Friday, January 11, 2008

Christmas in England--Part 1, Travel Hassles and Smells and Bells

Travel Hassles

What would holiday travel be without hassles? We nearly missed our flight to England on Saturday, December 22. Our 4:00 p.m. Horizon flight out of PDX to SEA was delayed to 4:50 (and probably later), meaning that we would most likely miss our 6:10 British Airways connection to London out of SEA. The Horizon and British Airways gates are quite far apart in Sea-Tac, and the PDX-SEA flight is at least 45 minutes. Mike called British Airways in SEA, and some helpful soul (!) told him that we were likely to miss the flight.
God bless Horizon Airlines. Some fantastic gate agent found a way to get all five of us (and our luggage) on the 4:30 SEA flight. I'm sure this was not an easy feat. We made it to the British Airways gate to discover that they had no record of Nicholas' lap ticket and we would have to pay another $300 for his ticket. (Yes, you have to pay to hold an infant on your lap!!) Thank goodness for my BlackBerry--I was able to access Mike's web e-mail and find a confirmation number. Wouldn't you think all of this would be on the computer?

We have found that flying British Airways is quite a hassle before you actually get on the plane. In previous journeys, we have arrived at the airport to discover that they did not have all of us sitting together. For some bizarre reason, they do not release seats until right before the flight. At any rate, once you board the plane, British Airways can't be beat. We had to pay 65,000 frequent flyer miles per person for our flights on BA, because all of the less-expensive frequent flyer tickets (on Northwest, American, and Continental) were not available. Once we were on the airplane, the flight went smoothly and I do appreciate British Airways. Each seat had an entertainment system with a great assortment of movies, TV shows, etc. I am unable to sleep on airplanes very well (especially when I am holding a toddler on my lap), so I watched movies most of the time. They also provided Christopher and Kieran with great children's meals and kids' fun packs. They loved the movie entertainment.

When we arrived at Heathrow, it took ages to get our rental car (not sure why that process takes so long in England!), and then poor Mike had to drive 2 hours to Cambridge (on the other side of the road!) at the equivalent of 4 a.m. Oregon time. It always amazes me to see how easily he adjusts to British driving after driving in the U.S. As for me, I'm happy being the navigator...which has its own challenges with the British road system.

Smells and Bells
All of Mike's family converged on Cambridge for Christmas. His brother and family, who previously lived in New York, stayed through the 29th before flying home to Australia. Mike's mum had all of her children and 7 grandchildren around her for Christmas--from New York/Australia, Oregon, and Cambridge. It was the first time we'd been back to England for Christmas since 1991, the year before Mike's dad died. The last time we'd traveled to England was 2004, when Kieran was the same age that Nicholas is now!
On Christmas Eve, we went to the 5:00 Family Mass at Our Lady and the English Martyrs, a beautiful old church in Cambridge. This is what is says about the building itself on the church's web site:

The Church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs, or OLEM, is situated in the heart of the city of Cambridge. An imposing example of the 19th Century Gothic Revival, it was built to the designs of Dunn & Hansom of Newcastle between 1885 and 1890, and founded solely by Mrs Yolande Marie Louise Lyne-Stephens, a former ballet dancer at the Paris Opera and Drury Lane, London, and widow of a wealthy banker. She promised to build the church on the feast of Our Lady of the Assumption, and Monsignor Christopher Scott - the first Rector - also wished to commemorate the Catholic Martyrs who died between 1535 and 1681, over thirty of whom had been in residence at the University.

Designed by architects Dunn and Hansom of Newcastle and built by the Cambridge firm of Rattee and Kett , OLEM is constructed in Casterton, Ancaster and Combe Down Stone. The church is a traditional cruciform structure in the early-decorated style with a large tower at the crossing, a polygonal apse and a west bell tower with a 65-metre spire, visible for miles around Cambridge. Quite often, it is quoted by visitors and local residents as a location point. The approximate internal dimensions of the church are: length 48 meters [156 ft] width across the aisles 16 meters [51 ft] width at the transepts 22 meters [71 ft], the height of the nave 15 meters [71ft].

Kieran and cousin Alex at church on Christmas Eve

The massive church was positively packed with people, and lots of children. The service was filled with beautiful English carols--such as O Little Town of Bethlehem and Away in a Manger in the English melodies, which I much prefer over our American ones. The service was full of "smells and bells," as they say in the Catholic tradition. I loved the beautiful incense and the rituals, although was less than thrilled (but not surprised) by the statement in the bulletin expressly telling people who were not members of "the Church" that they were welcome to come up for a blessing (instead of communion). My Anglican sister-in-law and I agreed that we all share the "same God," and decided that said God would forgive us for partaking in the Catholic communion.

I definitely missed the candlelight--having grown up in the Lutheran tradition, where Christmas Eve means candlelight services and "Silent Night" sung to a church filled with candlelight. However, it was a beautiful, if very traditional, service.

Chris and cousin Mark at church

Shemara, Jessie, and Grandma England

Mike, Nicholas, and me

Travelogue to be continued...

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