Sunday, December 31, 2017

Poverty No-Name

      I read a profile recently of Ophelia Dahl, one of the founders of Partners In Health. For over thirty years, this organization has tried to establish health systems in poor countries. PIH attempts to get the local governments to expand the projects the organization starts. The governments are good when there's a crisis, but when things stabilize, the government will often cut funding.
     This is frustrating to Dahl. "Think about the airline industry," she says. "Can you imagine how complicated it is to run a passenger air system across this world?" She wonders why the same sort of thing can't be done with health care for the poor. The author of the article gently points out that the airlines operate on the profit motive.
     Here's my modest proposal to alleviate poverty. Let poor people sell their naming rights to companies as a form of advertising.  Half the annual fee would go to the individual and the other half to their country's health care system. There'd be lots of little Amazons and Coca-colas, but any company large or small could tap into this tax write-off. The poor could sign up for multiple names and whole swaths of the population would look like NASCAR drivers.
     Even us people in the first world can help. We'll sell our personal naming rights and donate our fees to the poor. We could search out names similar to our present names. I wouldn't mind being Joe's Crab Shack McDonalds if it would help eliminate poverty.
     




Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Rocky Road To London

(Part Three of Three Parts)

     We were down to the final few days of our three week trip around England. I have a friend who fills every minute of her travels with stuff. Much as I admire her stamina, I can't handle that kind of death march. I'm good for four to six hours of sightseeing per day, max. After two hours in a museum I can't absorb any more. I move on to plans B or C (Bed or Café).
     We had spent a week in the Cotswolds area and another on the Cornwall Peninsula. Now we would head east to Portsmouth and then back up to London and home. I wanted to see Lord Nelson's ship Victory at the Historic Shipyards in Portsmouth. 
     Portsmouth was 200 miles east of Penzance where we had been staying. The city of Exeter was about halfway to Portsmouth, a good place to spend the night. There was a big cathedral there so we could check "ancient cathedral" off our list. We had also been encouraged to get a cream tea while in England. A friend said the best cream teas were in Devonshire and Exeter was in Devonshire, so we could kill two birds with one stop.  
     Liz, our hostess at our Penzance B&B printed out directions for us which was helpful since there were over twenty roundabouts on our 100 mile trip to Exeter. We were booked into the Telstar B&B. in Exeter. With twenty rooms, the Telstar was more of an inn than a true B&B. I confirmed that there was no pub downstairs. Exeter was an even bigger city than Bath. I realize I've been complaining a lot about the driving here. but it was the elephant in the back seat. Teresa has a better sense of direction than me, but I'm a better map reader, so she should have driven while I navigated, but she declined to take the wheel, so we had the worst of a bad situation. Finding our way around a strange city was tricky. Whenever we took a wrong turn, which we often did, we had to pull over and study the map on the iPad and work our way back. This is exactly what it took to find the Telstar B&B. As I pulled into the narrow driveway of the Telstar I noticed the street we had been on got super narrow. Glad we don't have to go up that way, I thought. 
      I asked the manager if the Telstar was named after the communications satellite. He said no, it was named after the 1962 hit song that was named after the satellite, and pointed to a poster of The Tornados on the dining room wall. Our first job, once in our room,  was to log onto Wi-Fi and find ourselves a Devonshire cream tea.  A cream tea is not tea with cream in it (a sacrilege), but tea with a scone and clotted cream. And clotted cream is formed by slowly warming cream until it forms clots. It's more delicious than it sounds.  I googled "best Devonshire cream tea in Devonshire" and was directed to a cream tea website. There was only one tearoom listed in Exeter, located about a mile and a half from our lodging. This involved a walk through the busy, gritty  downtown area. On the plus side, there were numerous charity shops which of course we patronized. According to the iPad, our tea shop was across the River Exe, an area even grittier than downtown. In fact it was downright industrial. We passed a giant auto body shop. I could see a long line of wrecks inside. There but for the grace of God.... Teresa was beginning to doubt my map reading skills. A tea shop in this area started to seem improbable to me too.
      We recrossed the river and spotted three women having tea at the back of their apartment estate. They told us the best Devonshire cream tea was at a café across the green from the cathedral. As so often happened, we could not find the landmarks the women had given us. Luckily we could see the spire of the cathedral and we were able to guide ourselves by that to the aptly named Café on the Green. Our cream tea was excellent and now we wouldn't have to be ashamed if people asked why we had skipped cream tea when we had been right there in Devonshire.
Best in the world
     Revived by our tea and clotted cream, we headed over to the cathedral. There are several big cathedrals in the U.S., but the European models are in a different class. For one thing, gravity has been trying to pull them down for several hundred more years. And I may be romanticizing here, but they seem imbued with a more intense faith than their modern versions. Many of the cathedrals go back to the Norman period in the 11th and 12th centuries. The style then was Romanesque or rounded. When the buildings were expanded in later centuries, it was in the Gothic or pointy style.
     The 20th century added the guest welcoming area where you make your donation. Seniors get a couple of pounds discount. Sunday services are free. Near the entry was a large tent which housed the beginnings of an enormous Lego model of the cathedral. For a pound, you could buy a lego block to help complete the model. It's expected to take five years to finish. They've had to order some special blocks from Lego headquarters in Denmark.
   What's most striking about Exeter is the lack of pews and the ceiling vaulting overhead. There were a couple of baby carriages with mirrors instead of mattresses that you could push around to inspect the ceiling without craning your neck. Exeter has the longest uninterrupted vaulted cathedral in the world.
Grab a baby buggy, save a crick.
     One thing we noticed in most churches in England was that the faces of ground level saints and angels had been smashed in. When Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church, and 100 years later during the Civil War, certain disgruntled people expressed themselves by picking up sledges. Cultural revolutions are always hard on icons.
     An employee invited us to stay for evensong at six. The organ had been warming up in a thrilling way, and we took our seats in the choir, an area of tiered seats in the center of the nave. Another thirty or so tourists and locals joined us. Promptly at six, the choir filed in, a mix of children and adults, mostly men, but with some women and girls. They all wore gowns and the kids had ruffs. The choir director was extremely lively. I could have heard the music just watching him. The singing was ethereal. It said the angel smashers would not prevail. As we left the church, we read a sign saying one of the side chapels had been hit by a bomb during  WWII. Modern angel smashers.
    Next morning, we studied our maps over breakfast at the Telstar. It wasn't going to be easy escaping the tentacles of this ancient city. At the second roundabout Teresa told me we were already off course. I pushed on a bit, and now we were being forced through a narrow passage with rumple strips, the kind I had trembled at yesterday. In fact, it was the other end of that self same passage, and there was dear old Telstar. I pulled into the driveway. People looked out from the dining room. Let 'em look! We studied the map again, and resolved to do better. It was nip and tuck for awhile, but soon Exeter was in the rearview mirror and Portsmouth was just 100 miles away.
    Much of the route to Portsmouth was on divided motorways so I could relax a bit. We spotted a McDonalds up ahead. McDonalds let's you use their bathrooms without buying anything, but we helped them out by getting apple pies. Taste of home.
    In Portsmouth, my goal was to see Admiral Nelson's ship Victory at the Historic Dockyards. I had booked a room at a B&B a couple of miles from the ship. This B&B only had two parking spots for its ten rooms so I planned to grab one early and walk to the ship. Victory is a major  tourist trap and they charge accordingly. My guidebook said I could save a few pounds by buying my ticket at the D-Day Museum on the side of town close to our B&B.  I figured I'd buy our tickets then park the car and hike over to Victory. It was raining hard now, and for the life of us, we could not see the D-Day Museum. I pulled into a parking lot and ignored the sign that said "Buy a Parking Ticket, Even If You're Lost and Just Looking for the D-Day Museum." I walked around trying to spot the museum but no luck. We drove to a fish and chips place and got vague directions, then tried another restaurant for more vague directions and finally pulled up to a bunker like building that had to be the place, except there were no signs saying "you are here." There was a guy in a van outside eating his lunch. "Is this the D-Day Museum?"I asked.
"Yeah, but it's closed for repairs."
"Are you working on it?"
"Yeah. It'll be open in the spring."
"Next trip," I said.
    By the time we got settled at the Blue Star B&B, Teresa decided she'd spend the afternoon visiting local charity shops rather than walk two miles in the rain to visit an old ship at great expense. "You'll enjoy it more than I would," she rationalized.
    After a quick snack, I headed to the dockyards. The rain had quit but there was a strong cool wind blowing in off the sea. I did not have Internet access, but my phone showed me as a blue dot traipsing through the town. Even with all this technology I still turned the wrong way. How did I find things in the old days? I would have used a paper map and a compass and a less torpid brain.
    You could spend days exploring the Historic Dockyards. I just wanted to see Victory, and mercifully, they let you buy a reduced ticket for just that part of the place. Once I arrived at the ship, I was glad I had come. It was immense. The ship has been in drydock since the 1920s so I could see its entire great bulk.  A cathedral of the sea. Victory was launched in 1765, but she is famous for her part as Lord Nelson's flagship at the battle of Trafalgar in 1805. This battle put an end to Napoleon's ambition to rule the seas and to the possible invasion of England itself. Nelson was killed during the battle by a sharpshooter in the rigging of a French ship.
Where Nelson fell. He lived another three hours, bidding farewell.
    After the battle, Victory began a long period of decline. A couple of times the Navy wanted to demolish the ship. It was obsolete and there was no money for maintenance. Public outcries preserved the ship and Queen Victoria put in her oar too. It wasn't until 2005 that the ship was restored to it's look at the time of the battle, and it will be a few more years before all the rigging and topmasts are back in place.
    There are over 350,000 visitors to the ship each year but only a dozen of us were aboard on this cool, rainy weekday. Once aboard, I noticed the other visitors all had headsets and tape players. No one had offered me a headset, not that I would have taken one. They always cost extra and I prefer to read the explanatory cards. But the cards only said things like "Nelson's Stateroom, push #5." All the information was on the tape! Fortunately my father had taken us aboard the USS Constitution and to various nautical museums as kids, so I knew my way around a man-o'-war. One thing intrigued me though. Why was Nelson's bed placed between two cannons just outside his luxurious stateroom? Was he such a heavy sleeper it took a cannon to rouse him?  The German bomb that landed next to the ship in 1941 would have awakened him. The Germans claimed they had destroyed the ship. The British said, No you didn't.
     As I walked back to the B&B a young man approached me. "Excuse me sir, can you tell me the way to the barber shop?" Tall and thin, with a goatee and an umbrella, he looked like a character out of a Gilbert and Sullivan opera. I gestured back toward the city center where I had passed a couple of shops. Teresa and I had noted that England has an inordinate number of beauty salons, open late into the evening, and usually filled with  men and women sipping glasses of wine as they awaited their turn. Very civilized.
     After Portsmouth, I had just more item on my list: Jane Austen's house in Chawton, forty miles south of London. There were no B&Bs in Chawton so we booked a room in the nearby market town of Aldon. Jane's father had been a clergyman and the family had a comfortable life, but when he died, Jane, her mother and her sister were left in genteel poverty. Fortunately an older brother had been adopted by a wealthy childless couple, and the brother offered a cottage on his estate to his mother and sisters. This "cottage" was a large brick house and the Austen women had servants to do the heavy work. Jane spent the last eight years of her life in this place (she died at 41). Once settled at the cottage, Jane had time to revise and publish her first three novels, one of which was Pride and Prejudice. She also wrote her final three novels here. Just before her death, she moved twenty miles to Winchester to be close to her physician. She is buried in Winchester Cathedral.
     Jane's mother and sister continued to live in the house until their deaths. The house was then used as lodging for farm workers, so there was no impetus to upgrade and alter the place. The house became a museum in 1947 and was restored to it's early 19th century look. Gathered in the house are many items from Jane's life including her small writing table. Seeing things like this is my idea of fun.
Jane left some big shoes.
    The Austen Museum gets a fair number of visitors, but nothing like Stratford-upon-Avon or Victory. It's close enough to London that tourists don't have to spend the night in the area, but we did. We spent two nights in fact. Alton was a fine little town and we felt we were seeing real English life away from the tourist track. The Swan Inn had reasonable rates and our room was much more spacious than at a typical B&B.
    The next day we ran over to Winchester to see the cathedral and Jane's grave. The drive over was not bad, but the streets in the town were narrow and confusing, and as soon as I could, I pulled into a small pay lot. I had not yet learned to pay initially for five or six hours right off and be done with it. I just paid for two hours and figured I could run back if we needed more time. I tried to memorize landmarks as we went so we could find our way back. "There's a Marks and Spencer store," I noted. "We're right down the street from that."
     We checked out the ornate city hall and admired the enormous statue of  Alfred the Great who lived in these parts back in the ninth century. He was one of the good kings. We walked along the pretty River Icthen and explored the ruins of the bishop's palace. As we headed to the Cathedral, we noticed the cathedral used bookstore housed in a large shed was just opening for the day. Wow! I love England. We each got a couple of books and the elderly cashier told us of his travels around the U.S.
     Once inside the cathedral, we claimed our senior discount ("concession" they call it). I wanted to see Jane's tomb, but Teresa thought we should join the one hour tour that was just setting off. I reminded her that our parking time would be up in 45 minutes. She suggested I stay for a half hour of the tour then run up and put more money in the meter.
     Roger, our guide, was an elderly gentleman dressed in suitcoat and tie. I believe that in his younger days, Roger had written a multi-volume history of Winchester Cathedral. It's amazing how much history can accumulate around a single building. We had only made it to the baptismal font near the back of the church when I had to leave. Roger was on a tangent about the carvings on the base of the font when I told Teresa I'd be right back.
     You know those dreams where you start off from home, sure of where you're going, but with each step you get more lost? Well that's what my search for our parking lot was like. I was totally disoriented.  I saw a Marks & Spencer logo in the distance. "Excuse me," I asked a woman. "Is that Brooks & Spencer?" "You mean Marks & Spencer?" "Yes." I said. "I'm trapped in this nightmare and wonder if there's a parking lot down the street from there." She said, "Yes, just turn left at the store and you'll come to the lot." Whew. I turned the corner and spotted the big blue P. Saved! But when I arrived, it was a much larger lot than the one we had parked in. I asked a man if there was another lot in the area. He directed me to another lot, but as I headed the way he pointed, I looked back and saw our original lot. In my frenzy, I had walked right past our lot. Talk about situational unawareness.
     By the time I returned to the cathedral I figured the tour would be well over, but Roger was still going strong, and the tour was only half way up the nave. People in the group seemed to take my return as a chance to fade away. Soon there were only three of us. I wanted to ask Roger where Jane's tomb was. The other member of our reduced group asked about an odd floor tile. Roger said an American tourist had broken through the floor here last year. Now this sounded interesting. Cavities under the floor. But before we could get the juicy details, we had to hear a dissertation on medieval tile making. There was never a pause or break in Roger's discourse. It was like falling through the floor with nothing to grab onto.
     Finally we broke away and headed for a group of tourists by a big plaque. At last the famous writer's tomb. A bunch of the tourists were standing, disrespectfully I thought, right on top of Jane's slab. What sort of acid would she have used to describe that? No, she would have seen the humor.
     In the gift shop I restrained myself from asking for a CD of the song "Winchester Cathedral." We had a pleasant lunch in a busy pub, then enjoyed our usual stomach churning drive out of town and back to Alton.  The highway itself was fine, but I never did master driving the narrow city streets. I needed a couple of more months.
Her words live on.
     Alton was not touristy at all. It was just a typical English market town and we liked it a lot. There were many charity shops to engage Teresa.  As we were walking along the quiet high street that evening, a vanload of lads drove by and one of them yelled "Oi," loud enough to make Teresa start, as the van swerved on down the street. Up to now, everything had been perfectly well mannered. This was a faint echo of Britain's dark side, of the likes of Jack the Ripper, football hooligans, Boris Johnson....
    When planning our trip, we hadn't made any provision for visiting London. Now, after seeing most of the things on our list, we still had two days in hand. I made reservations at a small hotel near Heathrow for the two nights before our flight home.
    What shall we do now? Windsor Castle's not far away. Nah, we're sick of castles and of paying a ransom to get in 'em. I saw on the map that there park on the west edge of London. We could go for a hike. We experienced our first traffic jam of the trip on the way to the park. Someone had told me the M-25 around London was always jammed. We left the motorway and headed to the park. On the way we noticed a gigantic flea market. Quite a comedown from Windsor Castle, but we decided to check it out. Parking in a big grassy field was three pounds; two pounds after noon and only one pound after two p.m. I pulled out a pound coin, but the keeper waved me on. Many of the vendors were packing up to leave, but there were still plenty of rags and bones to look at. This was the place to go for a cheap mattress or the materials to make a mattress. There were also tables of household goods and antiquities. One guy had a table of free stuff. I got an ancient egg beater that was probably used to mix up eggnog when Dickens was in charge of Christmas. I don't know where people get off saying London is expensive. I had just scored free parking and a free antique.
     We checked into our hotel and walked a mile to a pub for supper. Heathrow airport takes up a gigantic piece of land, but is surrounded by several small villages. Next to the Anchor Pub where we ate was a little field with two sheep grazing. You won't find grazing sheep two miles from LaGuardia or LAX.
    Our plan for London was to take a two mile bus ride over to the airport, then catch the Tube (subway) to the city center. But when we read the bus schedule that evening, we learned the bus did not run on Sundays. I confirmed this with a passerby. He said we could walk two miles to the bus terminal and catch another bus to the airport. I called a cab company. Twenty bucks! We decided to walk to the airport, though I didn't know if you could walk into Heathrow. Google didn't know either. Sunday morning we got an early start and saw there was a gate through the fence around the busy perimeter road that services Heathrow's five terminals. And there was a bike path next to the road. Most civilized!
    We had to dodge buses and trucks as we made our way through the parking garage and into the terminal. We bought our tickets and headed down to the Tube platform. It was only 12 miles into the city, but the trip took over an hour because of the many stops. At last we arrived at Piccadilly Circus. The 'circus' refers to a roundabout that's no longer there. There used to be a shop there that made piccadils, or frilled collars. That's gone too.
    We had breakfast in a crowded café. The meals are not more expensive in London than elsewhere, you just get less food. We made our way to Trafalgar Square, much of which was fenced off for an Indian festival. Many of the great museums are free, but we had no time for museums. We would just wander around goggling at icons. Then we saw Yoda, the first of many street performers we were to see. Yoda was levitating one foot off the ground. His feet were not visible, but the bottom of his robe rippled in the breeze of a little fan. He held a staff in one outstretched arm.  How did he do it? If you threw a pound in his basket he would nod to you, but speak he would not.
He never spilled his beer.

    We crossed the Thames on a pedestrian bridge. It's mind expanding to walk through sites you've seen on TV or read about. There was Parliament, and Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey, and, and..., what's that big crowd about? It was another performer, letting two members of the crowd wrap chains around him. This had obviously been going on for a while, and he dragged it out another 15 minutes, priming us to put money in his basket when he finally shed the mass of chains. "A five pound note would be brilliant! I've got  kids to feed back home in Australia."
All the other tourist were striking poses, why not us?.
     The bells of the Abbey were ringing joyously. Teresa recorded a bit on her iPad. On the other side of the Abbey we ran into our first fellow Minnesotan, a young woman from the Twin Cities. She had a map of Minnesota on her sweatshirt so it wasn't hard to make the connection. She was studying in Spain and hadn't been home in months. She said we made her day. Nice.
    We passed the heavily defended 10 Downing Street, and the Horse Guards parade ground, then back to Piccadilly for lunch at the fifth floor café of the amazing Waterstone's, the largest bookstore in Europe. We strolled through the funky Soho area. Teresa found a popup charity store and the manager brought me a chair to relax on while Teresa aided the children of Afghanistan.
    We made our way along Oxford Street to Covent Garden enjoying the street performers and the very diverse crowd. I had read that the old London had disappeared, but I kept spotting ancient pubs nestled under newer buildings. London still seemed to have plenty of old stuff.
     We found the Covent Garden Tube stop to return to our hotel. There was a big crowd at the elevators so we took the spiral stairs down to the platform. Right away we met some exhausted looking kids, then nothing. Round and round we went. Near the bottom was a sign. " Stairs for Emergency Use Only! 193 steps, Equivalent to a 15 Story Building." At least we were going down.
     As we walked back along the perimeter road to our hotel, we popped into a Subway Sandwich shop, attached to a gas station. The shop was exactly like Subway at home, except one of the options was chicken tikka.
     We felt completely acclimated to England as we watched the Great British Bake Off show while enjoying our takeaway supper. Teresa had been careful about her purchases at the charity stores, but it still took a couple of hours to get packed. I had bought a new pair of shoes and had to leave my old ones behind. Perhaps they'll end up at the London flea market.
     It was only four miles from our hotel back to Hertz. I planned our route extra carefully. No screw-ups on the last day. As we pulled into the car return area we gave each other a high five. We had just navigated a thousand miles of the world's most dangerous roads without a scratch. Yes, I could have made our lives easier with a GPS and an automatic transmission, but where's the glory in that? The glory was in getting out and about, seeing all kinds of beautiful and strange things, hobnobbing with the locals, and having any prejudices washed away. It was great!
     I do have one last question though. Why do they give you half a pint of milk to put in your tea, while the ketchup packets don't contain enough to cover half of one French Fry, I mean chip?
Flowery Kingdom


 

 
 
   

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Cornwall, Ho!

   (Part two of two parts)

After a week touring the Cotswolds area west of London, we headed south for the city of Penzance at the southwestern tip of England, almost 250 miles away. Britain adopted the metric system when it joined the EU, but it kept its land measurements in miles and miles per hour, which I appreciated.
 Back home we drive 350 miles to the Twin Cities at the drop of a hat, but 250 miles in Britain is daunting. I planned to break up our drive with a night in Wells, 80 miles to the south, and another in the village of Chagford in the Dartmoor National Park. We had no firm itinerary other than seeing Port Isaac, home of the famous Doc Martin.
  Some friends had taken a bus tour around England and told us Bath was their favorite place. It was also the site of ancient Roman baths. Bath was along our route so we decided to check it out and get some lunch there. With a population of 80,000, Bath was the largest city we had driven in so far. The city had nice wide streets, but was far more hectic than the one-lane villages of the Cotswolds. OK, we'll just park in the big  lot downtown, view the baths, have some lunch, and continue on to Wells.
  We followed the big blue P signs downtown, but, as so often happened, there was no lot to be seen beyond the last sign. There's never a place to pull over and take a look around. The press of traffic quickly ushers you out of downtown and up the hill and into the bewildering network of narrow streets. At least most of these streets were one way. That was a blessing.
  How about we just park up here and walk downtown? I knew we had travelled two or three miles from downtown. That's too far to walk.  Let's try to get downtown again. It really is an ingenious maze the people have built over the past 2,000 years.  Any invader would just give up and move on to a simpler town.
  After driving around on the hillsides for half an hour we found a parking spot across from an elementary school. As we left the car I just chanced to see a sign on the school stating that all cars must be off this street by 3:00 p.m. This was probably to protect the children from confused tourists. That gave us three hours to get downtown and back. We asked a young couple for directions. "Just follow the canal to Sydney Gardens, then turn right to downtown. It'll take you an hour to get downtown from here."
Down the lazy canal
  A canal! Yes here was the canal travelled by the longboats we had seen way up in Stratford.  As we started along the canalside path, we saw a longboat putting along toward Sydney Gardens. I estimated he was going two mph, because we soon overtook him. The captain was steering from the stern, his wife and dog beside him, a cup of tea in one hand, his pipe clenched between his teeth. How idyllic! To cruise along this bucolic canal with no parking problems. A sign said you could tie up along the canal for two days for free. Maybe next time.
  The canal walk was beautiful and the stress of the morning drive melted away. At Sydney Gardens there was a big painted map. As we studied our route downtown, a young woman asked us if we knew where the university was. She said she had decided to walk to school today rather than drive for the first time. "No, we don't live around here." She asked where in the States we were from. "My mother was from Minnesota too," she said. I asked her to tell her mother "Uff da" from Minnesota.
  Even with the route fixed in our heads,  we were soon disoriented. We asked a woman for directions. "Go up there to the big church and take a left, and that street will take you downtown." She had an eastern European accent like so many of the people we asked for directions or who waited on us in cafes.
  Speaking of cafes, we needed something to eat. If a café didn't have Wi-Fi, we moved on. We eventually found a place not far from the Roman baths. As we sipped our tea, I downloaded the route to Wells onto Teresa's iPad. It would involve around eight different roads and several small towns. Also, we'd have to pass through downtown Bath at the beginning of rush hour, which appeared to go on all day. By the time I got our route written onto a sheet of paper for Teresa's benefit, it was two o'clock. So much for the Roman baths.
  As we walked back I realized the woman who gave us directions earlier had sent us on the simplest route, but not the shortest. "Let's cut over this way," I said to Teresa. A short-cut in England is not a wise idea for a first time visitor. As confusion set in, I asked a man walking his dog if we were on the right track. "Not exactly," he said. "You cut across the park (Sydney Gardens) and you'll come out by the such-and-such museum. I highly recommend a visit to that museum. It's free." Sure. Next time,... when we take the longboat down from Stratford.
  It was getting late now. I didn't want our car towed by the school police. If we didn't find that canal soon...By golly! There it is! Saved! We knew now we'd make it. We even took time to chat with a couple on a longboat tied up along the way. They had been on the canal a week. It was slow going because there were lots of locks which you operated yourself. They said their 44' boat slept two comfortably, though you could squeeze another couple in. It didn't sound any more expensive than a B&B, and a car would be redundant.
  We returned to our car and girded ourselves for the downtown gauntlet. Though we had our map and written directions, the signs are highly ambiguous and we got to see a couple of back alleys where Roman legionnaires used to take their evening bath. Once out of the city, we only got lost once more on the way to Wells. There was construction on the street where our B&B was located. That was good because it gave us time to spot our lodging as we inched along. Liz, our proprietor, reminded us of Judi Dench, both in looks and manner. Could this be how Judi relaxes between movies? We dared each other to ask, but didn't want to break the spell.

Still waiting to hear back from the Vatican on our application


  Every place we stayed had a dandy tea-in-the-room setup, usually with packets of cookies and chocolate. We always brewed an afternoon 'cuppa' to relax after the road. About five p.m. we headed uptown to see Wells Cathedral and find a place for supper. Along the way we were delighted to find the Church of Saints Joseph and Teresa. This had to be the only so named church in the world. I wanted to have the priest renew our vows, but Teresa said it was getting late. Wells Cathedral, a bit further on, must have the widest façade of any church in the country. All these big churches request a £6-10 donation to keep the place from falling down. It was too late in the day to be worthwhile. We'd catch another cathedral down the line. We found a cozy Greek tavern for supper. The man at the next table said his wife was curious about my accent. "Minnesotan, with Bostonian undertones," I said. "Really! My brother drives bus in Boston. He says there's lots of murders there."
  We ordered appetizers and saved part of them to eat with our main course. But our main course never arrived. Here we learned another British custom. They don't bring out the entrée until you finish your starter, as they call appetizers. They don't want to rush you. Another six months here and we'd be finding invisible downtown parking lots with the best of them.
  There was a Scottish couple at breakfast the next morning. They have narrow roads in Scotland too, but the Scots complained of the hectic pace of the driving here in the south. I felt somewhat vindicated. We read the numerous postcards on the shelf. They all were either from Lands End in Cornwall or  John o' Groats in Scotland. Liz's place is a stop for cyclists traversing the entire length of Britain, an 874 mile trip that takes up to two weeks. There's no way either Teresa or I wanted to cycle along these crazy  roads. Walking on footpaths is longer, about 1,200 miles, and takes two to three months.
  After breakfast we headed for the village of Chagford. Our route passed through Glastonbury and we pulled in to check out the town. There's a ruined monastery there and a mighty natural sandstone tower called the Tor, neither of which we visited. I just wanted a postcard for a friend back home who is fascinated by monasteries. Of course we checked out the local charity store and I found an Afghani hat. It'll go well with my AK. I know the best Afghani hats are made in Pakistan. I checked the label. Sure enough, "Made in Pakistan".
 Glastonbury is rife with myths and New Age seekers. King Arthur and Guinevere were buried here the old monks said. Camelot was just up the road say others. There's also proof that Joseph of Arimathea brought the chalice from the last supper here after Jesus' death. He buried the chalice near  the Tor.  The proof is that the nearby Chalice Well still runs red from the remains of Jesus' blood in the chalice. Many cures are associated with the well. There's a bit of logic in these yarns. Joseph was a dealer in metals and may well have visited the mines of ancient Britain. There's even speculation that Jesus himself traveled with Joseph on an earlier trip. They were related after all, and the Bible says that between the ages of 12 and 30, Jesus was "in the wilderness." You never know.
  We continued on to the village of Chagford.  A couple we met in a pub back in the Cotswolds had recommended the place and Chagford turned out to be as picturesque as they said it was. I may be romanticizing England in the haze of memory, but this town of 1,500 had no false notes.
  I had booked a room in the Globe Inn. This was the first place we stayed that did not have its own parking lot. Their website  said there was free parking after five in the city lot two blocks away. Chagford was on the  north edge of the Dartmoor National Park. Dartmoor is famous for its moors and free ranging ponies. The Hound of the Baskervilles used to roam these hills. But the area around Chagford itself is wooded and hilly with narrow twisting roads. We missed the main road into Chagford and came in the back way. "Man that was hairy," I said superfluously to Teresa as we eased into the city lot. It was only one o'clock so we'd have to pay to park till five, but parking was much cheaper than in tourist traps like Stratford.
  We hauled our bags down to the Globe Inn. Our room was commodious and overlooked ancient St. Michael's Church. There were drawings of nude women on the walls. Teresa thought this odd, but I didn't see a problem. We had lunch at the bar downstairs and asked for tips for a hike. Yes, we could walk down Mill Street, hike along the River Teign for a mile then return to town the back way. I noted how steep and narrow Mill street was. As we hiked along the river we seemed to be headed into a hotel parking lot. We asked a hotel guest we met on the path if this was the right way. "Yes, the path continues just beyond the hotel," he said. We passed the hotel, walked along the top of a wall like in Peter Rabbit, till we ran into a tributary of the Teign. Never trust anyone in pajama bottoms. We retraced our steps, crossed the bridge, and found the true footpath.
Tempus fugit at St. Michael's Church. Seems like only yesterday it was 1200 A.D.

  We were to have five or six perfect weather days out of three weeks and this was one of them. As we re-entered the village, we passed a row of new senior housing apartments and gave each other an enquiring look.  The people here were exceptionally friendly. A farmer invited us back to the pony trading fair next week  We told him we'd put it on the calendar. I believe there's magic everywhere, but Chagford has a double dose. After supper that evening, we went over to the bar side to watch a darts tournament. Darts can be scored any way the contestants agree upon. I couldn't figure how they were doing it. The young man with perfect form seemed to be winning by a mile. But when it was over, the portly older woman was the winner. I congratulated her. "Yes," she said. "That was a miracle."
  Google maps was starting to irritate me. Google didn't care if it sent you down some medieval cow path. It told us that the steep and narrow Mill Street was the main route out of Chagford. Well, maybe we could dash down the hill before we met anyone. What a joke! It was rush hour in the village, with everyone, young and old, nipping up Mill Street for a spot of tea or a new pair of Wellies. We met half a dozen cars and our collision beeper was going off as though we'd discovered uranium. I even forced one old couple to back up 100 feet to a pull off. They're used to this, I figured. Finally we reached the bridge at the bottom. I had forgotten how narrow it was when we walked over it yesterday. "Caution, six foot bridge," the sign warned. That's six feet wide. We folded in the mirrors and Teresa walked ahead to guide me through. Whew! But around the next corner was another six foot bridge. The other drivers waited patiently as I inched across. The English are so polite.

The wide part of Mill Street

  On this day we would check something off Teresa's list: Port Isaac, the setting for the British series, Doc Martin. Port Isaac was once just one of a series of pretty fishing villages in Cornwall, but after the popularity of Doc Martin, the town had to build an enormous paved parking lot a ten minute walk above the village itself. Of course there was a meter where you could make donations to help pay for the lot.
  This was another perfect autumn day. We followed a tunnelly footpath downhill to the maze of crooked village streets. There were Doc Martin fans flowing in and out of all the shops and cafes; buying, eating, taking pictures in front of Mrs. Tishell's pharmacy.
Doc Martin's kipper catcher
  The tide was out so we walked across the sand and rocks to the jetty that protected the harbor. Then we hiked up the hill overlooking the town. I'm not a true fan of the Doc, but this was fantastic. I could see King Arthur's Castle at Tintagel a few miles up the coast.
  Since it was a Friday, Port Isaac was fully booked, so I had reserved a room at King Arthur's Arms in Tintagel. King Arthur's Castle, just outside the town is truly a mythmaker's dream. There are ruins of  a castle from the fifth century that would have belonged to a ruler possibly named Arthur. The story of Arthur has been used over the years to rally the English against invaders.  We checked into King Arthur's Arms around three. There was a pub/restaurant downstairs. Friday night...could be noisy. We got to the castle at four. Admission: ten dollars, closing time: in one hour. We decided to come back the next day. We were able to climb up to the courtyard overlooking the spit of land leading to the actual castle. The views to the rocks and sea below were spectacular. On our way back to the inn, we passed Merlin's Cave. At low tide you could walk inside, but now the waves were washing in and out. A couple of guys in wet suits were getting ready to swim over to the cave. We stopped to watch. Why do sportsmen take forever to get ready? Finally one of them set off, but the other was having trouble. He kept looking down into the waist deep water. His friend came back. The guy had lost one of his flippers. As we started to leave I looked back at the cave and saw a wizard at the entrance chewing on something rubbery, until the next wave washed the vision away.
Guinevere
  We had supper at the pub. It was indeed raucous. Fortunately the country rock band would not be playing until tomorrow night. We got one more lesson in pub dining. The tables were all numbered. You looked over the menu then got up and told the bartender what you wanted and what your table number was. Otherwise you could sit there a long time. While we waited for our meal, we noticed a young woman flitting from the bar to the different tables to chat. Her shirt said "I drink, I smoke, I ____ the boys." Her shirt was rolled up over her midriff so I couldn't tell what she did with or to the boys. When I went to the bar to refresh our drinks, she even chatted with me. She asked if I'd be back tomorrow to see the band who were all sitting right here. I had noticed earlier that one of them had a jacket that said "Proud To Be An American," though he was as British as King Arthur. I should have asked the friendly girl what her shirt said, but I liked not knowing better.
  I fell asleep when they pulled the jukebox plug at midnight. No more pub hotels for us.  When I looked out the window in the morning, a wild storm was lashing the coast. The castle had disappeared from view. Nevertheless, I saw tourists, British presumably, heading for the castle in their rain gear. Not us though. We settled for a charity shop.
   In retrospect, it was fitting to have had one day of really horrible weather on our trip. This was to be a travel day down to Penzance sixty miles away on the tip of Cornwall. Getting from Tintagel back to the A30 on narrow roads with 50' of visibility was not nice, but once on the main road, all was well. There are lots of classic sports cars running around the English countryside and I saw one guy that morning tooling along with the roof down, water streaming off his rain hat. I just shook my head in admiration.
  We arrived in Penzance around noon and shoved a bunch of pound coins into the meter in the big downtown lot. The population of Penzance is 16,000. That's nothing for a U.S. town, but because everything is so concentrated, the town feels much bigger than it really is.
  We checked out a few charity shops then stopped into the Front Room Café for lunch. I liked this place. There was a fenced in area under the stairs where you could let your kid play while you ate. The men's room had an upside down sink and toilet on the ceiling (in addition to normal ones). I told the owner I liked his sense of humor. He recommended we visit the Admiral Benbow for supper. "Be sure to try the Steak and Ale pie," he said.
  We checked into the Rosalie House on a street lined with by B&Bs. We had our afternoon tea, took a nap then headed for the Admiral Benbow. Our route went through a lush park and along a series of footpaths and alleyways, past noisy takeaways and musical pubs, emerging at last at our restaurant. Without our Google maps we might have wandered for hours. The Admiral Benbow is famous for its collection of nautical nick-knacks and curios. The dining room was meant to look like a captain's stateroom on an old sailing ship and it did, but it also included everything from the main deck and crew's quarters. "Over the top," was how the guidebook described it. The close quarters inspired chat with our fellow diners, a pair from Australia and another from Norfolk.  The steak and ale pie was delicious. As we left the place, Teresa heard a young man ask his friend if he had read Treasure Island. "It starts at The Admiral Benbow," he said. I looked it up later and he was right. Someone later asked if we had seen the pirate on the roof. We had to walk back the next day to see the pirate shooting at another invisible pirate in the distance. It must be great to live in a country chock full of historical references.

Waiting on time and tide
  England is also a country full of tourist traps. But they're wonderful tourist traps. Penzance's finest was a few miles up the road near the little town of Marazion. Just off the coast sits the island of St. Michael's Mount. It's a smaller version of Mont St. Michel off the coast of Normandy. Both islands have or had Benedictine monasteries. The French monks are still there. Henry VIII kicked his monks out and sold the place for cash. You can hike out to either place at low tide. The tide was still in when we arrived. A boat was shuttling tourists to the island, but we took a walk around Marazion until the waters uncovered the cobblestone causeway. We, along with a few hundred fellow pilgrims, made  the ten minute walk to the island. The walk was free but there was a fee to visit the castle on the mount. "Would you like to also buy the official guidebook to enhance your visit? Only five pounds." Of course I would, not that I was going to have time to read the thing before or during my visit. This island and the castle built atop it, with cannons pointing toward the bay and a flag flying over it all was worth all the trouble and cost it took us to get here.
  The same family has lived on the island for hundreds of years and we tourists are happy to help them preserve it. After touring the castle we hiked back to town along the causeways. We found a triangle shaped café for lunch, with a view back to the Mount.
Like ants, oblivious to the rising tide
  Teresa was now ready for a real hike, so the next morning we took the Number 6 bus over to the village of Mousehole, three miles up the coast. Teresa was willing to hike both ways, but it's my job to keep her from overdoing it, so it would be the bus over and hike back,  Mousehole is a cute village of narrow crooked streets. How our driver managed to whip his gigantic bus to the town center while cleaning his nails at the same time was a mystery to me.
  We wandered around town and took pictures of the boats and narrow jetty opening to the sea that give Mousehole it's name. We checked out the curio shops, chuckled at the 'Hole' Foods grocery, and headed back to Penzance. Walking is good. You see so much more of an area when you're not behind the wheel trying to avoid the angel of death. There used to be a lot of smuggling in this area, hence the 'pirates' of Penzance. The king used to get a large part of his income on import duties and wherever there's a tax, people will try to avoid it.

How Mousehole got its name
  Cornwall is famous for tin mining and for the pasties the miners took underground for lunch. On our last afternoon in Cornwall we decided to check out both icons.  There used to be many dozens of tin mines in Cornwall, some dating back to prehistoric times. They're all closed now due to cheap Asian tin. The Geevor Mine on the other side of the peninsula closed in 1990 and has been preserved as a museum. Our guidebook said the best pasties in Cornwall (and therefore, the world) could be found in the town of St. Just on the route to the tin museum. Great! A pasty, by the way, is a large pastry turnover filled with meat and vegetables, mostly potatoes. A simple dish really, which was why so many shops in the area could claim to make "The Best Pasties in Cornwall." Anyway, the place in St. Just made pasties to be eaten at home. There was no seating in the shop. Son of a biscuit! It was well after lunchtime and we were ravenous. I spotted a pub across the way with picnic tables out front. I asked the gent at one of the tables if we could consume our pasties there and he said, "Certainly." I bought glasses of wine inside the pub for Teresa and me, and Terry (the gent) invited us to join him. Chatting with the locals in their native tongue was one of the delights of our trip. Terry had once worked as a set decorator in the film industry. He is the only person I know who has both met Jimmy Stewart and lived through the London blitz. He was just a lad of seven at the beginning of the war. One morning he and his mates were delighted to find their school had been demolished by a Nazi bomb during the night. "Not to worry, boys," their teacher said. "We'll be holding classes over in the church for the time being." Jimmy Stewart came to England several years later  and Terry claimed "he was a real gentleman." But we already knew that from his films.
  The pasty was just as good as those I'd had in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, where many Cornwall miners emigrated. We bid Terry farewell and headed over to Geevor. It was a gloomy afternoon and we were one of the few cars in the (free!) lot. Even on a sunny day, the old mine buildings would have had a derelict, forlorn look. If it wasn't for the special lottery that has poured millions into the place, it would look like all the other old mines, marked only by their smokestacks.
  We paid our entry fee, donned our hard hats and headed into the museum. The exhibits described how the mine worked and noted that tin was the cornerstone of the Industrial Revolution. Over and over it was stressed just how vital tin was to the IR, because looking at these ramshackle buildings, you'd never guess it. This particular mine opened in the early 1900s and was updating its technology as recently as the late 1950s. The level of activity at the mine was tied directly to the price of tin. At times the mine would shut down, especially during the Great Depression.
 You had to use your imagination in the actual tin processing buildings because earlier pieces of machinery had been replaced by newer works. Of course, most of the work took place underground. One display showed the 85 miles of tunnels extending out under the sea, like colored strands on an electrical circuit board.
  The most interesting part of the tour was the miners' changing room. I'm sure everyone took his stuff home when the place shut down, but the museum has put things back so it looks like the day the mine closed for good. The boots, the hardhats, the stickers on the lockers...quite touching. There was even a naked mannequin in the shower. Teresa found this first, then set me up. Yes, she got me good. I should have been warned by the sign, "Naked miners only."
Nice tan
  "Why can't we go down in the mines?" I asked an employee. "Because they're full of water." Oh, yeah, they used to have to pump out thousands of gallons of water every day. But they did have a mine tour for us. When the archaeologists came in after the decision to preserve the mine, they discovered a long lost mine from the 1700s. This mine had been dug into the side of an adjacent hill so it stayed dry. Teresa and I were the only ones there for the four p.m. tour, which was good because it was very tight inside. "Yes, we sometimes get people with panic attacks," Ian, our guide, told us. "We get them out as quickly as we can." Ian said a mine like this would have been started by some one with enough capital to hire a crew of twenty or so miners and others to haul the ore up a shaft using donkeys. The ore would have been broken down by hand then crushed some more to float off the tin. The workers would have been well paid for the time, with all the pasties they cared to eat. The owner stood to get rich or go bust depending on how much tin was found and what price it would fetch. After the tour I asked Ian why the café adjacent to the gift shop wasn't named "Hard Rock Café, Geevor" He laughed as though he hadn't heard that one a million times. Nice guy.
Tinman and Wife
  Well, we'd walked the narrow footpaths of the Cotswolds and taken selfies in front of Doc Martin's surgery. Now it was time to tick off some of Joe's 'must sees'. That would be Lord Nelson's ship in Portsmouth and after that, Jane's House on the road to London. But that's a subject for another post.
Where all the world gets along

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Cotswolds, United Kingdom

   (Part One of Two Parts)
Quintessential Cotswolds Cottages
  When you grow up speaking English, with all the benefits of life in a democracy, misunderstanding Shakespeare, watching Doc Martin, you will naturally want to visit the mother country. I was actually an English major way back, and a proud member of P.O.E.M.  But I had to go back for a marketable  degree to finance my foreign trips.
  Teresa and I have been talking about this trip for years. We took a trip to Scotland in the meantime, and spent a few hours in Heathrow airport once on the way home from another trip, but England is an expensive place. It was Brexit that provided the spark to get a move on. When we went to Scotland in 2007, a British pound cost $1.60 so you multiplied everything by $2. After the Brexit vote to leave the EU, the pound dropped to $1.29, so now we multiplied by one. That made a big difference.
  Twenty years ago Teresa read the James Herriot animal books and said she wanted to visit their setting in Yorkshire. I started doing research on Yorkshire. Durham  a bit further north looked interesting, and Hadrian's Wall was also within reach. After a few days there, we could head over to the Lake District where Wordsworth hung out. When I told Teresa about this, she asked if that was where all the little villages connected by footpaths are. Hmmm, no, that would be the Cotswolds further south. She had read an article about the Cotswolds in the travel section of the paper and was intrigued by the image of hiking from village to village. "And don't forget Portwenn," she said. Portwenn is the fictional setting for the British show Doc Martin. The real name is Port Isaac, way down in Cornwall.
  I'm a firm believer in getting to a place and staying there for a few days. I scrubbed Yorkshire and the Lake District and filled our three week itinerary with the Cotswolds and Cornwall. The next business was to reserve airline tickets, a car, and a B&B for the first few days in England.
  We arrived in London at noon on September 27. By the time we got through customs and rode the bus to Hertz, it was close to two. We loaded our suitcases in our sporty Honda Civic. The man at the counter had drawn us a map for getting on the road to the Cotswolds. It looked complicated, plus we had to stay on the left side of the road, plus I hadn't slept in over 24 hours. The Civic had a key fob like our car at home. You just stepped on the brake pedal and pushed a button on the dash to start the engine. I couldn't find the button though. Teresa suggested asking someone, but I felt that if I couldn't figure out how to start the car, I shouldn't be driving in traffic. The minutes passed. I looked at the fob again. It had a little button which caused a key to pop out. After a few more minutes I found the keyhole. Brmmm, brmmm. The map led us through several roundabouts. I was concentrating on staying to the left, Teresa was trying to decipher the map. There was no time to read road signs which I was soon to discover don't really point to the place you want to go. The signs are an example of British humor. We ended up on a four lane highway. Was it the right road? Who knows? At last we spotted a sign for Oxford which was on our route to the Cotswolds.
  We were heading for the town of Bourton-on-the-Water, 75 miles west of Heathrow Airport. Google maps said it would take an hour and 38 minutes. This was an example of Google humor. The car rental place urged me to get their GPS, but at $12 per day I figured we could find our way. I would come to regret this decision. Before we left home, I had downloaded maps of England onto Teresa's iPad for use offline. I had also skipped AT&T's offer of $10 a day iPhone service. This also was a regrettable economy.
  As we approached our destination, the roads got narrower and the oncoming trucks loomed larger. Teresa warned me of the stone wall zipping by her head. I said for the first of many times that I'd rather scrape a wall than run into a semi. We eventually turned off onto the road to downtown Bourton. Every English town under 5,000 has a narrow main street, or High Street as they call it, with no room for parking. But cars were allowed to park for thirty minutes to pop into the shops. So High Street was really a one lane street and you negotiated your passage with oncoming drivers by flashing your lights.  Now that I was driving slowly, the beepers that warned me I was too close to objects started going off.
England is best viewed close up and on foot
  We both thought we were on High Street, but as we passed through the town things did not compute. The Google map listed street names, but streets signs in English towns are optional, and where they do exist, they take on an infinite variety of forms. Give me a bloody post with nice green street signs please, with white lettering, if it's not too much trouble! Jet lag was beginning to take it's toll. We drove back and forth three times through the narrow High Street before we realized it wasn't High Street at all. In fact it was the street our B&B was on. We had driven by our B&B five times before picking out the sign for the Red Roof East B&B. Halleluiah! We left the car to cool its tires for 36 hours and settled into our room. We were too energized to nap so walked downtown for supper then home again for bed.
  Of course we're wide awake at midnight. At home it's six p.m. You've had a nice afternoon nap and are ready for an evening of sightseeing. Unfortunately everything's closed now here in England. I pop a sleeping pill and read till I get drowsy at two a.m. Teresa just reads.
  The next morning, Kate, the proprietor, cooked us a full English breakfast. Why do they put all the toast in wire racks so it goes cold before you can slather on the butter? We chat with an Australian couple who are hiking through the Cotswolds, stopping each night at a different B&B. A van hauls their luggage on to the next stop ten or twelve miles down the road.
  We too are going hiking today. We're taking the public footpath over to Lower Slaughter which is one mile away. That's nothing compared to what the Aussies were doing, but we were going to continue another mile and a half to Upper Slaughter. It had rained last night and Kate said the footpath would be muddy, but it wasn't as bad as we expected, just a bit slick. There was a sign on Kate's front door and on many other shops as well asking patrons to remove muddy boots.
  We set off on our first public footpath on a sunny Thursday morning, headed for Lower Slaughter. No one knows why the towns are called "Slaughter," but they do know it has nothing to do with blood and guts. The system of footpaths in England and Wales is amazing, covering over 140,000 miles. There's an association called The Ramblers that organizes hikes and keeps an eye out for landowners who try to close the paths, some of which have been in use for hundreds of years.
One mile down, 139,999 to go
  Lower Slaughter was a perfect little English town. The mill no longer ground flour, but was now a museum, a gift shop and a café. We stopped for a break. The path to Upper Slaughter was mostly across a sheep pasture. The pasture sloped upward as you'd expect. There was an ancient church in Upper Slaughter and some stone houses, but nothing else for the tourist. We checked out the church, chatted with the woman vacuuming the pews and threw a pound in the collection box.
Lest we forget
  We got back to our B&B a little after one. Five minutes later we were downtown via a newly discovered footpath shortcut. These paths cut across towns and cities as well as the countryside. Last evening the town had been deserted. Now it was filled with hundreds of Japanese tourists armed with selfie sticks. Tourist coaches run out from London every morning, sending their passengers out shopping in Bourton, then head back around four p.m. for supper in the big city. Bourton is undeniably cute. The narrow Windrush River is contained in a stone channel and is spanned by several foot bridges. If you're going to travel all the way from Japan, you must shoot some iconic selfies from England and Bourton is just the place.
  Despite all the tourists, the town did not seem overcrowded. The place maintained its Old England look to cater to swarms of visitors. It was fun watching the variety of poses struck by these interlopers. And as I say, the place cleared out by tea time.
Hanging around Bourton
  On Day Two we got back on the road. Instead of taking the straightforward highway up to Stow-on-the-Wold, our map suggested we take the very narrow roads through the Slaughters and Swell. We did get to Stow, but the trip was harrowing. My trusty Rick Steves guide said there was free parking at the Tesco supermarket, a ten minute walk out of town. Free parking is almost unheard of in England. I carefully scrutinized the signs in the big parking lot. It looked like we could leave the car for up to 24 hours. Free! Amazing! Also, the supermarket had free restrooms. Remarkable. There was no sign on the front door saying  "Restrooms for Customers Only."
 Stow-on-the-Wold was a cool place. The library in the center of town had a strong Wi-Fi signal, also free, so I could peruse my phone while Teresa checked out the charity shops. Every town has at least one charity shop, often more, raising money for cures for all the diseases of body and soul. Teresa loves thrift stores and these filled the bill. She's always on the watch for some perfect piece of clothing selling for a sliver of its original price, so she doesn't buy much. I too checked the stores, for  mid-century English novels to help me fall asleep at night. We hiked over to the church, the back door of which was said to have inspired an episode in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I struck a Gandalf pose in front of the door, posted it to Facebook, and got a ton of likes.
  Teresa was in the mood for a footpath. Mr. Steves mentioned a mile and half path to the village of Broadwell.  "We can have lunch there," we agreed. It was a fine walk under the overarching trees, but once at the pub we discovered the practice of village pubs only serving meals at specific hours. We were in between serving times, but did have a drink and a rest before our walk back to Stow.
Flowery kingdom
  We had to move the next day. I had only booked three nights in Bourton, not knowing if we'd like the place, and now it was Saturday and Kate was booked up. So I found a B&B 15 miles up the road in the town of Broadway. Fifteen miles! That's nothing in Roseau County. But for me, here in England, slipping behind the wheel was like entering one of those Halloween houses where they try to scare the bejeebers out of you. Looking at the map, it was impossible to tell whether the A424 would be relatively wide like the A429, or the white knuckler it turned out to be. Rick Steves claimed these Cotswolds backroads were delightful, and they would be if I could have  driven at 30 mph, but the speed limit was 50 and most people wanted to rip along at 60 or more. Rick said pull over and let the train of cars pass you. But I had noted the little pull offs were mostly wicked looking mud holes.
  Anyway, we made it to Broadway, named not for its theater district, but for its wide High Street. It was too early to check in so we found a pay and display parking lot and set off to check out the town. These parking lots have a central meter where you feed in coins and get a slip which you put in your front window, and you better be back before the printed time or it's a £100 fine. This town was also cute, filled with British rather than Japanese day trippers.
  We checked into Brook House B&B on the edge of town and looked for a hike.  We found we could hike up to Broadway Tower, two miles away.  The tower is a five story folly sitting all alone on top of a high hill. A folly in England is a useless structure built a long time ago by someone with too much money on their hands. The first half of the hike was across an immense horse pasture. Then it turned up a steep path through the woods. We asked a group coming down how far to the top. "About a half hour." I hoped they were exaggerating, but they weren't. There was a parking lot by the tower full of cars of the people who had missed the advantages of a vigorous hike. It cost £4 to climb the tower so we settled for some postcards plus a visit to the adjacent café. One of the best things about Britain is how a café always pops up when you're in need of a cup of tea and a scone.
The Folly on the Hilly
   On our way up, we had passed an ancient church at the base of the hill and decided to check it out on the way home. St. Eadburgha's was built in the 12th century. There's nothing like these ancient buildings to locate yourself in the grand scheme of things.
On the way back to the B&B we made a reservation at an Indian restaurant and went home to recuperate. British cuisine is as Indian inflected as ours is Mexican. The food that evening was tasty and all five waiters made sure we were happy.
  On Sunday we made our obligatory visit to a "Great House." I wanted to see at least one mansion à la Downton Abbey, and Sudeley Castle would be it. It was only nine miles down the B4632. I was worried because, in my short experience, B roads were usually one lane passages with frequent pull offs so oncoming cars could pass each other. But the B4632 proved to be a fairly pleasant drive.
  Before our visit to England, I had tried to read the history of the country but had only gotten as far as Henry VIII. I was intrigued to see that Henry's sixth wife, Katherine Parr, was buried at Sudeley. The castle at Sudeley had been built and wrecked a couple of times over the centuries. It's mostly in good shape now and the owners have opened it to visitors to help pay the bills. The family is related to Camilla Parker-Bowles and there was a picture of her and Charles prominently displayed in the living area we were allowed into.
  But back to Katherine Parr. There's a rhyme to help keep Henry's wives straight, "Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived." Katherine was the one who survived, but not for long. A few months after Henry's death, she married an old boyfriend. She was only 36. The following year she died at Sudeley as a result of childbirth and was buried there. The place was wrecked during the Civil War of the next century and in the following century became a place for romantic rambles. During one of those rambles, a group of women discovered a white stone in the floor of the church and had a local farmer remove it. They found a casket below with Katherine's name on it. A wealthy merchant bought the whole place and restored Sudeley to its present splendor. Katherine got an above  ground tomb with a fine statue of herself, recumbent.
Curst be he that moves my bones
  The next day was earmarked to visit the boyhood home of a famous English writer. And they don't come any more famous than Shakespeare. Mr. Steves warned that Stratford was touristy, but since it was only sixteen miles away, it would be a sin to miss it. Marianne, the owner of our B&B, used to work in Stratford and gave us directions for the back route into Stratford. It involved passage through several small towns, but we arrived safely at the gigantic car park just outside Stratford, got our display ticket for the dash, and hiked across the Avon River. There were swans swimming around the longboats people rent to cruise the canal down to Bath. We could see the gigantic Royal Shakespeare Theatre to the left. It was ugly but supposedly nice inside.  Judging by all the statues along our walk, the birth of Shakespeare mania was in the mid to late 1800s. But our century had kept everything spiffed up and added several new touches. There were three main sites to see in town plus two more on the outskirts. I appreciated that the man selling tickets advised that attempting all five in one day would be a little much. First we headed to Shakespeare's birthplace. By some miracle this building has survived five centuries of fire and demolition. Shakespeare inherited the place, but turned it into an inn after building a nicer place down the road. After his death in 1616 the house remained in the family until it was purchased by the Shakespeare Trust in the mid-nineteenth century and restored to its original look.
Shakespeare slept here

  There's a multimedia exhibit on Shakespeare's life in a large building before you enter the birthplace. Touring the house was fun and it was illuminating talking to the docents about life in Tudor days.  In the garden out back, three actors performed snippets from the plays. There were two other related houses in town that were less interesting, but we checked them out because they were included in our ticket. About then I realized our three hour parking ticket was almost up, so I left Teresa and speed walked across the river to feed more money into the meter. After checking out the other buildings we walked to Holy Trinity Church to see Shakespeare's grave. He's buried under the floor in front of the altar. They knew back then that he might be a big deal in the future. Also he had the money for a front row seat.
Falstaff and me
  We had lots more to see in the Cotswolds, but only one more day to do it. Everyplace seemed  beautiful; how to decide where to go?  One thing I definitely wanted to see in England was some trace of the Roman occupation of Britain during the first four centuries A.D. As we navigated the narrow roads I saw that Cirencester was only ten miles down the good old A429, one of the area's wider roads. I knew that Cirencester was built atop the Roman town of Cirinium, so we headed the chariot south. Finding Cirencester was easy. Finding the museum took some doing, but we found a parking spot near the museum. The museum was very well done. The Romans had had a full fledged city here with forum, amphitheater, and flush toilets. Everyone got to go to the amphitheater. Only the rich got to flush their toilets. It all collapsed around 410 when the army returned to protect Rome from the barbarians. The Saxons and the Angles took over, then the Normans and Vikings and it's been wars and rumors of wars ever since.
  The next morning after breakfast, we bid Marianne farewell and headed south for Cornwall, but that's the subject for another post.
It's the little touches


Thursday, November 2, 2017

A Day on the Lake


Let's Go Fishin'


 Our friend Linda emailed recently to invite us on an eight hour boat ride on Lake of the Woods. She had won this trip for six at a charity raffle and thought we'd enjoy coming along. I imagined the boat would leave Warroad in the late afternoon and we'd enjoy the sunset as we cruised up to one of the island resorts for dinner. For the trip to last eight hours we'd have to go to the posh resort with the eight course meal. I said yes, of course. Linda's mother Helen, her husband Larry, and their son Mike would be joining us.
  But it was not a sunset cruise at all. Rather, it was eight hours of fishing starting at eight a.m. Our boat would be leaving from Arneson's Resort at Rocky Point, which would mean getting out of bed at five a.m.  We had taken Linda and Larry for a day of lobster fishing when they visited us in Boston last year. That had involved a four a.m. rising, so maybe this was payback. When I asked Linda about this she just smiled and said "You two seemed like the perfect couple for this. Larry said so too."
  It was quite cool when we arrived at Rocky Point, about 57 degrees. It was only blowing about 10 mph so the lake should have been calm, but the waves were out of proportion with the lightness of the wind, a notorious trait of this big shallow lake, The resort has several boats that it sends out with guides all through the summer. Our guide, Captain Tim, said he had clients almost every day between fishing opener and Labor Day. We looked to be the only boat headed out on this mid-September Monday. Tim said we'd head to the northeast for about twenty minutes then troll to the east with the wind behind us.
  The boat was a thirty-five foot cabin cruiser with a pair of powerful inboard engines. We took off at high speed, pounding into the waves. Most but not all the spray missed us. Right away Helen and Teresa wanted life jackets, more for warmth than from fear of sinking. Tim cut the engine so we could dig out the lifejackets. The resort radioed Tim to ask if he had broken down.
  We pounded off again till we reached the fishing grounds and Tim mercifully shut off one engine and throttled the other down to a stuttering 2.5 mph. The boat rocked gently in the swells and the temperature rose a couple of degrees. This might be okay. One thing I had learned from the lobstering trip was that the best way to ease the hours along is to eat steadily throughout the day. We had brought along a good supply of sandwiches, fruit and junk food.
  The boat had five downriggers pointing off the stern. These looked like miniature cannons with an eight pound lead ball hanging from the end. Tim set a regular fishing rod and reel into a socket attached to the downrigger. With a practiced motion he let out 30 feet of line looping the near end into a clip attached to the lead ball. He then lowered the ball till it was four feet off the bottom. Now the lure and hook would be thirty feet astern and just off the bottom where the walleye feed. The weight of the ball bent the rod as though there was a huge fish on it. Once a fish was actually hooked, the line pulled free of the lead ball. We knew we had a fish because the rod went straight for a second or two until the fish started to fight. We took turns taking the rod out of the socket and reeling the fish in. Once you had a fish reeled in you stood a good chance of losing it in the netting process. At first Tim did the netting and even he lost one. Our crew soon took over that job and the number of lost fish went up. We were catching a fish every 15 minutes or so. We had to throw back several big ones because they were over 19 1/2 inches. The big ones were the breeding stock and Tim admitted that since the throwback rule went into effect, fish numbers have gone up. However, if you catch a fish over 28 inches, you are allowed to keep one "trophy fish." Otherwise we were each allowed four walleyes and two saugers, the walleye's taste-alike cousin.
  Tim said when fishermen come from Iowa or North Dakota they expect to catch fish, especially after paying $720 per day. With the downriggers, they are guaranteed to catch fish. "But downriggers take all the skill out of fishing," he said.
  Mike does more fishing then any of us, and after a few hours asked if we could try spinning, or using the rod and reel with live bait. Tim motored over to a spot a little east of the resort and put worms on our hooks. I'm not afraid to put a worm on a hook, but Tim has baited several hundred thousand hooks in his 16 years as a guide and his worms tend to stay on the hook while mine fall off. Fishing was much slower now that skill was involved. With the engine shut off we wallowed in the waves. My potato chip consumption went way up. After an hour someone suggested we go back to downrigging, which we did for the rest of the day. We wanted our limits.
  Tim told us that over the years most of his clients have been easy to get along with. He said they used to take mixed parties to make up a boatload of six. This didn't always work out so well. He once took out a husband and wife and their young son along with "two older four-fingered gentlemen: four fingers of whiskey, no ice." Once oiled up, the gentlemen began using inappropriate language. After two or three such incidents, the resort banned mixed parties. A group of fewer than six gets a discount.
  More boats joined us on the lake as the day turned warm. Tim gave us an extra 45 minutes of fishing to fill the cooler. Once ashore, we went up to the resort restaurant for cocktails while Tim fileted our fish. If you're going fishing, this is the way to do it. Keep those charity raffles coming, please.