Sunday, July 10, 2011

Freedom trip

Yes this was my freedom trip - I try to give my trips names and this was it. I retired from SaskTel after thirty years of faithful (snort!) service. After a fun filled retirement party one evening and a half day of work and tea in the afternoon the next away I flew....it was a wonderful trip and made sweeter by the fact I knew I didn't have to go back to work when I got home. Back then I had my best friend in the world Sandy but she was well looked after by members of her pack so I did not have to worry.

MY FREEDOM TRIP

Friday August 30th:/Saturday August 31st It was finally here!! The day I had dreamed about for months. It was quite a week with my retirement party on Wednesday evening and my tea on Thursday afternoon. Both flights went well. The movies - “Ice Age” and “Life or Something like It” were both good. My suitcase arrived which is always a relief!!! Made my way by tube to King’s Cross and checked into my hotel. I was offered an ensuite (bathroom in the room instead of down the hall) for five pounds more a night so took it. The room wasn’t quite ready yet so went to the post office and stocked up on stamps and went to Safeway for room necessities such as cherry bakewell tarts!! My room was ready but wasn’t big enough to swing a cat in - not a big one anyway. I tried to have a nap and dozed a bit but woke up suddenly to the sound of Indian pop music (which has to be heard to be believed..) and the smell of Indian cooking. My first reaction was “where the hell am I?” Due to the heat all the windows were open and to close them would be unbearable. So I put my earplugs in but unfortunately I didn’t have a nose plug!!! I got up later to use the loo and noticed the bathroom was wet. The toilet tank was leaking so had to get the porter in to look at it. They “fixed” it by putting a small coffee creamer in but he said they would fix it properly later on. It worked for the rest of the time thank goodness.

Sunday Sept 1st - After a full English breakfast I headed out to Westminster and began a 10 km walk I had downloaded off the Internet. I walked from Westminster to St. James Park, Trafalgar Square and through the City of London to Tower Hill. It was fantastic. In the afternoon I went to Leicester Square to see the Harry Potter cow. There was a cow parade on in London - life size fibre glass cows painted by local artists. Amazing!! (for more info go to www.cowparade.net) I then had a tasty Indian meal at a restaurant near King’s Cross - the Indian cooking had gotten to me I guess! Back to the hotel to watch “Coronation Street” only to find out that the TV didn’t get ITV for some strange reason. SCREECH!!!!!

Monday Sept. 2nd - Another big breakfast and off on another walk - this time 11 km. I started where I finished yesterday; at Tower Hill. I walked across Tower Bridge and along the South Bank to Vauxhall Bridge and over to Temple tube station. Along the way I passed Southwark Cathdral, the old Clink prison (where the saying “the clink” came from), the Royal Festival Hall and the London Eye. Went back to the room for a shower and changed as I was meeting my penfriend Irene and her husband David for supper. I met them at Irene’s place of work on Pont St. in Kensington and we went to the pub for a drink first and then to a nice (and reasonably priced) restaurant for a lamb casserole supper. They were both very friendly and we found lots to talk about. I walked with them back through Hyde Park and they took the train home and I caught the tube back to the hotel.

Tuesday Sept. 3rd: This morning I toured the state rooms of Buckingham Palace. I enjoyed the tour so much; the rooms were exquisite. One of the highlights of the trip for sure. No photos allowed of course except for the gold Golden Jubilee cow just as we were walking out of the gardens. I then did my usual “Beatle tour” to Abbey Road studios, Paul’s house on Cavendish Avenue and to his office in Soho Square. No sightings as he was in the U.S. rehearsing for his tour.

Wednesday Sept. 4th: This morning I went to visit Tom, a family friend who lives in the small village of Oakley, near Bedford. We had a great visit and he fixed me a lovely lunch of roast lamb, roast potatoes & leek and runner beans. The “sweet” was apple and blackberries with cream. Delicious!!! And his home-made wine as well! I left mid afternoon as Tom doesn’t like to drive during rush hour. It worked out well as I had a ticket to see James Taylor in concert at the Apollo in Hammersmith that evening. The concert was fantastic. James Taylor has always been a favourite of mine so it was a thrill to see him live. He left “Sweet Baby James” to the second encore - my favourite!

Thursday Sept. 5th: - this morning I headed to Seaford to visit my penfriend Judi. She was at the station to meet me so we went for a coffee first and then headed to Seaford Head and walked around the cliffs a bit. Then we walked down the road for the classic view of Seaford Head. I love that view of the Seven Sisters!!! (white chalk cliffs) After a nice roast chicken lunch at a restaurant in the centre of Seaford we spent the afternoon back at her place drinking tea, eating cake and having a good natter!

Friday Sept. 6th : Laundry day today. I spent the afternoon at the National Portrait Gallery and National Gallery. A quick visit but I enjoyed it. In the late afternoon I went to Regent’s Park and enjoyed the sunshine. A quiet evening in packing up for Scotland.

Saturday Sept. 7th: - Up early to get the 7 a.m. train to Glasgow. Luckily I was only a five minute walk from King’s Cross station. In Glasgow I got on the train to Ardrossan Harbour and then the ferry to Brodick, Arran. The coach picked us up and took us back to the HF house - Altachorvie, in the town of Lamlash. My room was in one of the chalets and it was fine - bigger than my room in London so I was happy! Dinner that night was roast beef and Yorkshire pudding with Spotted Dick for dessert!!!

Sunday Sept. 8th - We walked from the house today over to Clauchlands Point - on the way we saw a seal popping it’s head in and out of the water. We walked a fairly rough coastal path and things were a bit slippery which made life a bit interesting. We then headed inland to North and South Corrie gills. It rained on and off but nothing too much. Then back to the coast and through very high bracken, you had to keep an eye on your feet to make sure you didn’t trip over anything - I stopped to take a breath and look around and there was the most incredible rainbow I’ve ever seen in my life. Amazing. I could not take a picture though as it started drizzling, my camera was at the bottom of my backpack and needed the film changed. (excuses, excuses!) Plus I did not want to fall too far behind everyone else!!! Down a steep path - when I saw it I yelled (much to my embarrassment) “Oh my God you have to be joking!!” Anyway with help from Alistair’s walking stick I did it. Back on the same path to the house for a cream tea followed by a roast chicken supper. I skipped the barn dancing that night!

Monday Sept. 9th - After a breakfast fit for a walker we got off the coach at the village of Machrie and walked over to Machrie Moor. The scenery was stunning - blue sea, blue sky, green fields, sheep and these amazing standing stones shrouded in mystery - snap, snap, snap went my camera! We walked back to the main road and through a forest and up through a wonderful path surrounded by heather. After a lunch break we carried on to King’s Cave where it is said Robert the Bruce was inspired by the determination of a spider. (seems to me they are desperate for tourism) Along the beach and up along the path from hell. I had to have the leader help me in places as I didn’t know where to put my feet! One slip and my retirement would have been over before it began! I was truly terrified. Steve, the leader was a great help. Most of us ended up with stinging nettle on our hands thanks to grabbing whatever vegetation we could get our hands on to help us along. Once the terror was over and we had a rest we walked along the beach to Blackfootwater. A visit to the pub for a strong one was in order! Back to the hotel for a dinner of long sausages and an interesting talk about Goatfell and Brodick Castle by a local ranger.

Tuesday Sept. 10th - I decided to take the day off after yesterday’s hairy walk. I hitched a ride with the walkers into Brodick and did some banking (we won’t go there, let’s just say SaskTel was in my bad books that day - turns out when you retire there is a period where there is no banking info in the system and they send you a cheque - Neil came to the rescue for me and sweet talked a bank teller into depositing it into my bank account) and a bit of shopping. I then took the bus over to Brodick Castle and looked around the gardens before going into the castle itself. It is lovely and dates back to the 13th century. It is now owned by the National Trust. I sat and ate my sandwich in the garden and shared it with a little English robin. I have never been so close to one before. It was beautiful. I then took the bus to Whiting Bay and looked in the craft shops and enjoyed the sea views. The sun was shining and it was a very pretty day. Whiting Bay is south of Lamlash and the view heading out of Lamlash looking towards the town was incredible. Back to my little chalet for a nap - ah the life of the retired! Then a lovely supper of beef with beer in puff pastry.

Wed. Sept. 11th - Our official “day off”. I took the bus to Lochranza with Chris, a friendly American lady who was on the walking trip. We visited Lochranza Castle together - it is a ruin now but very striking. We sat and had lunch together then she headed north and I headed south. My destination was a visit to a working farm called South Farm Park which was on the southern coast. It was fun walking around and looking at the different animals such as many different breeds of sheep, highland cattle, ponies and of course lots of ducks and geese. Back on the bus to Lamlash. That evening one of the leaders gave a slide show on the flora and fauna of Arran; very interesting.

Thurs. Sept. 12th - today we walked into Glen Rosa. 9.5 miles and 950 feet up. It was quite the walk. It wasn’t a steep walk at all but lots of long steps across from rock to rock. It was a misty day and the sun never did quite come out to say hello. I borrowed one of the fellows’ walking pole and that helped a lot. At one point there was a snake (adder) coiled up on a rock - luckily I wasn’t first and the others pushed it off before I got there. I don’t like snakes but I found I was so busy watching where my feet were going that I didn’t have time to get stressed over it. Normally I would be running screaming in the opposite direction. I told the leader when we stopped for lunch I would stay there and they could carry on as I was at my limit and he laughed and said “Laurie, this is as far as we’re going - we’re turning around after lunch” so that made me feel good. I did it! back to the village I bought them a drink in the pub as thanks. As we came out of the woods there was a tea shop so we ordered tea and sat at a table with a china tea pot and china cups and drank tea. All very civilized! It was hard to believe a few minutes before we were out in the middle of nowhere! I have a “nice” souvenir of this walk - a bruised toe nail on one of my big toes. A lovely purple! Everyone delighted in telling me that it will fall off; so far it’s still there. That night it was so sore that even the weight of the sheet on it bothered me.

Friday Sept. 13th - I didn’t walk today as my toenail was so sore. In fact I had to wear sandals all day. I decided to take a bus around the island and it was lovely - the weather was gorgeous and I enjoyed the beautiful coastline. The northern part of the island is mountainous and the south is hilly with more farms. It really is a beautiful island. It isn’t called “Scotland in Miniature” for nothing. I got off the bus back in Lamlash and sat and enjoyed an Arran ice cream while sitting by the sea. I went back to my room and managed to find a bathtub in the main house and soaked. (everyone else was still out walking) Oh bliss!! My first bath since arriving in the UK as I had access to only showers until then. That night we had haggis so I tried some - not bad actually but it was the idea of what it was that stopped me eating much. I got someone to take a photo of me with it for posterity!! That evening we had a ceidlah which was fun but I spent most of my time the dance floor worried that someone’s foot was going to land on my sore toe!

Saturday Sept. 14th - well the week was over and it was off to the ferry with a few others. We sat together on the ferry back to Ardrossan and then the train to Glasgow where we all went our separate ways. I boarded a train to Oxenholme and then on to Windermere. I got a taxi to the Elim Lodge in Bowness which was a very nice B & B. Then I strolled down to the harbour in Bowness and had culture shock - it was a gorgeous sunny day and there were loads of tourists. After the quietness of Arran it took me aback. I took the launch to Ambleside - stopped there and had an ice cream - then got the launch back. Delicious fish and chips for supper then back to the B & B for an early night.

Sunday Sept. 15th - After a huge English breakfast I took the open top 599 bus to Grasmere and looked around. It’s a pretty little village. Back to Windermere where I got the bus to Hawkshead. On the way there we met another bus and it was quite the “to do” getting the busses past each other. As they were negotiating back and forth two motorcycles came flying up and drove right in between. They were darn lucky that they weren’t hit is all I can say. Everyone on the bus gave a collective gasp!! Including the bus drivers I am sure. Due to bus schedules I had three hours in Hawkshead so I visited the Beatrix Potter gallery and looked in the shops and wandered around the town taking photos. After the day before the sun decided to go on holiday and it never reappeared while I was in the Lake District - however it didn’t rain and that’s the main thing! Had a cream tea but it was the strangest one I’ve ever had as it came with a bun as well - perhaps that’s a local specialty I have no idea. It didn’t appeal to me and I’d rather have had another scone! Back on the bus to Bowness for another round of fish and chips and an evening. I finally got to watch “Coronation Street”. J

Monday Sept. 16th - today I had a tour of the Western Lakes booked with Mountain Goat Tours. I was picked up at 9:45 and off we went in a small van. We drove over the Wrynose and Hardnott Passes - wow and I am glad I wasn’t driving is all I can say - and we stopped at the remains of a Roman fort at the top of the Hardnott Pass. Amazing. I actually learned a lot about the Romans on this trip. We stopped in a tiny village called Boot for lunch but as I’d had a huge breakfast I wandered around and took photos. I discovered a lovely craft shop and got myself a pretty framed print of the village and a tiny wooden mouse with purple ears! My coworkers had given me some British pounds when I left SaskTel so I used some of it for these purchases - a lovely memory. Next stop was the miniature railway - we only went a few stops which was disappointing but it was fun while it lasted. Our driver picked us up and as we were driving on to Muncaster Castle suddenly there were sheep everywhere on the road. I have never seen so many in my life - the driver figured a couple of thousand. We were stuck there for about ten minutes until we were able to get them to go on one side (well one to go to the side then of course they all followed) and we drove slowly on. Visited the Owl Sanctuary at Muncaster Castle (included in the tour) but didn’t have enough time to visit the Castle itself which is supposedly haunted. On the way back we visited Westwater which is the most western of the lakes. A long day but a fantastic one.

Tuesday Sept. 17th - Off to Grasmere again. I walked a bit out of town and then turned around and found a tea shop in a quiet area by the water. I sat by the lake and had gingerbread cake and a pot of tea and it was wonderful. So relaxing. I then walked along the main road and saw the outside of Dove Cottage where William Wordsworth lived. I carried on walking and left the main road for a quiet path and walked along a bit of Grasmere Lake as well as Rydalwater. Saw an amusing sight on the shores of Grasmere - a little Yorkshire terrior gleefully retrieving sticks out of the water and barking until his owner threw another one. A few yards away…a young Black Lab retriever who no way no how was going into that water. His owners threw sticks into the water which he ignored and sniffed the vegetation up on the bank instead. Walked back to the main road and onto Rydal Mount (I didn’t think I’d ever find a bus stop!!) and got the bus back to Bowness. I got off at the harbour and purchased one of my beloved prawn sandwiches (I don’t want to think of how many I ate while over there) and sat down on a bench. As soon as I sat down I was joined by a duck and a huge swan. The swan stood on my immediate right almost touching me - the duck right in front of me. I felt four beady eyes on me every bite I took. I had to turn away from the swan as I thought it might grab it from me, it was getting way too close for comfort…until I admit it…I threw them a piece each! It was quite the sight I guess and people were taking photos and laughing. The swan did not leave me even when I had finished my meal. A couple of ladies sat down beside me with ice cream cones so then the swan toddled over to them and I was able to escape and take a photo of the trio. They weren’t a softie like me though and the swan got nothing!

Wed. Sept. 18th - Off to Windermere station and the train to York. I had to change at Preston and the stairs between the platforms was awful. Very narrow steep steps and I had a dreadful time with my luggage. The only one who offered to help me was a young teenage girl - I declined gratefully. On the train to York some character had a mobile phone that played Waltzing Matilda every time it rang. Cute the first time but I was ready to grab his mobile and toss it out the window after the fifth time. Well I had quite a few fantasies about grabbing people’s mobiles and tossing them out of train windows - but never quite got around to doing it! Anyway on arrival in York I took a taxi to the Queen Ann Guest House in Bootham; very nice. Walked into town and had steak pie and chips at a nice little restaurant. That evening I took a Ghost tour. Very interesting. The stories are great fun but it’s also an interesting way to learn more about the history of the city as well as exploring some nooks and crannies you’d never find on your own. After hearing of the Roman warrior ghosts in the Treasurers House I wanted to have tea there but never found the time.

Thurs. Sept. 19th - today I spent the day with my cousin Ann. This is my mom’s first cousins Betty’s oldest daughter. We met at Coppergate, the main shopping centre in York. It was so good to see Ann again. Together we visited the Yorkshire museum which was so interesting, especially as we got a talk on the Vikings. It was geared to children but that just made it more fun. Afterwards we sat and had coffee outside and talked about our families. Both Ann and I lost our mums this year so it was comforting to talk about it. We picked up sandwiches and drinks at Marks and Spencers and walked over to the river and sat and ate our lunch. Afterwards we wandered around the town and looked in the shops. Ann’s husband Brian picked us up and we went back to her house for a visit and then Roast Beef and Yorkshire pudding for supper. Apple strudel and cream for the sweet! They then dropped me back at my guest house - a lovely day.

Friday Sept. 20th - This morning I took a history walking tour. Ann had told me about them. They are free and are given by the local history society. Wonderful and I highly recommend them. We saw the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey and the King’s Manor. Somewhere in the first hour one of the ladies managed to get lost. Her husband went looking for her but came back to the group saying he couldn’t find her so we left him still searching. Wonder if she’s still wondering around York? J Our guide told us interesting stories about the Romans and it was so interesting to walk along the wall and hear the history as well. I have walked those walls a few times but this time was the best. The tour lasted two hours and was well worth the time. Afterwards I relaxed with a cream tea in the back garden of a small tea shop. I wandered over to Yorkminster to visit once again. York is one of my favourite cities in the world. So full of history and beautiful architecture. I would love to spend an extended amount of time there just exploring the city and it’s surroundings. Late that afternoon I took the train to Leeds and met my penfriend Sue at the station. We walked over to a restaurant called Est Est Est where we ordered lasagna (it always blows my mind in England that they actually offer you chips (french fries) with your lasagna....uh...NO thank you but some garlic toast would be nice but then again can't afford it as it's extra) and dessert - tried not to let the prices blow my mind too much. (blew my food budget for three days for one meal) We had a great visit and made plans to see each other again when I come back someday.

Saturday Sept. 21st - Boarded the bus to Whitby. It was packed and there was nowhere to put my luggage. The driver told me to put it in the back. Well I would have had to lift it above people sitting down - I think not. Luckily a gentleman took pity on me and hauled it over for me. The only seat I found was directly facing someone else and we had to arrange our legs so they weren’t touching. Luckily a couple of stops later a couple got off so I raced for their window seat and from then on I enjoyed the ride. Once in Whitby I took a taxi to Larpool Hall where I was much too early. I walked down into the town and explored the Harbour side. It was a sunny day so there were loads of tourists about. I came upon the 199 steps up to the Abbey and St. George’s church so decided to go for it. I visited the Abbey and visitor centre as well as the church. Both were fantastic and the views amazing. No sign of Dracula! Back to Larpool Hall where I discovered Uncle Tony had come to visit me and missed me. So I rang him at his hotel in Goathlandand we set up a dinner date for the next evening. Dinner was prawn salad, lamb and strawberry cheesecake - no complaints there!

Sunday Sept. 22nd - After a full English breakfast we headed off to Robin Hood’s Bay by coach. I had opted for the short walk as I always do. We walked around Robin Hood’s Bay (a gorgeous old fishing village with cobblestone streets and very hilly) as a group and after a coffee went our separate ways agreeing to meet up for our lunch break. I wandered around taking photographs. The sun kept coming and going and just as we sat down to eat our lunch the heavens opened. Luckily it didn’t last long. We then got on the Cleveland Way. The wind on the cliff tops was bracing but what scenery. After a couple of miles we turned inland and walked on an old railway line for another couple of miles back to Larpool Hall. It was a 6.5 mile walk and one I really enjoyed - no stress! After a quick shower Uncle Tony picked me up and we went to Trenchers for some delicious halibut and chips. After the meal we drove along to view the huge waves washing in at Sandsend which is just north of Whitby. Back to Larpool Hall where I showed Uncle Tony around and we had a coffee. He then left and I joined in on the Team Quiz challenge.

Monday Sept. 23rd - Today we got a coach to Kildale and walked on pleasant paths through woodland. Up a rather steep hill and devoured our packed lunches. After an hour or so of walking we had another break and we all lay down on the grass enjoying the sunshine. Pure bliss. We carried on down into Great Ayton where Captain Cook grew up. The coach picked us up here. A local author came in that evening to give us a talk and slide show about Whitby.

Tuesday Sept. 24th - Today we drove to Goathland which is a gorgeous little village on the moors and the setting for a British TV police show called “Heartbeat”. There were only two of us on this walk as well as the leader but as it was a gentle walk and no real chance of us being injured we were allowed to go. (normally they don’t allow such small groups) The reason I wanted to go on this particular walk was that it included a ride on the North Yorkshire railway. We walked along the trail to Beckhole and decided to have coffee at the pub there. I told the other two to wait as I wanted to visit one of my cousins who lives opposite the pub. I rang the doorbell and there was Becky - we had a short visit and she told me the wonderful news that she had gotten engaged the weekend before. Her mom Judy (her dad was my mom’s first cousin) was in bed ill so I wasn’t able to see her during my week there unfortunately. Anyway back to the pub for a quick coffee then we carried on the path to Grosmont where we got the Blue Peter steam train back to Goathland. That was fun! At that point I left the walk (all previously arranged) and walked over to the Heatherdene Hotel to visit my Uncle. We spent a couple of hours in the lounge chatting and drinking coffee. Then I looked around Goathland a bit looking in shops and taking photos until the coach picked us up.

Wednesday Sept. 25th - Today was our day off walking so I quickly did my laundry first thing. Uncle Tony and Billie (sister of my mom’s first cousin’s wife - got it??) came to pick me up and we drove to York to visit another family member. Jacquie is my cousin Mark’s (son of Judy) wife and their little daughter Eleanor is 23 months old. They live in Bootham right near where I stayed. I had never met Jacquie before and she was lovely - so easy to talk to. We had coffee and cake then later had sandwiches for lunch all the while entertained by Eleanor. In the afternoon we had a nice walk around the school grounds close to their house then headed back to Whitby. We went to Billie’s flat where she fixed us a nice supper of Shepherd’s pie. Both Billie and I are “Coronation Street” fans so we sat at the table eating and watching Corrie. Poor Uncle Tony!

Thursday Sept. 26th - Today we were dropped in the car park at Staithes a small fishing village north of Whitby. Maureen and I wandered around but not a whole lot there so stopped and had coffee. I looked in the local musuem but found it very dry and boring; so much ‘stuff” that it was overwhelming. We then got the coach to Runswick Bay and from there we headed south. We climbed the cliffs - some rocky steps - my favourite!! Once we were up the walk was great and the views were spectacular. After enjoying fantastic views of the coast as we ate our lunch we carried on and came down rather steeply into Sandsend where the coach picked us up. Uncle Tony and I went out hoping to find a pub close by where we could have a meal but nothing seemed to be open until 7 p.m. We ended up having fish and chips in a “so-so” place in Sleights and they were closing as we were finishing our meal.

Friday Sept. 27th - today I decided to take a day off simply because I wanted time to explore Whitby. The walk today didn’t appeal to me; I’d seen what I’d come to see. I walked into Whitby on the old railway line that backs Larpool Hall. My first stop was the William Sutcliffe gallery - he was a local photographer at the turn of the century and his subject was Whitby and the north Yorkshire coast. I settled for getting postcards of my favourite photographs although I was sorely tempted by one print but resisted. I then walked over to the harbour and took a boat ride on a replica of the Endeavour (Capt. Cook’s boat). It was pretty rocky but fun. Back in Whitby I visited the “Heartbeat” museum - all sorts of props and memorabilia from the TV series.. Wandered the cobblestoned streets and looked in the shops. Enjoyed a piece of Yorkshire brack and tea in the Elizabeth Botham tea rooms - a long standing Whitby institution. Very tempted to buy the special bag full of different cakes but had to resist - not practical for traveling the Atlantic! At 5 o’clock I met my penfriend Jean and her husband Neil. We went to a pub for a couple of drinks and chatted non-stop. They were both so friendly and easy to talk to. From there we went to Trenchers - I tried the Scampi and chips which were delicious. We bade farewell and I took a taxi back to Larpool Hall.

Saturday Sept. 28th - After the bus to York I was able to catch a train to London a scant ten minutes later. The train trip was uneventful and took a taxi to the hotel in Paddington. My room was at the very top of the building - five floors up and no lift. I thought I would die taking my luggage up and the stairs got narrower and narrower. When I got to my room I was shocked - it was dirty and smelly. The whole place was a tip and the only reason I stayed three nights was that I was going to be busy over the next couple of days and it was easier to stay there. I slept in my clothes the entire time.

Sunday Sept. 29th - today I took the train down to Hedge End (near Southampton) to visit my penfriend Linda. She was waiting for me at the station and we went to a Teddy Bear festival where she bought a huge cuddly bear and we had lunch. Back to her place for tea, a snack and a long chinwag. I got to meet Monty the cat she adopted. We got on really well and it was a relaxing day. I even had a bath there due to the fact that my lovely abode in London did not provide hot water unless you were prepared to wait a long time - and the shower curtain was torn and you flooded the whole shower room anyway!!! So it was so nice of Linda to offer me the use of her bathtub - ah bliss!!!

Monday Sept. 30th - I wandered around London booking theatre and concert tickets and visiting my favourite haunts such as St. James Park and Westminster. That afternoon I had booked a flight on the London Eye - the huge moving wheel that was built for the millennium. The capsules held about 25 people and were all glass. It was fabulous; I think I had a grin on my face the entire time. The views were amazing. Well worth the money and I’d do it again! From there over to Covent Garden for a baked potato and then I went on a Ghosts of the West End walking tour. It was fun. A highlight for me was the opportunity to walk through St. James Park at night and see Buckingham Palace all lit up and reflecting on the lake. Beautiful!

Tuesday Oct. 1st - today I headed back to Oakley for an overnight visit with our family friend Tom. It was a very relaxing day. One of his friends popped by in the afternoon and for dinner Tom fixed roast pork, potatos, onion, leeks, mushrooms and beans. Lovely! I discovered I was developing a cold so I had a hot bath and Tom fixed me hot whisky and water - I slept like a baby!

Wednesday Oct. 2nd - Another relaxing morning and then Tom and I went to the local pub for lunch - what else by prawn sandwiches. And these beat Marks and Spencers hands down! Tom then drove me to the train station and I arrived at King’s Cross one hour later. Due to the tube workers being on strike I walked to Paddington station and picked up my luggage - I had left it in storage there. When I checked into my nice new CLEAN hotel the desk clerk nearly fainted when I told him I’d walked from King’s Cross - but it only took an hour. At that point of the trip I was in very good shape!!! I did laundry and watched “Coronation Street”.

Thursday Oct. 3rd - today was my grandma’s birthday so I decided to honour her memory (and that of my mom and aunt) by visiting her home town of Stonehouse, Gloucestershire. It was another lovely day. I walked to her former home as well as my grandfather’s (they were neighbours) Then walked back to the main part of the village and had a sticky bun and pot of tea. I then hopped the train to Gloucester to get some shopping done (the beauty of a rail pass!) - had to buy film for my trip to Norway as well as various other sundries. Gloucester is a beautiful city and I would love to stay there again - perhaps next time? Back on the train to Stonehouse in time for the local library’s opening time. Alas, they didn’t keep any old newspapers there. It was in Stroud, a nearby city and registrations were in Gloucester. Disappointing but a good excuse to go back!! I walked back to grandma’s house and the owners were outside so I had a chat with them - madly hinting to get into the house and have a look but it unfortunately fell on deaf ears. Well not that I blame them. Back to London and I went to see the play “Breath of Life” with Maggie Smith and Judi Dench. Well I saw the first half. It was good but very predictable and being as I was having to get up at around 4:30 a.m. I decided I should get back and finish packing. In retrospect it wasn’t the best day to go but it was the only evening I could snag a ticket; the rest of my stay it was sold out.

Friday Oct. 4th- up very early to catch the Heathrow Express train to Heathrow. My flight to Oslo left at 7:35 a.m. I flew SAS and as in 1984 I was very impressed with them. Arrived on time and took the flybroget (express train) into the main station in Oslo. While there I booked the Norway in a Nutshell tour for Sunday. I checked into my hotel (Hotel Astoria) which was quite nice and had a look around the area. It was raining and having been up so early I was tired so I picked up something to eat and had an early night.

Saturday Oct. 5th - Had a huge breakfast - loads of different breads, cheeses, sliced meats, yogurt, spreads, fruit. A feast. It made a nice change from the cooked breakfasts I had been eating for weeks. With my hotel package I was given a four day Oslo card which provided free transportation and museum entry. So off I went on the bus to Bygdoy where there are many museums. My first stop was the Fram museum which showcased…the Fram! A huge ship used in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s by Roald Amundsen among others to explore the Arctic and Antarctic. It was so interesting to walk around the ship and see how they lived. Next was the Kon Tiki musuem. A group of men sailed from Peru to Polynesia on a raft made of balsa wood. The reason for this? To prove that South Americans could have migrated to Polynesia many many years ago. Then on to my personal favourite. The Viking musuem. Four Viking ships which were smaller than I expected (probably because I’d just seen the huge Fram) but in amazing shape. Brilliant! (as the English say) The artifacts found inside were there as well - it so impressed me that I had to get a guide book. After 27 years of travel I have quit buying guide books but just had to have this one. A highly recommended museum! On to the folk museum. Interesting but as it was the off season most of the buildings were closed. I did see a Stave church which was very unique. The folk dress exhibition was very interesting. Caught the bus back to town and visited Akerhus which was a fortress and castle. I visited the Norwegian Resistance Museum which was a sombre experience. Walked around the grounds in the brisk chilly wind and was lucky enough to see a wedding party complete with tow headed (what else?) flower girls being photographed. They looked very cold!! Back into town and went to an Italian restaurant - well it was that, Chinese or Burger King!

Sunday Oct. 6th - Up early and to the train station to get on the Norway in a Nutshell tour. This was an independent tour that involved a train, a bus, a boat, a bus and a train! Boarded the train around 8 a.m. - very sleek and modern - about two hours into the journey we were informed that due to a train derailment ahead we would have to get off the train at Al and take a bus to Flam. We were due to get off at Myrdal and take a special cog railway to Flam which was to be the highlight of the tour. So that was disappointing. As the bus trundled along rain and then snow fell - I confess to being really ticked off at this point and thought “why didn’t I go to Italy”. As we approached Flam however the sun came out. We had time for lunch so what else would I have but a prawn sandwich - open faced of course! The price (45 knoner) was enough to make my hair stand on end but I was starving and it was pretty well the cheapest thing on the menu. We boarded the boat to cruise the Aurlandsfjord and the Naeroyfjord (arms of the Sognefjord). All I can say is WOW. With the changing colours of the leaves, the blue sky, the deep blue fjord…it was quite a sight. I enjoyed every minute of it and stayed outside despite the chill. At Gudvangen we disembarked and carried on by bus to Voss. Around hairpin curves with views of spectacular waterfalls along the way. Around one more corner and…..the bus shuddered to a halt. The driver tried one more time without success. Then silence. Now what? I think we were all thinking the same thing - “I hope we don’t start rolling backwards” (if we had I wouldn’t have been writing this!). The driver of a car behind us came up to talk to the driver but of course they were talking in Norwegian which didn’t help us. She walked back to her car looking very grumpy. (we were blocking the entire road both ways) Anyway we were told to get off and there was another bus - wow, what service! Well we found out there was a hotel just up the road where we were due to stop anyway and the other bus had just dropped off the other tour passengers. So we were driven to the hotel and just as we were all in a gift shop which offered everything 40% off and we were staking our claims we were called back to the bus!!! Anyway it was a short drive to Voss and then a very dark train ride to Bergen. It took a while to get a taxi in Bergen but finally the last one (for me) arrived. I showed him the address (I couldn’t pronounce it) and he drove to the street but could not find the number. So he dumped me there and pointed up. Well I walked up some stairs and luckily a lady was walking and I asked her where the Pension Skansjat was and she directed me. I found it easily (and with great relief - no greater worry than being dumped in a city you don’t know and it’s pitch black) and the landlady was very friendly and welcoming. She said the taxi drivers pull that trick often as they don’t want to drive up the narrow winding road - but they can sure find the place if you need to be picked up from there. My room was small but cozy. Skansen Pensionjat is an old house that was built around 1865 and I really enjoyed it - would definitely stay there again.

Monday Oct. 7th - After a great breakfast of bread and rolls, cold meat slices, cheese, jam and coffee I wandered off to explore Bergen. I didn’t have to go far before visiting the famous fish market and then Bryggen which is the oldest area of the city and a World Heritage Site. The beautiful old wooden buildings on the main street are now shops and cafes. I walked along looking in the shops and picked up a few things for family and friends. Upon reaching the harbour I saw a strange sight - two ferries that pulled up side by side and started blowing their horns non-stop. There were people on board with signs but I was too far away to read them. No one I asked knew what it was all about. I could still hear it an hour later. A mystery that will never be solved for me! Back to the centre of town where I had fish soup at the fish market - it was very good. I went to the tourist office to buy a ticket to visit Mount Ulriken. (no tours were running this time of year except this one) Off by double decker to the cable car. The cable car ride was quick and before long I was admiring the scenery from the top. There are all kinds of walks up there as well but it was quite cool out so decided to skip that and I sat in the café with a cup of hot chocolate, wrote postcards and admired the view. From the top you could see the surrounding mountains and fjords. A breathtaking sight. I was so glad I had done it. There was a funicular right by the bed and breakfast but it was closed until December for maintenance - maybe next time! Back down to the city and walked around the old section for a while before I started the quest to find something to eat. There were Burger Kings again but I don’t frequent them here so why over there. The authentic restaurants with Norwegian cuisine (mainly for tourists I suspect) were out of my budget. I ended up at a Chinese restaurant that was a little off the beaten track - it was a small place frequented by locals and the food was really good. I walked back to the guest house to pick up my bag then on to the station. I sat and read until we were able to board the train to Oslo. I had visions of the super duper deluxe train I had come on waiting for me but it was only an ordinary train - reading the schedule later I realized that the premier trains only run twice a day.

Tuesday Oct. 8th - I didn’t sleep too well as I was too cheap to book a sleeper but I figured missing one night’s sleep wouldn’t kill me. After having a breakfast of coffee and pastry at the station I stored my bag in the lockers and off I went for another day of adventure. I got on a tram to the Vigeland Sculpture garden only I somehow missed the garden (in retrospect we went right by it but I didn’t clue in that that was it) and stayed on the tram when it changed numbers and shot off somewhere else. I was still on the transit pass so didn’t worry and stayed on for the tour until I decided to head back. I got off at the road the garden was on and managed to find my way back on the bus. The garden was beautiful with sculptures done by Gustav Vigeland. All very unique. It was a cold day however and I couldn’t stay as long as I wanted to. Of course why not make myself colder so I jumped on the metro for the Helmkommen Ski Jump. A long trip and when I got there it was closed. You could see the ski jump but couldn’t walk up - well not that I would have wanted to as it was pretty blustery up there!! So into the café for another hot chocolate to warm up. Back into town to the Royal Palace to see the Changing of the Guard - not very exciting to put it mildly. I guess the most interesting thing about the Royal Palace is that there are no fences around it at the front - you can walk right up to the door. The back is a different story - it backs onto a park however that is open to the public. By this time I was getting peckish so headed to a pizza place for a shrimp pizza. Back to the station and the flybroget back to the airport. The flight back was good and sat beside a really nice Norwegian lady who was flying to London to visit her boyfriend. Back to London on the Heathrow Express (the only way to travel!) Checked into my hotel again and retrieved my luggage.

Wednesday Oct. 9th - Slept in and did laundry. After that I went to the British museum for a while but it was too nice a day to be indoors so just visited the Egyptian area briefly. I took the bus over to Battersea Dogs Home and visited the doggies and the gift shop. Back to the hotel via Marks & Spencer for a picnic lunch in my room. A relaxing evening in with the telly - “Coronation Street”!!

Thursday Oct. 10th - took the bus to Euston and caught the bus to Coventry. Made my way over to the cathedrals. The original cathedral was bombed during World War II and there is just a shell left. The new modern cathedral leaves a lot to be desired in my humble opinion. However the contrast is striking. Coventry is ugly through no fault of it’s own. Around the cathedral there are a few original buildings left but most were destroyed during the war - now it is shopping precincts and ugly buildings built in the 50’s and 60’s. It broke my heart to think of how very beautiful it must have been. I walked over to Medieval Spon Street - this will soon be a beautiful street full of medieval houses converted to restaurants and shops. Work is in progress “as we speak”. I went to a pub for lunch and had a chicken and mushroom pie with chips. It was to die for! I hadn’t expected much and there was this huge masterpiece with puff pastry on my plate. One of those meals that you remember for a long time, thinking about it makes my mouth water! After finishing my meal I walked to the train station and caught the train to Warwick. Sounds easier than it was…..okay I went to the station and sat on a bench for 45 minutes because I had just missed a train and got on a train to Leamington Spa where I changed for a train to Warwick. Warwick Castle was a short walk from the train station and was totally amazing. I loved it! It is the most beautiful medieval castle in Britain without a doubt. The Tussauds group own it so it is touristy but I found it easier to imagine how people must have lived then. Looking at beautiful old furniture is one thing but when there are wax figures dressed in period clothes it all seems to fit. In one area you had all the smells of medieval Britain and in another a weekend party in the 1900’s with Winston Churchill present. Of course there was the dungeon and torture chambers. I walked along some of the wall and up the turrets but my knees were protesting adamantly so didn’t go too far. Back to Paddington on a direct train - how handy. Even if they have been late a couple of times nothing serious and I still love rail travel in Britain.

Friday Oct. 11th - this morning I headed over to Kensington to look in the shops on the High St. I then had a sandwich in Kensington Gardens. I then took a bus over to Piccadillly and attended a lunch hour concert by a pianist at St. James Church in Piccadilly. Very nice!!! From there I headed over to Oxford St - mistake! Talk about crowded! I boarded another bus and looked around Islington, north London having a lamb supper in a restaurant there.

Saturday Oct. 12th - my friend Judi came up for the day so I met her at Victoria station. We took the tube to Covent Garden and had coffee at a café. It was a rainy morning but then the sun came out and it turned out to be a lovely day. We wandered around and visited the Theatre museum which is free (luckily) - neither one of us was impressed. From there we wandered up the Strand to the Leicester Square area and decided to go for Chinese food in China town. Had a very nice lunch and then looked in some shops and Judi took me to her favourite New Age shop. I bought myself a pretty wooden seahorse pendant. From there we visited the National Portrait Gallery - specifically the sixties section which I had managed to miss last time. Off to the crypt at St. Martin in the Fields church for afternoon cream tea. Judi went back home and I went to my hotel to change. Back to St. Martin in the Fields for a wonderful concert. It was by the London Concertante, a chamber orchestra. They played Vivaldi’s Four Seasons as well as works by Rossini, Elgar and Barber. All lights in the church were turned off except those immediately above the orchestra. The rest of the church was lit by candles. Beautiful!!

Sunday Oct. 13th - today was cold and it rained most of the day and I thought okay it’s time to go home. First thing in the morning I walked over to Kensington Gardens and enjoyed the squirrels and dogs. There weren’t many people out yet and I thought “this is the London I love”. As I had a weekend travel card I decided to make it a bus day and jumped on busses to such places as St. Paul’s Cathedral, Bermondsey (because I wanted to take a London bus over Tower Bridge), Waterloo, Westminster. I got off on Oxford St. and found an Italian restaurant and enjoyed a pizza and a glass of wine. Back to the room to begin the mammoth task of packing everything up to go home.

Monday Oct. 14th - off to Paddington to check in my luggage and board the Heathrow Express. The flight back was good. No job to come back to…YES!!!

What a wonderful trip. I did almost everything I wanted to do and with enough left over to have something to look forward to on the next trip. Saw loads of friends and family - some for the 17th time - some for the 1st. I was free to do what I wanted to do and when I wanted to do it. Going for six weeks was perfect - I was ready to come home by the end but can’t imagine leaving any earlier. (even though I did get sick of my clothes!! J ) I would be happy to head back for another six weeks right now. (although I think my bank account and Sandy would object!)

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