Wednesday Wanderings: The Last of the Excellent Adventure Before the Pandemic

The last time I posted about the Excellent Adventure, I had no idea what was coming. I procrastinated posting because we were busy, then we went to Scotland (more about that soon!), then we came home to shelter in place, and the next thing I knew it was May!

So, I left off on Monday, February 17, 2020 in Portland. We had a great day at the Association of Nurseries, then met a friend for dinner.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

We drove to Tacoma, to our usual Holiday Inn. It’s right on I-5 and we love it for the huge parking lot, but hate it for the road noise. We’ve asked for various locations around the grounds and haven’t found the sweet spot yet. We’ll keep trying.

We had several days with no events, so we kept busy with work (me), working out (both of us), and trailer and truck maintenance (Dave).

We also took a day to be tourists. Tacoma is home to America’s Car Museum. We visited and enjoyed a great day there. It’s very well laid out with different exhibits showcasing things such as NASCAR, Route 66, racer and designer Steve Saleen, British cars, and so on, as well as collections and restored cars on loan from collectors. At the beginning of our wandering, an employee approached us, said it was a slow day and he’d be happy to give us a guided tour if we wanted. We accepted and got a VIP experience.

We tried a few local restaurants. Tacoma has a Bass Pro Shop, so we ate dinner one night at Uncle Buck’s Fish Bowl and Grill. There’s also a bowling alley right there, so the ambiance is a little odd, but the food was good. Right across the street from our hotel was a Korean taco place that was excellent, Takos Koreanos. Also, a teriyaki place we ate at a couple of times, Ichiban Teriyaki. We also visited a couple of chains, BJs, and Red Lobster, when we were in a hurry and/or starving and couldn’t find a more unique local place. Or wanted something that we knew what to expect.

Friday, February 21, 2020

We had a scheduled event at Pacific Lutheran University. They were hosting an opioid awareness summit for the county and we were going to exhibit. The only problem was there wasn’t enough room anywhere near the summit for the trailer. So we brought some props and set up at a table in the back of the room. It was fascinating to listen to the various presentations from professionals in the recovery … industry? business?profession? (that seems redundant), and recovering addicts.

It was a good day, and great to be inside instead of out in the chill and damp.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

We did the tourist thing again and drove into Seattle. We started at the Chihuly Garden and Glass museum. We were familiar with Dale Chihuly’s work, but had only seen a few pieces. To be surrounded by so much beauty, all in one place was overwhelming. I was choked up and verging on tears more than once.

What he accomplished with sand and heat and centrifugal force is amazing.

After a couple of hours in the museum and grounds, we moved next door to the Space Needle. We were able to go right up to the viewing level where we enjoyed a snack. I guess there used to be a restaurant up there, but now there’s just a cafe with light snacks and drinks. There’s the stationary viewing level with the cafe, then the rotating level. We spent a few minutes there, too.

From the Space Needle, we walked the mile to Pike Place Market. We’d found a good place to park the truck, just a block from the museum and Space Needle, so it was easier to walk and leave the truck where it was.

At the market, we browsed a bit. We tried some dried strawberries that were sweet as candy and David bought some. We watched the fishmongers throw some fish. We asked for restaurant recommendations. David wanted crab. We tried a couple of places, but they didn’t have whole crab on the menu. We walked past the original Starbucks, but the line was too long to stop in.

We ended up at Cutters Crabhouse, where David finally got his whole crab. Our meal was amazing. We had a table with a water view, an attentive waiter (from California!), and delicious food.

We walked to the truck and drove back to Tacoma. I was so glad we went on Saturday, because we had discussed going on Sunday and it rained all day Sunday. Saturday was amazing and couldn’t have been a better day.

Monday, February 24, 2020

We were due to come home February 27. Last summer we had booked a trip to Scotland for February 29 – March 9th. We didn’t know that we’d be working with the trailer again. And if it did happen, we didn’t think we’d be on the road again so early in the year. So we had lined up another couple to take over the trailer for us while we went to Scotland.

They arrived at SeaTac Monday evening and we picked them up and took them back to the hotel. We visited while Ron and Sylvie ate a late dinner. Dave and Ron are both retired from the CHP, and we all used to go to the same church, so we have many friends in common and much to catch up on.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Ron and Sylvie had been studying transcripts and videos of the trailer tours, so we did a couple run throughs of both my and David’s tours. We practiced set up and tear down. We had lunch. Dave and Ron took the rig for a drive. Then we went and picked up a rental car. We had talked about going to the Waterfront area of Tacoma for dinner, but we’d had a late lunch with lots of leftovers (at the Ichiban Teriyaki across the street from the hotel), and we were all tired, so we didn’t have a fun last evening out in Tacoma. It was more of a reheated, walk on the treadmill, movie, early to bed evening.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

We had an event in Tukwila, outside of Seattle. Ron and Sylvie drove the truck and trailer and we took the rental car. It was at an Ironworkers Union. We gave tours to all the apprentices on their lunch hour.

What a great time we had! Everyone was interested and engaged. The apprentices, their journeymen instructors, and other staff. Ron and Sylvie gave most of the tours. David and I were there for moral support and to jump in if needed. I gave a couple of tours. One when we had a big group come through and we needed to divvy them up. And one later in the afternoon, for the mayor and city manager. I was still being the “official spokesperson.”

As soon as the event was over, we hugged Ron and Sylvie good-bye, jumped in the rental car and headed south on I-5. Our goal was Medford, about a seven hour drive. We arrived about 9 PM, tired and ready for bed.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Another long day on the road, but we got home in time to pick up my car at the house, then return the rental to the Fresno airport.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Errands, haircuts, lunch with my folks, laundry, packing.

Saturday, February, 29, 2020

We left for Scotland! Stay tuned for posts about Scotland. Thanks for reading!!

The latest on the trailer: We arrived home from Scotland March 9. We planned to fly to Boise, Idaho March 11, to take over the trailer again from Ron and Sylvie for an event in Boise on March 12. We got notice March 10 that the event on the 12th was canceled. We canceled our flight and decided to fly to Boise a few days later. Before that happened, all events were canceled and the trailer program placed on hiatus. The trailer is being stored near Boise while we shelter in place at home in Madera. When the program starts again, we’ll decide if we’ll fly to Boise and start from there, or bring the trailer home.

 

Wednesday Wanderings: Coming Home

Saturday, September 23, 2017

We woke early and packed. I had been leaving books and some clothing items behind in our travels and left a few more in our Edinburgh hotel room, to make room for the souvenirs and keepsakes we were bringing home. Nothing was very heavy or bulky, but we’d been close to the limit coming over and knew we’d be over if we didn’t make some adjustments.

2017-09-22_03-15-17_981We bought wool scarves in Edinburgh, a few pieces of jewelry, tea towels, pencils. Nothing extravagant, but still special to us.

Since the lift was still out of order, we included time to call for help with our bags, then waited outside for our driver to take us to the airport.

Sure enough, we had to shift contents from one bag to another, from a checked bag, to a carry on. Although after weighing and pronouncing us in compliance, the ticketing clerk let us put some of the things back in the checked bag.

We still had plenty of time to kill so we got coffee, read, walked the airport. Our flight to London was uneventful. We had a layover in London, which included a bus ride from one part of the airport to another, two more security checks, and a long wait in a sequestered waiting room. If you had to leave the room to get food or find a restroom, you had to surrender your passport as you left. Londoners take security very seriously.

The flight to LAX was long and uneventful, just the way we like it.

The good thing about flying home from Europe is that you get here not much after you left, in spite of the ten hour flight. We landed in LA, went through customs, shuttled back to the hotel where we’d left our car, and were on the road by four o’clock or so.

The cherry on this wonderful trip was that I was a finalist in a big writing contest for unpublished writers and the winners were being announced that same evening in Dallas. I was able to find the live stream of the ceremony, so we were in traffic on the 110IMG_0289 freeway in downtown Los Angeles when I heard my name called in Dallas as the winner of the American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Contest, Contemporary Category!

We yelled, laughed, high-fived and continued to Pasadena where we were staying overnight with friends before continuing home the next day. We celebrated appropriately that evening with two couples, returned my borrowed travel purse and backpack, and shared stories, good food, and laughter before collapsing into bed.

We both loved the trip and want to go again. If we’re able to go back, I want to try it in reverse order. Scotland, London, Ireland. We both fell so completely in love with Scotland, that I almost don’t trust it, if that makes sense. As I said last week, we know we’re Anglo-Saxon, and I felt the Highlands speak to the DNA in my bones. We didn’t feel the same about Ireland, and we expected to. So I want to see if I imagined the call from Scotland. Or if it was simply a matter of being a bit stressed (our first time traveling overseas) while learning to drive on the “wrong” side of the road. So if we begin next time in Scotland, hopefully we’ll be more relaxed and adjusted when we get to Ireland, and more able to compare apples to apples. Or Highlands to inis and loughs.

Wednesday Wanderings: Crieff to Edinburgh

I’m sorry I missed last week, and believe it or not, I’ve been working on today’s post all day! I had lots of other things to do as well, and interruptions, but whew! I was determined to not let another week go by.

Friday September 22, 2017

We woke up in Crieff and after Michael’s delicious breakfast, we decided to head back to Edinburgh. We had originally planned to take our time returning to the city and to explore the countryside a bit. But we had really loved our few hours in Edinburgh Tuesday afternoon and wanted to see more of the city. Not to mention tea! We hadn’t had tea anywhere yet. I know, I know. I still can’t fathom it either. So tea was a priority since this was our last full day in the UK.

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The drive back to Edinburgh went smoothly. I finally felt comfortable on the roads, which were a smidge wider than in Ireland. It took some time to turn in the rental car, but we finally Ubered back to the hotel. We were too early for check-in, so left our luggage at the desk and headed out. It briefly occurred to me that I should change into better walking shoes, but decided it wasn’t worth the hassle of digging through my suitcase in the hotel lobby. Bad decision.

My friends, Sue and Alysa, had recommended Clarinda’s Tea Room in Edinburgh, so we set out. It was a bit early for tea. It was actually still a bit early for lunch, about 11:00, but2017-09-22_04-56-53_680 we decided to have lunch and tea. We found Clarinda’s easily, although it was at the opposite end of the Royal Mile from where we started. I had the toasted brie and cranberry sandwich which was to die for. Creamy brie with tangy cranberries–amazing! Stud Muffin had the Ploughman’s Lunch: cheese, crackers, bread and salad. The woman at the table next to us had a baked potato with haggis on top, which Dave said he’d order “next time.” Then we had tea and a scone each. I’m in love with clotted cream and the scone was delicious, light and beautiful. The dishes were charming and mismatched and everything was lovely.

As we wandered the Royal Mile, I found the Canongate Tolbooth, which played a part in the Liz Curtis Higgs books I love, Here Burns My Candle and Mine is the Night. So I made Dave snap a shot of me in front of the building. We also found street performers, pipers, illusionists, and musicians.

When we’d been along the Royal Mile earlier in the week, I had seen signs to a Writer’s Museum, so that was our next quest. Along the way, we bought some Christmas ornaments, and cigars (don’t ask me why he didn’t have enough already). We took our time walking and looking. We managed to miss the close (alleyway) where the museum was located at least twice. Finally, a clerk from a nearby shop walked out to show us exactly where it was. Bless her, because I don’t know if we would have found it on our own. The museum is in a small and ancient house just off the main road, down a small close.

The museum houses permanent collections showcasing Robert Louis Stevenson, Walter Scott, and, of course, Robert Burns. It’s small, as museums go, but intensely interesting with exhibits about the history of writers and printing in Scotland. There was also a temporary exhibit about Ian Rankin. I took my time in the museum while Dave enjoyed a cigar outside.

We then headed to Edinburgh Castle. We’d walked several miles by this point, and my feet were wishing I’d changed shoes from my boots to sneakers when I had the chance. But I soldiered on. The Castle is a fabulous attraction. Part ruins, part museums with exhibits, part scenic views. We saw the battlements with the huge cannons, the Scottish Crown Jewels, the rooms where Scottish royalty breathed their first and last, and the Royal Scots Dragoons Guards museum.

It was now nearly 5 pm and my feet were done. We walked back to our hotel, The Old Waverly, with only a few more quick stops. We saw some tea towels in a shop window that were meant for some friends, so we had to buy them.

We arrived at the hotel to discover the staff had put our bags in our new room. On the sixth floor. And the lift (elevator) was out of order.

Can you picture me and my worn out feet hearing that news?

We immediately went to the bar/restaurant for a restorative. Then we started up the stairs. Because once I climbed six flights, there was no way I was coming down again unless there was a fire or it was time to leave for the airport.

The upside of being on the sixth floor was the great view of the city and the Sir Walter Scott monument across the street.

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Edinburgh was a highlight of the trip. We both loved it and would go back in a heartbeat. We only scratched the surface of this ancient and fascinating city. We know we both have plenty of Anglo-Saxon genes, but I think the Highlands and the city spoke to our DNA. We felt at home in a way we hadn’t in England or Ireland. My father told me long ago we’re from the Campbell clan and I believe it.

Wednesday Wanderings: Oban and Crieff

Thursday, September 21, 2017

We woke up, dug ourselves out of the lumpy hostel bed, and made our way to the train station. The Jacobite train pulled in as we found parking. We had a quick bite in the station cafe, then discussed what we wanted to do. Try to ride the train to Mallaig, or just look at the train, take some pictures and head out again to see more of Scotland.

We decided to hit the road and try to hit some more distilleries and scenery. We picked Crieff as our stop that night, and I found an Airbnb quite easily. James’ Cottage.

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After breakfast, Stud Muffin had to take a picture of the array of sauces the cafe offered. This isn’t even all of them.

Then we went out to the platform. The train was beautiful! Old, obviously, yet, lovingly maintained and cared for. There were lots of people like us, just looking and snapping pictures. There were also others boarding, ordering their lunch and tea and snack plates.

If we get back to Scotland, I really do want to do this train ride. It looked like a fabulous time, and I’m sure you’d get to see different scenery from the train tracks.

We wandered back to the car and headed out. First stop: Oban. I knew Dave had tasted Oban, maybe even received a bottle as a gift once, and I remembered he’d liked it. Since the village of Oban was on “our way” to Crieff, that was our first stop.

Oban is a small town, on the coast of the Oban Bay. We lucked out, we thought, and got the last parking spot right in front of the distillery. There was a city lot at the bottom of the block, but it looked full, so we tried the narrow, dead-end street and were successful.

Our tour was led by Jim, who had a much thicker brogue than Angela at Dalwhinnie. It was a good thing this wasn’t our first tour because we would have been lost, trying to understand Jim while seeing everything. Oban has a very nice tasting room, and Dave and I each bought a shirt. We thought. Turns out they were both women’s shirts. So I got two. 🙂

We returned to the car to find we’d been ticketed. Sigh. We searched for signs and hours and restrictions, but couldn’t see anything that we’d violated. There were cones blocking off the neighboring spot, but we were well within our spots lines. So we (cough-Dave-cough) took pictures to prove that we were legal. The ticket said we had 21 days to pay and could pay online. I planned to print out all the pictures and send them with our check once we got home. On day 21, I pulled out the ticket and finally read it carefully. We were supposed to go down to that city lot at the bottom of the block and buy a parking pass. Although there are no signs anywhere in that alley that we saw saying that. So I paid the fine online and decided to let it go.

Back on the road, we turned toward Crieff, our destination for the night. Dave did some

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research on the area and found one more distillery: The Famous Grouse. We got there early for the last tour of the day so we had a bite in their cafe before the tour. Our guide was Michael. The Famous Grouse was the only distillery we visited that does blends. The others were all single malt.

Of course, Michael thought blends were superior to the single malts. He likened a blend to a full orchestra while the single2017-09-21_09-39-08_038 malts are one note instruments. The Famous Grouse has the Guiness Book of World Record’s largest bottle of Scotch. They filled it as an anniversary celebration and to raise money for charity. Patrons purchased a regular sized bottle and poured it into the giant bottle. When the record is broken and it’s not longer the largest in the world, they plan to auction it off, also for charity.

The tour was excellent and interesting, but I was getting tired of distilleries. I think you tell by my face in the picture on the right, I was pretty much done. I didn’t drink my samples, since I was still driving.

It was about 5:00 by then, so we decided to go find our Airbnb. It was a short drive and the listing said there was private off-street parking. We found both the house and the parking, but it was down a narrow, winding road with no clear way to enter the house, so we circled the block and parked out front. Michael was our host (not the same Michael who gave us the Famous Grouse tour). He eyed our luggage and immediately suggested we think about leaving one of the suitcases in the car. He was concerned about his walls being bumped and thumped on our way up the stairs. We readily agreed. I needed mine though, so Stud Muffin lugged his back to the car, took out his toiletries and a change of clothes.  I asked him to bring in my whiskey samples that I’d left in the car from the Famous Grouse tour. Michael then informed us that a “dram,” is “an unmeasured measure,” of liquid. So … a wee dram of whiskey is an unmeasured little bit in a glass.

Michael asked about our breakfast preference. Apparently Airbnb holds him to a different standard than Julia in Royal Tunbridge Wells. Dave requested the full Scottish with black sausage instead of haggis. I asked for two eggs and a sausage. Dave gave him careful instructions about how to prepare my eggs. I’m not an egg fan, and I the only way I can eat them is if they are really done done. Dave told Michael he could start frying my eggs, then go into town and pick up supplies, come back, and they’d be ready. He’s not exaggerating much. I do like them over hard and well done. Crispy with salt and pepper. Michael promised to do his best.

2017-09-22_01-01-32_775The next morning we got to chat with Michael a bit more. He was in his 70s. His wife had passed away about 8 years ago. He was Irish, living in Scotland. He’d played professional golf on the European Seniors tour. The breakfast room was full of pictures and trophies. I’ve googled him and found some stories about him on the tour. He enjoyed running the B&B. It was called James Cottage and was the oldest building in Crieff.

Once we were settled in our room, I enjoyed my dram. We were too tired to go out again and try to find a place to park and eat. We had some leftovers from our gas station lunch the day before, so we finished those, and read, and journaled, and relaxed for the evening.

 

 

Wednesday Wanderings: Of Highlands and Hostels

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

After our full Scottish breakfast at the Old Waverly Hotel, we Ubered to the local car rental agency where I’d reserved a car for us.

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Our breakfast view: the Sir Walter Scott monument in Edinburgh

We were back in a standard transmission. We found our way out of the city fairly easily. We had no real agenda. We knew we would end up in Fort William. I had seen an article in the AAA magazine a few months before about the Jacobite Steam Train, AKA the Hogwarts Express. It travels a daily round-trip between Fort William and Mallaig. I’d tried to book tickets as soon as I learned about it, but the schedule showed the train wasn’t running the days we’d be able to take it. A month or two later, I checked again, and those days were on the schedule, but already sold out. The fine print said some tickets are available, first come first served, on the day of. So we planned to be at the ticket office first thing in the morning.

We plotted our route to Fort William, planning to stop at a few whiskey distilleries. Stud Muffin likes a smoky scotch and he wanted to learn more about how the whiskey is made, what gives it the smoky and other qualities. We first stopped at Blair Athol distillery near Pitlochry. The name Pitlochry was familiar to me from a book, and I enjoyed seeing the picturesque village. The distillery tours were full, but the front desk gave us the name of a sister distillery about thirty minutes away and

they were able to get us in. We did taste at Blair Athol before we left, and we learned a bit about the Scotch regions. We determined Dave likes the Islay distilleries (very smoky) while I preferred Speyside, a slightly sweeter taste. Although I would never say I’m a scotch drinker or fan, I did learn a bit and was able to pick my “favorite” region.

We grabbed a gas station lunch, and ate in the car in the drizzly rain, then set out for Dalwhinnie.

Our guide, Angela, had a lovely and light Scottish brogue, which was fairly easy for our American ears to understand. She clearly enjoyed her job, and she had lots of interesting factoids and things to share with us. Dalwhinnie once rented storage space to a small, local distillery that went out of business and neglected to pick up all their barrels in storage. So Dalwhinnie has a barrel of I-forget-how-many-years-old (50-60, I think) scotch that most likely belongs to them now, but they haven’t made an effort to claim it legally and so there it sits, aging year by year.

We learned about single malts, grain whiskey, and blends. We learned that scotch is taxed by the government at 75%. Yes. That’s seventy-five percent. Not 7.5. Seventy-five. And scotch begins to be taxed on its third birthday. That’s when it’s officially “Scotch.”  As the whiskey is moved from barrel to bottle, a portion is observed on its journey through a clear plexi-glass, or plastic, or glass box, with a padlock. Photos are forbidden. 😦

After our Dalwhinnie tour, we made straight for Fort William. I’d tried to book us a B&B room from home, but couldn’t find any vacancies. I’d tried for a couple of days ahead of time from my phone. Still no luck. At the car rental agency, Dave asked the clerks if there was a festival or something going on, and why couldn’t we find a room. They assured us there were no special events in Fort William, and that there’s a B&B on every corner and we wouldn’t have a problem.

Well.

There is indeed a B&B on every corner and every single one of them said “No Vacancy.” We finally found a house that looked vacant and parked in the driveway while we both attacked our phones and searched. I found the house we were parked in front of, and it was an Airbnb, but not available. I finally found a room at a hotel for $300 that night, or a hostel. The hostel was about $80 and had a private bath so we booked it and headed to the address. Good thing I booked it because by the time we arrived to check-in, fifteen minutes later, they were fully booked too. We asked why everything was full and the response was a shrug, and “we’re a tourist destination.” In September. With cloudy, drizzly, gray weather. But we were tourists there in September in cloudy, drizzly, gray weather, so point taken.

The hostel room beat sleeping in the car which was our other option. But not by much. The bed was tiny, lumpy, and slanted to the middle. The place needed serious updating, but was clean and the bathroom was indeed private. Although the college boys in the room next to us apparently felt their room wasn’t large enough and they left their backpacks in the hallway and in front of our door. It was our turn to shrug and grin.

After checking in, I had to find a place to park for the night. Not an easy task. The hostel had a tiny lot in the rear that would hold four cars. There was a spot that looked like it might have held a fifth car, but I didn’t want to attempt it. I found a spot on the street2017-09-20_10-33-50_209 about a quarter mile away, that was labeled with the exact hours you could park for one hour, two hours, or longer. I took a picture of the sign because I was fairly certain I fell in the hours for overnight, but wanted to be able to prove it, in case I got a ticket. As I walked back to the hostel, the father and son who took the last room and checked in next to us, were inching into the one spot I’d skipped in the lot. Dave told me later he’d helped them navigate in.

Dave had been dragging our luggage up three flights of stairs while I parked. I entered the hostel from the rear and found the elevator. Which he hadn’t known existed until I told him.

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We headed out for dinner. On our way to the nearest pub, the Grog and Gruel, we passed a bookstore. I had to go in. Believe it or not, this is the only bookstore I visited on the whole trip. I still can’t believe it. We were on the go so much. I had planned to visit a bookstore in Bath that I’d read about, but we ended up bypassing Bath in favor of Hastings, so I’d missed it. This one wasn’t a large store, or particularly impressive, but I’m glad I got to visit it.

At the Grog and Gruel, Stud Muffin ordered the deep fried haggis2017-09-20_11-52-37_986 for an appetizer. We shared fish and chips (yummy) and each had a salad. We then made our way back to the hostel, and the lumpy bed.

Next week: The Jacobite Train, Parking in Oban, and the Famous Grouse.

Wednesday Wanderings: Edinburgh

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

We packed up, bid farewell to the Lancaster Gate and our driver ferried us to Kings Cross train station for our five-hour ride to Edinburgh. We were veerrrry early to the station and had quite a bit of time to kill. I babysat the luggage while Stud Muffin wandered around, got us coffee, and turned in our Oyster cards to get the credit refunded from our unused Tube rides. After a bit, we traded places and I headed to the restroom.

Right behind where I’d been sitting was the area marked Platform 9 3/4, which, as any Harry Potter fan knows, is where Harry, Hermione, Ginny, and Ron catch the Hogwarts Express.

There’s a luggage trolley jutting out of the wall and an employee standing nearby to take pictures and hold your scarf so it looks like you’re running through the wall. Of course, we had to pose. There’s a huge Harry Potter shop there too. I wandered the shop quite a while, debating whether to buy any souvenirs there. I didn’t, and that’s probably my only regret of the trip. We have several HP fans in the family and I wish I’d brought them back something from there.

On our Strawberry Tours walking tour of London, our guide, Will, told us J.K. Rowling actually made a mistake about the train station in the first book. She’d gotten confused and said Platform 9 3/4 was at Kings Cross, but her description of the station was of Euston, not Kings Cross. Just a bit of Harry trivia for you.

The train ride was comfortable and the time passed quickly. We saw lots of beautiful scenery. In Edinburgh, we had a driver from the train station to our hotel. He questioned why he’d been booked when our hotel was so close. We shrugged, said we didn’t know the area, and besides we had luggage. But he was right. We could have walked to the hotel more quickly because he had to deal with traffic. And because of the traffic, he dropped us around the corner from the Old Waverley Hotel, so by the time we wrangled our luggage out, crossed the street and got it up the front steps, we were tired! There was a step up from the street, (not bad) then a long hallway, then more steps to get to the lobby. There was a sign that said, Ring Bell For Porter, which we did. A few moments later, a young woman arrived to carry our bags, our two big bags up the two flights of stairs. She hefted one and Dave carried the other up. We were able to check in and dropped off our luggage in our 3rd floor room. The lift was working. This is important to remember for later.

Then we hit the streets of Edinburgh.

2017-09-19_15-57-36_521First up: The Scotch Whiskey Experience. It’s a visitor attraction maintained and put on by one of the Scotch associations. It’s not a distillery, it’s an attraction. You ride in a motorized “barrel” (kind of like at Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion), while watching videos of the whiskey making process. You also visit a collection of over 3300 bottles of whiskey. It was truly fascinating. I’m not a whiskey drinker, but the place is amazing and definitely worth a visit.

The Scotch Whiskey Experience is located at the top of the Royal Mile, in old town Edinburgh, right in front of Edinburgh Castle. By the time we finished our tour of the Whiskey experience, the Castle was closed and we couldn’t go in. Every August, Edinburgh hosts a music and arts and drum festival, called the Tattoo. The castle is the venue for military drum corps and marchers. The bleachers that had been erected for the festival were being disassembled while we were there. We watched the process for a few minutes, then left to find dinner.

The Whiskey Experience had a restaurant and bar called Amber. I had to take pictures since we also have an Amber.

We wandered a ways down the Royal Mile and settled on the Ensign Ewart pub for dinner. It’s a small place but warm and cozy and charming. The dinner offering was venison pie and it was delicious! Tender chunks of venison in a thick gravy, topped with mashed potatoes. A wonderful and hearty meal to end our first day in Scotland.

We fell in love with Scotland and Edinburgh today. The old buildings are really, really old. Much of London was old, too, but many of London’s buildings were destroyed in the Blitz and there’s lots of newer construction. In Edinburgh, particularly where we stayed, we could tell we were in the midst of history.

Our hotel was named the Old Waverley, after a book by Sir Walter Scott, a revered Scottish poet and writer. Many of the streets and shops referred to Scott, or Robert Louis Stevenson, or Ian Rankin, or Robert Burns. From our hotel room, we could see the Sir Walter Scott memorial, on the right above.

Tomorrow (or next week, actually): driving in Scotland, more whiskey, and the very real possibility of sleeping in the car.

Wednesday Wanderings: Pret-a-Manger, Hastings, and Portobello Road

Monday, September 18, 2017

We woke Monday morning in Royal Tunbridge Wells and it was Stud Muffin’s birthday. Due to the B&B proprietress trying to shake down an additional 16£ from us, we elected to find breakfast on our own. We asked the man of the house and he cheerfully directed us to walk down the hill a hundred yards or so. Sure enough, there was a coffee shop on three of the four corners. We chose Pret-A-Manger, a quick take-away or eat in shop,  because we hadn’t visited one yet and they were all over. Starbucks is in England, but Costa Coffee is far more prevalent. I don’t think we managed to visit a Costa Coffee. Breakfast and coffee at Pret-A-Manger ended up costing us just about 16£ but the satisfaction at not feeling taken was worth it.

Back in the car and we headed to Hastings. We’d watched the British television show, Foyle’s War, set in Hastings and wanted to see it for ourselves. Hastings is a coastal town southeast of London, overlooking the English channel. It’s the home of Hastings Castle and is where William the Conqueror landed in England in 1066.

Parking was the usual issue, but we were able to walk on the pier and the beach. I 2017-09-18_10-40-38_911learned a rocky beach is called a shingle. The Hastings beach is very rocky. So is it very shingly? I don’t know. I do know walking was unsteady and hard. The weather wasn’t especially cold but it was windy. We took refuge in another coffee shop on the pier before deciding to visit the castle.

The ruins sit on a bluff overlooking the town. William conquered Hastings in 1066 and the castle’s construction began in 1070. There’s a short and informative movie you can watch. You can wander the ruins, the walls, and some of the underground rooms. It’s amazing to think that almost 1,000 years ago, it was considered new.

The roads in Hastings were narrow and steep. For the castle, we parked at a municipal “lot” of five cars, then hiked up to the castle, through a church yard and narrow bricked walkway. The entry fee was nominal and the ticket booth was managed by a teenager with a video game.

After a short visit (it doesn’t take long to see the whole place), we headed back to London. I wanted to visit Portobello Road and the Notting Hill Gate neighborhood.

And the adventures began in earnest.

I was still the driver with Dave navigating. As we entered the city, he got turned around and we ended up along the docks and had to take an “alternate” route to our hotel. That route just happened to direct us through Trafalgar Square and past St. James Palace. Just the sort of tourist attractions we’d planned to avoid. I was white-knuckling my way through traffic and only got a couple of glimpses out of my peripheral vision, but I promise, I was suitably impressed.

We returned to the Lancaster Gate where we’d stayed previously. We left our luggage at the desk and drove back to the Marriott to drop off the rental car. The agency was only open until 3 pm on Mondays. We got there about 2:45. Remember, when we picked up the car, one of the employees had fetched it for us, saying, “It’s a bit cramped down there”?

Oh. My Word.

The ramp down to the parking area was a twisting, winding lane with inches to spare on either side. Before we made it all the way to the bottom, Dave had to get out and guide me down. I had to back up a few times to make the curves. And I’m not exaggerating. At all.

Inching into the only spot was nearly impossible. Finally, the employee finished with the other couple he was helping and he rescued me and pulled the car in. I’d left my back pack with our luggage and had only a cross-body purse. Dave had his back pack and he set it down in the garage to take a video of the car, to prove we had returned it without damage, in spite of our precarious arrival.

We completed the check-in process and summoned an Uber to get us back to the Lancaster Gate. As we got out of the Uber, Dave realized–I’m sure you know what–yes, he didn’t have his back pack. Mild panic struck. It had his passport and we were leaving for Scotland the next day, not returning to London except for a layover at Heathrow on our way home. The staff at our hotel helpfully called the Marriott, but no one there had the back pack. Dave talked to a security person and said we were on our way back.

We Uber-ed to the Marriott again, but of course the rental office had closed and everyone was gone. The security officer met us and after pinning down the times we’d been through, he left to look at security footage of the lobby.

While the rental office was closed for business, it wasn’t locked up. I peeked over the counters and under desks, but didn’t open any drawers. No black back pack.

Dave paced, then walked down to the garage to be sure it wasn’t still down there. The security guy came back and showed us the footage he’d found. We saw the employee who’d helped us carrying a black back pack across the lobby. A clue!

We moved back to the office and this time, the security guy did open drawers and there was the back pack! Whew!! Dave had to list the contents, sign a statement, and a copy of his driver’s license was taken.

Friends had told Dave to take some CHP patches, that overseas law enforcement agencies love to see them. Dave had some patches in his back pack so he gifted one to the security officer and left two more for the rental agency guys. The security man was overjoyed! Really, you’d have thought we gave him a 100£ note.

2017-08-31_22-54-06_543We breathed easier and this time we Uber-ed directly to Portobello Road. I love the Hugh Grant/Julia Roberts movie Notting Hill, and Portobello Road is an important character in the movie. We found a kitschy tourist shop where we bought refrigerator magnets and another shop where I added to my  knob collection.

And then we found the shop that’s supposed to be the Travel Book Shoppe in the movie.

It’s now an even kitschier shop than the one we’d stopped at, but I couldn’t resist getting a picture.

We’d had an exhausting day, so when we saw a restaurant, The Distillery, advertising Portobello Road Gin, we gave in and stopped. After a gin & tonic and a snack, we returned to wandering the streets. Because of the whole lost back pack adventure, we didn’t get to the area until 4:00 and many of the shops were closed or closing shortly. We did find a spice shop and Dave purchased some different spices to bring home. A curry, and something else fragrant and exotic. Our luggage smelled yummy the rest of the trip.

We found a pub for dinner, the Duke of Wellington. Dave had the charcuterie board and I had fish and chips. Both were delicious. I found it funny that a pub named after the general who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo had pop art and Beatles decor on the walls.

We wandered a bit more and found the most amazing gelato at 3BIS. Rich, creamy, artisanal, and completely amazing. We each got one and shared.

Our adventurous day was finally over. We Uber-ed back to the hotel where the staff had kept our luggage safe for us, and fell into bed.

Wednesday Wanderings: Highclere, Jane Austen, Irish Football, and 40 Years Married

Sunday, September 17, 2017 — I probably should have been dating these posts before this one.

We woke up in Newbury, in the Furze Bush Inn. During our Full English breakfast, the innkeeper, Jules, asked what brought us to the area and what we planned to see. I’m a huge Dick Francis fan and I wanted to see the village of Lambourn and the training grounds that are often featured in his books.

 

I’d also wanted to visit Bath and some Jane Austen sites, but Bath was just too far out of the way from the other places we wanted to see. However … the village of Chawton where Jane Austen lived the last few years of her life was in the area and they have a museum in her home.

UK map (2)

 

 

So I told Jules we were headed to Lambourn, then to Chawton. He asked about Highclere (home of Downton Abbey) since it was very close. I had checked into visiting the castle, but it wasn’t open to guests/tours/tourists while we were there. It’s only open limited times. I told him it was closed, but he said we should go by there anyway, it was worth a look from the gates. He mentioned the popularity of Downton Abbey had been a huge boon to the area with the influx of tourists. Jules also encouraged us to find a Sunday carving for dinner. It’s roast beef and is a Sunday tradition in pubs. We didn’t realize Sunday carving dinner is actually lunch.

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A Lambourn racing stable

So we headed out. Lambourn was our first stop. It was a drizzly day, but not a downpour. We found Lambourn easily and drove through the village and along the training grounds which were empty since we were there late morning. We did see a stable that I know was in many of the Francis books. It could have been transported from Lambourn onto the page. I knew it right away. I had never visited Lambourn before, but I’d been there and I’d been in that stable, thanks to Mr. Francis.

 

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A typical road between villages. This is a two-way road.

The scenery was lush and green and beautiful. And the roads and lanes were a bit wider than in Ireland, which helped my driving confidence. Having an automatic transmission helped also. I often thanked the kind employees at the Marriott in my mind. One of them told us story about a tourist from another European country (which I won’t name but you may be able to guess). The employee said he was upgrading him to an automatic. The tourist got angry, and said, “You think I’m lazy like an American?!?!” The employee apologized, changed him back to a standard, and then offered a hybrid vehicle, so he’d get better mileage. That also angered him.

From Lambourn we backtracked a bit and pointed the car towards Highclere. We found it easily and sure enough, the gates were closed. Another car had followed us up the drive. We all got out of our vehicles and approached the gates, eager to see the famous castle. 2017-09-17_12-12-14_513Unfortunately, Jules was a bit over optimistic about what was visible. We could see a curving lane and a security car approaching. I knew he was coming to tell us to leave, so I returned to the car. The other car’s occupants lingered and talked to the security guy. As they came back to their vehicle, they said he’d told them that if they drove to nearby Beacon Hill, there was a short hike that had a great view of the castle. We decided to try it since it seemed silly to come all that way and then leave without a glimpse.

We followed the other car, and parked. They were out of their car and disappeared down the trail while we were making sure our bags were covered, the car was locked up, and so on. We started on the trail and immediately met the others returning to the parking lot. “It’s very muddy. You need proper shoes and to be fit,” one of them said. “We’re not fit.”

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The view from the first hill. You can get an idea of the steep trail we climbed.

We decided to proceed. It was very muddy and a stiff incline. After a hundred yards or so, we went through a gate and instead of mud, it was a grassy hillside to hike up. A very steep and slick hillside. We headed up. That was six months and 66 pounds ago. I made it up, but it wasn’t pretty. I told Dave if, when we reached the top, there was another hill to climb, he could do it on his own. 2017-09-17_12-57-02_959

Sure enough, there was. From the top of my hill, I could get a glimpse of the top quarter of the building. Dave went on to the next hill and got a better view and picture before we headed back down.

I think the security guard had a good laugh as we left at his great practical joke. He’d directed those crazy tourists to a strenuous hike with barely a view.

We made it safely back to the car and headed for Chawton. We found the village and the museum pretty easily. Parking was another matter. But there was a pub across the street from the museum and since Stud Muffin isn’t into Jane Austen, we parked in the pub parking lot. He went to the pub, I went to the museum.

Jane Austen lived in Chawton for the final eight years of her life, although her family moved her to Winchester for the last months, hoping her health would improve there. The house in Chawton is now a museum. July 2017 was the 100th anniversary of Austen’s death, and a choir from Winchester had performed at the observance last summer. They happened to be singing again on the day I visited and I was treated to some lovely music in the beautiful gardens. That was a serendipity I was not expecting!

 

After about an hour wandering the house and grounds, I found Stud Muffin at the pub. Our poor phone’s data plans had taken a beating, so I added more data to his phone then we headed out again.

While in Ireland visiting our niece and her family, we’d learned that County Mayo, where they live, were in the Irish Football championships against Dublin. It’s a long and heated rivalry, with Mayo losing far more often than winning. The game was that day, so we put “Sports pub” into our phones and headed to the closest, The French Horn, in Alton.

We found the pub just fine, but they had no sports on and no way to show the game. They suggested the Wheatsheaf. As we headed out the door, a group of three sitting nearby asked if we were good at crosswords. Stud Muffin offered my services to help them finish. They were lacking two answers. With a sigh of relief, I was able to supply one of the answers: Coda. The clue: Ending the music. The other clue I had no idea. This was a real neighborhood pub that welcomed anyone. Even American tourists looking for the Irish Football game.

The Wheatsheaf had televisions and was able to let us watch the last few minutes of the game. County Mayo was winning when we started watching, but they did indeed manage to lose the game. We arrived at the Wheatsheaf at just after four o’clock and the Sunday carving was over. They were out of food. They recommended we try The George, so we headed out again. In case you’re counting, we’ve now been to four pubs in one day. Not drinking, not eating, just visiting.

It was a short walk to the George, and they were serving food, but no Sunday carving. This was our actual 40th anniversary, so we sat and prepared to celebrate.

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Dave had rump steak and I had a burger. The food was excellent and tasty and you could tell they paid attention to it.

One thing we’d learned in pubs is that the wait staff don’t just bring you your tab when you’re done eating. They assume you’re there for the evening and the table is yours. You have to ask for the bill when you’re ready to go. We almost left the George without paying, but we remembered just in time.

We had about a 90 minute drive to our stop for the night in Royal Tunbridge Wells. We wanted to visit Hastings on the coast the next day, so I’d picked a town between Newbury and Hastings, but closer to Hastings. It was after dark when we arrived and it had been a bit stressful driving. But we got there safely. The B&B wasn’t the easiest to find, because the street and houses weren’t clearly marked, but after asking for help from some people leaving the nearby church, we found it. The proprietress asked if we wanted to add breakfast for 8 pounds each. We asked why breakfast wasn’t included. She said AirB&B wouldn’t let her offer breakfast. That still sounds fishy, but we didn’t argue and just declined.

Whew! It was a long day packed full of memories and lovely moments. Thanks for reading this far!

Next week: Hastings, Notting Hill, and Portobello Road. Oh, and checking in the rental car. That may deserve its own post.

Wednesday Wanderings: Exploring England

Somehow two weeks have elapsed since my last trip post. Sigh. Thank you for sticking with us!

We woke up Saturday morning in London, had breakfast at the hotel and checked out. Stud Muffin had wanted to get out of London, so I’d reserved a car. We Ubered over to the Marriott and got our rental car.

The staff at the rental office were so kind and helpful. They upgraded us to a Volvo with an automatic transmission which turned out to be a huge help. One employee fetched the car for us from the underground parking garage. “It’s a bit close quarters, down there,” he said. Remember that, because it will come back to haunt me.

We found our way out of the city fairly easily and headed to Windsor. Stud Muffin wanted to avoid “tourist” attractions, which is one reason for getting out of London.

Before our trip, we’d watched several television shows based in the UK. Escape to the Country was a favorite, as was Walks With My Dog. Escape to the Country is like our House Hunters. Walks With My Dog is exactly what it sounds like. Not-quite-A-list British celebrities take a walk with their dogs. They walk several miles, stopping to learn about local culture or history or taste a local delicacy at a pub or restaurant. We watched all we could of each series, although we get a very limited selection here in the States.

One of the Walks With My Dog episodes we’d seen included Windsor Park, the grounds around Windsor Castle. I thought it looked gorgeous and would be a great place to visit. So we plugged in “Windsor Park” into our phones and headed off. We found Windsor the town pretty easily. The park though … not so much. First we were directed through town to nearby LEGOLAND. Not quite what we wanted. Then we circled town to a large area of open ground that could have been (and likely was) horse training grounds. People and dogs were walking around, so I could see why Google maps thought we wanted to go there. We finally just went back to town to find parking and ask around. We found a mall with parking, and headed out. The mall was an outdoor shopping area and guess who found a cigar shop?

We discovered we were just a block or two from Windsor Castle, so we walked there and then asked where was the park. It turned out to be a short walk around the castle grounds, through a gate and then we were in the park. We learned it was called the Long Walk and Deer Park and is part of the Windsor Great Park. It was gorgeous! We saw chestnut trees, a private polo club, and lots of people and dogs. We spent some time wandering the grounds. We could see the castle through the gate and fence. The castle had obviously been built directly adjacent to the old “village,” since the grounds wall was shared with a pub. Literally. They were side by side.

After a good walk, we looked for a place for a drink and a bite to eat. We found a cobblestone street with several restaurants with outdoor seating. The Queen Charlotte Pub advertised a local gin, Guildhall Island, so we chose that one. We had the Guildhall Island with flavored tonic. This was our introduction to the wide variety of tonic waters available in England. We were used to Schweppes or Canada Dry. We’d occasionally see a “specialty” tonic like Fever Tree. This pub had lots of Fever Tree varieties. We shared a baked Camembert in sour dough (delicious, so creamy and tart and yummy) and a gin and tonic.

We struck up a conversation with a couple sitting nearby. They had been to a gin festival in London a few weeks prior. We said we were in the UK celebrating our anniversary which would be the next day. Their anniversary was the same day! Only 39 years separated us! They were celebrating their first anniversary, our 40th. They were not youngsters though, so must be a second (at least) marriage for both.

We continued on our stroll though the mall again with a stop at the cigar store, before getting back in the car and heading to Newbury.

I had booked us a room at the Furze Bush Inn, a lovely and charming country pub outside of Newbury, in the North Wessex Downs. We loved the inn! If we ever get back to England, a return visit to the Furze Bush will be on our list. The room was cozy, but modern and clean. The food and drinks were excellent. They had a lovely back patio where Stud Muffin enjoyed one of his cigar purchases.

We ate in the dining room. Dave had a Gammon steak, which we learned is ham, not beef. We should have known since it wasn’t listed with the other meats, and came with an egg. He just thought it sounded good. I had a salad with calamari and both were delicious. The staff was incredibly kind and helpful and attentive without being intrusive. We chatted quite a bit with Jules, whose family has owned the pub and inn for a long time.

After dinner, we retreated to our room for a good night’s sleep.

Next week: Highclere, Lambourn, Jane Austen, and Royal Tunbridge Wells.

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.

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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.