Archive | June, 2012

A Little to the Wight

23 Jun

Up the hill to the churchLast night, as I was packing up my well organized (for a change) suitcase I realized that I had no hotel reservations for tonight. While it’s been fun to have a very, shall we say, flexible journey, it’s not fun to walk the streets of a town with your back-pack on your back and your suitcase trailing behind (well, two to be honest). I hopped on the internet to look for a place to stay in Lymington (apparently often confused with Leamington). So, tonight I will be staying at the Bosun’s Chair.

I wake up and have one last traditional English breakfast in the hotel dining room. I gather my well packed bags (hint, tops in one pile, bottoms in another) and request a taxi to take me for the nearly half hour drive to Lymington. While I’m sure Lymington is a lovely place (actually, I’m not at all sure of this so don’t quote me), I’m heading there because it’s the closest location to catch the ferry to the Isle of Wight.

The taxi drops me off directly in front of the Bosun’s Chair.

My modern room key

My modern room key

On the internet they advertise themselves as “The Bosun’s Chair Public House”.” I have no idea what that means. It’s actually a pub with some rooms on top (if this were an old west town in the 1800’s it would be a saloon with a brothel on top). I knock on the door and it seems this Public House doesn’t open quite this early. Dave answers the door dressed in black sweatpants and flip-flops with the welcoming phrase, “Uh, you’re really early.” After I explain that I just want to drop my bags he opens the door and we store them in the restaurant. I ask for directions to the ferry terminal and he instructs me how to take a cab one mile to the ferry terminal. Really? It’s a mile for God sakes. I’ll walk.

I walk around the waterfront towards the ferry terminal. It’s a strange feeling. I realize it’s only 10:00am but, between the drive in and walking the mile to the ferry I have not seen any people. Zero. It’s beginning to feel a bit Twilight Zone-ish. I arrive at the terminal and step up to the desk to buy my ticket – £12.90 (hey, I figured out how to type a £ sign) for a return ticket (that means round trip in American). I run as the ferry leaves in 3 minutes.

I have just enough time for a cup of coffee during the 35 minute trip. I laugh at the emergency instructions announcement that can barely be heard. It’s the same as the one on the ship I work on, only presented in a much less formal way. I had hoped to ride a bike but, due to time limitations and well, coldish, rainy-ish, English weather I decide to look for a different mode of transportation. As my ferry lands me in Yarmouth I feel I should see something there. I immediately notice a sign for Yarmouth Castle. Ok, it looks old and seems to have iron bars and cannons. Must be something interesting (I hope there’s a bathroom). I stop in and pay my £4. It turns out that this was the last addition to Henry VIII’s coastal defenses. Unfortunately, this fact is the most interesting thing about the place (and there are no bathrooms! Did Henry’s army never have to pee?).

After a half hour of in the castle, and finding a public restroom, I head on over to the tour bus terminal where I get great advice from the man working there and buy my 24 hour Freedom Pass. He has great advice (although he gives me enough recommendations for at least a four day visit). I hop on the bus and head to Newport, the capital of the Isle of Wight. I grab lunch at a pub and look around the town. It feels crowded and touristy. Not what I’m looking for. Time to catch another bus.

Next stop, Godshill. I was told that this is a picturesque town that looks like the

All Saints Church

All Saints Church

quintessential English village you would see in photos. I follow the church bells up the hill to the All Saints Church.  According to legend, the original foundations for the medieval church were laid in a flat, easily accessible site but every morning they were found transferred to the hill where the church exists today. Eventually the builders gave up building it in the planned flat location and built it on the hill (wow, now that’s a questionable real estate deal). I walk through the attached cemetery (I love cemeteries) which has a lot of tombstones that are so old that they are no longer able to be read. Hhhmmm, love the history, just wish I could read some of it. There’s a Model Village in town that the tourist board seems quite fond of. It is a 1/10th scale version of the towns of Godshill and Shanklin. I decide not to go in as I just don’t get it.  Sure, it might be the one time in my life I feel tall, but why spend time seeing a miniature version of a town I’m walking around in? I choose to go have my afternoon cream tea instead.

I hop on the bus to Newport to transfer to the bus to Yarmouth to catch the ferry to Lymington. The bus ride back may just be the most entertaining part of the day as I sit on the top deck to enjoy the view of the sun that has finally decided to show itself. There is a drunken man sitting on the top deck with myself and about 5 others. He is singing God Save the Queen very loudly and with passion. We all snicker and enjoy the melodic (not so much) tones.

I once again, run for the ferry (I make it) and, 45 minutes later I’m checking into my pub, uh, hotel. Dave has brought my bags upstairs for me. It’s tiny, but clean and actually quite modern (except for the key). I clean up and head downstairs for a pint where I let the bartender choose my bitter. This place advertises the best pies in town as made by “The Pie Minister.” Who knew? I place an order for the Jubilee Pie. Darn, they’re out. Must’ve been really good. I then order up a traditional meat pie. The waitress returns with the bad news. The people that ordered just before me got the last ones (where is the Pie Minister as I’d like to lodge a complaint?).  “The chicken pie is really good,” she says. I order that (thinking that if it were that good, they wouldn’t have any left). My pie (with gravy, yummmmm) arrives and I dig in. Ok, it is really good.

This is a local pub filled with, well, locals. It’s a nice change from a day filled mainly with tourists. We notice the Jubilee concert on the television and request that the pub music be turned down and the television be turned up. You would think this a simple request but, after the waitress tried her best and her grandmother gave it a shot (I think she might actually be The Pie Minister) their efforts are in vain. The waitress finally decides to simply unplug the stereo system and we are, well, jubilant (ha!). One comedian at the concert jokes about Americans watching the concert sitting in their living rooms with their feet up eating peanut butter and jelly. The entire pub looks at me. Hey, I’m just finishing my pint and my pie.

After watching Sir Paul perform the final numbers and Prince Charles call the Queen “Mummy” it’s time to head up to my tiny room for a good night’s sleep before heading to the big city tomorrow.

Tomorrow – another train and a visit to the Queen.

I Went to a Garden Party

18 Jun

This morning I wake and look out the window grateful for the partly cloudy weather (Or is it partly sunny? I always get those mixed up) as everyone from the weatherman to the local shop owner have assured me that it will definitely be raining today. Perhaps the shop owner was just trying to sell me a rain poncho (he was successful). Garden Party here I come. I am excited but my backside is voicing its objections. This comes as a surprise to me as I’m sure I have enough natural cushioning to have prevented any pain in that area.

I head down for breakfast and pick up the key to the shed where my bike is being stored. Yes, this is a small English village where the hotel has shed out back to store various supplies including guests’ bicycles (the hotel down the road has stables to store your horse). I return the key and hop on my bike. YEEEOOOWWW!! If I thought my rear hurt before well, it has voiced new objections. Loudly! I decide that it’s mind over matter and I will not allow the pain in my, uh, backside to ruin my plan. I suck it up and ride to the bicycle shop to discuss possible routes for the day. We decide that The Old Railway Trail, a simple 5 mile trail along an old, disused rail line (no tracks, just a dirt road) would be perfect. Once finished with this I will ride over to the Three Tun Inn for the garden party. I mention to Sam (my ginger haired friend) that my backside is a bit sore and he pulls out a bicycle seat cushion to place on top of the torture device known as my bicycle seat. My hero! Sam, taking care of women one rear end at a time.

I hop on my bike (still a bit painful but much better) and head for another day of adventure.

The Road Less Traveled

The Road Less Traveled

I ride down the beautiful dirt trail past more wild horses, lush trees, beautiful views and bridges over small streams. I come across a group of crazy cyclists who regale me with stories of their biking adventures. One of them looks at the iPhone attached to me by a cute, pink armband and asks what it is. I explain that it keeps my music handy for my ride and he is awestruck and declares it a fantastic idea (did I just ride my bike back to the 70’s?). I also run across a mother and son who are playing a game of go fetch with their dog. Actually, the dog is playing go fetch with himself. The dog seems to be having a great time nudging the rock over the side of the bridge and running down to the stream to fetch it (this is because dogs don’t have thumbs to play Xbox). I end up at a tea house where, you guessed it, I order a cream tea (really, what is this clotted cream stuff?). I sit in a covered area with lots of other bikers (it has begun to rain), drink my tea and write. When the rain slows, I head out to my bike to pedal over to the Three Tuns Inn.

The lady at the tea house has given me directions that don’t appear on my map. I must admit I am skeptical as she goes into a long, confusing explanation. Still, the theme of this trip being “say yes to everything’ leads me to attempt to follow her directions. I ride down the road, all the while wondering if I’ve passed the turn she mentioned or, if the turn even exists. Oh, me of little faith. I find the road and continue to a roundabout (oh, don’t get me started) that she didn’t mention I would come to. I have enough trouble with roundabouts when I know where I’m going. Which way to go? I flag down a passing car. The driver backs up and I ask him if he knows where the Inn is. He tells me to follow the direction they are going as that’s where they’re headed (I love small village living). Within 10 minutes I’m at my first garden party.

Upon entering, and humming the Ricky Nelson Garden Party song in my head, I encounter the first two tents. One is for ale tasting and the other is for Pimms. Hhhmmmm, I’ve definitely tried ales but have yet to have tried Pimms. I ask what it is and it’s explained that, when mixed with a variety of fruit, cucumber and lemonade (this is what they call Sprite), it is a favorite summer drink. I still have no idea what this stuff is. I order one up and fish my camera out of my backpack so I can get a photo with my first ever Pimms. I promptly drop my drink through the uneven slats of the picnic table. I head back to the tent and tell my sad story and they make me a complimentary drink and tell me to hold on tight. I then get a photo with my second ever Pimms.

Pimms

My second ever Pimms

I take in the sights which include kids racing through an obstacle course, a duck herding demonstration and Queen Elizabeth. Okay, perhaps it wasn’t actually her unless the Queen enjoys duck racing as, minutes later she takes off her pumps and pulls out a cane and, along with her team, herds those ducks through tunnels, around pylons and down a slide. I stand in line for my pork sandwich and stop at the bar to pick up a lager, all the while watching the local Brownie troupe dance around the Maypole. I sit down to eat and speak with a lady who gives me great advice on where to stay in London.

Queenie and Me

I find out that there will be a second duck race of the day and that you can bet on these races. I whip out my pounds and confidently bet on the red team coming in at 2 minutes, 10 seconds. Alas, I will never know if I won as the demonstration before the race begins late and I have to leave to bike up the hill and return my bike to the bike shop by 5:00pm.

I have dinner at the hotel dining room and attempt to  finish my bottle of wine (shame to let it go to waste). Tomorrow, an early taxi to Lymington to go “A Little to the Wight”

Over the River and To the Pub

15 Jun

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I wake this morning ready to hit the road. After a traditional English Breakfast I walk the path through The Forest (say hello to Hansel and Gretel) and head to the Forest Leisure Cycle Centre. I’m helped by a fellow Ginger (that’s a redhead in England) who gets me all set up with a bike, helmet (should I choose to wear one) and backpack loaded up with a lock and tire repair kit. This is not like my home town of Detroit. The only reason to use a lock here is so someone doesn’t mistake your bike for theirs. As for the tire repair kit, I’ve never actually used one but, as I can change a tire on a car I figure this can’t be much more difficult than that. We go over possible routes for me to take over the next two days. I choose the Villages, Views and Vales route today. It’s a 15 mile route along country roads passing farms and pubs (I definitely see villages and views, not sure what vales are but I’m sure I see them somewhere along the way).

As I not so confidently head off down the road and out of the village center there are a few things to get used to. The most obvious is that the cars are driving on the wrong side of the road. I stop and put on my helmet as I suddenly treasure those brain cells that have stuck by me for this long in my life. Before long I notice another glaring difference. In the U.S., the first time you get a bike with hand brakes you are taught to always squeeze the right one first as the left one controls the front brake which, if applied first, will give you a spectacular view of your rear end as it travels at high velocity over your head as well as the handlebars. ALWAYS SQUEEZE THE RIGHT BRAKE FIRST is what I was taught. Aah, but here in the land of ‘let’s be different and drive on the opposite side of the road than the rest of the world’ the hand brake situation is also unique. Yup, you guessed it, left first. I’ll spend the rest of the day with my hand hovering over the left brake as a reminder to ALWAYS SQUEEZE THE LEFT BRAKE FIRST.

I ride on out of the town square to find myself on a beautiful country road. The weather is overcast but the famous rains seem to be holding off. I spot what looks like cattle ahead. Not unusual given the amount of farms around here. But, as I approach I realize these are the famous wild ponies of the New Forest. The New Forest has approximately 3,000 of these wild ponies roaming freely throughout its approximately 219 sq. miles. If you want to know more of the history of these ponies, please go to history of New Forest ponies. I stop and take photos unsure why wild horses are photo worthy yet horses kept at many of the ranches, horseback riding companies and Native American groups I’ve met in my travels are not.

Back on my bike I travel another few minutes before coming upon a proper Englishman driving a proper horse and carriage. I stop to take the perfect photo and, as I pass by, take a peek to be sure Queen Elizabeth has not had the same idea as me and run to the Forest to escape the madness of the Jubilee in London. Alas, it’s just the proper English driver riding quietly to a farm.

I continue on and notice race route signs appearing every few hundred yards. Wait, am I in a race and nobody told me? Suddenly men in very tight spandex shorts are zooming past me. Now, this is a view I could get used to. But wait, I look to my right and am suddenly distracted. My first pub of the day. It’s 11:00am and I’m on vacation. Time for my first ale, lager, bitter (whatever, just give me a drink!) of the day.

The sun has decided to peek out from behind the clouds so I grab my lager and sit outside at a picnic table. I pull out my iPad (very handy this thing is) and begin to write. I cannot think of a better office for the day.

I finish my drink and move on to discover more enchantment in the Forest. I soon discover that enchantment sometimes smells eerily similar to cattle manure. Or, to be more specific, pig manure. Yes, there are quite a few pig ranches around. Still, the scenery is beautiful, the feeling is peaceful, and I am happier than a pig in. . . well, you know.

I not only ride past farms and pubs, but also beautiful trees, flowers and more wild horses. I soon find myself entering the village of Bransgore where I come across the Three Tuns Inn (also known as a pub). It is a thatched roof building (you, know, the kind you only see in photos or Robin Hood movies) and was built in the 17th century. I walk in, hungry from my ride and thirsty from. . . who am I kidding? I just want a drink. I step up to the bar and, as usual, express my indecision as I have never heard of any of these beers. Again, the man next to me offers to let me try his (sharing is caring). I taste it and order it. I have yet to find a beer here that I don’t like. You should know, the beer here is served at room temperature and has a much higher alcohol content than any in the U.S. There is an old joke comparing American beer to having sex in a rowboat (I’ll let you figure out the punchline). I also order a nice, juicy burger as my ride has given me license to eat hardy.

By the time I have finished my lunch I have ended up in a conversation with four men in their early to mid-fifties. I ask if they live here and they answer yes, they pretty much live in this pub. Better than subsidized housing, I think. They buy me a pint and I think, this place definitely feels like Cheers, where everybody knows your name.

I spend a few more minutes speaking with a couple of women who, with their husbands, have escaped Jubilmania in London to spend the weekend at their second home in the New Forest. Before leaving, I take note that, in honor of the Diamond Jubilee, the town will be gathering at the Three Tuns Pub for a Garden Party tomorrow afternoon. Yay, my first Garden Party. I hop back on my bike and head into the center of the village to explore.

Exploration takes about 10 minutes as there are all of five shops in town. I wander into the second-hand store to search for a raincoat (odds are I will eventually need one). While I find nothing to protect me from the inevitable English rains, I do find a really cute black evening bag. Water never hurt anyone, but a girl needs a cute bag to carry her lipstick in. Sold!

Back on my bike and uphill back to Burley. Really, after stopping at pubs and drinking lager and ale throughout the day? Who designed this route? I climb the hill and coast back into town where I reward myself with a cream tea (somebody must explain to me what this clotted cream stuff is made of because, however unappetizing the name sounds, this stuff is yummy!).

I run back to the hotel to shower and change and it starts pouring rain. The rain breaks just long enough for me to trudge my path through the forest for dinner and a pint (yes, another) at the local pub. The pub is crowded beyond belief and must be holding more people than live in the town. “Reservation?” they ask. I, with my most pitiful face and my sweet American accent say, “No, but I walked all the way over in the rain and it’s just me. Do you have a corner?” The young guy at the bar is not impressed and I am relegated to sitting outside at a table under an umbrella hunched over trying to keep the rain from going down the back of my pants. After a few minutes the young bartender’s supervisor comes out and starts flirting with me. I flirt back! Bingo! Inside table is mine.

After a nice bowl of hot soup and glass of room temperature ale (this is beginning to grow on me) I head back up the path to my hotel to rest before another day of riding and my first garden party. Read about the adventure in “I Went to a Garden Party”

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The Rail Journey South

12 Jun

So far I’ve done planes and automobiles. Therefore, it seems that a train is called for. And you can’t beat England’s rail system. Jenni and I hopped online the other night and bought me a first class train ticket to London with another continuing on to Brockenhurst.

This morning Jenni has dropped me off at the train station very early with directions on how to make my transfer as my train arrives at Victoria Station and my next train leaves from Waterloo Station. She tells me to make sure I know where my bag is and don’t talk to strangers (not really). I feel like she should pin a note to me saying, ‘If lost, return to Hull.’ I learned from my previous career flying many times a month and getting upgraded here and there that first class generally has a better class of men to meet. But that’s not all. On the train, first class will get you a morning newspaper, full English Breakfast, comfy reserved seat and free Wifi. That and the better class of men make it totally worth it. I sit down at my seat which is at a table for four. Across from me sits Paul who works in finance and is headed to London for a meeting. We have a great talk about politics and news. I barely use the free Wifi. Word to the wise traveler, don’t forego experiences just so you have time to search the web. You will miss out on so much. Also, take off the damn headphones so you don’t miss opportunities to meet new and interesting people. Take in the sites, sounds and smell of places. And look up every once in a while. Lecture finished, back to the story.

Paul is going to the Tube (the London subway system) and directs me to the ticket machine and into the correct station. Two stops later I’m having a coffee and waiting for my next train. Ninety minutes later and I’m in Brockenhurst, the main village in the New Forest. Nine hundred years ago William The Conquerer put aside the New Forest area for hunting. Now it’s a national park. I take a taxi to to my hotel in Burley. This was the one hotel I reserved prior to leaving the States. Although the plan for this trip was to not have a plan, when I began to simply peruse the options online, it seemed that many of the hotels and B & B’s had no availability this weekend due to the Jubilee. I thought celebrations would only be happening in London but, it turns out that she is the queen of all of England. And, as she’s proclaimed it a bank holiday, everyone has two extra days off.

I arrive at my hotel and, after a quick nap, Ohh, hoo witchy womanhead into the center of the village of Burley. Burley likes to refer to itself as the Witchcraft Village of the New Forest (although, as their witch was into “white witchcraft” she apparently couldn’t be seen after Labor Day). As my hotel backs up to the New Forest, I walk the path through the woods and come out behind a cider shop (this is not the cider from when you were a kid – or maybe for some of you, it is). Oh, I could spend my whole trip in this tiny, little one room shop. I stop in the tea house. It is 5:05 and they have just close but still offer to make me a cup of tea. Really? This is definitely not America (or even London for that matter). I love a small town. I politely decline and pop into the shops in town and make note of the bicycle shop where I am renting my bike tomorrow.

I then stop in the local pub for a quick glass of lager. The Brits are very serious about their beer. It’s not just beer, it’s lager or ale (or even a bitter). When I don’t know what to eat or drink, I always ask a local. I ask a guy ordering at the bar what I should get and he offers to let me taste his lager (not as dirty as it sounds). Wow, plays well with others. I sip and order what he’s having. I head outside and see him and his two friends sitting at a picnic table and ask if I can join them. It turns out they are rugby players heading to a big tournament twenty miles away. “Isn’t that the game where you try to kill each other?” I ask. “Yes,” they reply. We get into a long discussion on women’s sports. They mention that women’s field hockey is big there. They ask if women play ice hockey in the U.S. I tell them no and that they would be awfully ugly women with bad smiles if they did. They head over to their match and I head back to the hotel for a nice dinner in their dining room.

Once seated, the waitress asks me if I’d like wine. I order a white wine that looks nice. Next thing I know the waitress brings an entire bottle to my table. I tell her that I’ve only ordered a glass and she informs me that this wine only comes by the bottle. When I mention that I saw two prices listed on the wine menu I assumed one was for a glass and the other for a bottle. No, she says, one was the price of the bottle and one was the alcohol content. Seriously? As I’m sitting at a table by myself, did she not think to mention the whole bottle thing? You know, something along the lines of, “Hey lady, do you know this only comes by the bottle or should we arrange for someone to carry your drunken, drooling self up the stairs when you have finished your meal?” I waited for her to apologize for any misunderstanding and offer to remove the bottle from my bill (and my table) but no such luck. The bottle will be stored in the bar so that I can drink it over the next few days. Unfortunately, I’m really a red wine drinker and this would be the one glass of white I order for the whole year.

I head up to bed for an early night. Join me tomorrow when I go biking on the wrong side of the street in “Over the River and To the Pub”

Closet Patriots

9 Jun

This morning Jenni and I set off for York. About a 90 minute drive from Manchester on the way to her home in Hull. York is known mainly for its history of Vikings so I expect to see a lot of of people walking around with tall helmets with horns on them and drinking glog (which could be anything as long as it’s in a big stein held by a bearded man in a funny hat – not Santa Claus). Instead I find people walking around with silly Union Jack hats (it’s the Queens Diamond Jubilee) and drinking tea. A little word about this whole Union Jack craze going on here. Every Brit I know has always made fun of America and our love for our flag. So now the truth comes out. The Brits are closet patriots. It took an 86 year old woman to work the same job for 60 years for them to finally say, “Yay us!” without shame.

When we arrive we park in the central car park – lack of parking in town makes this a smart move – and take the bus into town. We note that the bus has dropped across the street from the Marks and Spencer so we’ll be able to find our way back and set off to explore. As we’re walking to the Minster (a fancy name for an old church) we notice that there are about 7 Marks and Spencers. Hhhmmm, I foresee challenges in our future.

The Minster is huge. And every bit of open wall or floor space seems to have some writing telling the history of someone who is buried there, some priest or vicar (still trying to figure out what a vicar is) or some spot that was blown up in 1941. Many of the dedications are in Latin and we Jews do not know Latin.

We pick up a “99” for our walk. This is an ice cream with a Flake in it. So what’s a Flake you say? Well, you should first know that American chocolate is crap. Yup, I said it. All apologies to Hershey, our chocolate tastes like we melted down a brown Crayola crayon, maybe threw in some nuts or Rice Krispies, and shaped it into a bar. While the Brits swear by their Cadbury’s, Smarties and Maltesers, I am a huge fan of the Flake. It’s chocolate that crumbles as you eat it. It can be a bit messy but chocolate doesn’t need to be neat.

So, we grab our “99’s” and start walking down The Shambles. This is an old section of town (700 years old instead of 500 years old – it’s all relative) with buildings that look like they are about to collapse. Every one of them looks like the Union Jack factory blew up. Oh, and there are all kinds of items with the Queen’s face plastered on them. Jenni and I used to have a tacky souvenir wall in our cabin. This is like the mother load. My nine year old niece is obsessed with Queen Elizabeth (a bit odd I know) but I can’t really see buying her a dish or tea cup with the Queen’s likeness.

One old fort and my first Cream Tea in the park later (tea and a scone with jam and clotted cream = heaven) and we are off to Hull. If you’re from England and are reading this you are saying, “huh?” Why come all the way from the U.S. and go to Hull? A few reasons. First, it’s where Jenni lives. Second, it’s where her father lives and we’ll be staying with him due to a little Fizz issue (her cat, my allergies). Finally, her dad has a nice collection of fine malt whiskey (my drink of choice). And her dad is a smart man. He understands that the only thing a good whiskey needs to be served with is a glass. Neither of us understand why anyone would dilute a perfectly good whiskey with ice (I’m not positive but this might actually be illegal in Scotland). We settle in, have some tea, then have a scotch, then head for bed.

The next day we look at old photo’s from the ship Jenni and I worked on (really, why was I rollerblading down the hallway in my bathrobe?) and, as per my request, head off to the gym. After a great workout we tour Hull. One really long suspension bridge, some shoe shopping (I like this place as I wear a smaller size shoe here so I feel dainty) and a quest to find the perfect necklace to go with my pretty new dress (no luck) and we head back to pick up her dad to get some fish and chips.

There’s a bit of history with Jenni and I here. When we roomed together 18 years ago I was teaching her American and she was teaching me British. Yes, two countries separated by a common language. I taught Jenni to say, “Gee is that ever cool” while she taught me to say, “we got our bucket and spade and went down by the seaside.” So we went down to the seaside and searched for a bucket and spade. What we found was a closed bucket and spade store, 50 mile per hour winds and a freezing mist. Although I generally like to dip my foot into any ocean I find, I pick up a couple of rocks from the shore of the North Sea and call it a day). We also found what we in America would call a Penny Arcade. Jenni, her father and I were the only ones in there but we had fun and she spent about 9 Pounds (where’s that symbol key on my keyboard?) winning me the tiniest of teddy bears. We then head over to the restaurant to have fish and chips. Vinegar? Yes please. Mushy peas? Uh, ok.

Final thoughts? Hull is not dull.

Note: I never planned for this to be any sort of travel blog as I think that could be a bit like having your neighbors over for dinner and making them sit through a slide show of your vacation to Niagara Falls. But, as I’ve received some positive feedback while writing about this trip, I’m thinking of doing a series called, “The Snarky Traveler.” Send me your feedback. If it’s positive, I may just buy you a drink (Scotch Whiskey please, hold the ice). If not, I will be numbing the pain with the whiskey and drinking alone (Do you really want to be responsible for that?).

Tomorrow, a train to Brockehurst in the New Forest where I meet Paul on the train (gotta love first class) and three rugby players in the pub (gotta love a pub). Read it in “The Rail Journey South”

Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood?

4 Jun

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Two mechanical problems and one medical emergency later I have arrived. And only two hours late. Waiting for me outside is my friend Jenni. We were roommates on a cruise ship 18 years ago and haven’t seen each other since. Funny that neither of has aged a day.

We exit from the airport I notice that all of England is so excited that I’m here that they’re flying the Union Jack everywhere and have scheduled huge parties for my arrival. Wait, what? Something to do with the Queen and diamonds? She has enough diamonds so I choose to keep believing it’s all for me. I think, ‘goood thing I’ve practiced my wave’ as I wave to my subjects as we exit the car park (English for parking lot).

We make a stop for a quick lunch and head on over to the hotel to check in. We’ve booked a hotel in Manchester for one night as it seems a shame to land at the airport and immediately high-tail it out of town. So Jenni and I decide to explore as she’s never been to Manchester. You see, it’s two hours away from where she lives which, in England, apparently means it’s so far that you must plan the trip for a year, get your shots and a visa and write your will before making the long trek.

After checking into the hotel we head up to our room which has the most beautiful view. We notice that there is one double bed which is fine as we are women and don’t have that whole issue men have with sleeping in the same bed (what’s strange is that we women understand this). The only issue we have is that I have a bit of a cold and Jenni is a singer by trade (Want to hear her? Click here). Not a good combination. Jenni runs down to the desk to see about changing rooms and I take a couple things out of my bag to freshen up. After about a half hour (gettin’ a little worried. Did I scare her off already?) I hear a key in the door. In walks a man I don’t know. My first thought? Wow, these hotels in England are great! They come with a free newspaper, free breakfast and a free man! And good looking at that. He looks at the room number to be sure he’s gotten the correct one (a good indication is that his key worked). We both stumble with our “uh’s” and “oh my’s.” I say I think I know what happened as Jenni walks up and comments that she met him down at the front desk and he must be following her. Actually, as Jenni was getting us switched from out room the desk assigned him to this room. We had a lovely 20 minute conversation – his name is Ian, he works in construction and is in town on business. He performs with the local Gilbert and Sullivan Society (oh so very British) and his co-worker Mark is joining him at 6:30. Oh and he’s totally flirting with Jenni. We bid our farewells after talking about meeting in the bar later. Not a problem if he’s not there as the front desk has graciously left us with a key to his room.

After settling in our room Jenni and I go out to explore Manchester. We board the tram in front of our hotel. The doors close and nothing happens. Then we hear an announcement. “This train will not be moving until further notice due to an incident. All trains will stand still until cleared by the Manchester police.” (Uh-oh, they’ve found me!) No worries, within minutes we are one our way.

After visiting Manchester Cathedral and a few other sites we sit outside a pub taking advantage of the great weather. There we meet Julia and Sara. Julia is an actress and Sara has just come from a job interview. While some Americans might think of the British as stoic and snobby, the people I have met so far are well, quirky and pretty darn funny. Julia keeps asking me to speak so she can imitate my accent (and getting me to speak is such a difficult thing to do). Sara tells me that she thinks she will be offered the office job she has interviewed for but she is also thinking about going to Tibet to teach English instead. Hhhmmm, what to do? Julia is waiting to meet her date for the night. A man 18 years her junior ( you go girl). It’s their seventh date and she has shaved her legs (just sayin’). We wish them luck and head back to the hotel for an early night of jet lag recovery. We stop by the hotel bar to see if Ian and Mark are there. No luck (we decide not to use the key to Ian’s room).

I go to bed thinking about what a difference a year and a half makes. If you read
“I’m from the Government and I’m Here to Help” or “
My Schizophrenic Life” you will understand how grateful I am to be able to enjoy this adventure.

Tomorrow – travel with me to York (nothing New about this one) and the beautiful city of Hull (as their catch phrase says, “Hull is not dull”).

Note: The woman who gave up her seat on the plane has contacted me. Her name is Carly Ulrich and she just felt like doing a good deed. How about today you do a good deed in her honor (or as we say in England, her honour)?

More about the British in “Closet Patriots”

On a Wing and a Prayer

1 Jun

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Perhaps you’ve noticed that I’ve been away (well, I hope you have). Yes I was doing that Workin’ for a Living thing. I was definitely not working 9 – 5 nor was I working on the Chain Gang. Then I started my vacation and I was workin’ out (note to self – contrary to popular belief, calories do count even while at sea). After that I was workin’ it out (and by that I mean my vacation plans). And that takes me to where I am now. Sitting in seat 10A at 33,000 feet.

Everyone asks me where I go on vacation. My usual answer is home (as now that I saved my house, I never seem to be there). Well, this time I’ve done something different. It’s time for an adventure. Today’s adventure, brought to you courtesy of my birthday, is a trip to England and New York.

It’s impossible to plan a vacation while I’m on board the ship due to the ridiculous amount of hours I work and the Internet that’s slower than dial up (and by that I mean if dial up used an old rotary dial phone – man, if somebody had a couple of 9’s in their number you just didn’t even bother calling). I had to wait until I was on vacation to plan my vacation. When I looked at the airfares I was blown away. Between business trips and using frequent flyer miles I didn’t realize that airfares cost as much as a new car. Luckily I have friends in high places. And by that I mean literally, as my friend is a pilot (can you say Guest Pass?). Here’s the adventure part. For the small price of $679 I am flying stand-by. What could go wrong?

I arrive at the airport at 7:00am, 2 hours ahead of my (hopefully) scheduled flight. My first flight of this adventure was the only one I thought might be a problem. Still with 5 available seats, I’m listed as 2nd in line on the stand-by list. That is until the airline decides to send a plane that seats 150 people instead of the scheduled one with 190 seats. They are actually looking for 27 people to volunteer to take later flights. No worries as, smart traveler that I am, I booked this flight knowing there were 2 other flights that would get me to Philly to get my connection. Unfortunately, even Steven Hawking couldn’t make the numbers work with that first flight bumping so many.

Please understand, I realize that flying stand-by is a risk. I was prepared for an adventure. When I took theatre classes in school they taught us the first rule of improvisation – say yes to everything. Improv, after all, is an adventure. I figured that whatever happened was meant to. I once read a quote that said, “Life can be as simple as falling.” I’m really good at falling so life should be a breeze.

So, with the first flight being so messed up, it’s now seemingly affected every flight of the day. I call my friend to ask her if she can pick me up from the airport if my great adventure simply ends up being an adventure going through airport security all the way to gate B15 and gate A32 (nice, but I think I overpacked). So, here I am, standing at the gate after finding out I’m 12th on the stand-by list. Hhhhmmm, not lookin” so good. I flirt with a pilot hoping he can use some pull to get me in a jump seat. No go. Must be gay. The gate agents are announcing names of people missing. I internally shush them and tell them they shouldn’t look so hard for these folks (yes, I’m going to hell).

There are 6 of us standing at the counter anxiously waiting for them to cancel the missing people’s seats. The agents say they have 3 or 4 seats depending on if the guy standing to the side gets on the flight. He says he’s deciding (what the $&@#?).

Then the most amazing thing happens – a woman approaches me and says that she is also flying stand-by and, if her name is called, I can have her seat. Wait, what? Surely I must have heard wrong. This being an adventure I have vowed not to get upset (read cry) if things don’t work out as planned. But really, what? I find myself crying. I don’t believe I’m crying because I got on the flight (shallow as I might be at times). I cry because you don’t often see kind gestures like this. I thank her and hug her. And yes, I am sitting in seat 10A and she is sitting in Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.

I’m not sure if I should offer her some money or if that would be insulting (maybe some lunch money would have been nice). I suddenly feel the need to justify to her that she’s done a good deed for someone who not only appreciates it immensely, but, who will pay it forward (uh oh, I think we know where this may be going). So I give her my card and direct her to the Rebel-With-A-Cause.org site. I ask her name and, although she tells me, I’m so overcome that it doesn’t register. I think she would understand, as I do, that it’s not important that people remember your name, but that they remember your deeds.

So, this is the beginning of an Adventure (yeh, with a capital “A”). I’ll put away the iPad now (uh-huh, I caved and bought one) as we’re getting ready to land and, apparently if I leave it on I will cause a blackout in Tokyo or something. Oh, I just let the girl next to me in the middle seat use my pillow (a small start on the paying it forward thing). Stay tuned.

Read on in “Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood?”

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