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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.

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

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Cornwall – Magical rambles on the coast

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!

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 lovely 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. 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 23rd …I awoke around 9:30, 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 off 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! (Which means, of course, that we have to come back!)

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.

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 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 Polrean 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.

I love England, but there is something about Cornwall that is magical to me..walking on the pebbled narrow streets of Polperro, Truro, St. Ives, Looe…the houses, some hundreds of years old, built into, or from, the bedrock of the cliffs…its 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, sometimes too high to see down to the sea below…I adore it. Loving Cornwall goes back to my mother who was born in Mousehole, as were my grandparents and their parents…it’s in my blood.

England is magic everywhere you turn, but Cornwall has its own special brand of magic: mysterious, especially under lowering gray skies, the winds from the sea, the timelessness of path, water, air and the call of the seagulls.

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.

Hiking in England: From the deep country to St. Michael’s Mount and The Sign of the Angel

A field outside Lacock

Heading for the Cotswolds

“This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England” 

I’ve wanted to hike over England’s cliffs and fields for years – full days of hiking (but ending up in a bed with a bathroom – no camping for me!) in some of the most beautiful countryside on the face of the earth. I was lucky to find a friend who also wanted to spend time hiking the back roads and cliffs of Cornwall (which I had visited before) as well as revisit the Cotswolds. I had never been to the Cotswolds and Diane knew it well. So off we set….

I arrived at Gatwick right on time, and Diane waved madly across the baggage. Our first stop was the Cotswolds. We picked up the rental car, and we were on our merry way to Broadway, a beautiful small town full of atmosphere and charm. On the other side of Broadway in Wilversey, we found Lowerfield Farm, surrounded by quiet fields and country roads. It was a pretty, yellow-painted, two story stone farmhouse, with an appealing landscaped garden. Diane and I were so tired and cold when we arrived, we asked our hostess if we could get some heat turned on – but we forgot we were in England….she looked rather taken aback, saying “We don’t turn on the heat until late September!”

The bathroom had a marvelous deep tub – great for warming up. After a good soak, I climbed into bed and fell fast asleep. At 4PM, awake and ready to eat, we drove into Broadway. The overcast skies had cleared, and the sun appeared. We rambled down the street, peering into every shop window – all of which could have been lifted en toto from Dickens – all the golden Cotswolds stone – all hung with ivy and other vines, and surrounded by blooming flowers, from lavendar to double headed pink and purple petunias to bright red geraniums. Broadway is a charming town, full of atmosphere. The people are delightful- and it was not busy (at that time of year, anyway.)

A view from a bridge

A tiny pub and restaurant called The Horse & Hounds looked inviting, and a young Polish waiter with a long brown ponytail waited on us; he was very sweet. Diane and I shared a bruschetta dish (yummy), then it was on to pasta primavera, finishing off with strawberries and cream (me) and strawberries and custard (Diane)- absolutely wonderfully delicious. Unfortunately, we forgot to tip our delightful waiter…

Back at Lowerfield Farm, we found our hosts had turned on the central heat – just for us (primarily me, being a cold-blooded type). Diane planned out our Cotswold Walks – and we were once again in our beds, all warm and cosy for the night with the green fields of the Cotswolds and a profound country silence surrounding us. Note: We had an explosive toilet….

Lowerfield Farm, a view from the window the morning of the hunt

We view the hunt 

Up at 7:30, we prepared for breakfast at 8:30: Muesli, cream, coffee, pears from the garden, yoghurt and hot chocolate! Thank the lord we were hiking! As we were in the middle of breakfast, a hunt came through: we saw the masters of the hunt in their brilliant red coats, and the rest dressed in hunting green, with about 20 hounds sprawling across the front lawn. The horses were beautiful! Our next-table neighbors were three delightful ladies, who bussed in from another Cotswolds town for a few days’ vacation. They told us they spent the night baking in their rooms – someone had turned on the heat! We kept silent.

 Bibury, the Swan Hotel, Burford and the Windrush 

In Bibury

After breakfast we drove to Bibury to begin our first hike – Bibury is a beautiful little Cotswolds village with a river running through it. I was so nervous about driving on the left hand side, not to mention fielding the roundabouts. But we made it to the parking lot, and began our 6 mile walk through completely entrancing countryside – small woods, rolling hills, tiny streams. The weather was  incredible: blue skies, sunshine, warm – we started off in jackets, ended up in t-shirts. This walk took about 2-l/2 hours.

Another Bibury view

It took us back into Bibury by a different footpath, where we had lunch at The Swan Hotel, an historic old ivy-covered hotel overlooking the river. Diane had carrot soup, I had chicken tikka and chips! After this repaste, we drove to Burford to begin our second hike, which took about three hours. All told, we hiked about twelve miles today – nice!

Walking through fields of golden wheat

This particular hike was through fields of wheat cut for the winter – the imagery was gorgeous…then it’s back roads, and copses, til we reached a narrow river called the Windrush, where we saw enchanting white swans.

A swan on the Windrush

We walked through companies of cows, sheaves of sheep, and pheasants galore! Then it’s on to Stowe-on-the Wolde, where we had a light dinner (salads with feta cheese and lots of ciabatta bread…)

The Swan Hotel in Bibury

It was dark by this time, so back to Lowerfield Farm. The Cotswolds are beautiful, beautiful. I love Broadway and Bibury – small and lovely iconic English villages. But I felt really tired  — stress and jet lag catching up with me!

Stanton, Stanway, Snowshill, Buckland and Laverton

Hiking to Stanton

We were up at 7:30 as usual, and had a big breakfast: Muesli, egg and bacon, coffee. Then it’s on the road for a short drive to Stanton, which is (yet another) charming little village. First a word about the weather: it continued to astonish us how incredibly gorgeous it was. The skies had drifts of a few white clouds but the sun was shining madly, and it was 80 degrees. Everyone we met was delighted with the continuous sunshine. It was so refreshing; keeping it “hikeable” was a lovely crisp breeze. At night, the sky was clear as a bell, and the moon a harvest moon, immense and golden in the black Cotswolds sky.

An old English church graveyard

Anyway: we drove to Stanton and parked the car, preparatory for our hike from Stanton to Stanway, Snowshill, Buckland, inadvertently through Laverton and then back to Stanton. I thought Broadway delightful, but for me, these towns are the real thing! What a lovely, lovely hike. We started before 10AM, and finished around 4PM.

Laverton

Stanton is a completely charming town, and Laverton is absolutely gorgeous: Cotswolds cottages built of the sunny Cotswold stone, beautiful gardens, surrounded by the rolling hills and farmlands of the country.

On the first leg of our hike, we met a group of about twenty men and women, approximately our ages, led by a local guide. She said the men loved to talk to us “young sprigs” and we appreciated the sentiment! This is the leg of the hike that led up the steepest hill for about 30 minutes, and left me breathing hard (it wasn’t that high – I’m such a wuss). When we arrived at the top, the whole of the Cotswolds lay before us. Pictures I have seen cannot begin to describe the beauty.

Somewhere in the Cotswolds

We then hiked along a part of the Cotswolds Way, through fields, woods, over many stiles and through many gates. We walked through the enchanting village of Snowshill (in which I will actually stay a few years later) -a Cotswolds gem of a village, tiny and seemingly untouched by tourism: lovely architecture, picturesque homes dripping with flowers and beautifully and personally landscaped. Our companions left us in Snowshill, where they stopped to picnic in the old church graveyard, while Diane and I had a pub lunch – ploughman’s (cheese, bread, pickles). The sun continued to shine as we continued over hill and dale.

On a downward trek, we met a delightful woman named Maury who was in training for a hike for a cancer group, along the Great Wall of China. We had a fun conversation for half an hour, then she wound her way to somewhere else, and we continued through the fields to Stanton. We hoped. We weren’t sure where we were parked, so we walked the town and finally asked a friendly old man sitting on a bench beneath a tree: “Where are we?”

It turns out we were actually in Laverton — NOT Stanton — and were given straightforward directions to a stile around a corner down a street, then turning back into the fields at a tree. Hmm. (Laverton is another village that is a step back in time —  totally free of tourists — except us — no crowds, etc.)

We came to Stanton’s church spire, wound back through a farm, and found our car parked at the Cricket Club, where a match was taking place. Fun to watch, incomprehensible to figure out! But so nice to see those cricket whites once again.

From the top of the Broadway Folly you can get 360 degree view of the Cotswolds

Back in the car, Diane drove to the Broadway Folly, situated atop a hill, from which we got an astounding view 360 degrees of the Cotswolds. Fabulous!

Then it was back to our B&B, where we freshened up and drove to Chipping Camden for dinner and a quick walk down the main street. Great conversation at dinner, despite the fact that Diane is a Republican and I a Democrat! Then it was back to Lowerfield Farm, and so to bed. We were definitely hoping for more of this supremely gorgeous weather tomorrow, as this would be our longest hike.

Lower Slaughter, Naunton, Bourton-on-the-Water

7:30 and we’re down to breakfast (the usual fabulous feast) and by 9-ish, we were on the road for Bourton-on-the-Water, where we began our hike (about ten miles round trip, longer with side trips). We hiked through prosperous-looking farms, over farmland, through woods, besides rivers and streams – through Lower Slaughter.

On the way to Bourton-on-the-Water

A picnic lunch of crusty rolls, cheese and tomatoes in a field far from anywhere was a nice break. Then it was on to Upper Slaughter where we stopped in a pub for a drink – fabulous, incredible 80 degree weather.

Sky clear as glass. Then on to Naunton, across grassy ridges, through more woods and fields and eventually back to Bourton-on-the-Water.

Bourton-on-the-Water

The day was supremely beautiful. Why I even bothered carrying a rain jacket in my backpack I don’t know. I was actually tanning! My arms were brown as a berry. Not that many people are out and about, surprisingly. We saw a few – a very few – on the trail, and they were all very pleasant.

The mists of time

Back at Lowerfield Farm. Richard, our host, was a delightful man. We only saw him in an apron serving us breakfast, but he was invariably chipper and friendly. His wife, Jane, on the other hand, was  very distant. Richard was all jolly hockey sticks, cheery and pip-pip. I liked that. What a really lovely four days. Beautiful weather, fascinating hikes where we saw the “real” Cotswolds – real back-in-time tiny hamlets that are truly “old England.”

Dartmoor and the Warren Hill Inn

A view of Dartmoor across from the Inn

We left Lowerfield Farm (sob) and drove to the M-5, all the way to Liskeard (I was driving.) We stopped off in Chudleigh for lunch, where Diane took over. From there, it was on to Dartmoor National Park. I loved it!! So wild and desolate and full of sheep and wild ponies. Beautiful. You could imagine Heathcliff and Cathy running across the heather.

Wild ponies on Dartmoor’s heath

The sun shone all day long.

At the top of the world in the middle of nowhere on a road through Dartmoor stands the Warren Hill Inn. Here we stopped for a drink. It was a little cool out on the moors, so a wood fire was burning in the fireplace, and it was a true old-timey pub atmosphere, deep and dark. We chatted for a while with a man from Bath (incredibly crusty accent) who was looking at properties to buy for leasing to visitors. He was extremely friendly – took our pictures without a murmur.

Diane and I in front of The Warren Hill Inn in the middle of Dartmoor

 Talland Bay – and Allhays

From Warren Hill, we drove down narrow, then narrower, then even narrower lanes with high hedgerows. Through tiny villages and hamlets we drove and through some of the loveliest countryside (Dorset) which is every bit as delightful as the Cotswolds. We drove all the way to Looe, and then found Allhays on Talland Bay.

Beautiful Allhays B&B in Talland Bay

Allhays was a very lovely B&B off the beaten path <and I am very sorry to say it has since closed>. Situated on Talland Bay, between Looe and Polperro, its cream-colored stone glowed in the late afternoon light, and its bushes were heavy with hydrangeas surrounding it. The interior living room (for guests) had two lovely cream colored, soft chenille sofas, and the whole house had the French touch, with patterned draperies, beautiful pictures, and the woodwork painted in heavy high gloss cream. The carpet was cream bordering on ecru up the stairs. Annie, (one of our hosts, and French), had placed a fresh yellow rose in our lovely bedroom on the second story. The bedroom overlooked the lawn in back which led to the view of the cliffs and then the sparkling sea.

Our bathroom was the size of a pea.

When we were ready for dinner, Diane could not find the car keys. After frantically checking the car and the trail back to our room, and looking under the bed, in her backpack and various pockets, they  turned up in her purse. And so it goes….

Onward to dinner in Polperro. Yum-o. (The loo had toilet seats of fish embedded in plastic.) Back in the car on the way back to Allhays, we missed the turn in the very dark road, drove all the way to Looe and back before we finally found Allhays. Talk about two tired girls…

A tiny Polperro lane

 Polperro – a real step back in time

We were up around 7:30 and had a traditional, and delicious, English breakfast in Allhays’ sunlit breakfast room. The room was nothing but windows which looked out onto the back “garden” and all the way over the cliffs to the sea. Incredible views. Breakfast included muesli, yoghurt, homemade bread and jams, etc. Mowgli joined us for breakfast. He wanted to join us in the bedroom last night, but as Diane said “it’s the cat or me!” I had to opt for sharing the room with her! Mowgli was a beautifully marked sealpoint Siamese, sleek as a whistle, and very loving. I didn’t want to put her out (especially as I love her name), but she seemed to settle down on the landing.

On the way to Polperro

This morning we set off on our hike to Polperro (two miles coastal). A fabulous walk – all downhill – along coastal beauty that is almost ethereal. We reached Polperro, and stocked up for lunch. Me: Cornish pasty, crusty roll (still uneaten), and a tomato.

Hiking the cliffs to Polperro

I had a banana in my backpack. Diane had grapes and a raisin scone. We wandered around Polperro, and I found the Noughts and Crosses Inn – still there after all these years! Jean and Toni (good friends of mine in Houston) honeymooned at this inn 60 years ago. We rambled around and window shopped, taking pictures of the harbor, the sun shining brightly on this attractive little fishing village.

The harbor at Polperro

Then we were off on our challenging cliff walk from Polperro, round the point, then up and over the fields. The sun was intense, and the sky was clear and deep blue, while the water seen down below was silver blue. Fairy tale.

Crumbling ruin in the middle of a field on the cliffs

We walked and walked and WALKED – mostly uphill – stairs and more stairs – up and up and UP! And then across fields, again uphill, past a deserted barn into a narrow lane, and then on the downhill road to Polperro. We had been walking since 10AM, and it was now 3 o’clock. I LOVED it.

I will never tire of hiking these marvelous cliffs

Back in Polperro, we stopped for a lemonade (why does the lemonade taste so much better here than at home?) and still had two miles left to go back to Allhays – all uphill and over the cliffs. The coast road back to Allhays is often a narrow lane banked by hedges of brambles, blackberries and ferns. All along the coast these hedges were alive with butterflies, fluttering everywhere, and the hum of the bees. We finally reached Allhays in time for a shower and then it was out to dinner. Our dinner lasted three hours – we talked non-stop. Then it was back to Allhays down the dark high hedge-lined lanes. We figure we’ve clocked in about 45-50 miles to date.

The back of Allhays seen from the breakfast nook

 Over the hills and far away: Fowey, Bodinnick, Polruan, Mevagissey

Woke up at 7:30 to another glorious day. The view from our bedroom window was stunning. Off we go after our muesli, yoghurt, granary bread (home baked), and Scotch pancakes, to drive to Fowey/Bodinnick, drop off the car and begin a hike around the coast (which is projected to take about three hours.) The cliff walk was not as challenging as yesterday’s, but it was just as beautiful, and a little cooler, although the sun continued to shine shine shine.

Fowey’s harbour

We walked narrow cliff paths rimmed with blackberry bushes, ferns and brambles; deep lanes lined high with hedgerows; past ancient churches; over fields and streams – the silver sea looked like a mirage –incredibly clear, incredibly beautiful under the sun, and stretching to the far blue horizon.

Over the hills…

We had eaten a good breakfast, and weren’t hungry, until we came back around through Polruan, where we stopped for a quick bite. It was very interesting and odd that we met yet again – for the third time – a man we had first met yesterday leaving Polperro for the long hike. We met him again on the way back to Polperro, and now again in Fowey…small world!

And far away…

Fowey (pronounced Foy) is a pretty town. Lots of people were out and about, as they were in Polperro, which is the quintessential fishermen’s village: houses hang from the cliffs, steep, steep lanes and roads everywhere, flower boxes on every possible wall, door, corner, eave, restaurant front – the ever-present sea breeze cooling us off – and the seagulls squawking. We were not supposed to feed the seagulls. They’re “dirty” and “dangerous” birds, according to one old-timer. One bird even had a “Wanted” poster – full face, left and right profile…

An incredible view of the bay

The Fowey/Polruan hike was wonderful – weather, sunshine, paths, views, length of hike and nice people everywhere. “Where are you from?” is the ubiquitous question. So many people had been to Florida or Texas. One man sitting on the bench atop the cliffwalk asked “What do the American people now think of Bush?”, and we ask about Blair (“Some question his honesty!”)

Fields like this are part of Cornwall’s charm

We caught the ferry back from Polruan to Fowey, and then another from Fowey to Bodinnick. Our car park was up an extremely steep road – took about half an hour to reach it. We then decided to take the ferry across to the road to Mevagissey, a supposedly beautiful Daphne Du Maurier haunt. I think she was born around there; there were certainly enough bookstores prominently displaying her books, her photographs and other memorabilia – but Mevagissey was such a letdown. It was tourism taken to the extreme, full of tacky shops and non-descript architecture, not in the least bit picturesque or attractive. And yet some literature noted it as “One of the prettiest villages in England!” Not!!

Even the architecture – houses and shops – was totally undistinguished. We walked around for half an hour, then got our car and drive back – in rush hour traffic – to the ferry, then we stopped to pick up some picnic items for dinner, and so back to our beautiful Allhays to pack.

Marazion and St. Michael’s Mount 

Up and away from Allhays by 9:30 (sob) after our usual yummy breakfast, which this time included stewed plums. The day was overcast – our first overcast day since arriving. We drove from Polperro to Penzance, another tourist mecca, down narrow high hedge-rowed lanes, trees arching overhead, ferns sprouting from the hedgerows. Once in Penzance, we found Tourist Information, and they found us a B&B overlooking Mount St. Michael. Not the best B&B, but two beds (very comfy) and a shower en-suite (important!)

The toilet in our bathroom was a cracker: you flushed, and it sounded much like a steam engine coming to boil … then it was a bang and a BANG BANG BANG CLATTER CLATTERCLATTERCLATTER!! Incredible. The noise seemed to go on for ages. And the tap over the sink also startled you out of your wits when you turned it on, causing another major BANG from the toilet.

From the sublime to the ridiculous! Actually, it was funny as hell. We couldn’t help laughing because it was so uniquely LOUD.

The ferry from Marazion to St Michael’s Mount

Anyway, we left the luggage and drove into Marazion, parked and took the ferry to St. Michael’s Mount. Filled with history, beautiful and eerie. We walked uphill to the top of the mount, and toured the castle and the grounds. The “docents” in the castle (for want of a better word) were charming and knowledgeable. One old gentleman, in talking about Lord and Lady Leven, impressed on us how delightful Lady Leven was (she had died unexpectedly at age 69). “Yes, madam always said ‘good morning’ and ‘isn’t it a lovely morning?’ when she came across us.”  In re-reading this, I think: How very Downton Abbey!

The road up to the castle

After exploring, we walked back down the (very very steep) hill to the causeway. By now, the tide was out and we were able to actually walk back to the mainland (Diane loved this! and so did I!)

The tide is out, enabling us to walk the causeway back to the mainland

Then it’s back to our odd little B&B. After some discussion, we decided to drive to Land’s End (at 5PM) for a quick 1-2 hour hike across the cliffs there.

First and last refreshment house in England - Land's End

First and last refreshment house in England – Land’s End

On reaching Land’s End, we quickly parked and walked through the tourist excrescence fronting the cliffs. There were one or two couples around, and it was very quiet and dim, heavy clouds scudding across the sky.

Dusk at Land’s End

We ambled across the slowly eroding cliffs for about 1-1/2 hours as the twilight deepened, and the wind blew, making it all very mysterious and atmospheric.

Hiking at Land’s End

We then drove back 12 miles to Marazion, leaving our car at the B&B, and walked to the King’s Arms for dinner (the dinner took 2 hours arriving!). Then back to our B&B and a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow, Lacock and Castle Combe!

Lacock’s main street

Lacock – at the Sign of the Angel – and Castle Combe 

We were up and out of the B&B in Marazion by 9, after a hearty breakfast (surprisingly good.) Then it was driving, driving and more driving. We drove through Glastonbury, but did not stop. This was not an attractive town! And this is twice I have visited areas fabled as the birthplace/resting place of King Arthur, and twice have been disappointed! The first was Tintagel, now it was Glastonbury…maybe it’s me. Nonetheless, we have driven through beautiful country, and we were now in Wiltshire, just coming into Lacock, around 5PM. This is where “Pride and Prejudice” was filmed (is there any other Mr. Darcy than Colin Firth? I think not.)

The Sign of the Angel in Lacock

What an exquisite little town! It’s fifteenth century, and owned by the National Trust. We were lucky enough to get two rooms in The Sign of the Angel, where we ducked down through the doors, and where the floors all sloped. The rooms were enchanting, and as no twin bedded-room was available we opted to each have our own room. Both were en-suite, with big bathtubs to wallow in, which we did! My room was painted deep pink, with burgundy carpet, white iron queen sized bed, feather pillows and bolsters, old antique furniture – and somewhere, there was a resident ghost! It said so on the little marquee in the old hallway.

The George pub and inn in Lacock

This afternoon, the sun was back out and after wandering around the town (which takes about 5 minutes), Diane and I bought English newspapers and took them to the adorable little pub, The George. The door was open wide and inside it was everything a pub should be – and more. I ordered a cuppa, and Diane an apple cider, and we sat in a corner and I read the Guardian – so very civilized and literary as we were. I loved this place.

The small restaurant at Sign of the Angel

Next was dinner. Downstairs was the Angel’s unbelievably charming dining room – the food is fabulous – salads, baked goat cheese on toasted olive bread, wonderful veggies, crusty rolls and deep yellow butter. (I have eaten far more on this trip than I would ever eat at home – I hope! But then – we are hiking. Excuses, excuses…)

After dinner, Diane and I walked down the tiny lamplit streets under a clear black velvet night sky full of stars (I am sure she wishes Robert were there instead of just me…)

Lacock’s charming houses

The windows in several houses were uncurtained and we were able to look into the glowing small yellow-lit living rooms and dining rooms of these ancient homes built in the time of Shakespeare.

Then we packed for the drive back to Gatwick tomorrow, (after we see Castle Combe) and I’m sitting up against my feather bolsters finishing my journal (more or less.) I have seen and done much – Diane has really pushed me to do more than I even conceived of– and I am so grateful. It has been really wonderful, and I’ve learned so much about England. It is good to know there are still the ancient towns, the footpaths (all 1,500 of them) and back roads, the hedgerows, stiles and kissing gates on this jolly old island.

Castle Combe

Up early to breakfast downstairs… We had porridge with brown sugar and cream! I thought I’d died and gone to heaven (there’s the sign, you see.) We were also offered fresh raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and a hot breakfast.

It was a misty morning as we left Lacock for Castle Combe. We took a wrong turn somewhere, but managed to eventually find the road, passing through towns called Tiddleywinks and Shepton Mallet, to yet another entrancing small village. We parked in the car park, and walked down a steep hill right into Jane Austen country.

An early morning walk in Castle Combe

Beautiful (for want of a better word) tiny stone and brick homes and shops framed in ivy, or flowering or berried vines. We wandered about the town in a happy daze, then began our hike through the surrounding countryside. The morning mist slowly began to burn away with the sun eventually breaking through, and the day clears as we walked in quiet woods where beech leaves dropped to the ground, sounding like the patter of tiny feet following us.

A walk around Castle Combe

Across fields and climbing over stiles and gates and crossing streams, we managed to again get lost! We finally found the main road behind a farm, and wound up at Castle Combe, where we stopped at a most adorable little pub for a quick drink. Then we rambled around a delightful tiny shop that has the most perfect things: pictures, objets, pottery, photography — all so beautiful, you wanted to buy out the shop. I didn’t (surprise!) but Diane made some inroads…

Lunch at the Castle Inn Hotel – more cheese

Then it was back to our lovely elegant pub for a quick lunch. We sat outside in the sunshine, watching as about 30 Japanese wandered into town. Moments later, about 15 bikers zoomed in and parked in the square. Even here, time doesn’t stand still….

And as it moves on,  we had to begin thinking of getting on our way. We walked back up the hill to the car park, the sun by now shining so brilliantly, it was intensely hot. And then it was on the road to our hotel at Gatwick, a quick bath and dinner, and so to bed. We had to be ready at 7AM to catch the hotel bus to the airport by 9AM. We have seen so many beautiful, traditional, wonderful sights on this trip — been transported back to a quieter, cozier and less frenetic time…

People tell me old England, the backroads and coastal towns, are disappearing or changing beyond recognition. Maybe so…but not for me. On this hike, England was everything – and more – that I hoped it would be. I love England…I always will.

Hiking in Spain: Autumn in Andalusia

  

Granada

Who knew I’d get stood up in Spain? One thing to be stood up at the movies – but Spain?

I’d planned to meet a friend in Madrid, then we’d fly to Granada to meet our hiking group. There were clues that this might not come to pass – oh, for example, when she said: Now if I’m not in Madrid when you land, don’t wait for me – catch your plane to Granada. But of course, who thinks this means: Guess what, I’m not coming!

That being said, I arrived in Madrid about 9AM – no-one seemed to speak English, even a flight captain. I was at a total loss as to my connecting Iberian flight to Granada, but eventually found out they don’t announce a gate until an hour prior. Better be sure you’re within running distance.

Still no sign of Diane, so I boarded Iberian. The sun was shining brilliantly – and I arrived at the (tiny) Granada airport and stood outside waiting – waiting – waiting for a taxi. Finally! I arrived at Guadalupe Hotel in the Alhambra (which, I found out is a medina, or city, not just a palace, as I had thought…always learning). Diane never showed up. Around 5PM Granada time…after hours of calls and worry…. I decided to change my tickets home, moving them up two days so I’d arrive home early Sunday rather than late Tuesday. Incredible hassle. I spent about $200 on long distance calls to airlines and to the office…let alone the cost of re-purchasing the Iberian A/L ticket and changing Continental!

Finally late that evening I found out from Wilderness Travel: Diane was not coming! I took a sleeping tablet, and slept until noon Saturday, and awoke feeling much better!

Saturday, Sept 30

Never hear from Diane.

The view from my room at the Guadalupe Hotel

My room, (on the 3rd floor) was charming although spartan…but what views! The busloads of tourists had come and gone, and peace reigned. I decided to wash my hair and get an early night. Reminder for next trip: Be sure to check the hotel hairdryer before you plan to use it!  First try: I blew the electricity.  Then I popped the breaker, and plugged the dryer back in…electricity came on. But every time I tried to use it, it blew.  I called the concierge, who flipped  breakers high upon the wall across the room several times – same problem. “Too bad,” she said. The only thing I could do was dry one strand of hair before blowing the fuse, cross from the bathroom, climb on a chair, flip the breakers, dry another strand, and so on and so forth. Fun!

The Guadalupe Hotel at the Alhambra

Next, I tried Room Service. When I couldn’t get anyone on the line, I called the front desk. They suggested I come down to the bar, which is also the Room Service. So down I went. One lonely girl was behind the counter…only two customers. I asked her “is this Room Service?” She: “Do I LOOK like Room Service?” Hmm…inauspicious beginning. I asked if she could fix me a sandwich. She looked at me as if I were requesting a 6-course meal, but we finally had a meeting of the minds, and when I offered her a big tip, she decided she could, of course, bring the tray to my room. Yay!

Meeting the group 

I met the group and off we go to the Alhambra. The palace was beautiful with incredible lacy walls with the coats of arms etc. of bygone times. I loved the gardens…oh, they were heavenly… architecturally designed…flowers brilliant…cedars and boxwood – all wildly scented.

We left the Alhambra and walked to charming restaurant up, up, up a narrow street. It was delightful sitting outside under a canopy eating a wonderful lunch. Weather, by the way, was hot – hot – hotter, not the usual October weather for Andalusia.

After lunch, we all piled in a van to Bubion, a tiny village atop what seemed to me an incredibly high mountain.  I turned green as round and round we went on the narrow road – each lap around the mountain more terrifying than the previous. The drop was precipitous. Thank god Didier was an excellent driver. I was so nauseated by the movement of the van, I really thought I’d lose it. Sweat broke out all over my face and neck, and I could barely climb from the van after an hour and a half drive up the mountain. (But this was the only time I experienced this.)

All the little towns have these wonderful narrow streets

Three hours later, after washing my hair again (glutton for punishment), I was able to go to dinner, always late at night. It was fabulous, but almost too much for me to finish (I valiantly manage). Spanish meals seem to be HUGE. But oh, we were relaxed, sitting outside in the courtyard looking over the mountains at the sunset, and then at a glorious full moon, having drinks, then going inside the tiny restaurant for dinner. Wine flowed, good conversation reigned. What a wonderful night!

We meet in hotel lobby at 9:30 after quick breakfast. First hike – and it was a doozy. The first couple of hours we hiked down – which was great. The trail was rocky and pebbly, so needed to watch feet. No-one else in the group likes downhill.

It is very dry here, and unseasonably hot. The ground is parched, but vistas across valleys are stunning, the mountains incredible, and you see clusters of whitewashed towns scattered at intervals across the great divides. Not a lot of water.

We are accompanied on this trip by Antonio and two mules. Bea asked me several times if I wanted to just ride one of the mules, when I thought I’d pass out from heat – but add to the weight already on the backs of the animals I would not … although they were well fed and cared for – Antonio rode one of them almost all the way back up the mountain.

Two mules for…

Now imagine, if you will, hiking in 87o F weather – with humidity – most times with no shade – sun fierce – not a cloud in the sky – followed by Antonio on a mule yakking away on his cell phone!

After about three hours, we come to our lunch spot, with a fabulous view across cliffs and valleys. In the distance, our town of Bubion, where we would begin heading after lunch. We picnic on tomatoes from Bea’s garden, homemade olive oil, two kinds of Spanish cheeses, cured ham, long loaves of crusty bread, Spanish olives…all absolutely delish (also wine, orange and peach juices).

Up again, on hike back to Bubion – this was so steep I had to keep stopping in the (very few) shady spots…the climb was intense. Bea kept me going – it was easier with the stops, but woof: talk about hard (my hardest hike…the rest got easier by the day.) Finally got to Bubion and she and I stopped in a small taverna for a drink. It was such fun to just not be “in train” and I loved Bea for doing it. She is a remarkable person – so Spanish, absolutely tiniest person I’ve every met. She used to be a dancer, until, as she says, her boobs got too big! She is funny and encouraging and has been such a friend on this hike.

On the road

A note on Granada, Bubion and Andalusia in general: I feel in many ways I have come to the back of beyond. It’s not that restaurants and inns lack amenities but the landscape does not allow for a Milan or New York frame of mind. People do things here they have done – in the same way – for hundreds of years. Bea herself lives in a tiny village up a hill from Bubion – she is restoring her house – it takes an immense amount of time – you cannot drive to her village, the roads are too narrow and inaccessible. She has to park her car elsewhere and walk uphill to her home. As she pointed out, in the winter, they may lose the electricity, but they have the fireplace, good wine and friends to sit and talk with (sounds great to me).

We meet a man on the hike who lived in a hut with dogs and a cat and probably other animals – no electricity, running water etc. – 84 years old, wizened – and happy. Time definitely stands still in Andalusia – except, except, except.

You cannot escape the cell phone. For example, Antonio, sitting astride one of his mules, climbing up the mountain, talking away a mile a minute on his cell phone to his girlfriend. Technology – even in the back of beyond.

The charm of Andalusia is everywhere

But perhaps back of beyond doesn’t really describe Andalusia – it is just timeless. Its villages are whitewashed, streets are rocky and cobbled and narrow, pots of flowers in all colors abound, dogs run free and doorways are open. All towns seem to be on mountains – all streets are steep – and life is very laid back.

I keep forgetting to mention the tapas. Every time you stop at a taverna for a drink, you are always given a grand array of sliced ham and/or cheese, maybe, but always olives and bread. And the size of the platter is dependent on the number of people.  On the climb to Bubion, we all stopped for a “clara” or “shandy” or Alhambra beer and were served the platters of the above as well as potatoes with scrambled eggs. Yum. Of course, who wants to hike after beer and potatoes!

And another thing: There is no mustard in Spain, or if there is, it must really be searched for! Jaro spent two hours looking for mustard when he went to Malaga…he wanted a ham sandwich with MUSTARD, but all they kept giving him was mayo or butter. Oh the challenges of this dreamy spot!

I am back at the inn, sitting on my little back patio underneath a chestnut tree writing in my journal. The sun is still high in the sky – but it’s cool in this shady enclosed grassy space, rimmed by scented boxwood. I am drinking an Alhambra beer and thinking: how lucky am I.

Off to wash my hair.

The incredible Ronda Gorge 

Up early this morning – suitcases must be in van by 8:45. Suck down some cereal and yoghurt and on the road again from Bubion on the way to Ronda.

Our hike is not as strenuous today – mostly down, with a few uphills just to keep us on our toes. Views are incredible, as usual. We stop for lunch at 1PM. Didier says this is the most primitive part of Andalusia, and from all points of view he is right. We are at a small taverna where the construction workers come to eat lunch – the food is delish, and there’s lots of it – egg pies, crusty bread, salad, and lemon souffle for dessert. I am gaining weight as I write this down.

Then it’s into the van for the 3.5 hour drive to Ronda. Uneventful trip – no nausea this time.

We arrive in Ronda. Our hotel is in the “parador” or palace, which fronts right onto the gorge. My room has a balcony overlooking dales and gorge and mountains. Fabulous.

In the rush to leave, I left behind my hairbrush, and my earrings. Really ticked at myself, but Didier finally finds a shop selling hairbrushes (big relief – obviously I am ecstatic over small things in life.)

Dinner in the lovely dining room. And so to bed…hiking the gorge tomorrow.

Woke up early, I thought. Next time I look it was 9:30 and that was “leave time”. O God! Never moved so damned fast in my life – surprised that Bea was not banging on the door! Glomp on sunblock, brush teeth, drag brush thru hair, clothes, boots – downstairs!

Only to find out it’s only 8:30. I must have forwarded the time when I was clicking on the alarm clock. Am now exhausted, and haven’t left the parador!

Breakfast. Then out the door to walk around the gorge and check the Roman/Moorish/Muslim baths within the battlements, circa 1250.

Then it’s across the bridge, down and through fields and around a trail for about five hours…then back up-up-up the gorge for lunch at a taverna, sitting outside overlooking the gorge, fields and faraway hills. I love it…it’s wonderful to be so far away from my “everyday” life in a completely – and I mean completely – foreign part of the world.

Incredible views. Our hotel is right on the Ronda gorge itself, and is truly magnificent. Inside are marble floors, stately columns, wonderful architecture. My room has a fantastic view over the fields below to the mountains beyond….never has the phrase “over the hills and far away” been so appropriate.

Lunch as usual was fun – but having a beer knocks me out. I’m going to sleep like a log tonight, but first we’re going to the bullring (but not to see a bullfight, which I would NOT) – then dinner at 8:30. After quick trip to a ceramic shop for a Ronda keepsake, it’s back to the parador to sleep for a couple of hours, then meet the group, after which, back again to parador and drinks with Bea, Didier and Jaro. And after a 2.5 hour-long meal, back to bed!

Ro, Didier and Bea after hiking Ronda’s beautiful plain

We’re on the way to our next hike. We pack and leave Ronda at 9:30AM…the hike is through some beautiful country, more green than before. Trails very very VERY narrow. We hiked for four hours to a quaint and lonely taverna…a converted “train barn” beside a railroad track. It is one room, very large, high ceilinged…painted terra cotta-ish within, marvelous architectural details.

Lunch was incredible – and huge! We start as usual with olives, then crusty bread and a salad…then we have soup…then grilled seabreem. Each of us has an entire fish, head, tails and all – we debone it at table, and squeeze lime on its white interior – it is delicious. We each have different desserts. I have chocolate mousse cake…talk about decadent. Wine is always served, but I decided to just wait until dinner, otherwise I’d be under the table.

A little rest after a fabulous meal

After this gorgeous lunch – we all have an hour to siesta or read. As I sit on the patio looking at mountains in the distance, the sky is completely clear and deeply blue, the sun is warm on my face. As I sit with my feet up on a couple of chairs. I think again: “how lucky am I?”

Then the blissful moment is over. It’s back in the van – driving through the incredible mountain scenery to climb and clamber up and over rocks and boulders to a huge and deep cave filled with stalagmites, stalagtites, paleolithic paintings, and “lakes”. We enter about 500 KMs into the cave…which is – they say – about 20,000 years old. (Have panic attack here, but it passes. Bea holds my hand through the whole thing, and I hope I didn’t break her fingers!)

Then back in van, driving through horse country…lovely rolling hills and fields – cork trees abound here, throughout our trip, we’ve seen chestnuts (with the nuts falling from the tree), almond trees, olives, oak, aspen – chestnut trees are used in much of the new construction. Not many flowers.

We left Bubion (we found out) just before a mini-hurricane struck, causing much destruction in that area (so far we’ve had nothing the most gorgeous weather…)

Grazemala – my favorite small town

About 6:30 we come to Grazemala, the town where we’ll spend the night. Of all the tiny charming towns, it is absolutely the most charming: hilly cobbled streets, a tiny town square overlooked by the Catholic Church, many small boutique shops with high end goods, (which are extremely reasonable and beautiful). I love it, and wish I could have stayed longer than two nights. Oh, and gorgeous bougainvillea.

Beautiful magical Grazemala

We dine at 9 (I can’t get used to all this food – and eating so late  – I must have gained a ton – but oddly enough, LOST inches, as I found when I returned home.) We have: wine, salad, crusty bread (a given), a huge bowl of gazpacho, fabulous paella (which the maitre’d brings out on a huge pan – it looks like a flower, all gorgeous rice and seafood and veggies), and then flan. Yum-o!!!

Up at 8AM and out the door of this delightful hotel by 9:30, in hiking boots, ready for another “harder” hike. This one lasts about 6-1/2 hours. The trail at first is fairly placid, earthen and downhill (my kind of trail). Then we come to the boulders. The trail becomes rocky here, and the climb is up – up – boulders all shapes and sizes cover the mountain. It is so important to watch where you put your feet. This area is extremely dry, and the sun is fierce, with very little shade.

We are in the open for much of the hike. Then we come to a grassy area atop a mountain after about three hours, and stop beneath a shady oak (the only one) and Bea lays out a wonderful picnic lunch: the usual crusty bread, tomatoes in olive oil with olives, peppers in olive oil, incredible thinly sliced ham, and goat cheese and cheddar (the cheddar is the best I’ve ever had, and there have been some marvelous cheeses on this trip.) Dessert (if you wanted it) was orange-chocolate cookies. No wine this time, only peach juice. Delish!

Ann on the trail

After wrapping up my blisters (yet again) it was back on the (ever-rockier) trail. We had seen wild ponies and mountain goats. Now we come to a fenced area (huge) which encloses massive wild black pigs – the noise they made would have wakened the dead – there were about 100 of them, and I’m glad they stayed on their side of the fence. Bea told us that during an earlier hike she’d been on, they were loose – and they completely obliterated the food brought for a picnic.

The rocky plain

We continue clambering down over boulders and the rocky trail and finally at about 3:30 came to our little taverna, where we sat in the shade drinking cokes and yakking up a storm. Back in the van for a drive back to our hotel through incredible mountain scenery.

As I sit here writing this, the church bell is tolling the hour, and it is incredibly quiet afterwards. Siesta until 5PM.

Back to the hike for a moment: at one point, Bea and I were hiking alone and we stopped to look at the beautiful valley spread before us. The silence was intense – we were literally in the middle of nowhere, and not a sound to be heard – not a bird, not a stream, no wild animals, no wind. Magic…I believe, despite Diane’s not showing up, that this is one of the loveliest trips I’ve ever made.

The quest for mustard – and a newspaper

Halfway through this trip, Jaro decides to go alone to Malaga on the coast, instead of hiking Ronda. He gets on a bus that should’ve gotten him there in an hour, but which took almost three. Then he spent hours looking for an English-language newspaper – had lunch, during which he looked unsuccessfully for mustard – took a walk around town – then caught the bus back to Ronda. He says that bus ride was a real trip – all women except him, all chattering wildly back and forth. The only words he got were “Mi madre!” and the girl pronouncing them did not say them in a happy tone of voice. But the bus ride was wonderful – so full of life. Jaro is really a fascinating individual – a real gentleman, great conversationalist. So now, I go to wash my hair and tidy up (I’m going to have to rethink this hairwashing business). Tomorrow we leave for Sevilla at 8:30AM, I’m cleaning out my suitcase for the trip home…

The ubiquitous cell phone

Bea and I went for a quick drink after a trip to the ATM (there’s that technology again) – then we all met for drinks in the hotel lobby – then walked the cobbled streets of Grazemala for a last meal together. It was one of those lovely evenings where everything went well: conversation, food, laughter. A really magical night. We walked back to the hotel under a clear midnight blue sky and the moon was full, a silver orb in that incredible sky.

Must get up at 7AM. And so to bed.

As scheduled, we leave the Hotel de la Villa at 8:30, and are on the 2-1/2 hour drive to Sevilla – first part through very mountainous and beautiful terrain, to a flatter but still rolling landscape into town. (Note: we have come to Sevilla from our highest elevation – 4500 feet.)

We find our hotel: Didier takes off to try to find a parking place for the van – 2-1/2 hours later, still no sign of Didier! Luckily, the luggage was dropped at the hotel.

Sevilla

The group takes off with Angela, guide to Santa Maria Cathedral (3rd largest in Europe) and the Royal Palace. Cathedral is astonishing – the nave is 500 km and completely gold leafed over cedar carvings of the birth of Christ up to his crucifixion. The inlays, the statuary, paintings, frescoes – gorgeous. Christopher Columbus’ bones are buried here – interred in coffin supported by four  magnificent carved figures, twice life size – incredible.

The gardens of the royal residence

The Royal Residence is beautiful: layers upon layers of Moorish/Christian architecture – inlays, everything restored or as it used to be. The rooms are far richer than the Alhambra – and the gardens are Persian/French/Italian/English – gorgeous trees and plants – all scented – just beautiful.

The palace, Seville

And then back to the hotel – quick goodbyes – went to my room for wash and a sandwich – get suitcase zipped – taxi due shortly to take me to airport, and then to Madrid where I’ll spend the night. And so I bid Andalusia, Bea and all farewell – the culmination of another little dream of travel.

Note to self: NEVER fly through Madrid if you can help it – airport is a nightmare – lines so long, it’s a wonder you don’t miss the flight (not that it seemed to matter on this trip), and once you get past customs into the waiting area – you cannot get out to find the bathroom, unless you want to go back through the humongous custom lines again!)

Further notes: I have to say a couple – or more – words about this hotel I’m at, in Madrid – it is gorgeous! Decor is a kind of Zen/Japanese/modern – gray grasscloth walls, black leather chair and tuffet, shoji screened closets, big square bed – white linens, tons of white pillows, hardwood floors, high-tech phones – and the bathroom! Fabulous molded-glass sink, frosted glass doors and shower and bath, gray tiles…it’s really really elegant. So comfy and so calming after the stress of the plane (little do I know about stress until I try to get home on Continental, but I won’t go into that here) and then trying to get a taxi to the hotel in Madrid. The first taxi driver threw me out of the cab because he didn’t have a clue where the hotel was (even with the address), he didn’t speak any English, and we were both yelling. I thought I’d be stuck on that curb for life!

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

The charm of Victoria, Vancouver Island, Canada

Across the harbor, Victoria

Across the Inner Harbor, Victoria, with The Empress in the background

Amazing flowers

As the heat continues to build in Houston, it was wonderful to be able to get away to a cooler part of the U.S., specifically the Pacific Northwest, and then on to Victoria, Vancouver Island, Canada. July is always a terrific time to visit that part of the country, because you can pretty much depend on beautiful weather, warm days and nights with a chill in the air.

A walk along Puget Sound

A walk along Puget Sound

I flew into Seattle and stayed for a couple of days in the little town of Mukilteo, which is absolutely charming. The landscape is hilly, the flowers bloom recklessly, and Puget Sound is blue blue blue. On the first full day of the trip, we all drove into Seattle to experience both a foodie tour, and Seattle’s Public Market. The foodie tour, which was guided by Liz McCune of EatSeattleTours.com, was terrific. We started early, going from booths to stalls to shops, taste-testing everything from coffee to cheese, to mac and cheese, to pastries and chocolate. Yum-o!

Seattle food tasting tour

Seattle food tasting tour – the Public Market

After which we stopped for lunch! Despite having dipped tongue into so many foods, we were all still hungry, and it was terrific sitting in the pub overlooking the bay, having brunch. The weather was really beautiful…basically, you could say it was Goldilocks’ weather: not too hot, not too cold, but just right. Lucky us!

Rambling round Mukilteo

Rambling round Mukilteo

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The rest of the day I spent rambling around Mukilteo and getting ready for the brief but exciting trip to Victoria and Vancouver Island.

Driving through potato fields on the way to the ferry

Driving through potato fields on the way to the ferry

Monday morning, we drove the two-hour stretch from Mukilteo to the ferry. I loved the entire drive – through open farm country, with potato fields covered in their purple flower,

One of the picturesque barns

One of the wonderful picturesque barns

past picturesque old barns, and through tiny towns…stopping for a bite to eat in LaConner, one of my favorite towns in this area. It really is a “tiny town” … you can walk the main street in a minute. It’s filled with small boutiques, great little restaurants, and galleries. Just fun to wander around in the sunshine (and wish you lived here.)

Eating our way to Canada! A delicious cinnamon roll for breakfast in LaConner!

Eating our way to Canada! A delicious cinnamon roll for breakfast in LaConner!

Then on to the ferry, and my first glimpse of Canada. We didn’t wait long, and the ferry ride itself, although about another two-hour trip, was immensely comfortable, with booths set alongside the windows so you’re able to look out onto the islands and get the first glimpse of the Canadian shore. I really was excited…never having been to Canada before.

The ferry to Sidney by the Sea, Canada

The ferry to Sidney by the Sea, Canada

Coming to Canada

Coming to Canada

We arrived at Sidney by the Sea on Vancouver Island, and as we drove through, my first thought was: I’ve never seen such a spotless town. Not a scrap of paper, a tin can, or a piece of garbage was anywhere in sight. I didn’t know whether to wonder if the Stepford Wives lived here, or if everyone was extremely careful of the environment. Very impressive!

Victoria - Parliament

Victoria – Parliament

A tiny water taxi

A tiny water taxi

We arrived in Victoria towards the end of the day, and got ourselves settled in the Victoria Chateau, a sweet little hotel with a great restaurant perched atop with 360o views of the city.

After cleaning up, it was a short walk to dinner, and then we strolled around the harbor, watching a mime performing in the twilight,

A mime performs - the harbor in Victoria

A mime performs at the Inner Harbor, Victoria

and the lights coming on at the Governor’s Mansion. Magical. We took another stroll through the Empress Hotel, where we planned to have High Tea the following day.

The Empress Hotel

The Empress Hotel

The Empress is the grand old lady of hotels. Overlooking Inner Harbor, and close to Government Street and the Parliament buildings, its ivy-covered brick façade is absolutely enchanting. Inside are shops and boutiques, the tea room where we’ll have High Tea at 4PM, and history out the wazoo…. After which, we turned in early to get ready for the Butchart Gardens the next day.

A view at Butchart Gardens

A view at Butchart Gardens

Up at around 7:30, I ordered Room Service breakfast, which is such a great way to start the morning (for me, anyway!). Then we were off to the Gardens, and it really was a sight to behold. The flowers were out in full force, colors blending in garden vistas as far as the eye could see. But the green was what held my attention: from the cedars and yews to the beautifully mown grass, the boxwood edgings and the fences and walls covered in ivies, it was a most impressive and glorious place.

The green is amazing!

The green is amazing!

Incredible flowers - but the hydrangeas were awesome

Incredible flowers – the hydrangeas were awesome

More views of these incredible gardens

More views of these incredible gardens

We stopped mid-tour for a drink in the tea room. As we couldn’t order just a drink, we ordered high tea (despite the fact we were having High Tea at The Empress later that day!) Tea consisted of – well, tea….as well as sandwiches, small quiches, scones and dessert. Yikes! Not to say we didn’t eat it all – we did, and it was great. (But we had to move High Tea at The Empress back an hour or two in order to feel at least some hunger pangs by the time we got there.)

A view of the tearoom

A view of the tearoom

The weather was perfect. And getting to the Gardens at an early hour was smart, because by the time noon rolled around, it was packed with tourists. By arriving early, we could take our time wandering the pathways. The most spectacular part was the quarry gardens…photographs don’t do it justice. But needless to say, you were just encompassed by the beauty.

The Quarry Gardens

The Quarry Gardens

Ride a cockhorse to Banbury Cross....

Ride a cockhorse to Banbury Cross….

Finally, we drove back to our hotel and after a rest and freshen up, it was on to The Empress for High Tea. People took tea in all manner of dress…certainly wasn’t important to dress up for the event. After the requisite glass of sherry, we ordered….a 3-tiered cake stand offered a wonderful variety of finger sandwiches, quiches, desserts of all types…in other words: High Tea!

High Tea at The Empress

High Tea at The Empress

After the tea, we drove around Victoria, and then Vancouver Island. The day, which had been warm, eventually cooled down into the 60s, chilly but not unduly so. We viewed the Parliament buildings across the water, chatted with some locals who lived in the area, and just wandered around looking at everything and anything…it was great.

Doing my Howard Roarke imitation

Doing my Howard Roark impression, in the cool of the evening

The final day on Vancouver Island was spent touring Craigdarroch Castle, a Victorian era Scottish baronial mansion, with amazing woodwork and stained glass.

Craigderrock Castle

Craigdarroch Castle

We walked down the road from the Castle, to the Lieutenant Governor’s Mansion and grounds, which were beautifully landscaped…hydrangeas out in full force, and magnificent. And it had a teashop – the cry goes out! Another high tea was then addressed….and it was equally delicious!

Teashop - the cry goes out!

Teashop on the Lt. Governor’s grounds – the cry goes out!

The remains of the day were spent driving around the island and visiting a used bookshop, until it was time to catch the ferry back to the U.S.

Stopping to smell the ... sweet peas

Stopping to smell the … sweet peas

Although we had no time for hiking on this trip, it was a wonderful, eventful, a magical time. Next year, Banff!!

New York Odyssey

The Mohonk Mountain House

The Mohonk Mountain House

The recent visit to the Mohonk Mountain House in upstate New York in the Hudson Valley was perfect in every way. Lene and I drove directly to the hotel that looks a little like The Shining and which has enough hallways and corners to get you completely lost if you don’t have a compass! But the views from the rooms….the beautiful lake…the trails…the gardens…the blue skies and sunshine…the peace and beauty were absolutely wonderful. We hiked ourselves silly, and enjoyed most of the amenities the inn has to offer…and the food, absolutely yum-o. What a spectacular find!

Tuesday, Day 1: I met Lene at Newark, and we wended our way to Mohonk. We managed to get a little lost trying to find the front of this gigantic hotel, but finally make it after asking several people how to get out of the parking lot. Seriously.

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Our room looked directly out onto the lake and mountain trails beyond, and the views were incredible…enhanced even more by the marvelous weather. So after quickly unpacking, we took a quick hike around the grounds, soaking in the peace and beauty.We had booked dinner at 8, so had plenty of time to ramble.

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Wednesday, Day 2: We ordered breakfast in our room, then booted up and set out to hike around Mohonk Lake and up to the Sky Top, high atop the Shawangunk Mountains…just gorgeous.

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The beautiful lake at the base of the mountains

We climbed to the top of Sky Top and took in the breathtaking view, which went on forever.

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After which, we hiked down and walked over the grounds, taking in the colors of the flowers, and the wonderful fencing that was made of twisty tree bark and wood.

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The fences around Mohonk House were absolutely beautiful

This takes us about 3-4 hours. I kept thinking of “The Last of the Mohicans” and wondering how on earth Cora raced up those mountains in that long dress and flats! 

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Mysterious Mohonk Mountain House

We managed to get back in time for tea at 4PM! After which it was time for a massage, after which fresh grapes and lemongrass were served on the terrace – we lounge about in our robes sipping and nibbling, looking at the views…and then, it’s time for dinner!! Fresh salmon is the order of the day…drinks to begin with. And so ends the first perfect day at Mohonk. I have to say, acting rich is very nice!

Thursday, Day 3: Up we get, ordered breakfast, and since we had to be out by 11AM, we’re out on the grounds and rambling around in another hike up the mountain,

How great to be in the middle of all this natural beauty!

How great to be in the middle of all this natural beauty!

and into the rocky scramble which we thought was the Labrynth and Lemon Squeeze, but actually is not…still, it was a nice little climb over, under and through the (sometimes sharp-edged) boulders.

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I wish I could hike every trail on the 1200 acres!

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Then we were on the road to Manhattan.

The iconic skyline from the iconic ferry

The iconic skyline from the iconic ferry

We arrived at the ferry and it took a moment deciding on where we could park the car. More faffing about on that, but Lene finally figured it out! And dragging our luggage, we got on the ferry toot sweet and that was our first view of the Manhattan skyline.

The view of the New York skyline across the Hudson is embodied perfectly in “Let the River Run”, the Working Girl anthem by Carly Simon: “Silver cities rise….the morning light, the streets that meet them…and sirens call them on with a song….” Loved every second of this iconic ferry ride.

Incredibly dramatic, wonderful. The sky was a pale, cloudy blue…the water fairly calm. We took lots of photographs as we approached…another carpe diem moment.

On landing, we flagged down a taxi…as the taxi took off, he almost wiped out a bicyclist – not hard to do, everyone bicycles and drives like crazy here. And the horns – they are the soundtrack of New York – the taxis hooting, the ambulances and sirens screaming – all the time….

So, off we went to W – our home away from home, in Union Square. What a beautiful hotel – very modern and the lobby was pristine and elegant.

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The W Hotel room in Union Square

Again, our room had magnificent views – looking directly across New York to the new World Trade Center.  Lene had brought champagne, so we had a glass and toasted to the start of another perfect part of our trip.

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Union Square, home to the W Hotel

We ordered room service (one of my favorite things) and since we didn’t have enough time to really eat a full meal, I inhaled a burger – which was delicious!!! While wolfing our dinner, we were cleaning up preparatory for once again taking off in a taxi, flagged down by our wonderful doorman, to see ‘Phantom of the Opera.”  Lene’s son had managed to get us tickets, and the seats were the best.  I could get used to this!

New York

New York

Friday, Day 5: Friday morning was spent at the Museum at the new World Trade Center, all the exhibits moving and poignant.  We watched videos of the day, the stories of the victims and the terrorists, saw the artifacts saved from the old sites, photographs that told the story … an amazing experience.

The new World Trade Center

The new World Trade Center

Time marched on…and we left the Museum and took the subway (another first!)

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to Greenwich Village, which I have wanted to see all my life.

Down in Washington Square

Down in Washington Square

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To actually walk around Washington Square was so meaningful to me.

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Bleecker Street

The parks everywhere, the architecture, the people…it was everything I wanted to see.

The Greenwich Village Library

The Greenwich Village Library

We passed O’Henry’s with an iconic photograph of Dylan lounging in the window – the close up photo of this photo in the window makes it seem as if he is still forever young.

O'Henry's, with Bob Dylan

Forever young…O’Henry’s, with Bob Dylan

We searched for brownstones,

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Lene looking to buy a brownstone?

meandered around Soho,

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The Café Clover in Greenwich Village

had lunch at a charming small restaurant called the Café Clover…the food was not only delicious, but beautifully prepared. One dish, Crispy Cauliflower, was something I’d never eaten and it was absolutely yummy….

We wandered about and looked at everything, until our feet could take it no more. So we skipped back down into the subway, and it was back to the W – and dinner and drinks at the hotel’s beautiful modern restaurant…very New York.

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Dining at the W

As mentioned, our hotel room looked across New York to the World Trade Center – and it was a dramatic and emotional view:  shafts of light shot up to the crescent moon from the old Twin Towers sites, and just to the right of the light was the new World Trade Center, spired and seemingly covered in diamond lights….just incredibly beautiful.

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Saturday, Day 6: Off to Bloomingdale’s for a ramble around the store, and then it was back to the W to pick up our luggage, grab a taxi and head back to the ferry…and so onto New Jersey where we finished up with a wonderful get-together, wrapping up a great New York memory….