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Fly by Night. . . and Day

27 Nov

At about 9:00pm I head on over to the airport. As is the norm, the hotel has arranged a complimentary car for me. The airport is very well-organized and I have no trouble finding my way around. I check-in for my flight without anyone even suggesting that I should check my completely allowable carry-on (oh, I’m not bitter). I have quite a bit of time before my flight so I wander through the shops.

I look for a Duty Free store to price some alcohol before realizing, well duh. I might as well be searching for a pork chop. I’ve already picked up some Turkish Delight and Apple Tea while at the mall. These are Turkish Delightthings I used to enjoy when I worked in Turkey. Actually, I only enjoyed the Apple Tea. I never acquired a tasted for Turkish Delight. To me, it tastes similar to the only other candy in this world that I dislike, Candy Corn. Dislike is too mild of a word. I truly hate the stuff (and can’t for the life of me figure out why it’s called corn). Anyway, the Turkish Delight is for friends, as I’m hoping they enjoy it more than me. It turns out they don’t and, when we look at the ingredients, we like it even less (what the hell is soapwood and why, of why, would it be in candy?).

For lack of anything else to do I wander over to my gate. Going through security I note the subtle differences between U.S. airport security and Kuwaiti security (and German as a matter of fact). In the U.S. you take off your shoes and leave your iPad and Kindle in your bag. In Kuwait and Germany your shoes stay on but the iPad and Kindle come out. Strange.

As I continue my people watching I note that there seem to be very few women traveling on their own. I am not judging at all, just noticing. In Kuwait (as well as many European airports) you wait outside in the main hallway until about 45 minutes before your flight when you are allowed to enter the boarding area. I strike up a nice conversation with the flight crew who think my 49 hours in Kuwait is ridiculous. Yeh, that’s right, I’m a professional. Don’t try this at home (uh, I guess that would be impossible).

Before long we board our flight to Frankfurt. I have a window seat with the two seats next to me vacant. Yes, my plan has worked. I reserved this seat online noting that, at least at that moment, those seats were not assigned. Yes, seat strategy is my specialty. I catch a little nap and awake 45 minutes before landing in Frankfurt.

I grab an incredible breakfast of fruit and yogurt (why does breakfast in Europe always Breakfasttaste so good?) and take a look around the duty-free store. I really want to by that bottle of fine Scotch but I’ve come carry-on and the U.S. airports will not appreciate my excess liquid (I consider whether I might be able to drink it before arriving in the U.S. but that would be a terrible waste of perfectly good scotch).

I head on over to my gate and board my flight. As I walk back to my seat I look ahead and see what appears to be a family taking up all of the seats in my assigned row. When I approach to claim my seat the man stands and says that the airline has seated him separate from his family and he would like my seat. Okay, here’s the deal – I try really hard to be a nice person. I really do. I tell him I would be happy to switch seats with him if one of his assigned seats includes a window (I’m a leaner and sleeper and, with 15 more hours of flying ahead of me, I have my Ambien at the ready). He looks at me and, quite rudely says, “Of course I do!” Then he turns his back on me. Hhhmmmmm, not sure what to make of this. With great attitude I sneer at him and respond, “Hey, I’m trying to help you.” Sorry sir, you have been voted out of my seat. I give him my best flared nostril, evil eye look, take my seat and start to nest. His wife and son remain seated in the middle and aisle seats. He remains standing for a while seemingly undecided about what to do next. He eventually takes his seat in a middle seat in the middle section (seriously, this is the seat he wanted to trade me for? I’m nice, just not that nice).

Kids on AirplanesThe rest of the flight is – how shall I put it – HELL! It’s like his 3-year-old son works as a hit man for his father and decided that I will pay for the injustice I delivered upon his father. Each time I get near a peaceful sleep the kid throws pretzels and matchbox cars at me. He then proceeds to kick me or simply puts his hand on my shoulder, enough to imply, “Hey lady, wake up.” At one point he is laying with his head across his mother’s lap and his feet across my lap. Fully stretched out. Please understand that I work with children and understand the difficulty of traveling with them. I am very understanding as long as I see or hear the parent making an effort to teach them good behavior. There was no effort. And oh, mom doesn’t speak English. There was no apparent effort in any language.

At some point I notice a smell that I often smell in the nursery at work. Ah, the unmistakable smell of poop. I wait for the smell to waft on over to mom. She must have an idea this would be coming as we’ve been on the plane for 5 hours and she has not checked him once. I wiggle my nose and sniff, hoping she’ll take the hint. Nothing. Are you kidding me? After a good half hour I speak up and, through sign language, I tell her she might want to check his diaper. She checks and, what do you know, Poop Central! At this point I wait for her to ask me to take him and change him as she has seemingly done nothing to take care of him the entire flight.

Eventually (and it’s a long eventually) we land in Houston. I go to take a sip of my bottled water which, due to the change in air pressure, promptly explodes in my face (again, don’t try this at home. I am a professional traveler). I never thought I’d be happy to be in Houston (sorry Texas, I’m not a Houston fan). Dad thanks me for my understanding during the flight. Uh, sorry? I believe I was trapped on an airplane and had no choice. I deplane and grab some good old American barbecue. One more flight and it’s home to my presumably dead battery and potentially flooded kitchen.

I board the plane and take my aisle seat (couldn’t snag a window for this one but, after 26 hours of travel I’ll survive 2 hours in an aisle seat). I stow my bags and before long the lady sitting at the window seat is approached by the man whose seat it really is (yup, she tried the whole seat stealing thing like the guy on the last flight). She moves over to the middle seat next to me and places one bag under the seat in front of her and puts her other (very large) bag next to that in front of her feet. This is not a purse, but a full size carry-on. I take note hoping she’ll be moving this. That’s when I notice something strange. This woman is drunk, on drugs, crazy or all three. She is talking loudly to everybody about completely random stuff. She takes out a rubber band and begins to play, what looks like a game with it. She is not simply playing with the rubber band, but seems to be putting a lot of thought into it.

Excess Baggage

Sure this will fit under the seat

As the flight attendant announces that we are ready for take-off, crazy lady makes no effort to move her bag. Being someone who travels for a living, this kind of thing bugs me. For God’s sake people, stop acting like rebellious teenagers and turn off your electronics, put your seat-backs in an upright position, store your tray table and your luggage! I politely ask her to put her bag in the overhead compartment. Her response, “Don’t mess with me!” Crap! Crazy lady, party of one! She continues, “What’s it to you?” “Nothing,” I respond, “but it may be to the man sitting in the window seat should there be an emergency and he can’t get out.” Luckily, the flight attendant passes by, overhears the conversation and insists the lady put her bag in the  overhead. Yeh, Fly Girl has my back. After 26 hours traveling I am in no mood and I turn to the lady and say simply, “Don’t mess with me.”

Two hours later I arrive in Phoenix happy to be there. Even better, I get to my car and, lo and behold, I did shut off that stupid light and my car starts up fine. Yay!!!

After sending out thank you E-mails to all who spent time with me this trip I receive word from the Operations Manager that I was apparently too impressive. The company feels that the job in question may be below my current level. He mentions that the VP of Leisure and Entertainment would like to know if I might be interested in their Moscow location which is due to open next year. My response is a resounding, “Da!” So, I will head on back to my ship soon and wait to discuss Russia. They have vodka there!!! Just saying. . .

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Hello, I Must Be Going

15 Oct

Hello friends. As you know, I work on board a cruise ship and, although I am in the Entertainment Department, I don’t find it a very creative place. That, combined with the 70+ hours per week that I work and the slow and expensive internet (don’t get me started) and, well, you can usually tell when I’m on vacation because that’s when I look at the world in a more snarky way and decide to share it with you. So welcome to my vacation (hoping you’re buying the drinks).

For the past three months I pretty much lived every Phoenician’s dream. I fled the burning furnace that is Phoenix in the summer to spend time in Alaska. Most people who work on ships like to go to the Caribbean so they can use their Facebook status as a tool to make their friends at home jealous by sharing photos of themselves on a beautiful beach and bragging about the 85 degree temperature in the middle of February. I enjoy taking photos of snow-capped mountains on rainy days and bragging about the 55 degree weather. To each his own.

Tracy Arm

The adventures were also fabulous. Hiking up a mountain and running into a bear is much more exciting than walking on the beach and running into a lady who wants to braid my hair (Really? I have no desire to have a bead chip my tooth every time I turn my head too quickly). Whales? Yep, hung out with them.

What’s the difference between and Orca and a Bear? about 200 feet.

Glaciers? With all that ice falling you’d think they’d be fine with me collecting just a bit for my margarita (not so much). 

Then more bears, this time three of them crossing the road (assuming they did it for the same reason the chicken did). 

After a summer of adventure and trying to make people happy (vacationers as well as my staff and bosses), I need a bit of a rest. So, after four days of rest, I’m sitting on an airplane headed to Kuwait . . . wait what????!!! Let me explain.

After my last vacation I decided that I wanted to move to England (by the way, if you haven’t read about that adventure you can start at “On a Wing and a Prayer”). So, I began following some UK job websites on Twitter and nosing around the internet. I applied for a few jobs explaining that, while I don’t currently hold a visa to work there, I would have no trouble obtaining one due to my lack of any criminal record (I’m pretty sure that fell off by now). Still, it seems that most companies want me to get that pesky visa before they’ll hire me. I also saw an ad for a House Manager for the Queen. As I had just recently walked up her front walk and spent some time on her lawn I was sure she’d remember me. I completed the application (formality, of course she’ll want me!) and waited for her invitation to tea. Not only did I not receive an invitation to tea, but I received a rejection E-mail. Is it possible she doesn’t remember me? Or perhaps she does.

So, while I was busy working at my job cruising Alaska while looking for a job in England, others seemed have different ideas. I received an E-mail from a company based in Kuwait letting me know of their interest in me and requesting my C/V (that’s a resume for all of you Americans). I forwarded it as, you never know, they may be friends with the Queen. Next thing I know they want to talk to me on the phone. I offer up a choice of times to them as, logistically, this seems like a real challenge. Nine hours’ time difference if we do it while I’m in Seattle, 10 hours if we do it from Alaska, we’re not in port very long and it’s way too expensive calling from the ship. Logistical nightmare. With the call time agreed upon I wait for my phone to ring. Nothing. It turns out I wasn’t the only one confused. They got their time conversion wrong. Try number two resulted in a 90 minute phone call between Ketchikan, Alaska and Kuwait City.

Next thing I know I’m shortlisted and they want me to fly out. As I was in the middle of a contract and the only person on board who does my job, my current employers were not so keen on me taking a few days off to fly to Kuwait to go interview with another company. Go figure. Some people are so inflexible.

This brings me to where I sit now. Seat 23B, fighting over the armrest with the kid next to me who doesn’t understand the unwritten rule that, whoever is in the middle seat gets the armrest. The flights add up to 22 hours going there and 28 hours returning. I will be in Kuwait for exactly 49 hours. During that time I will have 4 interviews (one a cultural interview), do 1 presentation and have a tour of Kuwait City. I have come with a carry-on suitcase (which United Airlines threatened to check. Uh, I don’t think so), a Kindle, an iPad (redundant?) and some Ambien. Coming up next, the flights in I’ve Got Baggage.

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

20120615-155648.jpg

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”

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