Tuesday, September 02, 2014

St. Giles Cathedral,
September 2, 2014 -- Today is our last day in Europe and we were up early. Today is also our only "full day" in Edinburgh, Scotland, so we have to make the best of it. We started out exploring the "old city" of Edinburgh. The "only thing old" about the Old City are the buildings. Otherwise, they are filled with modern and up-to-date shops of all kinds. Restaurants are everywhere along the narrow cobble-stoned streets and the sidewalks are filled with people. Even though it was a Tuesday, tourists and shoppers were out in great numbers.

A prominent building is the St. Giles Cathedral which dates back to the 15th Century. It's been the focal point of religious life in Edinburgh for more than 900 -years. It is, without question, a beautiful and imposing structure. As we continued to explore the area we found the University of Edinburgh along one of the narrow streets. As is the case with so many institutions in Europe, and especially this part of the world, the university has a long history -- having been founded in 1583. It is the sixth oldest university in the English-speaking world!

Edinburgh has its fair share of "Whisky World's"
6 p.m. -- The evening is upon us and we'll be attending a filming and discussion on the subject of an "independent Scotland".. It should prove interesting and invigorating!

Tomorrow we're off to the airport at 8 a.m. for a 9:50 flight home. We're sorry to be leaving,  but we're glad to be going home.  After a month of exploring Ireland, England and Scotland, it'll be good to get home to our friends and routine.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Waverly Railway Station,
September 1, 2014 -- We've bid farewell to Roger and Helen this morning. They were wonderful hosts and we enjoyed our stay with them more than I can express. Helen dropped us at the Gloucester Railway Station on her way to work this morning and we boarded the 9:50 a.m. train to Birmingham. Changing trains for Edinburgh was a "snap" as we simply had to walk across the platform. A couple of minutes later the train arrived and we were on our way.

Linda and Sir Walter Scott
Linda and I have completed a good amount of travel during this trip, and we've been on lots of busses and trains. As mentioned elsewhere in this blog, all through Ireland the "inter-city" busses and trains were comfortable and provided us with a free high-speed wifi service.  This isn't the case with our experience in England. Not only does the train have a "pay as you go" wifi service, it very VERY slow. So, most of the time, one is waiting for the page to load and appear on the screen. Add to that the train (I am writing this on our way to Edinburgh) is most uncomfortable. The seats are cramped and rigid with no leg or foot room.  There is no "food service" and some of the restrooms are "out of order"! Add the fact that it is a 5-hour train ride to Edinburgh and it means we're in for a long day. But -- we're healthy, happy to be on our way to Scotland and to have had such a wonderful time on this trip.
Starbuck's?? In Edinburgh, Scotland.

11 p.m. -- We arrived in Edinburgh at 4 p.m. and checked into our lodgings. They are just a few minutes away from the railway station and easy to find. After checking in, we got a tourist map from the receptionist and found our way to nice Italian restaurant on "Rose Street" in "New Town". After, we continued to explore the area, met some folks, drank some beer and enjoyed learning about Edinburgh.

Tomorrow will be our last day in Europe and we have the full day here in this beautiful city. So, I'll be sure to fill you in on our adventures for the day.


Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Quiet Last Day . . .

The Back-Yard Garden of
Bob Crick's 300-year-old home.
August 31, 2014 -- Today was a quiet last day in England. After an early-morning get-together for coffee and making some plans for the day, we made our way to visit Roger's good friend Bob Crick. Bob is an 85-year-old retired "school master" who lives in Minchinhampton. His home is two-homes joined together, and are 300-years-old. There is a basement as well. Originally, the home was a "brewery". The construction is stone, wood and plaster -- and is "s-o-l-i-d"! After a tour of his home, we enjoyed coffee and snacks in his back-yard garden. We talked of language, bird-watching, flowers and gardening. Bob is an interesting and intelligent individual who is very much "English"! We enjoyed every minute.

More of Bob's Garden.
Helen, Linda and I walked the village of Minchinhampton as Helen pointed out various points-of-interest. The narrow streets were quiet as it was Sunday  We saw the beautiful church, primary school and library. The "market square" is the site of a World War I War Memorial and lists those who gave their lives in the conflict.

Bob Crick, the Ole' Schoolmaster!
Later, and early in the afternoon, Roger took us on a car tour of Gloucester and the surrounding villages. As we drove over the ridges of the nearby hills, one could see "Wales" in the distance. The rolling hills, villages, and churches were beautiful. It was a sunny and warm day which added to the pleasure of the drive.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

In and around Stroud, U.K.

Leo, Helen (in white) and Linda
on the "Common"
August 30, 2014 -- We awoke to another overcast day this morning -- but not too cold. Roger and Helen are wonderful hosts and we've enjoyed our first evening with them. After a bit of coffee and talk about the day, Roger was off to complete a couple of chores. Linda, Helen and I took their dog "Leo" to the Common for a walk. The Common is a series of large open-spaces used by and for the residents of the villages nearby. Each year, local farmers bring their cattle to graze from May thru October. Walking along the Common, one has an expansive view of the surrounding country-side. It is serene and beautiful.

L-R: Bill, Roger and John
at the "club" in Minchinhampton, U.K.
Later in the morning, Linda was off to Gloucester with Helen for a visit and tour of the Cathedral. Helen is the "Music Department Manager" for the Cathedral Choir.  Additionally, she is "Musical Director" for the Choir in a village called Minchinhampton.

Meanwhile, Roger and I went to the "CLUB" in Minchinhampton. We drank a couple of beers and met Bill and John. We enjoyed a lively conversation about travel in Ireland, England and the United States. After about an hour, or so, we left for Helen's "mum's house" nearby. First, Roger and I explored 2 or 3 of the many villages nearby. He was driving his "MG F" and took the roads with some speed and skill! It was great fun. As an aside, Roger is a retired Lieutenant Commander from the British Royal Navy. Since he was the "Radio Officer", he and I have a lot of interesting stories to tell each-other (I was a Radioman in the U.S. Navy).

Gerry, Helen and Linda
at Helen's"mum's" house.
Helen's mom lives at the end of a country road in Minchinhampton. The "cottage" sits on a little "rise" among the beautiful rolling hills of the English countryside. There are 5 or 6 other cottages nearby, but there is a sense of open space and quiet. Because the cottage is at the end of the road, there is little traffic, and while we were there for an hour or so, no other vehicles passed. Helen's mom, Sheila and her step-dad Gerry, are delightful people living in this most of tranquil of spaces. While there, we enjoyed a taste of "proper English tee, coffee and biscuits".

The evening ended with a wonderful dinner prepared by Helen. Since Roger was a career naval officer, and was in the service during final years of the "British Empire", we talked about his many travel experiences and the gradual withdrawal of Britain from many of its "colonies". Helen, an ex-British navy lieutenant herself, had had training in celestial navigation. We talk about the sky and observing the stars. Finally at 1 a.m., or so, we called it "a day". I can't imagine having a more delightful day in and around the countryside of this beautiful country.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Goodbye to London . . .

Entertainment Center on the train.
August 29, 2014 -- We checked out of our lodgings at about 8 a.m. and made our way to the Paddington Station in Central London. Today, we'll "hook up" with our friends Roger and Helen. They live outside of London and about 15 miles from Swindon U.K. We'll be spending the weekend with them before our transit to Edinburgh, Scotland on Monday.

Our train didn't depart until 10:30, so after buying our tickets, we enjoyed a cup of coffee at the Starbuck's in the station. The train ride to Swindon was just over an hour and was enjoyable. Even though there is no wifi on-board, a video screen offered a variety of entertainment options. It made the journey quick and pleasant.
Helen, Roger and Linda enjoy a
cuppa of "Proper English Tea".

Roger picked us up at at the Swindon Station around noon and we made our way to his home. Along the way, we stopped a local "pub" for lunch and a drink -- and a good amount of good laughter and conversation! The food in these little "out of the way" pubs is always enjoyable -- and ample. We arrived at Roger and Helen's home at around 3:30 and "got re-acquainted" with Helen. It had been almost two years ago since we hosted Roger and Helen at my house in Palm Desert.

From L to R:  Self, Linda Robert and Rick.
Sue, Helen and Roger at the Hunter's Hall Inn
in King's Coate, U.K.
This evening, is an 8 p.m. dinner with Roger, Helen and some of their friends. Tomorrow?? Well, we'll see what the weekend will bring.

11:30 p.m. -- We ended the evening at a delightful dinner with Roger, his wife and son and friends. The food was very good, the company was even better. We met Rick and his Sue and enjoyed an evening of good fun and humorous discussions. These British "pubs" are wonderful places to join friends and family in food, drink and friendship.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Linda and the Tower of London
(taken on the Tower Bridge)
August 28, 2014 -- Today is our last day in London so we decided to take care of some housekeeping chores. We located a "wash and fold" laundry a couple of stops away on the DLR (Dockside Light Rail) and dropped our laundry off for a 5 p.m. pickup. We ventured across the street for breakfast and walked back to the DLR station. We weren't really sure what we were going to do for the day, but along the way we found a very neat little coffee joint called "Husk -- Coffee and Creative Space". We stopped in to have our morning coffee and enjoy a bit of "on-line" time.

Tower Bridge with the
draw bridge in use.
As it happens, and we found ourselves in these spontaneous moments from time to time, Husk is more than just a coffee bar.  It's an "artist led" gallery space hosted within Husk Coffee in Limehouse London. In a partnership with "Morphe Arts" it is is a network of artists, writers, designers and performers who offer free mentoring to "students of the arts" as well as hosting monthly events. While there, one of the hosts, an ex-pat from Kentucky now living in London for 3 years, suggested we try the "Tower of London" and the "Borough Market".  We found that both would be easy to reach by train, so after our coffee we took off for the Tower of London.

Borough Market, London.
The Tower of London is an historic castle on the north bank of the Thames. The current "tower" was built by William the Conqueror in 1078 and durings its history, it has been a residence, a prison, a place of execution, an armory and a treasury. As we walked around the walls, we found loads of activities to entertain us. The "Tower Bridge" was in front of us. Its beautiful architecture of blue and white painted steel and grey stone date back to 1886.  While we were taking some photos, the bridge opened to allow the a ship to sail up the Thames. Of course, we stopped at a Starbuck's to enjoy a coffee and sit by the river, enjoying the warm sun and people watching for 30 minutes or so. It was another most enjoyable part of the afternoon. We decided, however, to forego the 22-pound fee each to enter the Tower!
Borough Market, Foods Everywhere!

We made our way back to the DLR and found the Borough Market a couple of stops away. As we left the "London Bridge" Underground station and were greeted by the Borough Market across the street. It simply looked like two buildings -- one obviously old and one made primarily of glass. We were pleasantly surprised as we entereed the "Market". It was packed with hundreds of vendors selling foods of all kinds. The aisles were packed with shoppers from all over Europe (in evidence by the many languages were heard). The Borough Market is one of the oldest in Europe -- and indeed is the largest and
Cash from a Phone Booth. Neat!
oldest in London. There is some confusion about the founding date of the Market. Some say 1014 while others say 1246 -- but in any case, it's been there for a while.  We explored the market and tasted many of the "samples" made available by the vendors. I bought some peaches and a "shrimp cocktail". I can't exaggerate how plentiful and exotic the variety of foods were available. It was quite an experience. Before leaving, we enjoyed a Guinness at a "Market Pub" just across a narrow street.

So, tomorrow we're off to Swindon for a visit with our friends Roger and Helen -- so be sure to check back!!