Saturday, June 2, 2018

The adventure of a lifetime

Well, that was quite the adventure!  It was probably the biggest adventure yet given that I visited such a variety of places.  Dreams were fulfilled, bucket list items ticked off,  cherished time spent with friends, new friendships were made and I stayed (relatively) healthy.  Thelma (my knee replacement) was a real trooper - and when Thelma is happy so am I.  It can't get much better than that!

For the last four and a half months, I slept in everything from a child's bed in an airbnb to a mosquito net covered bed in a tent - 23 different beds!  I ate everything from exotic vegetables and curries in Sri Lanka to good old fish and chips in England.

My biggest regret?  Not writing more blog posts.  My writing on the road was abysmal.  My excuse?  Probably the biggest excuse is lack of a good desk to write on in most places.  Other excuses:  tiredness at the end of the day, my wifi adapter croaking on me at the beginning of the trip...in Dubai I had the desk and the time to do posts but I could not get online.  I finally figured out the problem and was able to fix it.  Then my laptop decided it did not like being moved one tiny bit when I was online and if I so much as touched it the screen would go blank. Need I say that before I go on another long trip I will be purchasing a new laptop..with more memory.  Yes I should have listened to a "certain friend" who advised me to get a laptop with more memory...I ignored that advice at my peril! If I had a nickel for every time I was informed Windows 10 could not do their updates due to lack of memory I could book a ticket back to England! Ah well, at least I did daily updates on Facebook and faithfully journaled.  I have two full journals plus started another smaller one.

Here are some of the highlights of each of my stops.  More details will be revealed in future posts!

Toronto

My sister lives in Hamilton which is about an hours drive south of Toronto.  As my niece was in Australia and New Zealand at the time I was to be there she let us stay in her apartment in Korea Town in Toronto.  We had a great visit and the highlight was going to a Viking exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum.  


Even the "Museum" subway station was impressive!


We also went for Ethiopian food one evening.  It was pretty cold while I was there and as I was dressed for a more temperate climate as well as being paranoid about falling on the ice (no boots) we stayed in a lot.  It was a chill (literally!) way to start my trip!  Seriously, it was good to relax as it was quite a busy time getting ready.


Spiced meat and veg on top of Injera...a sourdough spongy bread made from teff flour.  Oh yum!!!

Then it was time to fly to my next destination...

London

It was really convenient to take a train to the airport and know my next destination was London and no connecting flights.  Whee!  I must do that again.  

Lumiere London was on while I was there and while I had great intentions of seeing more of the lights jetlag and the tiredness that I had been dealing with for a while hounded me and I only managed one evening.  




The above photos were taken in Leicester Square.

I also visited the new Postal Museum and went on the Mail Rail underground.  This custom gauge 6.5 mile railway system delivered up to 4 million letters a day around London.  It was opened in 1927 and closed in 2003.  I highly recommend a visit to this museum but you must book in advance if you want to ride on the Mail Rail train - to me that is the whole point of visiting this museum.  I loved it!


A bit snug...built for mail not humans!!



The world's first adhesive stamp - the Penny Black.  Worth one penny!  The stamp was issued in May of 1840 and made posting a letter much simpler.  Before that postage was very costly as it was based on how many sheets and how far the letter was going - and the recipient paid!!!


I loved seeing all the early Christmas cards and stationery.  Back in the day I was quite the letter writer and I am still a bit of a stationery geek.

All too soon it was time to head out for a long weekend in...

Barcelona! 

I loved Barcelona, especially the architecture of Antoni Gaudi.  What a genius!!!  The weather in late January was perfect at around 15C. The Gothic Quarter was amazing to wander around.  Definitely a place I would recommend visiting - just be cautious about your personal belongings as it is the pickpocket capital of Europe.  And don't sign any petitions! (their "friends" are helping themselves to your belongings while you are signing the petition)  The biggest problem I had there was locking myself INSIDE my Airbnb!! 


Sagrada Familia - one of the most spectacular things I've seen in my life..and I've seen a few!


The interior of the cathedral meant to resemble a forest


Parc Gruell - another Gaudi masterpiece.


Beautifully over the top fountain in Parc de la Cuitadella


I loved wandering the Gothic Quarter - even on a rainy day!  

Then it was back to...

London

Back to London for a week where I went to an ABBA exhibition which was loads of fun but sadly no photos allowed.  I also visited an ancient Roman temple that has been resurrected with a light show. 



I attended Dreamgirls which was not a dream for me.  The rows were narrow and my knees touched the seats in front of me - and I don't have long legs.  Thelma was NOT impressed and I was in agony - made even worse by the screeching of the lead singer in the last song before intermission.  I wanted to screech along with her.  A friend attended a few months later and agreed that her performance of that song was way over the top.  I left at intermission stumbling and stepping on people's toes to get the hell out of there.

I did make a day trip to...

Durham

I loved Durham.  So many times I had passed through on the train and said to myself "I want to come here and see the cathedral" and finally I made it thanks to Virgin East Coast's fabulous seat sales.  




  
The Market Square.

And before I knew it was time to board that big beautiful Emirates plane to...

Dubai! 

What can I say about Emirates?  It's the way flying used to be...if I could fly every flight with Emirates I would be a happy woman. 

To me, Dubai is Vegas with Camels.  Now there is nothing wrong with Vegas and definitely nothing wrong with camels...it was just a bit too touristy for me.  Yet there was something distinctly appealing about it and if I ever go back I would like to see more of the older section of the city.  The one that was there before the glitz and glamour.  The architecture of the new buildings blows me away so I would love to see what else is new there a few years down the road. (in the meantime I will take my middle eastern stopovers in Doha and Muscat) I will be talking more about my time in Dubai in future posts but there definitely were some highlights.  Like going up the world's tallest building...




And canoodling with camels and seeing other wildlife in the desert...



Arabian gazelles...I love gazelles.


Arabian oryx

I will definitely be writing a post on my morning trip into the desert.

Onwards to..

Sri Lanka! 

I had been wanting to visit Sri Lanka for years..and years but it kept getting put off for one reason or another (mainly my knee...).  So for me this was a dream come true.  I loved Sri Lanka!  The people, the food, the landscape, the animals...I could go on and on.  And I will..believe you me!   Here are a few highlights.


Seeing a gathering of elephants in Kaudalla National Park was the absolute highlight of the whole trip.  To see so many elephants in one place was indescribable really.  Our whole tour group was excited beyond belief.  When our tour guide Sam asked us if we wanted to see an "elephant gathering" we all shouted "YES!!!".   I can't even remember exactly how much it cost us each but whatever it was it was worth every penny and more.  Keep in mind that this is a specific time of year and we were very lucky to see it- this isn't a typical sight for a visitor to Sri Lanka.






There was one huge disappointment in Sri Lanka and that was the train ride to Ella.  It was absolutely packed and I, along with the rest of my tour had to stand for most of the train journey.  It was difficult to see out the windows with people hanging their heads out let alone get any photos.  It was one of the things I was most looking forward to doing.  A sweet girl from Australia gave up her seat for me about ten minutes before we got off and the others insisted I take it.  I was able to snap a few photos but the woman ahead of me had her arm out the window so it was difficult to get good shots.



The next day, while the others walked to Ella Rock four of us went to see the Nine Arches bridge.  I had seen it on Instagram and thought it was beautiful.  As the tuk tuk dropped us off high above the bridge the (early) train rumbled over the bridge.  We then descended down a rocky steep path (eek! but I had help)  to walk along the bridge.  We were supposed to be taken right to the bridge where you can see tuk tuks waiting in the photo below - we got one of those back!



More details on this beautiful bridge in a future post!


I am a huge tea lover so being able to visit a tea plantation and see how it is grown and processed for drinking was so interesting.  And of course I had to buy some to bring home!

And then there was the sea at the end of the trip.  I booked an extra three nights in a delightful hotel n Mirissa on the south coast.  Now Mirissa did not really appeal to me but this little hotel certainly did.  I could have LIVED on my balcony watching monkeys, monitor lizards and of course the namesake of the hotel...Peacocks!  I was woken every morning by peacocks shrieking.  Now after a while this might get a bit old but for three mornings it was a thrill.



Oh my I did go on a bit about Sri Lanka didn't I?  I guess I don't need to tell you that was my favourite part of the trip!

Then it was a short flight over to...

Kerala, India

I had been wanting to visit the South of India for so long and as it was so close I could not resist a quick trip.  While I enjoyed my tour of Sri Lanka I was itching to be back on my own again and after doing some research I decided the small enclave of Fort Kochi (part of the much larger Kochi) fit my needs perfectly.  And so it did!  I grew to love the dusty scruffy town.  In some ways I wish I had made the effort to get to Alleppey to go on the true back waters but I made do with some a short way from Fort Kochi.  


The Chinese fishing nets were interesting to watch and always attracted an audience of some kind.


Gangs of goats roamed the streets of Fort Kochi...they even lounged on benches at the beach!


Yes it got hot....time for a siesta!


I watched a couple of fisherman like this one who fish for hours in the sea with huge cargo ships passing by.  It never seemed like they caught too much.  Not sure I would want to eat any fish out of that sea anyway!


A boat trip on the backwaters was a reprieve from the heat.


I enjoyed a wonderful Kathakali traditional dance performance.

And then there was an overnight trip to hill country near Munnar.  Lots more tea!!!  I stayed overnight in a guest house with a beautiful view.


The view from the balcony outside my room


Tea not beer!!

I will be writing posts about my time in Kerala don't you worry.

Then it was time to board another lovely Emirates flight back to...

London

March had me meeting up with two friends who were passing through London (and being a tour guide) as well as taking a day trip up to Liverpool to see the Terracotta Warriers and hanging out with the Beatles at the Pier Head.  The first of the daffodils were waiting for me in St James's Park when I got back.  What can I say...time in London is always a joy for me.



I also visited the Sunday markets in the East End and looked at the street art as well.



Oh yeah - I got back on the Thames Path!!


Then it was time to hop a plane to..

Guernsey!!! 

Having revisited Jersey (I was originally there in 1988) two years ago I knew I had to go to Guernsey and the adjoining islands.  Due to the erratic weather I only got to the island of Hern.  I based myself at a two-star bed and breakfast in the main town of St Peter Port and loved it.  I got myself a "puffin pass" on the wonderful transit network and hit the buses and the trails when weather permitted.  While I can't say I loved Guernsey as much as I love Jersey I thoroughly enjoyed my week there and my only regret...not getting over to see Sark.


There are these type of bunkers all over the Channel Islands.  Original defense forts (a lot built during the French Revolution) were then built over and fortified by the Germans who occupied the Channel Islands from 1940 to 1945.


St Peter Port harbour with Castle Cornet in the background


St Peter Port makes a lovely photo from the water


Guernsey has beautiful beaches but they are rocky as are the beaches of Jersey.


And of course pretty churches and sheep!

I will be writing posts on my daily activities on this beautiful island.

Then it was time to take an overnight ferry back to England...I paid for an upgrade and was in a secure area with comfortable reclining chairs and complimentary tea, coffee, biscuits and newspapers.  It was well worth it as it was quieter and I felt much more at ease leaving my belongings to go use the loo or get something from the cafe.  After 13 hours we arrived in...

Portsmouth!!

My visit to Portsmouth was only the morning and part of the afternoon but I really liked it and I will be back.  The purpose of my visit was to visit the Mary Rose museum which I loved.  I would like to return on a day trip and visit it again but without all the Easter Saturday visitors!!  Photography was allowed but it was really quite dark in the museum to preserve all the artifacts.  The original Mary Rose was there along with such treasures as tools from the ship and even skeletons.  What amazed me is they could tell what job the person had done on the ship due to the condition of the skeleton.  Even the ship dog's skelelton was on display!!!  My one regret...not buying a guidebook.

Time to gather my bags from the Condor ferry office and board a train for Brighton and spend the two nights in..

Rottingdean, East Sussex 

I know I have popped into Rottingdean at some point in my previous travels as it was so familiar to me. I loved staying there and the airbnb was lovely.  Well except for the fact I locked myself in the bathroom!  Luckily another long-term guest was able to tell me how to get out. The same thing had happened to him so I didn't feel quite as stupid!   I will be writing a post on my short time there but here are a few photos...I spent Easter Sunday walking around the area after a big cooked breakfast in a local cafe.  


The High (main) Street in Rottingdean...my airbnb was on this street and was just as charming!


Kipling Gardens.  Yes, Rudyard Kipling lived here.


St Margarets Church in Rottingdean...one of two churches in the village.

I will definitely be taking you for a "walk" around the village - so much to see!!!  And the beauty of this place is it is just a few minutes from Brighton.  For those of us who use public transport there are lots of buses going through the village in each direction.  Definitely my "go to" place if I ever decide to base myself in East Sussex again.

36 hours later I was on a train to Gatwick airport and next stop..

Budapest! 

Ahhhh Budapest....I had an airbnb flat totally to myself which is unusual for me as I prefer staying in an extra room in people's homes. Even though the outside of the building was crumbling the flat was completely modern - I will be sharing pictures in a future post. I loved it even if the coffee machine and I had an uneasy relationship. Bonus time: it had a desk and strong wifi so I was able to get two posts done.  I stayed on the Buda side of the Danube rather than Pest.  (pronounced "Pesh") A view across the Danube was less than a five minute walk away as was a major tram line and a metro station.  Not to mention a good coffee shop was down the block as well as a supermarket.  Perfect!  I spent four full days wandering Budapest at my leisure with no schedule.  I visited Castles, walked across the famous Chain Bridge, jumped on trams, looked in markets and even had coffee with a guinea pig (and bunny rabbit and two lizardy types) at the Zoo Cafe!


A classic view of the Danube from Buda Castle


Matthias Church in Buda Old Town


Quirky "flying nun" sculpture in Buda Old Town


Close up of the Budapest Parliament Buildings - absolutely stunning at night from across the water


The poignant sculpture honouring the victims shot into the water by Hungarian Arrow Cross Militiamen during World War II.


Coffee with a guinea pig at the Zoo Cafe

I will be doing day by day posts of my time there with oodles of pictures.

Then it was an overnight train to...

Krakow

Getting anywhere from Budapest can be complicated it seems but I went to the train travel site The Man in Seat 61 and found out I could take an overnight train and it was quite reasonable as well.  Sold!  I had a sleeper to myself until Bratislava when a young woman joined me.  More on her (Ms Snooty) on the blog later!!! In Krakow I stayed in a room in an apartment and it was quite comfortable.  I rarely saw the other people in the flat.  I was about a 15 minute walk from the Old Town so was able to roam at my leisure.  I gobbled perogies and doughnuts and wandered the streets with my cameras.  One morning I visited Auschwitz-Berkenau on a guided tour and I am still processing what I saw there.   


Krakow's main square which dates back to the 13th century.  Cloth Hall (with shops inside) is on the left and St Mary's Basilica on the right.


Another view of the beautiful Cloth Hall with a statue of Adam Mickiewicz (greatest Polish romantic poet of the 19th century)


A beautiful park and walkway surround the Old Town - this was once the moat outside the city walls.


Some of the shoes of victims of the Holocaust at Auschwitz


The railway at Birkenau that transported people to the camp.  

Then it was time to head back to England for the rest of my stay.  First stop...

Back to Sussex!!

After landing at Gatwick I took the train to Lancing and stayed with my friend Judi for two nights and we had a great visit.  For years now we have been meeting up in London or Brighton but it had been a while since I had stayed there and we had been able to drink wine and chat until all hours.  After consuming a bottle of Prosecco we very nearly talked ourselves into getting tickets to see the Rolling Stones in London the night before I was to fly home but luckily we came to our senses!!!  Well mainly because there were no decent seats left but the logistics against it were pretty overwhelming as well.  We took the train into Brighton one day and had lunch and a bit of snooping in the shops.


Brighton has a lot of street art


The Lanes - if you like shopping you will love Brighton!


While we were waiting for our food I dashed to the end of the block to take a few quick photos of the sea.

Then it was time to head back to my favourite place in the world...

London

Back in London for another 9 days...and I was a busy bee!  I ticked an item off my bucket list by visiting Charles Darwin's house in Downe, Surrey, got back on the Thames Path , took a day trip up to Chester that didn't quite turn out the way I had hoped (but I enjoyed it anyway),and went to my first football (soccer) match - my friend's son Alessandro is on a junior team affiliated with the Chelsea football team.  His games are right in the Chelsea complex out at Cobham, Surrey. I visited Strawberry Hill House near Twickenham, attended a vigil honouring the memories of the less fortunate in life and started another 126 km walk.  Claudia had a BBQ and one of the guests, a chef did the grilling while we sat in the back garden.  


London was starting to bloom!


In my abscence, the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square was revealed. This is a recreation of a famous statue in Iraq that was destroyed by ISIS.  The artist, Michael Rakowitz is attempting to recreate more than 7,000 artefacts that were looted or destroyed.  The fourth Plinth is changed approximately every 18 months  - the last one was a big thumbs up. I like this much better.  


It took two trains and a bus to get to Charles Darwin's home of 40 years but it was totally worth it!


I geeked out walking Mr. Darwin's favourite path.  There will definitely be a blog post on this visit.

A day trip to Chester didn't quite work out as I had hoped.  Nonstop rain put a damper in my plans to visit the wonderful Chester Zoo.  I had visited there in 1994 and have since read and seen the British TV production of June Mottershead's wonderful account of how her father started the zoo. I figured the animals would be smarter than me and take shelter so why waste money?  So I wandered around the city streets with my umbrella stopping in coffee shops and pubs when I got too tired or wet.  The most excitement all day was when the toilet on the train greeted me as I walked on and asked me not to put anything but toilet paper down it.  Alrighty then!  I still enjoyed the day and I am thinking Chester would be a good place to base myself again (did this in 1994) for a few days.


Beautiful Chester Cathedral


Chester is known for its numerous and beautiful timbered houses.



I visited Strawberry Hill House, a beautiful Gothic revival villa built by Horace Walpole from 1749 to 1776.  The glasswork inside was beautiful.  Definitely a post on this visit too! 


Then there was that evening I took part in a vigil at Crossbones Graveyard in Southwark.  Thousands of people are buried here - from prostitutes (known as "Winchester Geese" as they were registered with the Bishop of Winchester whose castle was close by - but being registered didn't mean having a church burial so they were dumped in here.  Don't get me started!) to paupers.  On the 23rd of every month at 7 p.m. there is a vigil honouring the dead.  As it was St George's Day three of the regulars dressed as Britannia, George and the Dragon and did a crazy little skit.  It was weird and bizarre and I loved it.  



That pretty much wrapped up my time in London and it was time to head south to...

The Isle of Wight

I had visited previously on a day trip back in the mid 80's but you can't see anything in a day.  I was told by more than one person that there wasn't much to see and a week would be too long.  WRONG! I could have stayed more than a week.  I met a Canadian who was there for two weeks and I was truly envious.  IOW (as its friends call it) - we aren't finished yet!!!  I stayed in a lovely hotel in Shanklin that was just off the High Street and close to the sea.  I got a 7 day pass for the wonderful bus system and I was off.  I walked beaches, hugged donkeys, had chocolate cream tea and so much more.  With beautiful beaches, more thatched cottages than you can shake a stick at and unlimited cream teas what's not to love?  


You have to love a place that uses old London underground trains as their trains system.


The beaches were huge and beautiful.


Thatched cottages in Old Shanklin.  Hmmm..never made it to this tea room.  Now I must go back!


Who can resist this lovely face at the Donkey Sanctuary?  Lots of donkeys have been given a second chance at life through this wonderful place.  


Yes, a chocolate cream tea...and it was fab-u-lous!



Visiting Osborne, home of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert was very enjoyable despite the weather.

Despite the challenging weather at times I loved the Isle of Wight and will definitely go back there someday.  A petsitting gig would be the perfect opportunity!  

Back to London for another five days or so...

The weather was much better in London and I was able to enjoy time with my Oz friends Linda and Loraine who had just arrived as well as Claudia - as in a wine night and a pub night.  I went to a library talk at Balham library (where I have a library card!) on the 60's which was so interesting.  I saw some of the churches of the Old City, walked in Little Venice in Maida Vale, visited Holland Park and got back on the Thames Path!  Oh and there was another BBQ - yes, the weather was that lovely! 

London was in full bloom including the beautiful Wisteria in Holland Park


Kyoto Gardens in Holland Park - beautiful all year round!


Beautiful Little Venice


Stopped off at this canal boat cafe and had an ice cream sitting outside - bliss!


Back on the Thames Path from Staines to Old Windsor


Magna Carta memorial at Runnymede - birthplace of modern democracy.  King John sealed the Magna Carta on June 15, 1215 near this spot.

The weather was magnificent and fell over the Bank Holiday weekend so everyone was out to enjoy it which was good to see but also made for lots of crowds everywhere.

Then it was time to head to

The Lake District! 

This part of the trip was one of the first things I planned.  When I found out that an author I like, Susan Branch (she writes and illustrates beautiful books - the only one I have is "A Fine Romance: Falling in Love with the English Countryside") was having a picnic in the Lake District on May 11th I decided I must go.  My friend Janette was the person who turned me onto Susan's delightful art and writing and she and her husband Martyn were going so it was agreed that we would meet up.  I immediately booked my bed and breakfast in Ambleside for a week.   For the most part the weather was great and not only did I attend the picnic (in the grounds of Castle Cottage - where Beatrix Potter lived!!!!) and meet other Susan Branch fans (including one staying in my bed and breakfast) but I did a lot of sightseeing and even my most lengthy walk to date. And I definitely got my sheep fix.  I loved every minute of my time there.  


View from Wrynose Pass


Ullswater


Wast Water -  deepest of all the lake and probably the most awe-inspiring surrounded by mountains including Scafell Pike, England's highest mountain.  This is in the west of the Lake District which doesn't see as many tourists as the North or Central areas.




Hill Top - Beatrix Potter's first home in the Lake District.  After she married William Healis and moved to Castle Cottage she continued to do her work here.


The white building is Castle Cottage and to the right, you can see the picnic participants.  This was taken from just outside of Hill Top. Hill Top is normally closed on Fridays but they opened it up for the picnic participants so it was a thrill to tour one of my favourite author's home. I will be sharing more pictures of the day and the rest of my time in Lake District in future posts.  Believe you me, I certainly have enough photos!!!  

Then it was time to leave and head back to London for the final time...of this trip! 

Wedding Mania was in full swing!  I saw the recent London stage hit musical "An American in Paris" at the local Streatham cinema as it was shown nation wide on May 16th.  The next evening (after my last walk on the Thames this trip) I got to meet one of my favourite authors Dorothy Koomson and she signed one of her books for me.  We celebrated the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle with a party. Claudia made four cakes (!!) as well as scones and we feasted on those as well as mushroom pate, cheese, crisps (potato chips) and Prosecco! And we acted silly and wore some masks I had bought at the Pound Shop - on Donnybrook Road, Streatham William married Meghan...shhh....what can I say I thought I was buying a Harry mask!   I finished up the Church walk and also said farewell to St James's Park, Covent Garden before attending a fantastic musical about Tina Turner's life.  I got back on the Capital Ring and walked from Crystal Park station back "home" to Streatham Common.  Then one last pub night for Claudia, Loraine and I.  Just the last of this trip - I am sure we will all be together again sometime soon! 


Dorothy Koomson and myself.  She was promoting her latest book "The Brighton Mermaid" but as I didn't want to haul a hard cover home I ran across to WH Smith and got her second last book "The Friend" which I still hadn't read as it's not at my local library yet.  Sometimes you just gotta buy the book!!!  



Please don't ask me what churches these are ...OLD churches!!!


Flags out for the Royal Wedding




Even dogs were kitted out for the festivities


Going to Windsor two days before the wedding was not a smart move...I had to do my walk backwards and scary things happen when I try to read instructions backwards.


Swan gathering for the wedding...nah...there are always a whole bunch here because tourists = food.


One of the more scenic stretches along the Thames Path that day

And then it was the wedding...


Prince William with a "beer belly" and slippers...too cool for words.  (NOT)


 Let them eat cake...lemon cake, chocolate cake, hazelnut cheese cake...and home made scones.

And all too soon it was time to come home...

I had such mixed feelings about this beautiful trip coming to an end.  One part of me was relieved that I was heading back to a normal routine as I was starting to get tired but the other part was very sad to be ending my life of adventure as well as my life in London.  However I know that I will be back.  Travel, especially long term travel is in my blood!

So many stories to tell and I can't wait to share them all!




















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