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  • Writer's pictureTim Madison

EUROPE 2024 - England

Updated: May 3


April 16, 2024

Madrid, Spain to Bath, England


CK's alarm wakes us up. Sometimes I regain consciousness slowly, confused for a moment, needing to focus for a few beats just to remember where I am. Maybe I'm in that flat on Bruhl Strasse in Leizig or Hotel Colón in Barcelona. Ooops. None of the above. This is 'Only You Hotel' in Madrid. Now where's the bathroom light switch?


That was our last sleep in Spain. We're up early to get the opening shot at breakfast and then hit out for the airport directly. I order eggs and adorn the scramble with Serrano ham. A little café con leche and I'm good to go.


Our driver isn't. He's 20 minutes late.    And we have a live one. He gifts us his opinion of the general state of collapsing civilization, government, and bureaucracy which basically is that they are all a pack of thieves. He declares that Trump will win.  He's a conservative who thinks government is an unnecessary burden on society. He delivers us safely to Madrid airport. <snort>


Madrid's airport is enormous. It's like a maze for those of us unfamiliar with it. I learn that, if confused, one can barge into a VIP lounge. They will give directions just to get rid of you. Our gate is more than a mile away, a 23 minute walk according to the signage. Alternatively, we've gathered that there is a subway to our terminal. We're on the hunt to find it.


Meantime, in los aseos (toilets) I encounter a homeless person together with his large cart full of belongings.  I don't think I have ever seen this before. The airport is far away from anything like a town, so the conclusion is that he is an inhabitant of the building. I'm mystified how he manages it. Even more fascinating knowing that the airport is fairly crawling with police and security guards. This caballero has a significant talent for evading authority.


We're spending 20 minutes or so looking for this subway to terminal 4. Three times we are routed through duty free shopping zones by the signage. At one point we realize that we've gone in a circle. We invade another VIP lounge for fresh instructions. These are also not specific enough, really. But we're inching in the right direction which gets us to the proper lift, the one to the subway.  At this point our confidence gets a healthy boost. We may get out of here in fair order.


We arrive at our gate 10 minutes before the boarding announcement. This is a much closer call than we had planned. We blame the hotel driver and telepathically wish him a happy anarchy.


We get another bus ride out on the tarmac to the plane. This seems to be the pattern from Iceland to Germany to Spain; terminal to bus, bus to tarmac, tarmac to plane.


The flight is fine. Iberia Air serves a substantial snack of pork loin and gnocchi. The pilot is a multi-lingual comedian who offers a Monte Python version of flight navigation to London from Madrid. There's no other entertainment on board. Our pilot is the show. Seats are cramped but not the worst.


We're on the ground in London after a bumpy descent through the English atmosphere which is featuring puffy clouds and drizzle. The captain gave the weather report about 20 minutes prior. When he announced the ground temperature as 10⁰C a collective groan swept the passenger cabin.  No worries. Heathrow has jetways. No tarmac bus rides here. We'll be dry, whatever.


The challenge now is to collect our bags and navigate Heathrow. The passport check is an automated system which scans both passport and face. First attempt with the machinery was a fail; I took off my glasses but left my hat on. The machine was sufficiently pleased only after I doffed the cap. We need to find the train to Paddington Station. This requires some snooping but we find it. CK already has tickets in hand. It's a 30 minute ride to Paddington on a nice new train.


Paddington Station

Now we wait at Paddington 1.5 hours until our train to Bath is ready. The seats we have in this waiting area are not conducive to napping. Bah. Time slides by.


The train to Bath is 1.5 hours.  Our reserved seating is canceled because the proper car isn't attached. We are told to grab any seat which isn't a problem.  The cars aren't crowded. Compared to the bullet train in Spain, this one is slow and bouncy. Not sure I'll nap here, either.


A cab is available at the taxi stand in Bath.  CK hails him and we're off. We don't have far to go but, nevertheless, our driver makes the most of it as he regales us with a mini tour lecture of the sights. We learn something, too.  Nicholas Cage and Johnny Depp each had flats on The Circle once upon a time. Did you know that a native of Bath is a Bathonian? We didn't, either.


The Queensberry is our hotel. CK decided to crush the splurge button on this one. Big room, two closets, King bed, sofa, chairs, a split of champagne on ice, with two sidecar glasses to welcome us. The bathroom has more square footage than our room in Madrid. Double sinks, double showers, soaking tub, and steam heat towel rack that works all in an art deco vibe. We're here for 3 nights. Spoiled? Um, yeah.





We're pooped after a day of dragging bags through airports and trains. All we want is some pub food to end the day. We find it about 8 minutes from the hotel. They serve cocktails but gave me the blank stares when I asked for a Martini. I suspect the barman is from New Zealand.


A little stroll around the neighborhood past the Royal Crescent and blooming tulips is our detour back to the hotel. I'm not sure what CK has planned for tomorrow.  It will have to be a surprise.


The Royal Crescent, Bath



April 17, 2024

Bath, England


We have no schedule today, no tours, no appointments, no reservations. Joni Mitchell's voice plays in my head with a few seconds of "Free Man In Paris". I attempt to substitute Bath for the French town. It just doesn't work. I'm no David Geffen either, but you know what I mean. We're following our noses.


Breakfast in Queensberry Hotel is very tré, small portions cooked to order.  Nothing at all like the sumptuous displays of excess we experienced in Spain and Italy. The coffee is fine and the void is dealt with sufficiently. The weather is cool with sunny breaks and no rain. Perfect for walking around town. We're out and about directly.


CK has a bit of a shopping list. We duck into a pharmacy for a couple of items. Next the post office. Stamps for postcards are all she needs but it takes 20 minutes to survive the queue. And shoes! CK has declared a set of footwear kaput, ready for donation to Oxfam. There's a Skechers store in the middle of town which provides a fine replacement.


Business finished we go exploring.  The Bath Abbey is the tallest thing in town. Also, it's a church, duh. We know what that means. CK sees the door open and buys the tickets.  Every big church in a tourist zone demands an entrance fee. A guy like me thinks there should be a roller coaster included. Is that wrong? Yeah, no roller coaster. Instead there are awesome Gothic style fan vaults in the sorta faux Gothic building. I try to imagine the scaffolding and construction cranes and jigs that once stood here. All that went away in 1716.  From that moment people began to use it as a mausoleum. Now it's a vast necropolis. Every flagstone is a grave and there's no space left on the walls for all the plaques dedicated to unforgettable people who were forgotten long ago.





Dying fuddenly was a thing back then

We must visit the Pump Room, scene of many a high value social soiree in Bath for over 250 years. It's a restaurant but we aren't going to eat. We bypass the diners to reach the medicinal water font, a central feature of Bath's mystique in the 18th and 19th centuries. CK takes a sip. I notice the crusty mineral deposits on the fountain and suddenly my curiosity flies away. I'll pass.



mmmmm, crusty!

Martin Salter, Greeter at Jane Austen House

Bath claims the spirit of Jane Austen. She lived here from 1801 to 1806 and published "Northanger Abbey", a send-up of Gothic novels, and "Persuasion".  Her former address has been converted into a kind of tourist shrine. We buy a ticket and creep through the tiny rooms up and down the stairs.  An actor, in Napoleonic era military dress, wears a name tag: Mr. Wickham.  He's a bounder and a cad with an insufferably superior opinion of himself. He offers a 10-minute presentation before ushering us to the exhibit on the lower floor. CK informs me that "Janeites" are a thing, people absorbed by her stories to the point of dressing up and adopting speaking styles of 1801. 


Not sure which J. Austen character this is...

There's another house to visit that interests me a bit more, the home of William Herschel and his brilliant sister, Caroline. Herschel made his living as a musician in Bath but is immortal for his work in astronomy. He invented and built the most advanced telescopes of his time, mapped over 2300 galaxies and 'nebulae', and created with his sister the first really accurate star maps. But he's most famous for discovering the planet we call Uranus in 1781. At the time he named it for the king: Georgium Sidus (George's Star). This wasn't popular in other countries so non-Brits called it Herschel. It was renamed Uranus in 1850. Most interesting was his Forge area next to the kitchen. One day, molten metal spilled out of the furnace and onto the flagstones, shattering them, sending pieces flying all directions. The floor was never repaired and we can examine the damage first hand. There is a marker on the very spot where Herschel made his observations of Uranus. We stand on it and try to imagine skies dark enough to see galaxies through a telescope fitted with home-made polished metal mirrors,


A scale model of Herschel's 40 foot telescope
A hand crafted telescope

Herschel's furnace where he experimented with metal alloys

Heat damaged flagstones

For the evening meal we visit an Italian restaurant. I do oysters, squash soup, bread, and olives washing it down with rosé. CK has Spaghetti Carbonara.


Our after-dinner stroll takes us to "The Architect", a spacious pub near the Avon River. I enjoy a dram of scotch before we stumble back to the hotel.


It's been a lovely day in Bath.


The River Avon

Oysters! Yum!

April 18, 2024

Bath, England

 

The Pulteney Bridge

On this Thursday morning in April, we can only report a level of activity one or two notches above indolence.  “This is intentional!”, we tell ourselves, which may be true, but also necessary. It’s just nice to have nothing scheduled if only for an entire morning.  That’s all the downtime we’ll have, though, because our next tour begins at 1:30 pm.  After that we have a rendezvous at the Green Tree Inn at 6:30.

 

After the cooked-to-order breakfast at Queensberry we’re out for a stroll through town.  The weather is cool, sunny, and dry which suits us about as well as any weather can.  The Pulteney Bridge serves as a likely goal, for no other reason than to investigate.  CK is under the impression that it is covered but it turns out not to be.  Four bridges in Europe feature shops along their span.  Krämerbrücke, Erfurt, Germany; Ponte Vecchio, Florence; Rialto, Venice; Pulteney, Bath.  With this one, we’ve completed the tour.  Yay!

 

Our guide for the afternoon is Daniel Hancock, a fellow who reminds us a lot of a Canadian friend of ours with his gestures, accent, and vocabulary.  He scoops us up at the hotel and off we go in his auto.  We’re going to visit a couple of villages that rank highly in the English Charm Department. The first is Lacock. For various reasons, some intentional and some just chance, this town enjoys a very fine level of preservation.  A few buildings survive from the 16th century but most are the 17th and 18th century variety. The most modern things we see from the street are automobiles and some power lines.  The wires, satellite dishes, and tv antennae are not visible.  Those things are cleverly hidden on the edge of the village and in back yards. 


Location of some Downton Abbey scenes
Another Downton Abbey location
This house appeared in The Philosopher's Stone
Professor Slughorn's home from the film, The Half Blood Prince

The Lacock church which hosted a Royal-ish wedding
My search for Green Man in this church came up empty. Instead I found things like this.

For this reason, film companies have been using Lacock for location shoots.  Dan uses his tablet to show us several scenes from the 1995 production of “Pride & Prejudice”.  Also, several Downton Abbey scenes are done here.  Two Harry Potter films had shoots here.  Dan shows us a house used in “The Philosopher’s Stone” and another in “The Half Blood Prince”.  Dan takes us to the local church for a look around.  He has us sit in the front pew next to the pulpit.  We’re wondering what’s up.  It turns out that there was a wedding here.  Queen Camilla’s daughter had her event in this church. The Royal Fam showed up and parked their backsides on this bench. And that is as much of a relationship as we’ll ever have with them, I imagine.  HA!

 

Castle Combe

Back in the car for brief spin over to another village, Castle Combe.  The boom times for this place were connected to the wool industry.  There were mills here powered by the small river.  All was going well when one day the river level dropped and never recovered.  Without sufficient water flow the mills couldn’t operate.  The town’s progress stagnated, and change came very slowly thereafter.  Dan suggests that this economic setback contributed to the preservation of the architecture here.  At least two films used locations here: “Dr. Dolittle”, Disney’s version with Rex Harrison from 1967 and “Warhorse” in 2011.  We are interviewed by the Chair of the Parish Council, Mr. Fred Winup, who asks us about our interest in Castle Combe.  He confesses that the town is overrun by tourists in the high season. Understandably, it’s a love-hate relationship from the viewpoint of residents. They love the attractive nature of their community which also draws in the curious mobs, us included.  They banned tour buses long ago.  They once completely blocked the intersection near the Market Cross. We hover on the bridge over the river for an amiable chat.  He is a charming gent, welcoming, wishing us to come back and spend more time.  On the edge of town Dan shows us one of the hotels that thrive here.  This one once belonged to the Lord of the Manor, so to speak, a plump estate with lawns, fountains, and terraced gardens.

 




We chat with the Chair of the Castle Combe Parish Council
It's a rare day with so few visitors
The old market cross, Castle Combe

Once a manor house, now a swanky hotel
A location used in Dr Dolittle, 1967 film
Caron Cooper

Our last scheduled stop is listed as a Cream Tea experience.  CK and I fully expect that Dan will show us around a corner, somewhere near, and pop into a café.  Nope.  Back to the car and down the country road for a couple of kilometers until we park next to a plain looking farmhouse.  The vines are overgrown, the gate creaks, the lawn needs a mow, trees need pruning.  Metal horses, items from an ancient carousel, lie rusting in the grass. A sign over the weathered door proclaims ‘Fosse Farm’.  A small chalk board hangs from the knocker saying “Welcome, Dan!”.  This is nothing like the tikkity-boo, shi-shi, high fallootin’ tea shops we’ve been seeing (we’ll get to one of those in London, btw).  This one skips the pattern of our tour like a phonograph needle being bumped all the way across the record. Caron Cooper bounds out to greet us and welcomes us into her small sitting room.  Our curiosity is further stimulated by the items displayed on the tables and walls, most having to do with Japanese Anime. She introduces her helper, Kana (if I recall correctly), a charming young Japanese girl with an electric smile. Caron is friendly and chatty.  Kana and Caron disappear briefly and reappear with freshly baked scones, tea, cream, homemade plum jam, and clotted cream.  We are instructed to place the jam on the scone first, then dot the jam with the clotted cream (which seems like a transitional phase of butter, only sweeter).  We also learn why milk is supposed to go into the teacup before the tea.  Dan reports that the Duchess of Bedford, the same lady who invented the notion of afternoon tea in the first place, experienced cracked teacups.  The cups, being cold, couldn’t take the shock of having hot tea dumped into them.  China was expensive and delicate in the 1840’s.  So, the clever girl put milk into them first.  Problem solved. The Brits still do this as a matter of form even though it is no longer necessary.


Kana with experimental garlic scones

Now we come to the heart of the mystery of Fosse Farm.  Some years ago, a Japanese anime artist discovered it and began to use its imagery in her work.  Currently it is a weekly TV program in Japan called “Kiniro Mosaic”. It draws 5 million viewers per program. There’s an augmented reality app that goes with it. As a result, her farm has become a kind of shrine for fans of this show and its anime characters. Japanese tourists visit the UK just to spend time here. It is such a big deal that the Japanese Imperial Royal Family came to stay at Fosse Farm in 1994.  Caron Cooper is now very famous in Japan.  We don’t quite know what that means, but I suspect that doors open for her any time she goes there.  Here’s a link that tells the story better than I can.


Part of the anime collection

Gordon Ramsey filmed here!
A curious detail at Fosse Farms. This is the only loo for guests, I think.

In 2019 CK and I found ourselves in Dorchester (61 miles from Bath) after one of our walking tours.  Looking for a pub experience in town we ventured into a rather spartan-looking place called The Convivial Rabbit.  I bellied up to the bar for a pint and met a certain congenial and engaging gentleman by the name of Alex Scrivner. He edits a publication dedicated to CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale).  The publication is ‘The Giant Dongle’ referring to the Cerne Giant and the club (dongle) he wields in his right hand.  Yes, all other references to dongle have to do with an electronic device that connects computers and tv’s.  Not this time.  Alex says that they have to change the name because someone else, who doesn’t get it, objects.  Alex and I connected on Facebook some time ago and he became a subscriber to the travel blog.  He noticed that I was blogging from Bath and sent me a note suggesting that we meet at the Green Tree Pub in Bath.  Agreed!  Dan kindly delivers us to the pub on time.  Alex and his brother Christopher had captured a table, and pints were soon on it.  We all spent the evening enjoying friendly chatter and multiple pints.  It got so late that I couldn’t post the blog in a timely way.  Party animals!  It’s nice to see him again and hope we can be back in the neighborhood again someday.



Christopher, Alex, Tim, & CK

April 19, 2024

Bath, England

 

Not as many tourists this season, so far

A very lazy morning is punctuated by laundry and blogging.  Last night’s safe & sane debauchery left no time for both sleep and writing. We are checking out at 11:30 am.  Our train for London doesn’t launch until 3:30 pm.  That means we’ll be hovering around Bath, homeless, for a few hours.

 

Our last stroll around Bath leads us past several buskers we’ve seen before.  All are musicians of some kind.  There are some karaoke acts, 3 or 4 sopranos.  A certain guitar player plays flamenco-ish material.  He’s not bad and he doesn’t sing, thank you.  For the third day, a trumpet player toots along as his karaoke plays “Con Ti Partiro”. I think he plays it every 10 minutes which I would find annoying if I were a local.  Every hour or so they all pick up and move 40 meters to a new location.  These spots are just out of audible range of each other.  There’s a distinct pattern here that seems to be managed by rules? Not!  A brief on-line investigation reveals that there are no licenses involved, only a set of guidelines.  So, these buskers are being very cooperative and respectful of each other without any involvement from the authorities. Nice! 


Bird Man

I spot a fellow who I think, at first, may be a busker we haven’t seen.  On second look, no.  He’s just a loon who wants intimate contact with and possibly the affection of pigeons. He looks not-right-in-the-head and altogether dangerously near an unsanitary consequence. I want to keep looking to see if anyone offers him coins and what happens if they do, but we gotta go.  Bartenders and guides all tell us that the tourist numbers are way down.  This is good for us as we get to enjoy the sights and pubs without dealing with a crush but the buskers aren’t doing as well as they might hope.  Sorry.

 

About 1 pm we decide to hunt for a snack and a pint.  Along the way, CK finds the origination marker for the Cotswold Way walk which rambles for 24 miles in a loop.

‘The Huntsman’ pub will do.  Oh, and if anyone is wondering why we didn’t visit the ancient Roman Baths here, well that’s because we’ve been there and done that, I think it was 2019.

 

A quiet plaza in Bath

Our bags are waiting back at the hotel.  It’s a short hike back up the hill to retrieve them and hop a cab to the Bath train station. There’s a snag with the tickets that Curby’s (the travel agent) set up for us but that is easily resolved for the moment.  We must buy new tickets because Curby’s instructions were incorrect.  CK is going to have a word with them later. Harumph. Train arrives on time, leaves on time, arrives in Paddington London on time. I enjoy a cup of tea on the train and the semi-conscious head noddings not uncommon for white headed old farts such as myself.

 

This marker in the Abbey Plaza marks the start and end of the Cotswold Way

A taxi gets us to our hotel, Hilton Euston.  Check in is smooth, no trouble. We knew this room would not compare with Queensberry’s luxury but just to be accurate, our bathroom in Bath had considerably more square footage than this entire Hilton habitation. The first wrinkle in this day is when we hook up to the internet here on the 4th floor.  It seems to be slow, choppy, lame.  This could interfere with uploads and blogging.  Grrr.

 

The passenger area of this London cab is designed to contain significant violence, it seems.

For dinner we opt for small plates in the hotel’s bar.  We haven’t done much of anything to deserve large servings of food or culinary adventures worthy of immortalizing in print. Lugging bags up two flights of stairs at Paddington Station doesn’t count.  And for some reason we’re feeling like an early turn-in.  A 90-minute train ride doesn’t produce jet lag but it almost feels like it has.

 

Tomorrow there shall be more wandering followed by a London Stage experience.



April 20, 2024

London, England

 

Crosswalks are labeled to alert the dull witted tourist to the direction of traffic

This morning, we're gathering our strength for greater things. Translation: we're having a lazy lie-in. Sloth and indolence again surge forth as appropriate terms to describe our existence.


As midday approaches, we begin to return to activity at levels confirming our status as able-bodied, or as such when the senior citizen factor has been subtracted. We can dress and feed ourselves which must count for something. At 11 a.m. we're ready to meet our friend Diane in the lobby for a stroll to Covent Garden. Diane is on her way to a bicycle tour in the Netherlands. She's stopping in London to have a few cocktails and attend the theater with us this afternoon.


Repurposed phone booths

It's a nice day for a walk. Dry with sun breaks, cool temps in the low 50's. Most people wear light jackets but we see a few hardier types in t-shirt and shorts. Some ladies are determined to maximize a fashionable presentation by not wearing a heavy coat over their carefully arranged attire. They are suffering a little because the breeze has an icy fang in it.


We visit the Covent Garden area every time we come to London. Some of the sights and streets are becoming so familiar we don't need our cellphone map to get around.  There's time to do some sightseeing and people watching before 2 pm when they open the doors at The Noel Coward Theater. Weeks ago we nabbed tickets for the hottest show in London, "The Player Kings" starring Ian McKellen, a most prolific and accomplished actor with a list of roles to his credit as long as your arm and two legs in agate type. He's 84 and still killing it.


Diane, CK, me.


There's more to say on the subject of tickets. This morning we had a notion to visit the British Museum. We've previously been able to simply show up. Not this time. CK discovers that there have been changes. Tickets (free of charge) are only available online and daily visitors are controlled to a certain number. They are booked out weeks in advance now. This is also the case with the National Portrait Gallery. This is becoming a thing with many tourist destinations. Anyone planning to do bucket list tours in Europe? We strongly suggest that you cancel the idea of doing it extemporaneously.  Sites that didn't require tickets soon will. Getting advance tickets is going to be the norm, not the exception. This will require precise travel plans and a fixed schedule to keep. Drat.


Covent Garden Market is bustling with people and buskers. This is Saturday, as busy as it gets on a chilly day in April. There are magic acts, jugglers, a ventriloquist, and a string trio. These fiddle players are concert quality, professionals for certain.


Not your common buskers. Way too good.
A snack before the show
A fine gelato at Covent Garden

CK guides Diane to our favorite over-the-top shi-shi tea shop, Mariage Freres. It seems like more of an art deco project than a tea shop. It's just a hoot to walk through and gawk. We don't buy anything. Last year, CK and I sat down here for a tea service just to be able to say we did. The tea was fine but the accompaniments were various overly cloying objects as if sugar were the kind of novelty it was in the 17th century. They were prepared by an expert confectioner, tiny works of art for sure; nice to look at but impossible to eat. A restaurant has a table for us so we get a small bite of lunch before getting into the queue at The Noel Coward. Of course, I must find the gelato shop afterward.


Mariage Freres, Tea Shop

The time has come to join the throng squeezing into the theater. These early 20th century playhouses have tiny lobbies. This one is no exception. People have to migrate into the two equally small bars to spread things out but it's still very tight. Everyone is hip to hip, shoulder to shoulder. All seats are taken for this performance. If it were legal to sell standing room they would have.  Despite the mob I manage to elbow my way into the balcony level bar to secure a G&T. With my senses properly lubricated, CK and I find our seats at orchestra level while Diane goes to her seat on the balcony. The theater is so small there couldn't really be a bad seat in it. I only hope there are no claustrophobes here today. The next 3.5 hours might be difficult for them. Photos are prohibited, of course.





"The Player Kings" is an adaptation of two Shakespeare plays, Henry IV part one, and Henry IV part two. As dry as this sounds, I'm here to report that such is not the case.  The central figure in this script is the corpulent, overbearing, sherry swilling, insolent, boastful, lying, cheating, thieving character Falstaff, interpreted to perfection by Sir Ian. I won't spend time here with a critique partially because I don't have the patience or wit but mostly because I am not qualified. I'll just say that this is the best play I've seen in a long time. I hope they don't fail to make a video of it. It bears watching repeatedly. I'll guess that sometime later this year it will be available somewhere on some streaming service. Catch it if you can.


For those of you who have attended London theatrical productions, yes, I can confirm that ice cream is still served from trays that ladies bring around at intermission. Before the opening curtain you can also order drinks to be waiting for you at the bar.The curtain falls on Act II to thunderous approval from the packed house. We feel very fortunate to have seen Ian McKellen perform what may turn out be one of his most memorable roles.



Mr. Fogg's and the Guardian of the Door


Anything is possible at Mr. Fogg's


Our evening meal is for 7:30 at Giovanni's, a favorite haunt for us in London. We have a couple of hours to kill.  Diane brilliantly spots Mr. Fogg's Gin Bar. The lady guarding the door has wireless Bluetooth communication with a colleague inside who reports the number of seats available. We are granted entry when a table clears. Inside we find ourselves in a time machine reaching back 135 years. Building, fixtures, wallpaper, and furniture all from the 1890's. Soon the mixologists are summoning up some alcoholic alchemy for us. The first cocktail is very nice but I have a notion to change flavors for the second. Absinthe is not on the menu but this looks like exactly the kind of bar that could have it. And yes, they do. I believe this is the 150-proof version: highly flammable and intoxicating. The fellow at the table next to us is celebrating his birthday. Cheers and laughter follow.




Giovanni's seats us at 7:45. Pino, the boss, says he remembers us. We enjoy the ambiance and personal touches here. And the food is pretty good, too. Signed photos of Ben Kingsley, Brian May, and Johnny Depp hover over our table. CK plunders a Tiramisu for dessert. Mine is affogato.


It's a healthy 30-minute walk back to the hotel. It's late and we're pooped after a terrific day in London. Editing the blog will have to wait. I need to sleep.


These guys are ready to scoop up the helplessly inebriated on a Saturday night

April 21, 2024

London, England


London City Center is crazy with humans today

CK is out early to reacquaint herself with the ticket system for the Underground. Then she's off to catch her reserved time-slot for the National Portrait Gallery.  I'm not so high on that one. I've seen all the paintings of dukes, duchesses, princes, kings, and queens I ever need to see. I judge my time better spent on the journal from yesterday.


Diane and I will meet her in the hotel's lobby at 2 p.m. From there we'll find our way somehow to The Corinthia Hotel. We are reserved there for an Afternoon Tea. I'm learning that there are differences between Cream Tea, High Tea, and Afternoon Tea.  Cream Tea is a pot of tea, scones, jam, and clotted cream. High Tea is a more substantial meal enjoyed by middle and lower classes in place of their usual evening meal and served at the 'high' dinner table. Afternoon Tea is an excuse to dress up, socialize, use the three tiered silver trays, and best China. There must also be fancy cakes, little sandwiches, and  delicate chocolates to devour without looking greedy about it.

--------------------------

A note from CK: This morning Diane visited the British Museum, Tim stayed in to write and relax, and I had a confirmed entry to the National Portrait Gallery for 10:30am. I took the underground from Russell Street to Covent Garden; it went smoothly and I felt it was good to get re-acquainted with the system. Since I have apparently lost my sunglasses, I thought the wide variety of shops in that area would enable me to spot a likely source for new sunglasses.  It was early, though, and shops were not open – no surprise. I found myself in the vicinity of the Portrait Gallery well before my ticket time, so I wandered over to St Martin in the Fields (church).  The bells were pealing and I could hear organ music.  Sure enough, the 10am service was starting.  I like this church, so I went in like all the other folks and sat myself down in a side pew, about 5 feet in length. I then noticed what is likely a homeless person curled up on one side, under the bench, his coat over him, sleeping. I was to his right, next to his shoes and bulging plastic bag.  I trust he was alive, but he did not move or make a sound.  I enjoyed what I came in for, the organ music, the choir, many songs/hymns. Looking at the congregation, I thought I was seeing a regular Sunday service, with folks engaged in singing and responding to the readings. I left mid-service, noticing that my pew was not the only one housing a person who looked poorly. A card on my pew announced that St Martin’s welcomes all at all times and for any reason.

 

I gained access to the Portrait Gallery easily, and found that the early morning meant few people around the paintings and exhibits.  I enjoy this Gallery and re-learned some of the history and culture of the UK through the portraits and explanatory cards.  It seemed to me that they had done some deliberate up-dating with more emphasis (than I remember from a visit a number of years ago) on women in many political and cultural roles, and more commentary on slavery over several centuries.

 

I had time to nip over to the National Gallery around the corner and wander through the rooms: Monet, Manet, Da Vinci, Stubbs, Vermeer, Cezanne, Gainsborough, Rembrandt, on and on. On my way back to the Underground I found a shop selling sunglasses and luckily found a semi-suitable replacement for my lost ones. Then it was back to the hotel to get ready for our 2pm rendezvous in the Hilton lobby in order to sally forth for Afternoon Tea.  Diane is ready, Tim pops into the lobby, and we are ready to go.  End CK’s note.

-----------------------

Today, Sunday, April 21, is the day of the London Marathon. We did not attend. Clearly, we are avoiding all forms of vigorous exercise, underscoring this choice by dallying over cakes and fine China in a posh salon. This was something of a missed opportunity for the journal. There were hilarious costumes on parade begging to be photographed: Pink Panther, Rubiks Cube, Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs, St George and his dragon, etc. There were epic crowds and blocked streets. Not sorry to be missing that part.


The Corinthia Tea Room

At 2 pm I find Diane and CK in the Hilton lobby as planned. We're taking the Underground from Russell Square to Leicester Square. That's the plan, although when it comes to stepping on board the train I'm having my doubts. The entire thing is packed with humanity as if it were peak rush hour on a Friday afternoon. This is Sunday! Somehow we squeeze in and find a square foot each to stand on. Whenever I do this I feel like I'm sharing DNA with 1,000 of my closest friends. This is how things are in the big city, I get it, and it makes me even more thankful we live on an island in the Salish Sea.


Thankfully, we're not hanging from the grab bars on this train for more than three stops. We're off and out on the street for a short walk to the Corinthia Hotel. Our route takes us through Trafalgar Square which was the scene of another event, not the Marathon. The event is over but the crowd lingers on. For a while we have to step carefully to negotiate a path for ourselves. Londoners turn out for these events in a big way.


At the Corinthia we're a little early for our time but that isn't an issue. The tea room isn't fully reserved. We're in.Pampered elegance is the key quality of this experience. Our servers are ultra-attentive and precise, making sure that everything is just so. Our primary server is Anna from Ukraine. Would we like a glass of champagne to start? Well, why not? We're cautioned to be careful with the wine flutes. They are expensive. We have a moment to drink to our good fortune. Next, we're invited to order our tea from the list. As the tea is being prepared,   Anna returns and cleverly upsells us on a full bottle of Laurent-Perrier Champagne. "Why not?", we say. Soon, the tea arrives. Given the state of our table we now understand that it is totally acceptable to drink tea with one hand and champagne with the other!  Next, we're presented with two trays of sandwiches. There are various kinds: egg, cucumber, ham, turkey, salmon. It's all very tré, delicately flavored, perhaps even bland, but also richly charactered. The more we drain the champagne flutes the chattier we get. Funny how that works.


The room we're in is spacious and airy. A large, bright modern chandelier floats in center. Huge sprays of fresh flowers add color. A lady is playing a grand piano a few meters away. Soft notes from familiar tunes drift through the room. CK is transported.






As we approach the last two sandwiches on the tray, another lady arrives with a larger tray and a dozen more sandwiches just in case we're in the mood. We decline with thanks. The next course is scones with jam and clotted cream. I'm happy to see CK and Diane dive into them. I'm feeling a little full so I'm sticking to wine until it's time for sweets and cake. Presently the trolley appears displaying an assortment of colorful dainties. The nice lady describes them all and I instantly forget what she says. They are little works of art. It's a shame to mess them up but you can't have your dainty and eat it too. We eat them. Delicious. Not too sweet. Very creamy and fattening. Some scones were not consumed and some sweets, cake, and cookies went untouched but no worries, they say, the goods will be boxed up and bagged.





We shall not speak of the cost of this experience except to say that I've seen menus offering bottles of Saint-Emilion Pomerol for more.  I'm happy to know what an Afternoon Tea is in London. I'm also quite sure that my young lady friend Helene, in Leipzig, would appreciate it more than I even though she wouldn't be allowed the champagne (she's 10).  Perhaps, one day we'll have the chance to bring her here.


We had half a notion to a taxi back to the Hilton but nixed it in favor of walking, a healthier choice even if it was only a mile and a half.


Another very fine day in London. Tomorrow we'll have one more.

 

April 22, 2024

London, England

 

The back end of the Library queue

Breakfast is coffee from the robot barista in the hotel's buffet and a reprise of day-old scone from the Corinthia tea experience. It still had nice flavor, only just a little bit stiff.  Raspberry jam from little jars offers a boost.

 

The plan today is reserved for museums, which is to say, cultural enlightenment of the laid-back sort. CK advises a short walk to British Library. There is a room of ‘treasures’ to investigate.  We arrive at 9:29. The doors open at 9:30.  There is already a queue 1,000 ft long.  We don’t need a ticket or reservation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this changes in future.

 


The treasure room has original music by Mozart and Handel.  The first proper books of Shakespeare’s works are here.  We see scribblings representing the beginnings of Beatles songs.  There’s even an embryonic Monty Python dialogue. I like the section dedicated to old maps.  I took some time to examine some of the old scribe’s work; religious tomes from the times before mechanical presses put them out of work.

 

Mozart's hand


Monty Python

Next stop is the Tate Modern Museum just because… because we haven’t ever been there.  This is an enormous building on the banks of the Thames, formerly a power station.  Yoko Ono has a featured presentation here.  We’d see that, just for the curiosity, but extra fees are required.  It isn’t so much money, really. It’s the fear of having the feeling of being robbed after having seen it that halts us. Artwork here has indistinct form for the most part, challenging one’s imagination to fill in the generous blanks.  I’m impressed by the artists who have negotiated such enormous space for their projects.  Some require hundreds of square feet and serious connection to the building’s infrastructure for support.  Many of these things cannot be moved without the services of a skilled crew.  They appear to be permanently part of the museum.  No, I’m not examining the art for how it ‘speaks’ to me.  I can’t help wondering about the person who possesses the charm to convince the museum to install this stuff.


Radios and speakers tuned randomly

Binary code printout made useful
Picasso
This one was NOT titled: Before Coffee
Watching a film
Abstraction, Distraction

View from the Tate Modern Cafe

For lunch we find The Swan is the nearest pub of interest.  We’ve snacked here once before prior to a performance at the Globe Theater, just across the alley.  Service is slow but it is a nice room with an excellent view of the Thames, London skyline, and St Paul’s dome. 

 

The Swan for lunch

We’re on our way to cross the Millenium Bridge.  We want to grab the Underground at Blackfriar’s toward our next goal, the Tate Britain.  An odd sort of busker catches my eye just a few paces from the bridge.  He sits, reading a book in a likely Byron-esque pose.  On a small table an ancient Corona typewriter waits.  The cardboard taped to the table reads, “Poet For Hire. Pay what you like.”  I have a fiver in me wallet.  I gotta see how this goes. 

 

He takes my Fin and thanks me. “What would you like your poem to be about?”

I suggest that it be about what we did yesterday, an Afternoon Tea at the Corinthia Hotel, served by a charming Ukrainian lady. He springs into action, rolling the paper onto the platen and heaving to with uninterrupted finger pecking.  I was fascinated as were others passing by.  Some stood there trying to work out if they should hire him, too. Perhaps they were puzzled by the device he was using.  Others looked like dogs trying to understand a magic trick.  I was too slow of wit. I did not to turn my camera on them to catch their expressions.  Drat!



A deft wordsmith, he finishes in less than 3 minutes. CK hands him another 10£.  Here’s the result:

 

the manners and the customs are indeed implicit

in the air, are part of the mesh of place,

of how the space is structured

so that any one of us, being subject

could perform these dainty tasks

could neatly trim the crusts from cucumber sandwiches

could arrange the little cakes, just so

could set the tea to brewing, the leaves

swirling in the pot

could act with the necessary discretion, attentive

without being pushy or suffocating

this is England

and the island

makes its own codes of behaviour

its own afternoon teas

and whoever is set the perform

these rituals

can do so

be them native Brit, Celt, Saxon

or Ukrainian!


We take our prize and move on, thanking him with grins.  Halfway across the bridge my slow wit ambushes me again.  We forgot to have him sign it.  Bah!!

 

Millenium Bridge and St Paul's

 We board the underground at Blackfriars and ride for 2 stops.  Up out of the tubes and on the street for a 10 minute walk to Tate Britain Museum.  Here the artwork takes on more familiar imagery.  CK wants to visit a couple of her favorite paintings and walk through the Turner collection again. There is plenty of venerable art here to enjoy.  This is the third time we’ve come here among our visits to London.  My camera catches a security guard struggling to stay awake.


Security at the Tate Britain

A cab to the Hotel is next.  We catch a short rest ahead of our dinner date at Giovanni’s again.  We just like the comfort of familiar surroundings.  We get one more walk through Covent Garden. Pino shows us to our table in the corner where we enjoy a lovely bottle of Montepulciano d'abruzzo to go with our pasta.

 

This was our last full day in London.


The Nag's Head, Covent Garden

April 23, 2024

York, England

 

King's Cross Station, London. There's something of a market here, too.

Today is St George’s Day.  He was a Roman soldier from Cappadocia (modern Turkey), executed for his Christian shenanigans in the early 4th century. He’s the patron saint of 15 different countries and regions including England. But do the Brits get a holiday for him? No. Do they get a holiday for St Patrick? Yes. Perhaps if they could associate St George with heavy drinking instead of dragon slaying they could get this corrected? Ale over Mythical Flying Lizards?

I vote yes.


Also King's Cross Station
There were at least 3 security guys watching this queue.

Today is also Shakespeare’s birthday, also not a holiday in the UK. The Bard, THE most celebrated poet in the English language, and St George together on the same day and the banks are still open for business? No parades? No Royal appearances, flag waving, and marching? It’s BOGO, two for one! Come on, Brits! This is a fail.

 

A no stress rail trip
York Station

Today is moving day. Not a holiday but yes, we’re on holiday so ok. We drag our luggage from the hotel to King’s Cross because it’s a flat route and only 20 minutes.  Hurry up and wait with our eyes on the route screens.  The platform is announced only minutes before the train leaves, so we need to be alert for it. While waiting we have time to check out the queue for Platform 9 ¾. Looks like 100 people in it and not moving quickly. We get some snaps of the station for the blog just to remind ourselves where we were.

 

Our mission is to arrive in York by 1:30-ish.  The train is on time and isn’t crowded.  We still have some cookies and cake from the Corinthia tea thing. We have a seat with a table, so we can spread out, order some tea, and devour the remaining bits while we speed through English farmland heading north.  The windows are filthy, so no photos from the windows, bah.

 

The cabbie from the York Station is a Yorkshire Man who addresses us as “luv”, drops his “h”s, and say “owt” instead of “anything”.  His cab is a mess.  As I sit in his back seat I’m sure my trousers need a wash.  He gets us there in one piece after twisted route through town.

 

Our room is spacious with two(!) chairs, a table, and a desk.  Nice.  Horking the luggage up the narrow stairs?  Strange.

 

A first photographic impression of York Minster
It's a TV shoot

The evening meal is at an Indian restaurant.  I enjoy a spicy meal of curried lamb.  CK has chicken. On the way home we encounter TV film crew.  We are asked to stop and wait while they shoot a scene.  The program is called “Patience”.  It won’t air until next year.

 

Not much of a post today because we didn’t do much more than change towns.  Tomorrow, we’ll inspect the town of York.





April 24, 2024

York, England


This morning we wake up in York. This room offers a far more comfortable sleep than the room in London. The bath is small but functional. And like all the others, no hooks for towels or our travel kits.  No real shelving either. There’s a mystery for you.

 

Our goal this morning is the York Minster.  It is the seat of an Archbishop, therefore it is a cathedral. It is quite large, in fact, the largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe as well as one of the best preserved.  Originally, this was the location of a Roman fort in 72 CE. Constantine was proclaimed Emperor of Rome as a child in York when his father died here in early 4th century.  This was the fellow who converted to Christianity and moved the administration of the Empire to what is now Istanbul, also in the 4th century.



A church was built in the 7th century.  Another church topped that one in the 10th.The Normans expanded it in the 12th century and more additions made with each successive French archbishop. There have been fires here and a collapsed tower due to sub-optimal engineering, but it has never been bombed or sacked. Repairs have been made to repair each disaster. Today, we see scaffolding in many places and an active masonry shop outside. This church has been a construction zone for 2,000 years.


The stained-glass work is original from 13th-16th century. It was not destroyed during the reformation or civil war. A chunk of significant luck, there, says the guide whose services come included with our 18£ ticket. All glass was removed during WWII and kept in country houses until after the war, then put back in. Crazy.



 




This ceiling boss represents Christ ascending to heaven. His feet are the last thing we see as he goes!

The two figures strike the bars with their spears on the hour

The guide says it takes 30,000£ per day to keep York Minster going! In 2022 the church notched 620,000 visitors.  A quick calculation at 18 quid per is… 11 million which works out to 30K per day. It’s a wash.

 

When I'm around buildings this old I look for the gargoyles and figures placed there by some cheeky stone carvers. Someday I’ll learn why they were allowed to install them.  One could easily imagine they are mocking certain individuals or making statements relating to the level of their compensation. My curiosity always goes to the anonymous builders and artists who put these things together while the bishops and potentates claimed the credit. Nothing changes, does it?




Green Man

There are several versions of Green Man here.  I’m on the lookout for that in buildings from these eras. As we were getting ready to leave, CK was missing her furry head band.  We asked the staff if it had been turned in but no luck. Later, at the Shambles Market we found another one made of Yak wool. An inferior replacement but sufficient.


CK enjoys melted chocolate from an edible cup

Lunch is street food from Shambles Market. CK gets fried fish. I go for a wrap made of little lamb sausages that look a lot like those scrumptious German Wurstchen together with minted carrots, cumin aioli, onion, sweet pepper, and feta. Yum. But it's bleepin' cold to be doing a picnic in the street. My fingers are going numb. It feels like winter here. I hope for a meal in a cozy pub tonight.


In the crypt: a man with an animal

After a warm-up at the Hotel, CK hikes back to the Minster to inquire about her head band. They found it! Yay! Now she has two. One for each head!


At 5:30 the choir will gather to perform Evensong which CK wants to hear. I'm going to skip that. If I show up, the place may be struck by lightning like it was in 1984. They say it took 4 years to repair the damage. I recall that we attended an Evensong in Oxford (in 2016?) out of curiosity. I don't recall the singing. I mostly remember some fellow in a medieval cloak, swinging a thick staff, swanning down the aisle, scowling at everyone as if we were there to admire him and he was only making an appearance out of charity. Where's the lightning when we need it?

 


We don’t have a reservation anywhere for the evening meal.  CK and I just wander around The Shambles again.  We don’t find anything inspiring, so we duck into a likely pub, The Duke of York.  It was ok, nothing special. CK enjoyed the Evensong. She sat in the wooden choir stalls while celestial voices bounced off the stones.


As the sun dips we catch a last pic of the Minster in last light.



 

April 25, 2024

York, England

 

Here’s another hotel breakfast in York.   We don’t see a vast acreage of buffet but there’s plenty of food except for maybe fresh fruit.  There’s no robot coffee machine.  We need to wait for an elf to bring a pot to the table.  We also see something identical to our hotel food in London; a chafing dish full of curiously ‘fried’ eggs, all identically cooked, bouncy in an alien way, artificially perfect little frisbees of protein.  I spied more than one person poking them with a spoon, kind of like kicking the tires, to get a sense of how real they might be and if they may be worth taking a chance on.  I might try one tomorrow just to say I did.  So far, I haven’t had the guts.

 

People are queueing up outside this shop...
...to buy these little figurines!!
Jorvik Viking Center

Our first goal is the Jorvik Viking Experience.  This is a tourist trap with benefits on the edge of the Shambles neighborhood.  We have a pre-booked entry at 10 a.m. In we go and down a flight of stairs to a Plexiglas floor.  Under the glass is a reconstructed ‘dig’ site, the remains of a 1,300 year old Viking village.  The archaeologists removed the wood from the mud, put it through a preservation process, then re-installed it in this building. A guide is here to tell us all about it, how it was discovered where the Café Nero is today.  The next part of this commercialized museum reminds me of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. We are seated in a carriage which is pulled along automatically through a series of reconstructed Viking village scenes.  Each scene is populated by life sized automatons with some limited movement and sound effects.  A recorded narration accompanies the ride.  We thought it was well done and worth the quid, particularly knowing that it was all based on scholarly research and physical evidence.  

 







The Viking attraction spits us out on the street where a frozen breeze reminds us to button up and pull our mufflers tight. CK has a church on her radar.  It claims to have some of the oldest original stained glass in England and flying angels.  I want to see the Railway Museum.  She says the church is on the way there so off we trudge.  


The church is small.  About 1/3 of it is roped off for workmen doing major repair.  The organ is covered in plastic to keep the plaster dust out. Several locals are in the corner having coffee, snacks, and chats over tables. They wave and say hello.  A golden lab waddles over.  I give scratches and get a greasy offering of yellow hair.  The windows are well preserved echoes of 15th century superstition. 

 


More curious church deco

Next is a 1 mile walk to the Railway Museum. A gigantic roundhouse is now is home to several ancient locomotives, replicas, and some specialty carriages. Among other things I find the 1938 Mallard that hit 126 mph and the Evening Star, the last steam locomotive built in 1960.  Fascinating, amazing, filthy old machines. Beautiful now that they are scrubbed clean and immobile.

 



The Mallard's cockpit



The Evening Star (1960)

Back outside we catch a tourist shuttle back to the town center.  An ancient city gate is nearby.  We take this as our chance to go on a walk on the old York city walls.  This rewards us with some fresh views of the Minster and a leafy green belt.  We get a look into some posh gardens we couldn’t see otherwise.

 

York City Wall

A view from the wall. This is Grays Court Hotel.

After a brief rest at the room we’re back out for a walk before dinner.  We make it to the Museum Garden where we get more history lessons and tulips.  Lots of tulips.  Here we find what remains of the fortress the Romans used to control the northern territories.  We get a quick pic and then must run to the Old White Swan.  We have a 5 pm rez but upon arrival it is clear that we didn’t need one.  This is a lovely pub made from 5 old buildings.  We’re seated next to one of their inglenook fireplaces.  We both have meat pies.  CK gets broccolini with hers.  I’m luckier.  I don’t.

 

At the Old White Swan

Outside the breeze is even icier which makes our after dinner walk a wee bit shorter but not short enough to avoid the busker in the Mexican outfit, singing along to his recorded music.  Yes, there’s a Karaoke Mariachi in York.


What remains of the ancient Roman Fortress

We didn’t see everything, of course.  We also became aware of a steam train tour from York through several small villages and up to the North Yorkshire Moors.  We were too late to book a seat or we would have done that.  Drat.

 

This was our last day in York.  We move to another town tomorrow.



April 26, 2024

Whitby, England

 

Waiting for the bus to Whitby

Our last hotel breakfast in York. The funny eggs in the chafing dish are there again. I promised to sample it, so this is the moment. One of them goes on my plate with a rubbery wiggle Iike a toy from a pet shop. It looks like it belongs on one of those fake food plates displayed in the windows of some Asian restaurants. I want to apologize to it for what a fellow member of humanity has done. I'm going to eat this soon. I suspect my fried embryo will need help. A scoop of beans in red sauce, always present at an English breakfast, might do.  It turns out to be moderately edible, only slightly warmer than room temperature and firmly overcooked. Without evidence I conclude it is safe to eat, qualifying as an adequate protein supplement. The beans helped.  But still, I'm thinking about fishing lures from Bass Pro Shop if only bass could be tempted by an overdone egg, which they might.


Our bus stop companion

The luggage drag from hotel to bus stop is 15 minutes. Did I mention that we're taking the bus to Whitby? We are. We are also 30 minutes early.  There are benches. The weather is dry, luckily.A local lady creeps up to the bus shelter with her walker. She peers at the electronic schedule screen.She confesses to poor eyesight, asking me to read the schedule for her. Her #6 arrives in 10 minutes. I set a timer on my phone to remind  her. We make a spot for her on the bench.

"My daughter is supposed to put my money in the bank but I think she's still asleep. She's in Leeds, probably been out dancing all night."

"Young people have a tendency to do that."

"She's in her 40's, so not that young."

"From my perspective, that's young enough."

"I suppose you're right. She needs to wake up, though. I need money."

Her #6 arrives and off she goes.  Apparently she has enough for the bus.


When our #840 to Whitby arrives it is nearly full. We're the only riders with luggage. There's one lady on board in full Goth regalia right down to the black lip gloss.  Also, two Japanese ladies dressed like anime characters. They speak zero English. 2 hr 10 minutes to go 65 miles. It's a bus. My body is less and less able to withstand such abuse; I need to pee. CK suggests we find a place to lunch and I agree if a loo comes with it and swiftly.


Not having the luxury of shopping for a better spot I duck into a joint calling itself "No 54". We order food. I find the loo.  Someone here has opened an audio portal to Nashville. It's solid country pop in here. Our soup comes with an indifferent sandwich that benefits from a squeeze-tube of mayo. The fact that this adjustment raises the comestibility of this item 1,000% says everything that could be said about it.  The tomato soup, on the other hand, was fine. The Moretti beer was fizzy and cold, very fine.




A local fellow strolls in dressed in a steampunk costume. He brings news! This is Goth weekend in Whitby, part one of a bi-annual event. Now the Goth girl and Anime ladies on the bus make better sense. We figure that the town's association with Bram Stoker is at work here. He came here on holiday in 1890 and was inspired to spin a yarn about an elderly day sleeper with severe anemia.  The quintessential Goth Hero was born: Dracula. We learn that dress up and shenanigans will continue through Monday. Speaking of day sleepers, it's time to find our bolt hole for the night.


Larpool Hall, our HFHolidays walking headquarters

We hunt down the taxi stand in Whitby because we don't want to drag our luggage uphill 1.5 miles to Larpool Hall. We arrive too early for their check in. We have to wait an hour and a half for that. Eventually we get into our room (a spacious one) with a nice view to the west. Tea time follows at 4. This is a cream tea because it comes with scones, jam, but instead of the proper clotted cream, Chantilly. Dinner is at 7, preceded by an orientation talk. We are going to be staying in this country house until next Friday. The idea is to use this as home base for walks on local footpaths. It is all-inclusive, meals, room, and guides if we want them. At the orientation I count 15 women, 3 men. There's a walking route scheduled tomorrow but I'll probably skip it in favor of a romp through the town. It should be colorful and noisy. BTW, dinner was a beef stew and local ice cream for dessert. It was OK, better than I expected. Tomorrow morning we'll get their version of breakfast. I kinda hope it's weird.


April 27, 2024

Whitby, England


First breakfast at Larpool Hall. Unlike our hotels, this is a place where somewhat like-minded people of a certain age are engaging socially. We're having breakfast and dinner at a set time, seated in cozy proximity to each other at round tables. Here we get a lot of chat to go with our breakfast which is cooked to order and delivered to table. The poached egg was overcooked again. I solve this by dashing on some HP brown sauce, smushing the egg through it toward the sausage. Egg, sausage, and HP. It's what's for breakfast.


CK, Barbara, and I are not taking a guided walk today. Instead, we hoof it into the town of Whitby, about 45 minutes. The weather is cool and clammy, abnormally cool so say the locals. We're doing the town today because this is Saturday and likely to be the peak moment of Goth Weekend for us. For hard core Gothers the peak will likely have to do with a dance hall and a heavy metal band with the density of twin neutron stars. We'll be content with people watching in the street today, leaving the big noise for young ears.


People are posing for pix all day
The Nightmare Before Christmas







As we come to the restaurant and bar district we're hearing the sound of eight men belting out the sea chanty "Spanish Ladies" in full throat. They are drawing a crowd just across a draw bridge that spans the harbor channel. These guys know all the old sailor songs and do them in character.


We also find that this spot is a crossroads for the type of thing we'll be seeing all day; a promenade of people in a variety of costumes. Some are Goth style, others more steampunk, still others based on movie characters, some are simply the product of brilliant imagination and showmanship. And everyone is cheerfully willing to pose for photos.


This was a fun pub but they wouldn't sell me a drink. They only take cash.

Soon amidst the distractions, the three of us are separated in the crowd. It takes a while but with the creative use of phone texting we find each other again. But now the rain starts. It would be nice to be snug in a pub while the shower passes but all are far too crowded. Some pubs don't smell so good, either and it isn't just because of wet dogs.


The ladies find a dry spot to eat their brown bag lunch they got from Larpool. I get street food instead. It was a sausage with onions. I spied the shopkeepers testing the temperature of the bratwurst with a probe so I felt more comfortable about it.









There's only one Alice!

The rain shower passes and we're back to strolling around snapping photos of people in costumes. As we walk we're also checking out places to have a restaurant night sometime next week. We aren't finding a lot of inspiration in that department. Perhaps things will be clearer tomorrow.


Today I have tons of photos to edit and that was what I had in mind. I was hoping to get into a pub to chat up some locals but that didn't happen. It was just too crowded to do much except walk around and snap pix, which is just fine.


Dinner is at Larpool Hall, part of the all-inclusive deal here. We had to order this meal from a menu card yesterday. Ordering food when I'm not hungry is annoying but that's the way this works, I guess. When the food arrives I'm a little surprised that it is fish. I don't recall wanting fish for dinner and that's because I ordered it yesterday.


Tomorrow looks like solid rain and cold temps. I don't know what I'm going to do but there won't be much walking involved.




April 28, 2024

Whitby, England

 

Breakfast in Larpool Hall: I learned my lesson. I'm skipping the poached egg. CK ordered it and alas, the yolk is a yellow billiard ball. I settled for the cold toast, frozen butter, and overcooked porridge. They have croissants! Yay!


My plan begins with a 30 minute trudge in steady North Yorkshire rain to Whitby city center. My goal is Furbellows, a men's accessory shop with a barber. Google guides me there. I arrive 5 minutes after they open. The shop looks awesome, like Jules Verne's man cave, all polished wood and leather with a steampunk vibe. I step into the doorway, dripping. The chair is empty, nobody waiting. I'm sure I've hit a home run in my quest for a haircut on a wet Sunday morning in Yorkshire.

"By appointment only, suh. And the barber ain't in tadee."


Meanwhile, it's still Goth Weekend in Whitby!







Goths gobbling black ice cream, version #2