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

Glendalough

Hiking in Glendalough

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

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

A street in Dublin

A street in Dublin

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

The dear old Temple Bar, Dublin

COUNTY WICKLOW, GLENDALOUGH, EAST COAST

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

The road to Glendalough

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

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

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

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A lake in Glendalough

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

Hiking in Glendalough

THE WEST COAST

DOOLIN

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

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

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

The Cliffs of Moher

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

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

The Burren

The Burren

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

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

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

GALWAY, FERMOYLE LODGE

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

Fermoyle Lodge lost in the heart of Ireland

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

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

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

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

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

A small island on a river in Ireland

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

CONG, “THE QUIET MAN”, AND ASHFORD CASTLE

Ashford Castle

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

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

At the Falconry at Ashford Castle with Oliver Owl

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

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

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

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

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

COUNTY MAYO,WESTPORT

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

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

Far from the madding crowd

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

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

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

ON THE ROAD AGAIN, BACK EAST TO DUBLIN

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

Number 31

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

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

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

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

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

Italy: Hiking the molto bellisima Cinque Terra

Our happy hiking group on the hotel patio in Santa Margherita

On Our Way to Italy
After much frantic packing the night before, I am on my merry way to the airport at 8:30 in the morning to begin my first-ever trip to Italy. Although it is drizzling rain and I am tired and cranky, I mellow out on the plane, meet Lene in Newark, and it is onward to Italy, a land which has always entranced me!

Genoa Nervi
We arrive at the Milano airport, where we clean up and hairspray, hairspray, hairspray! (Unfortunately, Lene leaves hers in the bathroom…much discussion of this throughout the trip.) We drive into Milan with a silver-tongued taxi driver who wants fifty dollars American and almost runs out of gas on the outskirts of town. Much commotion! Once in the train station, it is disconcerting to find that no-one speaks English! We finally find our train and settle for the ride, by which time we are exhausted.

Off the train at Genoa, on the train to Nervi
Here we are in Nervi…a beautiful town. We taxi to the Hotel Pagoda, an elegant and charming villa awash in hot-pink bougainvillea, unpack and are out again for a 2-1/2 hour walk around the village.

A panoramic view at the start of the Cinque Terra

We reach the sea front from an increasingly winding tree-lined path which rambles through a wrought-iron gateway into a small tunnel out onto the front. Such glorious views – sea, cliffs and coastline are magnificent, spectacular. We continue back through the rose garden and park, and so back to the hotel. As we look from the window of our room, the hills strewn with colorful villas look like a Renaissance painting. Soon it’s dinner: scampi tempura, sea breen and pasta. Yum! Again…no-one speaks English…trying to make ourselves understood with the tiny bit of Italian learned prior to the trip is not easy! 

A beautiful doorway leading to the magical coast

Walk Up the Coast in Genoa Nervi
We wake at 1:15 PM! Our group meets at 2!! Pulling ourselves together, we gallop down to the bar where we meet Mario (gorgeous) and Diane, Jean and Jann. Immediate rapport.Then Barb arrives, and we take off for a walk up the coast and all around the town. Once back at the Villa Pagoda, we meet the rest of our small group in the garden for drinks and hors d’ouvres. Mario gives us a brief talk about the hikes to come…we’re surrounded by roses, awash in scent, and the weather is heavenly.

First champagne, then dinner: everyone seems to be in our age group. The table is beautifully set, very elegant, with lots of Italian food and wine. Then at 10PM, it’s upstairs to pack for the move to Riomaggiore the next morning.

Riomaggiore and Manarola
The sun is intense, and the weather is perfect. The bus takes us to Riomaggiore, the first town of the Cinque Terra.

Although we forget a bag, and have to turn back, the driver narrowly missing the back of a row of parked cars, we are soon on our way over the Ligurian Mountains.
We drive through many tunnels, over bridges…ears popping. Vineyards cover the hills, and clumps of red poppies are everywhere. The gray-green of the olive trees underscores the brilliant colors of the flowers.

We come to La Spezia, the second largest port in Italy, which houses the Naval Academy. La Spezia’s main street is lined with orange trees absolutely drenched with fruit. Here we stop for a quick coffee break.

One hour later, somewhat frazzled, we roll into Riomaggiore. We ramble through the town stopping for lunch at an outdoor cafe. Stray cats meow around our table (I find this upsetting, but I am the only one). Lunch is tomato and mozzarella cheese, and a delicious crusty bread. Our real hike then begins, across the cliffs to Manarola. The views are so spectacular, it’s hard to know where to look and what is the most beautiful.

Immediate impressions: villas on hillsides, all colors – pink, mauve, yellow, green, painted trompe l’oile. The flowers are in bloom everywhere – on ledges, stone walls, in window boxes, on bridges, and trees. Immense vivid hydrangeas, bright red and yellow poppies, hollyhocks, pots of margarita daisies, bougainvillea – a deep deep purple. Our hike is challenging: about four hours on trails often as narrow as a footprint, and very very steep. We must be climbing “thousands of stairs” up and down the hillsides. The weather is amazing. Apparently pouring rain until the day we arrived, today the sun is streaming down and it’s hot hot. Wonderful!

From our view on the hillside, we look down to the sea – azure and glorious. The sea, the sun, the flowers, the jungle growth of the greenery, and the olive groves and vineyards -all combine to create a fantasy view. It is a movie setting…incredible in every way.

A sanctuary is situated on the high ground of every village. From the sanctuary above Riomaggiore can be seen the “panorama of the islands of Elba, Corsica, Palmaria and Tine as well as the entire coast from the Cinque Terre to Punta Mesco.”

Look at that beautiful backdrop…sheer heaven (really!)

Although it is Monday, many people are hiking the trails – Americans, French, German, all sorts of nationalities. Overheard on one of the steeper and rockier slopes, an English woman remarks to her companions “I’m just looking for a little flat place.” And she is wearing heels! The Cinque Terra is very beautiful, but physical ability is pretty much mandated to hike these challenging, narrow trails.

We reach Manarola, and Mario pulls us into a tiny villa where an old Italian woman is making homemade wine. She pours out a glassful, and we pass it around, each taking a sip. Mario buys a bottle to take with us on a picnic. Walking on to Corniglia, we have a delicious lunch, then it’s back to the hotel for a rest.

Vernazza
Up at the crack of dawn…and out on the trail by 9AM. A healthy breakfast of muesli is satisfying, but the coffee is, to put it as nicely as possible, strong enough to take the enamel off your teeth! I must be ordering the wrong kind… but, no, this IS Italian coffee!

We walk for three and a half hours, climbing ever higher and higher. Thousands (possibly millions!) of steps up, thousands down. Ledges two inches wide; green prolific vegetation all around. We walk past olive groves, vineyards, vegetable gardens growing on the terraced hillsides, stone tanks providing water. Hills are covered with vines growing wild. Narrow, narrow paths, so slight, you can tumble down the mountain in a New York minute. The hike is challenging and invigorating, and clears the mind of all niggling worries.

We come to Vernazza, and stop to eat lunch at the Blue Marlin. The bruschetta – toasted bread with tomatoes and anchovies, lightly drizzled with olive oil – is absolutely yummy. I can’t believe how much I enjoy the anchovies here…delish. A joyful day is embodied in an impromptu waltz around the cafe by Jean and Tad…good food and drink, laughter and song…a very Italian moment.

We leave the Blue Marlin and walk around the town. Turning from the path, I see a small piazza almost deserted in a sunny street. As I sit there alone, face turned toward the sun, a woman on a terrace waters her plants, while another hangs clothes on the ever-present clothesline. Flowers, flowers everywhere. The biggest geraniums, hydrangeas of all colors, nasturtiums bright orange, big white daisies in pots, yellow gorse, wild cyclamen, bougainvillea, vetch! In the town square, we hear church bells chiming from a beautiful green and white marble Catholic church with a rose circular window.

We hike back to the hotel, clean up, pack for the next morning’s move, and leave for dinner at an outdoor café. The tables are set out in the street, dinner is eaten under the silver Italian moon. First is antipasto: broiled octopus, squid, shrimp, tiny little clams, anchovies and swordfish. The entree includes prawns & shrimp, broiled. When they are set on the table, they are as big as lobsters, and taste great. And we finish with wine and cappuccino.

Vittorio’s Villa
Up at 7AM for breakfast, and ready to walk at nine. This is to be our longest hike, and it could be difficult.

We walk up – up – up – climbing up stairs and steps and over boulders, about 9000 feet according to Mario, to a ruined monastery sitting on top of the mountain. Lorenzo, Mario’s son who has acccompanied us so far, is gathering cherries from the wild cherry trees. The view from here is – well, I can’t keep from using the word “spectacular’. Below is the misty deep blue sea, and the mountainside is covered in flowers.

From here, we hike to an isolated primitive villa belonging to Vittorio, a friend of Mario’s. An old man who lives alone (except for weekly visits from his wife), he is an artist whose canvas is his marvelous garden. Mario met him on one of his previous hikes, and Vittorio offered him homemade cheese and wine, salami, beans, and cherries for his picnics. It’s magical. We sit outdoors at two trestle tables.

Mario slices the tomatoes and bread he has brought, arranging them on platters with fresh basil from the garden; nasturtiums decorate our plates. Vittorio brings out salami and his wonderful homemade cheese. We sit in the sun and drink wine at his villa on the side of a mountain in the Cinque Terra. All tastes are intensified. The foccaccio bread tastes like no other bread, whether filled with either olives or onion, or plain. The red rich tomatoes embody the flavor of Italy.

Behind the villa is the cherry orchard, and a field of yellow daisies which seems to go on forever. Vittorio allows us to fill our caps with cherries from the orchard; they are only the best cherries I’ve ever eaten. I feel as if I’m living in a storybook….

The field of daisies behind the cherry orchard

Then we say goodbye to Vittorio and his two black cats and one black dog, and walk down the other side of the mountain through forests of trees and ferns, wild sweet peas, mayflower bushes brimming with sweet-smelling white blossoms, daisies, dandelions everywhere.

The mountainside is covered with fragrant yellow gorse. Soon, red brick walls begin to appear, covered – dripping – with flowers of all kinds, again bougainvillea, geraniums in colors I haven’t seen back home, a wall choked with orange nasturtiums, terra cotta pots of white daisies, roses everywhere, hedges of fragrant white jasmine, hollyhocks.

We begin to sing on the trail, yodelling “The Happy Wanderer” at the top of our lungs. Mario then sings every Italian song he can think of; he is so delightful. Lene and I drift along to the top of a hill and are suddenly showered with a handful of yellow gorse blooms which Mario has thrown over our heads. Then we share a big kiss on the cheek.

Reaching town, we stop for a quick gelato, then catch a train and are soon back at our hotel. Molto bene!

Lene and I have a balconied room on the third floor overlooking the Meditteranean. The shuttered doors are open wide as I’m writing this at 10PM at night, and I hear the plash of the waves against the sand, and see glimmers of white boats anchored in the bay. Just outside our window, to break the mood, we also hear an Italian woman next door yelling into the phone at her mother…wish I spoke Italian, I’d love to know what that was all about!

Our room is nice, lacking only in towels. A knock on the door is the maid, who (naturally) speaks no English. “We need more towels,” I try to tell her, picking up something I think is a towel and saying”vorrei dua.” Responding in Italian, we are both nodding and shaking our heads like yoyos. Then off she goes, and I leave the door open on the off chance she’ll be back. Meanwhile, I disappear into the bedroom.

The maid returns and knocks at the door. Lene answers. The maid offers her three bath rugs and more voluble Italian. Now we have four bath rugs and one towel.

Sestri Levanti, the Bay of Silence and the Bay of Fables
Up and out at 9AM feeling fresh as a daisy, albeit slightly damp. We have another challenging hike today, 6,000 feet – up, and up again, steps and more steps. According to Mario, “This is an easy walk.” Uh huh. We hike for three hours – through deep green ferny woods forever climbing the mountain -the path initially difficult as it is studded with boulders, but soon, less so. Pine needles begin to carpet the trail. The air is evergreen-scented, clean and fresh. We take many photographs at every possible stopping point: overlooking the ocean, in the ferns, against brick and stone walls, rising, descending… The sun is shining, the birds singing madly, which is the only sound, as this is a quiet walk – no other people are on the trail, whereas before, we’ve had lots of company.

The beautiful bay

We reach Sestri Levanti around noon and reconvene at the Hotel Miramare. Lene and I have a great room – small and comfortable – with a balcony overlooking the sea. We converge for lunch out on the terrace, where the tables are laid with deep salmon-colored tablecloths. The terrace overlooks the Meditteranean; small white boats are floating on the Bay of Silence. Across from us lies the Bay of Fables {entrancing names!)

After lunch, some of us ramble up to see an eleventh century church and an old villa that’s been converted to a hotel – very, very beautiful. The hotel is a little eerie – no one is here, and it is quiet as a tomb. We walk up more and more steps, finally entering the grounds through an archway into a silent, tranquil avenue. Lined with stone walls starred with daisies, and immense terra cotta pots overflowing with geraniums, the avenue takes us into another world. So peaceful, so quiet.

The pathway to an absolutely exquisite hotel

We wander around, looking for and finding the old stone monastery, and after a brief respite, return to our hotel. Sitting on the balcony of our room, I sip a ginger ale while Lene washes her hair. Afterwards, we sit outside in the sun, then somehow discover that the balcony doors locked behind us (don’t know why, don’t know how.) We peer over the rail, no-one. Bang on the wall, no-one. Finally, somehow and after much hoo-ha, we manage to unlock the door and get back into our room…then we quickly shower and go shopping… I buy a pristine white sweater and Lene buys two.

We return to the hotel in time for a drink on the terrace with Diane and Barb – then into dinner and to bed. What a day…what a splendid, splendid day.

Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino
From Sestri Levanti, we drive to Santa Margherita Ligure. According to our guide book, this is “a temple of the sun where the sea, sky and pastel colored houses are so intensely luminous as to instill optimism and joy of life in its inhabitants …a mythological place where eternally young beings conduct a happy existence in adoration of Beauty. Of Roman origin, it was conquered by the Fieschi, then Genoa, and suffered many raids by Saracen pirates…” I can’t add to that….

Hiking down into Portofino

At the Colonial Hotel in Santa Margherita, we drop our luggage and immediately begin one of our loveliest hikes, to Portofino.

The hike from Santa Margherita is through some of the most enchanting landscapes in the world. Endless sloping fields of fern stretch to meet woods of chestnut, pine, and wild cherry trees, and all sorts of flowers perfume the air and line our trail – this is our pathway. General impressions are of blazing color: bright yellow gorse everywhere and villas dotting the terraced hillsides in all warm beautiful Italian tints. We have a slight shock when I inadvertently step on the tail end of a snake – much screaming and dashing about ensued (and that was just the snake!)

And so to Portofino, lit by the gold of the Italian sunlight.

Lene on the road to Portofino

I love Portofino. Our first view, from high atop a hill: narrow walled paths, starred with daisies. A painted ship floats below upon a painted ocean. The Hotel Splendido – all shining white -clings to the side of the hill fronting a fairy tale bay of crystal aqua. We are back in the movie! The tiny town of Portofino floats within this panorama, the bay dotted with white boats and yachts.

We eat grilled shrimp outside in one of the myriad cafes dotting the square. The colors! The flowers! The people!

Like a small blue sapphire within an emerald green cup, Portofino is the quintessential cosmopolitan seaside Italian Riviera town. Lene and I shop and walk and shop and walk and look up at the sun and are happy…and why not? We are in one of the most beautiful villages in the world, in glorious weather, among friends and feeling great! We end our day with a drink in the square, and catch the 5 o’clock ferry back to Santa Margherita and the Colonial Hotel.

A quick shower before supper – not the best supper, but who cares at this point. Afterwards, several of us cross the grassy stretch behind the hotel in the silvery moonlight. The night sky is navy blue velvet hung with a silver moon and twinkling stars, which are reflected in the swimming pool carved from lava rock. Across the bay, the lights of some other tiny town twinkle in the hills. Strolling through streets rife with atmosphere and mystery to wander around downtown… indeed a fairytale…

San Fruttuoso and Comiglio
On our walk by 9AM. This is to be another challenging hike, and one of the most spectacularly beautiful. Only three of us choose to go on this hike with Mario (ah, Mario!): Diane, Lene and I.

Mario points the way – ah Mario!

We cross log bridges into a primeval forest, the trees resting at 90 degree angles beside the trail. Paths are as wide as a footfall. Ivy covers the chestnuts, pines, and oaks. As we edge across narrow edges, lichen and moss and yellow and white daisies cover boulders blocking our paths – boulders big as cliffs. At this point, we’ve come approximately five miles (all up) from Santa Margherita.

The trails are strewn with pine needles in some places, rocky and rough in others. The destination is San Fruttuoso, the tiniest port on the edge of the world. It’s located in a tiny cove, once frequented by pirates and bandits, and houses a single small hotel, two villas and a monastery. Perched on the edge of the sea like a miniature jewel, it is completely enclosed by mountains and water; we can only reach it by hiking or by boat.

What a climb: two hours up, over massive boulders blocking the trail, up steps cut into the mountain, up vine-trailed pathways, over rock and stones, ever up to the top of the world! Barely pausing for a sip of water, up, straight up we hike. The air is scented with pine and flowers, crystal clear and intensely fresh. Pines, oaks and chestnuts surround us.

Then down, ever down – down – to San Fruttuoso, where the tiny cove now welcomes tourists in place of pirates.  The water is bluer than blue, deeper than emerald, azure as sapphires – clear as the sound of a bell. The little hotel where we have lunch is a marvelous picture. Seated on a covered terrace overlooking the bathers below on the small beach, a variety of seafood, olives, bread, and prosciutto e melone is served – every wonderful taste intensified by atmosphere, water and scent. We are high, high up overlooking the Meditteranean; small white boats float on the waves below.

After this splendid lunch, we catch the ferry back to Comiglio, where we are surrounded by a splendid view of the mountains. Rambling through the town to the train station, in three minutes, are back in Santa Margherita. Lene and I change clothes, find the bar, order vodka tonics, and sit on the hotel’s veranda, pretending we are rich, worldly jet setters.

We have a most glorious view: from the veranda of the hotel, we look onto a landscaped lawn and garden, leading to a natural pool and rocky terrace.

The crystal emerald clear water- the immense terra cotta pots of red geraniums – the white sailboats floating on the Meditteranean – the jewel-green mountains surrounding us – the manicured gardens….words fail to describe it all.

We walk down to the natural pool formed by lava rocks and sit dipping our toes into the Meditteranean Sea. All around us are suntanned gods and goddesses – as well as a few not so goddess-like! This has been another really perfect day. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world!

Then up to change for dinner and out to Nostromo’s, a tiny Italian trattoria Mario has found off the beaten path. Here, I buy a delightful painting from an itinerant artist who is showing his wares in the small restaurant. The painting is very simple, very Italian: a bicycle leaning against the wall of a villa. Lene buys a view of Portofino seen through a side street. After we eat, we walk back to our hotel, but not before standing on a street corner overlooking the sea and singing “Blue Moon” to the stars and sky at the top of our lungs.

Cinque Terra is so incredibly rich in beauty and history, no wonder it was beloved by painters and poets, writers and philosophers, actors and composers: Nietsche, Guy de Maupassant, Keats, Shelley, Byron (who drowned off the Ligurian coast), Wagner, D’Annunzio, Laurence Olivier, Nicola Abbagnano, sculptor Maragliano, Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence, Dante and Petrarca … all have lived, loved and been happy here….because…
“…I saw the vessels glide
Over the ocean bright and wide…
And the wind that winged their flight
From the land came fresh and light,
And the scent of winged flowers,
And the coolness of the hours
Of dew, and sweet warmth left by day
Were scattered o’er the twinkling bay.” Shelley…”Lines written in the bay of Lerici”

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.

2

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.

lene-rambling-cropped

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.

the-beautiful-lake-at-the-base-of-the-mountain-cropped

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.

skytop-cropped

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 another great New York memory….

I Love New York!

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

Skyline

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

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

Waiting for the hot air balloon to fill

Waiting for the hot air balloon to fill

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

Ro waiting for balloon...intrepid! ha!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ro on the beautiful Cloisters pathway

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

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

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

At The Cloisters

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

A view from the ramparts

From the ramparts we watched…

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

Lene just outside The Cloisters on an overcast November day

Lene just outside The Cloisters on an overcast November day

Always Shopping!

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

Fernando at The Plaza

Fernando at The Plaza

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

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

Taxis everywhere...but try flagging one down!

Taxis everywhere…but try flagging one down!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Midnight feast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Off to shop.

Bloomingdales

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

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

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

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

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

Gloria: “You do that honey!”

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

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

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

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

Well… La di dah, la di dah.

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

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

Taxis galore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goodbye, lovely Plaza.

Atlas Shrugged

Atlas Shrugged

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lene in Ramsey NJ

Lene in Ramsey NJ

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

Hiking the Utah canyons

The hoodoos of Bryce

Sometimes it’s just great to get away to a part of the country you’ve never spent time in, yet is not so far away it takes more than two or three hours to reach. Such was the Utah trip for me, and the state is so spectacularly beautiful, it was one of my most satisfying hikes. Country Walkers offered this relatively short hike (5 days) and a friend of mine, who lives elsewhere, sent me the information. I was hooked, and hooked up. I think Utah is one of the most beautiful states in a country of so many beautiful states…there is, however, something spiritual about the landscape there. Needless to say, it was an experience I’ll never forget.

 Las Vegas

I arrive in Las Vegas after what seems an interminable flight, but is in reality only three hours. After finding Lee, we take the hotel limo to AmeriSuites. It is super-hot here, and noisy, jumping with people – mostly young people – but at least our room is quiet. Once settled in, we walk across the street to one of the many casinos, eat a late dinner in the Montero dining room, and then get some sleep. (Lee loses $1 on the slot machine.)

The next morning we take an hour’s stroll down to the Strip. The first hotel we come to is the Sahara -once inside, it is pretty unbelievable – miles of aisles, shops of all description, and gambling slots everywhere. It’s not even 8:30AM, and people are playing the slots. Not my life, but perhaps the idea of hiking in the wilds of the canyons isn’t their idea of fun either!

The Canyons of Zion

The start of a beautiful friendship

Promptly at 10AM, our group picks us up. We have a three-hour ride to Zion National Park, eat a picnic lunch and then drive to the Lodge, which is set in very beautiful parkland. Surrounded by the walls of the canyon, the Lodge sprawls across the green grass, lit to neon green by the afternoon sun.

Bonnie views the awe-inspiring scenery

We put up our bags and take the first hike of the trip: Riverside Trail, up into the canyon. The cliff walls are ever-changing colors, depending on sun or shadow. We pass cascades of water, mountain greenery, rock formations, often looking over sheer drops. We are not gone long, returning to the Lodge about 5:30, to change for supper in the main dining room.

This place is really magical. After eating a delicious meal, we walk back through the gloaming to our room…the canyon walls surround us, and in the park fronting the Lodge are about 20 mule deer, lifting their big elf-like ears as we pass by. The deer make little or no sound, except for a low “crunch” as they crop the grass.

In the shadowy twilight, the canyon walls keep in the growing darkness, and only the rustle of wind in the trees is heard. The temperature – in the 80s when we arrived – has cooled to about 55 degrees. We are sleeping with open windows tonight.

Our small group  – we split into two groups – this was mine

Our group is comprised of seventeen people, coming together from one end of the country to the other. From Williamsburg, Virginia to the California coast and in between, it’s a particularly enjoyable group. Bob and Bonnie from Williamsburg are a wonderful retired couple who enjoy travelling. Cara and Cheryl are the first women guides I’ve experienced on these hikes. They are extremely knowledgeable about the area, very pleasant, as well as caring and fully invested in the wildlife and the environment.

The peace here is unbelievable.

Refrigerator Canyon, Walter’s Wiggles and Weeping Rock

Here we are – our second day in the canyons of Zion. This is a terrifically picturesque area – the grandeur of the canyons is almost too much to take in. We join each other at 8:30 in the morning after a splendid breakfast at the Lodge, and then split into two groups of nine and eight, making it easier to hike and to take in everything without a large group slowing things up.

Cara, our guide, and me at the start of a hike in Zion

Our group begins hiking immediately (the other group is bussed to an alternate location). We begin at Scout’s Outlook, a four-mile up-canyon hike that begins with a climb to Refrigerator Canyon, always 20 degrees colder than everywhere else.

Walter’s Wiggles

Next come the “switchbacks”, so-called because the trail zips back and forth constantly, ending with “Walter’s Wiggles” – an even more extreme switchback. Atop the thousand-foot high Scout’s Outlook, we hang over the edge looking straight down into beautiful green valleys and canyon walls. The views are astounding. Then we turn and hike back down…

The grandeur and majesty of the canyon are impossible to describe – the walls are so sheer, so solid, so many different colors, and so immense we are surrounded and encompassed by these wonderful cliffs.

The beauty of the landscape is timeless

After Scout’s Landing, we hike the Riversidewalk, ending by paddling our tootsies in a river whose name I don’t recall. Cold, by God!

Bonnie, Cara and I then hike uphill to Weeping Rock, an overhang in the canyon wall. Standing beneath it, we look out at spectacular views through a curtain of water – the fall is neither heavy, nor does it obscure the view – like clear beads on many threads -crystal raindrops falling endlessly, lit by the sun. It’s a very spiritual experience, being in these canyons.

After which, we return to the Lodge, clean up, and wend our way to the IMAX Theater, where we see the history of the canyons – breathtaking – and then on to dinner – and to bed.

The Virgin River and Dual Arches Alcove

After a hearty breakfast, we jump in the van: Bonnie, Bob, the six California girls, Cara, our guide, and me. A 45-minute drive takes us to the Virgin River, where we begin a five-mile round trip hike. It is safe to say that was the longest five-mile hike I have taken!

We start on a sandy trail through pine and oak woods, alongside the Virgin River bed. We actually walk the riverbed most of the way, as it has dried up in the summer heat – it’s basically a very thin stream at this point. Cara’s quick to point out that care should be taken nonetheless, as the weather can change in an instant, and gullywashers can sluice through the canyons and riverbeds, with an outcome I don’t like to dwell on…but good to know! Surrounding us are spectacular views of canyon walls in their living colors of red streaked with black, white and grey where water has scored the cliffs.

Standing inside the deep pink Dual Arches – incredible!

At first the sand is golden. But as we near Dual Arches Alcove, it turns the most glorious shade of pink – absolutely unbelievable. Stones in the sand which are a vivid turquoise blue turn grey when picked up – a trick of the sun and the sand. The weather which had begun cool, turns very hot halfway to Dual Arches, but when the canyon walls narrow and we come to the great Dual Arches Alcove, it becomes almost chilly.

Dual Arches Alcove – spectacular and awe-inspiring – reaches to the sky in two great arches. The lower one will one day begin to disintegrate and then fall; its hold is precarious on the rock face. The arches are all colors – exquisitely beautiful. We eat our lunch in their shadow, drinking gallons of water to ward off dehydration. Then we hike for approximately half an hour over deep pink rocks and boulders to a waterfall in the cliff face. The canyons narrow our path til we can squeeze no further. The rocks and boulders – making for a tricky hike – are a bright reddish pink – all fallen from the canyon walls and swept into a rocky riverbed by gullywashers.

Ro and Bonnie – ahead of the pack!

Bob, Bonnie and I are a little ahead of the pack on our way back. We mostly stay with the riverbed, which meanders this way and that. In full sun, it is hot, hot, hot. In the shade, the scent is intensely green. Our entire hike takes six hours with a brief time out for lunch.

Then it’s back into the van, and a drive into town for an iced cappuccino – absolutely the best tasting thing in the world! Then back to the Lodge for dinner. When we leave the restaurant, twilight has fallen on the canyon walls which surround us on all sides. Again, the deer wander onto the Lodge’s grassy front lawn, showing no fear as we pass them by, shadows in the enchanted Zion twilight.

Observation Point, Panguitch, Bryce Canyon and The Hoodoos

Up at 6:30 to eat breakfast and get in the van by 8AM. We ride to Observation Point, a 45-minute drive, in the Zion National Park, then hike up some of the most spectacular trails, which drop into nothingness on one side, cliff wall on the other.

Lonely trees dot the landscape

The scenery is spectacular wherever we look. And the trail varies from flat rock to narrow ledges to a bridge over nothing! Finally, we arrive at Observation Point. It seems to hover at the very tip of the canyons, and the view is incredible – it looks out over canyons and gorges in all directions. I climb to the very highest point, a drop-off into thin air, for a quick photo op. Then back down the trail to the van. Another brief ride, and then hike to see pictographs carved long ago on the canyon walls by the Anasazi Indians. I love Utah!

I felt as if I were in a movie

Back in the van for a 90-minute ride to the little town of Panguitch (meaning “water” – with population 2000) and Bob’s Cowboy Diner, where we are serenaded through lunch by two cowboys singing “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” “Call the Wind Mariah,” “Cool Water,” and “Ghostriders in the Sky.” Fantastic! I feel as if I’ve wandered way back in time into the Old West – and I don’t want to return to the present…

But our next destination is Bryce Canyon National Park, and on arrival, we immediately begin our hike. I can’t begin to describe this place. It is unlike anything I’ve seen anywhere.

From the canyon rim to the canyon floor, we hike downwards through the trail called Wall Street through walls of blood red sandstone, ever and ever down. Our trail takes us over the canyon floor, then curls around back to the top. The number of people on the trail is overwhelming at times, especially on Wall Street  – large groups of people from Japan and Germany seem to be the most ubiquitous.

Hoodoos at Bryce Canyon

We are all in awe of these terra-cotta colored hoodoos of Bryce which stretch for miles and miles and miles. Absolutely unbelievably wonderful.Cara is our guide throughout it all. A terrific guide, unbelievably talented, she and her husband are mountain and cliff-climbers, rapelling the canyon walls in Zion and in Yosemite in their spare time. On their honeymoon, they spent three days and nights on the canyon wall in Yosemite National Park, sleeping in hammocks on the cliff face. They are also in the process of building a home made from bales of hay, reinforced with rebar and steel, and covered in stucco. And they are building it with their own two hands. Remarkable people.

Beautiful Bryce

After our hike, Lee and I have dinner with Bonnie and Bob – I am so full of food, I can hardly stand it. And very tired. To sleep!

Bryce Canyon Redux

We are off at 8:30AM to hike down the canyon in the opposite direction to our hike of yesterday. Slight contretemps at the vans: usually when a group splits in two, the guides switch sides halfway through the trip. But all our group want to stay with Cara! So we do.

Reaching for the stars

We begin the hike immediately – the other group is bussed to the opposite side of the canyon. The hike is long and glorious – about seven or so hours altogether. Bonnie, Bob and I reach the top of the canyon, then take off for an additional three-mile hike – woof! All uphill! By the time we make it back to the bus stop, we are really physically exhausted, but exhilarated at the same time.

A perfectly happy human being

Today I forgot my sunscreen – my legs and arms are tiger-striped, and when my legs finally stop stinging, they go sort of Kentucky Fried crispy. But somehow it doesn’t seem to matter. Who cares! This wonderful trip is worth it!

Bryce Canyon Lodge and Dixie National Park

Up before dawn to walk and hike around the canyon rim watching the sun come up…another awe-inspiring experience.

Then back for breakfast, packing and so back to the real world. We drive through Dixie National Park, endless mountains and forests of breathtaking beauty – stretches of quaking aspens in full golden splendor, mountains stained with the color of the sun, stretches of pines and firs. I had no idea Utah was such a beautiful – and green – state – why did I always think of it as desert? I was very wrong.

We stop in Cedar City for lunch at Betty’s Restaurant – a small butter yellow house, filled with pictures and flowers – for an elegant little lunch, where we celebrate Roni’s birthday (one of the California Six), and have a teary-eyed farewell.

This incredibly satisfying trip solidifies my desire to experience more and more of the western states. Utah is an enchanting experience … full of mystery and freedom and awe-inspiring beauty.

Utah – awe inspiring, mystical, 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.

Thoughts on the small villages and countryside of the Cotswolds

The Swan, Bibury

I spent a day in the Cotswolds, rambling around the small villages that I love, and wished never to leave…

Loving Bibury

Steve picked me up in Chipping Campden early on Wednesday morning, and we began our perfect day of exploration, from Minster Lovell to Stanton and Bibury, to Fillkins and Stanway, to Burford and points in between. Each village had something special to offer, and if you’re looking for the backroads of England, in countryside that doesn’t seem to have changed in more than 100 years, these villages are for you.

Iconic telephone booth and post box

Minster Lovell, to which I was introduced in 2017, continues to be an enchanting small town of crumbling ruins, delightful pathways, the old churchyard,

Crumbling church ruin, Minster Lovell

leafy lanes and chickens in the front gardens.

Minster Lovell chickens

Stanton is one of those villages I would willingly embed myself in – from the moment I discovered it a few years ago, I have loved it.

Drystone wall, Stanton

Deep bowered lanes overhung with heavy, leaf-strewn branches,

the footpaths carpeted with red and rust lichen, houses built up the gently rising hillside, their walls glowing golden in the late afternoon sunshine,

and the flowers that inhabit the gardens and scatter their scented breath over the air.

Everywhere I go, the greenness of England is always present…what would England be without it? I love the hedgerows,

the fields stretching out to low-lying hills…

white sheep dotting the landscapes in the fields…

then there are the drystone walls,

 

the iconic red of pillar boxes, old telephone booths now converted to defribrillators,

the old churchyards with headstones leaning towards the ground

gray old Norman churches against a pale blue-white sky…

Beautiful, beautiful England…loving it always…