Friday, April 6, 2001. Day 8 of 12. LEAVING LONDON, AMBERLEY CASTLE.

We are up early and have breakfast. We greet Aisha, our Moroccon waitress, and ask her if we can take a photo. She agrees and is unaccountably tickled as I fidget around, setting up the digital camera for a shot.

After breakfast, I go back up to the room and finish packing while N and S go to my Internet Cafe to see when it opens. When they return, I am ready with the next email report, but the store is closed and there is no opening time evident. A guess is 9 AM.

We all head for the underground to the Marble Arch station, to go pick up the Hertz rental car I reserved by phone last night, and we enter the station at exactly 9:00 AM. Just before we turn to go in, I look down in the direction of the Internet Cafe and see the clerk opening up the store. Maybe later, before we leave.

We take the Circle Line from Paddington, two stops to Notting Hill Gate. Then the Central Line three stops to the Marble Arch exit.

This is scheduled to be our last underground ride, and Nancy (standing) is alert for more pickpockets.

Which reminds me of the old Missouri Liars' Contest joke winner back in the sixties. "It was so cold in Jefferson City that someone saw a politician standing on a streetcorner with his hands in his own pockets."

Well, this is ridiculous. I can't find anything in anyone's pockets this morning, and we pull into the last station. I exit first, then watch Sharon and Nancy exit the underground for the last time. We walk up Edgware Road and Nancy spots the Hertz store, on the opposite side of the street from the Yellow Pages address (even numbers, like their 42 Edgware Road) on the right, odd numbers on the left. We are on the right. There are no numbers on the Hertz building, so we don't know how to explain this. We go in and get a large, four-door Ford Focus, automatic transmission, with lots of storage room.

After getting lots of maps and directions, and after choosing to accept the extra charge to have 100% insurance coverage, we go into the basement and see our car. It's sort of teal green, and has only 8 miles on it. It just came in yesterday.

We head out, aimed for our hotel to pack our gear, passing the Marble Arch on the way. We make our way to the Kingsway Hotel, where I buy a 50-pence parking ticket for the street in front of the hotel. Our friend Sam is working the front desk today. I decide I want to get off one more trip report, so I pick up my computer and head out for the Internet Cafe for the last time.

I get the report off, head back to the hotel, and decide to buy another parking ticket. A parking meter policeman sees me do this (I am proud to show it to him), and he scolds me severely, having me read all the fine print. He accuses me of "feeding the meter," a time-honored tradition in the U.S., but illegal here, punishable by a clamp on your tire and a fine of 75 pounds or so, but the worst part is an approximate 6-hour delay to get it off.

I can't tell if he believes me when I say I didn't know about feeding the meter being illegal. He's a severe Hong Kong Brit, and the only reason he doesn't cite me is that he's not the one responsible for my car. Sort of like waitresses being assigned different areas of a restaurant, this car is in somebody else's jurisdiction. He's just giving me a friendly warning. OK, OK, OK!

We load up our stuff, pay up and are out of there. But first Sam tells me that I owe 40 pounds for my phone calls. I only made three or four local calls, so I object. He also is puzzled, because he believes me. After checking, he finds some sort of electronic error in the computer, and tells me that it's 4 pounds, not 40. Hot dog, see ya' Sam.

We take off, find our way out of west London, finally get a motorway to the "orbital," or we might say beltway in the U.S. That's M25, M standing for motorway, like our fastest freeways. Then successively smaller and smaller roads till we find that we are hungry. We pull off the motorway near a little bit called the Burford Bridge, Burford being Sharon's mom Gretchen's maiden name.

At 1:25 PM, we are here in a faux McDonalds, called Ryka's, as I recall. A cool sign in front says this: Probably the Best Burger in Surrey.

I have two things to say about this place. The burger is about the worst I've had in recent memory. I'm glad not to try any of the burger joints in Surrey that might be worse than these.

As I'm sitting here bitching because I ordered a cheeseburger with fries, suddenly Sharon spots a PIED WAGTAIL outside, a parking lot bird and a trip bird. He cheers me up from my cheeseburger funk.

We are listening to classical music as we drive through the green and wonderful English countryside. Then I discover the radio controls on the steering column and find a station playing '60s music by British artists.

We begin to collect a number of cool phrases on British signs. Sharon sees a "lay by," meaning a pullout. Nancy earlier spotted the equivalent of San Jose's "roach coaches," or "lunch wagons," pickup trucks carrying a custom-fitted kitchen in the back. But here, these are called Tea Bars.

So if you are hungry or need a break, you can visit a tea bar in a lay by.

In the town of Amberley, as we appraoch our sleeping place for the evening, we see a "SOLD" sign, except that it says, "SALE AGREED."

During the afternoon, at some spot I no longer remember, Sharon spots a COLLARED DOVE, known in America as a Eurasian Collared Dove.

At about 3 PM, we round a corner, and there it is -- Amberley Castle. We stop and just take in the fantastic scene, then drive on up the entrance road, past the Black Swans, skipping the "set down," which it says is straight ahead in the castle, and instead go to the car park.

A set down turns out to be the area where you park your car, set down your suitcases (taking them to your room, or to reception, etc.), and then drive to the car park.

Getting out, we can see Chaffinches and black birds which Sharon thinks have grey shoulders. I verify, and at first we can't think of their names, but soon come up with JACKDAW. They are all over the castle, perched in treetops, and flying overhead. Maybe about a hundred.

3:26 PM. We are inside the castle now, in our room. This room is spectacular. It's basically an upside down 'U' shape. You walk into the left leg of the upside 'U' at the entry. On your immediate right is a huge walk-in closet with an automatic pants ironing device. As you continue into the room, there is a large cabinet where you can unload all the crap from your pocket. Unless Sharon is there, in which case you want to keep the room clean, seeing as how this is the only night you'll be here. And it IS a castle, after all.

Continuing in, there is another old, rustic, wooden door on the left. This is the door to the battlements via a concrete spiral staircase. Actually there are two doors, separated by the thickness of the wall, which is to say, about 18 inches. Both doors old and made from heavy timber.

Turning right, you are in the main part of the room. This is the base of the upside down 'U'. There is a gigantic, dark wood, four-poster bed just inviting you to jump in. A TV is enclosed in a cabinet with doors. There is a list of 325 VCR tapes you can check out in reception for free.

Turning right at the end of the room, you look into the bathroom, which is stately in its elegance. The bath is very inviting. People with inferior digestive tracts take note of such things. A tub and jacuzzi top it off.

The decor matches that castle feeling that we are enjoying. Bedcovers and carpets are sort of Elizabethan I guess you'd say, thick and heavy. I shoot a minute or two of video of the room, but to my chagrin, forget to take a digital shot.

A window looks out onto the inner grounds, and there are a number of chairs and surfaces to store your junk... No, wait, I already covered that.

It's a double room on the second floor, actually exactly above Nancy's single room. It's the best, most expensive of the individually-designed and appointed rooms in the castle. I won't say how much it is, but if you are thinking $300 a night, you would still be what you call low. There are spiral stairs that run from a special door in Nancy's room, up to the special double-door in our room, and on up to the top of the castle -- the battlements. From there, you can walk out on top of the castle walls.

One of the things to see on this top level is the portcullis (castle front gate) raising apparatus. We can tell from this room that the gate is up. We could also tell that it was up because we could walk into the entrance of the castle. Out on the battlements, there are white doves all around.

Next we all go down to Nancy's room. Sharon can't help cracking up, because, as she says to Nancy, "We're in a CASTLE!" Back outside, I get a shot of Nancy and Sharon standing in the castle entry, under the portcullis.

It's 4:11 PM, and we're back here in our room, the Herstmonceaux. I think all the rooms of Amberley Castle are named for other castles. Herstmonceaux is also on our upstairs entry. There is a drawing of Herstmonceaux castle in our room. Sharon has learned that our room is part of the former gatehouse.

We take turns posing by our doors, Sharon and Nancy by Nancy's front door, and then Sharon and me by our front door.

It's 4:30 PM and Sharon and I just bumped into one of the workers who said that he was headed down to feed the swans. He is walking two big, fluffy white dogs we call Great Pyrenees, but he calls them Pyrennian Mountain Dogs.

A few minutes later, we have walked around to right side of castle, heading into the nearby village. The small village road is a vision, as is the building with the neatly thatched roof.

We are seeing SWALLOWS up in air. It is blowing and sprinkling, but they're apparently finding lots of insects up there. We check out the wading birds and ducks in the wetlands below the rear of the castle, finding nothing new. A Coot sitting on a nest. Canadian Geese, Mallards and so on.

Soon Nancy joins us and tells us that the worker we met is actually Martin, the owner of the castle for the last 13 years. His wife Joy has apparently done the outfitting for making the castle into the great place to sleep that it is.

On the way back to the castle entrance, I see a perfect view of the castle front, over daffodils.

We go inside, Sharon stopping in the garden door. We take one of the rooms with a fireplace, have a seat in two facing sofas, and order two cups of Earl Gray tea. I have mine with sugar and milk, Sharon with just sugar. I feel SO relaxed. Nancy joins us, and I take a shot of the two of them having tea.

It's a wonderful view, looking out the windows of our tea room, onto the castle grounds.

There is a jigsaw puzzle of Amberley Castle (25 pounds), and it's made out of wood! I've been complaining to Sharon for years that I wish somebody would make puzzles out of wood instead of the cheap cardboard I find. She says that in one or two of the hundreds of catalogs that come through our house, she has seen more.

We finish our tea, and go to our room, then change clothes for a trip up to the roof. I take Sharon on the battlements, and she takes one of me on the battlements. Through one of the slots in the battlements, the front castle grounds make a nice scene.

From the castle battlements, Sharon spots a couple of GOLDFINCHES, with their great red faces.

We are getting hungry, so we head back to the room to dress for dinner (coat and tie for me). Looking fashionable, we head to reception, then upstairs to the dining room. I enjoy this meal immensely, and I like the elegant dinner service and the desserts. That's my strawberry ice cream with frozen strawberries nearest the camera. And then there's the best dessert of all -- Nancy buying dinner in exchange for arranging the travel-around-England details. The last shot of the day is of a knight's armor, in our afternoon's tea room.

Back in the room, Sharon fixes herself a hot bath. Her hot is my scalding. When she finishes, she asks if I want to use it. I'm transcribing the day's events and I say, "yes." She leaves the water in the tub, and puts on the complementary bathrobe that weighs about 40 pounds. About a half-hour later, I finish up, strip and plunk into the tub. But being the intelligent guy I am, I test the water first. Six hundred degrees, down three hundred from what it was when Sharon used it.

I gingerly and slowly, bit by bit, ease into the tub. When I am submerged up to the neck, and stop moving, it's heaven. In fact, I go to sleep. Luckily for me I wake up with my mouth and nose in the air.

I am so relaxed, I can hardly pull myself out of the tub. It's been a truly great day, and we're in a Castle. The book in which I read about this castle is called "Dream Sleeps of Europe," and that's what happens next.

Bird Summary:
Life Birds: Today, 0. For the Trip, still 6.
Trip Birds: Today, 4. Pied Wagtail, Collared Dove, Jackdaw and Swallow. For the Trip: 27.

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