We’re back from the Oxford Canal trip and are taking a brief respite in London. Tomorrow morning we take the Chunnel train to Paris, and from there to Giverny for a few days. Later this week we take the train from Paris to Geneva for another short visit, and then fly to Malaga, Spain, to begin the final phase of our sojourn abroad.

The canal trip was lovely. Really, really beautiful countryside in Oxfordshire, glorious broad expanses of rolling-hill farmland, huge sky. You could see the shadows of clouds passing over the fields like the hand of God.

Piloting a 42-foot canal boat proved to be enormous fun. It was a real pleasure, and a great adventure to boot. I took what I hope were some excellent photographs.

We had meals good and bad at various pubs along the way. The best was The Bell in Lower Heyford, who made a fantastic bangers & mash.

In Upper Heyford there is an American Air Force Base decommissioned in 1986 and now partially derelict. I crawled through a gap in the fence and got into what was once a school building for the children of the airmen. Creepy, crumbling walls and ceilings, odd graffiti, and some spent shotgun shells to boot.

Life on the boat was terrific. We had one awful day of constant rain and terrible cold wind, and since piloting the boat requires you to stand out on the deck, there was no way around it. But the weather was otherwise generally sunny but cool. On one rather memorable day we walked nine miles through four towns in search of groceries–the little towns along the canal are tiny and few have any amenities, not even pubs. The reason can be seen in a rather powerful demonstration of how much the world has changed. In this canal, originally built between 1770-1790, we sailed from Oxford to Somerset and back in seven days. The same round trip in your car would take less than two hours. Now we were sailing at a leisurely pace with frequent stops for walks and such, but the working boats of the canal’s heyday were pulled along by mules–not exactly speed demons. The coming of the railroads in the nineteenth century pretty well killed the canal system. But as a result, these little towns that were once stops on the canal and such are within a quick drive of each other and the larger cities, meaning that key commerce (groceries, banks) has dispersed across the landscape. Some towns are nothing more than bedroom communities, albeit with houses that are centuries old.

Back in London, we went with James to ride the London Eye, the enormous Ferris Wheel built for Y2k. It’s a half-hour ride that takes you dozens of stories above London, and it’s quite fantastic. After a walk we went to see Shockheaded Peter at the Albery Theatre on St. Martin’s Lane, a “junk-opera” musical that came through Seattle a few months back and which we missed at the time to our considerable regret. We went for dessert afterwards at the Hagen-Daaz Cafe, which is a large two-story restaurant in Leicester Square which, of course, only serves ice cream and ancillary desert items. Then James led us on a long night’s walk around various bits of London in the vicinity of Buckingham Palace and the parks adjacent to it.

Today is a slow day of catching up on email and so forth. But shortly we leave to meet James at the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens to see an art exhibition there, and then dinner and who knows what else. To my and Karen’s considerable consternation, the new Spider-Man movie opened this weekend in the U.S. but not here. We did see The Scorpion King in Oxford and it’s about as good as a dumb movie has any right to be.