Hi everyone! Hope you are all ok… We are hearing some pretty intense reports about the weather in Australia at the moment and none of it is good… We really are thinking of you and hope everyone is safe and not flooded/frozen/blown away.

It is hard to believe that this trip is barely half way over – we have done SO much! I don’t ever want it to end! Last time I wrote, I was heading to a traditional Scottish dinner… I have to admit I spent most of the night cracking up at the well-intentioned but seriously corny and over-enthusiastic entertainment…. I’m proud to say I did eat haggis though! I even went so far as to try a Scotch, choosing ‘a gentle introduction to the single malt, a subtle ladies whiskey’…. Far out, it could strip paint. I’ll stick to liqueurs!

Edinburgh was fantastic, though much too brief… We stopped at Edinburgh Castle and explored the tumultuous history of Scottish politics and tense relationships with the English crown. From there we shopped our way down the Royal Mile, and needing refreshment, (prepare for some serious jealousy, Harry Potter fans), had coffee at ‘The Elephant House’ where J.K. Rowling began writing some of the awesomest books in the world. I wonder if I sat in her seat??!

From Edinburgh we headed south, stopping at Hadrian’s Wall, allegedly to keep the Scots out of Britain… Though after the way our tour guide spoke about Scotland and the Scottish, heaven knows why any of them would have bothered trying! We went from there to York, which apart from having a pretty impressive Minster, has some seriously gorgeous shops, which clearly could not be adequately explored in 2 hours! Went to Evensong – it was lovely! We stopped for the night in Leeds, though didn’t see much of it… The list of places to return to is getting longer by the day!

The last day of the tour took us to Coventry, where I visited the new Cathedral, built after the existing cathedral was destroyed by a Luftwaffe raid. Part of the cathedral was built by German students, a beginning to reconciliation after the atrocities of WWII. In turn, English students helped with building projects in Dresden, where the Allies infamously carpet-bombed the city. It is an incredible place with an incredible story.

From Coventry to Stratford-Upon-Avon, where Shakespeare was born… You can’t half tell – there can hardly be a shop or cafe in the whole place that doesn’t draw inspiration from The Bard of Avon! It was gorgeous. By the way, how many of you knew that his wife’s name was Anne Hathaway? After driving through the Cotswolds (could totally live there too!), we returned to London and ended the tour, without too many tears! We did meet some great people, though… All in all, a whirlwind but beautiful trip through England and Scotland. (*NB: Sar, Elli, or Gunter, if you are reading this: England is English. Scotland is Scottish. Britain is British. LONDON IS LONDON!)

In case you couldn’t tell from Facebook, I LOVE LONDON! We stayed with a good friend of Sar’s, Kate, who apart from being great fun, was very generous to host us in her apartment, which makes Clergy House look like an entire suburb! Our first night we went to ‘Love Never Dies’ – but after seeing that musical, it probably should. Phantom of the Opera fans, don’t go. You’ll regret it. Really.

Sar and I spent Sunday exploring London a bit more – we went to Kensington Palace for their ‘Enchanted Palace’ exhibition – they have decorated several of the public rooms in period style and designed a tour, so the visitor can guess (and learn a bit more about) the seven princesses who have lived there over the centuries. It was great fun! Alas, the weather was pretty average, but fortunately this gave us an excuse to take a black cab to yet another wonderful destination….

Harrods. What to say, except, um, WOW. Without sounding too provincial, even the food court and the washrooms are a tourist attraction. The chocolate department is a pretty close reproduction of the one I expect in the fulfillment of the kingdom. Yes, we shopped…. Granted, it was mostly in the souvenir section, but it was still super fun!

From there to the British Museum for a painfully short visit – I felt so guilty walking through some of the exhibitions with barely a sideways glance – I think I could spend a good fortnight there. See why I have to move to England??? I lingered on the Roman, Greek and Mesopotamian galleries – incredible. I delicately avoided the reading room… Might never have emerged.

The last stop of the day was the evening service at Westminster Abbey. Notwithstanding the absolutely extraordinary building, I missed my parish! Enough said?

Monday started slowly, so the plans were heavily axed, which was probably good, because it meant we had basically the whole day at the Tower of London. It. Was. Awesome. Our Beefeater guide and his brilliant sense of humour set the scene for a fantastic day of exploring what was probably my favourite place in London. I’ve been fascinated by Tudor history ever since I read ‘The Nine Days Queen’, the story of Lady Jane Grey, when I was in year 4. So sitting in The Chapel Royal, 3 metres or so from where her body is buried, was quite something. Also, I feel sorry for whoever has to celebrate the Eucharist on Coronation Day – that is a seriously expensive chalice and paten, and there seems to be a long history of dropping crowns/sceptres/other gold stuff at unfortunate moments….

From the Tower we went to St Paul’s for Evensong (sensing a theme here?), which was beautiful. Mama, it happened that the Chamber Choir from Auckland University was singing that evening. Nice! From there we walked along the Thames and over to the London Eye, which was also fantastic! No wonder they have kept it. We would have stayed on there for hours if we’d been allowed!

The next morning we headed to Gatwick (yes, for those who will enjoy the laugh at the obligatory spanner in the works that seems to follow me around, the tube line we were supposed to take from Kate’s to Victoria Station was closed, necessitating some hasty walking and another cab trip) for our flight to Montpellier, where we were met by Sar’s mum Jenny, who has been a wonderful tour guide and very generous host! So far we’ve had a wonderful few days exploring Montpellier, St Thibery, Cape D’Agde and Sete (via a beautiful cruise!) Agde, and St-Guilhem-Le-Desert (my favourite!). Those who’ve seen Sar’s Facebook page will know yesterday included a 12km canoe trip which was good fun (and even better exercise!), but tested the bonds of best friendship a bit! I suspect I would have been less frustrated and Sar less reluctant if we hadn’t had to spend the majority of the trip watching Kate and Georgi float past with great finesse and apparent ease, while we struggled to get our canoe off another rock! Ah well. Such is life! I did catch the homesickness bug yesterday – my amazing little sister turned 21 and I gather celebrated well! Can a birthday kiss be blown across a hemisphere?

Today Kate goes back to England and Sar’s dad Andrew arrives – Sar and Georgi are shopping in Pezanas and I am having a quiet morning… Swansons keep up a cracking pace on holidays! We leave on Tuesday for Prague, then to Italy (but that feels much too much like the end of the trip to think about yet!). Until then, hi to you all, hope everyone is well and not too wet… Feel free to fill me in on your news too!!!

PS – we didn’t get to see ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ with David Tennant and Catherine Tate, or go to Canterbury Cathedral, the first for lack of tickets and the second for lack of time and money, but it’s ok, really, because I have a new Christmas decoration. Yellow felt. Mitre, Crozier. Fuzzy white hair. Hums with brilliance, which is impressive for an inanimate object… Whom could it be?