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I Love New York!

This is not my usual post, as it’s really a hiking trip down Memory Lane… before 9/11, back in the 90’s. Now time’s passing by so quickly, I can’t seem to get a handle on Christmas before the Fourth of July turns up. Anyway, it’s nice to look back on these two really fun trips – and I do love New York….such an incredible city, now and always.

Skyline

1995
I’ve been to New York to spend some time twice in my life (not counting flights through Newark to England and other ports of call.) And that includes some time spent in New York State…which happens to be just beautiful. My first visit encompassed both a shopping trip into the city, and a hot air balloon ride over the Green Mountains –  absolutely magical.

Arlene booked us in for the balloon ride, so we drove to a field in the countryside where the balloon was being “gassed up.”

Waiting for the hot air balloon to fill

Waiting for the hot air balloon to fill

The day was just about perfect…the skies clear, with little or no wind.

Ro waiting for balloon...intrepid! ha!

Once the balloon was almost filled with gas, four of us climbed into the (very small) basket, and in short order, we were off. Because of the lack of wind, we didn’t really swing from side to side, but nonetheless, my knuckles grasping the sides of the basket were white, the higher we climbed. We made it to about 2,000 feet and the countryside spread below us like a patchwork quilt, all shades of green, everything so sharply etched, so you could even see a small black cat snoozing on gravel below.

I think we were up and drifting for about half an hour, then we gently began our descent into a small valley, with a miniscule white church at the far end. By this time dusk was settling in. Just a few twinkling stars lit up the sky. Lower and lower we came – and faster – I was afraid we’d bump into the trees, but we missed that little problem, and landed. As we came to a halt and the balloon dragged across the grass, the doors to the church opened and a mass of small children ran out into the field to see if the Wizard of Oz had landed! Magic!

We ended up drinking champagne and eating cheese nibbles as the sun went down. Despite my fear of heights, it was an incredible experience.

The next couple of days were spent just driving around the countryside, with a day spent on Fifth Avenue shopping, and a trip to Broadway to see “Miss Saigon“. Loved the play – that helicopter scene was intense. The weather held, and it was a lovely lovely time.

Autumn in New York 1998 – On the town
Three years later, it was all New York City… I left Houston on a wet and windy November day – the plane trip was uneventful, but the plane itself was cold, cold, cold. I needed 2 blankets and 2 pillows to be comfortable (and, back then, I didn’t have to pay to “rent” them). I arrived in Newark after dark, so when we flew over Manhattan- what a beautiful sight: a blanket of multi-colored jewels of lights as far as the eye could see, for miles and miles to the horizon- all massed in varying patterns and ribbons of moving color, with an inky-violet sky behind all.

The luggage came in fast, and I zoomed thru the airport to the pickup area where Arlene was waiting … Well, I’m here! We whooshed back to Ramsey, New Jersey for a good night’s sleep…

The first thing I wanted to do when we got to New York was visit The Cloisters.

Ro on the beautiful Cloisters pathway

Ro on the beautiful Cloisters pathway – talk about Autumn in New York!

The very next next day, we made our merry way to Manhattan, after a brief breakfast of coffee and scones (yum). The maples were still in living color- reds and golds everywhere. I’m so glad l got to see them before the leaves dropped from the trees.

The Cloisters is magnificent. A part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it is an “ensemble of rooms and gardens” compiled from various parts of European monasteries, and built to house a wonderful collection of medieval art, from the 1100’s thru the 1500’s. Beautiful, beautiful. The walls, constructed from old monastery stones, are at least 4 feet thick. The rooms house carvings, paintings, statues, sarcophagi, chalices, and other beautiful things such as cloaks, ivory pieces, goblets and a set of oval playing cards from the 13th or 14th century. St. Juliana was represented by a mask carved over her skull – with the skull still in the mask. A reliquary of an arm – in brass – had two small “windows” cut in it to show the arm bones of the saint!

At The Cloisters

The view of the Hudson River from the ramparts of The Cloisters is spectacular.

A view from the ramparts

From the ramparts we watched…

You can see for miles, because The Cloisters is actually on cliffs overlooking the Hudson. Cobblestone paths lead from various entryways to main roads. The gardens house all sorts of herbs and flowers, most of which, of course, were not in bloom at this time of year. The day was gray and cloudy, but not too windy… actually, it was perfect weather for this particular adventure!

Lene just outside The Cloisters on an overcast November day

Lene just outside The Cloisters on an overcast November day

Always Shopping!

Always shopping til we drop, no matter where we are! We finished touring The Cloisters top to bottom, then drove to The Plaza and checked our car in with Fernando, our super-nice doorman.

Fernando at The Plaza

Fernando at The Plaza

We then found the front desk, got our key, and moseyed up to our corner room at the far end of the hall. The room is nice: two double beds, big window, fireplace facing the beds, wonderful big – echoing – bathroom, huge closet, big armoire housing a huge tv, and best of all, lots of alcohol & food in the mini fridge! We immediately made ourselves Bloody Marys, and opened the nuts, cheese, and chips! and then noticed that the draperies exactly matched Lene’s robe.

After which, we cleaned ourselves up, and rambled down to The Plaza’s Oyster Bar, very New York, leather chairs, booths, dimly lit, great food; Oysters Rockefeller and smoked salmon – yum-o!

Taxis everywhere...but try flagging one down!

Taxis everywhere…but try flagging one down!

After dinner, we took a cab to Grand Central Station, where we walked around for an hour or so. It is glorious: cavernous, with soaring arched ceilings, chandeliers, huge glass windows front and back. The ceiling is etched with friezes of the various constellations, with little twinkling stars of light interposed throughout.

We looked over the subways in case we wanted to take one to Greenwich Village later, then walked to the Nederlander Theater (built in 1921), where we saw “Rent“, which at first I wasn’t sure I would like- so loud! Based on “La Boheme“, all of the characters (or most) have AIDS or the HIV virus, and are dying…  I began to appreciate it much more by the second act; in the first case, I began to better understand it! Powerful and affecting, it is more emotionally engaging by the time Angel starts to “die”. The cast stayed on stage after the performance and asked the donations for the homeless HIV- and AIDS-positive. So… pretty poignant.

A funny thing happened after the play. Lene and I went into the bathroom, and about 15 women crowded in, putting on lipstick, etc…. and every single one of them was dressed in black! Not a color to be seen. So New York!

Then- great adventure – we walked from 4th street down Broadway (at 11 at night) past Times Square with all the huge lit-up advertising signs- to 58th Street, then back down 5th Avenue to Central Park and The Plaza… about 25 city blocks, I think. What a walk. No taxis were available- it’s just about impossible to get a taxi in New York unless you get with a doorman, or stand at a taxi stand. The streets were jammed with people- all sorts – absolutely packed (you’d never see this in downtown Houston, unless it’s 5PM and they’re waiting for the buses home).

Some absolutely beautiful women and gorgeous men here, wearing all sorts of different outfits, but these outfits are all…black! Skinny pants for women are definitely in; black leather jackets, pea coats – I love all this stuff.

The other side of New York is the homeless. They are everywhere…it is shattering. When we got to 58th Street, there’s a sort of overhang, and under it were all the homeless carts in a row. So hard to take in.

In direct contrast, the horses and carriages were all out and driving around Central Park. We passed some wonderful-looking New York bars- very Breakfast at Tiffany’s type hangouts-all dark wood, leather, and dim lights. Men and women in cocktail clothes (black), smoking and sipping – whatever! We also passed apartment high rises, with uniformed doormen opening limo doors, etc. Many of the apartments had their curtains open, and you could see high­ ceilinged rooms, elegantly furnished with deep dark furniture, lit with diamond-bright twinkling chandeliers. The whole experience is a view into another world.

Midnight feast

Finally, we found our home away from home – The Plaza. The first thing I did when we walked in was order room service! We ordered hot chocolate, a bagel and cream cheese, fresh strawberries, hot tea, and croissants. We didn’t need any menu – I just asked, and they said “Of course, Miss Dunn!” and “Certainly, Miss Dunn” (I could get used to this.) Anyway, in short order, up came the fabulous food -fresh strawberries with a big bowl of whipped cream, chocolate and tea in tall silver pots, small pots of fresh jam, marmalade, honey and butter, and a hot sliced bagel with cream cheese- $40.00 plus tip!

It was wonderful. Here we were at 12 midnight (or later) sipping tea and hot chocolate and eating strawberries and cream. Oh, I love New York! (Of course, we could have bypassed eating and just applied the food to our hips…but…oh well.)

Funny- I’m not even tired, and it’s 1:30 in the morning. Arlene is fast asleep, so I guess I should be too. I’ll read for a bit, then- to sleep, perchance…etc. and so forth!

Saturday morning….New York –I hate to repeat myself- is wonderful: I could live here, I think but sometimes I’m not so sure: it is so frenetic. The energy level is intense at all hours. It doesn’t matter if it’s 6 in the morning or 12 at night. The shops are open, the people are coming and going, the doormen are whistling, whistling, whistling for the taxis that are always full. It’s amazing.

Last night at 1:30 AM, I finally turned out the light to go to sleep. Suddenly – outside in the street, it sounded like they were reconstructing New York. Breaking glass being bundled, brushed, crashed, bashed, shoved, collected, pushed and dumped. Sounds of trucks and semis moving and hauling…the noise was intense. I finally crashed myself, and woke up on Saturday sometime between 11 and 12.

New York has fascinating people: just a terrific amalgam of all and every kind. You see these elegant old ladies, beautifully dressed in little suits and high heels, just-done hair. They seemed to always be walking around in pairs…this will be Arlene and me in 20 years! Lots of Asians, Jews in yarmulkes, African-Americans, Germans. Heard accents from England, Australia, Germany, Japan among others. Some marvelous – I mean really good looking men – tall, slender and gorgeous, with dark hair and eyes… the John Kennedy Jr. type abounds in New York. With equally glorious-looking women- almost always blonde, slender, and tall, tall, tall.

As previously noted, everyone wears black. I mean, to see anyone dressed in a color here is to be shocked… shocked! The uniforms for women seem to be: black pantsuit; or long black skirt, black hose, black jacket; or short black skirt, thick black hose, black jacket; or tight fitting princess style black coat; or black leather jacket with everything. And black short boots. Very cool.

Off to shop.

Bloomingdales

After a satisfying couple of hours at a couple of boutiques, we toddled off to Bloomingdale’s, which happened to be across the street. Unfortunately, we didn’t see it. So managed to spend 30 minutes searching for it – we are so directionally impaired! Bloomingdale’s was a madhouse (what else is new) – it makes Houston’s Galleria look like an empty cave. People, people and more people -wall to wall people and very hot clothes.

We shopped Floor 3: Designer Sportswear. Lene bought a white sweater, and I bought a pair of gray flannel Ralph cargo pants, a DKNY short sleeved black turtleneck, and a white Ralph t-shirt.

Our sales assistant was named Gloria. I loved her: Hennaed hair, about 65 years old (maybe older), and fairly small-a typical New Yorker, born and bred, and funny as hell “Let me see ya in that sweater, honey I’m waiting out here – let me see it – is it on yet?”

Me: “I’m trying on the cargo pants, Gloria.” Gloria: “Oh, yes, those look good – no, honey, you don’t want to get them tailored here- too expensive. Ya know what I do, take them to my cleaners, tell them what to do, pay ’em a few dollars- there you are: so much cheaper than here… plus, you have to pay the shipping!”

Gloria: “I’m still waiting to see the sweater.” Me: “Well, give me a minute to get it on –  the sleeves are too long.” Gloria: “Now let me tell you what you do: everyone does it we turn up the sleeves like so, therehow’s that look?” Me: “Let me think about it.”

Gloria: “You do that honey!”

Outside Bloomingdales We finally left Bloomingdales, picked up our clothes (on hold) from various other shops and walked back to the Plaza. We changed clothes and grabbed a cab (via our wonderful doorman) to Tavern on the Green – only to find out we needed a reservation to eat there. So we walked upstairs to the adorable little bar and had Bloody Marys. The bar is dark, with (I think) dark green walls, banquettes, duck plaques, an oak bar, and as usual- fascinating-looking people all having drinks, smoking and talking it up.

After drinks, we took a taxi (strangely available) to the Empire State Building. The lines for this are miles long- masses of people, and by this time it’s dark, but we persevere. “You got a 40 minute wait.” Okay by us.

We finally get an elevator to the 86th floor. You don’t go up to the 102nd – 86 is the observation deck. We walk outside onto the deck, and it is bitterly cold. But you can see east, west, north and south- and at night, the view is spectacular. And I mean spectacular. The lights stretch in endless patterns endlessly to the sea or just distant parts of New York. You see the Hudson River, all the bridges of New York, the Chrysler Building looking like a Christmas tree of arced lights, the World Trade Center, and more, more, more. Everything is lit, and ribbons of lights move endlessly with the traffic patterns. The lights are sometimes massed, sometimes spread out. It’s magical. Overheard: “I know it’s ridiculous, but when I’m sitting up here and looking out, I feel New York belongs to me.” (Corny, but true.)

After all this, we had about 45 minutes to find a place to eat before we had to get to the play, so we took a cab to the Minskoff Theatre, picked up our tickets, then ran across the street to Lindy’s, a little landmark deli with the best sandwich I ever put in my mouth, a Sid Caesar (all the sandwiches are named after old-time comedians). A Sid Caesar is hot pastrami and corn beef on rye with Russian dressing – and it’s almost as tall as the Empire State Building! Lene had a Charlie Chaplin- not sure what that was, but it came on toast. We both had beers. We had 10 minutes to wolf down two bites of sandwich, and 3 gulps of beer, then we had to whip out of there and dash across the street to get to the theatre on time! (I have to say, I hated to leave that sandwich.. .it was the only food we’d had all day since breakfast!)

Well… La di dah, la di dah.

The musical was “The Scarlet Pimpernel” (otherwise known, in the play, as Pimpy). And it was delightful and funny and sweet. The actors had wonderful voices, terrific personalities, and the sets were unbelievable: of the guillotine (in action), La Bastille, aboard the ship, in a carriage that rocked as if it were really drawn by horses, in the manor, at a ball, in the rose garden… it was all terrific. The sets moved back, forward, up, down, and under. Fantastic! Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the show.

And speaking of beautiful people (again): seated right next to us was one of the best looking couples I’ve ever seen in my life. She: tall, extremely slender, straight shoulder length (or longer) blonde hair, a figure to die for, and a very sweet smile. Dressed in dark brown/camel pants and top (hey, no black here.). He: dark brown hair, taller than she, slender, dressed in a dark suit, friendly- and good-good looking. I told Arlene if I was 20, I’d slit my wrists, but since I’m a tiny bit older than that (ha), I can enjoy it- I think!

Taxis galore

After the play, we- along with hordes of New Yorkers – streamed through the streets looking for a taxi. Here’s an amazing thing: there’s never an empty taxi. At one point, I actually ran out into the street banging on one’s door… but he wouldn’t take us. Taxis can only pick people up at designated areas now (such as street comers… not in the middle of the road.) So we walked across the street to the taxi stand at the Marriott, which had about 10 people waiting, and waiting… and we joined the merry throng. By the time we got our taxi, there were about 50-60 people in line.

Horses, joggers, tourists  Police cars with sirens were blasting (good old NYPD Blue). The streets were humming with people and cars and taxis, – and we were humming along there with them in our taxi. Taxi drivers in New York don’t believe in the words “slow and steady“; nor do they believe they’re on the streets of New York: obviously they think they’re at Le Mans. Zooming is not too strong a word for what we were doing thru the streets of New York that night! But the energy level was unbelievable.

We arrived at The Plaza – and a long line waiting for the elevators. So we decided to walk up the stairs to our floor under the auspices of a very nice (although initially suspicious) security guard. All of the people here are so very nice, from the saleswomen at the Banana Republic and Bloomingdale’s to the doormen at the Plaza, to the waiters and just people in the street.

Back in our room, we again! ordered room service. Me: bagels and cream cheese, strawberries and cream, and hot chocolate. Lene, tiramisu (which I had a hard time pronouncing to the room service attendant at that time of night: “I’m sorry ma’am… we don’t have that! Oh… what was that again?” Arlene: “I wondered what you were attempting to order!”) and hot tea. Quel spread!

And now Arlene is sleeping the sleep of the just, the recycling trucks (as I found out they were) are outside on the street loading 5 million tons of glass into various carriers, and I’ve got hand cramp. But I’m in New York! Anyway, I’ll stop here and read for a while, then ….to sleep!

Sunday: These past two days have been hot and sunny and bright – unbelievably unseasonable weather for New York in November. Are we lucky or what?

We had a wakeup call at 9AM, so we could get up, shower, pack and check out, with enough time to eat lunch at the Algonquin Hotel (which I loved…what else is new).

We ordered a Continental breakfast again, which came with hot coffee, fresh orange juice, croissants and English muffins. For some reason, I wasn’t that hungry, so only ate a muffin and had one cup of coffee. Unusual for me. One really nice thing, among many: the coffee was always piping hot and really good. No lukewarm stuff for us! The sweet little bellhop then came and got our bags and held the elevator for us as we – unknowing – slowly sauntered down the hall. Then we picked up our car and took off for the Algonquin.

Goodbye, lovely Plaza.

Atlas Shrugged

Atlas Shrugged

It took us about 20 minutes to get to the Algonquin, which had been refurbished and was so old New York, I could’ve cried. We arrived before noon; not too many people were in the hotel dining room – only two or three couples, all dressed for Sunday brunch.

It’s dim inside. Dark paneling, half-way up the wall; then wallpapered to the ceiling. Fleur-de-lis pattern on the wall-to wall carpeting. The round table where Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley et al met to eat, drink and be merry, was right there in the middle of the lobby/cum/dining room. The lobby actually segues into the dining room; the round table was placed between one and the other.

To get to the bathroom, I walked down a narrow, winding, low-ceilinged little staircase to the basement. Floor, walls, ceiling of the bathroom were totally refinished in white marble. The staircase was marble, the staircase wall covered in green-painted narrow paneling.

We sat at a comer table (round) in two wine-red velvet wing chairs- which were rather low to the ground. As we sat gingerly lowered ourselves, our chins almost hit the table. Seating was all velvet chairs (green or deep red) of different styles – wing, club or whatever – or small sofas. Everything was hushed and mustily elegant.  I loved it! Arlene had a shrimp salad and I had pastrami on rye (had to, I’m in New York).

It was exactly as I thought it would be – still living in the past. Charming and gently faded and genteel, it was like stepping through a door into another world.
So we ate, and finally, back in the car to the airport, with a short side trip to see Lene’s clinic in Clifton. I was thinking as we were walking around – how long ago it seemed when Arlene and I bought matching brown jumpers and ran around Houston’s Old Market Square, both married and both so young (it was the 70s).

On the way out of Clifton, we suddenly found ourselves in an avenue of over-arching maples, all yellow-leafed, with the road carpeted in yellow leaves. The sun hit the trees as we entered the avenue, and suddenly we were driving through a tunnel of shining gold.

Lene in Ramsey NJ

Lene in Ramsey NJ

Then on to Newark Airport – and goodbye New York: auvoir to you!

England and Wales – Where to go, what to do

Updated January 11, 2021. Check out www.carpediemrosemary.com for complete texts & photographic hikes through England and Wales, including the Isle of Wight. 

Lands End signpost

ENGLAND

London & around

  1. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub – the oldest pub, and the meeting place for everyone from Johnson to Shakespeare –  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ye_Olde_Cheshire_Cheese
  2. Cliveden House www.clivedenhouse.co.uk  – overlooks the Thames, and was once the home of the Waldorf Astors, and the backdrop for the Profumo Affair (1960’s). It’s now a grand hotel.
  3. Hampton Court – Henry VIII – http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=hampton+court+henry+viii&qpvt=hampton+court+henry+viii&FORM=IGRE
  4. 84 Charing Cross Road – the address for an old bookstore that was the subject of a best selling and still loved book by that same name. Also a movie with Anthony Hopkins and Anne Bancroft – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/84_Charing_Cross_Road_(film)
  5. Eton, Oxford, Cambridge, Windsor Castle – you can actually book rooms at Oxford during the summer months – http://www.oxfordrooms.co.uk/
  6. The playing fields of Eton – “The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.” Read more at http://www.broowaha.com/articles/12644/the-playing-fields-of-eton-#bdmA6gJu9qx9J7K8.99
  7. Balliol College (literary home of Lord Peter Wimsey)
  8. Bloomsbury (Virginia Woolfe)
  9. Wimpole Street (Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning – poets)
  10. Trafalgar Square

The Isle of Wight

  1. Yelf’s Hotel, Ryde – an absolutely adorable 4 story hotel – if you get the room on the fourth floor (and no elevator!) you’ll have the most marvelous view to the sea! England 2018 985
  2. Ferry from Portsmouth to Ryde – runs every 15 minutes – and they held it for me as I was buying a ticket!
  3. Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s summer cottage! England 2018 1043
  4. The Crab & Lobster pub, Bembridge  England 2018 1093
  5. Shanklin, with the beautiful church and wychgate England 2018 1104
  6. Quarr Abbey and Farm – besides the beautiful Abbey, the grounds are incredible, with old stone buildings and cottages, woods, farm animals, a little shop and tearoom…you can roam for hours. 20180911_150929

The Cotswolds

You can hire guides who will take you around the small villages and towns of the Cotswolds, which is a good way to see everything you want to, without getting lost!

A guide is one of the best investments you can make to really see the Cotswolds

A guide is one of the best investments you can make to really see the Cotswolds

  1. The Cotswolds – http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=The+Cotswolds+landmarks&qpvt=The+Cotswolds+landmarks&FORM=IGRE
  2. The Cotswolds Way National Trail – http://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/Cotswold/
  3. Broadway (Horse & Hounds restaurant, The Swan, Lowerfield Farm B&B)
  4. Snowshill – Bridget Jones’s Diary filmed here
  5. Sheepscombe House B&B in Snowshill (I spent several days here) http://www.broadway-cotswolds.co.uk/sheepscombe.html
  6. The gardens at Snowshill Manor http://www.gardenvisit.com/garden/snowshill_manor_garden/ 
  7. Daylesford Organic Farm (organic shopping/clothes – gorgeous) http://www.daylesfordorganic.com/engine/shop/page/our+shops
  8. Bibury  (The Swan Hotel)
  9. Burford
  10. Chipping Camden, Stanton, Stanway, Buckland, Laverton
  11. The Broadway Tower, located on Broadway Hill, near the village of Broadway.
  12. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broadway_Tower
  13. Upper and Lower Slaughter(s), Naunton, Stanton (one of my favorite villages), Fillkin, Bourton-on-Water, Chudleigh  10 ENGLAND 2017 434
  14. Blenheim Palace (Churchill’s birthplace)

The Moors, Dorset

A view of Dartmoor - a wonderful wild place

A view of Dartmoor – a wonderful wild place

  1. Dartmoor National Park – mysterious, rolling moors peopled only by wild ponies – http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=dartmoor+England&qpvt=dartmoor+England&FORM=IGRE
  2. Warren House Inn – at the center of Dartmoor atop a low hill, the only building for miles around http://www.warrenhouseinn.co.uk/
  3. Dorset

Cornwall

  1. Ednovean Farm Luxury B&B, close to Marazion and St Michael’s Mount. This is a storybook B&B, run by Christine and Charles Taylor, accompanied by cats Spud and Louis, and beautiful horses including Danni and Dolly. Five Star, Luxury B&B & Seaside Gardens, Perranuthnoe | Ednovean Farm 
  2. Looe
  3. Polraen House in Looe; a delightful B&B with a wonderful restaurant on-site –  I have stayed here and it is absolutely lovely http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=Polraen+House%2c+Looe%2c+Cornwall%2c+England&qpvt=Polraen+House%2c+Looe%2c+Cornwall%2c+England&FORM=IGRE
  4. Talland Bay, on the Cornish coast
  5. Polperro – a real step back in time – Noughts & Crosses Inn – very old

    Noughts and Crosses Inn, Polperro

    Noughts and Crosses Inn, Polperro

  6. Cornish Coast Path – hiking along this path, goes for miles

    The Cornish Coast

    The Cornish Coast

  7. The Lost Gardens of Heligan http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=the+lost+gardens+of+heligan+mevagissey+uk&qpvt=the+lost+gardens+of+heligan+mevagissey+uk&FORM=IGRE
  8. St Mawes (Tudor castle on the hilltop at the coast)
  9. Truro (the great cathedral) – http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=Truro+England+cathedral&qpvt=Truro+England+cathedral&FORM=IGRE
  10. Fowey (pronounced FOY) on the coast
  11. Polruan, Bodinnick
  12. Mevagissy (way too touristy) – the birthplace of Daphne Du Maurier
  13. Penzance (Pirates of…)
  14. St Michael’s Mount – can be reached from Marazion, by the causeway twice a day, otherwise by fishing boat – http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=St+Michael’s+Mount&qpvt=St+Michael%27s+Mount&FORM=IGRE
  15. Land’s End
  16. Lyme Regis
  17. Perranuthnoe – a tiny tiny old village on the Cornish coast, just down the road from Marazion – http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=Peranuthnoe+England&qpvt=Peranuthnoe+England&FORM=IGRE
  18. Mousehole – http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=mousehole+england+photos&qpvt=mousehole+england+photos&FORM=IGRE
  19. Land’s End
  20. St. Kew

    St Kew Inn

    St Kew Inn

  21. Crackington Haven – up a ways from St. Kew
  22. The Strangles – a wild area on the cliff walk from Crackington Haven with glorious views of the sea
  23. Tintagel (Birthplace of King Arthur) http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=Tintagel+England&qpvt=Tintagel+England&FORM=IGRE
  24. Boscastle
  25. Bude

Somerset

1.       Glastonbury – King Arthur and Camelot http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glastonbury

Wiltshire

  1. Stoke Farm (or Manor) in Broad Chalke (lovely B&B) – http://www.stokemanor.co.uk/
  2. Village of Lacock – 15th century, owned by the National Trust http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=lacock+england&qpvt=lacock+england&FORM=IGRE
  3. Lacock Abbey
  4. The Sign of the Angel – an very old inn in the tiny heart of Lacock (inhabited by a ghost)
  5. The George Pub – sit here and watch comings & goings through its old windows
  6. Castle Combe – one of Wiltshire’s loveliest villages – http://castle-combe.com/
  7. Old Sarum and the “old” Salisbury Cathedral remains
  8. Stonehenge

Worcestershire and Herefordshire

  1. Hay-on-Wye (otherwise known as “Full-of-Books”) http://www.hay-on-wye.co.uk/
  2. The Great Malverns
  3. The town of Malvern (and The Red Lion Pub)
  4. Cowleigh Park Farm – 400 year old farmhouse, absolutely delightful proprietors http://www.malvernbandbconsortium.co.uk/cowleigh-park-farm.html

WALES – THE BORDERS AND INTO WALES

  1. The Brecon Beacons – wild and lonely, sheep and wild horses – on the border of England and Wales
  2. The Wye Valley
  3. Tintern Abbey (in the Wye Valley) http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=Tintern+Abbey&qpvt=Tintern+Abbey&FORM=IGRE
  4. On the coast: Swansea
  5. On the coast: The Mumbles (I lived in The Mumbles as a child)
  6. Langland Bay
  7. Bracelet Bay

Days of Wine and Roses – from the Cotswolds to The Kensington Hotel – Chapter 7

Days of Wine and Roses – from the Cotswolds to The Kensington Hotel – Chapter 7

Friday, September 1…As the days dwindle down to a precious few, it’s really remarkable how slowly time has passed, and how fulfilling each day spent in England has been. From Cornwall to the Cotswolds, there hasn’t been a day that wasn’t fully pleasurable, from the moment we each awoke to the glorious weather, to every view, village, country lane and stile. Lucky us!

On this morning, I was able to meet Old Orchard’s gardener who took such incredible care of its grounds. Mike has been a gardener for some thirty odd years, is self taught, and has a myriad of exquisite landscapes he handles for various clients. Old Orchard was testament to his painstaking care, as a more beautiful garden I have yet to see. Of course, Mike had nothing to do with the grazing sheep in the adjoining field! But every time I see photographs long after returning to the U.S., I’ll remember Mike and Old Orchard and the beauty of flower, fruit, bush and tree – how everything came together to form this truly exquisite English country garden. .

David and I made ourselves sandwiches for lunch, pottered about, and then strolled back to Broadway where we continued the search for “something lavender” for his friends back home. Mid-afternoon, we stopped in the Swan for our half pints of Ubu, and then wended our way to Budgen’s for such items as gooseberry yoghurt…yum!

A restaurant in Broadway called Russell’s was known for its delicious menu, and its side café offered fish and chips, which we decided was necessary fuel for the rest of the day. Along with mushy peas with mint, it was a really tasty early dinner. Need I say we ordered the restaurant’s IPA? We sat outside on benches while the sun shone and children and dogs played around us.

We ambled home along the road between Broadway and Snowshill, stopping in the orchard to pick an apple from the heavily laden tree.

A cloud on this horizon was the chaos of Hurricane Harvey, which was flooding much of Houston, and causing horrific wind damage. We were in constant contact with friends and family back home, and luckily for the most part, they emerged unscathed, as did our homes. The upshot of this for us was whether or not we could get back to Houston the next Tuesday, when we intended to fly home. It didn’t look promising, but we kept in touch with our London hotel The Kensington, and British Airways every few hours just to check on the status of things.

Saturday, September 2…Today would be our last day to really ramble around Broadway, and it was a beautiful day for it. David was finally able to find some lavender products which were made at the Snowshill Lavendar Farm and which were on display at the Cotswolds Trading store, and I checked with a local realtor, as I was getting more and more interested in property in the Cotswolds, and what it would actually cost to live there (big bucks!)

We stopped for lunch at the Broadway Hotel, where David ordered the cauliflower and coriander soup (excellent!) and we both had hamburgers…which sounds a bit of an anomaly, (coals to Newcastle and all that) but so good with Coleman’s Mustard (which we laid on with a shovel…ha!) We always try the IPAs at the pubs and restaurants, and are usually happy with the quality and the taste of each one…Ubu’s being the premier IPA, I think!

The one thing we hadn’t wrapped our taste buds around so far was the Cotswold ice cream, so seeing a vendor’s cart on the street, we stopped for a cone. Cotswold vanilla ice cream is rich and creamy and a tiny bit crunchy, with a certain flavor of its own. I loved it, and appreciated the fact that I only now remembered to check it out…much too good!

We walked down the road to Old Orchard, a little melancholy at the fact that this was probably the last time we’d really be able to take our time and ramble. It was a lovely day, so after David went on into the house, I decided to go for a walk in a different direction, behind Old Orchard and up back lanes lined with fields and old barns and buildings. Everything in the late afternoon looked golden and green.

Sheep dotted the landscape, baa-ing in the distance and there was a gentle breeze. I followed the road to a bridge that was blocked from crossing, so turned another way, ending up outside of another part of Broadway, a little more modern, not quite so picturesque and old. Which was fine.

So back to the house. Runner beans from the veggie garden, picked at the urging of Mike the gardener, were sliced and readied to boil. David and I were determined to have new potatoes with the beans, so we boiled the potatoes, added a little butter, salt and pepper, then sprinkled the remaining watercress atop the dish. David added the remaining Stilton to his. Well, master chefs we are not, but this was great!

We booked Sunday dinner at the Swan, watched an episode of Foyle’s War, and so to bed.

Sunday, September 3…In honor of my dear old dad, David and I decided to have a real Sunday dinner at the Swan, a sort of goodbye celebration.

I’d mentioned to David about the back road into Broadway, and since Steve was tied up and couldn’t drive us over to the inn, we decided to walk to it.

Woof! The weather had changed drastically. As we set out, a cold wind nipped the back of our necks, and a taste of sleet hovered over our heads.

What the previous day had been a pleasurable ramble through bucolic countryside was now a brisk walk to Broadway which seemed to take a little longer than I had remembered! (Lord, I hate being cold!)

By the time we got to the Swan, it was really freezing, made more so by the wind. So a roast beef dinner in the lovely restaurant was just the thing to warm us up (after the usual Ubu IPA!) The dinner was amazing: besides the beef, we had Yorkshire pudding, cauliflower cheese, red cabbage, kale, parsnips, and goose fat roast potatoes. We finished off with sticky toffee pudding. Henry VIII would’ve been proud. Woof!

It was all we could do to pull our jackets on for the walk home, and the weather had not improved. As a matter of fact, the sleet was having a field day, so to speak.

Why I thought it a good idea to take the same (longer) road back to Old Orchard is beyond me, looking back…but we did make it home.

We’d asked Steve to come by for a drink and a nibble later that evening, and we had a lovely farewell get together. How I hated the thought of leaving, but apparently the weather had changed and wasn’t going to change back any time soon, a metaphorical parallel if ever there was one.

Again, we checked with The Kensington hotel to be sure that, if we were unable to fly home on Tuesday, we could stay there as long as was necessary. Then we looked to the British Airways site, and all seemed to be in order. Having done all we could on that score, we had an early night, packing up for the early morning leave-taking.

Monday, September 4…We both rose early as we had to be out of Old Orchard by 10AM – it was being taken over by the new tenants.

We cleaned out the fridge, cleaned up the kitchen, checked all the closets and tried to resecure the door key in the lock box. Of course, we needed the code, and once again, it was buried at the bottom of my luggage.

Always the way. But we found it.

We were to catch the train at Moreton-in-Marsh for Paddington, and Steve picked us up at 9:30 for the quick drive to the town. We really were so lucky in finding Steve – he took super good care of us, knew his way around everything…I can’t speak highly enough of him, and have offered room and board should he ever come to Texas!

So, we caught the train away from our beautiful Cotswolds, and it was on to Paddington. We’d tried to book seats but were unsuccessful…however, we’d no problem getting seats, so don’t know what the problem was re booking.

We disembarked at Paddington, once again on a quest for a restroom. David found out we needed 30 pence for the pleasure of getting inside! Honestly! He mustered up the change, however, and we were both relieved (so to speak).

After all that, we found a taxi and began a rather slow journey to The Kensington. On arrival, the taxi driver tried to inform us about using his taxi, cheap rates, signing up etc. until we finally had to assure him we’d do it all…once we were in the hotel. So we got into the hotel, then had a bit of a struggle with the room clerk (who was very nice) as to our stay.

We wanted to also check British Airways to see if our flight would take off on Tuesday; according to its website, all was in order and we finally decided to give it a rest and just believe it was going to happen. So we cancelled the extra nights we’d booked at The Kensington, and just went with the flow. We were both getting fed up constantly checking and re-checking!

After all this, David and I walked outside to find a restaurant where we could eat lunch. Rocca was perfect: a lovely little Italian restaurant right down the street where we decided to eat our combo lunch/dinner. We shared two orders of a really wonderful bruschetta…I hoped the pesto and garlic didn’t linger too strongly on our clothes!

David ordered Bucatini Pescatore, and I had a terrific Linguine with Roast Chicken. Yum-o!

David wanted to end our English sojourn with drinks in The Kensington’s bar, which was dim and cozy, very library-ish…so adorable. So after a brief rest, packing & unpacking, etc. we met to toast a really memorable time in England, and drink to civilized times and friends. We also had a lively chat about books we’d read and loved. Now how nice a way is that of completing the trip!

The next morning, we rose early to take advantage of The Kensington’s really remarkable breakfast – which was gratis, even though the website said otherwise; then hopped into a taxi kindly flagged down by the concierge, and it was on to Heathrow – no sooner had we gotten there and gone through the usual security etc., than our flight began boarding and we were on our way home.

 

And so…looking back, from the magical delights of Cornwall to the serene beauty of the Cotswolds, the fairy tale was real…at least, it was real for me. And long live the fairy tale – say I, a big believer in fairy tales….

A day in the country – the Cotswolds at its most beguiling – Chapter 6

A day in the country – the Cotswolds at its most beguiling – Chapter 6

Thursday, August 31…We woke to a morning filled with sun. Looking from my bedroom window over grass stippled with moving cloud images, I imagined myself living here, in the Cotswolds, embedded in this beautiful countryside.

Of course, I brought myself down to reality with the thought of winter, and rain, and cold…but even so, it would be England.

We had nothing on the agenda today but rambling around Broadway, and maybe a walk in the late afternoon.

Strolling along the, by now, well-known path from Old Orchard to Broadway, we were struck anew by the historic homes lining the road, with small paned windows and peaked gables, gardens filled with the flowers in season, old drystone walls…views across the road into the fields and hills, some ploughed, some green and glowing in the sunlight.

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Our first stop was for lunch at the Crown & Trumpet pub and inn, which is the pub closest to the house.

It’s cozy and very English, with a black and white cat acting as major domo, and laboring under the name “Fattas Cattas.” He joined us at table for lunch, nestling down on my backpack, after insisting on offering a paw to David (not crazy about cats)…

The food was, as usual, delicious, and the leek and potato soup was outstanding. Half pints were ordered. After which, I tried the apple/rhubarb crumble (a little dry but the custard helped.)

We left the pub and meandered into town, stopping at the Broadway Deli on the High Street for provisions – and they had some wonderful stuff; we were hard put to leave without buying out the store – the array of cheeses alone was impressive. Finally pulling ourselves away, we looked into and around the various small shops. David had wanted some lavender items for friends back home, but oddly enough, even with the lavender farm just down the road outside Snowshill, we could not find anything. We decided to have another look the next day.

On the way back to Old Orchard, as usual looking at everything and anything that crossed my path, I saw – to my delight – what looked like a conker. We were standing beneath a grand old chestnut tree, and the ground was covered in them. Naturally, I had to immediately break into verse:

Beneath the spreading chestnut tree

A village smithy stands

The smith, a mighty man is he

With large and sinewy hands

And the muscles on his brawny arms

Are strong as iron bands.

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David perhaps wasn’t amused to be asked to stand beneath the chestnut tree as I took photographs…especially when I burst into verse, as it were, but there you are! It seemed to fit!

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Then I gathered up a couple of conkers, and we wended our way home. The soft light and the beauty of the house and grounds immediately called for more photographs. I left David at the house, and went for a lovely short walk towards Snowshill.

These walks are full of the most appealing and intrinsically English images. St. Edburgha’s Church, a small Norman church standing in a field…

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A drystone wall …

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A sign for the Broadway Cricket Club…

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A footpath through the fields….

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A lonely tractor in a farrowed field…

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And more. The English countryside at its most iconic.

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When I returned to Old Orchard, we decided to settle in for the night with some old TV shows. Appropriately enough, the first one we found was “To the Manor Born”… Seemed appropriate, and it was still, after all these years, witty and clever.

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When I turned in for the night, I left the window ajar…the air was cool and sweet, and sleep came quickly. I was trying to live in the moment and not let this lovely journey pass me by casually and without acknowledgement. I’ll never forget this particular trip…and we still have four more days to come!

 

Stanton and Snowshill, The Cotswolds – Chapter 5

Stanton, The Cotswolds

Stanton and Snowshill, the Cotswolds – Chapter 5

Wednesday, August 30…The morning was one of those delightful easygoing and sunny mornings when nothing was immediate or demanding, and doing anything (or not doing anything) was a pleasure.

As usual, I wandered around the grounds of Old Orchard’s beautiful garden, picked some apples and plums in the orchard for Steve and myself, and sat on the bench in the back overlooking the green fields and ever-grazing sheep, just inhaling the fresh air.

We had booked Steve for a trip to Snowshill, and he had added Stanton as a first stop, so at 2:30 he picked us up.  (Advertising push here: Cotswold Executive Cabs – fabulous!)

About three miles from Broadway is the enchanting village of Stanton – absolutely delightful.

It only has a population of about 200! (Can I make it 201?) Overcast when we first arrived, the recalcitrant sun popped back out, to showcase the allure of the homes and surroundings.

Stanton has a High Street and a pub, The Mount, which for some reason (rare for us) we did not check out (next time!)

The houses, as is usual here, are built almost entirely of the butter-yellow Cotswold limestone, and a small path which we stopped to photograph wound downhill through the greenery.

Surrounded in part by woods…

drystone walls were ivy covered…a pansy grew from a stone…climbing roses bloomed…views of the rolling Cotswold hills were seen through a framework of old, old trees and houses… I walked around in a happy dream.

Our next stop was Snowshill Manor, an old manor house built by an eccentric gentleman by the name of Charles Wade.

Back garden of Snowshill Manor

He collected a very wide variety of objects, gadgets, art and thingamajigs from all over the world, and these were displayed throughout his house, rather willy-nilly. Some people find this creepy; I rather like the idea of this old gentleman gathering items from his travels whether they had any value or not and just because he felt like it…

After all, what is England without eccentricity?

Snowshill Manor ivy covered wall

As I’d been here and toured the manor once before, I stuck to the gardens while David took a quick tour through the house.

The gardens had an end-of-the-season feel to them, but the old stonework of the walls, steps, buildings and so on was still lovely, the ivy-covered walls and ripening fruit really enchanting.

Garden seat at Snowshill Manor

We stopped for a quick cup of tea and a scone at the little teahouse

Snowshill Manor teahouse

then left to ramble onto Snowshill itself, which I’d been wanting to revisit since I first stepped toe onto Cotswold soil. The narrow road was hemmed by fields and woods on either side, and we stopped to take some photographs of the far-reaching hills and fields.

Walking from Snowshill Manor to Snowshill

By the time we got to Snowshill, the weather had turned and had become rather drippy and chilly. We found the Snowshill Arms – which I kept saying “is on the green” but I couldn’t find the green (as I remembered it.) However, we did finally find the pub, only to see that it didn’t open for another 30 minutes. We huddled shivering beneath the portico when the manager drove up and took pity on us, letting us in early, saying she “hoped we wouldn’t mind if she popped upstairs to do a couple of things.” We didn’t mind a bit, especially when she served us a couple of half pints while we waited to order our dinner. And my dinner was scrumptious, an English breakfast actually and the sausage was incredibly good. Loved it! (And my new favorite thing is IPAs…how did I not know about these before?)

A little later Steve joined us for a drink and then drove us home.

Being rather damp and chilled, the first thing that crossed my mind was a hot bath. My bedroom’s master suite held a clawfoot tub, and oh! It was wonderful to dive into the bubbles and get warm.

Clawfoot tub at Old Orchard

Despite the cooling air and wet weather, it was a lovely day, and I am thrilled to add Stanton to my list of English villages that encompass everything right about England. Long may they – and the beautiful English countryside – reign!

Exploring small Cotswolds villages – Chapter 4

Small Cotswolds villages – with our tour guide Steve – Chapter 4

Tuesday August 29…This is the day Steve, our tour guide, took us on a Cotswolds villages tour. It was a memorable day, among many…Steve is a terrific guide, and he had devised a splendid itinerary.

I had been hoping to see at least one park or garden designed by the wonderful landscape artist Lancelot “Capability” Brown.

Steve surprised us with a visit to his (Brown’s) first manor house and landscape, Croome Court.

Covering over 1,170 acres of manmade parkland situated between the Rivers Avon and Severn and close to Pershore, it was primarily marshland when Capability Brown was chosen by the 6th Earl of Coventry in 1751 to design both the park and the manor house.

Today, while apparently still unfinished, the grounds contain a church, lakes and islands, bridges, grottos, meandering pathways, beautiful trees and lush bushes.  The stonework is wonderful. Adding to the melancholy beauty of the estate, the sky was overcast, and it was damp and a little chilly.

As early sunlight burned through intermittent cloud cover, we drove through the gently sloping hills of the Cotswolds countryside, green and golden.

Passing through many small villages, we pulled over for a few minutes off the beaten path at Elmley Castle for photographs of the Tudor-style cottages and ivy clad shops and restaurants.

We then wended our way to the two Slaughters, which straddle the banks of the River Eye.

 

The Slaughters name is not as bloody as it sounds; in old English, it apparently means “muddy place”…possibly! Under the now lowering English sky, we saw the meandering river crossed by stone bridges, and the charming cottages surrounding it.

Here we ate lunch at the Old Mill, a tiny riverside café run by a friend of Steve’s.

The small outdoor bathrooms (well, outdoor in the sense of not being in the cafe) had low-lying doorframes, and apparently ignoring the sign saying “Watch your head,” I immediately bashed mine against the lintel – looking and feeling rather idiotic since there was quite an audience to my momentary lapse and crossed eyes.

I didn’t feel quite so bad when, on a return visit to said bathroom, a woman coming out immediately cracked her head against the overhead beam. We both stared at one another, while I muttered consoling words to the effect of “I was an idiot myself” – no, not really but whatever! (I think they need a bigger sign!)

After lunch, we ambled along the river, as the sky continued to darken, with scudding gray clouds a backdrop to the timeless English landscape.

We wandered down the river bank, crossed over small bridges, and basically enjoyed the foliage beginning to turn an autumn-y rust and red.

And then our next stop was Burford. David had remembered a special visit there in 1979, so that was next – it’s a charming town with a lovely long ascending high street, bustling with shoppers and tourists. (I was there in September 2007, not long after the great flood.) We found the church and graveyard.

There was a lot of reconstruction going on, but I managed to take pictures of him among the sarcophagi. Talk about a walk among the tombstones!

It was time to get back in the car, and Steve drove us through Bourton-on-the-Water (“very touristy” so we didn’t stop, and I had been there in 2006) to Minster Lovell. This is a village I have never heard of, and was a delightful, absolutely charming surprise.

The old grade A-listed church, St. Kenelm’s, dates back to 14th-15th century.

Behind the church were tall lacy ruins of what used to be a great manor house set in a wide green lawn alongside the river.

Children played on the grass. I loved it…it was beautifully peaceful, really a respite from the “other world” we normally inhabit.

The village was equally wonderful.

After which, Steve wanted to take us to the Cotswolds Woolen Weavers, a terrific woolen mill in the village of Filkins housed in an 18th century barn.

It is the last company in the area to implement the traditions of woolen cloth design and manufacture, according to the site on Google.

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The wool was exquisite, with a soft satiny sheen.

I plunged my hand into a basket of raw sheep’s wool, and when I withdrew it, my hand was coated in lanolin…so soft!

(I was also taken by a soap called Old Goat – nothing to do with anyone I know – just an eccentric name with a wonderful scent!)

I wanted to buy everything I saw! Steve and David helped me to choose a coat out of many (hard!) and David bought a classy wool sweater. I had to be dragged out of there kicking and screaming (internally!) I could’ve furnished my house in Houston with the sofas, chairs, blankets, throws and accessories that were displayed against the old stone walls.

After Steve pushed me into the car, he drove us back to Broadway, dropping us off at the Broadway Hotel bar for dinner. David had two martinis; I had a Guinness, with an absolutely fabulous hamburger. Seriously, it was absolutely top notch. Then, replete (very) and relaxed (even more so), we walked back along the road to Old Orchard, happy campers we. And so ended the day of our lovely satisfying tour…thank you Steve…it was the best

The Cotswolds – Broadway, The Cotswolds Way and Chipping Campden – Chapter 3

The Cotswolds – Broadway, The Cotswolds Way and Chipping Campden – Chapter 3

Saturday August 26…Our first full day in the Cotswolds… and the weather here continues beautifully sunny, in a word, perfect! Once we got ourselves out of our respective beds at Old Orchard, and puttered around the house and the grounds (finding out that the toilet in the potting shed was Royal Doulton – talk about keeping up appearances!), we walked into Broadway.

The road from Old Orchard to Broadway was fairly narrow, often with little space to leap out of the way of cars whose drivers apparently thought they were auditioning for the Grand Prix…but we were none the worse for wear despite a few nettles getting in our way. And just looking at the old houses lining the road, or over hedgerows to fields that ranged far and wide was such pleasure, it was worth a little scramble or two.

We went for a lazy ramble along Broadway’s high street, stopping in the Swan for half a pint of the local IPA, called Ubu (don’t ask me why the name, but it was absolutely delicious) and some lunch (yummy as well).

I love the Swan…it is English to the core, and having a drink there is very enjoyable, as is people watching! One of the great things I noted in all these small Cotswolds towns – and other parts of England as well – is how welcome – and how well behaved – dogs are, in restaurants and pubs.  Dishes of water were set outside shops – no dog ever goes thirsty!

Broadway is a delightful English village, with a wide green, and not overrun, on this day, with tourists (such as ourselves!)

The flowers were in full bloom, and were brilliant – as that part of the street lined with pots of the most vivid red geraniums attested. We were fascinated by the architecture, which used mostly Cotswolds stone that gives off that buttery glow even when the sun isn’t shining. I don’t care if it is “tourist-y” – I love it!

Later in the afternoon we stopped for a cream tea at the Broadway inn and pub. David was not taken with the clotted cream, but we both loved the scones and jam…then it was back to the grocery for more Tin Loaf, and return to Old Orchard.

Time for evening cocktails! So we sat on the terrace in the rear of the house, looking out over the beautiful grounds with the running brook at the bottom of the garden, beyond to still green fields dotted with the white grazing sheep, and back still further into the setting sun. Well, I thought I’d died and gone to English heaven.

Sunday August 27… Today we decided to find the trailhead for the Cotswolds Way, on the other side of Broadway.

The Cotswolds Way is one of the oldest footpaths in England.

It was another gorgeously sunny day, and this part of the footpath was unshaded by trees along the actual trail, so by the time we managed close to a mile, we were rather warm.

We had packed a picnic lunch (hardboiled eggs and watercress sandwiches, cherry tomatoes, crisps, apples from the orchard)

so we found shade beneath some (I think) beech trees, and unpacked the feast. We sat on the grass, looking down into the green valley where Broadway lay, and all the fields and rolling hills around and beyond us. You felt you could just dance over the low-lying hills and fields like a dandelion head blown in the wind.

(Obviously not dancing here!) I pulled myself together, and walked over the crest of the hill behind us to see how far it was to the Broadway Tower. It was at least another mile away, and as I was unsure as to David’s desire to walk any further, we packed up and trotted back down to Broadway.

The Horse & Hounds pub came into view, and a half pint sounded perfect, so of course we stopped in to check out their local IPA, then found Lloyd’s Bank for some money, and after that, moved on to the Lygon Arms for the second half pint! After which, we walked to the end of the high street for dinner at a local Indian restaurant…the food was fabulous, but I was absolutely stuffed (no surprise there) and we brought half the meal back to Old Orchard with us.

Monday August 28…Today we spent a beautifully sunny (warm!) day in Chipping Campden.

Steve was busy with a tour, so he sent Roz to drive us there, she was really delightful. She dropped us off at our checkpoint (the willow tree in the town’s center), and told us she’d meet us there at 4PM.

We spent time in the beautiful, historic Church of St James, with its old, old carvings, stained glass and memorials, and wandered outside to take a walk amongst the ancient tombstones.

We had tea and scones in a hotel pub which we found down a narrow alleyway;

walked up Sheep Street to one of the loveliest thatched roofed cottages I’ve ever seen…

and, further down the road, noted a girl with purple hair; chatted with Peter, an American from Seattle; and had a Ploughman’s Lunch in a teashop.

People are so kind here. As we were wandering around the town square, a gentleman came up to us to tell us about a lovely little gallery exhibiting photographs and beautifully framed miniature paintings of Chipping Campden in all seasons. We had ten minutes to spare, so dashed inside, where I bought a framed print of a snowy winter’s day in the surrounding fields , which I loved.  Then we found a grocery store that was open (it was Bank Holiday) as we were in dire need of cheese and ale, and met Roz back at the willow tree. Chipping Campden is absolutely delightful…now I wonder if I can afford to live there?!

The English Cotswolds – From Cornwall to Jane Austen Country and Old Orchard, Chapter 2

The English Cotswolds – From Cornwall to Jane Austen Country and Old Orchard, Chapter 2

Friday, August 25…

Taking our train from Sandplace Station to Moreton-in-Marsh involved a few of those train changes that, with a heavy piece of luggage, demanded diplomatic negotiation in order not to break people’s toes, both embarking and getting off! The two stations where we were to change were Liskeard and Reading.

The transfer at Liskeard was hilarious as, once off the train, we dragged our bags up a ramp, and over a bridge to one side of the station, only to be flagged down from the opposite side by a woman who apparently could tell we were on the wrong side of the tracks for Reading. So it was back up the ramp and over the bridge, and we got on the train just before it rolled out of the station.

Once at Reading, it was back off the train, and a search for the nearest bathroom ensued – the trek seemed to take us halfway back to Liskeard (just kidding!) but it certainly was not around the nearest corner. I left David with the bags and galloped off. Then it was his turn, galloping down the platform somewhat like the Ride of the Valkyries… When all that was taken care of, we stopped at a bakery for a sausage roll and a spinach and feta pie – some of the best pastries we’d tasted!

Up came the train for Moreton-in-Marsh, and we had reserved seats…hurray! So we enjoyed a pleasant trip through the most beautiful sunny countryside, the fields laid out on either side like a rich green quilt.

At the end of it all, Steve, our driver, was waiting patiently…and even more patiently when I had to unzip my luggage on the platform and dive beneath everything to find the folder with all the passcode information for getting into Old Orchard! (This is Steve, later in the trip, sharing a drink…)

And we were there, and we didn’t have to move again for ten whole days. I had been looking forward to seeing Old Orchard, and it was everything I’d hoped it would be…and more!

Steve drove us first to Budgen’s, a small completely stocked grocery in Broadway, where we bought provisions for the next few days, not knowing what there was at the house. Then he drove us home.

From the moment we opened the wooden double gates to the sweeping gravel drive,

our first view of The Old Orchard country house took us into Jane Austen territory.

A small wrought iron gate led into a flagstoned enclosure, filled with giant pots of hydrangeas, to the back door. David, as Keeper of the Keys, opened the door, and we walked into the kitchen, which then led to the living room and staircase, and beyond that, the library, which looked out through square-paned windows to the back garden; and then to neighboring meadows where sheep were grazing.

The sunlight was golden, the air warm and buttery. A stream wandered along the edge of the grounds.

To one side of the house was the orchard and vegetable garden

…apples, plums, pears and a grape arbor, with the veggie garden offering green runner beans which were wonderful.

I vowed then and there to eat an apple a day…they were sweet and crisp, with a white flesh faintly veined with green.

The three upstairs bedrooms (and two bathrooms) all looked out to the Cotswolds countryside. Mine happened to be papered with roses, and had two casement windows, one with pink and gold climbing roses framing far green fields; the other looking down over the sweep of the gravelled drive and broad expanse of lawn dotted with trees.

Sofas and chairs throughout the house, covered with a pale heavy material lightly figured with blue or pink scattered flowers, were downfilled and comfortable. The kitchen held every conceivable appliance, including a hot water tap that gave us steaming hot water for tea and coffee…immediate satisfaction!

This was our first evening at Old Orchard. Even our tour guide, Steve, was stunned by its beauty, both of the grounds and the house.

Our mornings mostly followed the same easygoing pattern, since we didn’t want to be constantly meeting some deadline or other. We woke to pale sunny skies, cool and clear.

Once I woke early to sunrise over the fields filled with sheep; so beautiful to see the colors of grass and trees deepen and glow.

One very interesting sidebar here in the Cotswolds: when I turn out the light to sleep, I never draw the curtains…and it is dark as a cave. I literally cannot see my hand in front of my face, because there are no street lights, no car headlights. No city lights…and the silence is profound. Just the occasional baa-ing of a lonely sheep. I haven’t experienced this since I was a child…pretty wonderful!

I always opened the windows to check the views, watching as the roses, one by one, died away and were replaced by others equally beautiful. Padded downstairs to the kitchen, where David was usually already up and having his breakfast. Made tea from PG Tips.

Then I would walk out to the orchard, and pick apples from a tree by the garden wall in the far corner, well-laden with the reddening fruit.

Sometimes we picked plums. That was usually my breakfast, but once in a while, we had soft boiled eggs with the wonderful fresh bread from Budgen’s – called, for some unknown reason, Tin Loaf. Or David had muesli. And we had this wonderful watercress, tiny leaved and peppery….now why can’t I get this in Houston!!

Then, after cleaning up and making my bed, checking my emails and texts, I roamed the grounds taking photographs.

I didn’t “feed the ducks, reprove my wife, play Handel’s Largo on the fife…” as one poet would have it…yet the feeling of being out of time persisted…it was Jane Austen territory, and we were lucky – so lucky – to be there.

___________________________

David was named Keeper of the Keys

Rosemary was named Keeper of the Fob – which opened and closed the front gates

________________________________

Cornwall – Magical rambles on the coast – Chapter 1

Cornwall – Magical rambles on the coast – Chapter 1 of our English holiday

Thursday August 18….these are fraught days, trying to pull everything together for our 2+ week sabbatical in England (Cornwall and the Cotswolds). I have never been so tired getting ready for a trip! Just the technology alone is enough to make you shudder. New tablet, new keyboard, pass codes, TravelPass, WiFi apps and passwords, converters…may the stress all fade away the moment I board that plane!

Monday August 21…on way to airport at 11…I am SO ready. Our flight on British Airways is smooth and uneventful (no sleep though).

Tuesday August 22…I glided through Customs, and picked up my luggage, waiting a short time for David to make it through. It all took a little longer than we’d thought. We missed our first train at Paddington for Looe, so decided breakfast was a good idea (it was a full English breakfast, and it was goo-ood!) Then onward to catch 12 o’clock. On the train, we had a high adrenalin surge when a man boarded and began to rant at the top of his lungs, I forget about what. A passenger finally calmed him down. David and I both went into “blank stare” mode, as did the rest of the passengers. Nothing further happened, and the man disembarked at the next stop. Whooo!

On the train from Paddington to Looe, we also experienced – quite by accident – our first “quiet car”. It was MARVELOUS. Very few people were in this car, but once we were seated, an older woman embarked, looking for her reserved seat and carrying on a conversation with herself– quite loudly.  Once she found her seat, she proceeded to take out her cell phone and start another conversation at the top of her lungs. At which point, the conductor came down the aisle and quietly (!) asked her to move to another car if she wished to use her cell, as this one was a QUIET car.  Which she did.  As she moved away, we could still hear her voice drifting back through the corridor… It was all very low key and courteous. I do love quiet cars!!

The ensuing silence, the sound of the wheels on the rail, and the foggy day lulled me into a short nap.

But I woke up as the sun burned the fog away as the day wore on – beautiful views of the sea on one side, and green fields and trees on the other. We kept telling one another not to forget to ask the conductor to drop us off at Sandplace (part of the Looe Valley Line).

How to start a fairytale?

Take a tiny train to a charmingly small station (Sandplace) the size of a postage stamp, where you have to ask the conductor to stop the train and let you disembark!

Gill, who with Martin, owns Polraen Country House, was waiting for us beyond the gate, and drove us the tenth of a mile home! Since it was a beautiful day, we had tea in the garden, and I took a deep breath. Here we are…finally, in Cornwall.

After a quick wash up, Gill drove us into Looe for dinner – to a charming restaurant called The Old Sail Loft. I opted for fish and chips – and when the order came, the fish, which was haddock and wonderful, was as big as the side of a barn – it looked like the sail on a boat. If only I could’ve finished it! It was light and crisp and totally delish – as were the chips, all soused with vinegar. This came with mushy peas with mint, a dish I have recreated since returning home…still yummy!

Wednesday, August 23 …I awoke around 9:30 (after 35+ hours no sleep), and went: OMG breakfast is over by 10…so I dragged on some clothes and whooshed downstairs by ten to 10. David and I both ordered the full English breakfast, prepared by Martin – scrambled eggs, bacon, mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, toast and butter, hot fresh coffee, strawberries… was that ever good! (Many good memories are food-related!)

We then walked around Polraen’s garden, so intensely green it almost glowed…the day was overcast, cool and fresh with a few spits of rain, certainly not enough to prohibit our day in Polperro. I cleaned myself up, we called a taxi and we were off. Crystal Cars took us halfway down the hill into the village, and let us out close to a small stall selling whelks, cockles, prawns, and other seafood…we promised ourselves to come back for the cockles, but we never found the stall again!

We wandered around all the narrow winding streets, taking in the tiny houses interspersed with shops, restaurants, pubs and galleries.

Everywhere you looked was a picture. Houses were built into or hacked out of bedrock, stacked up on the cliffsides, looking out over steel gray seas – or the resultant mud/sand flats should the sea have receded.

As the day wore on, the cloud cover burned away, the sun came out, and everything was bathed in the soft golden sunlight.

We found the entrance to the cliff walk to Talland Bay, and I was off, leaving David peacefully ensconced on a bench looking over low hedges of flowers to the sea and headland.

It was a wonderful walk…through high hedgerows, green and vivid or else splashed with flowers from freesia to foxglove and others I don’t have a clue about.

Gardens were hidden behind rock walls or old wooden gates covered in ivy and ferns, often with winding steps up to houses glimpsed between the trunks of trees.

I was so happy. A gentle breeze ruffled the greenery, and it was about 70 degrees.

I finally had to turn around as it was getting late, met David and we wandered into the Noughts and Crosses pub for a half pint of the local Dartmoor IPA – perfect.

And so home to Polraen Country House, where Martin made us crab and salmon sandwiches, which we ate out on the terrace in the cool air of the evening. A perfect day, in every way.

Thursday August 24…We decided to take the train to Truro and St Ives. The weather this day was absolutely beautiful from the get-go– sunny, warm with breezes. We flagged down the Sandplace train (one of my favorite things to do), and embarked for Liskeard, where we disembarked for the train to Truro via St Erth.

Only to find, after disembarking, we had about 20 minutes before we had to catch the train to St Erth, so had a coffee and then galloped uphill back to the station…

Poor David’s ankles were giving him some grief, but we made the train, changed at St Erth and got to St Ives around 4:15, only to find out we had to take the last train back at 5:30!!

Somewhere in all this, we met a genuine eccentric named Susan who, I thought, was homeless. It turned out she was married, and “lived on the line,” by which she meant she rode the trains every day, all day long. Well known to all who lived around Looe, she was a fixture in the station and I was glad to have met her.

We managed to get to St. Ives without further incident.

The sea and sky were crystal clear, the shore just beautiful, the weather incredible.

Lots of people were holidaying…the car park by the station was packed.

But time was running by us, and after a quick coffee, we were back on the train, and got to Sandplace at 8:40… then we had dinner at The Plough. Lovely…but I was almost too tired to eat!

Friday August 25… We awoke to a cool cool morning…so fresh and clean, sunny and bright, but what a wrench to leave!!

I had my usual satisfying Polraen English breakfast…scrambled eggs, English bacon, grilled tomatoes, toast…yum-o! We’d packed the night before, but when it came time to leave, it was so hard to say goodbye to Gill and Martin and Cornwall.

England is magic everywhere you turn, but Cornwall has its own special brand of timeless magic. The pebbled narrow streets of Polperro, Truro, St. Ives, Looe, Land’s End…the ancient  houses, built into, or from, the bedrock of the cliffs, flowers cascading from old stone walls. Cornwall’s history, of pirates and smugglers, Cornish pasties,  hidden caves, the sea constantly slashing the rocks at the cliffs’ base, the narrow footpaths framed with hedgerows as old as England with steps leading to some mysterious dwelling, or down to the silver seas below.

Mysterious and enchanting, under lowering gray skies and the timelessness of path, water, air and the call of the seagulls…this is magical Cornwall.

Martin drove us to Sandplace Station,

and then we changed at Liskeard (but didn’t see Susan) for a three hour ride to Reading, changed again for final trek to Moreton-in-Marsh, where Steve our taxi driver picked us up.

And then on to Broadway…and a gentler, more pastoral sort of magic.

Road Trip, California Part 2

Mickey Mouse ears

Dreaming of California

As we left Flagstaff and drove merrily along the road through the brilliant clear light, everything seemed perfect. The sun beat down, not a cloud in the sky. We were approaching the Mojave Desert when the temperature began to climb. At a small grocery store on the side of the road, we stocked up with ice, grapes, Cokes, orange juice, water, and set off.

The heat intensified, and the sun was blinding. And no air conditioner! Forgot to get Freon…. As we drove further and further into the desert, we covered up with damp towels and shirts to keep our skin from burning. We also rolled up the windows at times to keep the dust from blinding us. The car was baking – we have never been so hot in our lives.

Open road

But… it was fascinating to see the desert up close: so endless and dry, with the purple mountain’s majesty far away in the distance. The green of the Canyon scenery seemed just a dream.

We kept ice in our mouths as much as possible to offset the drying heat, gulping juice a mile a minute as the ice melted. We packed ice in towels with which we wiped our faces and necks constantly. With a sigh of relief, we saw Rose’s Restaurant appear like a mirage on the highway.

Rose's

We pulled up beside the trucks and motley array of vehicles, and made a beeline for the interior…oh, so cool! It helped to drink drink drink, and not eat at all. We hung about as long as we could, but all too soon, it became time to get back on the road.

As we walked out of doors, the heat smacked us in the face, wet, thick, hot. It was at least 130 degrees and getting back in the car (the windows had to be kept rolled up) was torture. More ice, and then onwards once again.

The asphalt highway cutting through the desert was the only sign of civilization after leaving Rose’s. The view of sand and dusty cacti stretched for miles, although we actually drove through a small rainstorm there in the wilderness! We couldn’t believe it. A few cars had parked on the side of the road, and as we passed through that little black cloud, everyone at the roadside cheered. Doesn’t take much, does it?

After about seven hours of straight driving, the end of the desert at last seemed possible. And there was the sign: the California border – never was there a more welcome sight! But the desert wasn’t through with us yet. The highway became winding and hilly, and before too long, the golden-hued hills began to appear. Coming into California from this angle (through Needles), you can see why it is called the Golden State. The hills were covered in honey-colored grass, and the golden haze was everywhere. At times, the grass looked mown and brown, but closer observation revealed the golden-wheat color.

California hills

This lasted for an hour or so, and then once again desert appeared. We drove through barren land, and even more barren-looking towns, until finally, around 7PM, we arrived in Bakersfield. We drove through the town and decided to go a few miles further before settling in for the night.

About 30 miles beyond Bakersfield, we stopped (yet again) at a gas station to fill up, and asked for the nearest motel. “It’s back in Bakersfield.” We looked at one another and decided, “He’s WRONG” and on we went. Our biggest mistake of the journey!

We drove, and we drove, and we DROVE. At one point, we debated returning to Bakersfield, but decided something had to turn up in the way of a motel or hotel…or… something…anything? (Somehow, we’d forgotten about the sleeping bags.)

It was 3AM, and it seemed the night became blacker and blacker, and the road stretched out longer and longer. Suddenly, in the middle of nowhere, a gigantic gothic inn loomed. (This was two years before The Eagles’ “Hotel California,” but every time I hear that song, I think of this hotel.) There was nothing else around…just this huge imposing structure. We were exhausted, and looked incredibly awful, but at that point we didn’t care how creepy it seemed or we looked.

And apparently it didn’t matter anyway, because, lucky us, no rooms were available. We had to get back in the car and drive on. We found the freeway, which at that time of the morning was filled with nothing but semis, driving like bats out of hell. It was surprising to us how black the night was, and how isolated we were on this freeway to, seemingly, nowhere. But suddenly, we saw lights at a distance far off the road.

We pulled off the freeway, into a wide swathe of vineyard, lit every so often by a tiny lamp. What did we know – we kept driving in. Then, in the middle of it all, there appeared a telephone booth. And a man talking on the phone. I was about to pull up, ask him for directions, when Lana whispered “He’s got a gun!” Surreal! We both swallowed, and putting the car in reverse, backed and swung around towards the freeway again.

Not having learned our lesson, we noted more lights a little further on…and this time what looked to be a tiny town a mile or two off the feeder. It may have been a town, but there were no motels anywhere to be found. And if ever a town could be said to have slept, this was definitely the one. Not even a dog barked.

The only thing to do was continue on our way to San Francisco. And get to San Francisco, we did, found a Holiday Inn with an available room, and crashed. We didn’t wake until afternoon. But oh, to finally get there! Ecstatic is not too broad a term for how we felt!

Happy happy happy

And the sky was blue, the sun shone, hippies and flower children everywhere, the atmosphere incredibly buoyant…it was everything we’d hoped for.

Happy again

The first thing we did after having a late lunch/early dinner was look up Lana’s old friend from college, with whom we were going to stay for a few nights. Having got that settled, we all took off to look around San Francisco. It really did fulfill our ideas of what California would be like – the weather was glorious, people were friendly (since we’d cleaned up), the shops and cafes were enticing, the views – incredible.

We rode on the trolley,

TROLLEY

drove up and down twisty, crooked little Lombard Street,

Lombard Street

and hung out at Fisherman’s Wharf, where we wandered around very happily for a while.

View in San Francisco

Then we wound our way to Haight Ashbury, which we’d both wanted to see (a few years too late, but what the hey…). The Haight was not what it had been – mostly, no-one was there! But the atmosphere reminded you of what used to be….

Haight Asbury

After a few photo ops, we met back at the house for dinner and to make our plans for the next day. We had a good night’s sleep, got back in the car and drove to the Golden Gate Bridge and the Park, so beautiful in the soft sunlight.

Then it was on to Sausalito, a sunny little town on the edge of the water, filled with boutiques, art galleries, hippies, cafes and the sea, endlessly lapping at the town’s edge. A mime was taking a break in a sheltered corner, and he seemed to embody the spirit of this quintessentially California town.  “California Dreamin’” played on a radio somewhere.

On to Sausalito

I didn’t want to leave.

Shopping in Sausalito

After a bit of shopping and buying

Sausalito

and wandering the waterfront,

Sausalito waterfront

we ate our late lunch and planned our trip down the coast to Carmel: the Scenic Pacific Coast Highway Drive (Hwy. 1). We wanted to take our time, stop along the way to look at the amazing views of the Pacific Ocean, and try to spot celebrity homes nestled in the cliffs.

Seagulls

That night, as we were walking around Fishermen’s Wharf, the fog rolled in. It wasn’t a few swirls of mist, it was a palpable blanket of gray rolling across the waterfront into town. I’d heard about how dense the fog could be, and to experience it was a real trip. And even though it was August, the temperature had dropped a LOT, so it was cold to boot. We were glad we wore jackets. But the fog made everywhere we looked that much more mysterious and fascinating.

Coast road

The day we set off towards Los Angeles, the weather was overcast and much cooler, which didn’t dim our spirits in the slightest. The coast drive was so beautiful, it was hard to be anything other than in awe of the spectacular scenery.

Flowers everywhere

Masses of yellow gorse and wildflowers covered the cliffs, and plunged over the edges. The sea below thundered and crashed in foamy white rollers, and the cries of sea birds mixed with the sound of the waves. The other side of the road led to the redwoods, pine forests and rolling hills. This was one of the (many) reasons we came to California…just everything you dreamed of.

We stopped at many recesses along the road, wanting to capture as many images as we could…but of course nothing (in those cameras) shows the rawness and majesty of that natural region. You just had to be there.

We had been told Kim Novak lived in one of the houses precariously balanced down on the cliff face, so naturally we had to check every post box along the way!

Postboxes

Never were sure if we finally pegged the house she lives in, but all the dwellings along this stretch of the coast looked as if one good blow, and they’d drop into the sea below. Wonderful views – as long as the house lasted.

Cliffs

Eventually we came to Carmel, but (as seems to be our destiny), no rooms were available at any inn. So we turned to Monterey – seemed there were plenty to be had there. We dumped our luggage and took off for Carmel. We wanted to shop, and we wanted to go to Clint Eastwood’s Hogs Breath Inn.

Carmel

We managed to do both…the shops were charming and super-expensive. The Hogs Breath Inn was exactly what a Clint Eastwood inn would be like: dark, cozy, welcoming, big fire burning in the patio, great food. But no Clint.

The next day, we wandered to the white sands of Carmel Beach. By this time, it was pretty chilly, and I had on my wool coat. Lana had bought a denim coat here, which I coveted…but I was now running low on funds. New coat vs. eat and drink. Tough choice, but… drinking seemed to be the order of the day!

Carmel BeachWe padded around the sand, noticing how the cedars were bent double with the ever-prevailing winds. It was a lonely spot at that time of year, and especially with the darkness looming. Quite eerie. But nice.

Carmel Beach

We didn’t spend much time in Carmel, as our time was actually running out. After a couple of days wandering the narrow streets, checking out the boutiques and art galleries, and falling in love with the fairy tale design of the whole place, we had to pack our bags and get back on the road.

Big Sur…90 miles and counting of one of the most incredible coastlines in the world. Once you experience the beauty of the drive, you never forget it. We passed Hearst Castle, which was closed…(I think there’s a theme here somewhere)…so we viewed it at a distance as we continued to Santa Barbara for lunch.

Santa Barbara

The day had suddenly, miraculously, turned sunny, and the boats in the marina, white-sailed and blue-painted, were massed together like so many seabirds. We stood on the dock, looking across the bay and up the hills thinking how lucky some were to live in the midst of all this stunning scenery.

yacht basin The Seagulls joined us for an outdoor lunch, and then it was back in the car to Los Angeles, where we managed to nab a room for the nights we’d be there. Our plan was to tour the homes of the stars, go to Disneyland, and experience one of the movie studio tours before continuing down the coast.

We woke the following morning to the yellowest, densest smog we had ever seen. The sky was citronella-yellow, and the TV shows ladled out advice about how to handle it. Basically, the advice was stay put, but hard to do that when your time is limited. We ran down to the coffee shop for breakfast, and as we were finishing, the smog began to lift.

Lana at Disneyland

After noon, things were more or less back to normal, so the first thing on the list was Disneyland. The most I can say is: crowds, crowds and more crowds. We took a few of the rides, and wandered everywhere, people watching (and a few watching us, if the photos are anything to go by.)

Ro at Disneyland

I took a picture of the most adorable little girl in Mickey Mouse ears, which I am so glad to have saved. This child is probably around 40 years old today. Time flies…

Mickey Mouse ears

The next on our itinerary was a bus tour of homes of the stars…which we enjoyed. It was nice to have someone else driving us for a change. I can’t remember for the life of me whose homes we saw, but suffice it to say, all gorgeous, all big.

Universal studios

The following day, we stood in line to tour Universal Studios, after which, it was Graumann’s Chinese Theatre …

Graumann's Chinese theater

We drove by The Brown Derby, which by this time had started to lose its cachet, and gazed at Schwab’s Drugstore where Lana Turner was discovered.

Schwab's

The sun was intense, it was still somewhat smoggy, so drinks seemed to be in order. Then dinner. And a good night’s sleep was had by all.

The next day we headed to Balboa,

Balboa

one of the prettiest little towns along the coast, similar in tone to Carmel, but newer and at that moment, sunnier (nonetheless, I prefer Carmel…).

Balboa shops

All the street lights were hung with flowering baskets, fountains sprouted at every cross street, everything seemed freshly painted, and the sand looked SWEPT. Hot pink bougainvillea draped itself across walls and fences.

Yikes on the sunglasses

It was lovely…almost too good to be true (see above: these must be the worst sunglasses in the world!). We spent the night here (actually found a motel) and walked to the beachfront for dinner, under the stars. It was such a pleasant place to be….for a short time. I say this because it was so clean and scrubbed, the charm of the old had not settled in. That’s one thing I loved about Carmel: charming with character and history. (OK, maybe Balboa does have a history, but I didn’t know it at the time.)

fountains

Next stop on the agenda: San Clemente, which is another one of those California coastal towns that is lovely and small. We drove by Richard Nixon’s compound (he didn’t wave), and then we turned our car towards the open road, and home.

San Clemente

We drove back through the desert without incident, to Albuquerque and its bowl of jeweled lights seen from atop a mesa.

Then on through west Texas and back into Houston, where we dumped everything that was in the car onto the driveway, with some vague thought of burning it all! What a trip…we had the best of best times, and sealed our friendship into the bargain.

2 happy girls

Life’s good, isn’t it?! (But we never did get our A/C fixed.)

Martha’s Vineyard – My perfect island

Martha’s Vineyard and The Charlotte Inn

I’ve always wanted to travel to Martha’s Vineyard. To date, I’ve been there twice in my life, and both times were each wonderful. But the first time – as is so often the case – was the best, having the advantage of the new and fresh…it lived up to every expectation and more. This is a journal of of my first trip, with photographs from both.

Arriving in Boston after an easy flight from Houston, I met Lene, and together we boarded the tiny Cape Air plane for Martha’s Vineyard, the start of a long-awaited little adventure.

In front of the Charlotte Inn

In front of the Charlotte Inn

We arrived quite rapidly at the island’s tiny airport. The weather at Martha’s Vineyard was glorious: blue skies, brisk breeze, and a slight chill in the air. The taxi took us to the Charlotte Inn, everything it’s been cracked up to be and more (and one of my favorite places to stay in the entire world). Waterford crystal decanters filled with Bristol Cream Sherry are in every room, so we toasted to the next three days. The tiny hall downstairs led to a tiny front desk; the Inn was full of fresh flowers – in our room, which we reached up a winding staircase; in the tiny hallway upstairs and down; in each sitting room. Our room was delightful, papered in dark red stripes with a tiny green pattern. Two twin beds with big thick mattresses, clothed in white covers and duvets. Dark green and mulberry striped draperies hemmed at the ceiling with padded pelmets. Two deep green club chairs in the corners. Two latticed windows opened onto a little side street, the third onto a grass lawn, flowers and fountain. The bathroom was huge, and snowy white. The Inn is surrounded by black iron railings or white picket fences. It was absolutely enchanting.

The back garden of the Charlotte Inn

We dropped our suitcases then walked around the town and down the road to The Square Rigger, a tiny restaurant splot in the middle of the road fork. Menu: broiled lobster and salad and a (small) piece of pecan pie. After dinner, it was back to the Charlotte Inn under a clear dark sky dotted with stars, in the very fresh air, with a brisk breeze following our footsteps. Lene and I talked non-stop, until we both passed out from exhaustion!

Edgartown and Chappaquiddick

A good night’s sleep, and we’re up. Breakfast in L’etoile, the inn’s beautiful little restaurant; the menu: spinach, feta and tomato omelet, fresh orange juice and coffee. I like remembering what I eat on trips, obviously!

Edgartown, a view to the water

After breakfast, we rambled down to Edgartown. How beautiful – and how clean – it all was, like something from a wonderful picture book. The houses were pristine, painted white-white or Nantucket gray, and flowers bloomed everywhere we turned. The biggest rhododendrons in scarlets, pinks and white. Lilies of the valley, hedging a white picket fence. Hawthorn, lilacs and wisteria blooming madly. Gigantic tulips, daisies, buttercups and forsythia everywhere, with geraniums splashing in pinks and vibrant reds.

Tulips in Edgartown

When we’d drunk our fill of the beauty, we wandered down to the beach along the deserted sand, until the sea surrounded us. Then it was back to town to check out the ferry for Chappaquiddick, and lunch! The balcony of The Sand Bar overlooked the main street. The menu: clam chowder, fresh shrimp, bloody marys. The air was bell-clear, and the sky a brilliant blue, with a fresh breeze blowing through the town.

After this slightly decadent lunch, we rented bikes at an adorable little bike shop. We were told to lock our bikes to the railing and drop the key in the mailbox slot on our return (I’d like to try this in Houston.) We were given a map of Chappaquiddick with “The Bridge” circled, where it was and how to get to it. Not a word was spoken of Teddy Kennedy or Mary Jo Kopeckne.

The On Time ferry to Chappaquiddick was $3 (round trip) and took all of two seconds to get there. On arrival, we set off down a paved road, and then the island quickly became wild and lonely. It took us about an hour to get to The Bridge. Along the way, we passed small woods with two-story clapboard houses, grey-cedar shingled, dotted here and there.

On Chappy

So here we were at The Bridge. As I was leaning the bike against the heavy, heavy wood railings and saying (sotto voce) to the wind: “I can’t see how the car went through these things,” a man bicycling by said, as he sailed past: “They weren’t there then.” Eerie.

The Bridge

The water on either side of The Bridge was very shallow: you could see the stones glimmering below. The only spot deep enough to drown in is where the car went down.

On Chappy

On Chappy

Few people were on the island today. We bicycled over two or three roads leading to more sandy roads, which in turn led to sea or woods. Once in a while, we passed a house. I liked this island! It was so quiet, all we heard was wind over water.

A view of the Japanese Garden on Chappaquiddick

On our way back to the ferry, we bicycled past a Japanese garden, about three acres deep. It was the most colorful thing on the island, filled with an immense variety of flowering trees and shrubs: blue, white and pink hydrangeas, rhododendrons, tulips, daffodils, spirea, and so many flowers I don’t know the names of. Small streams crossed the paths, tiny bridges forded the streams, statues dotted the landscape, and all was quiet and peaceful. Just enchanting. We rode our bikes all over Chappaquiddick. After about three hours, we were very glad to see the ferry! As Lene noted, “It was uphill on the way in, why isn’t it downhill on the way back?!”

Once again on Martha’s Vineyard, we dropped off our bicycles and keys, and stopped for beer and nachos at a little restaurant hovering over the water. The sky was dark, and it began to rain. We ambled back to the Inn, looking forward to bubblebaths and rest. Fires burned in the fireplaces in the inn’s sitting rooms, which were filled with flowers and beautiful artwork. I heard the church clock down the road chiming the hour; the church bells chimed in unison. A magical world.

Katama, Tisbury, and Vineyard Haven

View across the street from our room at the Charlotte Inn

Up around 9AM, we breakfasted downstairs in the little restaurant, with Lenox china and Waterford glasses beautifully displayed on the white linen tablecloths. Our menu: fresh orange juice, hot coffee, bagels and spinach, feta and tomato omelets. A long stemmed fresh red rose was on every table.

After we eat, we discussed going to Nantucket with the lady at the front desk. As the ferry was not available until June, we were put on standby with the airlines for a Saturday jaunt.
Edgartown lighthouse

Edgartown lighthouse

On a beautifully clear day, time for (we think) a fairly brisk walk before taking a taxi to Vineyard Haven. We set off at a fairly rapid trot up flower-straddled lanes to the main road of Katama. Very soon, we were out of Edgartown, walking and talking on an empty road leading up-island. The beautiful homes we saw were soon further and further apart. Runners and bicyclists became fewer and fewer. After a couple of hours, we wondered where the heck we were! But we kept on because our thinking was: sooner or later we’ll come to a town, and then we can take a taxi back to the inn. Wrong! We were heading for who knows where, even after a couple of people tried to give us directions – I mean, this is a small island!! Where is everyone?? Anyway, we decided to turn back to Edgartown – not soon enough for an iced cappuccino and a banana, blueberry, strawberry and raspberry smoothie! Our short brisk trot up Katama turned out to be on eight mile trek. I, of course, could get lost in a parking lot (as I have).

The wharf at Vineyard Haven

After the break, we took a taxi tour of the island on our way to Vineyard Haven for lunch. After comforting ourselves with cappuccinos, our first stop was Midnight Farm, Carly Simon’s shop.

It was adorable…and expensive. I bought a white wooden picture frame, the book “Midnight Farm“, and some powder and lavendar spray, but the shop had some marvelous overstuffed furniture which caught my eye. Lene’s attention was caught by the pillows, so we left with bags stuffed with lots of goodies. The weekend had begun, and the town was filled with tourists. The narrow Main Street was crowded with shoppers and stalls, and these had some wonderful things.

Discovering the ability to request shipping, I immediately sent a package of orange, banana and rum cakes, baked in glass jars, to my mother and aunt, and a little carved mirror to myself! Shipping is a wonderful invention. Completely forgetting about Nantucket, our return to the Inn is punctuated by a note pinned to our door which reminded us that we have round trip tickets for Saturday. On this high note, we changed clothes and checked on dinner ideas with the front desk. Before we blink an eye, Paula calls Cresca’s on South Water Street to reserve a table. Cresca’s menu has many delightful entrees, and we ended up with feta cheese salads, shrimp and crabcakes. Then came dessert. The piece de resistance was a sampler with a little of everything from the dessert menu. We ordered it, and it was delicious: tiramisu, English custard with fresh raspberries, ginger pound cake, brownie fudge with whipped cream, fresh strawberries and blueberries, and a vanilla ice cream “snowball” – all in miniature. We ate every bite, after which, we waddled home, checking out the shops on the way. Some yo-yos in a window caught our eye, and we bought one…trying it out once we got back to our room. Although it was almost midnight, the streets were still alive with people. The air was chilly, clear and beautiful, and the sound of laughter floated over the water…

Nantucket and Up-Island
Today was our jaunt to Nantucket! It was another glorious day outside: the sunshine was brilliant. The church clock chimed the hour of nine. Outside our bedroom window, the scene below reflected maids in black and white carrying armloads of white towels as they scurried over the brick walks from building to building. John was cleaning the black iron railings. The air was incredibly fresh, and the green seemed more intense as time went by. The fragrance of freshly mown grass filled the air.

Edgartown is one of the prettiest towns I have ever seen; it is so pristine, it looks as if it were painted white every day. Many of the houses were white clapboard with black shutters. We heard the lawnmowers and hedge clippers, and smelled cut grass and lilac everywhere. It was all so beautifully landscaped, edged and manicured, and the flowers are blooming madly. I think I am in love with Martha’s Vineyard. No, I know it.

Lilacs … so beautiful

U.S. Air dropped us off in Nantucket. We picked quite a time to come here: it was Memorial Day Weekend, and also the weekend of the Figawi Regatta – the place was jammed with wall-to-wall college kids, all tanned, slender and having a raucous time. Nantucket’s cobbled and brick-laid streets and gray clapboard houses were impeccable and delightful.

In Nantucket

A whaling town, one of the island’s must-see sights is the Whaling Museum. It houses multitudes of artifacts and information about Nantucket’s whaling history, from the first African-American whaler, to punishments for mutiny (pretty grim.) One room held the full skeleton of a small, 43-foot whale. The museum was dim, fascinating, and not a little uncanny. The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering Nantucket’s streets and shops, which have beautiful and expensive things to sell, all very enticing.

The sea is such an integral part of everything, we couldn’t walk more than two minutes without standing on a waterfront or beach. It was very soothing. Our plane took off at 3PM, and soon we were back at Martha’s Vineyard’s adorable tiny airport, where we hired a taxi for a tour up-island <see “Up Island“, by Anne Rivers Siddons>. Martha’s Vineyard holds a real fascination for me: it is so full of beauty and old-world charm, like a piece of the past come to life. Today, the sky was brilliantly blue and massed with clouds, and the sea breeze was constant and crisp.

Our taxi driver and former Head of Edgartown’s Town Council, Steve, took us up-island by way of Middle Road, through West Tisbury, Menemsha, Chilmark, and West Chop (I love that name) to Gay Head, now known as Aquinnah. Middle Road, as the name implies, cuts through the center of the island. It was lined with high, high hedgerows and dry stone walls, very English. Sheep grazed placidly in the green fields hemmed in by locust wood posts and cedar rails.

The Sculpture Garden on Martha's Vineyard

The Sculpture Garden on Martha’s Vineyard

We passed the Sculpture Garden, which is often mentioned when writing about Martha’s Vineyard, with abstract figures sculpted in white dotting a wide green lawn. Interesting! Always, seas, ponds and lakes abound. Over rolling countryside, Steve drove us to a beautiful bluff called Overlook Point. This looked down to a crystal clear blue lake with white-sailed boats skimming the surface.

Next came Chilmark and Menemsha, two tiny fishing villages, with small gray clapboard houses. “Jaws” was filmed at Menemsha, and just across the inlet, the remains of the “Orca” could be seen on the tiny beach. From here, it was a winding road to Gay Head/Aquinnah, and the Cliffs which look out forever over a silvery-gray Atlantic. The day was still brilliantly sunny, but the wind was immensely strong, bracing and fabulous.

The South Road led us back to Edgartown.

We arrived at our beautiful little Charlotte Inn, walked to The Black Dog to buy t-shirts, then back to the inn to drink Bristol Cream sherry and plan for our last dinner at L’etoile. Our dinner menu: duck fois gras, lobster etouvee, rack of lamb and fresh berries. The perfect end to a perfect day.

Leaving Martha’s Vineyard

A view from our room at the Charlotte Inn

We woke to another Chelsea morning: brilliant sunshine, clean, clear skies and a slight breeze. Poking my head from the window, I saw the maid scurrying along the brick pathway with an armload of fresh white towels. If we’d ordered the weather, we wouldn’t have made a single change. Martha’s Vineyard is everything we thought it would be – a little white-painted jewel set amongst many-colored flowers and underscored by the music of the sea. And the flowers! White spirea, double headed orange poppies, daisies, tulips, daffodils, narcissus, peonies, wisteria, roses, and everywhere…the lilac trees! The scent of lilac is in the wind. Everywhere we looked were green, green lawns, white houses trimmed with black shutters, all backed by vivid blue skies.

Leaving beautiful Martha’s Vineyard

This is one of my favorite places on the face of the earth…I love it. Goodbye, dear Martha’s Vineyard!

Hiking and rambling around Maine

I have hiked or traveled in so many states throughout New England and loved them all, yet in all the years I’ve been traveling, for some reason I had not made it to Maine – big mistake. So, when a group hike along the coast of Maine in the autumn of 2002 popped up, I knew I couldn’t miss it. Beautiful coastal walks, farm country rambles, and a day trip to historic Monhegan Island, with homebases in Boothbay Harbor and Camden – joy! I could hardly wait!

I landed in Portland the night before joining the group, and connected with Susan – a hiking friend I’d met in Scotland some years back (great thing about hiking in groups: the friends you make). Wandering around Portland in the rapidly fading light, we felt the nip in the air, and stopped for dinner at a lobster house. I had what was apparently the last of the day’s lobsters, fresh out of the bay….in Houston, lobsters are cleaned up with not an unappetizing morsel to be seen. In Maine, you get the entire lobster, with something green and black attached to it…urgle! (And now I cannot eat a lobster at all.)

The next morning, ready to go, we joined the rest of our group from Country Walkers and vanned to Boothbay Harbor, where we were to stay at a charming New England inn.

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Rooming with Susan, we settled into one of the small cottages surrounding the main house – captivating.

Boothbay Harbor is an appealing small town (2,000+ population) that developed as a fishing center, and now offers everything from boat tours to whale watching (we saw no whales).

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Hiking and walking through the surrounding countryside and town, the weather continued to be just about perfect, and the scenery the same.

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We meandered around an imposing mansion whose gardens were a swirling picture awash in color and scent: roses, lupines, marsh marigolds, black eyed susans, geraniums, asters and more I couldn’t recognize. Really beautiful, and certainly a gardener’s delight!

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And the food was delish too…particularly when we ate at scenic outlooks, where picnic tables were set up. Love that!

Part of our hiking trip included the hour-long (more or less) ferry from Boothbay Harbor which deposited us on Monhegan Island on a day that was intermittently sunny, but turned misty and damp.

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We began our ramble around a fairly benign landscape, through lanes in woods laced with delicate greenery, over granite and boulders, and around some of the ubiquitous shingled homes and inns that dotted the landscape.

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The island, an artist colony with about 12 miles of hiking trails, is situated 10 miles from the mainland. You can only get there by boat, and no cars are allowed. Nice! This was not a particularly grueling hike, but there is something to be said for a hike that allows you to inhale the fresh air, look at the beauty surrounding you, take photographs and just enjoy the sea breezes and intermittent sun.

Too soon, it was time to board the ferry for the return journey, and once we were on it, the fog descended in earnest. Good thing these people knew what they were doing, was my main thought as we moved through the dense mist.

Suddenly, from nowhere, an earsplitting blast … then the fog parted and we saw the side of an immense ship moving slowly not yards from our boat. Told to stay extremely still, we sat without stirring and as the ship moved through the fog and away from us, sigh of relief was palpable…yet, once safety reigned again, we were all slightly exhilarated by the adventure!

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After which it was back on the road again…to Camden.

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Camden was an absolute joy to visit. The quintessential New England town, its narrow streets, delightful shops, galleries, inns and houses were very akin to those on Martha’s Vineyard, another favorite getaway of mine. Planting our luggage at the Camden Harbor Inn, we took off on a ramble around the town.

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It’s situated right on the coast, at the base of the mountains, so you can sit on the dock of the bay and look to the sailboats gliding gently across the deep blue water. The village green, designed by Frederick Law Olsted, Jr., one of America’s most prominent landscape architects, is a simple green swathe of lawn, trees, gardens and shrubs…just a beautiful place to sit and let your mind drift.

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A walk outside Camden took us through farm country, where Belted Galloway cattle grazed in green fields, black cattle with a wide white stripe circling their middle…cows I had never seen before (called by kids in Maine “Oreo Cookie Cows”).

 

The farmland was picturesque, like a picture come to life, with the fall trees in full color, and with the quiet of the countryside blanketing the landscape, and an occasional “moo” puncturing the stillness. But some of our hikes were more challenging.

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On a fairly overcast day, several of us opted to hike up Mt. Battie, a 1.5 mile moderate trail that was peaceful and serene.

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The hike itself was quite laid back, as the trail ambled at a leisurely ascent around the mountain.

13-img104-6Atop the mountain we came to a large white cross, which can be seen from the valley below. The vista from the peak was fabulous: a panoramic view of Camden Harbor and Penobscot Bay, laid out like a fairy tale below our feet. Loved this little hike!

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On the final chilly night in Camden, we all partook of a traditional lobster boil, sitting outside in the darkness on benches set on either side of trestle tables overlooking the bay. Bundled up in our parkas and boots, we set to: dinner was not just the lobsters (poor things!) but huge vats of boiling corn on the cob, tubs of melted butter, and chewy bread. Nothing like it in Houston, that’s for sure!

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Maine, with its iconic coastline and small towns, is a total delight…I loved every minute of this wonderful, albeit short, trip…. I like the feeling of “going back in time” when I visit New England … and being rather retro, I like that a lot! Maine is a bit like something out of a movie. It’s beautiful, peaceful (at least where we were), and very very appealing…it’s a state I would definitely love to revisit one day.

 

Road Trip, Grand Canyon Part 1

ROAD TRIP, Grand Canyon – Part 1

My best friend Lana and I worked together at the same advertising agency back in 1975, and one hot sunny afternoon, decided to take our two-week vacation on the road…from Texas to California via the Grand Canyon. You have to forgive these photographs, because they are almost 40 years old!

It’d only been a few short years since the sixties, and we were still a naïve pair, setting off as if for a permanent move to the coast. We needed the break, picked the date, loaded up the car and were on our merry way. We had packed the trunk and backseat to the brim with everything we would need for our two week sabbatical and finally closed everything down on a mish-mash of clothes, books, butane stove (which blew up halfway there), tennis rackets (oh please), hair dryer, hot rollers, regular rollers, make up kits, coats, blankets, sleeping bags, towels and shoes. Hair spray – no food.

The weather looked extremely promising. Sunshine, few clouds, balmy. Ready for anything, we took off.

Document242A little over an hour later, we finally found the Hempstead Highway, a rather blighted thoroughfare, which would lead us out of Houston and onto the main highway to our first destination, the Grand Canyon. Drops of rain began to fall, and from then on, it was drizzle for the next hour or so, occasionally relieving the monotony by really slamming it down when things got dull.

We had stopped on the road to fill up with gas, and buy some much needed items, such as ice, Cokes, potato chips, sugar and Pream for the coffee. After checking the ice chest to make sure we had enough for two weeks and then some, we rolled on to the strains of “Sister Golden Hair” on the radio.

We got lost trying to leave Houston.

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Why is it that when some well-intentioned soul gives us directions, we never fail NOT to follow them? After much discussion, we both decided “He’s wrong!” and proceeded to end up somewhere back downtown. Perhaps we’d been a bit hasty; after all, the man had lived in Houston for 40 years. Doubling back, we followed his instructions to the letter, and were actually on our way.

The day had turned a whiter shade of gray by this time, misty, drizzly. The forecast was not promising. We hadn’t left Houston, yet we were already down to half a tank of gas (about 55 cents/gallon).

The next gas station appeared just beyond a railway trestle around a sharp curve. Waiting at the curve for oncoming cars to pass by in order to turn across the road, a truck, unused to a car parked in the middle of a highway, came barreling towards us at 60mph. The squealing of tires, and the cursing of the driver did not go unnoticed, but we ignored it. He missed us by an inch.

Once we made it into the gas station, we discovered our air conditioner was not working –we were out of Freon. The gas station couldn’t help us, so onwards to the next town. It was close to noon on a Saturday, and everything was closed. In small Texas towns, everything closes at noon on Saturdays.

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Well, did we need A/C? Apparently we didn’t – we could manage. Back onto the highway at a solid 75 mph, we headed onwards. The rain had faltered into a fine drizzle by this time, and sunny patches were beginning to appear. The freeway loomed ahead, mile after monotonous mile. At 75 mph, we barely seemed to be moving. But a black speck in the distance started to get bigger, and before we knew it, we were behind a fast-moving truck and a few motley cars.

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The truck began drawing away from us, and at that moment, a giant tin sign propped on a wooden sawhorse hove into view, the truck clipped its side, tossed the sign into the air, and straight into our path. With no time to slow down and only a split second to utter a prayer, we headed right into it, and just before we rammed it, it slid beneath the wheels. Hmm. Somebody trying to tell us something?

Patting ourselves on the back for missing that close shave, we realized again, running low on gas. Seeing the Phillips sign ahead, we slowed to 50 mph onto the feeder, heading for the gas station. At the same moment, an old black Chevy roared out of a side road, turned the wrong way and headed directly towards our car – once again missing us by inches. Great road trip so far.

We gassed up the car and once more, were on the road again.

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Driving out of Houston on the way to West Texas could not be a more monotonous road trip. The rain had stopped, the sun was full out, and a slight dusty haze clouded the air. The highway stretched before us like an iron carpet. You kept going and going and going, and never seemed to be getting anywhere! Like the Red Queen in “Alice in Wonderland,” you ran as fast as you could to (seemingly) stay in one place.

 

We switched seats, and Lana got behind the wheel. All we wanted by this time was to get across the border into New Mexico and find a decent place to rest. We passed Lubbock at a fast clip, and headed down the highway to the Texas border. Something moved on the grass verge, and a highway patrol car pulled swiftly and silently up behind us.

He stayed behind us for a minute or two, until we understood we were indeed the ones being followed. We pulled over, and so did the cop. “Do you know how fast you were going, Ma’am? You were going 76 in a 55 zone. Is there an emergency to warrant such excessive speed?”

Well, we were trying to make the next town before dark. “Ah’m sorry, ma’am,” replied the officer, “but that kind of emergency isn’t exactly what I had in mind. I’ll have to make you girls out a ticket. Let me ask you a few questions, and you can be on your way. You’ll have the citation in the mail by the 18th. By the way, where y’all goin’?”

We mentioned California, he handed us the ticket, and we headed down the open road… once again. The sun was beginning to sink into the west, shadows began to draw in, and all we wanted by this time was to get to Clovis, New Mexico. The highway just kept on going on and on, into nothingness. We thought if we saw one more cactus we’d go crazy.

Suddenly, a strong barnyard odor invaded the car, getting stronger and stronger, until it became overwhelming. Geez Louise. All we could see for acres around us were barns and more barns…and cows. More and more cows. We could have run the car on the gas from those cows!

We were beginning to wonder: would we never get across the border? Finally, as the sun turned into an orange ball and fired up the sky, we escaped over the New Mexico border and breathed a sigh of relief.

Too soon…more barns hove into view, carrying with them the same unadulterated aroma. It was too much! It inched through the windows and wiggled through vents and pervaded the Puffs we’d spread across our faces.

On the verge of hysteria, driving 55 mph the entire way, we plodded onwards toward Clovis. A gentle breeze wafted through the trees; the barns gave way to city lights, and a Holiday Inn came into view. Holiday Inn is not necessarily my idea of Nirvana…except just at this moment. Greasy and lank, we hobbled into the lobby. Although we looked like a couple of hobos, the desk clerk was extremely understanding, giving us a room what seemed like miles from the front office. Probably didn’t want to give the inn a bad name.

Never has a motel room looked so inviting. We completely unloaded the trunk, don’t ask why. Dumping all on the floor, scrabbling wildly for nightgowns and toothbrushes, we fell into our respective beds. The only sound heard for the rest of the night was the toilet flushing, and Lana bumping into the wall, or vice versa.

The next morning found us rested and refreshed. Leaping from the bed and stubbing the toe, I commenced to the bathtub for a long soak (probably needed a pickax to get the dirt and grime off). Once I mustered enough energy to move from the tub, I wrapped a towel around my parboiled form, and walked into the living area.

Perched on the floor looking like Betty Crocker after a bad batch of buns was Lana, holding a pan of water over the butane stove. “I’m boiling water for tea…if you take the pan, I’ll turn off the flame.”

Taking pan in hand, I turned to the cups, only to hear a garbled shriek from behind, as the stove had burst into flames, which were gushing from the top of the cylinder. This prompted a major huff and puff operation, and we succeeded in finally blowing out the flames…but unfortunately the gas was still pouring out.

No matter what we did, the stove was either in flames, or exhaling gas. Grabbing the directions, and reading about everything but turning the stove off, we did the only thing we could do: we kicked it – still aflame – out of the room into the adjoining field. We got hold of the bellboy at the front desk, who arrived promptly with a cylinder of aerosol foam, which put out the fire, but did absolutely nothing about the gas.

At this point, we packed our things, bought a cup of coffee, decided coffee shops and restaurants were the way to go in the future, and left the poor bellboy to get on with it.

Finally! The day was sunny and bright, not a cloud in the sky. We turned our faces toward the Grand Canyon, and hoped for the best. The road sped past and the air was clear.

Around midday, we noticed the empty gas tank; an Exxon station loomed on the horizon, and we pulled in. A friendly voice greeted our request to fill ‘er up, and we wandered to the Coke machine while things were being taken care of. A couple of minutes later, we were greeted by the same friendly voice advising us of an air bubble in one of our tires. Checking our spare, he pronounced it dead on arrival. So we bought a new tire. He’d seen us coming.

Two minutes later, the friendly attendant came strolling over. “Ya’ll need three new tires,” he mentioned. When asked why, he pointed out slits and bubbles galore, and once again we thought we were up against it. So three new tires were purchased.

New tires in place, we waved goodbye to our newfound friend, and hit the road. A few hours later found us zooming through Arizona to, we hoped, the Grand Canyon. There is something about being on the open road with nothing to think about that puts it all into perspective…sort of.

The flatness of the country began to change: we were coming up to Flagstaff. Mountains in the distance became not quite so distant, and the dry, deserty look began to give way to a misty green haze. We reached the base of a mountain, and stopped to take photographs from every imaginable angle, using up the two rolls of film we had with us. (Two photographs turned out.)

Finally: Flagstaff, a most picturesque little town, with curves, bends, hills and dales. We were enchanted just to be there, and when we saw a sign saying “To the Grand Canyon,” we thought we’d hit a home run. That was about 7PM.

We rolled on up the road, going this way, going that, and although we thought we were on our way to the Grand Canyon, it finally occurred to us that we were actually on the way to Mexico. Back we turned, but the multitude of signs did little to help. We stopped for directions.

Five minutes later, Lana turned to me and said: “He’s wrong!” and we once again proceeded on our own path…in the opposite direction. Once again, hopelessly lost. Once again, we agreed to stop questioning everything anyone ever told us, and managed to get back on the right road. We careened down the hill at full gallop, hit a gigantic bump, sending Lana bouncing all over the front seat of the car, me to the roof, and the ice chest’s contents all over the back seat.

But enough of all that. We were on the road, bound to be at the Canyon in about 30 minutes. We thought.

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The road rose steadily, and by this time it was completely dark. Black is the actual word for it. No lights, very few cars, and every curve held signs to watch for animals crossing (wild?). So we inched on.

Still, we almost headed full-tilt into three large cows, gently ambling across the road and into the thicket. So much for wild animals.

By this time, we were almost going backward, we were moving at such an infinitesimal pace. The highway, thicketed with trees which made the dark even darker, was extremely winding, making for a very unsafe journey. And once again – more cows!

We decided we weren’t going to be reaching our destination any time soon. Seat belts were also a good idea. But we couldn’t for the life of us unjam the safety belts, and breaking nails in the process was quite aggravating. We pulled into a side road, stopped and managed to dig the belts from under the seats. Then it was back on the road. Two hours later, a few lights far in the distance gave us faint hope, and eventually and at long last, a store came into view. We pulled in for directions; the store was closed, and a very large dog was taking care of the premises.

Time to move on again. But minutes later, we were at the Grand Canyon. We knew we were safe, except for the slight worry of driving off the edge. As it seemed to be the middle of the night – pitch black – with only large rocks marking the side of the road and what looked like infinite nothingness on the other side, we drifted along on a wheel and a prayer. And then Bright Angel Lodge was there!

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We pulled the car into the parking lot and sat quietly for a moment. A few boys were seated on the railing, one strumming a guitar. The moon rose high in the dark blue window of sky and the pines whispered on all sides. The night air was distinctly chilly, and we thought longingly of jeans and sweaters, since we were still in our shorts and halter tops.

Our cabin was right on the Canyon rim; we picked up the key, drove round to the front door, and carried our luggage into what would become our home for two nights. Not much to look at from the outside, the interior was quaint and, better yet, clean. The beamed ceilings, pine board floors, lack of air conditioning and television and tub, and a non-working telephone, only added to the feeling of the middle of nowhere.

The one surprising feature was a lack of two beds. A single double bed, with a dip in the middle, was what we had to look forward to. But, exhausted (and starving), we thought it looked like heaven on a plate.

We were directed to the dining room with the admonition that it was about to close (it was after 11PM). We made it just before the final bell: the chicken was cold and the ribs were greasy, but all tasted like ambrosia. More importantly, we managed to find the pub, and had a revivifying drink. Then, bed. We planned to be up at dawn to watch the sun come up…ha!

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Awake at nine (the sun didn’t wait for us), and juggling makeup, shower and hair in the tiny bathroom, we dressed and walked to back to the dining room. Jeans and backpacks were everywhere. In our dainty little shorts and tops, we looked as out of place as tulips in an oat field.

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But we were ready to take our first real look at the Grand Canyon. The day was clear and clean – glorious. A few white clouds ruffled the sky, and a slight breeze rippled the feathery pines. Everything was in perfect harmony – including us – and we felt on top of the world as we walked along. The next thing we knew, we WERE on top of the world, looking down into the Canyon’s vast depths. It was a breathtaking sight, to be slightly pedantic about it. Too vast and awe-inspiring to be believed, on one hand … and unreal, just like a painting on a picture postcard, on the other. It stretched down to bottomless depths, and its cliffs jutted out at fantastic angles, throwing deep shadows across the vast expanse.

A tiny white ribbon of trail threaded its way through the Canyon floor; the river itself was hidden in the deep gulley in the depths of the Canyon, too far for the eye to see.

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At first, we couldn’t get enough of the view, taking pictures from any and all angles. The sun was brilliant and hot, the sky vivid, Autumn was in the air. After wandering aimlessly for a while, we asked one of the passers-by to take our photograph. About ten minutes later, after the camera moved up and down around twenty times, the photograph was taken. Still have it, as a matter of fact (I hope the guy got an eyeful).

The rim of the Canyon was incredible. We wandered on, and about an hour later, came to another Lodge for a beer and snacks. It was so pleasant, sitting at the window looking out on the spectacular beauty of it all – extremely happy.

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The remains of the day were spent running to the store for food, making sandwiches, taking photos, eating and watching people of all sorts – and in all sorts of dress – pass by. Hippies everywhere. So much fun! After a short nap, we walked down the trail…it was steep, but not too steep, and narrow, but not too narrow. A quaint feature was the mule droppings along the route; the aroma was enough to knock you over.

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The Canyon’s fantastic sculpture revealed ledges, rocks and figures of fantasy. We climbed out to some of the furthest reaches, looking down, down, down. A very strange feeling, to be sitting on a finger of rock and have nothing but miles of space below. As we moved on, a small plane appeared from nowhere and flew through the Canyon, looking like a miniature bird. And here we were, connected to the ground, yet higher than a plane in flight. Very cool.

Before we turned back, a couple of guys hanging out on the path took our photo as we sat on a ledge overlooking a particularly steep cliff. To get to the ledge, we scrambled along a small trail about an inch wide, leaped across a small space (with nothing but air below) and perched on the rock just wide enough for two people.

The guys were pretty mellow; nothing like a couple of joints to make you unaware of the miles of space between you and the Canyon floor.

Lana and Rose hang out

Once again, back at the top, we decided to take a breather and a nap. Then we set out for a walk around the Canyon’s western rim. It was late afternoon, and the weather had cooled considerably. We took a blanket, with plans to sit and read on the rim. Which we did, until a swarm of bees decided to dive bomb us.

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We moved upwards to a lookout point, where we sat on the rim with the entire Canyon spread below us. The sun began to fade. The Canyon became a shimmering mass of violets, pinks and greens, until the sun, a ball of gold, slipped from view and disappeared. Everyone seemed to sit in a kind of dream, until the bus showed up, and then everyone dashed madly to get a seat. We did not…get a seat, that is. We took off, and the bus, bouncing down the hills at 90o angles, constantly precipitated one or the other of us into someone’s lap.

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Black as pitch, with just lantern light showing us our Lodge, we stumbled into our little shack, took quick showers, and began packing for the next day. We were due to leave at 7AM, so wasted no time getting everything together and falling into bed. Snore!

The next morning saw us up at (to us) the crack of dawn. We hastily piled everything into the car, and prepared for take-off. The car took off into the clearing, and stopped. One more time…halt. The engine was flooded. So much for the crack of dawn.

We finally barreled off down the mountain, reaching a small town an hour later, and pulled into a Phillips 66 station for gas

What a surprise when we were told by the attendant that our shocks were “gone, girl gone.” We left the car in the grimy hands of the attendant, asking him to hurry it up, and went to breakfast (which was delish – something about the air round there). We ambled back to the garage, only to be told “it’d be a good idea, ma’am, to put back shocks on as well, as they look a little worn.” For a change, we decided NOT, and he decided not to push the matter. Did he think we were neophytes here?

Then…on our merry way to California. Little did we know we were not to rest again until we reached the Golden Gate to San Francisco. Stay tuned for Part 2!

Hiking in Ireland: From the dear old Temple Bar to the Cliffs of Moher

Glendalough

Hiking in Glendalough

On this particular hike, I didn’t join a hiking group…Diane and I had decided to work out this hike ourselves, and it really did turn out incredibly well. We saw areas of Ireland I doubt we’d have experienced with a group (not that I don’t love travelling with groups – they really are a great option when you don’t speak the language!)

We flew into Dublin on Tuesday and stayed overnight in a charming Georgian boutique hotel called No. 31. Breakfast at No. 31 was delicious and extensive…almost anything you wanted to eat, we could have…and we almost did!

A street in Dublin

A street in Dublin

After a few hours catch-up snooze, we wandered across St. Stephen’s Green and down Grafton Street, tried to get into Trinity to see the Book of Kells, but it was closed. We stopped for a late lunch/dinner at a restaurant called the Elephant and Castle…again, the food was delicious! Fabulous bruschetta…both Diane and I devoured it. And the weather was splendid…brilliant sunshine. I also had a Guinness in the Temple Bar…what a treat! You feel as if you might come across Edna O’Brien or James Joyce somewhere around a corner…

The dear old Temple Bar, Dublin

COUNTY WICKLOW, GLENDALOUGH, EAST COAST

The next morning, in bright sunlight, we picked up our rent car and drove to County Wicklow. We stayed in a B&B called Barraderry House, which was built in the 1700s. Beautiful stone, set in a gorgeous garden, and way off the beaten path. We ate dinner that night in a delightful dark, beam-hung pub, and had an hour’s conversation with a quintessential Irishman named John, who told us he’d given up “the drink” 20 years ago at the behest of his children. We heard his life story, and told him some of ours…a thoroughly enjoyable chat with someone who looked exactly like Michilin in “The Quiet Man!”

The road to Glendalough

By the way, no smoking is allowed in Irish pubs any more…not that I care, but there was something about those smoky old pubs…

Olive and John were our hosts here at Barraderry…they were just delightful, and John was another epitome of a little Irishman…charming as all get out; we talked for about 20 minutes about Ireland, politics and the like, and then he gave me and Diane a great big kiss on our cheeks.

The next day (Thursday), we packed our bags, and then took off for a four hour hike around Glendalough…two lakes, surrounded by mountains…wild, isolated and incredibly beautiful.

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A lake in Glendalough

I was a little tired by the time we were through…lots of climbing! But really a good hike. That night we had dinner at a quiet restaurant, and afterwards, climbed into our little beds ready for sleep.

Hiking in Glendalough

THE WEST COAST

DOOLIN

Friday morning, we took off across Ireland for the West Coast, and a little town called Doolin. On the way we had a flat tire. It was hilarious although worrying as Diane ran down the road trying to find someone – anyone – who could help us. We were in the middle of nowhere, and nothing was in sight for miles…we were definitely beginning to wonder if an unplanned hike was in the offing. Then, in the distance…finally! a car with two couples stopped to help us…wonderful people, two of whom were visiting from the Netherlands. The two men fixed the tire, and after a proliferation of thanks, we were on our way again in 20 minutes, breathing a sigh of relief.

We got into the very tiny town of Doolin…rain pouring down by this time. Bought a new tire, and then parked our bags at St. Catherine’s Farmhouse just outside Doolin. That night we ate at an enchanting new restaurant, and had some of the best food I’ve ever eaten in my life. It was cod, but done so delicately with such a great glaze, it could have floated right off the plate…and potatoes to die for…fabulous Irish brown bread. Yum!!

Our host at St. Catherine’s Farmhouse, Maria, was very very special. She gave us big hugs, and wanted to know what our plans were …helpful, and kind, in every way. Just a dear, wonderful woman.

The Cliffs of Moher

The next morning (Saturday) was sunny, so we drove 10 minutes to the Cliffs of Moher. We hiked along these fabled cliffs for five miles, by which time the fog rolled in. The cliffs are beautiful, but erosion makes walking the path along the edge very dicey in places. I stumbled by mistake off the path onto a downward trail – yikes! Managed to stop myself before more than two steps were taken…but it is so easy to do! While walking, we remembered “Ryan’s Daughter” some of which was filmed on these very cliffs…lovely to be here.

After that little trek, we arrived back at our car, found somewhere to eat, and then drove into the Burren…which is a wild and lonely place. It meanders on for miles and miles…green marshes and mountains with huge boulders all over. I liked it! Our goal was the Burren Perfumery which is in the middle of nowhere; it wasn’t exactly what we thought it would be – no miles of flower and herb gardens, just a tiny shop and tearoom, but charming nonetheless. We bought some pretty soap at the shop, and had scones in the tea room. Diane had a scone, and I had a scone with clotted cream and jam!

The Burren

The Burren

It was raining by this time, so we needed to get back on the road!

That evening, we decided to go back to our enchanting restaurant from the night before, but unfortunately, it was completely booked. We tried four more restaurants – all booked…it seemed no restaurant (in such a small town!) had a table. In desperation, we got in the car and drove out of town onto the darkest, loneliest of roads on the way to Lisdoonvarna (aren’t the names of Irish towns poetic?) – by this time, the rain was pouring down, you couldn’t see a star and it was completely EMPTY of habitation! Miles of low-lying brush and one lonely road. Nonetheless, we beavered on…and just up ahead, saw a tiny spark in the darkness.

“Pull over” cried Diane, and we got out of the car and walked into the most Irish, and charming, of small taverns, in the middle of blackness, in the middle of nowhere. A tiny dim oak-beamed bar with about four tables, a huge fireplace all alight, and the friendliest waitress…who happened to be from Boston and had moved here 20 years ago. No-one else but us. By this time we were starving … we dined on a marvelous puree of thick vegetable soup, the wonderful Irish brown soda bread, and a fabulous salad…the taste – incredible. Such an adventure…!! all in the middle of empty moors and hills, in the night’s darkness.

GALWAY, FERMOYLE LODGE

Sunday morning we took off for Galway County and Fermoyle Lodge. This was a long, long drive. Remember we drive on the left hand side over in Ireland? That was quite an adventure in itself. Anyway, Fermoyle Lodge was located in the middle of NOWHERE (as are most of our stops)…but was an extremely charming manor house surrounded by hydrangeas, rhododendrons and flowers of all kinds, and the manor itself was set in a grove of trees.

Fermoyle Lodge lost in the heart of Ireland

The Lodge is enormously welcoming…beautiful stuffed furniture and antiques…big log fires in the fireplaces…wonderful hosts (Nicola and Jean-Pierre)…oh what a fabulous place. The house is stone, two story, and very old. Our room overlooked the lake. We met two delightful couples. Marsha and Jerry were from North Carolina in the U.S.and Gabrielle and Alex from England and Scotland, respectively. I fell in love with Alex, and will always remember him. He was gorgeous, quiet spoken, intelligent, well-traveled … and extremely good looking! Lucky Gabrielle!

The wild countryside outside Fermoyle Lodge

We went for a quick walk up a mountain with Marsha and Jerry, and then once again, had to drive an hour and a half to find an inn for our supper. We also stopped into a tiny grocery store again for supplies…I love those little grocery shops, small and intimate…and I love the Irish newspapers! So much fun to read that side of the world’s take on things back home in the good old U.S.

Back we walked to beautiful Fermoyle. Now, the only thing about Fermoyle is the water: PEAT BROWN…our baths looked like flat brown beer, and when I added shampoo to see if that would help, it just looked like FOAMY brown beer!

Also the shower: to say it had a life of its own is a misnomer. The first time I used the handheld grip, it took off and SOAKED the entire bathroom …carpet, antiques, towels, everything. Nicola and Jean-Pierre were NOT amused, as they spent all morning trying to dry it out.

The following day (Monday) we actually found a hike that went on for some miles. We drove to the start of it, about two hours from Fermoyle Lodge. Then we walked through green, dense woods, over streams, to an enchanting castle which had been turned into a hotel; we had lunch in its pub. So special and lovely.

A small island on a river in Ireland

Unfortunately, the rest of the trail was “spiked”, as loggers had felled many trees, and blocked the trail. We turned back the way we came, and found our car…this hike took about four hours all told. Although still not long enough, we both enjoyed it immensely. We spent that night at Fermoyle Lodge, and also dined there that evening. Jean-Pierre is a French chef, and was a little disappointed when Diane just wanted a salad (with very special directions on how to make it)… I had a salad too, but gave in and had dessert as well. Another yummy meal…talk about eating one’s way through Ireland!

CONG, “THE QUIET MAN”, AND ASHFORD CASTLE

Ashford Castle

Tuesday, we again set off: this time to a tiny historic town called Cong in (I think) County Mayo. The film “The Quiet Man” with John Wayne and Maureen O’Sullivan was filmed here…and every pub and restaurant and hotel is named after one of the characters in the movie, and every window is filled with photographs from the movie. Just outside the town is Ashford Castle, where we stayed for two nights…what an experience. The castle is a huge “pile” …our room was beautiful (albeit warm) and just down the hall from the boutique. One corner of the floor is given over to photographs of “important folk” who have stayed there…Brad Pitt, President Reagan, Keanu Reeves, Barbra Streisand…and the list goes on and on.

We got to Ashford Castle, found our room, put down our bags, then booked two hours of falconry.

At the Falconry at Ashford Castle with Oliver Owl

To have those beautiful hawks perch on your wrist…fly away and back…take food from your fist…glide through the trees…magical and storybook. Absolutely nothing like it. To actually interact with a wild thing, have it trust you so completely it eats from your fist, looks into your eyes…incredible (of course, they may have been thinking – oooh, delicious eyes – but I prefer to think otherwise). We also got to hold Oliver Owl, the castle’s mascot, on our wrists…a beautiful bird, magnificently feathered.

That night we ate in the village of Cong: Again, fish & chips…Nothing like ’em (good, I mean!)

Wednesday we spent all day wandering around the castle grounds…. Lakes, woods, the Guinness Tower lost in the middle of the woods (which we climbed to the top…circular stone staircase, so narrow you almost had to pry yourself up) and on the top…just trees as far as the eye could see. We had lunch at the tiny golf club in the middle of the grounds…then walked some more.

On the way to our room, we met a painter (whose first name is Rick, but I forget his last). His paintings lined the walls of the castle’s hallway. We had a lengthy chat with him, and apparently he is very well known. Queen Elizabeth has 8 of his paintings and sculptures, as do celebrities from all over. Very interesting to talk with him.

That night we ate at the Castle…all dressed up (as much as we could from what we’d ‘brung’). Then we went down to the Dungeon Bar, where a singer sang old Irish songs. I was called to the stage to sing “Galway Bay.” I’d had a glass of sherry, but even so I could hardly sing above a whisper…I had terrible stage fright!

COUNTY MAYO,WESTPORT

Thursday morning, back in the car. Did I mention all week long the weather had been FABULOUS. Around 75 degrees, sunny and NOT A CLOUD IN THE SKY!

We drove up to Westport in County Mayo, and tried to find lodging. NOTHING to be found. Finally, we took a twin bedroom at a tiny B&B with a bathroom the size of a pea. We walked around Westport, shopped a bit, had dinner at a lovely restaurant, and so to bed.

Far from the madding crowd

The next morning – dank and drear – we suited up to climb Croagh Patrick. This is a 4200′ elevation mountain which pilgrims – even today – climb barefoot. We were told NOT to climb it if the weather was bad. Since it wasn’t raining, we thought…we’ll give it a shot.

We got to the foot of the mountain, got our rain jackets and hoods on just in case, buckled up our backpacks, took about 100 steps…and it started to rain. Two fellows just then came down from the mountain. “Are you girls going up,” they asked. We told them we thought probably not, since the sign said: DO NOT CLIMB MOUNTAIN IN RAIN OR MIST. And we thought, well, maybe it had a point!

“Yeah,” said one of the men (both of whom were actually from Seattle). “The wind gusts at the top of the ridge are around 50 mph, and it’s starting to pour down. You’d be wise not to attempt it.”

ON THE ROAD AGAIN, BACK EAST TO DUBLIN

That put the crimp in the climb. So back into the car. We decided at that point, it was back to Dublin for us. We booked in at Number 31 a day early, I drove back cross country to Dublin, we got lost in Dublin itself, but finally found Hertz, turned in our rent car, and took a taxi to Number 31.

Number 31

Then (again) it was out to find food…we ate once more at the Elephant and Castle. Wonderful! After which we took a little walk along the Liffey..

The next morning we decided to heck with it, we were just going to shop. So shop we did…I do love to shop, and we dined at lunch at a beautiful in-store restaurant which had scrumptious salads…yummy, delish.  After which, stopped at the Bobbie Brown counter to buy eyeliner, blush and lipstick to the tune of 70 euros. And I don’t like the eyeliner! (but I love the rest!)

After a day of shopping, I finally bought my tweed jacket. I love it (but when I tried it on back home, I realized I’d lost weight and it is rather big. Must find a tailor!) Anyway, we made it back to Number 31, I packed my bags for the next morning, and we crashed.

Up at 6AM, got dressed, hugged Diane goodbye, got in the taxi, and then it was back to Houston. What a long flight that seemed to be. I was never so glad to see Houston’s flat terra firma – but only because I’m not crazy about long plane flights.

But Ireland…if you are looking for mystical magic on a hike…Ireland will suit in every way. Mysterious and brooding, green and beautiful…a land never to be forgotten.

Wales and England: Hiking hidden footpaths

The cliffs at Land's End

The cliffs at Land’s End

Hiking hidden footpaths in England and Wales

It’s been about 19 years since I went on my first walking tour of England and Wales…it was 1996, to be exact. The month was September, and the weather could not have been more perfect, the countryside more beautiful. If anything motivated me to begin hiking, it was this trip. Of course, not every hike is perfect…weather, nervousness about driving on the left hand side of the road (and the roundabouts!), finding a good place to stay. Nonetheless, the two weeks spent here were an eye-opener. Who knew these out of the way places existed? Some of the towns and countryside looked as if they had never moved into the 20th century…still retaining the innocence of an earlier time.  So…on to London.

London

London

London

Arriving at Gatwick I found a porter who whisked me onto the Airport Express train to Victoria Station – somehow missing the customs melee. “There’s no-one there – no problem!” (You could tell this was pre-9/11.) On the train into London, I spied a fox slinking into the underbrush, its bushy red tail waving in the breeze.

Once in London, I grabbed a taxi to the Covent Garden Hotel. I was meeting Lee here later – and the suite wasn’t going to be ready for hours – so I settled in the library sitting room to read and drink a cup of tea with real cream (three pounds!) The hotel is a former French hospital which had become a delightful four-story retreat, small and intimate, and splashed with chintz. The library offered deep sofas and chairs, The London Times and Observer, and London Vogue.

Lee arrived at 10AM, and off we went to see London. We sat atop a sightseeing bus in the open air – bloody cold! Disembarking constantly, we rambled around Sloane Square and down St. James Street, around Leicester Square and Covent Garden, where we looked for -and found – 84 Charing Cross Road and the site of that lovely old bookstore. If you haven’t read the book by Helene Hanff, do so…it is terrific (and the follow-up, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, while you’re at it.)

Back at the hotel, our suite was ready. Padded yellow rose chintz coats the windows, bed and loveseat. Beautiful more-than-full-size feather beds sat high, high up, with immense feather pillows. An equally immense bathroom held a deep soaking tub with a separate shower.

That night, we moseyed once again around Covent Garden and Leicester Square, where the crowds were really overpowering –  there was hardly room to move. After a light dinner, it was back to the hotel to prepare to take off early in the morning.

The weather this first day was just great – although cold, the sun was shining and the sky blue. A great omen.

Broad Chalke, Wiltshire

Chalk figures carved into Wiltshire hillsides

Chalk figures carved into Wiltshire hillsides

Surprise: we overslept! We had barely enough time for breakfast before our car was delivered. At 9:45 AM, a sharp-looking little red Rover rolled up to the front door. As designated driver, I immediately smashed the left hand rearview mirror while trying to negotiate the narrow one-way streets of London.

We managed to get out of London – but it was an absolutely wild trip, as I had never driven a “left-handed car” and kept driving into the curb. And the roundabouts! It took me days to get used to them. Finally, we got out of London, stopping in the tiny town of Weybridge for coffee and a look through a bookshop; then on to our first bed and breakfast – Stoke Farm in Broad Chalke.

The roads leading to Broad Chalke are through Wiltshire. The deeper in-country we drove, the more ye olde England it became. The deep hedgerows, the farmlands, the woods –the England of legend. The sun shone intermittently; parts of the day were overcast – but by afternoon, it was hot.

On the road to Cornwall down a country lane

On the road to Cornwall down a country lane

Keeping a very sharp eye out, we were lucky to spot a miniature sign saying “Stoke Farm” hidden in a hedge. It was 6PM, still daylight. Jan, the proprietor, was a charming woman who was so busy she hadn’t much time to do anything but show us the bedroom and bathroom, and ask us to write down our breakfast requests.

Our first view of the farmhouse looked like something from a Jane Austen novel. Converted to a bed and breakfast, it is built of old and beautiful stone, nestling in the Wiltshire countryside. It lies at the bottom of a hill (which we climbed that night after dinner.) Baskets of flowers hung from every window, and the front lawn was surrounded by evergreens and flowering plants. Cows and horses lingered in the surrounding fields. Two dogs ran around the yard.

The entryway held a big Welsh dresser, with blue and white platters and china covering the shelves. The cozy dining room was papered with brown patterned wallpaper, and had a big fireplace, and an old dining table and sideboard.

The only other guests were a very attractive Belgian couple, who nodded and smiled and basically said not a word to us as they only spoke Belgian…conversation was limited to good mornings.

Our bedroom was, of course, charming – all chintz and prints – as was our bathroom across the hall. I leaned from my bedroom window to look across hills and dales and farmland, as far as the eye could see.

Just down the road was Broad Chalke itself – a few cottages, a couple of manor houses, and an old pub at the crossroads, where we had dinner. The dessert of apple pie crumble with real cream was heavenly – makes me hungry just to think about it!

We loved Stoke Farm. It was so peaceful and quiet, quiet, quiet. Walking up the low-lying hill that night, the silence was like balm to the soul. The sky was clear as a bell, and the stars, magnificent, blanketing the sky.

Wiltshire – Broad Chalke, Fovant, Stonehenge and Old Sarum

Again, we overslept: breakfast is between eight and nine, and we woke at ten to nine. Breakfast: haddock in scrambled eggs, toast and broiled tomatoes. The hot tea hit the spot. Once all that was under our belts, we planned our itinerary: to Stonehenge, and then to Old Sarum. On the way, fascinating chalk figures carved into a hill just outside the town of Fovant caught our attention. Quickly parking the car, we climbed to more closely view these figures carved by airmen in World War I.

 

From Fovant, we wended our way to Stonehenge – mysterious and fascinating. The sky was overcast, the day gray and windy- what better for Stonehenge? The monoliths were visible from a great distance, and seas of grass stretched for miles around…all was emptiness, except for a few tourists and the monolithic stones.

Stonehenge - mysterious and wonderful

Stonehenge – mysterious and wonderful

Old Sarum was our next stop, another strange and wonderful place. We climbed the hill to the castle remains, crossing a drawbridge across a great dry moat. The crumbling, immensely thick stone walls of the castle and the remains of “old” Salisbury Cathedral stood out against the greenest of green grass and fields. Wandering these ruins was a truly mystical experience.

Old Sarum

The walls of Old Sarum

On the drive back to Stoke Farm, we stopped for dinner at a quaint old inn down a twisty, winding, hilly and hidden country lane. Navigating these lanes by car, so narrow with the highest of hedgerows, was an adventure by day; a real challenge by night. The lanes turn and twist, with often only room for one (very small) car to navigate through. So far, we’ve been lucky – only one or two minor scrapes (the side of our little car looked as though it had been in the wars.)

Dinner tonight started with pate with hot toast, and finished with apple pie and cream (munching our way through England – thank goodness for all that walking.)

On the road to Lyme Regis

From the heart of England, we drove to Lyme Regis, through rolling English countryside – going like a bat out of hell. English drivers are truly another breed: if you aren’t driving quickly enough, the kinder, gentler blokes behind the wheel blink their lights, the aggressive honk madly until you move over!

We stopped for a little “smack of something” on our way down the I-30. The tea shop had great coffee. As a matter of fact, the coffee was usually excellent; of course, the tea was terrific, piping hot.

Back on the road, we pulled over halfway to Lyme Regis for a long walk down a country lane, over neon-green fields. In a sheltered corner, we stopped to eat our lunch, bought at the tea shop. In my pack is “homemade bread pudding” with raisins – half of which is eaten by Lee, who had formerly announced she does not like raisins.

Onward to Lyme Regis through the little town of Uplyme – very pretty with pastel-painted houses. Lyme Regis lay just beyond, and at first glance seemed very touristy, not at all what we had in mind. But after finding a small white hotel with two small rooms – about 20 pounds apiece – we headed  for the beach, walking through the center of town to reach the boardwalk. We clambered over concrete “sand dividers” to reach a deserted stretch of sand that was both pebbly and seaweedy and rather forbidding.

Uplyme

Uplyme

The cliffs of solid sand are high and dangerous, with climbing forbidden because of the constant erosion. The beach suddenly opened up and stretched literally for miles, and the late afternoon sunlight played on the cliff face. For the first time, I felt “I’m here!” It was so beautiful and lonely and we could have walked for miles, but the tide came in rapidly, so we had to turn back sooner than we wished.

Next on the agenda was food! We ate in the courtyard of a rather charming small hotel – fish and chips for me, fisherman’s platter for Lee, and it was quite a picture: two major fish complete with heads, tails and eyes. While we were eating, what seemed to be the largest seagull in the world perched on a ridgepole, cawing and squawking plaintively. I threw chips in the air for him – seemed to be the right thing to do, and he caught them as if he hadn’t eaten for days.

CORNWALL

Viewing St Michael's Mount

Viewing St Michael’s Mount from Marazion

We were in the parking lot at Lyme Regis, trying to find our way out. After several turns around the maze-like lot, we finally gave it up as a bad job, and asked the parking attendant to direct us to the gate – which happened to be straight ahead. The look on his face was indescribable.

Now we were on the road to Cornwall. Driving at 80 mph, and cars passing me by, I whizzed by a sign which said “Pork and Rice,” realizing shortly afterwards that it really said “Park and Ride” but who the heck could figure it out since we were going at the speed of light! Traffic signs were everywhere bearing such legends as “Traffic calming ahead.”

Marazion

Halfway to our destination, we pulled off the road to take a brief hike over a ferny footpath, then back in the car to head for Ednovean House, our B&B in Perranuthnoe. By the end of the day, we were extremely punchy, having driven 180 miles. But for the life of us we couldn’t find Perranuthnoe.

Impromptu walks through fields and woodlands is a wonderful way to see England

Impromptu walks through fields and woodlands is a wonderful way to see England

Disconcertingly, several people stared blankly at us when we asked directions, but even though some gave directions such as “you can’t miss it, only two miles down the road”, or “plenty of signs to it, dear, just keep going straight” we seemed to travel in circles. Only when we were told “turn right at Bertie Wooster’s Restaurant” did we finally reach our destination.

And then we were at Ednovean House – except for the fact we arrived a day early! Apparently really screwed up, having booked our room for Friday and Saturday nights; no rooms were available tonight! Once again, we were back in the car, on the road for Marazion, a small town two miles away (and the gateway to St. Michael’s Mount).

Fields surrounding Perranuthnoe

Fields surrounding Perranuthnoe

Just about to drop from exhaustion, we found a small hotel in Marazion with two single rooms. We dumped our luggage and walked downhill to a tiny, adorable restaurant for a delicious dinner of crevettes in sauce, mushrooms in garlic, and delicious chewy bread. Dessert was English sherry trifle!

Perranuthnoe, the cliff walks

The food at our hotel in Marazion was terrific. Breakfast included poached eggs on toast – the yolks bright yellow – English bacon, sausages and fried tomatoes. A note: these tomatoes were the best I’ve tasted anywhere…still are.

After a short walk along the beach, we discovered that this is where we were to walk the causeway to St. Michael’s Mount…

Back to Perranuthnoe, leaving our car in a park by the sea. We immediately began a wonderful hike over the cliffs. This was the best and most fabulous walk so far, and was my favorite of the entire trip. Up, up a winding footpath through lanes lined with tiny pastel-colored houses; up, and up through farmyards and into lanes with high, high hedgerows. Over stiles, into far-ranging fields of grass and new-mown hay. Crossing fields full of cows.

The Cornish coast is heavenly

The Cornish coast is heavenly

The sea was visible at a distance, and then: bang! We were on the cliffs of some of the most spectacular scenery in the world – looking down, down – waves crashing on the rocks, the sea crystal-blue-green, like glass. We clambered over the cliffs, across rocks and boulders, finding winding footpaths down, through blackberry brambles full of ripening berries, through fern and nettle.

The wind gusted across the cliffs, the sun was brilliant, the day warm and glorious. We rested on the rocks below, taking in the fabulous beauty before returning to the cliff top – and feeling fabulously alive. This was an incredibly magnificent site…we were both in awe of the beauty surrounding us.

At the end of the day, we finally ensconced ourselves in Ednovean House. The view from our window was amazing: across emerald green fields, you see the sea, a clear, deep blue, mirroring the sky above. Set against this glamour were the storied island and castle of St. Michael’s Mount, which floats in the bay like some fabled “casement in faery lands forlorn.” Backed by the gold of the setting sun, it could be the Isle of Avalon come to life. The air was crystal clear and the view was/is  perfection.

An early morning walk behind our B&B in Perranuthnoe

An early morning walk behind our B&B in Perranuthnoe

We had cocktails on the lawn in the late day sunshine; St. Michael’s Mount was our backdrop. A magic moment. Lee and I both lifted a glass to this wonderful memory-in-the­-making.

Val and Arthur, the proprietors, served a yummy dinner: steak and kidney pudding with the crust made from scratch, fresh crisp green beans, carrots, and zucchini, and zesty crispy potatoes. Dessert is brandy pudding with clotted cream. Too good to pass up, but I was glad, glad, glad we were walking and hiking as much as we were!

St. Michael’s Mount, Mousehole and Land’s End

Up at 6:30AM, we returned to Marazion to begin our adventure, and fulfill one of my childhood dreams: to walk the pebble causeway to St. Michael’s Mount. Only twice a day (early morning and midnight) is the causeway accessible, the tide being at the full at all other times.

Except for one solitary man, we were the only people on the causeway. The tide was out, and had left fishing boats beached in the sandy cove. Unfortunately, we were unable to actually enter the castle, as it was too early in the morning, but we walked the outside grounds.

St Michael's Mount - sunset

St Michael’s Mount – a view from our B&B at sunset

Yet although St. Michael’s Mount’s a tiny island, small houses are built around the castle’s outer walls. All were gray stone…castle, houses, walkway, a perfect backdrop for the flowers, which were a painter’s dream of color: one wall dripped with immense hydrangeas in all colors. Another wall was muralled with a history of St. Michael’s, painted in delicate detail. The morning was clear and the sky took on the colors of the sea…a perfect, peaceful place.

On St. Michael's Mount

On St. Michael’s Mount

The tide turned, and the causeway was awash, so back to Ednovean House in time for breakfast…then we were off to Mousehole, a tiny fishing village that was home to my grandmother and grandfather many years past. Mousehole is built on a hill, its tiny grassy paths leading to backs of houses, and uphill to glorious views of the bay. Its tiny harbor was filled with fishing boats, and many, many people wandered its winding cobbled streets.

A street in Mousehole

A street in Mousehole

The sun shone brilliantly, and the day was balmy. September is a holiday month, and with this glorious weather, every last person was out enjoying it.

After a brief halt for tea, we were again back in the car, driving up the winding lanes to the cliffs of Land’s End. At first glance, Land’s End was not appealing, as it was fronted by a huge whitewashed “castle” backed by booths, rides and whatnot. We ignored all this, and walked to the headland, covered in purple heather and yellow gorse.

The cliffs of Land's End

The cliffs of Land’s End

The view was spectacular. A narrow footpath took us to the cliff’s edge, and in some places, the drop was sheer. We walked about four miles along the cliffs, which look far, far out to sea. The sea was tipped with silver in the sunlight, and crashed in mighty waves over the rocks below. Incredibly beautiful.

Back to Perranuthnoe, for dinner at Victoria Inn in the village. Perranuthnoe is a village forgotten by time: small and enchanting, it houses several bed and breakfasts, old stone houses covered in ivy, and the church. It is banked by the sea, and absolutely massed with flowers all in bloom. The colors! The flowers! Nasturtiums, sunflowers, daisies, hydrangeas, huge pots of massed orange and red geraniums. All houses were decorated with flowers…pots and hanging baskets were everywhere we looked. The hedges along the roadsides were starred with all manner of tiny wildflowers. It was a delightful spot.

Perranuthnoe

Perranuthnoe

St. Kew and Crackington Haven

Up at eight, we had breakfast of coffee, juice, muesli and tomatoes on toast with toast. Hmm! Now packing up ready to leave for Crackington Haven and Tintagel.

On the road, manicured, pristine farm country surrounded us. About ten miles from our destination, we pulled onto a tiny side lane, parked and set off walking in the direction of St. Kew. A green field uninhabited by cows called to us, so we picnicked in the sunshine, with sandwiches, chips, blackberries from the bush, and a half-melted Aero bar. Never tasted anything so good….

St Kew Inn

St Kew Inn

Afterwards, we rambled awhile in the general direction of St. Kew. It is tremendously exhilarating to just be able to walk without being bothered by people, cars or signs saying “no trespassing”. The narrow road led through the high green hedgerows and tiny villages, past old stone houses with slate or thatched roofs which were hung with baskets filled with nasturtiums and daisies; past manor houses set back in green fields, surrounded by immense bushes of blue and multicolored hydrangeas.

We came to St. Kew, a tiny village with a wonderful old church and ancient graveyard, with gravestones so old we were unable to read them. We stopped at an inn for coffee, then turned back to the car. Up the lane, we noticed a manor house for sale, set back from the road with a long drive bound by rhododendrons. I pretended I lived there just for a moment…can’t imagine how magical that would be.

It was so quiet. Tiny birds were singing, but no other sound was heard. We were really in deep country. Although hard to believe, it does still exist, unspoilt, fresh, and utterly satisfying. The air is clean; we’re still having beautiful weather, and the breeze was brisk and evergreen-scented.

We drove on to Crackington Haven…not far, actually. The road to Crackington Haven, which is situated high atop a hill overlooking the sea, winds up, up and up. We turned on the short grassy lane to Manor Farm, which, we were told, was listed in the Domesday Book. It was very, very old, and very, very beautiful, and very la-di-dah.

The garden at Crackington Haven

The garden at our B&B in Crackington Haven

The grounds, looking as if they were clipped daily with nail scissors, were splashed with hydrangea bushes at every possible turn, all blooming in glorious colors.

Walking woods on the road to Crackington Haven

Walking woods on the road to Crackington Haven

The house itself had stone flagged floors. Our bedroom had twin beds covered with rose flowered chintz covers and frilled pillowcases. The room – as are all the rooms -was whitewashed, with dark oak Tudor beams, and a very low ceiling. The bathroom also had oak beams, on which I had already knocked my head, and a step-down, which had sent Lee crashing into the tub. (Crackington Haven – well named!) The room had two low, low, low diamond-paned dormer windows with inset window seats. Another smaller window faced the beds.

Muriel, the proprietor, took us through the sitting room with large windows looking onto green lawns, and on into the dining room where a highly polished table was set for six, with place cards. Uh-oh. Our trip had been very casual, as far as clothes are concerned. We had come up against it here; when we asked Muriel if we dressed for dinner, she answered “Ectually….yes!” in no uncertain terms.

I had to wear what I brought, the best of it being a cashmere sweater and khakis. Lee had on jeans and black socks: “Black socks make any outfit, my dear!”

We were told to be back from our walk by 5:30 to do the wash; drinks in the bar were at 6:30 sharp; dinner was at 7; and breakfast at 8:30AM. This was about all the regimentation I could take. We were glad that we planned to be out all day Monday, and must find our own dinner Monday night!

Hiking the cliffs at Crackington Haven

Hiking the cliffs at Crackington Haven

After an hour-long walk, we returned to take our dirty clothes to be washed at the requested 5:30 PM. Cleaned up, we ran back downstairs for cocktails at 6:30. (Our clothes are given the once-over, then ignored.) Dinner, where we met two young couples staying at the Manor, was turkey steaks with mustard sauce, fig pie with raspberry sauce and clotted cream, cheese and biscuits, and wine. Coffee was served afterwards in the drawing room.

We log in another five miles today!

Crackington Haven, Bude, Tintagel, and Boscastle

Out on the road for a quick walk at 7AM, we zoomed back for breakfast at 8:30 sharp. Muriel, a former schoolteacher, rings a little bell to remind us that breakfast was served. Crikey!

Beginning one of our walks at Crackington Haven

Lee at the beginning of one of our walks at Crackington Haven

We had a full breakfast of orange juice, sausage, bacon, eggs, fried bread, tomato, toast and coffee. And are requested not to leave anything on the plate, or not to order anything that we won’t eat. Gee, where’s the joy in that?!

Then we took off to explore. First on our list was Bude and a walk over the cliffs. Bude (on that particular day) was not a pretty place. The sand on the beach was churned up in giant mud flats, and the day was overcast and dreary. We decided to move on to Tintagel. And what a disappointment it was (to me, anyway)! The town was very gimmicky and full of tourists, and the headland itself was blocked by King Arthur’s Castle Hotel, a ghastly lump of red brick with absolutely no redeeming architectural value. We were shocked, and needless to say, did not stop. In retrospect, that was a mistake, as there’s always something hidden behind the touristy buildings that make a visit worthwhile. Nonetheless, we plowed on to Boscastle.

Views around Boscastle

Views around Boscastle

It’s not far to Boscastle, a harbor town built down the side of a mountain. Steep, steep little roads led to a walled village over which the mountain cast its immense shadow. We met a bus head-on, and the roads were so narrow, our lives flashed before our eyes! The houses and buildings here are very old, with gray slate roofs, and the ever-present pots of bright flowers hanging from walls and dotting the small gardens. The trees lining the road were strung with ivy; dry stone walls supported the soaring mountain forest at every turn; lichen and moss covered every possible rock, crack and crevice, and a wide variety of delicate flowers poked their heads from the hedgerows. Mystical and mysterious…

Boscastle

Boscastle

After a fish and chip lunch, we returned to Crackington Haven, to hike over the cliffs. Our path gave us spectacular views of the great Atlantic Ocean, the waves tipped with silver and pearl. We were so high up, we felt as if we were walking on the roof of the world. As we looked back to the footpaths we’d climbed, it’s hard to believe we actually climbed them!

Carpeted in purple heather and yellow gorse, the cliffs stretched as far as the eye could see. By this time, the sun had begun to emerge, which gave the entire day a different perspective (it was certainly cooler here than in Perranuthnoe, which, we found out, is part of what is known as the English Riviera.)

We hiked past The Strangles, that silver, wild, wind-whipped part of the ocean below. Looking for seals among the waves, we missed the return footpath across the fields. Many a cow-laden field was crossed, and we eventually found a path leading through a wooded ravine. After crossing small bridges across limpid, pebble-lined streams, we were finally back at Crackington Haven Cove at the base of the cliff, where a hot cup of tea at a small tea shop revived us. That, plus sitting in the sun, and afterward, walking across the pebbled beach to the receding tide. We heard the sound of the pebbles being sucked back into the sea…”that melancholy, long-withdrawing roar.”

The Strangles, Crackington Haven

The Strangles, Crackington Haven

The undertow was terrifically strong. Earlier, under a gray sky we had seen bathers in the water, which to our touch was icy. Yikes!

We logged in ten miles or so from our hike, and as dinner was not being served at the manor that night, decided to go out for a picnic dinner. Flinging a long scarf around my neck, dressed in khaki green jacket and boots and looking like a WWI pilot according to Lee, we sneaked into the bar to pick up some lager. This, together with tomatoes, pasties, apples and cheese, was our dinner. We set out for a small field around the corner to eat and relax. There was something so out of time about this: sitting in an English field far, far from all we have known, in the late twilight, surrounded by deep English country…an indescribable experience, albeit somewhat damp.

INTO WALES

Tintern Abbey

Tintern Abbey

The Wye Valley, Tintern Abbey, Swansea and Mumbles

Early this morning we hiked for twenty minutes, making sure we were back in time for the breakfast bell. Two new couples joined us at the breakfast table, one from Chepstow in the Wye Valley, and one from New Jersey. Another hearty breakfast wass consumed (both of us too nervous about Muriel to leave anything on our plates), and then we were out the door and off.

The couple from Chepstow spoke so glowingly of the Wye Valley, we turned onto the road to Tintern Abbey. The Abbey is a beautiful ruin, the gray stone as fragile as lace, set on a green grassy sward, at the base of a towering mountain.

A quick lunch, and we’re back on the road to Wales, and Mumbles, Swansea.

What a drive: we logged 240 miles, I wondered if we’d ever arrive. When we did, belching fumes and smoke from various pipestacks met our eyes – this is not the Swansea I remember from childhood, but I guess all things must pass.

We finally reached Mumbles, where I spent much of my childhood. It had become a tourist mecca, and is thronged with people. Every road and pathway was built up. I wondered if Thistleboone Gardens was still there….not only was it still there, it looked just the same as it did when I was a child. But… we were no longer able to walk from the Gardens over the cliffs; built over with subdivisions, the land has become too valuable to stay wild.

The Mumbles cliff walk

The Mumbles, Wales cliff walk

As we hadn’t booked into a B&B or hotel, we had a difficult time finding somewhere to stay. Finally we found a rather primitive B&B – only one toilet, and NO soap! Our proprietors, however, were delightful (and the food was good, always a plus.) We toted our luggage upstairs, then left for a walk along the front to the old pier. The castle still brooded on the hilltop. The boardwalk was filled with tiny booths and video games. The population was out in full force, as the weather was  balmy. But it is true: you can’t go home again. It was difficult to see this place of my childhood so clogged with shops, houses, cars, and people. In retrospect, I realize that perhaps I set my sights too high. The years had made a difference.

A quick dinner of fish and chips (excellent!), and then back up the hill to our B&B. We are so exhausted, we crawled into our beds and were out like lights. (Just as well, as there was only one lonely lightbulb, hanging from a string in the middle of the room!)

Langland and Bracelet Bays, The Brecon Beacons and the Great Malverns

After a good night’s sleep and a good breakfast, we packed and locked the car, then left for a couple of hours of walking across the cliffs to Langland and Bracelet Bays. What a glorious, glorious walk. The weather continued to be fabulous. The sun broke through the mist, and it was a beautiful day, and very warm.

Beginning of the Mumbles cliff walk

Beginning of the Mumbles cliff walk

Langland itself is now a retirement community. A few people from the settlement were walking on the footpath over the cliffs, taking in the clean morning air. The cliff walk was exactly as I remembered it, right up to and including the 1930’s style bathing huts lining the cliff top.

Past Langland to Bracelet, and I clambered down the cliffs to the sand – a little nervewracking, as the drop is steeper than it seemed when I began! Bracelet Bay was also exactly as I remembered it when I was a child…a wide curve of smooth yellow untrammeled sand, surrounded by cliffs covered in yellow gorse and purple heather. Blackberry bushes abound, berries ripening in the sun…. The flowers were rioting color – orange nasturtiums, yellow gorse, purple heather, hot pink petunias, white daisies, orange-red geraniums, purple-white freesias, white and purple lilac, smelling like heaven. The grass was green, green, green. We passed a red currant bush full of currants, shining like jewels on the branches. Talk about yummy!

The sands at The Mumbles

The sands at The Mumbles

After a two-hour walk, onwards to Mumbles to pick up some supplies and cash checks (these were the days before ATMs – medieval times). I walked across the boardwalk to the sea, which had receded to leave fishing boats beached like whitefish across the exposed reaches of sand. Some things hadn’t changed one iota.

Eventually we left Mumbles to drive through the Brecon Beacons, to Herefordshire and the Great Malverns. The route was tortuous, as we got lost trying to find our way out of Swansea (we’re a bit pitiful with directions), but finally, we were on the open road again.

BACK INTO ENGLAND

The Great Malverns and Herefordshire

The Brecon Beacons took us through wild, empty country showcasing secluded dales and valleys. What views! Sheep roamed freely across mountain tops and stony outcrops. Some rambled across the roads, some rested or grazed. For endless miles, the land stretched out isolated and lonely except for the sheep. It is a fascinating, desolate, eerie place, so different from all we have seen so far.

Driving on, we passed the town of Haye-on-Wye, otherwise known as “Full of Books.” The roadsides were dotted with bookshelves filled with various tomes…I loved it! We arrived at the town of Brecon, and turned toward Herefordshire, stopping for a picnic in a green field off a little stony lane. Sausage rolls, a tuna sandwich, apples, most of a black currant tart topped with whipped cream, a scone filled with clotted cream and jam, and custard pie: we now thought of this as a light lunch. Talk about eating our way through England! We have come far since first beginning this journey…

Cowleigh Park Farm is situated in Malvern, Worcestershire (right on the Herefordshire border). We arrived in late afternoon, and were immediately impressed: what a beautiful place! An old half-timbered manor house, it was originally built in 1200 in a deer park about 100 yards away from where it presently stands. The house fell into disrepair, and in the 1600s was dismantled, and rebuilt in its new location. It was enveloped by farms, hills and orchards. Everywhere, immense clumps of fragrant lavendar met the eye and filled the nose with fragrance.

Chris, the proprietor and owner, ran the B&B with his wife Sue. He handled all maintenance and also ran a renovation business on the side, while remaining active in the Royal Marine Reserves (he served during the Falklands War.) He was a busy, and – in his words – happy, man.

At our wonderful B&B in the Malverns

At our wonderful B&B in the Malverns

He booked us into the Red Lion pub for dinner, where we had chicken filets in lime and brandy with broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, new potatoes, and fresh rolls. Lager accompanied this repast. For dessert, we had rhubarb crumble with whipped cream and coffee. I am still trying to figure out why I didn’t end up looking like Shamu the Whale at the end of the trip: we never seem to stop eating!

After the first night, we moved – to a room across the hall. Our new room had board and latch doors, with a bathroom containing an immense bath, deep, new and dark blue, and built very high up. When I stood up in the bath, my head almost touched the low-hung ceiling. Blue and white tiles surrounded the tub. The tiny-paned window was hung with print curtains. The sink was set into a wall-to-wall vanity, which held blue and white bowls and pitchers. The room was whitewashed, with natural oak beams.

In the bedroom were wonderfully comfortable beds which faced a window opening onto the garden. The green wall-to-wall carpet, the pink-striped bedspreads and green velvet wing chair by a potted plant and huge wardrobe all made the room comfortable and inviting. A corner table housed a coffee maker and teakettle.

Our B&B in the Great Malverns

Our B&B in the Great Malverns

I loved this house…indeed it was one of the most splendid B&Bs we stayed in. We met more of the family: Sue, Chris’s wife, brown-haired, petite, pretty; and Lucky, her three-legged cat, who slept in a black puddle of fur at the top of the stairs.

This morning, after a hearty breakfast (is there any other?) we set off for the Great Malverns. We walked to the top of the highest hill – not so very high at 1300 feet but with a fantastic all-round view. The springiness of the turf was like walking on green velvet. We looked down into the beautiful valleys surrounding us, dotted with tiny villages and isolated cottages, set in the greenest of green fields, or amid trees on gentle hilly slopes. The sun was drawing moisture up into the clouds, and the sky was silver.

The weather continued warm and clear, and the winds, fresh. Although some mornings had been overcast, we never seemed to get a single drop of rain.

The walk to the highest Malvern peak and back down again took us approximately two and a half hours. These hills were thick with flowers: yellow gorse and tall purple loosestrife, cowslips, buttercups, celandines, dandelions … Blackberries, thick on bramble bushes, were in every lane. Stinging nettles were also everywhere; Lee, thinking these were mint, rubbed some casually between her fingers, a big mistake! (Dock leaves take out the sting…)

On the Cotswolds Way

On the Cotswolds Way

Sheep ran freely over the hills. Every once in a while, one became separated from its mates, and the plaintive baaaa-ing was constant. Back in town, we strolled to the pub for lunch and ginger beer, which Lee swore tasted  like mouthwash. Then a ramble around the village, which had some of the prettiest gardens ever. The most beautiful deep blue hydrangea bush hung over a garden wall. Another small garden was filled with huge yellow sunflowers. Dry stone walls everywhere. The scent of lilac was unbelievably fragrant.

We left this idyll to drive into town for some shopping and a newspaper, then back to Cowleigh Park for another long walk up the Worcestershire Way. The Worcestershire Way winds through farmlands over untamed fields high with unmown waving grass; through fields of mown hay and bright yellow rapeseed; past a small signpost with the legend “Badger’s Wood”; through a huge apple orchard, the trees bent to the ground and loaded with apples. It continued through fields filled with cows -and one black bull seemingly somewhat annoyed with our presence. As he jogged towards us, we nimbly leapt into a small fenced pen, obviously there for just this reason. Across more fields, down wooded lanes past geese and sheep, we rambled: the sun is out, and the warmth of it is full on our faces.

Walking the Worcestershire Way in the Malverns

Walking the Worcestershire Way in the Malverns

After an hour or two, we turned back to Cowleigh Park, a brief rest, then back to the Red Lion for dinner.

From Cowleigh Park Farm back to London

Time to go home (sob). After breakfast, up and away on the M-40, on the road back to London. A quick lunch at a service center halfway to London took us from the sublime to the ridiculous. We ate quickly, and were glad to be back in the car.

Back in London…

Two girls on a break in London

Two girls on a break in London

On our arrival, the nightmare of trying to find our hotel in the morass of one-way streets begins. The traffic! The noise! The crush of it all! Between the U-turns and reverses in the heavy traffic, we were ready to leave the car in the middle of the road and simply walk to Covent Garden! Finally, in desperation, I parked in a no-parking zone, and Lee walked to our hotel to fetch the concierge who drove us directly to our hotel, no worries.  I will never drive in London again!

After dropping our luggage at the hotel, we walked to Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus, down Charing Cross Road, and to Fortnum & Mason.

Back in London

Back in London

Then it was back to the hotel, where I looked forward to a bath in the immense tub, surrounded by pristine white tiles, and where half a dozen thick white towels were hanging from a gleaming chrome towel warmer. Two extra-thick terry cloth robes hung behind the door. There is something to be said for a little luxury!

I must confess, I did not care for London on this particular trip. Too big, too impersonal, too busy, too many cars, too many people. It had its moments, but discovering the countryside did it for me. In the deep heart of England and Wales, I found exactly what I was looking for: unspoiled country, beautiful, and timeless. It has all been wonderful.

Now on our way to Gatwick, we passed – unbelievably – a fox slinking into the brush, rounding off a perfectly satisfying adventure into the hidden countryside of England and Wales.

 

 

Hiking in Norway – green mountains, silver fjords

Standing on a Bergen street

Bergen

A suggestion from Diane – a friend I met on a group hike in the Cinque Terra – that we try a group hike in Norway sounded appealing, as it is currently hot hot hot in Houston!

So…I arrived in Bergen after switching planes in Amsterdam, and took a taxi to the Hotel Neptun. The taxi driver, a surly sort, leaned from the cab to spit every few miles, which of course, placed him high on my list of attractions. Diane was waiting at the hotel with a bowl of fresh raspberries…how great it was to see her after our brief meeting at Martha’s Vineyard! After planting the luggage, we walked into town for a light supper, and caught up on the news. Then to bed to try to get some sleep, so we will be fresh for the group tomorrow.

The Fishmarket of Bergen and the Funicular

We finally got to sleep after surviving a heat wave in the hotel room, and the screeching of traffic until the wee hours outside our third story window. Even with the window open wide, it was almost unbearably hot…in the 90s, not exactly what I expected! By 3:30 we finally dropped off, and woke up about 9AM for breakfast.

Bergen’s main street

After breakfast, we rambled over to Bergen’s fishmarket…just down the road and on the edge of the fjord, where fishing boats, cruise ships and ferries all dock. The open-air market had it all, including whale steaks (black!), t-shirts, an immense variety of wonderful fresh fruit (more raspberries and cherries), postcards, sweaters, cheese…and much more.

Next on our list was a restored area of Bergen: old wooden buildings, once housing traders, now are home to shops and boutiques. A variety of beautiful things was on display: wonderful pottery, ceramics, lace, antiques… The flower gardens glowed with roses, daisies, dripped with honeysuckle, while the homes were quite austere architecturally, constructed of wooden slats, many covered with concrete and painted bright light colors. These homes, we were told, are vulnerable to fire, and Bergen has suffered through many conflagrations in its past.

View from top of funicular down to Bergen

At 2PM, we joined the rest of the merry band (three couples and our guide Beate) back at the hotel. Again we walked through the market and town, then rode the funicular to the top of the mountain. We spent a little time looking over the remarkable view, then hiked back down the mountain through lovely ferny woods and huge oak and birch trees – beautiful!

After showering and changing for dinner, we listened to a brief talk by Beate about the history of Norway, ate, and then it was back to our rooms to pack for Sunday’s hike – a 15-mile day to look forward to! And so to bed!

From Myrrdahl to Flam

Up at 6:30 as we needed to be on the road by a quarter to eight. With little time to spare, we washed our hair, packed our luggage, carried it downstairs, grabbed a bowl of cereal, then it was on through Bergen to catch the train to Myrrdahl. Arriving at the station, we took various detours through other trains, in one side and out the other, finally finding “our” train only to discover it had engine trouble. Many solemn announcements later, in three languages, the train finally got rolling.

The splashing and rushing of the waters throughout the land

We disembarked at Myrrdal two hours later for the 15-mile hike to Flam and beyond. What an incredible hike…through beautiful valleys striped with waterfalls, rivers, and silver streams which descended from mountaintops, or rushed pell-mell over boulders and rocks. The water was bell-clear; Diane has named the color Norge Blue. This is the land of 1000 waterfalls; water is everywhere, and forests of birch and pine coated the mountainsides.

On our 15 mile hike to Flam

We hiked in a slight mizzle – the sun never fully appeared, which is the Norwegian way, according to Petter, Beate’s son and our second guide.

Initially, the trail wasn’t difficult: it began as a flat, grassy track through rolling fields. Soon, however, the long grass hid stones and small boulders – and I fell three times on these very slippery rocks. It was like walking on ice up and downhill…and crossing streams is not one of my best jobs! But the treacherous undergrowth finally petered out, and we continued on grassy trails through beautiful wilderland. A goat farm, then tiny buildings appeared out of nowhere. Some buildings were smoking sheds, with roofs of long grass turves, saplings growing from them.

A “smoking shed”

Wild raspberries bordered the trail, and we ate them with relish. Divine!

Stopping several times for breaks and snacks, our final break was a “troll bowl” – a hollowed-out cave with an open top, and a large stone slab for a table. Loved it! Trolls are part of this country’s folklore – old as the mountains.

Ro with friend – troll images are everywhere!

In Bergen, many shops have carved trolls standing watch in their doorways.

The final leg of the hike was on asphalt through rolling beautiful country (a little rough on the toes.) When we finally felt as if we could walk no longer (and we’ve made very good time) we saw our hotel, which was lovely – part new, part old. From the balcony of our room, we saw goats grazing in fields bordered by wild fern-splashed country.

After a hot bath and the obligatory hair washing, we all convened in the bar for drinks. The view from the bar’s amazing floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall window, was absolutely awe-inspiring: a silvery-golden fjord, stretching for miles and surrounded by mountains and lush forests of pine trees, backed by the setting sun – absolutely glorious.

Then, a light dinner. It was a challenging, tiring day and so by 10PM, we said goodnight, packed our luggage, and it was off to bed! Tomorrow should be a little easier, but soon comes the glacier hike!

From Flam to Balestrand

A late morning: we don’t need to be downstairs until 10AM. Heaven! We slept until 7:30, showered, ate breakfast, and popped the rest of our things into the luggage, which will be taken to our next stop. Pulling on our backpacks, we began the hike – up, up, up to a small settlement on the mountainside – buildings built centuries ago which are now part of a farm.

Our hike started on the other side of the mountain to the farm

The wooden buildings were tiny, almost miniature in size. All had pots of red geraniums in the windows, and the interiors were set up as museums, with old instruments, stoves, sinks, beds, all as used in days gone by. We saw how cheese used to be made – a nine-hour process. If more milk was produced than necessary for one batch, another batch had to be started immediately making an 18-hour day for some poor woman.

Taking a water break at the museum and farm

After the museum and farm, we continued our hike through the woods towards the ferry. Beate calls this a “tricky” hike. The trail was extremely narrow, with a sharp drop on our left, and the mountain rising sheer to our right. Sometimes the hiking turned into rock climbing! The mist and off-and-on mizzle made the mossy rocks extremely slippery, so we had to be very careful where we put our feet. But the views of the fjord, and the beauty of the forest (that lovely green smell) through which we were hiking made it all worthwhile.

The scent of the pines, the green ferns, the moss that covers the rocks and boulders, and below us, the silver-gray fjord, like a living mirror of the sky: all was so beautiful, so pristine. Just breathing in the air purified lungs and mind. Many flowers showed tiny heads along the track: Ling, a heather-like bush with tiny, tiny purple bells; buttercups and celandines; and an occasional violet, poking its head through the grass. But the surroundings were mostly green, green, green – from the forest floor to the treetops.

It never rains in Norway – it just mizzles. The air is always moist, and mist often hangs low over the mountains. The sky was bright white, and the longer we hiked, the hotter we became.

On one of the ferries – it’s like driving a car in the States!

We emerged from the forest on the road at the ferry, which I just managed to get on by the skin of my teeth (the gangplank started to rise as I set foot upon it.) An hour’s ride through the fjord to Balestrand – and there was the beautiful gingerbread hotel on the water, surrounded by the loveliest little town: small colorful Norwegian houses, all painted in pastels and alive with flowers in gardens and pots. Red geraniums abounded, as did vivid hollyhocks, some tall as houses, and purple-black in color. Marigolds, roses, daisies – all in full, riotous bloom. Diane and I walked around the town drinking in the beauty of it all.

Our luggage was late, so we had an anxious two hours waiting for it to turn up. Finally, in it came and we were finally able to clean up for dinner. The smorgasbord offered a truly astounding buffet, with more food than an army could eat in a week. All sorts of seafood, including the whale steaks, as well as caviar, chicken, capon, turkey, a table full of cheeses, fabulous breads, a hot buffet table with roast beef, fish and veggies, a dessert bar with ten different desserts – I’ve never seen so much food!

After we ate, three of us attended a concert given by Age Kristofferson, a Carnegie Hall pianist who played eleven brief Edvard Grieg compositions. It was absolutely delightful; he told short stories to accompany each song, some of which were funny, all of which were interesting. The concert was held in a small hall within the hotel. A Japanese man recorded Kristofferson’s playing, and although asked to stop by the artist, he wouldn’t. I wanted to haul him out of the room!

Fjaerland

Fjaerland

Yes, up at 6:30 indeed! Breakfast at 7:15, then we had to finish packing and be ready to leave for the ferry by 8. An hour and a half later we reached Fjaerland. The day had become steadily mistier the further north we progressed. The mountains rose on either side of the fjord, green and majestic, covered with pine trees and wreathed in mist. Absolutely awe-inspiring and beautiful,  with silver waterfalls criss-crossing the slopes.

For the first time, the air was extremely chilly; I had to put a sweatshirt over my shirt, and top it with the rainjacket. (Note: this was the ONLY time it was chilly.)

Hotel Mundal

We disembarked from the ferry, and proceeded to haul our luggage to the Hotel Mundal – uphill! At least the hotel was not too far from the ferry! The hotel was run by Billie, an expat Englishwoman who, by marriage, had become part of the Mundal family and history <Note: Vice President Walter Mondale is connected to this family>. After dropping the luggage in the lobby, we immediately began our hike.

Fairly flat at first, the trail took us alongside a river – now rushing, now fairly quiet. No-one else was around – it was peaceful and beautiful and the overcast sky cooled the air and made for very pleasant walking. I had to divest myself of my sweatshirt, and soon after, the raincoat. Grass-green moss covered the stones and ground beneath the trees, in many places forming a broad mossy floor – very Hans Christian Anderson.

As we continued, the trail began to ascend. Soon we were climbing steadily up, over boulders and rocks and tree roots into the heart of the forest. The trail became steeper and steeper. We reached a small plateau where we dropped off our backpacks (very safely) before continuing the climb. It was tricky, the path narrowing to a wet, and in many places, rocky trail. The boulders were slick and a stone could easily turn an ankle. We stopped for a brief lunch of cheese and rolls and tomato, then on we went.

The river splashed merrily down from us, and the sky became lighter, when we finally halted at the foot of the mountain. Diane, Paul and I continued up to see the ice cave at the very top. What seemed a short jaunt at the beginning was in actuality quite a climb – and the smoothness of the grass, deceiving. Brambles, grass and briar covering stones and boulders – dangerous. Again we had to watch where we put our feet. Challenging, but worth it to get to the ice and snow, and pose atop the mountain in front of the ice cave (which was actually an ice bridge.)

In front of the ice cave

We felt as if we were on the roof of the world, with the rest of the group just pinpricks in the valley below.

After our photography session, we trotted back down the mountain like goats, joined the group and began the hike back to our hotel in Fjaerland. Not too bad going down: narrow trails, stony, mossy, and damp. The day was overcast.

And then a lovely thing happened: when we reached a leveling out of the trail, the sun broke through the clouds, the sky became a deep, clear blue, and the fields stretched before us, emerald green and literally glowing in the sunlight. And it was exactly like this the remainder of the trip. Beautiful.

The little tiny town of Fjaerland perched on the edge of the fjord and it was exquisite. A book town mirroring Hay-on-Wye in England, its tiny bookshops were everywhere, and bookcases actually lined the narrow roads. The Hotel Mundal, very old and historic, offers glorious back views onto lawns and fjord – peaceful and calming.

The view from our room at Hotel Mundal

Although our hike was only four hours, it was challenging, and we returned for a restful afternoon readying us for the hike tomorrow – 3000 feet up to the Flatbreen Glacier. Billie gave a short talk on the history of the 100-year old hotel, impressive! Much of the hotel is still the way it was “back in the old days” with marvelous old, old leather armchairs studded with nails, a fire glowing in the immense fireplace, and a great room set for dinner. So much history and tradition: it was wonderful. Tomorrow – Flatbreen!

The Flatbreen Glacier

We were up and out of Hotel Mundal by 10AM, taking a taxi to the base of the mountain where we were to climb to the Flatbreen (which means “glacier” in Norwegian…so actually appending “glacier” after Flatbreen is pretty unnecessary!)

The start of the Flatbreen glacier hike

The first 500 feet of the hike were straight up. It was very, very difficult for me: my lung capacity is not large, and I stopped every few yards, breathing deeply and drinking water. My heart was banging in my chest by the time I arrived at the top of this first stretch. Beate told me everyone has had trouble – including her! – but that from then on it would be easier – more streams and rivers to cross, more rock climbing.

Keep climbing up to Flatbreen

It was true: while just walking upwards was difficult for me, it was easier for to climb the rocks and boulders than just hike on a straightforward uphill path. As we climbed the mountain, we crossed streams over many and various bridges and boulders, the last bridge a wobbly couple of pieces of wood. Then began the major rock climb: I used all four limbs to get myself to the more traditional trail. In some instances, I was flat against the boulders while trying to get a purchase on the stone. Petter guided us across and up the more difficult parts of the track. Difficult – but incredibly exhilarating!

Every once in a while, I turned to look back at the spectacular valley views. Miles below us gleamed the fjord, and forests stretched as far as the eye could see across mountains and more mountains. Up, up, up and up we rose – 3000 feet to the top…approximately three miles up, given that we were winding our way around the mountain.

Suddenly, Petter stopped us and said: “Clear your mind.” He led us around a huge boulder and there was the glacier, icy blue and white, jagged and jutting to the sky in the brilliant sunshine –  immense! The Flatbreen is a “calving” glacier, because it drops chunks of ice at intervals. It was one of the most spectacular sights I’ve ever seen.

I make it to the Flatbreen – glorious glorious glorious

Sitting across from the glacier, we stopped for lunch at a small hut built of boulders and wood. The man who built this hut had made a thousand trips up and down the mountain with the needed supplies, according to Beate. It was said he climbed to the top in 40 minutes, a record to this day. We made it in about four hours.

Our happy group at the Flatbreen

After lunch, once a few hardy souls had returned from climbing the ridge on the morain, we began our hike back down the mountain. Down, down, down we clambered- often on our rear ends, as we were descending yet again over boulders similar to those on the way up (although this is a different trail.) This trail was as treacherous as the upward track, the earth so dry, it slid beneath our feet. And after a couple of hours, despite the thickness of my boot soles, my feet began to feel every stone beneath them!

A brief rest about midway down the mountain, where we sat on a grassy flat and just chatted idly for half an hour, and we were on our way. The sun was high in the sky, and the world smelled of trees.

Still on the hike upwards to the Flatbreen glacier

Down, down we climbed, through fern and birch woods, often hanging onto the trees for balance. Flowers starred the trail. The sun continued to shine, and it was a heavenly day. Our final climb over rocks and boulders in the river, led us to a final stony descent. All in all, the hike took about eight hours, and I was truly exhausted by the time I plonked myself in the taxi for the ride back to the hotel. And sweaty. And dirty. But what an adventure. All the more exhilarating because I’ll probably never be doing this climb again!

Fjaerland and the Glacier Museum

Up and out by 10AM. We were staying in Fjaerland for a few more hours, and decided to walk to the Glacier Museum, which has some interesting exhibits, including a walk-in “glacier” formed of plastic. It was very eerie to be inside and hear the water melting, the stones and ice cracking within …I had, and have, no desire to walk inside a real glacier!

The little wobbly bridge in Fjaerland

The visit to the museum was followed by a two-hour walk around the town, which included inching across a hanging – and rather wobbly – bridge, one at a time. Shera, Beate’s dog who accompanied us on this hike, was truly a picture as she crossed the bridge, legs splayed, eyes beseeching!

We returned to town, purchased lunch at a local grocery store and ate on the lawn behind our hotel, alongside the fjord. The sun was again brilliantly hot, and the sky was dotted with one or two icy white clouds. Idyllic. Diane and I sat on a bench on the lawn and read for an hour until the ferry arrived. I could stay here for the rest of the trip…

Our luggage was sitting in the hotel hall, waiting for us to drag it to the dock, which was not too far away. We caught the ferry back to the Kvikne Hotel in Balestrand. Diane and I stood on the prow, looking at some of the most glorious sights in the world…sometimes it’s almost too much, it hurts to look. Everywhere we turned, there is beauty.

The beauty of the fjords

We landed, dragged our suitcases uphill to the hotel (thank goodness for wheels), had approximately two hours to clean up, and headed down to dinner. Again, the wonderful smorgasbord had every kind of food we could wish for, but I was ready for bed. The next day, we had to be awake by 6AM, as a 12-14 hour day was ahead of us.

Vik and Finden

Up at 6AM, it was the beginning a long day. We were ready to catch the ferry for a ten-minute ride to our first hike, which started at 8. After a hearty breakfast of muesli, orange juice, and that great bread, we convened on the pier, ready to board the ferry. Ten short minutes later, we disembarked at Vik.

Vik

Our hike led us through Vik, a delightful little town on the water’s edge, full of small painted wooden houses and shops and galleries. From here, we hiked to the mountains, and a trail that is green, green, green – beautiful views on all sides of farmers’ fields, woods, ferns, and flowers -the fjord gleaming way down below. From the heights, we could see Vik as an illustration in a Grimm’s fairy tale, nestled in a valley bound by water and mountains.

One of our goals this day was to see a stave church, built with no nails but supported by tree trunks, or “staves” which are felled and left to dry and naturally resinate for eight years, and which are then used to build the church. This particular church was built in the 1100’s, and has its original staves. Special services are still held within.

Rambling all around the town (of Vik)

After a brief rest here, we rambled all over the mountain, returning down to Vik in the golden sunshine. So peaceful, it is as if all stress and responsibility fell away as we walked over the rolling countryside. All is heartbreakingly beautiful in the clear golden light.

When we reached Vik, we spent a couple of hours exploring, shopped for some supplies, and checked out the shops and the grocery store: I love foreign grocery stores and drugstores. It’s always so much fun to shop in them, checking out the different and unusual! Wandering the streets, I discovered the most delightful little group of homes, almost like dolls’ houses, painted in pale pastels and hidden from the eye behind storage buildings. The windows were lace curtained, with windowsills lined with pots of bright geraniums or daisies. The houses surrounded a small village green, the grass bright as emeralds in the sunshine. It was one of the most delightful parts of our delightful day here.

After eating our lunch at an outdoor table by the fjord, we rambled  for an hour or two, Diane buying a statuette of a “troll couple with tails.” Then we caught the ferry to Finden where walked to a goat farm for another “lunch.” We were met at the base of the mountain by the farm’s owner, who led us uphill to his historic home, built entirely of wood, and beautifully decorated. One side of the room was filled with a very long table, lit with candelabra, and lined with benches on either side, all of which he had built. The table was set with exquisite china, napkins, silverware and wine glasses. When we are seated, he brought out immense platters of grilled goat and vegetables: beans, potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, mushrooms, and gravy.  It was a wonderful meal – and I sure wish I could’ve done justice to it.

Benches front the house, on one of which reposed two adorable tiny black kittens – the sweetest little things – but they did not like Shera, Beate’s dog, who, however, was very patient, as always, and left them well alone after an initial bout of barking.

We took many photographs, then walked back down the mountain to the ferry, which took us up the fjord to another mountain trail. Ferns and high grass and trees surrounded our narrow track – and up, up, up we climbed. Presently the trail extremely difficult. Huge moss-covered boulders, steep, steep paths, grass covered – stones lined our way, slicked with moss and dew, and tricky. We hike forever up through wild raspberry, blackberry and blueberry bushes – the berries were delicious with that wild woodsy flavor.

The trail became steeper and steeper, and eventually one by one, we turned back to the boat.

I was drenched in perspiration by the time I made it back down. What an experience; I was climbing down alone, and kept hoping I wouldn’t miss the trail. Never was I so happy to see a ferry!

And so back to Vik, where a taxi was waiting to drive us back to Balestrand. Back earlier than expected, we actually had a couple of hours to clean up for dinner. Then it was time to pack for an early launch back to Bergen on Saturday.

Back to Bergen

Up at 6:15, we packed, zipped down to breakfast, then rolled our suitcases downhill to the landing by 7:45, where we boarded the ferry for a four-hour trip back to Bergen. Unlike prior trips, we all stayed downstairs, many of us sleeping. The morning started off cloudy, but ended sunny and hot.

My suitcases, which seemed relatively light at the beginning of the trip, now felt as if I was carrying two-ton weights within. It must be all the sweat and dirt packed on the socks and t-shirts!

In Bergen, we said goodbye to our small group, then Diane and I rolled our suitcases to the Admiral Hotel, overlooking the fjord, dropped off our luggage and rambled round for a final farewell. I always feel sad at the end of a hike such as this. You enter into another world….then, of course, you have to come back to the real one. Hard sometimes to make the transference.

Then it was back to the Admiral Hotel and my room, overlooking the fjord. However…noisy as all get out! If it’s not a ferry or catamaran revving up for an hour or two before actually leaving port, it was the mass of people making merry at the top of their lungs – or someone on a bullhorn talking about who knows what ad infinitum – this town is unbelievably noisy, busy and social! And I couldn’t close the windows because it is TOO HOT! But I survived – it was a great, great experience and adventure (oh, and now they’re setting off guns!)

Another observation: Some hotels, such as this one, do not put out soap, but rather have it in a wall dispenser in the shower. Not so good if you are sitting in the bathtub, and the soap is three feet above your head – it made for some slippery moments!

Finally: I never saw a homeless person nor a stray animal on any streets in Norway.

I will never forget the incredible beauty of this country…so much unspoiled loveliness, you just have to be thankful you’ve seen what the natural world has to offer.

Everyone and everything is friendly in Norway

England: Hiking through England’s Green and Pleasant Land

CORNWALL & THE COTSWOLDS

A Cornish house

On the way to Cornwall, the road over the moors

We arrived around 10AM at Gatwick and in a very short time, we’re on our way to Cornwall. The day was overcast and cloudy…cool but not cold. We drive the M3 until we get off on one of the “A” roads, taking us through Salisbury Plains, where we see Stonehenge in the distance, but don’t stop.

We stopped for a break at this lonely pub

A detour through Dartmoor allows us to see the green-spreading rolling moors and the sheep and wild ponies. At the top of Dartmoor, in the middle of nowhere, we stop at a little inn … if you’ve ever seen “An American Werewolf in London,” this will remind you of it, but without the creepy inhabitants. There is something absolutely fascinating about this kind of place…

A view over the moors

We made it to Polraen House (B&B) without incident. At some point, I discovered – after calling him “Gil” for about a day and a half – that our host’s name was actually Martin – and “Gill” – with whom I’ve been e-mailing – was actually his wife, pronounced Jill but spelled Gill. Ah well…

Polraen House where we stayed in Looe, Cornwall

We arrived just before 8PM…a long day on the road, and we were tired out. Leslie drove to the moors, I took over the drive from there…a bit tense getting used to the left hand side of the road all over again.

Anyway, once at Polraen, we were able to settle in! Polraen House is just outside Looe, on a hill, rather isolated, in beautiful country. The house is old – half was built in the 1750s/half in the 1850s. Unusual for a B&B, it has a comfy little pub and a pretty dining room. Martin is a hoot – so funny, and very welcoming – he met us at the front door on our arrival.

The façade of the house is Cornish stone; flower baskets hang on the grey stone walls. It’s totally Cornwall, and utterly charming. We tidied up and immediately went downstairs for one of the yummiest dinners ever – Martin is an amazing chef. Leslie and I had spinach frittatas, Elisa had a salmon “starter” and an absolutely incredible little steak. For dessert, I had fruit and clotted cream and Elisa and Leslie, apple crumble with cream – Yum-o. And the bread – and the Cornish butter – a deep, rich yellow with flavor unlike anything over here in the States (at least anything I’ve eaten). Doesn’t come any better than this. (Before dinner, we had a drink in the pub – so by the time the day was over, we were out like lights.

The coast hike to Polperro

Got up for a wonderful English breakfast – eggs, bacon, sausage, fried tomato, fried bread, basket of these terrific baguettes, Cornish butter (may as well just apply it to my hips) – then Martin drove us to Looe to start our walk. The Coast Road out of Looe onto cliffs overlooked a silver sea. It was a beautiful day – intermittently cloudy and sunny, perfect for walking the six miles to Polperro. We reached Talland Bay (halfway to Polperro) and stopped for a break, then I ran up the hill to see if Allhays <an old B&B manor house that was my favorite of all time> was still there. It was – just as pretty as ever, and still called Allhays, but now a private home. I snapped a few photographs, then it was back down the hill to catch up with Elisa and Leslie on the coastal footpath to Polperro. The views from this path are breathtaking: long green cliffs soaring to a crystal blue sky, and water the color of pearls.

The coast hike to Polperro

I have done this walk so often, and I still love it – and Polperro is still as delightful as ever. By this time, the sun was out in full. We kept running into the same nice couple on the road, and they took our “group” photo.

Noughts & Crosses Inn in Polperro

We had a little lunch at the Noughts and Crosses Inn – finally, a Cornish pasty – accompanied with shandy and Guinness. We rambled around Polperro, looking in shops and the post office (which offers far more than just postage stamps), and finally climbed up the hill to the bus stop at Crumplehorn.

The cliffs on the coast road to Polperro

After a half an hour wait, the bus arrived –off we went, clattering and banging in the narrow narrow hedge-rowed lanes – at a knee-shattering speed – across the bridge and river that splits Looe into East and West; it finally dropped us at our front door at Polraen. Very nice! Great not having to drive for a day.

Dinnertime: Martin had prepared scallop salad for Leslie and me, and prawns in garlic for Elisa. Again, the wonderful baguettes and rich yellow Cornish butter. Then we shared Grand Marnier bread pudding.

And so to bed!

Fowey (pronounced Foy)

Breakfast: Greek yoghurt with Alpen – yum-o. It was absolutely incredible yoghurt! Elisa and Leslie had a full English breakfast – these certainly keep you going all day.

We decided to go to Fowey to hike around town. We drove to Polruan, parked the car, and walked the 1.5 miles to the foot ferry, which took us to Fowey. The day is on/off sunny and cloudy; we lose our way almost immediately, but end up walking around Fowey on roads rather than footpaths. The roads are pretty and lined with lovely old houses, fun to look at, and the flowers and greenery are lush, lush, lush.

Finally, back at the town center, we have a latte at a small pub called Safe Harbor. Very comfortable and relaxing. Not a real hike, but good for the legs and rear!

We caught the ferry back to Polruan, and Leslie and I walked to the car park – another 1.5 miles uphill – to pick up the car and pick up Elisa.

Polraen House’s back garden

And it’s back to Polraen House for a drink in the back garden…it’s turned into a lovely day, and Polraen’s garden backs onto a green green hill with horses grazing across it…so beautiful. The sun was out, and everything was peaceful and quiet. Then another gorgeous meal: Leslie and I have a veggie meal – veggie soup puree (pea-based) and for the main course, new potatoes in butter, beans and carrots. Absolutely the best – and the baguettes and Cornish butter – well, words are beginning to fail me, although apparently not my appetite.

Martin is one of the best chefs – I’ve never had such wonderful food.

And so again to bed.

Sunshine!

Up around 7:30, today we plan to go and see the Lost Gardens of Heligan, St. Mawes and Truro (for its cathedral – but we never make it to Truro). The day is cool and cloudy.

By the time we reach the Gardens, the sun has come out and the sky is absolutely vividly blue. The Gardens’ 200 acres are beautiful, sectioned off into specific type gardens, such as the Jungle Garden, Italian Garden, Asian Garden, etc. They also encompass fields and river walks, which gave us a wonderful walk over fields and along the river…The sun was shining, and the air smelled of flowers. We ate lunch at the Garden Centre – Cornish pasties again…nice!

The Lost Gardens

Then on to St. Mawes, which is one of the prettiest villages in Cornwall. Unfortunately, we arrived rather late, so we saw very little of the village…just toured the little Tudor castle on the hill, and then walked to the sea front, where we stopped for a latte. Martin and Gillian were taking the night off, so we picked up some cheese and rolls and raspberries for an evening snack.

There was a slight drizzle of rain by this time, so we turned for our B&B (the only bit of rain during the entire trip). Tomorrow we leave for the Cotswolds!

From Looe to Snowshill – one of the prettiest of the Cotswolds villages

Up around 9:30for the usual yummy breakfast, ready for the road to the Cotswolds.

As we our paying our bill, one of the other guests come by to say “someone has a flat…” It’s us, unfortunately. A lot of driving over “kerbs” has finally ended with the expected tire problem. Martin and the guest (fromLuxembourg) labored mightily to change the rather recalcitrant tire. It took an hour – with Martin asking, rather testily at one point as he was bending over the car, if his “bum looked big in checks <his pants>!!” …but everything was finally fixed, and then we were off!

We drove from Looe to Snowshill without further incident, and were able to make excellent time – 4.5 hours – as the weather was clear and sunny.

We drove through or around Bristol and Evesham and Broadway, landing at Sheepscombe House around 3:30-ish. Jacki (one of the proprietors) met us and showed us to our rooms. Elisa and Leslie shared a twin bed room in the main house. Mine was up an outside stair – rather a suite, very very pretty. No tub!

The road through the village of Snowshill to our B&B

We unpack, ramble around Snowshill – which is one of England’s most picturesque villages, and the setting for “Bridget Jones” movies – then we go to the village pub (Snowshill Arms) for dinner. Pretty much typical pub food, but good. The table by the window looks over the old churchyard and graveyard where “Bridget” sees her parents re-marry. If you want the countryside of England…there is nothing better than right here.

Then back to Sheepscombe House. My god – it’s bloody cold at night! And the sky is dark dark dark – the tiny country villages of course do not have street lamps…but the sky was clear as a bell, and the stars were out in force…walking beneath the overhanging trees up the lane to Sheepscombe was a bit challenging and fun…we actually had to take flashlights with us, because when it gets dark…it gets dark!

The Snowshill Arms on the village green

Touring the Cotswolds villages – stepping back in time

Up at 7:30…another yummy breakfast, this time with rhubarb yoghurt…organic, natural – absolutely fab! (I wish I could get these yoghurts in Houston.)

We joined Tim (our host) for a full day’s tour of the Cotswolds, including Stanton, Naunton, the Slaughters, Chipping Camden, Bourton on the Water, etc.

A funny moment occurred as Tim was asking Elisa about Bonnie, her dog. “Do you spend much time together?” he asked at one point.

She was silent for a moment, then murmured, “Well, yes, as much as I can…and she sleeps with me.”

It took a moment for us to realize he was actually asking about the three of us!

Again, the weather was incredible…blue sky, clear as a bell, 70 degrees – the sun felt absolutely lovely.

A manor house on our tour

Tim took us at one point to an organic shopping centre. I have never seen so many beautiful things – from foodstuffs to an elegant dress shop with the most beautiful organic clothes, cashmere, fine wool and cotton – expensive as all get out – the clothes were all white or earthtone grey but beautifully tailored, I just craved something from this shop, but it was out of my reach! – one sweater, the sheerest softest white cashmere, ran about 450 pounds ($1000)…white cashmere blankets…A coat I would have died for was 1300 pounds ($2750) – grey/white tweed…and gorgeous furniture in another shop, more white white white (my favorite color). O to be rich!