeted by a front desk clerk who asked us if we would like to go on the tower tour.

I was deathly afraid of heights, and if you remember, I chickened out halfway up into the tower at Warwick Castle.  My heart had started pounding like crazy once I had looked over the side of the turrets, and even though the sign at the tower’s entrance had warned us to commit because it was a one-way passage, I had found a way to go back down the way I had come.

I wasn’t interested in taking a tour that involved heights.

Maiko, however,  was very interested in taking the tower tour and asked the clerk to tell her more about it.

The Salisbury Cathedral Tower Tour involved climbing 332 steps up narrow winding staircases to reach the foot of the spire. From there, one could see spectacular views of the city and its surrounding Cathedral.

Maiko wasn’t afraid of heights and immediately shelled out £8.50 to take the tour. She asked the clerk how long the tour would take. The clerk responded that the tour took about 2 hours.

“What?” I squawked. “What would I do down here for two hours?”

Maiko gave me a sad face. I knew she really wanted to go on the tower tour, but she felt bad about leaving me wandering the cathedral for two hours. I didn’t want her to miss out.

Although Maiko had told me how smart I was for not climbing the 530 steps to the Warwick Castle tower, I had felt like I had missed out on a great experience.  Besides, Warwick Castle had been 530 steps – Salisbury Cathedral was only 332 steps. That’s 198 less steps for me to walk. And the clerk assured us that the entire tour would be conducted indoors with several opportunities to stop and rest.

I decided it was time to conquer my fears.

With trembling fingers, I handed her a £10 note. Maiko beamed. The clerk smiled and told me I won’t be sorry. I smiled back weakly, already sweating.

The tower tour would start at 3PM so Maiko and I had 10 minutes to walk around the Cathedral. I walked around taking pictures of random things to take my mind off the impending doom–I mean–tour.

A model of the Cathedral’s construction

Medieval clock

Inside the cathedral

Our tour guide appeared a little before 3PM and gathered us to him. He introduced himself as the senior guide ( I think his name was Tom though I’m not sure). The guide told us a little bit about the cathedral’s construction and even showed us the many materials that made its foundation.

Tour guide showing us what makes up the cathedral’s foundations

Our tour guide (whom I shall be calling Tom, though I’m not sure if that was really his name), told us of the cathedral’s history.

The cathedral’s formal name is the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, though its commonly called the Salisbury Cathedral. The cathedral’s main body was built from 1220 to 1258–a total of 38 years. Salisbury Cathedral had started out as a Roman Catholic church. But like many of the Cathedrals all over England, it was transformed into an Anglican Cathedral during the Reformation.

After telling us  a little bit of the cathedral’s history, Tom told us what to expect from the tour. He said that though the cathedral had the tallest spire in the UK measuring 404 ft, we would only be able to climb up 225 feet.

I gulped. 225 feet shouldn’t be too bad, I thought to myself. I mean Warwick Castle was probably double that height.

Tom retrieved a small key and opened a narrow door in the corner of the cathedral. Immediately inside to our left was a row of lockers. Tom advised us to pick a locker and leave our bags inside so we could have our hands free while climbing up the steps.

I steeled myself, picked a locker and then stuffed the key into my pocket. I handed Maiko my big camera. I told her to handle the picture-taking from now onwards because I wanted my hands free throughout the trip. She gave me the small camera which she normally carried and I tucked it into my jacket pocket.

Maiko squeezed my shoulder and gave me an encouraging smile. I took a deep breath and followed Tom up the narrow spiral stone stairs.

Our first stop was the nave–a small passage way overlooking the main cathedral hall.  Behind us were beautiful stained glass windows depicting royal crests.

Stained glass windows

I tried to stick as close to the windows as possible.  From our perch, we could look down and see the main cathedral floor.

View of the main floor from the 1st tour stop

Maiko zoomed in an took a picture of the baptismal font at the center of the ground floor.

Baptismal Font

Tom told us more about the cathedral’s construction and pointed out various architectural details which we could see clearly from where we stood.

After that, we continued on the narrow balcony passage and entered the 2nd level of our tour.

Above the nave, beneath the cathedral’s roof

We were now inside the roof space directly above the cathedral’s nave. To the left was an aged statue that had fallen from the cathedral’s west front, which the cathedral had decided to preserve.

West Front Statuary

Tom told us about the beams supporting the cathedral’s roof. The structure is built entirely without nails through medieval building techniques of beveled joints and timber pegs. The wooden planks were all cut from one big Oak tree, and the Oak’s long midsection was split in two, and each half was placed as the diagonal support for the rest of the beams.

Beams supporting the cathedral roof

I was feeling a bit more confident as we moved on across the roof to the 3rd level of the tour. We  in a small maintenance room within the cathedral roof. This was by far my favorite stop of the tour, as it felt safe and enclosed.

Maintenance Room within cathedral roof

Within this room was a medieval clock.

Salisbury medieval clock bell connected to the medieval clock in the ground floor

The medieval clock inside the Salisbury Cathedral  was built around 1368 and was originally located in a separate bell tower (The ruins of which could be see outside the cathedral. ) It is the oldest working clock in existence, and though it has no clock face, the clock struck every hour to tell the time.  What we were looking at was the bell which was connected to the medieval clock in the ground floor of the cathedral.

Within the 3rd level was also an intimidating and very narrow spiral staircase.–which would lead to the next stop of the tour.

Spiral staircase leading up to the very base of the spire

Holding my breath (or at least trying to), I followed Tom and the others up the spiral stairs. At the very top we found ourselves at a narrow passage overlooking the room we had just been in.

Looking down into the room

Tall windows surrounded us, and on the windows’ glass were scrawls left behind by various tourists.

Tall windows

messages on the glass

After pausing for a break, we moved into the 4th level of the tour.

Resting at the base of the spire

We were now at the very base of the 404 ft. spire. I rested on one of the benches provided and listen to Tom talk about the purpose of the various pulleys, ropes and beams within the room.

Maiko was so proud of me for surviving so far in the tour. A kindly tour member took our picture.

at the 4th stage of the tour

Another menacing spiral staircase would lead us to the 5th and final stage of the tower tour.

Final spiral staircase

It was taller and narrower than the last one we climbed and I felt myself gulp in anticipation. One of our tour members decided to stay behind. His wife went on without him, following Tom up the stairs. Maiko asked me if I wanted to stay behind, too, but I said I’d already come this far why should I miss out on the last level?

Feeling a little proud that I, an acrophobic, was moving on to the final stage of the tour, I followed the rest upstairs.

The knees were wobbling by the time we reached the final room.

Final level of the tower tour

Directly above us were the beams supporting the spire.

inside the spire

Tom talked about how the spire was constructed.

Tour guide explaining the spire

I wandered around the room and found this certificate from the Guinness World Book of Records. According to it, the Salisbury Cathedral has the highest spire in all of Great Britain. And we had climbed to its very base!

Guinness Book of Records Certificate: highest spire in the UK

When Tom had finished talking about the spire, he pointed to  small door in the corner of the room. Apparently, those doors led to the Parapet –which meant they led outside where we could see the whole of Salisbury from the height of 225 feet.

My knees wobbled.

Maiko told me to stay behind in the room. But I thought of Warwick Castle and the man who had stayed below and I thought about missing out again. I took a deep breath and said, “well, i’ve come this far. Why should I miss out?”

I took a picture of the small door we would be going through. My hands were shaking so the picture came out fuzzy.

Door leading to parapet

Outside, we saw the most beautiful view of Salisbury.

View from the parapet (north)

Tom pointed out various buildings below us and told us a little about their history. I made sure that I stood behind Maiko, closest to the cathedral walls.  The view was spectacular and I tried to focus on its beauty instead of on my fear of heights.

After giving us some time to enjoy the view and take pictures, Tom led us back inside the spire room. I let out a deep breath, happy that I had survived outside.

Then Tom walked to another small door at the east side of the room. I groaned. The tour wasn’t over yet and I wasn’t sure if I could survive 3 more spectacular views from outside.

But I steeled myself and followed. I wasn’t going to miss out again. I had come this far, after all.

View from the parapet (east)

Tom pointed out various buildings again, giving us time to enjoy each view and take pictures. I was trying hard to focus on the view and not the height from where we stood.

Maiko was clearly enjoying the parapet.

Maiko on the parapet

The third door we entered led to a parapet that was so narrow it only had space for one person.  I couldn’t hide behind anyone this time and so I gripped the rails for dear life.

Gripping the Rails

View from the parapet (south)

I was happy when we reached the final door, and even happier when we stepped back inside the spire room.

View from the parapet (west)

Maiko and I signed a guest book in the spire room and followed Tom and the others down the steps, passing all the levels again until we reached the ground floor. We took our bags from the locker and Tom led back onto the cathedral’s main hall. He congratulated us for surviving the tour and gave us all a button of the Salisbury Cathedral, as souvenirs of our tower tour.

I took the button and thanked him. I pinned the button on my bag and proudly wore it the rest of the day. I was so happy that I didn’t faint at all, and I was thrilled to have survived the tower tour!

It was already 4:30PM, and Maiko and I continued touring the rest of the Cathedral. We headed for the Chapter House which contained the best preserved copy of the four surviving original copies of the Magna Carta. After enjoying the various displays in the chapter house, and admiring the magna carta, we headed for the cathedral’s cafeteria/giftshop.

Salisbury Cathedral Cafeteria

We shopped for some souvenirs there. I bought myself an Excalibur letter opener. (Yes I know I’m a geek)

Excalibur Letter Opener

After buying souvenirs, we headed back down High Street. We passed by The New Inn, which looked quite old.

The old “New Inn”

We passed by the Cross Keys Bookshop to buy some of the books I had wanted to buy yesterday.

More books at the Cross Keys Bookshop

Our plan for tomorrow (which was supposed to be for today) was to bike from Salisbury to Amesbury, another town featured in my book. It was already 5PM, so we headed for Hayball Cyclesports on Winchester street, to rent some bicycles. We rented the bikes  for £15 each. The bikes were on a 24 hour rental cycle so we had to return them around the same time tomorrow.

Hayball Cyclesport

The shop owner said that the bike ride to Amesbury was about 20 miles. He gave us a map and showed us the route to follow. The bikes didn’t come with helmets, unfortunately, but they did give us some bike chains.

I was a bit nervous since I’ve only ever ridden a bike maybe five times in my whole life. I was afraid of biking on the roads with cars rushing past, and also very afraid of losing my balance and falling headlong into the traffic. More than that, I wasn’t as athletic or as fit as Maiko so I didn’t know if I would last 10 miles one way on the bike.

ButI had just conquered my fear of heights. I felt pretty tough that day, so I agreed to do tomorrow’s 20 mile bike ride.

Maiko and I biked for awhile in the nearby streets so I could get a feel for the bike. I was still afraid to go on the road with the cars, so we found a small park and I biked all over the grass, trying to figure out how to do proper turns and brakes.

Practicing on my bike

After an hour or so, we headed back towards our hotel. We passed by St. Edmunds Church on Bedwin St. and Bourne Hill and stopped to take pictures.

St. Edmunds Church Bedwin St and Bourne Hill

At the hotel, we secured our bikes with the chain in the parking garage and headed inside. We decided to try out our hotel’s downstairs restaurant for dinner.

At Qudos Inn for dinner

We ordered some good food and chowed down.

Qudos Dinner

We talked about how brave I was for conquering my fear of heights today. I was pretty proud of the feat I had just accomplished so I paid for dinner.

Tomorrow I was going to conquer another fear–a 20 mile bike ride on narrow country roads.

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England Day 7 Part 1: Salisbury Day 2

May 11, 2011 Wednesday

Maiko and I were still pretty tired from yesterday’s tour so we decided to forego the schedule and just have an easygoing day in Salisbury.

Maiko bought some Danish from Reeve the Baker’s yesterday, and the hotel  room had all we needed to make tea and coffee (cups, saucers, teabags, instant coffee, sugar and creamer)—so we had  pretty decent breakfast.

The sky was overcast and it was a tad gloomy, but it didn’t stop us from enjoying the sights and sounds of Salisbury.

At around 9:30 am we headed outside.  We walked down Castle Street, past the Salisbury library and straight into an alley that lay behind the Parish Church of St. Edmund and St. Thomas.

Parish Church of St. Edmund St. Thomas

Parish church of st. edmund st. thomas gravestones

We stopped to take pictures of the church and then moved on. Leading the way, I turned into another alley—and some naughty workers decided to scare the living delights out of Maiko. As she passed by the open window, one of them popped out and roared, making Maiko scream and then laugh immediately after.

Still laughing, we found ourselves in The Maltings—a shopping centre in Salisbury.

The Maltings

I didn’t know it at the time, but I did some research and I discovered that the Maltings gets its name from the malthouses that once stood there.

I took pictures of the area and discovered the workers who had scared Maiko on the roof of one building. They were waving at me.

Workers waving

We walked around the complex, enjoying the various shops—one of them was the Cake Mill—a shop selling baking and cake supplies.

The Cake Mill

From their window, we could see some cute figurines which they probably used as cake decorations. We went inside and Maiko bought a couple of vespas and a cute figurine for her Mom.

The Cake Mill Cake decorations

Inside the Cake Mill

Moving on, we saw a barbershop with a curiously upside down sign.

A barbershop, Salisbury

We entered the Riverside giftshop and bought 10 postcards for £1.

The River Avon (one of the many river avons all over England) flows through the Maltings.

River Avon flowing through the Maltings

There’s a riverside walk to the city centre and a garden where people come to enjoy the view, feed the pigeons or bring their kids to play in the playground.

Garden Park at the Maltings

The Works, a bookstore at the corner, was having a spring sale, and Maiko and I popped in to check out their wares. I didn’t buy anymore books bec. I was planning to return to  the Cross Keys Bookstore to make my purchases there.

Farmer’s Market in front of the bookstore

Maiko found a squishy soccer ball pillow that she liked, but she decided that she didn’t have space for it in her bag.

Squishy soccer ball inside The Works Bookstore, Maltings

Passing an archway, we found another section of the maltings called Priory square.

Priory Square, the Maltings

Here we saw a Sainsbury’s – a grocery store chain, and across the street Snip—a store that looks a little bit like The Container Store.

Sainsbury’s, Salisbury


From Malthouse Lane, we made a left toward Bridge Street. We passed by another church.

Salisbury United Reform Church

We saw the Bishop’s Mill from across the bridge.

Bishop’s Mill, Salisbury

There was a small path beside the river in front of the King’s Head Inn.

Riverside walk near the King’s Head Inn

Houses by the River Avon

At the end of the path was arched bridge and a small area with benches for people to relax and feed the ducks and swans in the river.

Crane Bridge Road

We walked toward Crane Bridge Road and to our left,  discovered an art supply store called the Compleat Artist. Maiko browsed around the shop for things her mom had wanted her to get.

The Compleat Artist

Turning right on Crane Bridge Road, we finally found Elizabeth Gardens Park. I had been wanting to go there, because my character Finn likes to hang out at this park—well, he’s been sleeping there since he lost his home—but that’s another story…

Elizabeth Garden’s Park

We saw a big tree and I decided immediately that this was where Finn and his dog Dewey would sleep under during their homeless nights.

I’m calling this “Finn’s Tree”

Maiko wanted a picture of us in the park, so we used the small tripod I had brought with me.

Elizabeth Gardens Park

A bench at the park

We enjoyed the park for a little bit, then started heading back toward the hotel. It was almost lunchtime and pasties were waiting for us back in our room.

Another area of the Elizabeth Gardens Park

Bushy pathway

We went back down Crane Bridge Road and made a left on High Street where rows of shops could be found.

High Street

I was falling inlove with Salisbury minute by minute. There was an eclectic mix of old buildings and modern conveniences in this little town, that somehow managed to blend in beautifully. I passed by one of the many real estate offices in town and thought that if I ever won the lottery, I’d definitely want to buy a vacation house here.

giant ice cream cone on High Street

We browsed the shops and as we looked into the window of one, we found a strange but funny sight. There was a doggie by the window.

Doggie in the window

He wasn’t moving at all and I thought he was a statue—until his eyes started to follow me.

Still laughing from the strange sight, we started walking again and came upon Poundland—UK’s version of the 99c store. We went inside and bought some chocolates and such to bring back home.


By now our stomach’s were growling. We quickly headed for the hotel. After a right on Silver Street, a left on Minster Street (which turns into Castle Street), we found ourselves back in Qudos Inn.

We had a nice lunch of various pasties, and Welch’s juice.

Pasties for Lunch

As Maiko bit into her pasty,  I said something funny and Maiko had a hard time biting into her pasty.

A well timed joke makes it hard to chew

I took pictures of our room in Qudos Inn. It was a far cry from our tiny room in Arriva Hotel–with lots of light and space, I wanted to remember what it looked like.

Qudos Inn Room

Qudos Inn bathroom

After resting for a few minutes, we were full and ready for our next adventure around Salisbury.

Up next—Conquering my fears at Salisbury Cathedral.

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I had made sure to book all the tours online before we left for our trip to the UK. One of these tours, was the Stonehenge Special Access Tour.

I had chosen this specific tour because it would allow us to actually see Stonehenge up close. I had no idea just what an amazing tour it would be.

Maiko and I sat by the steps of the Guildhall in Market Square Salisbury. We had arrived 10 minutes early and were trying to guess who else was part of the tour. Five minutes later, another Asian girl approached us and asked if we were here for the Stonehenge tour. We said yes and invited her to sit with us. She introduced herself as Oriana, and we started chatting.

At 3PM, a bronze Chrysler Grand Voyager pulled up right in front of us, and a silver haired man in a grey sweatshirt hopped.

Tour coach

He introduced himself as Pat Shelley, and told us he was our tour guide for the day. We had to wait for two other ladies who were joining us for the tour. They arrived a few minutes later and the six of us piled into the van. The lone male in the group, Patrick rode shotgun beside Pat. Janet and Valerie rode in the middle and Maiko, Oriana and I (the three Asians) rode in the back.

Oriana’s bubbly character reminded me of our other best friend.  I told Oriana that she reminded me of my other best friend Lena Chen and we were all pleasantly surprised that their families both originated from Taiwan and shared the same last name!

As Pat drove out of Market Square, he started his tour by officially introducing himself. He said that he has loved Stonehenge ever since he could remember—even becoming a great collector of all things Stonehenge. “I’ve got mugs, magnets, pens and several snow globes of  Stonehenge,” he said happily.

Pat also said that he was featured in the PBS special on Stonehenge, as one of its leading experts. He was part of the great archeological dig that has greatly shed some light on the mysterious monument.

Pat also explained that Stonehenge would be our last stop for the day. Since we were part of the special access tour, we would only be allowed inside once Stonehenge was closed to the general public. Since that was three hours away, we had some time and Pat had planned the tour so every sight we saw would build up our excitement in seeing the stones up close.

Once we finally were in Stonehenge, Pat promised that we would have more appreciation for the monument’s history, and that we would know more than the 99% of the people who visited Stonehenge for the first time.

I could see he loved the stones, and what he was doing so I knew I was in for a treat that day.

As we left Salisbury, we passed Old Sarum, the site of the original city.It was an iron age hillfort and was occupied by the Romans, Saxons and Normans. As we passed by the ancient ruins, Pat told us of Old Sarum’s classic motte and bailey design built by the Normans. He spoke about its significance in history and why the site was later on abandoned, and the city moved to New Salisbury.

Old Sarum

We headed towards Stonehenge along the Woodford Valley. Rolling hills and green pastures surrounded the narrow road we were on.

Woodford Valley Road

We passed the Manor House which is an historic house which has been around for centuries.

Manor House

Pat stopped on the road briefly to point out a strange sight–a camel resting in the middle of a field. Pat said that Therese the Camel was a celebrity in Salisbury, and often invited to take part in various Nativity plays.

Therese the Camel, Salisbury

The van stopped further down the road and Pat pointed to a fabulous Elizabethan Manor—which apparently was home to a former English Teacher and now a famous musician called Gordon Matthew Thomas Summer, aka. Sting.

Sting’s house

We craned our necks from the van, hoping to get a glimpse of sting but of course the house was too far away.

We saw several thatched roof houses, which Pat said were protected as historical sites. The thatched roofs last about 50 years and cost about £25,000 or more to replace. So really, only the rich could afford to live in these cottages. He also said only certain workers who specialized in thatched roofs could perform the specialized task of replacing the straw.

Thatched houses

We also saw this old school caravan—which they used hundreds of years ago and was still in relatively good condition.

Old caravan

We continued the tour, passing through the town of Amesbury. I was particularly excited to catch a glimpse of my main character’s house, and the town which Maiko and I would be visiting soon!


Just north of Amesbury, we had our first real stop of the tour. Located 2 miles northeast of Stonehenge in the parish of Durrington, this World Heritage Site called Woodhenge is neolithic class henge.


Back when it was brand new, Woodhenge had actual timbers rising from holes in the ground. To mark the spot where the henge once stood, the world heritage site erected concrete stumps, color-coded according to the type of wood that  once stood there.

Woodhenge colored markers

Pat told us of Woodhenge’s history and its significant relation to Stonehenge. Woodhenge was used by the Neolithic/bronze age people for rituals related to life, while Stonehenge was used for rituals related to death.

Woodhenge and sky

Pat pointed to a mound covered by flint stones. He said this was where they had found the remains of a Neolithic boy during the archeological dig at Woodhenge.

Flint stones marking the grave of a neolithic boy

Pat led us out of the Woodhenge gate, across the road into another gated area known as Durrington Walls.

Fence surrounding the Woodhenge

Featured in PBS’s Secrets of Stonehenge, Durrington Walls has been the subject of a major archeological dig during the last five years by the Stonehenge Riverside Project.

Durrington Walls

With Maiko’s help, Pat showed us a map showing the aerial view of what the general area of Woodehenge, Durrington Walls and Stonehenge looked like in the old days.

Map of Old Sarum

He pointed to the slopes of the bank and the ditch surrounding us and said that these are the only things remaining of Durrington Walls today. Two road pass through the henge today—an old toll road and a modern banked road. The land was owned by the military and barracks were constructed in the northeast side of the henge in the past.

Durrington Walls road

The land we stood in however, is owned by the National Trust and is part of the Stonehenge Landscape property. People can easily visit the place as there are no entrance fees.

At Durrington Walls

The archeological dig uncovered several Neolithic villages within the area, as well as an avenue leading to Stonehenge. This is an important find, as it gives us a greater idea about the people who built Stonehenge.

Pat even showed us pictures from the dig.

Pat Shelley showing us pictures of the dig

After a short lecture on Durrington Walls and its connection to Stonehenge, we walked back to the van and Pat drove us to Stonehenge.

I caught my first glimpse of the great stones and my heart beat faster.

First glimpse of Stonehenge

Stonehenge figures greatly in my own book, as Will and his friends discover that it’s actually a portal to the Otherworlds. I was so eager to see the stones up close and Pat’s lectures were fueling my excitement.

Welcome to Stonehenge!

In the Spring, Stonehenge is open to the public until 6PM. We got there at 4:15PM, and Pat led us through the ticket gates and told us that we had about 30 minutes to buy from the gift shop, as it would be closed during our inner circle tour.

Ticket booth and gate to Stonehenge

Maiko went around the shop and took a video of the surrounding area, knowing that I might need it as reference for my book.

Stonehenge giftshop

I bought several souvenirs for me and family members back home. I would have bought more if time permitted, and if I wasn’t so worried about running out of funds before our tour was over.

From 4:45PM – 6PM, Pat took us on a walking tour of the area surrounding Stonehenge. We walked across the landscape and saw some barrows (or burial mounds) up close.

Barrows at Stonehenge Downs

We stopped to sit on the grass near one of these mounds and Pat told us about the different kinds of barrows and what was said to lie beneath them.

Lecture by the barrows

We walked further into the landscape, trying to avoid the many sheep droppings that littered almost every square inch of the area.

Avoiding the many sheep droppings  (an impossible task!)

We saw part of the Cursus, an unusual monument that runs for 1 ¾ miles across the landscape. It dates back to 3000 BC but its purpose and use is unknown.

Stonehenge downs

We walked to the bottom of the Avenue that runs up to Stonehenge. The Avenue was built around 2400 BC and connects Stonehenge with the River Avon 1.5 miles away.

Pat led us to a part of the field where he made us face him and made us promise not to turn around until he told us to. He promised to give us the best view of Stonehenge. He explained where we were in relation to the Avenue and Stonehenge, and then finally made us turn around.

Excited, we turned around and saw—

Best view of stonehenge

A hill?

Confused, we looked at Pat. Pat told us that our ancestors took the journey we were taking now, and that over that hill, we would experience what they must have experience as they made the journey to Stonehenge thousands of years ago. He advised us to keep our cameras ready, and that we should keep our cameras set on a wide angle to get the best effect.

I kept my camera trained on the hill before me. I walked up the path, and the tips of the great Stonehenge come into view. As we continued to walk on the Avenue, Stonehenge continued to grow closer and larger.

Tip of the Stone monument in the distance

Stonehenge getting closer

and closer!

It was such an amazing sight and the sheep droppings I was stepping on was quite forgotten.

Maiko unfortunately missed half of it, as she made the ultimate sacrifice  and went back to the van with Pat to get me some batteries for my dying camera.

Our walk up the avenue ended by a fence. Across the road from us was Stonehenge. Oriana and I took pictures of each other with Stonehenge in the background.

End of Avenue walk

Then the rest of us joined up with Pat at the parking lot. We took pictures in the parking lot while we waited for Stonehenge to empty.

We were the first ones allowed inside the gates at 6:15PM, when Stonehenge was officially closed to the general public.

Ramp up to Stonehenge

Seeing the stones up close for the first time took our breath away!


Pat led us to various spots within the stones and gave us a detailed account of its history—from the building of the first bank and ditch 5000 years ago, until it was abandoned 1400 years later. Pat even showed us how the stones must have looked thousands of years ago when it was brand new.

Pat’s pop up book on Stonehenge

Pat knew many fascinating things about Stonehenge and his tour was just chocful of information. We learned about the neolithic people who built Stonehenge–how they manually dragged gigantic sarsen stones for miles and miles and shaped them using rocks; how Stonehenge was built over several generations, and what Stonehenge was possibly used for. He told us about Stonehenge serving as a great astronomical observatory, and about how Stonehenge wasn’t really a henge at all!

Sarsen Stones

He warned us not to touch the stones and pointed out the moss that grew on the stone’s surface as a result of the bacteria from the many human hands who have touched the great stones.

moss growing on stonehenge pillars

He also knew the best photograph locations and pointed it out to us.

Peeking behind the stones

Before he ended his lecture on Stonehenge, he took out two L shaped wire hangers and told us all about the magnetic lines of spiritual power—or the lay lines. He demonstrated how the wires would cross at a certain spot in Stonehenge and even asked us all to try it out.

Searching for laylines at Stonehenge

After the fascinating experience, he gave us some time to enjoy the stones on our own. Maiko and I took tons of pictures!

The Heel Stone

Fallen stones

Maiko and I by a trilithon

falling through a trilithon

Maiko at Stonehenge

Me at Stonehenge

Near the Sarsen Stones

Silhouette of the Stones

Sunset at Stonehenge

We made it to Stonehenge! What a dream come true!

At 7PM, we all had to say goodbye to Stonehenge. We trooped back into the van, tired but happy from the amazing tour. We made sure to take a picture with Pat so we could remember our great tour guide.

With the best Stonehenge Tour Guide!

We said goodbye to Stonehenge and headed back toward Salisbury.

Pat  dropped Patrick off at the train station, where he would take the train back to London. Janet and Valerie hopped out near the New Inn to have some dinner. Oriana went with us to Qudos. After Maiko and I checked in and took our big bags up to our room, we met up with Oriana and walked to Da Vinci, which came highly recommended by Pat.

Da Vinci Restaurant, Salisbury

We had a great Italian dinner, exchanging stories about our travels and chuckling about how Pat always got our names mixed up (he would call me Maiko and he would call Janet Valerie).

New friends enjoying dinner


My order: Spaghetti

Maiko’s order: Fettucini

Oriana’s Order: Rissotto

By 10PM, our eyes were drooping, and after exchanging email addresses Maiko and I said our goodbye to our new friend Oriana.

The Stonehenge Special Access Tour was definitely the highlight of our England Trip. I came away from it with great knowledge about Stonehenge, and even more ideas for my book.

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England Day 6 Part 1: First Day in Salisbury


To my awesome friends and readers who have been following me on this trip so far, thank you for continuing to read. Don’t worry, 8 more posts and we should be done with this crazy adventure.

I’d also like to apologize for not being able to respond to your comments on my blog as I’ve been doing in the past—or visiting your blogs as often as I’d like.

The thing is I’ve been incredibly busier after the trip—what with writing these tiring and complicated yet incredibly satisfying England Trip posts, preparing materials for my bi-monthly scheduled writing group, facilitating the said writing group meetings, helping out various family members with random things, feeding and petting two incredibly needy cats, querying agents, dealing with rejections, plotting my next book—and preparing for my martial arts belt test next month!


I promise I will definitely visit your blogs more regularly after this England Trip Series. Rest assured that I read every single one of your comments (several times per day to keep me going) and that I appreciate you visiting my blog and accompanying me as I relive the most memorable trip of my life.

Now on to our regularly scheduled programming!


May 10, 2011 Tuesday

Maiko and I spent the previous night packing. There was barely enough room to lay out one suitcase on the floor so we had to take turns. One person would be packing while the other one tried to keep at the farthest edge of the bed so the other one could spread her things.

The following morning we woke up at 6am to eat a quick breakfast, do some last minute packing and check out of our tiny London hotel.

As we were leaving I told Maiko I wanted to take a picture of the room to show everyone how small it was. She said, “Forget it. I don’t want to remember this room ever.”

I quite agreed. It was the 2nd worst hotel I’ve ever stayed at (the first one being the Vagabond Inn in San Francisco which I renamed the “Bugabond” inn after discovering several species and sizes of bugs crawling all over the headboard and under the pillows. Eew.)

After dropping off the key at the front desk for the last time (we were required to leave the key with the front desk whenever we had to go outside),  Maiko and I lugged our huge bags (She had two and I had three!) out the door and trudged toward the King’s Cross tube station.

Front desk, Arriva Hotel

I was pretty mad at myself for not thinking the packing through. After six days of touring and buying souvenirs our bags were almost bursting—and incredibly heavy. Why oh why did I have to buy books for myself and bottled candy for my cousins!

The walk to King’s Cross/St. Pancras Station was painful. When we got there, Maiko rented a luggage cart so our shoulders and backs could get some rest. We took the elevator down and then up again (we went out the wrong level) to get inside the station.

The cart really helped, but the problem was that we weren’t allowed to take the cart through the ticket gate. So we strapped on our ginormous backpacks and dragged our heavy suitcase through the cart and toward the tubes.

We hopped on the long, narrow escalators going down to the trains. In London tube stations, people are always in a rush. So the unspoken rule is that if you’re in no hurry and you just want to enjoy the ride down the escalator, you have to stand on the right side near the handrail so other people can pass on the left side.

That morning, however, our bags were so huge and completely blocked the steps so no one was able to pass on our left. I tried so hard to adjust my bags and get them out of the way but no matter what I did, people just couldn’t get past me. Yes, I caused a bit of traffic on the escalators that day.

The worse thing about traveling with big ass bags in London is that we had to actually take three transfers to get to Salisbury, which was two hours from London.

From King’s Cross/St. Pancras Station we got off at  Leicester Square. From Leicester Square we had to climb up steps to cross to the other side of the station in order to hop on the tube going towards Waterloo. Dragging three heavy bags up and down stairs is no circus, believe me.

At the Waterloo Train Station

At the Waterloo Train Station, we looked up the schedule for the train to Salisbury.

Train times

We had a little time to breathe as our train to Salisbury wasn’t leaving until 8:20am and we had arrived there at around 8am .

Departure times, Waterloo Station

We inched closer to the gates into the train platforms. As soon as they announced that we could board the train to Salisbury, we passed through the disabled access gates (since our bags were too big) and boarded the train.

Southwest Trains from Waterloo to Salisbury

We found a seat with a table. I placed our two suitcases in an assigned luggage corner, then set our big backpacks on the seat across from us.

Southwest Trains Table

I sat near the window to enjoy the view while Maiko immediately set up her laptop and books and began to work on her translation.

Waterloo Station Platform

London Waterloo Sign

Thirty minutes after the train had begun its journey, a ticket attendant came by to check on our tickets. We hadn’t bought tickets figuring that our oyster cards and travel cards would suffice.

Of course, we didn’t know that our oyster cards and travel cards only worked up until zone 6 of London. Beyond that, we had to pay for our fare. We paid the ticket attendant £27.50 each, and using the fancy ticket machine hung around his neck, he printed out two tickets for Salisbury.

The journey from London to Salisbury took about 2 hours. Within that time, Maiko continued to work on her book translation and I struggled to keep my eyes open so I could take in all the green fields and rolling pastures we passed by.

View outside the train

We arrived at the Salisbury Train Station around 10:20am.

Salisbury Train Station

After consulting our map, Maiko announced that the hotel we were going to stay at was only 5 minutes away. I told her I wanted to use the cab because of all the things but she insisted that we could save ourselves some money if we walked to the hotel.

At the Salisbury Train Station

I agreed and trudged sulkily after her. My shoulders had been hurting since King’s Cross and I was about ready to throw all my bags away.

It turns out the hotel was 15 minutes away. It isn’t too far of a walk, but when you’re lugging bags twice your body weight, 15 minutes can feel like forever.

The place we would be staying at for the next three days had a restaurant /bar on the ground floor and rooms upstairs. The restaurant didn’t open until 12nn and the room check in time was at 3pm.

Qudos Inn (formerly the White Horse Inn), Salisbury photo courtesy of Asia Rooms

We had arrived too early, but luckily the workers in the hotel let us in and allowed us to deposit our bags in one of their stock rooms so we could walk around Salisbury freely.

Maiko and I, still sulking from our long and tedious walk, ate our sandwiches for lunch on a table outside the inn. We packed our leftovers which included some chips, and apples into our backpacks and headed out to explore Salisbury.

We passed by the Salisbury post office and Maiko bought more stamps for postcards.

Salisbury Post Office

Salisbury was a beautiful place and our spirits began to lift as we saw more of the town.

Salisbury shops

We crossed the market square and found that they had a Farmers market going on that day. We decided to come back later and check it out.

Farmers market, Salisbury

Salisbury is where my middle grade fantasy novel, Urth, was set. This is the main reason that we decided to stay here for three days.

One of the most important locations in my book is the Cross Keys Bookstore in Salisbury. So that was the first place I headed for during our first day of exploring Salisbury.

Cross Keys Bookstore, Salisbury

I had only seen pictures of the bookstore’s exterior from my research on google. I had imagined it to be bigger inside—like a Borders or Barnes and Noble store. So when I had written my story, I imagined my characters browsing through bookshelves and wandering the bookstore’s many aisles.

Me outside the Cross Keys Bookstore

I went inside and found it to be a cozy little bookstore. It was very different from how I had imagined the store to be—but I was just happy to finally be there. This was the bookstore my characters hung out at. I could almost imagine them browsing the books and plotting schemes here.

Browsing books inside Cross Keys

Maiko and I explored the area near the bookstore. We discovered that the bookstore was actually part of the Cross Keys Shopping Centre.

Here in the US, TJ Maxx was one of our favorite stores. So we were quite surprised and amused to find a TK Maxx over there.

TK Maxx (UK Version of TJ Maxx)

We headed out of the shopping centre and on to Winchester street, where I spotted a Surplus Store.

Surplus Store Salisbury

We went inside and explored the various shelves. I imagined my main character Will, buying things from this surplus store for his next adventure.

From Winchester Street, we turned left on Queen Street and made our way to the Salisbury Tourist Information Centre.

Salisbury Tourist Information Centre

We took several free flyers there and Maiko bought a map of the Wiltshire Region, which would serve as our main map for the rest of our stay.

Map of Salisbury & Wilton

The Tourist Center was located on Fish Row, and right beside it were several interesting shops.

Fish row shops

One of them was Reeve the Baker.

Reeve the Baker

The bakery sold many amazing pastries and treats and displayed them proudly from the big windows surrounding the entire shop. We stood outside the bakery, looking at the treats and making a mental list of what we wanted to buy before we even went inside.

Reeve the Baker window displays

Maiko bought some pasties for dinner and the next day’s breakfast.

We walked down the narrow alley toward the Salisbury City Centre Arch.

Salisbury City Centre Arch

And we found a farmer’s market stall selling a bowl of fruits for a £1.

Fruit bowls for £1, Salisbury Farmers Market

Maiko bought some plums so we could have fruits for the rest of our stay.

We made it to the corner of Silver and Minster Street and I had to stop and take a deep breath.

Corner of Minster St. and Silver St.

Minster Street was a very important street in my book.

Minster Street, Salisbury

This was where “Z.A.P.S or Zamm’s Amazing Psychic Shop” and Charlie’s Tattoo Shop were located. ZAPS was a hang out place for Will (age 12), Finn (age 10) and Taylor (age 11). Zamm is the tarot reader who owns the shops and she serves as the children’s unofficial older sister. Charlie’s Tattoo Shop, is where Finn actually lives and works as Charlie’s unofficial assistant.

Me on Minster Street, Salisbury

Both of these shops are figments of my imagination of course, but the street and the town they are on are real enough.

I tried to soak in everything. I couldn’t believe that I was finally there. My characters walked the same streets and saw the same sights. It was an amazing feeling.

We walked up Minster Street, which became Castle Street and continued on to where I knew I would find the house that I had picked for my character Taylor.

On Castle Road

After 10 minutes of walking we stopped at the Castle Roundabout, which is a roundabout full of busy, speeding cars.

Castle Road Roundabout

Thankfully, there was underground passage that allowed pedestrians to cross to the other side of Castle Street.

Pedestrian underground walk

Up Castle Road we went, passing by some beautiful houses, until we reached Quensberry Road.

At Queensberry Road

We turned into the street and went all the way to the very end until we saw Ridge House.

Ridge House, my character Taylor’s house

Ridge House is where I had imagined my character Taylor living, so Maiko and I stopped to take pictures here and just marvel at the fact that we were traveling my characters’ paths. Maiko is the only one who has read the first and fifth drafts of my book from beginning to end and so is the only one who can fully appreciate the amazing journey we were now taking.

At Taylor’s house!

I peeled my eyes from Ridge House, and upon looking down, saw a strange (rather creepy sight)—a very small snake was right in our path.

Small snake on the road

I took a picture of it, ignoring Maiko’s jokes about how it must be an ominous sign or something.

We hadn’t gone a few paces down the street when Maiko suddenly declared she was hungry.

She pulled out an apple from her pocket and bit into it. My eyes went wide and I started laughing.

Maiko: What? Do I have something on my face?

Me: (Pointing to the apple and laughing) You just decided to eat an apple right after you saw the snake?

Maiko: What’s wrong with that? I got hungry.

Me: And you couldn’t have eaten the snack bars or chips in your bag?

Maiko: I felt like eating something juicy and sweet. Why do you want some?

Me: (bursting out laughing) Do you know the story of Adam & Eve and the snake?

Maiko: (looking peeved and suspicious at the same time) No. Why?

So I told Maiko about how Adam & Eve starting out as innocent creatures before the snake had tempted Eve to bite into the forbidden fruit—an apple—and they were driven from paradise and all that.

Maiko finally understood why I found the situation with the snake and her eating the apple funny. And we both started laughing again—and from then on I started calling her “Eve”.

Queensberry Road

As Eve-er-Maiko and I walked back down Castle Road, we realized that we were both in need of a restroom. We turned into Victoria Park, hoping to find a restroom.

Victoria Park Gate

After stumbling into the lawn bowling association, and asking a woman there where we might find the loo, we eventually found a small structure which was clearly the toilet.

The loo at Victoria Park

Maiko went in first while I looked after our things. When it was my turn, I was alarmed to find that the bathroom had no sinks. Then I found this strange contraption on the wall.

The metal panel had three buttons labeled “Soap”, “Water” and “Air”. I placed my hands underneath the hood and pressed each button. I was so amazed at how incredibly efficient and hi-tech the sink was there! Maiko had only tried the water and I forced her to go back and try all the buttons.

Hi tech sink

We made our way back from Victoria Park onto Castle street. We passed by Butts Road and Maiko thought it would be fun to take this picture of me:

My butt at Butts Road

We also passed by Leena’s Inn and we remembered our best friend Lena and took a picture beside the sign.

Leena’s Guest House

After crossing the underground passage again, we found a small pole near the bridge and decided it would be a make a good tripod for my camera. Maiko set up the timer and we took our first picture together in Salisbury.

We’re finally in Salisbury!

We made our way back to Market Square, where we sat on the steps waiting for our tour guide Pat, who would take us on an incredible journey to Stonehenge.

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May 9, 2011, Monday

After a filling meal at TKS Italian in London City, Frances, Maiko and I hopped on the tube back to King’s Cross.

During our Harry Potter Walking Tour, somebody had asked our guide, Kontiki Richard, about where to find Platform 9 and ¾.

Kontiki Richard said that Platform 9 and ¾ could be found in the King’s Cross Train Station. The scene in the first movie was filmed in the said station, and the actual brick wall they used stands between platforms 4 & 5.

When Harry Potter became popular and tourists started flocking to King’s Cross to find the famous platform, the train officials decided to erect a “Platform 9 and ¾” sign on the wall nearest platform 9.

Platform 9 and 3/4, photo courtesy of Nenyaki

Maiko and I were amazed to discover this. We had chosen a hotel near the King’s Cross Station and we had been using the tube at that station on our daily excursions into London–not knowing that Platform 9 and ¾ was only a few yards away.

It was our last night in London so it was our last chance to see Platform 9 and ¾ before we headed out to Salisbury.

When we told my (former student) Frances about this, she said that she, too, wanted to see the famous platform. The three of us found ourselves at the King’s Cross Station at 9PM.

King’s Cross Train Station

The tube station is separate from the train station, so we had to find our way there first. We saw a train attendant and decided to ask for help. Feeling ridiculous, I asked her where we could find Platform 9 and ¾. She gave us directions us with a straight face and in a matter of fact manner. (She probably gets asked this at least a thousand times a day).

She told us that since there was some construction going on in the station at that time, they had “moved” the famous Platform 9 and ¾ to a temporary location underneath some stairs.

Temporary location of the famous platform

Platform 9 and ¾ was made up of half a trolley/ luggage cart sticking out of a fake brick wall. The fake brick wall actually looked like wallpaper—the kind that you stick onto a board to create fake walls at a theatre musical.

Platform 9 and 3/4!

It was definitely a far cry from its former place on the wall near platform 9, but we were still happy to finally see it.

Me at Platform 9 and 3/4!

Maiko at Platform 9 and 3/4!

Frances at Platform 9 and 3/4!

The three of us at Platform 9 and 3/4!

While we were taking pictures, other fans arrived and queued up behind us. Just goes to show how popular Harry Potter is—I mean people were lining up to take pictures with a fake wall at 9:30PM!

Other HP fans at the platform

After satisfying our Platform 9 and ¾ cravings, I had to attend to another important matter. It was our last night in King’s Cros, so I had to visit Aunt Helen (my stepfather’s aunt) and deliver some things. My parents had instructed me to buy Aunt Helen some flowers and bring her some grapes and cookies before I left London. I also wanted to give her the souvenir I had bought for her on our recent trip to Canterbury.

I dragged my poor friends to the nearest grocery store (which we had a bit of trouble finding. Luckily a shopkeeper directed us to a nearby Tesco).  I bought a box of grapes, some tulips and boxes of cookies for Aunt Helen, and we headed outside.

Maiko and I had walked to her house the first time we visited her. The walk had taken us 15 minutes, but we it was almost 10:00PM, and after looking for the grocery store, we had no idea where we were—and we couldn’t quite remember how we got to Aunt Helen’s in the first place. More importantly, Frances had to get back to the train station in London to make the last train trip for Cambridge at 11:40PM.

We agreed to find a cab. We walked for 10 minutes without much luck. We finally decided that we might as well start walking to Aunt Helen’s. We hoped that the walk would jog our memory and we would remember how to get to her apartment.

The weather had gotten chillier and poor Frances was completely underdressed. I had given her the outer layer of my jacket back at the restaurant and I was hoping this would be enough to keep her from freezing.

As we were walking with our grocery bags, a distraught looking woman with a thick cockney accent approached us.

“Please, please,” she kept on saying. So we stopped. She told us a tale fit for the soap operas. Apparently she had gotten into an argument with her boyfriend at the tube station. He had left her without any money and her cellphone wasn’t working so she couldn’t call anyone. She needed £6 to make the train back to her house and was asking if we could spare her some change. Tears were rolling down and her cheeks and she looked desperate. She even offered to give us her cellphone or her earrings in exchange for some money.

The three of us looked at each other, baffled. The girl suddenly realized that we were foreigners and probably thought we couldn’t understand what she was saying. She asked us if we knew how to speak English, and all three of us answered “yes” automatically. Maybe we should’ve pretended otherwise.

Either the girl was genuinely in distress or she was the best actress in the world. Whatever it was, we were in a great hurry and we had to go. Maiko and I came up with £3 each and told her not use the money for drugs or something.

A bit disturbed, we started walking again. Thankfully, a cab passed by and we managed to make it to Aunt Helen’s by 10:10 PM. (But not before the cab had dropped us off some ways away from her apartment building).

I gave Aunt Helen the groceries. She told us we shouldn’t have bothered, and I told us I was under strict orders from my parents. She laughed and accepted the groceries. I gave her the Canterbury Cathedral magnet I had bought for her so she could add it to her fridge magnet collection.

Maiko had to help her place the magnet on the fridge, as Aunt Helen was having trouble putting it on there. While Maiko and Frances put away her groceries and the tulips (her favorite flower), I placed a call to my Mom on my cellphone so she and Aunt Helen could talk.

Aunt Helen and I

My parents had been worried about her ever since her phone line stopped working weeks ago. Aunt Helen is 80 something years old and lives alone at the top floor of her apartment. She’s lived there for 40 years and she’s fiercely independent so she refuses to go anywhere else. Her husband died 20 years ago, but she kept on talking about him like he had just gone off to the store or something.

She kept on offering us tea, but we were still quite full and in a hurry to get Frances back to the Station. We chatted with her for a little bit and even took some pictures with her.

Maiko and I with Aunt Helen

I had my backpack on me, and I was all set to go, but it was so hard to leave Aunt Helen. She was so endearing and obviously was hungry for company. She accompanied us to the elevator and was still talking and waving by the time the doors closed.

Maiko remembered the route we took  the other day, so we walked back to the hotel. There, we deposited our bags and the big bag of gift sFrances had bought for us—which she had been carrying the whole day. I also gave Frances an extra sweater had I brought with me so she wouldn’t freeze to death.

It was 11PM and the station was at least 10 minutes away. The three of us ran from the hotel all the way to King’s Cross Station. Frances was wearing high heels, of all things—but the girl was an expert and never broke her stride.

We got her there to the station, said hurried goodbyes and urged her on. We didn’t want Frances to miss her train to Cambridge. With one last wave, Frances ran through the gates and toward the tube.

Maiko and I headed back to the hotel. We were worried that Frances might have missed her train so we stayed up to hear back from her. At around 1am, she texted us that she was safely back in Cambridge, and she thanked us for the wonderful adventure.

What an adventure indeed!

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