Saturday, July 21, 2018

Traveling by Goat to the Western Lake District of England

That title got your attention, didn't it?  Okay, I didn't actually travel on the back of a goat...I mean the poor goat would be dead before it staggered one block wouldn't it?.  I did however travel on Mountain Goat Tours' High Adventure tour. I had done this tour on my last trip to the Lakes in 2002 and enjoyed it so much I knew I had to do it again.  Driving there is not an option for a scaredy cat like me.  Just keeping on the left side of the road would be tough enough without having to back up on the narrow roads...gives me a nervous breakdown even thinking about it.  Nope, I am a public transport kind of gal.

So on Tuesday May 15th I found myself in a full 12 passenger van with a driver named Tony heading to the western part of the Lake District National Park in the North West of England. I had originally booked it for Sunday but it was canceled due to a bike event in the park which cut off several major roads - luckily I was able to rebook it for Tuesday as the tour doesn't run every day.  I would have been devastated to have missed this beauty of a tour!

First stop was Elterwater, a pretty little village in the Great Langdale Valley.  It was such a sweet little place and I would love to revisit at my leisure.  I was the last one to be picked up so we had only been in the van less than an hour.  However my bladder is always happy to visit a loo.  We only had time to tend to that and take some quick pictures of the village before heading out again.  Elterwater can be reached by infrequent public transport but I have decided that I will make an effort to visit the next time I am in the Lake District. and do some walking around the area and visit the interesting looking pub.  More and more these days I am into slow travel and moseying around a place for a few hours suits me just fine.




Definitely have to come back for lunch in that pub!


 From there we drove over the Wrynose pass where we jumped out (okay carefully climbed out in my case) and took photos.






 "Wrynose" means "pass of the stallion" as "back in the day" you needed a well-muscled horse to climb the 1 in 3 gradient.   The Wrynose and Hardnott passes are regarded as among the most challenging drives in Britain.  Luckily we had our ace driver Tony doing the work!   At times it seemed the van was going to topple over backwards on itself.  Definitely not a drive I would want to do!  Very twisting and narrow and just plain old scary!  Oh did I mention it's also a single track road so if you meet someone you have to back up or try to squeeze over.  Uh huh....

A few minutes later we drove over the Hardnott Pass and stopped at the top for photos.



Google Hardnott Pass on You Tube and you will see what it's like.  One of the bad things about being last on the van was getting the last seat which meant no window seat to be able to get good videos.

After the downhill twists and turns we drove into the village of Boot where we went into the pub for lunch.

Then it was time to get the Ravenglass & Eskdale Steam Railway.  It was a tiny train - more like a children's train.   A few of us decided to stretch our legs and walk down the road to the train station at Dalegarth.





We had the option of eating at the railway station and I think most of us had the same reaction..."ewwww" but the food that I saw looked lovely and I would eat there next time.  Because yes, there will be a next time.


This was taken at the railway station looking back towards Boot - the white building is the pub we had lunch at so it wasn't a long walk at all.

It is funny as I could not recall taking the train on my last time here nor actually visiting the gardens of Muncaster Castle so pulled out my photo album and yes I did.  Scary.  I will blame the forgetfulness on just having done so much my brain is overloaded  - yeah, that sounds good.  Just keep telling yourself that Laurie.



Choo!  Choo!  It was fun.  Unfortunately, our group got there last and others had snagged all the open seats - boo!  Oh well I was in an open seat last time judging from my photos - even though I can't remember it!



We got off at Irton Road where our van and driver were waiting for us.  Off we headed to Wastwater which at 258 feet is the deepest of all the lakes.  It is surrounded by mountains including Scafell Pike, England's highest mountain.  This remote lake was once selected as Britain's most beautiful view.  It is gorgeous and being as it's just that much harder to get to than the rest of the lakes is pretty quiet as well.







Then it was on to Muncaster Castle which was our furthest stop west.  Muncaster Castle is supposedly haunted and its history dates back to the 11th century.  Records show it has been owned by the Pennington family since at least 1026. Our ticket included entrance to the garden with the option of going into the castle on our own dime  It was such a glorious day that I stuck with the garden and Birds of Prey show and with only an hour and ten minutes there I didn't see much.  Trust me, I will be back to explore the castle some day. I think a stay in this part of the lakes is in my not so distant future.













The Birds of Prey show was really good - not as good as the one at Dunrobin Castle but I still really enjoyed it. 

One sad thing I did learn was that the hooded vulture pictured just above is critically endangered.  Okay, they may not be the prettiest creatures on the planet but they serve a function as the garbage collectors of the natural world.  When the predators are done they swoop in and eat what is left.  We have all seen the movies where vultures are circling above a fresh kill.  This is what is putting them on the endangered list.  Once the despicable poachers have killed a elephant, or rhino of course the vultures start circling.  This alerts conservation officers there is a fresh kill and they head in that direction immediately if they know there are vulnerable animals in the vicinity.  So now the poachers lace the insides of the corpse with poison not only killing off the vultures but any other animal that eats the carcass. 


All too soon it was time to get back in the van and start heading back.  We stopped at Coniston Water  (third largest of the lakes) for a short break and I had a 99 flake ice cream which is soft ice cream in a cone with a 99 flake bar stuck in the ice cream.  Heaven!  I will be talking more about Coniston Water as I had been there the day before on my own. 

Before too long I was being dropped off at the bus stop in Ambleside (a handy block from my Bed and Breakfast) - I was last picked up and first dropped off.

What a beautiful day!!!

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Bopping around Budapest - The Old Town of Buda

Friends had raved about Budapest and having read quite a bit about it I knew it was on my "to visit" list. And I knew it was going to be on my trip this year!  I just didn't know when.  I was a good way into my trip before I finally booked it. 

So in the early hours of April 2nd ( Easter Monday) I caught a taxi from Rottingdean (post coming on that lovely little place) to Brighton station to get a train to Gatwick.  I hadn't had much sleep the night before as I really do get nervous that I will somehow miss the alarm and sleep in when I have early flights...and that the taxi won't show up...or the trains will be delayed.  It all worked out well  - well except for the horrible racist wanker on the train walking back and forth and saying the next immigrant who told him what to do would get a smashed face.  Charming.  My check-in at Easy Jet went smoothly - no humans involved except to help me put my luggage tag on.  I always make a point of looking helpless and like I have never done it before so I get help with that. The gray hair helps.  I am always afraid I will somehow put it on wrong and will never see my stuff again.  Plus I want some service! 

Easy Jet is great- I love it.  The only negative I can think of is that they make you line up so early to board the plane.  Instead of keeping you in the lounge, they announce the flight without specifying zones so it's a free for all as we wait in line and then scramble to our seats all over the plane.  If you're lucky they will direct the front half to the front door and the back rows to the back. But with the reasonable prices I can handle it. 

I had booked an airbnb apartment and my host had arranged a pick up from the airport for what I like to call a "soft landing".  The driver was friendly and gave me a bit of a tour on the way.  Unfortunately, the airport ATM did not like my debit card for some reason.  It's not the first time and it won't be the last but it always causes a bit of a panic.  I always put an alert on both debit and credit cards when I travel but every once in a while it gets rejected for whatever reason.  Daniel was a trooper and said I could pay Blanka (my host) when I got cash - which I was able to get the next day. (whew!)  Hungary uses the Forint not the Euro.  Blanka showed me the flat which was ideal for me. Okay so the building itself was crumbling and old and the inside looked like a prison.  Every time I walked in I expected to hear yelling and banging on the "bars" - you know, like you hear in the movies.


The apartment itself was terrific.  Newly renovated with a modern shower and even a desk for me to do some blogging! (and I did do two posts)





As you can see the kitchen was well equipped although I did have an uneasy relationship with the coffee maker.  Yes, there was even coffee and tea provided.  Blanka my host was great and left me all sorts of information on Budapest as well.  Turns out she is Canadian of Hungarian descent.  Born in Hungary, she moved at a very young age and now lives in Hungary again with her family.  When she started talking to me I thought "hey, she's no Hungarian she talks like me"!!  We had a laugh about that when I told her.

After settling in a bit I decided to head out and look around the area and have a bite to eat.  LUCKILY I had the foresight to take some photos or would I ever have been in trouble.  I had blindly followed Blanka to the apartment not even realizing what floor we were on.  And of course one apartment looks pretty much the same as the other and there were no apartment numbers ..so for fun here are the photos I took!



To the owner of the red ashtray - please don't take it away or I won't find the apartment again! 


Okay, there is a floor mat outside..good to know.  All landmarks and once I reached the elevator I realized I was on the second floor (third floor in North America)


St Anne's church (completed in 1762) was literally right around the corner from me.  Also nearby was a huge grocery store and a metro station.  I loved this area!  

I decided to have my meal at a local tavern.


I ordered Goulash soup and it was pretty darn good. 

Budapest is comprised of two different areas that are separated by the Danube.  Pest is the commercial part of the city yet offers beautiful late 19th century buildings and the outstanding Parliament Buildings.  Buda has Roman ruins, Castle Hill and Old Town.  Buda and Pest were separate until 1873 when they were united to form one city.  I stayed on the Buda side. 

The next morning I walked along the Danube (more a sludgy brown colour - definitely not blue!) to the funicular to take me up to Castle Hill. 


On the way I passed the Calvinist Church which is the first reformed church in Buda and was completed in 1896.


I thought this was pretty cool! Not sure what it was about though. 



When I arrived the day before I noticed there was some kind of festival on as we drove by and this Easter egg was still on the lawn...when I came back down several hours later it was gone so I was lucky to get to see it. 



You do have the option of walking up Castle Hill (as if!) but I got a return trip on the funicular.  Easier on the knees and much more fun than walking up a hill - I was doing enough walking that day!  I have been on scads of things like this but it still gives me a thrill because I am a kid at heart. 



And here is the view...the building on the other side of the Danube with the dome is the Hungarian Parliament Buildings.   Beautiful! 



Buda Castle or the Royal Palace as its known now.  The whole complex is full of museums now - I confess I did not go into any of them.  If I had had more time I would have. 



I thought this was a stunning sculpture - it's of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. It sure didn't look like it to me but I had to "google it" and that's what they told me. It looked like a man holding a baby to me...oops.  


There can never be too many photos of this view.  This is taken further into the Castle complex right by the statue above.  The bridge in the foreground is the famous Chain Bridge. Don't worry, we will be crossing that "tomorrow".  

The complex is huge and I got misplaced a few times but found my way into this courtyard - loved this sculpture because it had dogs! 



My my aren't we hoity-toity.  



Then I started walking over to the Old Town but in the meantime stopped for a moment to watch the Changing of the Guard. 





Sorry guys, compared to what goes on at Buckingham Palace this is downright boring.






For some crazy reason I loved this street and I decided to be "artsy" and make a b/w copy of this photo.   




Next up was the stunning Matthias Church.  The original church was built in the 13th century and converted into a mosque after the Turkish occupation in the 16th century.  It was seriously damaged during the reconquest of Buda in 1686. After one more "renovation" it was built in its present style between 1873 and 1896.  

Being a senior I was able to get in for approximately five dollars Canadian.  Sometimes it pays to be old!  It was beautiful inside as well.  






I have no clue who this fellow is but I liked his dogs. 



Token dog picture 



And a sheep - bonus!!  

Then a short walk across the square to the Fisherman's Bastion on the Castle Walls.  It was constructed at the turn of the 20th century and the name is probably a nod to the fishermen who defended the ramparts in the 18th century.
This place was beautiful but chock a block with tourists and most of them doing selfies or having people take pictures of them doing such things as sitting with their back to the phone and making hearts with their hands.  Guess it looks good on Instagram! 








You don't want to know how long I stood trying to get a shot like this with no one sitting in here...

I hadn't had much for breakfast so it was time for a snack.  I read in my Berlitz guide that the Ruszwurm confectionery shop built in 1827,  was one of the most prestigious in Europe so I thought why not. I first checked to make sure 1) it wasn't too snooty and 2) it wasn't too expensive.  Lots of people were sitting outside but I managed to get a table right as you walked in.  I was only in the way a little bit... so I ordered a cherry strudel and cappuccino and it was delicious. 




Now that I had my strength back I decided to explore the Old Town and wandered up and down the streets.  





Okay....I think you like that sheep a little too much buddy and I will leave it at that.  




I loved the houses in this area so much - I love colour! 




My trusty Berlitz guide told me about this quirky sculpture or I probably would never have noticed it.  A flying nun? 




One of my very favourite things in Europe and indeed any city in the UK as well...the detail on the buildings.  My advice when you visit - look up! 






Only the tower remains of the Church of Mary Magdalene. It has certainly seen its share of "excitement" being converted to a mosque by the Turks and then blown to bits by the Allies in the Second World War. Only this tower survived and has been reconstructed.  





Okay it's time to start heading back...my "dogs" are barking and Thelma isn't too happy either. 



Walking back on the lovely road...





And down we go on the funicular. 

Then a walk back along the Danube to my flat.  I took a photo of a woman and her son and she returned the favour.  That's how I roll - none of this selfie stuff. (mainly because the way I take them it looks like I have about six chins - I only have three!) 



Me and my blue jacket - oh if only it could talk wouldn't it have some tales to tell.  Then again maybe that is just as well it can't!!  

After a rest in the apartment I was hungry so decided to try the pizza place in the nearby square that Blanka had recommended.  Yeah pizza in Budapest..I know.  I did have Hungarian food for the rest of my time there...honest.  But sometimes you just have to have pizza.  I stopped into the big grocery store to pick up some things and as I was walking along the sidewalk towards the restaurant these two boys about 12 started laughing hysterically and pointing to me.  They yelled something to me and burst into laughter.  Of course, it was in Hungarian so I had no clue what they were saying and I thought to myself "what rude little hooligans" (okay it wasn't quite that polite but you get the drift) and scurried into the pizza place.  I decided I wanted the pizza to go and enjoy it back in the apartment so after ordering I sat at a table and chairs by the door to wait, throwing my backpack down beside me.  My hand came away all wet and sticky and disgusting.  What the heck is going on?  I then realized it was pigeon poop - so that's what they were laughing at.  I honestly hadn't felt it.  By this time my jacket had been put back on (thank goodness) so it got the top of that, my backpack and my neck.  So that's what the kids were laughing about!  I told the waiter and he brought me napkins and I started wiping it off.  What a mess!  The only good thing about this was the good-looking young waiter wiping the crap off the back of my neck - that was kind of nice!  When I got back to the apartment I washed off the back of my jacket.  (and it got machine washed when I got back to London!) They say being pooped on by a pigeon brings Good Luck - well I must say except for the fatigue at the beginning of the trip it was a pretty "bad experience" free trip.  In fact it was a friggin awesome one! 

As far as the pizza goes...i've had better...much better..but it's my favourite food in the world so it has to be pretty darn bad for me not to eat it!  

After it turned dark I walked less than five minutes to the walkway overlooking the Danube and this was my view! 


Hungarian Parliament Buildings 


St Anne's church.  

I will say it again - I loved this area.  

And that was the end of Day one! 









Traveling by Goat to the Western Lake District of England

That title got your attention, didn't it?  Okay, I didn't actually travel on the back of a goat...I mean the poor goat would be dea...