The 405 San Diego Freeway ~ where our Californian love affair began

Why would anyone be reduced to tears in the hazy, virtually standstill, 6 lanes of gas guzzling405 Freeway sign on route to Santa Monica 405, San Diego Freeway? A Los Angeles freeway that I always think of as ‘mine’. A road full of so many memories and where my California love affair began 28 years ago.

‘If’, ‘what’ and ‘maybe’, all put together have the power to change your life, they certainly changed ours. They bought us to Los Angeles where our eyes were opened to a different way of life; a sundrenched, carefree, beach existence full of ‘beautiful people’…….. The opportunity to shop 24 hours, where you never paid to park your car, where you could drive through to do almost everything ~ to eat, deposit your money, collect your laundry; in a time when this was not the ‘American norm’ but certainly the Californian norm! A crazy place where you thought nothing of sitting in traffic for 2 hours and driving 70 miles to go to dinner. A world so unlike England, so unreal, that it actually felt sometimes that we were living in a sort of Disneyland. A world which could be both intoxicating and yet repugnant in its excesses, (‘he who dies with the most toys wins’, ughhhhh!) but a world where ‘dreams really can come true’ and an experience that changed the course of our lives forever.

Despite living back in England for 7 years, it was a world that we never really left, that we yearned to experience again and when the opportunity arose to live in its more Freeway sign on the '80' at Sacramento interchange with '5'sober, more ‘real’ neighbor, Northern California, in1993, now with 2 small children in tow, we grasped at it eagerly. There we found a different life, still Californian with all that we loved but a life that The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco California, USAwas more tangible. The gentle, leafy suburbs of Danville, 30 miles east of the dazzling city of San Francisco, became home. Within one to three hours of the stunning destinations of the Napa Valley, Carmel and Lake Tahoe…Places which have all become a treasured part of our lives.The Napa Valley

Carmel Beach California

Summer at Lake Tahoe

A place,  despite all we cherished, we still left after 2 years to return back to England but a place we ultimately emigrated back to in1999.View of Mount Diablo from Danville, California, USAPool and spa in garden in Danville

Mulholland Drive road signSo now stuck in bumper to bumper LA traffic what is all my emotion about? It is remembering how it felt to be here when my Californian story began, on the 405 freeway, arriving at LAX in July 1984. Naive, green, young, carefree, with no children and few complications. Where already in love, we fell in love together with Royce Hall UCLA Campus 2005California. A place where in 2005 our lovely girl chose to go to university; UCLA, where the streets of Westwood, Wilshire and Santa Monica became her home. UCLA, a place of academic prowess and learning where she was able to excel and then be able to secure a highly

The Wills Building, Bristol University, England

sought after position at Bristol University, UK to study for her PhD.

A place you sought of love to hate or hate to love …….but a place where both my Kate, now older than I when I first arrived in 1984 has enfolded us into its embrace. And those tears, what where they about? Sentimental ties, the agony and the ecstasy of a Brit living overseas, loving bits of it all and wondering what exactly she is looking for and where is home…………..

Beautiful, historical North Yorkshire

Statue of Captain James Cook, Whitby, North Yorkshire, EnglandLife’s twists and turns, call them coincidences or serendipities never cease to amaze. In May I had stood by the harbor in Genoa, Italy, the birth place of the infamous explorer, Christopher Columbus. Three weeks later, quite unintentionally, I found myself standing before Captain James Cook, Whitby’s most famous seaman and Columbus’ predecessor by several hundred years but an equally renowned voyager.

Captain James Cook born in Whitby yorkshire EnglandIn 1766, as commander of HMS Endeavour, (built in Whitby), Cook sailed for the first of three Pacific voyages. Navigating thousands of miles across largely uncharted areas, he mapped lands from New Zealand to Hawaii in the Pacific, in a detail and scale not previously achieved. Although killed in Hawaii in 1779, he left an unprecedented legacy of scientific and geographical knowledge.Description under the Statue of Captain James Cook, Whitby, North Yorkshire, England

I was nearly a thousand miles north of Genoa on the bleak, english, north yorkshire coast. I had arrived in both places unaware of the pieces of history awaiting me and was enthralled.

As you stare out to the North Sea, cold and threatening even in mid June, you cannot help but admire the courage and determination of such men. Wedded to the vast unpredictable ocean, battling ferocious weather systems in appalling, cramped living conditions on their tiny fragile vessels it is a wonder they survived, returning to share their incredibly brave discoveries which changed history forever.

Beside my sister and our husbands we Fishing town of Whitby North Yorkshire, England. Home of the famous explorer Captain James Cookstood and marveled at Cook’s statue, dominate above the small fishing town of Whitby. Steeped in history, dating back to 684, across the harbor, the ruins of the Abbey, referred to as 'Dracula's Castle' in Whitby North Yorkshire, England. Home of Captain James Cook‘Dracula’s castle by the locals, quivered menacingly, clinging to its fragile spot on the cliff side.

Hundreds of years of people living sparsely Whaling Industry in Whitby North Yorkshire, England. Home of the explorer Captain James Cook.and simply, surviving from the bounties of the forbidding waters, crashing forebodingly in a never-ending rhythm of timelessness. Casting their fishing nets and hauling in their days toil as they were tossed and thrown at the mercy of Poseidon. Once the 3rd biggest ship building town in England and a center for the the Whaling fishing industry from 1753 to 1831 Whitby is proud of its historical links to the sea.  I shivered in admiration and a silent thankfulness that we earned our living in a different way.

North Yorkshire Moors, EnglandJourneying across the Moors to Whitby, the ghostly wails of Bronte’s ‘Heathcliff’ screeching in the scrawls of the seagulls, I marveled at how the ravages of the centuries had left this stunningly beautiful yet desolate landscape unchanged. Rolling moors carpeted in low-lying heather and gorse stretching for miles, frequently to be shrouded in swirling coastal fog. Although north of the Bronte sister’s yorkshire home, the terrain was similar. It was easy to imagine Jane Eyre stumbling, blindly lost in both bodySteam Train on North Yorkshire Moors, 15 miles west of Whitby and mind.

Delighted we watched a small spiral of ‘cloud’ come towards us from the far distance as the north yorkshire steam train puffed and shunted into view. Once a main transport link now full of tourists reminiscing over a time past.

Yorkshire is deservedly deemed as one of Britain’s areas of outstanding natural beauty. From the dales in the south to these northern moors the scenery is spectacular. The golden stone architecture is reminiscent of England’s southern Cotswold’s, the area is also rich in history. Just over a hundred miles south of the sixth century Viking settlements at Lindisfarne, there are castles, monasteries and ruins of dwellings also dating back to the Vikings and before. Dominated by Mills and the late eighteenth century wool industry, powerful industrialists and landowners peppered the area with magnificent stately mansions. Castle Howard, Nunnington Hall, Scampston Hall, Newby Hall and Burton Agnes to name but a few, the latter of which we visited.

Burton Agnes, North YorkshireBurton Agnes, an imposing country seat, originally a Norman dwelling, still in existence today beside the main house, dates back to Tudor times

Original Norman House at Burton Agnes, North Yorkshire, England

Original Norman House

Inside Norman House at Burton Agnes, North Yorkshire, England

Inside Norman House

Like many similar properties, it is enveloped deep within the countryside and one wonders about the past difficulties of travelling to and fro via horse and carriage.

Hall at Burton Agnes, North Yorkshire England

Hall in Burton Agnes

The immense wealth required to run such an estate is also hard to envisage; the heating, cleaning, clothing and

Living Room in Burton Agnes, North Yorkshire

Living Room in Burton Agnes

feeding of such a household. How the staff, both inside and out must have toiled, especially on the occasion of a Bed at Burton Agnes where King James I slept on his route from Scotland in 1602royal visitor such as Burton Agnes had in 1602, the bed of James 1st, who stayed here on route from Sotland to London, still proudly displayed today.

Walled Garden at Burton Agnes, North YorkshireOutside we were dazed by the beauty and tranquility of the property’s immaculate grounds and delightful walled garden. Here time seemed Walled Garden at Burton Agnes, North Yorkshireto have been captured and held, plants and shrubs of all varieties, lovingly tended over many years to still display both their grandeur Walled Garden at Burton Agnes, North Yorkshireand simplicity. Such special, treasured moments spending time with those you care about yet seldom see, surrounded by the exquisiteness of mother nature’s bounty, gently revealing all its loveliness.

Driving back from Uzès to England

City Wall of Avallon, Burgandy FranceAs you leave the vineyards and olive groves behind, speeding northwards, the countryside gradually begins to change. Golden, clay tiles roofs are replaced with slate, church spires seem thinner, reaching higher, the trees and plants become more deciduous and gradually the skies dull and are full of clouds. The cities of Montelimar, Valence, Lyons and Mâcon are all sped by and after 500 km, tired and travel weary you pull into the sleepy, historic town of Avallon in Burgandy, France.

Street in Avallon, Burgandy France

Once on the main coaching route from Paris to Lyon, Avallon is now sadly mostly forgotten by travellers hurtling down the autoroute. Wandering it’s ancient cobbled streets, they are missing a treat!

Four poster bed in room in Hostellerie de la Poste, Avallon, Burgandy FranceWe had spent a night in Avallon’s most impressive coaching inn, Hostellierie de la Poste, 30 years Hostellerie de la Poste, Avallon, Burgandy, France. Napoleon stayed here in 1815 earlier returning from the south on our honeymoon. We had stayed in the quarters frequented by one of the inn’s Napoleon's visit to Hostellerie de la Poste, Avallon, Burgandy Francemost illustrious guests, Napoleon Bonaparte, who on March 16th 1815 had spent a night here on route north from Elba………

Somewhat worn but with the same warm welcome and sumptious dinner Dinner in Hostellerie de la Poste, Burgandy, Francewe were just as enchanted and for a small, relatively, simple abode surprised to learn more it’s incredible story. Since 1707 it has welcomed many important guests, including the King of Prussia, the Coutyard at Hostellerie de la Poste Avallon, Burgandy, FranceDuke and Duchess of Windsor, Ernest Hemmingway and Presidents Kennedy and Eisenhower. Its fortunes over the years have risen and fallen. It was mentioned in the first edition of the Michelin Guide in 1900 and was proud to be one of the first restaurants ever to earn one Michelin star in 1948 followed by two in 1953. Certainly today the restaurants doesn’t disappoint, nor does this charming town.

Clock Tower in Avallon FranceStreet in Avallon, Burgandy, FranceDating from 1120, Avallon’s medieval walls and turrets are still largely in place. An array of historical architecture span the centuries, a magnificent clock Church in Avallon, Burgandy, Francetower and imposing church, wide doors invitingly left open which when explored leave you speechless with wonder as you stare up at the arches spanning the ceiling and wonder how masons over 800 years ago developed the understanding to successfully construct such timeless majesty.

We were sad to have to continue our journey Coaching Inn, Hostellerie de la Poste, Avallon, Burgandy Francethe following morning but having enjoyed the little town so much decided to sample a little more of the area rather than retuning immediately to the Autoroute. This was the Burgandy region of France, the home of Chablis wine and epoisse cheese, none of which we had time to sample but whose picturesque villages and sweeping lush countryside were stored as a region to return to.

Entry to the Channel Tunnel Calais, FranceChannel Tunnel entry at CalaisBy 4pm we were pulling into Calais and the Chunnel back to England.

Euro tunnel in Calais France, on route to England

‘Clio’ had taken care of us for over 12 000 km,   I could not believe that our sourjorn On the Channel Tunnel in the trainin ‘La Belle France’ was over. Creeping forward onto the Chunnel I remembered the nervous anticipation I had felt steering myself in the opposite direction 5 months ago. All that had occurred since then, all that we had experienced and seen, indelible memories in my heart. I had followed a dream, scared and frightened to start with but in following a passion had fulfilled and found a joy, an elation I had believed existed and was waiting for me amongst the cobbled streets, the history, the worn shutters and still to bloom sunflowers. A contentment which would forever be part of my soul, which I wanted to continue to be part of my life’s story, a joy I knew I would soon be returning to.

A Royal Pageant celebrating the Diamond Jubilee

Crowds in London England  for the Royal Pageant, Diamond Jubilee June 4th 2012 Hundreds and thousands of people gathered together in London, June 2nd-5th 2012 to celebrate Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. On June 4th the venue was on the River Thames for the Royal Pageant. Undeterred by inclement weather, torrential rain showers, bitter wind blasts and almost constant drizzle the crowds cheered, laughed and sang, full of patriotism and pride for the woman they hold dear to their hearts, their Queen.

Standing in amidst the excited, flag waving multitude one could not fail to be swept 3 generations celebrating Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee. on the Chelsea Embankment for the Royal Pageant June 4th 2012up by the enthusiasm and festive atmosphere. Our place secured at 7.30am by the hardcore younger members of our party on the Chelsea embankment, no one minded the eight-hour wait as the numbers swelled around us and the rain battered our brollies and raincoats! Warmed by Pimms and champers, a large screen TV kept us updated on the royal party’s progress.

The Royal Pageant on the River Thames for Diamond Jubilee. commonwealth boats  Eventually the first of over one thousand boats participating in the pageant began to appear. From Hammersmith, they proudly sailed past in a grand procession to eventually disperse at Tower Bridge. Stunningly dressed for the occasion, adorned with flags, flowers and streamers, people and vessels alike attired in their most splendid rig.The Royal Barge, Spirit of Chartwell in The Royal Pageant celebrating the Diamond Jubilee.

One of the largest flotillas ever assembled we waved and applauded the rowing boats, working boats, cruisers, fire and police, boats The Royal Pageant, Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee June 4th 2012 from the armed forces, Part of the flotilla in the Royal Pageant for Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubileehistoric boats, steamers and wooden launches.

The Royal Pageant on the River Thames, celebrating Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee.

A spectacle to behold, the floating celebration enhanced by chiming bells, stirring bands and the voices of choirs singing to her Majesty. The majestic, timeless River Thames jubilantly bought to life reminiscent of its working history and splendid royal heritage, a perfect stage for a perfect celebration!Boats in the Royal Pageant for the Diamond Jubilee

Our Journey to Uzès

On Friday 27th January 2012, we left England in our newly acquired, left-hand drive, Renault Clio (not much bigger than an American golf cart!) with some degree of anxiety. Would this fourteen year old, so far unknown, fairly well used (100 000 miles on the clock!) prove to be reliable? Visions of standing on a french autoroute with a broken, steaming engine, trying to ask for help in my stumbling french, whirled in my mind….. However the first challenge had been met with Kate’s superb packing of 6 months luggage, our faithful ‘Arabella’ (Kate’s name for her GPS) was programed, even the weather was cheering us on, we had been blessed with a beautiful, bright, crisp morning. It felt as if nothing could impede our journey and nothing did.

We arrived at the ‘Chunnel’ 50 minutes ahead of schedule and caught and earlier crossing, so before I knew it I was gingerly steering us aboard, we were really doing this!

On the ‘other side’ our little Clio sped through the wintry, french countryside and 300 km later we were pulling up at our ‘très chic et moderne’, now highly recommended, Accor hotel! Like 2 excited children we continued on the next morning, slightly less anxious about ‘Clio’, who had to battle driving rain and fog, never mention all the french cars who obviously thought she had a cute ‘postérieure’ as a never ending stream of them insisted on getting as close as they could to get a good look!!

At the first sign for Marseilles I gasped and when Avignon was sign posted, I tightly squeezed Kate’s hand. 40 mins later when we saw a sign for our destination, Uzès, we both laughed and yelled, it was an ‘ahhhh’ moment!! On leaving the autoroute behind, the winding country road, flanked on both sides with vines and olive groves, left us both speechless and near to tears. However emotions had to be held in check as practical matters still needed to be attended to in the form of a lightening visit to ‘Carrefour’!

Clio, then even more loaded up with wine, cheese and baguettes, gently took us on our last 6 km to Uzès. Everything seemed to be bathed in a honey glow welcoming us, the sun setting on the warm sandstone coloured buildings, the remenants of the flower market, Kate gasping with wonder and delight, me trying to see through my tears, we had arrived, it felt like coming home……….