Happy New Year everyone! Before departing on our grand adventure, I promised several people a blog post upon my return. I’ve been back since December 23 and would you believe this is my first opportunity to finalize it? What a whirlwind the holidays always are!
On December 12 at 7:30am, Dan and I drove to Chicago in a one-way rental car, hopped on a plane and flew one-way to Gatwick Airport in London. I find the hubbub of preparing to travel- the packing, rush and anticipation- thrilling! By the time we arrived safely in London the following morning, I was thirsty, stiff, but still full of pep and excited for the two hour train ride to Southampton.
After storing our bags at our hotel, the Jurys Inn, we jaunted off on foot with map in hand into the crisp sunny day to find the Christmas Market. We had a perfect location right on the roundabout for walking downtown as our main path cut through several blocks of beautiful parks- East, Palmerston and Houndwell- before dumping us out right at the City Center.
On the second day, Dan surprised me with the fantastic adventure of finding an antique store he had researched online before we left, one that neither of our taxi drivers had heard of before. The driver who took us there was quite skeptical and kept saying, “I’m not sure there’s actually anything there!” We stopped on the curb where the place should be, looked down a long warehouse looking building and parking lot, then Dan spied out the bird-egg-blue sign in the distance: “Robin’s Nest Emporium”. “Yep! This is it!” he said confidently. His confidence is always a balm to me. I’d follow him anywhere!
We had a coffee in their little nook by the fireplace, chatted with the locals and had a ball collecting little treasures to take home for Christmas! We met the owner of the place- very friendly chap who bought me a second cup of coffee (I was jetlagged and shopping droopy)- and he and the clerk were kind enough to call us a taxi.
Later that evening, we walked all the way down near the harbor to find the Duke of Wellington pub. They had an event that evening, so were unable to serve us dinner. I did, however, finally get to enjoy a proper pint in a proper English pub. From their website:
Positioned in Southampton's historic Bugle Street, the award winning Duke of Wellington Pub has been a silent witness to many of the city's most famous events. The dark timbered building was originally built upon Norman vaults and cellars in 1220 and was first leased out to a Benedict Ace, one of the city's earliest mayors. During the great French raid of 1338 it was badly damaged but only required a repair job when other parts of the city were destroyed. In 1494 the building was for the first time converted into a public house after being bought by brewer Rowland Johnson who named it Bere House or Brew House. Johnson not only sold drink but also started brewing his own and subsequently set up the city's first brewery. Port books of the day record the importation of his brewing equipment and brewing hops from his native town in what is now Holland. In 1620 the pub would have been passed many times by the Pilgrim Fathers on their way to the Mayflower, which sailed its maiden voyage to the New World from the bottom of Bugle Street. By 1771 the pub was renamed the Shipwrights Arms serving the many local ship builders. After the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815, the owners of the pub celebrated by changing its name to that of the victorious Duke of Wellington who had become a national hero.
We loved everything about Southampton, so much so that by the time we were ready to get on the Queen Mary 2 for our Transatlantic Crossing, we were both convinced we could happily spend an entire week of vacation there. It felt like a second home to us- friendly, unpretentious, historic, familiar. The locals we met felt like “our kind of people,” quick to laugh, ready for a joke and hearty. Cheers, Southampton! Thank you for a wonderful two days!
The third day in Southampton was our embarkation day, which was quite windy and rainy. We had already enjoyed two lovely days of crisp weather for walking, so weren’t terribly unhappy about the bluster until we arrived at the port. Because the usual terminal the QM2 enjoys was undergoing repairs, we were embarking from a different terminal than the staff was accustomed to. We were unsure where to go, wandering around in 20mph wind and rain lugging our baggage. Inside the terminal and back out again, we finally got our luggage to a proper handler. All of this as explanation for why it was ever so much more glorious to be greeted by a brass quartet playing carols and friendly wait staff holding trays of warm mulled wine once we’d passed through security! How fun!
I was a bit weepy, admittedly, as we walked up the gangway to board. I felt we had already had a great vacation just spending the two days in Southampton. Walking into the grand lobby felt like being reunited with a dear old friend. I love that ship. I love everything about her, even the things other people with more experience would change if they could. She’s my first, and I think I am likely to always have deeply romantic and loyal feelings toward her. To me, she is perfect.
There are two things of note to mention about our crossing experience. First, we had category 9-11 (the scale goes to 12) severe gale winds for five days and very rough seas in spite of the captain steering us much further south than a typical winter crossing. We avoided “the worst of it,” and I couldn’t help but be curious about what it would’ve been like had he not. We did still manage to find a way to get out on deck 7 to walk when it wasn’t raining on two of the three days that most of the doors were blocked from exiting due to high winds. This was everything Danny had hoped for, and thankfully, my own prayers were answered in abundance as I had not a moment of motion sickness!
We enjoyed the drama of the sea by watercoloring by a low-deck window nearly every morning as the waves crashed against that unwavering force of human engineering we were aboard. And we had the great fortune of being seated for dinner at a table by the window on the starboard side. What a show! I enjoyed two mornings of dramatic sunrises all by myself outside walking deck 7, letting the wind push me along starboard and enjoying the sparring match with it port side. The air was fresh, brisk, but not terribly cold- so invigorating! I wore my hat simply to keep my hair from being a tangled mess. I certainly didn't need it for warmth. It wasn't until the very last morning that we were able to go out the forward most doors to the Commodore's Cufflinks, the nickname given to the spare propellor blades stored bolted there, seen in the third image below. I ran my hand along the blade. It is surprisingly thin!
Second, we were deeply blessed to have genuine-hearted table mates. This too was a tremendous answer to prayer as Dan and I anticipated that foul dinner companions could come close to ruining a trip like this. After our typically awkward first dinner of getting acquainted and all of us catching our breath from boarding the ship, we quickly fell into engaging conversation and witty banter, each evening being one of the last tables to exit the dining room for more fun together in the ballroom. I could not be more grateful to know these wonderful souls and do hope we all manage to keep in touch. What a Christmastime joy and delightful gift to our adventure and our lives hereafter!
As promised to some of you, in spite of my own insecurity about sharing so many photos of myself, here are my evening outfits in the order in which I wore them. There are 2 store-bought articles: the dark berry red cashmere sweater I wore with the sequin skirt and the formal gown with the black bodice and pink hi/lo skirt. The rest were stitched up by yours truly, three of them silk painted by me too. Some of the photos are a bit blurry due to the movement of the ship and Danny’s inability to keep the camera steady so it could focus! The last photo of me looks out of place because we forgot to take one onboard. Oh well! (Use the side arrow to scroll through.)
And here's some photographic evidence that I am not only married to a tremendously talented, hilarious and sturdy man, but a painfully handsome one to boot! hubba hubba! Wowzers!
In the end, you have to get off the ship and get on with what's next in life. For us that meant spending the day in New York City with our new friends from Cornwall. We all self-departed to get an early start and were at their Bryant Park Hotel room by 9:30am. We walked up Fifth Avenue, toured Rockefeller Center and the building, and continued on to our final destination: MoMA. Once again Dan and I encountered Van Gogh, Picasso and Matisse together, something we've not had the privilege to do since we were dating. We also came across an artist I'd never heard of before, Bodys Isek Kingelez (1948-2015). It was an awe-inspiring surprise to encounter his work. Based in then-Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), following its independence from Belgium, Kingelez made sculptures of imagined buildings and cities that reflected dreams for his country, his continent, and the world.
We had a wonderful Christmas with our entire family this year, gleefully watching loved ones unwrap treasures from abroad. I came home to a custom order rounding out an incredible and unexpected first year of business. And as the new year commences, I am chipping away at making decisions about my display space for the upcoming Indiana Artisan Marketplace April 6-7 - hope to see you there! I also sent off a sample file this week to work toward having scarves digitally reproduced. I am exploring some new silk painting techniques I have not seen done before and am excited to share them with you once I've figured out how to perfect them.
What will 2019 bring, I wonder?! As I stepped off the ship onto the gangway, I felt a deep surge of gratitude for the privilege of being able to go on such an amazing adventure with my one true love, deep sadness about leaving the sea behind yet again, and glorious anticipation for this next year of making. C.S. Lewis described it best through the voice of the Professor in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:
"'Yes, of course you'll get back to Narnia again someday. Once a King in Narnia, always a King in Narnia. But don't go trying to use the same route twice. Indeed, don't try to get there at all. It'll happen when you're not looking for it. And don't talk too much about it even among yourselves. And don't mention it to anyone else unless you find that they've had adventures of the same sort themselves. What's that? How will you know? Oh, you'll know all right. Odd things they say- even their looks- will let the secret out. Keep your eyes open. Bless me, what do they teach them at these schools?' And that is the very end of the adventure of the wardrobe. But if the Professor was right it was only the beginning of the adventures of Narnia."