Thursday, October 26, 2017

Final Thoughts on Our Tour

Some of my random thoughts after traveling around Great Britain:

Weather:  we were prepared for and expected very cool weather and lots of rain. In the end it was rarely too cold. I did wear my jacket over my sweater fairly often, usually when we were in a windy area. We had a fair bit of rain off and on, but it was always light and spotty. The worst day for rain was in Calais, but even that wasn’t unbearable. (And ducking into a cafe for more tea was often welcome.)

Hotels:  Every hotel supplied a kettle and makings for tea in the room. I am a frequent tea drinker, so I especially liked this. I usually made a cup in the afternoon when we returned from our outings, and made it before breakfast for both of us much of the time. (Since Dan makes the chai when we are home, it is only fair that I do it with the tea bags 😉)  Our showers ranged from so tiny that you could barely get inside to large bathtubs (infrequent). We had an en suite bathroom in every place, one of my criteria in booking. I used for a number of places and for others. The Pen Y Gwryd hotel only makes bookings by phone so I called them over Skype. It was easy to make changes on the fly, which we did a couple of times. Several hotels were a bit run-down, but at the prices we paid, they were fine. (Most were under $100 per night.) Our last place in Southampton was found through Air BnB. We wanted to be close to the port, and it definitely was.

Driving:  Dan is experienced and comfortable driving on the left. He did a great job, from one-lane country roads to the big motorways. Our longest driving day was 5 hours, which I believe we did twice. This island is not that huge — we are used to driving up to 10 hours a day in the US. We enjoyed seeing so much gorgeous countryside. We took our Garmin along with a UK chip. It was helpful but not perfect — it got us to the towns, but usually couldn’t find a specific address. I used Google Maps on my phone to narrow down our destination. I also purchased a large atlas online before we left that was extremely useful. In fact, we almost couldn’t have done without it. I was able to follow along and see where we were going next.

Views:  this is a beautiful country, especially the hilly areas (they say mountains, but really they are hills…). Fluffy sheep on the hillsides added to the viewing pleasure. We avoided most cities, preferring the smaller towns and rural areas. We’ve been to London before, so didn’t go there at all except on arrival. I loved the surprises — seeing Stonehenge from the highway on the first day, spotting Arundel Castle on the last day. (The map was helpful in determining what we were seeing; the Garmin wouldn’t have told us much.)

Food:  we have eaten very well. Most places included breakfast, which varied from continental to full English. For the few hotels that didn’t include breakfast we were able to find nearby restaurants that served us well. We enjoyed the availability of porridge in Scotland; it didn’t appear on the menus further south. We had Indian food three or four times, Turkish once, fish and chips several times, meat pies a couple of times, and enjoyed it all! We almost never had more for lunch than a shared scone and tea, or a couple of times soup. A big breakfast and an early dinner sufficed.

Packing:  we packed two large suitcases. One had packing cubes with the clothing we wore along the way. The second held things that we will want more on the cruise portion of the trip, including a few dressier clothes, extra yarn for my knitting projects, swimming suits, etc. We never took the second one out of the car, although a few times I got into it for something. We also each have a backpack with our computer things and other necessaries. When we only had one night in a place, we were able to just take in our backpacks and not deal with the suitcase at all. It worked really well, although I am a bit tired of the five shirts I have worn!

Planning:  I spent a lot of time over an entire year planning this trip. There was much more I would have liked to have seen and done — we missed Shakespeare’s Stratford, the Cotswolds, Skye, the Isle of Wight, and much more. But I think we did a pretty good job of covering the highlights. We made some changes along the way due to weather and unforeseen circumstances. But it all worked out! It was terrific to meet up with several friends along the way — we greatly appreciated the overnights they offered us. Thanks to Pete & Dot, Mike & Betty & Catherine, and Thea. And to Mark & Dorothy, whom we missed due to a death in the family. We are taking a cruise ship to Miami, a so-called repositioning cruise (ship moving from summer in the Baltic to winter in the Caribbean). We’ll be on board for two weeks with stops in Boston, NYC, Bermuda and the Bahamas.

I hope to see you back here at the end of December when we head back to Thailand via Hawaii.

Dover to Portsmouth

We left Dover Wednesday morning and headed west along the coast. Our first stop was the small town of Battle, on the site of the Battle of Hastings in 1066. It was interesting to learn more about the history that we were supposedly taught. I knew enough to remember the year and that the Normans defeated the Anglo-Saxons, but not much more. Look it up on Wikipedia if you are interested in more details!

An abbey was built at the battle site to commemorate the victory and the picture below shows the gatehouse from inside the grounds. There is an active school in one of the main buildings, and that area was off-limits to visitors. The visitors' centre had very good displays and a film. Much of the display was oriented to kids, and there were plenty of them around (half-term holidays). We seem to have met up with lots of school holidays -- two weeks off in Scotland, most of the time we were there.

Up in the tower of the gatehouse building there were more displays. I liked this carved-out seat at the window; there were a number of these.

A narrow circular staircase took us to the top of the tower. (I was grateful that there were two, one going up and the other down; two-way traffic would have been impossible.) This view is looking toward the school on the left and the battlefield area beyond.

Looking the other direction toward the countryside.

We drove on, heading to Portsmouth. We passed the Arundel Castle, which looks magnificent, but didn't stop. I just snapped this from the car.

Our hotel, the Queens Hotel, was right on the seaport in Portsmouth. I had heard of this hotel before and wanted to stay there. It did not disappoint. This was the view through our slightly misty window. There was a huge park or esplanade along the shore. 

We walked a short way and found a wonderful Turkish restaurant. We shared a plate of maze, hummus and yogurt concoctions served with warm pita bread.

I had a nice red lentil soup, which suited me. Dan tried a dish in the menu area "Yogurtlu" called Iskender Lamb. It was tender pieces of lamb layered on bread with sauce and topped with fresh yogurt. It was absolutely delicious (I had to try it).

Thursday morning we headed to Southampton, where we dropped our rental car at the airport. We took a train into the central city and taxi to our Air BnB. Our taxi driver was a friendly Sikh with family roots in Lahore. Our Air BnB is in a penthouse in a converted warehouse right near the docks. We can see the cruise ship ports from our window. We walked downtown for lunch. This picture shows part of the old city walls right next to a super-modern enormous shopping mall.

We might be able to walk to the ship on Saturday morning, although a taxi will probably be a better idea. For the next two weeks we will have limited internet connectivity. I have one more blog post to publish. Thanks for reading along!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A Day in Calais

On Tuesday morning we walked to the ferry terminal, only about 5 minutes from our hotel. We were told to be there an hour early to check in and we soon found out why. Once the foot passengers (not many more than a dozen) were checked in, we were taken by bus across the terminal to our ferry. We were impressed by the various lanes of moving cars and trucks, a complicated dance of unloading and loading. We went through immigration control and security on the UK side. The crossing itself was good, the sea wasn't especially rough. It took about an hour and a half.

When we arrived in Calais, we repeated the process, taking a bus to the terminal and then walking into town. It was about 3/4 mile and the same dozen or so people were walking it. When we finally got into the town, the first thing we saw was this 13th century watchtower, the Tour du Guet. It is on a large open plaza in the middle of the town with shops and restaurants on all four sides. We were disappointed to see that many businesses were closed. Calais did not seem like a very prosperous town at this point.

There was a light misting rain, although it wasn't too cold (about 60° F). We stopped at a brasserie and had tea (me) and wine (Dan) and enjoyed sitting there for a while. But eventually we got up and continued walking. We came to the Parc Richelieu, which was very nice. It included this 2017 statue installation of Churchill and DeGaulle celebrating the French-British collaboration during WW II.

Near the park was the Musee de Beaux Arts and we stopped in. I saw a brochure for a WW II museum and got directions to find it a few blocks away. On the walk over there we got a good view of the town hall.

Unfortunately, when we got to the WW II museum, we found out it is closed on Tuesdays. We sat in the park outside it for a bit and watched this group of African boys getting set up with a game of football (soccer).

We headed back toward the center of town, stopping at a boulangerie/patisserie to try some French pastries. They were indeed good, but the pictures weren't! When we got back to the plaza and up close to the Tour du Guet, we saw that there is another statue of DeGaulle, this time with his wife, who was from Calais. The statue commemorates their wedding, which took place in the town hall.

As the weather continued to be very damp, we stopped again at a brasserie for tea and wine and this time a cheese plate, which was served beautifully.

By this time we were quite tired and not enjoying the weather, so we headed back to the ferry terminal. We were able to get on an earlier ferry than we had planned without any problem. Two family groups that were on our first crossing were also returning early. All in all, we are glad we went and we enjoyed the day in spite of the weather. I was pretty tired after walking more than 7 miles according to my iPhone! Tomorrow we leave Dover and head to Portsmouth.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Dover Castle

We found our hotel easily once we got to Dover. It is right across the road from the English Channel, near the ferry port. We can watch the ferries coming in, going out, loading and unloading constantly. It is quite fascinating. We are at the bottom of the famous white cliffs, one of which is shown below.

At the top of the cliff is the famous Dover Castle. It was founded in the 11th century after the Battle of Hastings and built up by King Henry II in the 13th century. It is quite enormous and was used during both WW I and WW II for several purposes.

This is a view of the castle from afar. You can't miss it!

Once we got parked we got our tickets and went to the underground tunnels. We had a guided tour through the area that was used as a hospital during WW II. It was quite dimly lit and certainly claustrophobic; the doctors and nurses who worked there were definitely heroes. It was mainly used as a triage and emergency centre; patients were moved on as quickly as possible -- the wards only held 12 patients. Below are the stairs that were the way out (our guide offered the lift and several others accepted along with me).

An observation station/small tower is perched right on the edge of the cliff. It was used for communications during both wars. Outside stands one of the three-inch guns from WW I.

This view of the ferry port was taken from the observation station. There are three terminals with ferries coming and going. Later in the day the entire lot was covered with lorries (trucks) waiting to load.

Looking the other way, you can see some of the small town of Dover. There is an enormous apartment block right on the Marine Drive. Just beyond the photo is the cruise ship port (none here at this time). We walked down into this area for dinner both evenings.

Next we climbed the hill to King Henry's tower, the main fort. The rooms are restored to what they were like in the medieval period. This is a bedchamber. There were some re-enactors performing but we didn't see much. It is a school holiday and there were loads of kids everywhere.

The king had his private chapel for worship.

The first night when we walked toward town for dinner, we tried the first restaurant we came to (Table Table), but there was a two-hour wait. We went on and found an Indian restaurant closer to town. Tonight we went back and easily got a table. This is Dan's steak pie with mash and green beans. 

Due to a couple of unplanned changes to our itinerary, we ended up with three nights here instead of the expected two. So tomorrow we are taking the ferry to Calais and will have a day out in France!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Canterbury Cathedral

On Sunday we left our one-night hotel in Rotherham near Sheffield and headed south, going around the east side of London. We got to Canterbury about noon, found a parking place, and walked up the street to see the cathedral. It was awe-inspiring, incredibly beautiful. It is on the site of the earliest Christian entry into England, where Augustine established his abbey. We spent about an hour walking around inside the church. These are just a few of the many photos I took.

The spot where Thomas Becket was murdered in 1170
A candle still burns in his memory nearby

A hallway in the crypt

Looking up into the tower

Stained glass window in the transept

Looking up toward the apse

One of the many graves

A view outside (the front was covered in scaffolding)
We went on to Dover and found our hotel, which is just below the white cliffs, overlooking the English Channel and the very busy ferry port.

Did I Say Scenery?

Our drive around the Lake District turned out a bit longer than we’d planned as the shorter road was closed. But we were glad — it was an incredibly beautiful drive. We stopped at a visitor centre by the Whinlatter Forest Park. There were many people on their way to go hiking or cycling. The road was very curvy, went up and down, and was often very narrow. We had one incredible view after another. At the top of Honister Pass sits a slate factory with a cafe. The shop had lots of interesting things in it. They will customize a slate slab with your house name or number on it — or whatever kind of sign you want. The mine was nearby but we didn’t tour it. The weather was good all day, no rain.

In the evening we went back to the same restaurant, but this time we knew how to order. Here is yet another order of fish and chips with mushy peas. 

Saturday morning we checked out of our B&B and headed southeast. We were on our way to visit our cousin-in-law and her three children. It was a pretty easy drive and we were at her place near Ilkley by noon. After a visit, we all headed to a neighborhood cafe for lunch. The children were well-behaved; even when the 2-year-old was fussy, she did it quietly. It was a wonderful time to be together after too many years.

From Ilkley we kept on heading south and are spending the night near Sheffield. Tomorrow we head to Dover.

Derwentwanter Lake

One of many scenic views

Looking back down the road from the slate factory

Slate animals for sale in the shop

In the evening we went back to the same restaurant, but this time we knew how to order. Here is yet another order of fish and chips with mushy peas. 

Saturday morning we checked out of our B&B and headed southeast. We were on our way to visit our cousin-in-law and her three children. It was a pretty easy drive and we were at her place near Ilkley by noon. After a visit, we all headed to a neighborhood cafe for lunch. The children were well-behaved; even when the 2-year-old was fussing, she did it quietly. It was a wonderful time to be together after too many years.

From Ilkley we kept on heading south and spent the night near Sheffield. Sunday morning we headed to Dover via Canterbury. Poor internet connection in both hotels delayed my posts. It is now Monday and the internet is back up! More coming soon.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Oban and Keswick

We had a good if brief stay in Oban. The town was small enough to walk all around the shops and harbor quite easily. We ate in an Indian/Bangladeshi restaurant for supper and the waiter was very impressed with Dan's Hindi. The view below is of the harbor. It is an active ferry port, the gateway to Iona and Mull and other islands.

On Thursday we drove south again, heading out of Scotland and toward Keswick in the Lake District. The first part of the drive along Loch Lomond was quite narrow, but about halfway it broadened out and was easier driving. Here is a quick view of the loch from the car.

Our B&B in Keswick is right on the main street heading into town. Unfortunately, roadworks are going on and there is a one-way system going on right in front. It makes parking a bit difficult. We decided to drive downtown rather than walk, as it is more than a mile. I saw this restaurant that caught my eye -- it had multiple rooms inside.

We walked around town -- it was market day and there were many stalls selling a wide variety of goods:  food, crafts, clothing, etc. We also found a pharmacy to get some more cold medicine for Dan. The pharmacist at the Boots was extremely helpful, asked about what other meds he was on and recommended a nasal decongestant, which did help him sleep better. After that we went to the restaurant and took a table. No one came for some time, so I read the menu and found out it is all electronic. I downloaded the app onto my phone, gave our table number and placed the order. It wasn't long until our food arrived. It was curry night and I had a sweet potato/chickpea/spinach curry and Dan had lamb rogan josh. It came with naan, rice and papadums (and a free drink but I missed checking the box on the order!).

This morning after breakfast we took a walk up the small street just outside our B&B. There is a stone circle at the top and I'd wanted to see one. It was about a mile going steadily uphill. We passed a farm that had chickens and ducks and geese. These were walking in a group across the yard.

The fencerow along this road was an old stone wall.

At the top of the hill the stone circle stood across a plain field of grass. It was quite wet, but fortunately the grass was short.

Here's a closer view of the stones. On the left was an outlined area called the sanctuary. The stones weren't very tall, but it was impressive.

After a brief rest, we will head out to do a scenic drive around some of the lakes. There was a low heavy cloud cover this morning after rain in the night, but it appears to be lifting.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Scenery, scenery, scenery

We left our fine small B&B in Inverness after breakfast and headed south toward Oban. The first half of the drive was along the west side of Loch Ness (no monsters visible). We stopped briefly at the Loch Ness visitors center, but didn't go through the exhibition (we really aren't that much into mythical sea monsters...). Our next stop was the Caledonian Canals near Fort Augustus. We were fortunate enough to be there when a boat was passing through and were able to watch the locks fill and the gates open. We took a small side trip off our main road into Glencoe and went to the visitors center there. It was oriented to nature, with guided walks and other activities available. There was a lookout point but it wasn't that much more scenic that what we saw from the road. We came into Oban and found our hotel and a parking spot. Dan is taking a tour of the local distillery and I'll meet him in the town when it is over.

Driving along the road there were amazing vistas all the way. Here is just one I caught out of the window.

Loch Ness is very long and the road hugs the side for most of the way. It was quite lovely.

The boat that was going through the locks. It was really interesting to watch the lock fill up and the gates open and close.

Looking toward the upper lock, you can just see a large boat waiting its turn on the far right in this photo. It would be possible for two smaller boats to go at the same time if they were coordinated.

Another view through the windshield. The clouds were amazing. They kept changing and sunlight kept peeking through. You can even see a bit of blue on the far right. The tops of the mountains were shrouded in mist.

This burn, or creek as I would call it, was at the Glencoe visitors centre. A nice bubbling brook.