Wednesday Wanderings: Oxford

Friday in London … well, it really began Thursday night. After we got back to the hotel from seeing Phantom, I opened up Facebook. I knew my agent and her friend/co-worker were in England on a Jane Austen tour and Janet and I knew we’d be overlapping in London by a few days. But it’s a big city and we didn’t compare notes about where we’d be or make any plans to meet up. But every night on her tour, Janet posted a picture of her view out of her room. Thursday night … her view was my view! So I knew she was in our hotel and in a room nearly adjacent to ours.

But, still, it’s a big hotel with lots of guests leaving and coming at all hours. We would be up early the next morning and off to catch a train from Paddington Station to Oxford.

We went to breakfast Friday morning at seven o’clock, when the buffet opened. We were shown to our seats and I went to fill a plate while Stud Muffin waited at our table. As I made my way back to him, who did I see seated two tables over?

Yes! My wonderful agent and her friend! We exclaimed over the crazy coincidence, hugged, took a picture, and compared notes on what we had seen/hoped to see/planned to see. When Wendy heard we were headed to Oxford, she said to be sure and see the Ashmolean. I filed that tidbit for future reference, but didn’t really know what it was.

After breakfast and saying goodbye, we walked the short distance to Paddington Station. It was through a different neighborhood than we had walked before, and was about half a mile. We found it with no problem, but as we approached the station, we heard sirens in the distance, then law enforcement officers of some sort passed us, walking briskly, all business. We weren’t sure (still aren’t) if they were Tube/Underground security, London policemen, or Brute Squad officers.

We printed our tickets from the kiosk, found our train, and took our seats. We had about an hour ride to Oxford, where we had a bit of time to kill before our Thames River cruise. On the train, I checked email and found a message from the US Consulate in London, advising us that there had been a “security incidence” in London and we should let our family and friends at home know that we were safe. I did that, not knowing what kind of incident had occurred or where.

Dave found the acre of bicycle parking interesting. This was right outside of the Oxford train station.

In Oxford, we wandered the town and found our way to the restaurant where our cruise began. We had some tea and coffee while we waited and I added more data to our embattled cell phone plan.

The day was cloudy and chilly, but the boat had blankets and plastic that could be pulled down to protect us from the wind. It was a lovely time. Our boat had five couples and the captain, Alex, a young local woman. We saw some of the loveliest countryside, I believe, in England. Cows grazed along the river banks. There were community gardens lining the river just outside of town. We knew from watching Escape to the Country that what we call a yard, the British call a garden. We asked Alex if what we were seeing was indeed a community garden, but she replied, “No, they’re just vegetable plots.” It took a bit of back and forth before we remembered the language disconnect about yard/garden.

A pair of swans swam up to the boat, peering intently at us. I’m sure they were looking for a tidbit of something yummy to fly their way, but I swear they looked like they were expecting someone. They’d invited a guest and were quite certain she was arriving on that boat.

We had to pass through a lock, both coming and going. I’d never seen one work from the inside before and it was fascinating how the gate closed, the water gurgled away or whooshed in, the boat lowered in the compartment or was raised, then the opposite gate opened and we chugged along again.

We stopped for a bathroom break at The Perch pub on the riverside. It was delightful, old with low ceilings, but updated inside with a warm fire. We had about half an hour there to thaw out, get something warm to drink and eat, and then we headed back to Oxford.

My must-see in Oxford was the Eagle and Child Pub where J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and their Inklings writer’s group met. It’s old, small, wood-paneled, and we absolutely took a step back in time. The food was fabulous. I had macaroni & cheese, Stud Muffin had a mushroom (beef) pie. Both were incredible. We shared a Sticky Toffee Pudding for dessert. We bought some postcards of the pub with drawings of the building and it’s famous patrons.

We still had a couple of hours before our train back to London and we passed by the Ashmolean, so we went in.

Incredible! It’s free, but we tossed a few pounds in the box and prepared to wander. We separated. Stud Muffin went to the top, I stayed on the bottom and we planned to meet in the middle.

Unfortunately, after just fifteen minutes, a guide came and told me the museum was closing. We hadn’t even looked at the time or the open hours, so sadly we only got a brief taste of all the Ashmolean offers. If I get to return to Oxford, the Ashmolean is top of my do-over list.

There wasn’t much left to see in walking distance, so we headed back to the train station. Tip: when booking a train to London from one of the outlying towns on a Friday evening, be sure and reserve your seats. We had, just by luck or Divine Providence, so we didn’t worry about having a seat, but the station and the train were both very full of people making their way to the city. While waiting on the platform, we chatted with a man and learned the extent of the “security incident” in London that morning. A homemade bomb on the Tube had injured several people, including the would-be bomber. The man didn’t know many more details.

We made our way back to London safely and walked the now familiar path back to the hotel.

Next up: Driving on the left side in England: Different from driving on the left in Ireland.


Thursdays in London With the Padgetts

On our first morning in London, it was a beautiful September day, a bit cool and clear and perfect walking weather.

We met up with Will, our guide from Strawberry Tours, at a Tube station. There were about twelve or so of us. There were two tours that morning, one in Spanish and Will’s in English.

By John Winfield, CC BY-SA 2.0,


Our first site was part of the crumbling Wall of London which stands near the tour’s beginning point. We learned about the original city, Londinium, its fall to William the Conqueror, and about the City of London, which is the historic and business square mile inside what we usually think of as London.


The City of London has been governed by the Lord Mayor of the City of London since William the Conqueror gave governance of the city back to its inhabitants in 1066. And we learned that when the Queen wishes to enter

Where the Queen must stop and request permission to enter the City.

the City, she must request permission from the Lord Mayor, bow to him, and touch his sword, then she may enter the city behind him. The Lord Mayor of the City and his sword are the only things she bows too. Fascinating stuff!

We then moved to the Tower of London. We didn’t enter the Tower, but Will shared its history and stories about some of it’s occupants. We also visited the Royal Courts of Justice, the Bank of England, St. Paul’s Cathedral (I wish we could have returned here, it looked fabulous!), Temple Church, and several others. We learned about the Great Fire of London in 1666, the Knights Templar, the financial and business district, Leadenhall Market (which could have been the inspiration for Diagon Alley), and Fleet Street.

We chatted and walked with a young man from Irvine, California named Tran. He’s been traveling the world for the last nineteen months. Well, it was nineteen months at that time, in September, so it would be closer to twenty-five months now. He does go home 2017-09-14_15-15-21_517

for holidays and his mom’s birthday. We mentioned that we were on the trip celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary. Tran then asked us lots of questions about love and relationships and how to make them work. It turned out to be a fascinating conversation. We ended at the Edgar Wallace pub for bangers and mash or fish and chips. We sat with Tran and a woman from Canada. She left as soon as we were done eating, as she had a reservation on the Harry Potter walking tour at three o’clock. We talked for a long time with Tran and several of his new friends from the hostel they stayed at. A young man from Pennsylvania, one from Australia, and a woman from Chile.

We headed back to the hotel for a rest since we’d done a good bit of walking. Then we headed out again. This time we headed to Her Majesty’s Theatre for our evening show: The Phantom of the Opera. We’d never seen it live, so that was a definite highlight! The theatre was a bit more comfortable than the one the evening before. The show was spectacular. The chandelier is as awe-inspiring as I’d heard. The voices and music were incredible. Amazing show!

After we got back to our Hyde Street tube station, we stopped at a neighborhood pub for a nightcap and to toast another day.

On the docket next: An unexpected meeting at our hotel and Oxford!

Wednesday Wanderings: Off to London!

Our flight from Dublin to London was delayed a couple of hours due to high winds. So we missed our arranged ride from Heathrow to our hotel. After a phone call (just what our over-worked AT&T data plan did not need), and a half hour wait, our driver arrived. He was from Moldova and spoke excellent English. He’d obviously had something heavy on garlic for dinner the night before, but after a few minutes my nose adjusted. He muscled our bags into his car and we were off. The drive into London was fascinating, although not unlike heading into the downtown area of any of our urban cities. Dave and I both commented on the large number of car dealers lining the freeway and their dizzying displays of cars. The buildings were tall, full of windows and spiral displays with gleaming cars.

After checking in, we found the nearest fish & chips place on our map and headed on foot to Hobson’s. It wasn’t a long walk and on the way we passed a phone booth, a school getting out for the day, and assorted shops.

On the way back, around the corner from our hotel, was a plaque on a building proclaiming it the site where American writer Bret Harte died.


I had to take a picture there because I attended seventh grade at Bret Harte Junior High (now Middle) School in Hayward, California. Bret Harte wrote short stories and poetry about the American West.

My current women’s fiction series of novels take place in a small mountain community I’ve named Harts Leap. So it seemed appropriate.


After a short rest back at the hotel, we looked at options for the next day. We didn’t have anything booked and Dave left it up to me what to do. I booked us a walking tour with Strawberry Tours of Central London for the next morning.

Then, we decided to brave the tube and find our 2017-09-13_20-47-52_450way to the St. Martin’s Theatre where we had tickets to that night’s performance of The Mousetrap.

The Mousetrap is by Agatha Christie and has been playing for 53 years, since it opened in 1974. It’s the longest running play in history. The show was great, the theatre small and gorgeous, the seats extremely uncomfortable. But the show and the experience were worth the discomfort.

We lucked out on our tube rides and accidentally got on the right trains, both to the theatre and back to the hotel after. It wasn’t until the next day when we got on a “wrong” train, that we learned how to tell the difference. But we’re old hands now. We felt very safe and the tube was quick and efficient. The Lancaster Gate station was a short distance from the hotel and we walked it at all times of the day and night without a problem.

I’d given up on my hair in Ireland. But now that I was in calmer weather and had a blow dryer near by, I upped my hair game after this first day.

Next week, the great Strawberry Tour with the amazing guide, Will.

Wednesday Wanderings: Ireland, Part 4

Saturday, September 9 – Sunday, September 10

We pretty much laid low at our niece’s home for the weekend. The weather was pretty blustery and the grand-nieces had swimming lessons and gymnastics and various 2017-10-06_22-44-17_840activities, so David followed them around while I relaxed, read, and rested at the house.

It was a sweet little respite after a busy few days and still lying awake from 2-4 am every night. David spent some time walking the land and seeing how the family farm has evolved over the last century, and how our nephew is still working the land.

Their home is lovely and I enjoyed the amazing views, as well as the cozy fire, and my book. Of course, I brought2017-09-09_14-15-47_169 my Kindle so I wouldn’t be toting books all over Ireland and the UK. I did bring paperback travel guides, but I left them behind in hotel rooms in each country. I also left two pairs of pants, some toiletries, and whatever else I felt didn’t need to come home with me. I was lightening my suitcases so I could fit in the souvenirs and gifts we would buy. And it worked out. We had no problems with overweight luggage. Mostly. That’s a story for the end.

Our way home from our first outing, to the Museum of Country Life, we crossed paths with Patrick, our nephew-in-law, and followed him to a pharmacy and the grocery store. We got to meet his brother’s fiancee, who works at the pharmacy. As we were chatting another man walked up to Patrick and they greeted each other. Patrick introduced us to Matt Molloy, a flautist with The Chieftains. Mr. Molloy has a local pub in Westport. On one of the outings when I stayed home, David and Patrick stopped at the pub. That’s pictured above.

We finished the weekend with dinner at a Westport hotel, the same place Cory and I went for our after concert drink Friday night. Patrick’s brother and his fiancee joined us. I’m still incredulous that I didn’t get a picture of all of us that night, and I didn’t get a picture of Colin and Tara. They were delightful and we had such a great time that evening getting to know them. We love them and love that they love our Cory. It was a special time.

All in all, we had a wonderful weekend and it was a great way to wind down our time in Ireland.

Next week: Our last full day and the Cliffs of Moher!

Wednesday Wanderings: Westport House

Friday, September 8

After our visit to Kylemore Abbey, we arrived back at our lovely host/niece’s home. I wasn’t quite over the time change so I took a nap. But then it was time to party. My pictures didn’t turn out very good, but I’ll post them here.

Cory, our niece, and I drove to Westport House for a concert. It was the first event of the annual Westport Festival of Chamber Music.

Taken from the Westport House website. This is a much better picture than mine of the room the concert was in. 

The program:

Beethoven: Piano Trio in D major Op.70 No.1 ‘Ghost’
Leon McCawley, Jack Liebeck, Guy Johnston

Penderecki: Cadenza for solo viola 
Jennifer Stumm

Schubert: String Quintet in C major D. 956
Navarra Quartet, Guy Johnston

The Beethoven and Schubert selections were my favorite. The violist was excellent, but the music was a bit too … strident for my taste. Although I enjoyed the whole evening immensely.


Before the concert and during the break we were able to walk around Westport House, which is a local historic home and is now an event center with many attractions. The house itself is full of art, sculpture, and memorabilia from the original family and the community.

The house was built on the foundations of one of Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley‘s 16th century castles.

We had a blast dressing up and going out, just us big girls, for a night on the town.


After the concert, we went to a local hotel’s pub for some more live music and a nightcap. We heard a duo, maybe brothers, who played an eclectic mix of folk, contemporary, and 20th century pop music.

It was a satisfying, if contextually confusing, end to a great day.

Next week: More random pictures and thoughts about Ireland, the sights, the people, and our farewell dinner.


Wednesday Wanderings: Ireland, Day 3

Our amazing niece procured some vouchers for us to use while we were in Ireland. Today we headed to Kylemore Abbey.


Kylemore Abbey is a beautiful castle built by an Irishman, Henry Mitchell, who lived in Manchester, England.  He had inherited a fortune from his cotton merchant father and built the home for his wife and family and it included amazing Victorian gardens.

In World War I, it became the home of a Belgian order of Benedictine nuns. The gardens were neglected and fell into ruin. The nuns ran a boarding school until 2010. We met a woman in England whose sister-in-law had attended the school as a local day student. They had a long and honorable history of educating young students.

In 1995, a restoration project began in the gardens. They aren’t quite to their full Victorian glory, but they are gorgeous and you can certainly get a taste of what they were like.

After buying our tickets with our vouchers, we walked about .75 mile to the gardens. In the garden’s prime, there were 21 glass greenhouses. Only one has been restored, but you can see where the others sat. The gardeners grew bananas and other tropical fruit and flowers for the family.

As we finished our tour of the gardens, the heavens opened and it poured! There was a tea house nearby, so we hurried in, but we weren’t the only ones with that idea. It was too crowded and too loud, so we walked a short distance and caught a shuttle that returned us to the main entrance.

The rain had pretty much stopped by then so we walked on to the Abbey itself. It’s a beautiful castle, with displays about the family who built it, Irish history, and the Benedictine nuns who lived there.

Mrs. Mitchell died unexpectedly from dysentery while on a Christmas trip to Egypt in 1874. She was 45 years old and left behind her husband and nine children. Mr. Mitchell built a neo-Gothic cathedral in her honor and a mausoleum nearby where they are both interred.

We left Kylemore Abbey and headed back to Westport. But we were hungry. We stopped in Leenaun, a village on our way, and had lunch at Hamilton’s Pub. It was a true local pub. An old timer at the bar was drinking coffee. Another couple soon joined him with a dog who settled at their feet. We shared fish and chips which were good. I started to wonder if I really like fish and chips or if I just eat the fish in order to eat the chips. We each had a diet Coke. An 8 oz. can of Diet Coke was 2.75 Euro. That’s about $3.37 at today’s exchange rate. Yes. We paid over $6 for two sodas. Yes, we’re crazy and yes, we were thirsty.

We headed back to our niece’s home where I took a nap and then she and I went out for the evening.

More about that next week!

Wednesday Wanderings: Ireland and the UK

We took a big trip last year. We had big reasons. A niece who lives in Ireland we wanted to visit. A 40th anniversary to celebrate. History to learn about.

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In front of the manor house at the Museum of Country Life in Turlough Village, near Castlebar, Ireland. Sept. 7.

We didn’t go without some serious planning and talking. Stud Muffin, being former law enforcement, was concerned about terrorist activity abroad. I understood, but thought it was a small risk in proportion to the potential payoff.

We checked our budget, contacted the fantastic Cheryl at Hey Wanna Go, and renewed out passports. We left our home September 4, visited family on the way to LA, and flew out September 6. Stud Muffin had traveled overseas before, but this was my first time. I was unsure how I’d handle the long flight, but it wasn’t too bad. It helped that we had a layover in Chicago, so what could be a twelve-hour flight was divided up into a five-hour and an eight-hour. Not bad at all. We won’t mention the layover was supposed to be about 90 minutes but ended up at four hours. So we were tired when we boarded the second flight. And tired when we arrived in Ireland.

A quote from a display inside the museum.

I’ll be blogging some about the trip, posting pictures, and sharing memories for the next few months. This will help me get my thoughts and memories in order so I can compile our scrapbook.

A better view of the manor house.