December 2017, to Spain

It’s eight thirty on a Tuesday night. We took an afternoon and two buses from Swindon to Gatwick, the second part of the journey in winter darkness.

We’re in the hotel thinking about the 4am alarm for our 6:30 flight. Fortunately the hotel is on the concourse so it’s out the door and turn left for bag drop & departures a minute away. We only have to get mentally organised for the quick dash.

And here we are. An unsociable 4:30am on Wednesday, Gatwick awake with people and Christmas music.

But things are looking up. On board I experience Seat Bliss. I have a row to myself, normally as extinct as the dodo on budget European flights.

The snow on the Pyrenees looked lovely from my 30,000ft vantage point. Much more cosy than plodding around in the white stuff.

An easy drive from San Javier airport over the hills to Puerto de Mazarron and here we are for the next week or so.

Thursday morning I’m up and ready for a run along the paseo. It’s much cooler than at home in Arizona but not yet at the “I’m not going out there in this weather” stage. And so, at 8am, I’m off for a run on the quiet paseo. A few walkers are out in the early morning chill, heavily wrapped in coats, hats, scarves and gloves.

What a beautiful sunrise!

Today is a normal weekday between 2 festive days. As we’re out of season only a few of the restaurants on the paseo brave the elements to cater to the sparse population of diners.

A mid-morning stroll along the paseo and we notice capitalism at work. Yesterday, a holiday, the menu del Dia was €12, today the same menu is €10, and we make out the faint outline of a 2 under the 0 on many of the menu chalk boards. No doubt it’ll be back to €12 tomorrow for the second feast day. Then it’ll be the weekend, always a popular price lifter, so we probably won’t see another €10 day until Monday.

One item that won’t be on the menu is this rather lifelike sand sculpture

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November 2017, south Wales

We spent a few days in south Wales. When I was growing up, South Wales, a big S and a big W, was a place, a destination. At some point in the past few years someone decided to turn it into a suburb, with a small s and a big W. I’ve no idea what prompted this change, which also confuses my iPad’s predictive text, requiring me to go in and correct the s/S every time.

We’re in Newport, south Wales, for a couple of days and take the opportunity to visit the Fourteen Locks on the Monmouthshire Railway & Canal Company canal.

This section of the canal, from Lock 8 to Lock 21, is very steep. It climbs (or drops, depending on which end you’re standing) 167ft (51m) in half a mile (804m).

The Cefn flight was completed by 1798, dug and built completely by hand, making the Crumlin Arm of the Monmouthshire Canal fully navigational. Used to transport coal and iron from the valleys to the port in Newport, it was a great improvement over the horse-drawn wagons. But it’s days were numbered when the railways arrived.

We walked down the half mile from Lock 21 to Lock 8, then back up the half mile (which seemed a tad longer) to the canal centre by Lock 21. It was a lovely walk, but I imagine the navvies who dug out the canal would share the same view.

The canal renovation is in early stages here, but using modern equipment rather than hand-held tools.

From there we stopped in The Priory Hotel in Caerleon where I had an opportunity to consult with the resident Monk on my continued jet lag. “When will I overcome jet lag?” I asked. “My son” he replied “time flies like an arrow but fruit flies like a banana.”

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November 2017 in the Cotswolds, UK

From Purton to Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds to meet a friend for lunch. Lovely village about an hour’s drive from Purton through lots of narrow roads winding through lovely countryside.

We ate in a lovely restaurant created out of 2 adjacent, and old, premises with multiple small room spaces. Bathroom I asked “turn right and right and up the stairs”. However there were 2 sets of stairs going in opposite directions. Up the wrong one I went, meeting a server coming down. “Can I help?” Said the young man. “Toilet?” Said I. “Other stairs” he replied, smiling. Down and up I went to the toilet.

Then I came out and found myself in unfamiliar upstairs rooms. I thought all was lost until same young man appeared, smiled and pointed behind me to the now apparent other stairs. Down I went and, I think, turned left instead of right, or right instead of left. I looked around for familiar faces at tables until who should appear but this apparently very busy young man. “Were you by the door?” “Yes.” “Around that corner.” “Thank you.” I looked out for him as we left to thank him but he was probably helping some other poor confused soul. I bet he has lots of Boy Scout Badges to his name.

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November 2017, Europe in Winter

It’s 2am on Tuesday morning. We’re in Purton, UK, and my body clock is in Denver, where it’s 7pm on Monday evening. There was a time when a Body Clock Adjustment could be resolved with Beer Can Assistance but here I lie thinking I shouldn’t have been so gung ho about getting 12 hours’ sIeep the night before. It’s almost a week since we left Arizona’s winter for a brief stop in Denver on our way to a wet and cold UK.

Our trip began on November 22, leaving the warm Phoenix sunshine

For a slightly cooler Denver.

We anticipated much traffic and a busy airport on the day before Thanksgiving so we left the house, a 40-minute drive to the airport, almost 4 hours before flight departure. The roads were quiet, the airport no busier than usual. Bag drop was quick, security was quicker. Our 3 suitcases were on their way leaving us 3 hours to sit and wait for departure, slightly overdressed for the Arizona heat, in anticipation of the Colorado cold. No more shorts and T-shirts for the next 2 months.

“Wait until you get to Denver” we said “It’ll be very busy the day before Thanksgiving.” Unhurried quiet was everywhere in the airport as we collected our bags and made our way to the rental shuttle. Hertz has a new helpful policy: Hertz Ultimate Choice. “You choose the vehicle that’s right for you. There’s no need to search for a number or specific car in our lot. The car you choose is the car you drive.” There’s a simple beauty about being given a lot number. You find your number on the board, walk to the lot, get in the car and drive. Now, with Ultimate Choice, you agonize over “do I want a blue one, a grey one, this brand or that brand.” On and on wandering up and down the cars until 10 minutes later, in desperation, you pick the car next to where you left your suitcases.

We have use of a few days in a friend’s house while they’re out of the country. We decide against unpacking for such a short period and leave our suitcases opened on the dining room floor. I open my suitcase (one of the three is mine, sort of) to find a TSA “we opened your bag but our suspicions were unfounded” card inside. I’ve no idea what triggered it but assume it’s the big bag of tangled charger cables and charging plugs. Every device we carry has its own charging plug & cable: car GPS, phones, laptop, iPads, kindles, camera, and now watches.

Thursday is Thanksgiving and we’ve booked a table for brunch in a fish restaurant. “It should be quiet” I said “because everyone eats turkey on thanksgiving”. My potential career as a crystal ball gazer took one more step down the slippery steps of failure. We had to line up to check in to wait for our reserved table. Fortunately, we didn’t quite manage to sit down in the waiting area before we were called to our table. For the next 2 hours we weaved our way back and forth between tables and buffet tables in the packed restaurant with plate after plate of seafood.

The next day, Friday, we avoided Black Friday crowds and went to Red Rocks for some fresh air. The amphitheatre is 6,450 feet above sea level and there are 380 steps from bottom to top. And 380 steps from top to bottom. I ran up and down and my Garmin congratulated me on climbing what it thought was 6 flights of stairs.

On Saturday we flew to London. We again decided to get to airport early because “it’s the Weekend After Thanksgiving and it’ll be crowded”. This time we arrive 4 hours early and Denver airport is quiet. We checked in our suitcases and settled in for an even longer wait. To avoid another suitcase inspection I put the charger bag in a different suitcase.

London at 9am on Sunday morning is sunny and cold. Sarah picked us up at the airport and drove us to her house. At Sarah’s I opened cases to find another TSA “we opened your bag but our suspicions were unfounded” card inside. I’ve no idea what popped up on the x-ray; maybe it’s the large sack of Ass Kickin’ Chili Fixins I brought to warm me on these cold winter nights. This will remain a mystery until our return.

We have use of a Courtesy Car for the week. This begins the “I have to be nice to other motorists because it’s a courtesy car” line that I drag out at every opportunity.

Which brings me to 2am and I’m wide awake, the clock telling me it’s 2am and my body telling me no, it’s 19:00. I feel a long night coming on, with plenty of time to think.

Technology. My phone knows when I’m driving and won’t display messages, my watch knows when I’m asleep and grades the quality of my slumber by who knows what formula. We’ll see how it figured this night out when I eventually reach daybreak. The only bit not playing along in all this is my body, still insisting it’s yesterday evening.

We have a double bed at home wide enough to warrant its own zip code. In Europe I adopt a narrow side pose, on the edge of the bed, arm hanging over side, palm face down ready to break my fall in the event of being nudged over the edge.

It’s 3am and I’m thinking of song titles to help me sleep: Wednesday Morning 3am (it’s Tuesday); All Night Long (I hope not!); Here Comes The Night; Night Shift; Herbie Goins and the Nighttimers; The Night Has A Thousand Eyes.

Maybe I should stop typing now and start trying to sleep.

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Whitby, north Yorkshire, as far north as we’re going on this trip

Our drive from Cromer, with a quick stop in Skegness for a coffee, was a bit of a marathon. The GPS took us on the shortest but not necessarily the quickest route so we had all day to admire the scenery. I wanted to drive around the coastline but apparently you can’t do that on this part of the coast so we went inland and out again.

I wanted to visit here because of its association with Bram Stoker and the Dracula story. A couple of years ago we were in Transylvania, Romania, and visited Castle Bran, the home of Vlad the Impaler and supposed role model for Bram Stoker’s Dracula so to me it seemed appropriate to visit the other end of his journey from Transylvania to England. Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. According to the guide there’s no mention of the Abbey in Dracula but the ruin draws crowds in search of all things vampire.

The Abbey and church are on the east cliff.

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We were staying on the west cliff above the beach huts.

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As it turned out, Whitby is a lovely sea port with lots of narrow streets & lanes and all manner of craft shops.

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Plus the by now obligatory chips and ice cream

 

One last sunset then it’s back down the coast and to Purton for the remainder of our UK stay.

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Further up the coast to Cromer for crabs

We left Great Yarmouth, home of the smoked herring, and drove to Cromer, where crabs are the specialty. Plus of course the obligatory chips & ice cream. We’re staying at the Hotel de Paris. Drove down the lane, wide enough for a car, while carefully avoiding pedestrians. Lovely sea view. Having got there and parked the car I wasn’t sure how we’d get out the following morning.

I had to drive down the right hand lane to get to the hotel. I’d put the address into our GPS but when it said “drive down ‘the road'” I was a bit skeptical to say the least. So we drove to the town car park and I walked the 10 minutes back down to see if I did indeed have to drive down the lane. Shame on me for thinking the GPS was wrong! The crab sandwiches in a local cafe were wonderful.

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and then find a parking spot. All those windows are hotel rooms. Count the windows and then count the parking spots. Bit of a disparity to say the least.

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Lovely view of the pier from our room. In the evening we went to a show on the pier, “Made in Dagenham – the Musical”.  Very funny!

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During the interval I popped out and caught the hotel in the evening light

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Cromer Pier at night

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We figured if we leave early enough in the morning we could get up the lane before the tourists started flocking to the beach so we were up and out immediately after breakfast. Fortunately the lane was quiet so we made it out without having to navigate around pedestrians and their chips & ice cream.

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England East Coast, Great Yarmouth

We drove east from Bletchley Park and found a hotel on the front at Great Yarmouth, a couple of hours’ drive away.  Gt Yarmouth was the home of the smoked herring industry and the small museum dedicated to the industry is well worth a visit.

Had a bit of a fascination with the offshore wind farm, clearly visible from our hotel room. The first picture is the windfarm at 5am. I took it not because it gets light at 4.30 (it does), nor because we had to leave the windows open to cool the room (no a/c), but maybe because the very clean burghers of Great Yarmouth had the very noisy street cleaning machines out at 4.30 along the seafront outside our hotel.

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“Chips and ice cream”. Great Yarmouth is a typical British seaside resort.

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We decided not to eat in the Osmopolitan Restaurant, instead I settled for a tub of cockles.

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