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  • Writer's pictureTim Madison


Updated: May 1, 2023


A Lopez Island Departure

We planned this trip more than 3 years ago in the Fall of 2019. Of course 2020 brought the world a novel virus and a parade of fear and grief. All sorts of human ambitions were shortened or stopped entirely, our little plans included. This is us hitting the restart button in our quest to see the world before we pop off. Plans include a brief stop in Reykjavik, Iceland, then an extended visit with our friends in Leipzig, Germany. By April 18 we should be in the UK prepping for a self-guided walk through the Lake District. On April 28 we plan to spend a few days in London. On May 2 we arrive in Rome. We get to explore Italy for 18 days before hopping up to Zurich. From there we launch back home on May 24.

Ride Washington Ferries! See the World!

It is April 5, launch day of a much delayed expedition to Europe. A jet aircraft carries us away from Seattle tomorrow afternoon. We’ll be in running-away-from-home status for 49 days, long enough for the neighbors back home to forget who we are. Perhaps that’s a good thing? It’s bucket list punching time again!

April 6. We spend the morning lazing in a Seattle Hotel room. Our Iceland Air flight is at 4 pm. We have 7 hours in the air to Iceland. This is time spent by downing a couple of cocktails and allowing my consciousness to defocus into an undefinable mush that I fill with music, videos, and perhaps a Lorazepam to send me to temporary oblivion.

As we fly east we move in the same direction as Earth's rotation. We're moving toward the next sunrise at 777 kilometers per hour. 7 hours of this kind of travel produces a 7 hour time-of-day change when we land in Reykjavik. We leave Seattle at 4 pm Thursday and arrive 6 am Friday morning, Iceland time, but our biorhythm gives us the feeling that it's 11 pm. Our hotel room is not ready at 6 am. It won't be ready for perhaps 8 hours so we're going to be awake for a while. It's the equivalent of pulling an all-nighter except that we won't be typing a term paper on a worn out Corona portable with two fresh bottles of white-out, a gallon of coffee, and a bag of Fritos. Instead we'll be soaking it off at the Blue Lagoon. Our tiny fleck of flying metal touches down on Iceland's basalt shores about 6 am local time.

It's been 4 years since we last waded about the Blue Lagoon, or anywhere for that matter, all due to the pandemic fiasco. Since then, they have expanded the facilities. Their literature claims that one can now get a room here for 1,200 Euro per night. We shall regard this as a remote hypothesis in the same league as Bigfoot, The Loch Ness Monster, or Interstellar Tourists: it is entirely unlikely we shall meet anyone who has actually booked such a room. But we shall go forth with an open mind just in case.

I had no idea Iceland was famous for this!?

That was the plan. This time reality conspires to deliver something other than an optimal experience. At the airport we go through all the passport checks and customs no sweat. Find the bus to town and get tix, $138 US R/T per person. Look for a snack before we go? $12 for a hot dog, $18 if you add a Coke. I thought I had an appetite a moment ago. Wonder where it went? I must have an 8 oz coffee ($6) which is provided by a self service bot. The line for this is 10+ minutes. At last with coffee in hand we stomp out to the parking area to find our bus to the Blue Lagoon. Instantly we are lashed by gale force wind, raining horizontally. Somehow we schlepp ourselves safely aboard the bus, damp and disheveled. Our vehicle lurches toward the Lagoon's bus park.

One step out the door and we're staggered backward by a vicious gust. If I hadn’t been there to lean against CK, she might have been blown over. There's 200 yards of walkway to reach the entrance, an icy headwind all the way. By the time we arrive we're cold and wet, looking forward to plunging into some thermal pools and we'd prefer that they were very thermal indeed. We check in, stow our luggage, and grab a white fluffy terrycloth bathrobe. Moments later it is time to face the weather again, this time dressed like we were in Southern California on the way to the pool. Now we feel the full wrath of the storm on our bare skin as we scuttle 60 feet from the door to the heated pond. It is blowing a gale, seriously, with gusts to 50 mph. Wind chill effect is instantaneous as if we are plunging naked into a snowbank.

Once into the 95-102° water all is ok below the neck. But the pond is churning like a washing machine gone mad. The wind gusts spit spray and rain at our heads. The wind chill is enhanced by the fact that our heads are now soaked. A wool tuque would be the proper head gear here. CK finds a windbreak behind some basalt rocks and a hotspot in the pond. She evesdrops on conversations although they are all in languages she doesn’t understand. I spend my time crabbing around in the pond looking for her which doesn’t work out. The steam and the storm has cut visibility to just a few yards. I find her eventually but by then we’re ready to bail.

We last about 90 minutes or so. By then we’re weary of being pelted about the head and shoulders but mostly we feel effects of hypothermia of the brain. Me head is the thing I can’t keep warm. My ears begin to go numb and I’m getting dizzy. As I go up the ramp to the café and showers I notice that I’m not very steady on my feet. I’m weaving like a drunk as I reach the doorway. Once inside my goal is the terrycloth robe and the coffee bar. I need to recover after that experience. CK enjoyed the whole thing slightly more than I. She says she felt ‘scrubbed’, making the most out of a pass through a washing machine I suppose. She’s right, though, The Blue Lagoon in a gale is something we didn’t expect and aren’t soon to forget.

A visual abstract of the day

We are fascinated with Iceland. Someday we want to drive the road that rings the island and be bewildered by the sound of Old Norse and place names that look like they were hatched in an Ikea catalog. But we’re only here overnight and we look forward to a particular dining experience in Reykjavik. The Fish Markt is about a block away from our hotel. Of course, the seafood in Iceland is some of the world's best and this eatery does it serious justice. We booked 3 weeks in advance just to be certain we could get a table. We’ll be happy to get a proper meal after 2 ½ days of chewing on limp scraps gleaned from our fridge and the dodgy, flavorless stuff acquired in hotels, airports, and aircraft. Road Food: eeeep! But sometimes it’s so bad, comedy is the result, kinda like a Mel Brooks movie.

The view from our room in Reykjavik

Our rez at Fish Markt was there for us and the meal was fully up to expectations. CK had Icelandic Lamb and I went for Miso flavored steamed Cod and a sushi plate. This was our first actual meal since Tuesday (-2.5 days) and it was sooo worth it. This outfit knows how to prep fish the right way. Dessert was 3 scoops of sorbet presented like a floating Tahitian birthday party but that’s fine. We like to party.

Sorbet at The Fish Markt

Apres-dîner we took a little constitutional down the main drag, braving the gale, to look at other bars and eateries in the zone. Some looked inviting but had a loud pop music component. Another had a calm atmosphere but a dull ambiance. We did find a couple of places we would try next time: ‘Caruso’, an Italian joint. Why would we want to do Italian in the Land of Seafood? I know but it does have a cozy vibe and no thumpity-thump pop jive. The other is ‘The Grill Market’, featuring locally sourced food. It looks like an older building cleverly re-purposed as a restaurant. Good stuff for next visit.

If there’s time I may try to rediscover that dive bar we invaded a few years ago to get out of a snow squall. CK ordered wine, I called for whisky. We sat on our barstools watching the stiff little flakes bounce off the windows pleasantly ticking as they did so. We clicked glasses toasting our luck. For a lark we gestured toward the snow flakes asking the bartender when they expected Spring to arrive (this was April). "Never", he droned in mock despair.


I have a restless night of sleep for some reason. Nah. I know jet lag when it owns me. All night I hear activity in the plaza below. Drunken singing, shouting, giggling, cars roaring about. I pass out for 30 minutes at a time then wake to more sounds of mirthful carousing. At 3:45 am we are up and prepping our kits for a full day of movement. The central part of Reykjavik is still humming. People are filling the sidewalk of the main drag, gathering in groups, taxis lining up to take fares. We get down to the hotel lobby about 4:30 am. A couple of likely young bucks are behind the desk.

"We notice people out all night long in party mode, I think. What's up with that?" "Yeah, things tend to get busy over the weekend. Also this is a long weekend being Good Friday and Easter. The clubs are just now closing. That's why so many people are wandering about." "Wow", I snort, "You Icelanders like to party!" I get a big grin, a wink, and a nod from both of them. "Ja, we do."

Keflavik Airport

Our taxi driver is a tall, dark, handsome fellow from Senegal. He's been in Iceland 12 years. He's a gentile fellow, soft spoken with functional English. We can’t really imagine the hard go he has had. He guides us to the airport calmly and safely. At the terminal they shake us down more thoroughly than at SeaTac. When I go through the scanner my knees set off the alarms as per usual. There is no body scanner so the uniformed fellow paints me with his hand held magnetic wand three times each front and back. That's not good enough so I get a pat-down both sides as well. I feel like complaining but I shouldn't. The lines were short and the inconvenience was probably less than 15 minutes. We're on Iceland Air again. Our flight is scarcely 1/3 full. Gah! There's no power port to charge our gizmos! At cruising altitude a breakfast is presented featuring a croissant. Delicious but I struggle with them. At the slightest touch they fly into a billion greasy bits. In moments I am a magnet for all the crumbs. There must be a way to eat croissants that doesn't include wearing them. I shall consult YouTube. Berlin is the next stop but only briefly. The flight is 3 1/4 hours from Reykjavik. From there we catch the DBahn to Leipzig. An Air BnB awaits. The flight from to Berlin is deliciously uneventful. I could even say boring which is just the way we like it. No way do we want an exciting time on a jet aircraft. This eye-glazing experience swiftly evaporates the moment we acquire a taxi at the Berlin terminal. A 30 minute ride to the train station with a driver crazy as a bag of wet squirrels is enough to alert the dullest of wits. A Boeing 757 at 30K ft is far safer than weaving through freeway traffic in Berlin with a madman at the wheel. Our situation seems to improve when we figure out that this driver wants money so he has to get us there in one piece. That's our happy thought in this moment of terror. There's room for only one. We're killing a lot of time at the train station. We wait 3 1/2 hours until we can board. This is more than enough to absorb the fact that we're now in Germany where train stations smell like hot, stale doughnut grease and the loo will cost you 1 Euro each time you need it. Not only that but there's only one WC and everyone is queued up to use it. With this in mind, consuming a lot of liquid can be an uncomfortable plan. The Euro needs to be a coin. If you have a 2 Euro coin or paper money, tough bananas because the machine doesn't make change. The local vendors won't change your money either. One's quest for the loo now takes on an additional side quest to find the automatic change machine and hope that it isn't broken or out of Euro coins when you do.


Waiting for a train in a foreign country makes us aware of our ‘bubble of ignorance’. We don’t understand the chatter around us. Reading signs and train schedules isn’t reading as much as it is code breaking. We eventually figure it out but we have to work at it. Our train glides in, we stumble on and off we roll. There aren’t many riders. We guess that most people did their travel on Thursday or Friday, this being Easter weekend, etc.

Nicolaikirche entrance

Leipzig has about 1.1 million people in its greater urban zone but the town feels smaller, somehow. The city center isn't a network of steel and glass canyons like many large US cities. It is far more pedestrian friendly with accessible shops, bistros, and businesses. People actually live in the central area. This is a town that has been reinventing itself. In 1989 the people of Leipzig sparked the resistance that eventually banished the Russian domination of East Germany. By the year 2000 they began to deal with the blight and industrial pollution, pulling down derelict buildings, restoring historic ones, cleaning up neighborhoods, getting employment back on track, and the university back on line. The city now attracts a series of festivals and celebrations almost back-to-back from Easter through the Fall. The center of activity is usually the enormous main square next to the town hall. My favorite is the Goth Festival. We've only seen it once. It’s like Halloween in May, no, better than Halloween because the weather isn’t clammy and miserable. The costumery is over-the-top from steampunk to vampires to whatever else boils up and out of the human mind. In the local lingo it is called Wave-Gotik-Treffen, an annual world festival for "dark" music and "dark culture". 150+ bands and artists from various backgrounds play at several venues throughout the city over four days. But we won't see it this year. We are here for Easter Weekend and the square will be packed with a market, various merchants, snacking options, and a performance stage presenting medieval music, jokes, and hijinks. The schools are all on break for the week so kids are everywhere around the square looking for trouble, fun, and junk food.

25 years ago we would never have guessed that we would become attached to Leipzig but here we are. We've been here so often we feel that we know the center of town very well: where the groceries are, our favorite coffee shops and bars, favorite restaurants, where to get a good gelato, where to get an extra layer of clothing because a spasm of frozen Spring galloped in from Siberia, how the trams work and how to get tickets for them, etc. I've also learned that the beer here is mostly Pilsner, the recipe for such being tightly controlled by law. I find it flat and watery but that seems to be the way they want it. I prefer a bright, fizzy lager such as is made further south in Munich but even that isn't my favorite brew. For that we have to go to Scotland and the UK which we will be doing in a few more days, so stay tuned!

The chief reason we're in Leipzig is to visit our friends Joshua, Katherina, and their two precocious children, Helene and Wille. Keeping up with 'The Squids' (the kids) will be a challenge but we're happy to try. We'll be visiting some of our favorite Leipzig haunts as well as stepping out for new adventures. Joshua and Katherina have hatched some plans and we can't wait.

As we step off the train at the Leipzig main station, we are surprised by two grinning children (Helene and Wille) who leap from behind the croissant shop with flowers, smiles, and hugs. Joshua and Katherina are laying on the charm and the welcome with more hugs and a bag of goodies for our flat. We are very pleased to see them again and we will see them frequently over the next week. More hugs ensue as they promise to pick us up in the morning for a Sunday drive to an Easter scene not often witnessed by tourists. Our curiosity is now on the alert.

The Squids have captured us!

Our evening is spent gaining entry to our flat. This involves internet communications through the Air BnB app to the landlord. We have a code for a keypad that lets us through the first door into a foyer. Our flat is up one flight. The door is locked and we don’t yet have a key. It is inside waiting for us. To get in we must send the landlord (Fritz) a message through the Air BnB app. He then remotely buzzes us in. That’s how it’s supposed to work. We successfully communicate and he activates the mechanism but we can’t get the door to open. We text him that we’re having trouble and he texts us back in German. Arrgh. We could work this out with Google translation but that would be ponderously ponderous. I simply text him “Wir sprechen kein Deutcsh” (We don’t speak German). His next text is English, “Don’t push the door. You must pull.” This, even though the door clearly opens inward, is counter-intuitive but, of course, correct. He buzzes, we pull, the door releases and opens inward, voila we are in.


And then we are out in the street again. We want to get a meal at Sardegna before they close. This is an Italian restaurant we feel attached to somehow and miraculously the wait staff are the same as 4 years ago. And they remember us! Vittim is our main man there, a fellow from Kosovo. He is a very charming fellow and his English isn’t bad. Clearly our Croatian is non-existant so we stand in awe of that. He takes care of us and we have a lovely meal at the end of a long day of travel. We can’t linger too long. We must get some sleep because tomorrow will be an adventure with Joshua, Katherina, and the Squids.

Easter in Bautzen

Easter Sunday, April 9, 2023, we ventured out with our Leipzig Friends to Bautzen, 2 hours east of Leipzig by auto. This was planned as a mystery trip by Katherina. The attraction is an unusual Easter parade and the old part of town, a bit of a medieval wonder of restoration and preservation.

Bautzen is about as far east as one can go in Germany. The Czech Republic is just a spit away to the south and Poland a lurch toward the east. Unusual because the ethnicity here is Slavic, an offshoot Serbian tribe called Sorb. They homesteaded this region about 1000 years ago and managed to maintain their identity for the most part. However the more I learn about them the more I feel they can keep it. This zone is intensely Catholic, a fact that projects mightily at Easter. Nothing gets these folks more excited than the idea of a dead guy popping back up to make empty promises.

The parade consists of 60 or so men in top hat and black duster on horseback at walking speed shouting "Hallelujah". This scene is repeated in alternate forms in the towns and villages of the region. A few thousand folks turn out to watch this very sedate spectacle, probably an act of support or religious dedication. It has to be that because this was the most solemn parade I've ever seen other than a funeral and I've been to lots of boring 4th of July parades. Let me walk that back a little. This is a thing not seen anywhere else so we can count ourselves privileged to see it. There are very few non-German tourists here, which deepens the experience of foreign travel, so there's that. More interesting was the Sorbski cultural museum which turns up another corner on the World Of Weird Humanity. In previous times these people were into costumes that proclaimed wealth, social status, occupation, political power, marital status, etc. It's all very elaborate but so uptight and bound by provincial and cultural isolation as to cause me to thank the luck I wasn't part of it.

They say the concept of painting eggs began here

Wille likes school, even when it is part of a museum display

19th century Sorb bride & groom

Part of the medieval town walls

Our Easter Sunday featured everything mentioned previously until our plan was interrupted, and rudely so, by a siege of gastroenteritis suffered by yours truly. I shall spare you, kind reader, the graphic descriptions of this even though it might make decent writer's grist. Let's say that I experienced, first hand, the German health care system at the Bautzen Krankenhaus. The Dr would speak two words of English then I lent him three. Google translator was my main tool. This continued until I discovered the 21 y.o. night nurse, Lena, who spoke creditable English. She seemed extremely pleased to be able to practice with me since nobody knows English in Bautzen and tourists from US or UK don't visit. She snorts when she laughs. I like her. She's my new friend.

From 4 pm Easter Sunday to noon April 11 I was pinned down, literally, with shunts in both arms while they pumped me full of saline solution and multiple medications. They also starved me. I had no proper food for 44 hours. This was their strategy but by Tuesday I was feeling as vacant as a campaign promise from Donald Trump. I haven't spent time in a hospital for quite a while but I was soon recalling how it goes. One is not allowed to sleep. The medicos have a continuous list of things they must do and none of it will synch with one's personal sleep habits. I'm guessing that a study has not been made of this because they are afraid of the result: that the leading cause of hospital death is sleep deprivation. That said, I must emphasize that the docs and nursing staff did an amazing job restoring my health in such short order. The nurses said that they typically hold cases like mine for a week. I got away in less than 48 hours. They didn't let me go without one last test of my resolve, however.

The medicos wanted me to eat something to demonstrate non-puke status. Shortly after the team left the room (there were 8 of them fergawdsake) an LPN arrived with a bowl of what looked like beige slop, as if someone had liquefied some Zwieback in milk. Even though it was visually repulsive in the extreme I had to taste it just for the giggle. I only dipped the spoon in 1/4 inch then put it on my tongue. It tasted just like it appeared, a dull, slack puddle of misery. CK had pity on me and set off down the street to find something edible. This was only partially successful. She returned with a completely indifferent sandwich, a muffin of doubtful freshness, and a piece of ham of questionable heritage. My stomach may reject it, not due to illness, but from general principles alone. German cuisine is not my favorite unless there are sausages, sauerkraut, mustard, pickles, black bread, and Munich beer. So far, this krankenhaus thinks I can survive on Zwieback puddles and Immodium. If I die, y'all blame them, ok? Just kidding... They did a fine job for sure.

At last managing to escape, our journey back to Leipzig required a bit of improvisation and taking advantage of the well evolved German transportation network. We caught a train from Bautzen to Dresden, then hopped the 15:07 to Leipzig.

Our plans to tour the Leipzig Easter Market on Monday evaporated in the wake of my romp at the Krankenhaus. Perhaps tomorrow we can put our plans back together. Wish us luck.

More Leipzig, April 12 & 13

Many weeks ago Katherina carefully crafted plans for our visit which included adventures to nearby villages and cultural experiences. Some of them were dashed by the viral/bacterial attack on my person in Bautzen on Sunday. Conventional wisdom dictates that we stay closer to home base Wednesday and Thursday in case the wicked gastrointestinal critter hasn’t been defeated but merely stunned. A relapse during a field trip is not to be risked. Therefore, we spend the next two days hanging out with KJ & The Squids. Not an unpleasant change at all.

In regard to tourism and the interests thereof, I haven’t much to report as we were much involved in rest, eating, and enjoying family time. Wednesday Katherina prepared us a lovely lunch. The clan then went out for a stroll in the park while I sacked out in the apartment collecting zzz’s and catching up on my sleep pattern. K&J then set to work preparing the evening meal while CK and I had a lovely time cuddling with the squidlings on beanbag furniture in front of a Harry Potter flick. Harry’s always in trouble, you see.

Later that evening we’re back in Leipzig taking a sentimental stroll through the city center revisiting several familiar places. Nicholaikirche and Thomaskirche were shut in the late afternoon. Mädlerpassage was humming. A visit to the Mephisto piano bar revealed that it is still a smoking bar after 6 pm. Only the most ancient of establishments are allowed by the City government to continue smoking indoors. The Mephisto qualifies so we doubt it will ever change. This remains a travesty but we resolve to soldier on.

Thomaskirche, Leipzig

Thursday was also spent in the company of KJ & The Squids (hey, sounds like a disco band from the 80’s). K & J host us for lunch again. Then off we march from their flat in the Lützschena neighborhood for a tour of the zone. Lützschena is part of Leipzig but functions as a satellite village. Our smart watches count up 15,000 steps as we hike around admiring the civilization here. We see handsome homes from a different age. Most fascinating is the abandoned beer factory just half a kilometer from the flat. This is an enormous complex of buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries which capped its last bottle in the early 1990’s. It is a derelict ruin now but work is under way to remodel the entire thing, creating condominiums, restaurants, shops, and a park. I should be finished in 4 years or so. Thursday evening the whole clan motored into the city center where we enjoyed dinner and laughs together at Sardegna.

Wille & Helene clowning around at Sardegna

Leipzig City Center is a place we have grown fairly familiar with. Despite being banned by the pandemic from coming here for 3 years it all looks amazingly familiar. Well, not quite all. The flat we stayed in in 2019 was on Bruhl strasse. We had a view of a massive building renovation directly across the street from us. That renovation is completed and we are staying in one of its flats staring back at the old one. It is quite functional in most ways although the flat feels smaller than advertised. There's a small kitchen table scarcely big enough to host our laptops. The kitchen and sitting area are basically the same room. Kitchen is modern except there is no microwave. Not having a microwave reveals how attached I am to using one. And we're noticing certain differences that we’ve forgotten since our last visit. The tea kettle boils water 4 times faster than in the US and uses half the power. Here they run 220v AC, a demonstration of how backward our electric grid is. Our bathroom is spacious with a roomy shower. It seems to be designed for wheelchair access. And the doors in these places are built to resist an apocalypse. They must weigh 250 lbs with an invisible automatic closing system. I feel that I want to lean my shoulder into them. A 10 year old child will struggle with these things.


A couple of ice cream shops around town have closed. The buskers have vastly improved generally speaking. There is a sweet fiddler in steampunk rags with an impressive classical repertoire. A duet of accordion players doing Italian jigs. A saxophone guy who knows his chops and puts on a good show. He had a couple hundred people stopped to listen, some even dancing. The Riquet Café, a gem of art nouveau style, is on our list but we may not have a chance this time. The Riquet is an example of an ancient establishment that could have kept its indoor smoking status but chose not to. Therefore it is a fave in Liepzig. We miss it due to spending unscheduled time in Bautzen.

We would wander more this evening but sleep is needed. I'm still adjusting. Tomorrow we hop further afield.

A very excellent busker

Wernigerode, Quedlinburg - April 14 & 15

K&J have arranged an overnight field trip which promises to be adventurous. We’re going to a town where all of us will be tourists. Not even K&J have been there. This will be Wernigerode, a place where foreign tourists seldom tread. Most tourists here are German. There are no English option menus or signs. Shop and restaurant staff have little or no English. Luckily, we have my magic phrase which gets me out of most communication scrapes but mostly we benefit from the help of Katherina and Joshua who translate all of it on the fly together with loads of beneficial details.

Joshua picks us up from our Leipzig flat at 9:30 am. From there we scoot back to Luchena to pack up the Squids and more luggage then off down the autobahn for 1.5 hours in a rented Ford. The scenery is of rolling agricultural crop land punctuated by towering wind generators. At one point we pass the massive and gleaming Porsche design and test facility near Halle. At least I can say I’ve seen it.

Of course, we have to make a pit stop en route which shouldn’t rate any commentary. Nevertheless, I must mention it as a way to explain why it concerns us. 7 y.o. Wille has developed the peculiar behavior of singing and dancing in the loo for extraordinary gaps of time. He keeps us all waiting while he puts on a show for the other loo users. The hypothesis for this behavior has to do with the pop music often played in these places. He never hears this at home so he takes advantage when he does. When there’s no music he does a mental playback from memory. “Dance like no-one is watching” is his modus operendi. Hilarious stuff.

As we approach Wernigerode large Soviet style apartment bloques appear on either side the road but we don’t have time to be discouraged by such architecture. Soon it all gives way to a generous settlement of 35,000 or so adorned with ancient, restored buildings from the 14th century on. We’ve seen some neighborhoods like this in other places but the extent of the restoration here is impressive. Just walking the streets here is a bit like a Disney theme park. I may have said this about Bruge, Belgium several blog posts ago but now I can say it about a German town. If you’re ever touring Germany don’t miss this place. Even better, if you can be here at Christmas. They doll this place up like mad.

Kleinste Haus

Joshua leads us to a curiosity, the Smallest House in Germany, Kleinste Haus. Built in 1792. The rowhouse consists of a hallway and a kitchen on the ground floor, the first floor features a 96 sq. ft. living room and the attic on top contains the bedroom. The toilet is at the back of a small courtyard behind the house. The room heights are a maximum of approx. 6.2 ft with beams often dipping several inches below that. Up to eleven people are said to have lived in the house at the same time. It was inhabited until 1976. Today the house belongs to the city of Wernigerode.

K&J are tourists right along with us. They have never been here either so it’s all new territory. This region has the regrettable reputation of being the first spot in Europe to launch the infamous witch hunts. A myth began in the 8th century about a demon called Wotan wedding his girlfriend Freya (sounds very Nordic, eh?) on the peak of Brocken mountain in the Harz range near Wernigerode. This evolved into an event called Walpurgisnacht. It was a scary thing that engendered real danger back in medieval times but today it’s an excuse to dress up and party, much like Halloween every April 30. All over town there are figurines of witches and trinkets for sale in that ilk. In my opinion, they don't make them like they used to. The witches in the old days knew their business, they could really get things done. Now they're so lazy the broom wanders around by itself on the floor looking for its charger.

One of the many "witches" in town

We spend a good deal of time just wandering the cobbled streets, gawking at the 14th- 18th century buildings letting our imaginations wander and snapping dozens of photos. Amazing that this has survived centuries without burning.

We spot a wagon built for 8 passengers pulled by two draft horses. Katherina makes a deal with the driver to be at the square after lunch to take us all up the Schlossberg (Castle Mount) for a visit to the old lord’s manor up there. Lunch is at a sidewalk café next to main square in front of the Rathaus (City Hall, est 1584). The six of us settle into a table just in time for the overcast to part slightly. A beam of sunlight blesses our table and we launch our orders with confidence.

Wernigerode Rathaus

I request Currywurst because I still want to understand why this dish is such a popular thing in Germany. It’s basically a boiled sausage smothered in a kind of improved ketchup. The curry spice, which seems to be part of the tomato sauce, is of such scarcity on my plate that the purveyors should be detained for fraud. I know better than to ask for Tabasco but I want to. Only a pepper sauce could save this thing. The fries are decent, I must say. I mop the sauce with them. Shortly after the food arrives, wouldn’t you know it, a rain squall darts in and scatters us. Luckily there are a couple of tables under the awning able to provide some shelter so we slide our belongings and plates in that direction. Rain continues to accompany our meal. Even though the awning protects us we still feel a bit clammy after our food. K & J hatch a plan to shift the clan to a coffee shop for cake. Joshua finds a cake shop just around the corner and the rest of the rain squall is spent adding sugary calories to an already hearty lunch. But we’re going to need them.

CK & Wille inspect a bronze fountain dedicated to the town's history

The horse wagon we planned to hire cancelled because of rain. Now, we walk. A considerable slog up the castle mount is good for us and useful for burning off Wille's apres kuchen (after cake) sugar high. I keep up with him but only just. The plan is to visit the Schloss, the local castle, located atop a hill that I’ll guess to be 250 feet from the base. There’s a cobbled path up there but it’s bit of a slog. We’re all a bit sweaty at the top and Wille is suitably bushed. So am I.

Schloss Wernigerode

Wernigerode and the Harz Mountains

The Schloss (castle) tour gives us insight into the lives of the rich and famous of former times. From the ramparts we get a stunning view of the city and Harz Mountain region. Photos in the castle are prohibited but I give myself permission to be rebellious. I keep a watchful eye out for the minder before committing my crimes.

Katherina snaps a pic in the Schloss while Wille is concerned that laws are being broken

I spot Green Man in the Schloss

We finish our tour and we skip back down into the town where Katherina has reserved dinner for us in a traditional German restaurant. I have duck soup, CK orders roast lamb. It is the end of a fantastic day with lots of wonder, laughs, and physical exercise. My watch says we got almost 15,000 steps.

Back into the car after dinner for a 20 minute drive to our room in neighboring Quedlinburg. We are staying there because that town will be our tour focus tomorrow.

The scene of the Great Wernigerode Kuchen Crime

The town is dotted with fantastic bronzes

Upon arrival the car is placed in a reserved spot in a car park. The luggage is unshipped and the march begins to find our room. J & K have the directions. The challenge is dragging luggage across the cobblestones and up a steady incline to the room. I wasn’t expecting such resistance but I guarantee, pulling a full bag across these stones is a piece of work. Joshua offers some sympathy but not much. Instead, he reminds us that dragging luggage through the streets of Florence is far worse. Guess what? We’ll be going there next month. Ha! At least we weren't doing this in the rain.

Upon arrival in Quedlinburg we must drag our luggage up this slope!

Quedlinburg - April 15

Taking a tour of our new neighborhood

After a very comfortable evening of rest we awake to a steady April shower. This has the effect of making the warm space we’re in all the cozier. A short bite of breakfast anticipates another day of walking in a well preserved medieval / renaissance period town. J & K and the Squids have been here a few times to enjoy the Christmas market. We were here in 2015 if we recall correctly. No matter, as there is plenty to explore.

Katherina shared a photo of Helene selecting the shirt

Helene and Wille want to get ahead of our birthdays (both in July) so they have BD gifts to present. They are very sweet to do this and both CK and I are blushing like kids ourselves. They give CK a pair of Hummingbird earrings. I unwrap a beautiful summer shirt patterned with several species of birds. I very probably will be able to wear this in Italy next month. So cool!

After breakfast we are out and into the rain. With umbrellas in hand we move immediately up the local castle mount, not nearly as precipitous as that in Wernigerode yesterday. The castle is being renovated so we are locked out of that but we can get into its church, Stiftskirche St Servatii. This is a 12th century Romanesque type, Basilica style, very plain, very stark and unbothered by decorative touch. We admire the workmanship of the sandstone blocks used to create it. There is a treasury featuring several gilded pieces and some suspicious looking boxes probably hiding sacred relics. I look for Green Man in the stone carvings since this is the architectural era I usually find him. And there he is at the ornamental crest of a column. There are a few statues and figurines but only a few. Wille spots one. “That's not the real Jesus is it?”

The church door

Romanesque architecture, 12th century

Pipe organ detail

"That's not the real Jesus, is it?"

I spot Green Man in the church!

Our view from the Quedlinburg Schlossberg

Heir Wille is famous for other bon mots: “Do not speak too much in Germany, Tim.” “Tim, German is not for you.” For the most part, I’m accepting this advice cheerfully.

The rain today is relentless and rather icy but we are determined to continue our strolling and gawking. Many soggy steps pass before we decide it is time to pause for a warm-up at the 7 Houses Café. We all order kuchen (cake) of enormous portions and wash it down with hot coffee, tea, or juice for the Squids. Suitably restored, we’re out on the street for more strolling in the rain.

We visit one more church, which makes CK happy. She likes the ancient craftwork in these places, the ornate ceilings, altars, carvings, etc. It isn’t a religious thing at all. This time we stop in to the Quedlinburg Marktkirche St Benedikti. This is another Romanesque structure from the 12th century but Joshua points out that it seems to also possess elements of Gothic fashion along the southern aisle, something that would have been added in the early 15th century. In 1700 a dose of Baroque deco was installed bringing some life to the party, also granting it a mixture of styles all its own. CK notes that this church seems abnormally like a refrigerator. Milk would not spoil here. The primary charm here today is that it is dry enough to linger for a spell just to avoid the ice water dripping from the clouds.

We must get home in time to get a little rest before we arrive at the Hotel Am Bruhl restaurant for dinner. Katherina has arranged for a nice meal for us tonight and we are kind of hungry after such a clammy but uncrowded day of sightseeing.

Quedlinburg Marktkirche

Fast forward to our dinner reservation.

We are ushered to a comfortable table and tended to by a very efficient and friendly server. This was the beginning of a truly unforgettable meal and peak family time with the clan. This is by far the finest meal we have ever had in Germany or, for that matter, anywhere. We have never experienced a restaurant with a Michelin star. This establishment doesn’t have one yet but I’ll guess that it will. It is mentioned in their guide, Katherina says. Wow. We experience superb flavor and artistry in presentation with every dish. The starter for me is a Canelloni so scrumptious that I divide into smaller pieces hoping to make it last longer. My main is a Catfish that swims in complex delicacy. CK has a stunning Leek Soup for an appetizer and an outstanding chicken dish for a main. Her dessert is a deconstructed cheese cake that she raves about. My dessert is a sorbet prepared with a local liquor called ‘Ghost of the Harz Mountains’. It carries a dozen different flavors and has the appearance of a mossy forest floor on a rainy day. We are totally in love with this place. Katherina hit a home run with this choice. If you’re ever in Quedlinburg, Germany this restaurant is a must not miss.

Harzgeist dessert. An impression of a mountain forest.

The end of a perfect rainy day with J, K, and the Squids

Rest is next for me. Tomorrow, J&K have another adventure in the works.

Quedlinburg – April 16

A persistent rain greets us in the morning. Rain promises to follow us one way or another all day again. But that’s no problem, really. We’re geared up for it, besides we’re from the Pacific Northwest. Rain is an old friend, so who cares?

K&J have hatched another adventure here on our last full day in Germany. After a quick breakfast of toast, fruit, and coffee we’re packed up in the rented Ford and on the road west into the Harz range. Our goal is The Baumannshöhle, Baumann’s Cave, so named for the fellow who discovered it.

This is a system of natural limestone caves that were explored long ago. It features fantastic stalagmite and stalagtite formations. Rainwater seeps through the limestone. Rain carries with it carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The carbon dioxide is acidic. It reacts with the calcium in the limestone to make calcium carbonate which moves with the water. This action slowly redistributes calcium along these drip lines sometimes for tens of thousands of years creating fantastic and delicate calcareous shapes.

Photos are prohibited here likely for safety reasons. Tours are conducted in a group. People spinning about with their cellphones in tight spaces would likely engender considerable chaos. Our guided tour is all in German. CK and I understand nothing except what we're able to get from a 5 minute recording in English fed to us through our phones. Because of the rain today the entire cave system is dripping from above creating a cold, damp atmosphere. CK and I are wearing our rain gear and gloves. The Squids are likewise cocooned in their heavy weather stuff. We’re happy we did.

Back to the discoverer, Heir Baumann. In the 15th century this fellow, a miner, found an entrance and followed it deep into the cave carrying only some kind of candle. At one point a drop of seep water fell and extinguished it throwing the poor fellow into total darkness. He needed 3 full days to find his way out but he only lived long enough to explain what happened. He died of exhaustion shortly thereafter. Tourists have been visiting these caves since 1646. The largest chamber is sometimes used for dramatic performances, concerts, and weddings. In the past, bones of Ice Age cave bears and other prehistoric animals have been found.

There are 300 steps to be ascended and descended around the complex often dodging stone intruding into the walkway right around head height. I spend a good portion of time crouching. It’s a fascinating tour. Joshua spots two human skulls on a rocky shelf. At least he says so. Nobody else can confirm it!! By the time the tour lets out we’re ready for some lunch. J&K spot a likely bistro catering to the hikers that regularly visit this zone. Joshua recommends the venison bratwurst. They have to cull the deer regularly to keep the population down which allows places like this to offer it on their menu. Not only is it delicious but I’m unlikely ever to get such a bratwurst again unless I make a special trip here. It’s a terrific experience.

Replica of Ice Age Cave Bear bones

Helene accessorizes while waiting for her lunch

Wait, there’s more!

After lunch we motor down the road a few kilometers to “Titan RT” This is a tourist attraction featuring a suspension bridge across the face of a dam in the Rappbode Valley. This bridge is over 500 yards long and 328 feet high, anchored in with 947 tons of tension. When people are out on it their movement sets up a rhythmic wave in the structure making it a bit challenging to walk. The views from here are supposed to be breathtaking, however, such is not the case today. We enjoy a dense fog allowing about 150 feet visibility.

This is also a center for thrill seekers. There are a variety of bungee jumps, long arc swings, complex rappels, and zipline rides to purchase. I love to indulge in these things but the weather is just too clammy and the views non-existent. I’ll hope for another chance at this before I pop off. Back on the autobahn to K&J's where we enjoy our last hours together on this visit. They fix us a lovely home cooked pizza meal and we reflect on our week in family mode. The Squids groan a bit as they are reminded to get to sleep early because tomorrow Spring Break is over and it’s back to school. We get warm hugs from them and promise we’ll be back next Easter for more adventures and cake shop raids.

Joshua deposits us back at our flat on Bruhl in Leipzig Central for the night. Tomorrow he’ll take us to the Halle Airport to begin our move toward Manchester, UK.

Germany to the U.K - April 17

Our last morning in Germany proceeds in an orderly fashion as we tidy up the flat per the landlord's instructions. Who am I kidding? CK puts herself in charge of all that. I simply obey orders! The useful leftovers from the fridge we'll leave with Joshua when he arrives to whisk us off to the Halle Flughafen. We're also parting with a few bits of clothing we've decided are superfluous. We need the luggage space more than the layers. They will go to a relief effort for Romanians. The depot for this is just across the street from J&K's flat in Lutzschena. These containers are something of an eyesore in their neighborhood and here we are contributing to it! It's a good cause, so our guilt is tamed.

Our digs in Leipzig

Halle Flughafen security has its own peculiar level of bother, which we take some time to decipher, together with a rush hour crush at the entrance. The queue seems particularly glacial. I always get a thorough shake down from the uniforms because of the metallic knees. I obey the officer's hand signals like a trained hound. We're through the bomb check 15 minutes ahead of boarding.

A last look down our street, Bruhl

We must fly south to Munich to catch the flight north to Manchester. That doesn't seem right, but not surprising. There's a lot about travel in Europe that strays into the counterintuitive. A week ago our train from Berlin to Leipzig left the station going west. After 15 minutes it stopped completely, waited 5 minutes, then began moving east, the opposite direction. I'm sure this makes perfect sense somehow but it bewilders us until we simply stop trying to figure it out.

The flight to Munich is less than an hour but that doesn't prevent the crew from offering a plate of cold cuts and cheese. My stomach does a half-gainer at the sight of it. I pass. I'll hold out for something healthier like a gin & tonic on the next leg. Our jet lands nicely, no ugly bouncing.

They do love their potatoes here

We are technically in Munich but actually pinned behind the Security Wall at the airport so we cannot actually say we're visiting Munich. We have laid out the extra for business class which allows access to the 'lounge'. Here we get some nice fizzy water and snacks while we wait for the Manchester flight to board. Bored. That's the word. Travel days are dull affairs and that's the way we like it. No thrills, if you please. But not so much that we enjoy delays. Today our wheels lifted off of German soil 1 1/4 hours late at 5:15 pm. Not ideal but nothing that would put us off of our plans. Once in the air the crew presents us with a tray of, we trustfully presume, edible items. See photo. Immediately we are both circling and inspecting it like two suspicious vultures with a fresh roadkill uncertain about whether it is quite dead enough yet.

Mystery airplane food

There are two or three forlorn bits of wilted cauliflower, obviously enough, but the rest is not recognizable. I consume one of the wafer-like objects but its secrets remain hidden. It has no flavor and I'm left with no clue. The dark bit is a slice of beet, I'll wager. The pink bit turns out to be some rather aggressively cured lox, fresh and salty, the only thing I can approve of in honest conscience. CK only ate the beet, I think. I would kill for a plate of hot, crispy fries and malt vinegar. Or better, a baked potato with butter, bacon bits, and sour cream. We'll be in a different food culture soon and that isn't to say that British cuisine is automatically better than the German. It isn’t. We've had enough Brit fare to know that road food is dodgy business absolutely everywhere. It's just that we have a better sense of how things work in the UK and consider our chances one quarter of an iota better.

A doorway in Wernigerode, Germany

Eventually our wheels are down in Jolly Old England, Manchester, to be precise. Our Motel One, kitty corner from the train station, is merely a sleep experience tonight. We are meeting up with Barbara M., CK's longtime pal and my partner in Scotch Whisky Appreciation. We'll be traveling together for the next several days.

After this whistle stop we are catching a breakfast train to Ulverston tomorrow morning, Tuesday. We'll be looking for adventures there.

"Adventure is merely poor planning," said Mungo Park prior to his second visit to Africa.

We'll see.

We duck in for a wee nosh in Manchester

Manchester to Ulverston – April 18

We are in Manchester overnight, just long enough to have a pint in the evening and a coffee in the morning. Or vice versa if my mood were slightly more contorted. Motel One offers a small room and a comfortable sleep. Everything works except the reading light on my side. Kaputski. Small horrors!

Our view of the interior of a Manchester Cab

Manchester!! Let's get out of here!

The train station is just around the corner from our hotel. We must fuss around figuring out which train we're looking for. Trains are defined by the extremities of their range. Ours will travel to 'Barrow in Furness' where it will turn about and go the opposite way but we get off two stops before that happens. The rub here is that our pre-purchased tickets don't make this clear. The gigantic screen in the main station lists departures and arrivals but is no help because we don't know what we're looking for yet. Our solution is to speak with a ticket agent who directs us properly. That done, we have a few minutes to spare so CK loots a cash machine (Euros don't work in the UK). There's also a mini food market. We plunder it for some packable snack bars. Word is that as we move further into the sticks resupply options will diminish. This sounds like we're making off to explore a savage frontier, fizzy with danger and pirates. Doubtful. But on a 10 mile walk we aren't likely to find a pub lunch like we did in the Yorkshire Dales years ago. We'd best carry our own solution for peckishness.

Train schedule board at the Manchester Station

We'll be on this train to Ulverston about two hours. Our cases go on racks above the seats. Each one is about 35 lbs. A younger version of myself would have made the lift easily. This current version of me imagines invisible hands reaching up from the Earth's core, gripping each bag, engaging me in a tug-of-war. I punch my knee into the bag for a momentum boost and just manage it. If I'm going to continue traveling, I really need to dedicate some time to weight training or this kind of thing will become unmanageable before I'm ready.

My attention is hijacked by the robot lady on the train’s PA system. “Next stop Ken Spank.” Awesome! Is “Barbie Pinch” the next stop? Are there shops specializing in naughty accessories? In the UK such a place name should not surprise me knowing that the settlements of Wetwang, Giggleswick, and Lickfold actually exist. Sadly, a glance at the screen spells it for me: Kent's Bank. I would have been so much more entertainment potential with the wrong version. The train spits us out about 1:15 pm. CK guides us to our accommodations, Church Walk House built 1750. We ring the bell. Nobody answers so we dawdle away time half a block away at the Rose & Crown pub with pints and grub. Back to ring the bell again at 2 pm. No answer. CK has some British Pounds from 2019. Since then, they replaced the paper currency with new bills made of plastic to defeat the counterfeiters so CK’s paper notes are no good. She needs to trade them for the real thing, so we hunt down the proper agency to do this. Turns out that the Post Office solves the issue. Back to Church Walk House to ring the bell. No answer.

We are still dragging our luggage around town, of course. Being weary of that we park ourselves in a Costa coffee shop, where Devin, the barista, calls us ‘darling’ repeatedly. After an hour I hike back to the Church Walk House to ring the bell again. No answer. Back at the coffee shop we are sympathizing more than we already do with the plight of homelessness. About 4 pm we ring the door again and this time our host, Martin, appears all chipper and full of light as if he had just awakened from a 48 hour sleep. Martin is warm, friendly, and very chatty. He wants us to walk up to the monument on the hill above town. "You can see where you've been. You can see where you're going. You can see where you are!" Did I mention that he’s cheerfully enthusiastic?

Ulverston Town Center

Ulverston. This is another one of those towns that earned a charter for being a 'market town' back in the days when that sort of thing was a big deal, in this case, the year 1280. One of the last remnants of this is a stone obelisk called a 'market cross' around which the merchants could set up their stalls and wagons. Today, this cross stands amidst flower pots in a pleasant looking traffic circle, as if any traffic circle could be pleasant. Actually, this could be one of the cutest traffic circles I've ever met.

Devin, our coffee shop chap who charms CK like mad!

Curious shops, narrow streets, and 17th century buildings are the thing here. Quaint and tidy might be acceptable descriptors if one hadn’t just spent several days touring impeccably restored old towns in Germany, as we have. Architectural conservation here does not compare even remotely to the level of Wernigerode or Quedlinburg. Tourism here seems to be the main business but they appear to mainly be fishing for British tourists.

This is the birthplace of Arthur Stanley Jefferson, more famously known as Stan Laurel, 1890-1965. I can't help wondering how many people younger than the age of 60 know about the comedy team of Laurel and Hardy from the 1930's and 40's. Even people in their 80's would have been barely out of toddler stage when these guys and their style were popular. By the time I was old enough to appreciate their films Hardy was dead and Laurel very nearly so. I’m sure their stuff can be found on YouTube or even Netflix. Stan Laurel may be fading into the mist of time elsewhere, but his memory will likely survive here for the foreseeable future. This is where we find the only Laurel and Hardy Museum on the planet.

A lifesize bronze of Laurel & Hardy stands before the Post Office

There's a Victorian style railway station, a nice theater for live performances, a druid's circle, and an old church, St Mary's, dating back to the year 1111. A folly adorns one of the hills overlooking the town in the form of a copy of the Eddystone Lighthouse. They call it the Hoad Monument. There's an art glass studio here which is irresistible for some folks. Not us. We can resist it.

Ulverston - April 19

Blogger at work?

Our room at Church Walk House is very Victorian with a springlike green and yellow pastel floral design. The floors quake and creak when we walk around which then rattle the doors of the armoir. One would have to be very patient with slow movements to sneak about undetected in a house like this. The plumbing, I suspect, is at least 40 years old. We’re on the 2nd floor so it takes a while for hot water to crawl up the pipe. It all works fine except for the work desk area. There is no power anywhere near it. Ugh. All the outlets seems to be under or behind the beds 12 feet away.

Martin serves us a sumptuous breakfast, Full English and plenty of it if we had so desired. We could have asked him for one plate and split it between the three of us. Instead we order sensibly and modestly saving our sinful plunges for the tea shop later.

The Hoad Monument is seen on the right

CK and I then grab our walking sticks and set out for the folly, The Hoad Monument, dedicated to the memory of Sir John Barrow, a gentleman who was given to, like others in his day, exploring exotic and undiscovered lands during the Age of Enlightenment. The tower is 100 ft tall and sits upon a 436 ft high hill. It is a windy, winding climb up to it but not very strenuous. We are rewarded with sweeping views as Martin promised. CK and Barbara had already climbed the hill yesterday. This is CK's second go. I'm very proud of her!

Next is a visit to St. Mary's Church. The literature advertises a Norman structure from the year 1111 but we soon discover that the only 12th century bit left is the entrance arch. 90% of it is mid-19th century Victorian. The rest is modern. So! My hunt for Green Man is spoiled as he was demolished or carted away long ago. The Church Warden intercepts us and doesn't fail to seize our ears with a steady stream of Church lore which I promptly commit to forgetting. CK and Barbara escape his hypnotic incantation when his cell rings. They go off to inspect each corner while I find a likely pew in which to fake my meditations which rhymes with take my medications, which reminds me, tea and cakes for lunch according to my charming companions.

Inspection of Not-So-Ancient Church concluded we’re off to stuff our mugs with tea and cake. Gillam's Tea & Coffee was Martin’s recommendation. CK goes for scone with clotted cream & jam, coffee cake, with a side of liposuction. I go for soup, a crust of bread, and a rum spiked latte. I also serve as cleanup detail when CK’s appetite fails her. We're getting plumped up and watered ahead of our first day of human powered travel which begins tomorrow morning. Doing a fine job of it, too.

Our ladies enjoying proper tea and cakes

We spend the rest of the day wandering the town. I look for photos, Barbara shops for postcards, and we all plunder the store one more time for munchies to pack with us.

Our evening meal is back at the Rose & Crown. The food is nice but I’m not quite over that fine dining experience at the Hotel Am Bruhl in Quedlinburg. I know. Pub food has its own charm and I promise to get stuck in soon enough. Here’s a photo essay of our day:

The Laurel & Hardy Museum. I declined to pay 7 quid for entry.

The decor here looks like a Victorian Yard Sale

A crow's nest

Sculpture marking the start of the Cumbria Way

Your Intrepid Wanderers!!

Ulverston to Lowick Bridge (8 miles) - April 20

Getting our start in Church Walk House with Martin again. He produces another sumptuous breakfast which we pounce upon given that we have an 8 mile walk ahead of us. Our stay in Ulverston was very pleasant, a good way to re-familiarize with Brit culture and habits. I’ve learned some local vernacular: Dogstinks are dandelions. A hogg is not a pig but a yearling sheep. A boggart is a ghost, so I’m thinking that Cumbrian culture is likely the source of Rowling’s shape-shifting creature in “The Prisoner of Azkaban.”

As we begin the Cumbria Way

We have ideal conditions for a walk, sunny, dry, cool, with a breeze. We get started about 10 am, slowly, as we are adjusting gear we haven't used in 4 years. Some wayfinding through sheep meadows takes a measure of our time. Fresh grass has camouflaged some footpath. In a couple of cases the route has been recently changed. CK and Barbara consult their narrative versions of the route searching for waypoints and landmarks. I augment the discussion with GPS maps on my cell. Sherpa, the touring company, provided marked overlays on the digital map files. Each day I load the proper one into the app and voila. Today we used it to solve a few confusing bits of direction from the guidebook.

Our route today featured more than 20 stile crossings, some of which seemed perilous for septuagenarians like us. These things would never pass an OSHA inspection. We must look positively frail creeping over these stiles compared to a farmer who leaps up, over, and through as if they were no more bothersome than a garden hose.

A stile in a dry stone wall

Lunch at St John's Church a tiny, gloomy, stony thing, just short if Broughton Beck. CK and Barbara tried the door. It was locked so we found a bench in the cemetery and lunched in breezy sunshine among The Dead. Apple & Manchego, oatmeal bars, buttered bread, sesame crackers, water. No pub lunch available and none tomorrow, either.

We arrive at Red Lion Inn at 4:30, a march of 6.5 hours and I use the term loosely. We only covered 8 miles, a truly glacial pace. I am now alarmed about the upcoming leg of 12.5 miles in a couple of days. We’ll have to grab breakfast and ‘run’. I’m being generous with terminology again. Our luggage was ported here by the tour company in case you were wondering about that. Lugging things on backpacks is for 20-somethings.

This hamlet of Lowick Bridge appears in written history in 1202 as Lofwik and Old Norse term for Leafy Bay. It has two pubs, The Red Lion and the Farmer's Arms. There doesn't seem to be enough humanity around here to provide sufficient customers for two pubs and maybe not enough for one. People must drive from miles away to patronize them.

St John's, our lunch stop

Hello, ladies. Thanks for the cheese.

Enjoying spring blossoms

Our room at the Red Lion Inn is upstairs directly above the pub. Muffled conversations of the locals will be with us until closing which is I don't know when. As more pints go down, the chatter gets louder. There is a small dog, perhaps two. It barks. But the noise isn't terrible. There's no juke box or pop music thumping away like there was in that pub we slept in on the Yorkshire Dales walk. That was an annoying party into the wee hours.

This fellow very quietly stood in the path

At 5 pm, when we check in, the room is heated to sauna-like conditions by a hot water towel rack in the washroom. There's no adjustment on the thing. I wrestle the ancient sash window open but that only partially solves it. We prepare for a sweaty night.

Tonight's pub meal was satisfying although lacking flavor. Not complaining. Comfort food is nice. Back to the room for an early evening. Now I notice that the heat in the washroom towel rack is off. This will make for more comfortable sleeping. Breakfast tomorrow is in the pub.

Lowick Bridge to Coniston (10 miles) - April 21

We survive the night in Lowick Bridge in fair shape. The perversity of the now suspicious heated towel rack in the washroom continues. It it stone cold in the morning when we could most use it to be otherwise. And another thing, a thing not unusual in Brit washrooms: there is no power outlet. It isn't as if this one is so ancient that it couldn't have one. This washroom has been updated with nice modern fittings and fairly recently. I'm sure there is a reason why there is no power in Brit washrooms and someday, someone will explain it to me. For now, I can't imagine what that reason is. Correction: I can imagine one but it will most certainly be wrong.

Steve, our host at the Red Lion, presents a satisfying selection of breakfast items which we plunder. We imagine we'll need fuel for the 30,000 steps we'll need to get to Coniston. Steve has a distinctive accent. He seems to clip his words in half. We need to pay close attention to understand him. He packs a sandwich for us to take on the trail. I think I asked for tuna. I think he said ok.

Only 5 stiles today. Not so much dangerous wall climbing as yesterday. Right away we encounter easier terrain, not such unevenness, plus some high meadow ridge walking (my favorite) in a stiff easterly breeze. I couldn't keep my hat on. Not cold. Sunny, cool, dry. Pleasant!

The easy terrain doesn’t last long. Climbing high ground we arrive at Beacon Tarn, a shallow lake between 3 peaks. A woman from a nearby village is swimming in the icy water. She says she does this 3 times per week and neither is she used to having an audience. She also claims that the water isn't as cold as we think. We decide to take her word for that.

The terrain around the tarn is a series of mud pits and stones. Being fastidious, not wanting a boot full of muck, we sidestep the pits, tiptoe on the stone. This is slow going for us, tiring. We are overtaken by other walkers who seem unbothered by the rough ground. Stiff soled hiking boots, which we don't have, would help here.

Beacon Tarn

Avoiding the muck

A combination of sloppy ground and stone

The view coming down from Beacon Tarn

Out of the muck zone we cross a high windswept dry basin carpeted in spent bracken fern. There are no benches or picnic tables here so lunch is in the lee of a dry stone wall. I set down on a comfy tussock. The ladies find a nasty limestone boulder. Our sandwiches qualify as sustenance. I can't give mine more praise than that and still be honest.

More stiff breeze. I must carry my hat or watch it be carried away. Descending from high ground we catch our first look at Coniston water. The wind is blowing like stink. It is frothing up like a Cumbria ale which rhymes with gale. Much of the remaining trail to Coniston is along the lake but that doesn't mean the walking is easy. We deal with large stones, exposed tree roots, and broken path. More slow going for us and locals fairly sprinting past.

The trail by the lake is rough

By the time we arrive at The Bluebird Inn, CK has a foot blister and we're all ready to get horizontal for a few minutes before hitting the pub for celebratory pints. The Coniston Inn is across the street, willing to provide the local ale and food. It's quite a fancy pub.


CK's watch counted 29K steps. Mine counted 27K, well short of my calculations. I guess I don't really know how my smart watch counts things. The guide book says we covered 10 miles.

Tomorrow the weather looks dirty. Luckily we had scheduled it a non walking day. Thankfully the Coniston Inn serves pints and whisky all day. Our next walking day is Sunday but we're unlikely to have dry weather then, either.

Coniston – April 22

Coniston is a farming village which morphed into a tourist destination beginning in the 1860's, a result of a new rail connection. There's a lake nearby bearing the name of Coniston Water. In the 1950's a fellow named Donald Cambell pressed forward with his ambition to capture the world water speed record and did so 7 times. At Coniston Water in 1967 he attempted to break his own record and set a new mark for the eighth time. He mounted a jet engine in a boat of his own design. Sadly his run ended when his craft wrecked at 290 mph. Not surprisingly, he didn't survive. The boat and Donald's body were recovered in 2001. Now a restored version of the boat is on display at a local museum dedicated to the poet John Ruskin. I trust that Mr. Campbell is properly buried somewhere. Speed kills so go slow, ok?

CK notices that the door on St Andrew's Church is open

John Ruskin is another celebrity claimed by Coniston. He was a poet, philosopher, social critic, environmentalist, and all-around intellectual of the Victorian era. Gandhi credited him for influencing his own ideals. He used a house on the east side of Coniston Water to rest up between assaults upon the wickedness of the world. A launch ferries pilgrims across the lake to view the house and walk in his footsteps.

I hope nobody needed the washroom

A 2,600 foot hill lurks on the outskirts sporting the colorful name of Coniston Old Man or Old Man of Coniston depending on which clan and which generation is holding the floor at the pub. It features sheep, ancient slate quarries, and a well beaten path to the top. Of course there's a King Hell View to be had for those with the youth and will to skip up there. If it were a nicer day I might have tried to go at least partially up the path but no sale. The weather is soaking and will be all day. We’ve allowed the rain to give us permission to be lazy. I take full advantage and park myself in the room for a nap. Our room is at The Bluebird Lodge, a tidy BnB. The room is small but we’re managing just fine. The heated towel rack has its own mysterious schedule for when it’s hot and when it’s not. This is a pattern. We’re getting used to it. When I regain consciousness I don’t see Barbara or CK so I presume they are in the pub, the Coniston Inn, across the street. I don’t see them there, either. I figure if I stay put long enough they will find me. I grab a dram of Scotch and wait. About dinner time they stroll in. See? All I have to do is position myself near the food and booze. Bingo!

A few years ago we finished the Yorkshire Dales walk 7 kilometers from here in Windermere. There's quite a difference between that town and Coniston. Windermere is far more seriously oppressed by tourists. There's a more relaxed vibe in Coniston and the pubs here are more attractive. So, if you're in the Lake District give Windermere a look but book in to Coniston. This is our considered recommendation!

CK and Barbara are scheming up alternatives for tomorrow. Weather forecast is for more rain which is annoying because we’re scheduled to walk 12.5 miles to Great Langdale. Rain won’t melt us but the trail is bound to be mucky as well as rough for more than half of it. Not wanting to beat ourselves up unnecessarily, there may be a taxi ride for part of it.

Coniston to Langdale (12.5 miles) – April 23

A most scenic view of Coniston Water

Like Barbara we're all startled to be in a taxi at 8 am

We are supposed to walk 12+ miles today but we all agreed that the weather forecast was too threatening for comfort. Our apps showed rain coming in the afternoon. The idea of dodging the rain seized us and took the form of hopping a taxi to take us to a halfway point, cutting the route in half and getting it done in the morning ahead of the wetness. A driver picks us up at The Bluebird Inn about 8 am. Off we go and I am reminded never to look out the front windscreen. I don’t want to see oncoming traffic on the wrong side of the road or large trucks that appear to be taking their share out of the middle. I’ve had taxi rides in the UK on country roads before and it is spooky unless I keep my head turned to the side window and shut my mind to the chaos going on around us. Our driver is chatty, offering local color about buildings, trees, ponds. He points to where an American ordered a house built and thought the measurements were in feet. They were in meters. He got twice the house he planned for. A group of Yew trees dot a property, each planted to celebrate the birth of a daughter in the family. They've been doing this over 400 years. He points out a pond that was once managed by monks for raising fish.

"I'm not English. I'm from Wales," he drawls, correcting our presumption. “The sheep here are Herdwick. They’re tough and can stay outside all winter. In Yorkshire they have Swaddles. You say Swaledale but we say Swaddle.” He informs us about the venomous adders in the bracken, which is now in its wilted, winter form. "They kill some people," he offers as an aside, "if they're sensitive." CK and Barbara register alarm recalling that we were walking among these dormant bracken ferns yesterday. They relax when Mr. Driver says that the adders are asleep this time of year. Good save, Mr. Driver. This experience is reminding me about taxi drivers. They can be, like this one, very willing to talk especially if you announce yourself as a tourist. They can be a treasure of information, a kind of tour guide. A few years ago we hired one for the day in Quebec with this very thing in mind and it worked brilliantly. We need to keep this idea in our tool bag.

The Pub at Elterwater

From the bridge over the Brathay at Elterwater

Mr. Driver drops us at a Cumbria Way finger post a few miles from Coniston. This is a very picturesque area, really showing off the reputation of the Lake District as having some of the most spectacular scenery in the UK. A waterfall worthy of Japanese poetry presents itself. We see a river valley crossed with charming burns. We walk a considerable distance on well groomed trails suitable for cyclists and joggers. We stop for a short rest in the village of Elterwater. The bridge over The River Brathay draws my camera. The pub is closed but the tea shop is open. We decline to indulge for unclear reasons. Perhaps one of them is not wanting to spend time indoors at this moment.

Ring neck pheasant rooster

The weatherman lied, so far that is. The air is cool and dry, perfect for walking. More scenic miles later we’re approaching Langdale and Dungeon Ghyll from the south but the natural quiet is being spoiled by something and it isn’t the crowing of a pheasant rooster. It sounds like a DJ and a sound system pumping pop music down in the valley. This is not what we expected. Why are these bucolic scenes accompanied by the thumping sound of a 1980's style disco strip club?

Soon we learn that it's nothing so exciting as we imagine. It's a cycling event, a road race. A DJ is calling out the arrival of riders. The disco music is an attempt to make it seem exciting. The riders aren't interested in dancing. They slide over to the pub where there is ale and Manchester United vs Bristol on the screen. It’s kind of forlorn scene, really. Someone is throwing a party out there but nobody wants it.

We wait a couple of hours until our rooms are ready. This place is called New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel. A ghyll is a narrow ravine in Northern England. It may mean something else in Scotland, such as a rivulets or small stream. But then everything is different in Scotland. We grab some pints and grub while we wait for the rooms. There seems to be a lot of creme style ale in these parts. It has a mild flavor, stiff foamy head, and silky mouth-feel. I like them but those who go for bitter styles probably won't.

This town's name, Langdale, is another garbled version of Old Norse meaning Long Valley. It’s less of a town than a zone. The houses are few, large, and spaced about ¼ mile away from each other. I imagine this is quite a high rent district despite its rural nature. There is evidence of stone age folk living here but the first permanent settlements were probably bronze agers followed by the Roman invaders. The Norse showed up in the 10th century bringing the real lutefisk. Rock climbers are attracted to this zone because of, obviously, big rocks that beg to be climbed. Langdale appears in William Wordsworth's poetry, so there's some testimony to its former and current glory. Somehow this area has escaped the notice of big business. Government projects seem not to land here, but in other places. This kind of beneficial neglect has conspired to leave Langdale in possession of a certain leafy green health punctuated by natural rock gardens floating on the valley slopes. I hope my humble photos can do it justice.

Langdale - April 24

We're staying an extra day in Langdale before resuming the walking tour tomorrow. After breakfast I take a 20 minute walk up the trail behind the hotel. It's steep and rocky but the reward is a charming waterfall. I can't stay long because CK has a plan to extend our range of curiosity by hopping the local bus to the town of Ambleside. It's 30 minutes of rattling along a narrow country road accompanied by several near sideswipes with traffic. The driver stops twice to avoid collisions. I wish I had been more agile with my camera. I might have caught some comically worried driver's faces as the bus inched past them. This scene was to be repeated on the return trip but this time with three large dump trucks oncoming. The bus had to retreat several dozen meters.

Waiting for the bus to Ambleside

Upon arrival in Ambleside we spot a church immediately, St Mary's. CK has to visit. It looks promisingly ancient at first glance but we soon learn that it was built in 1854, a pseudo copy of 12th century Norman-Gothic style. That's why I can't find Green Man here. It's far too modern. Even CK was disappointed. We investigate the local Bowling Green. CK gets an explanation of the style they play here. The manager offers her a go on the turf but CK demurely declines. Next we hunt for a likely tea shop. It isn’t hard to do. This town is set up for tourists much like Windermere just down the road. The difference is Ambleside isn’t nearly as dense or intense. There's a bit more laid-back vibe here.

We spot a Cornish Bakery, one that features pasties. They sell dozens of them here. "Literally hundreds," declares the lass. There's only one table and we capture it, settling down with our scones with clotted cream. Desperate Housewives ( a US TV show on Netficks) is the subject of chatter amongst the bakery staff. CK chirps in and insists that most folks in the US don't live that way. I confirm it. "There's plenty to blame us Yanks for, but not that."

We aren't in Ambleside with an idea to do anything, really, just look around, take photos, be nosy, and window shop. A merchant is selling sheep products: fleeces, slippers, leather coats, gloves. We have to touch everything. I admire a sheepskin winter coat but there's just no room for it in our luggage. I peek into a few pubs out of curiosity. They all seem very tidy and inviting. Not a gambling device to be seen which is quite unlike those in Windermere if I recall correctly.

We're back in Langdale in time for me to get a pint before dinner. Here I learn from a local why there are such a quantity of pheasant in Langdale. Before Covid a farmer penned up dozens with the idea of raising them for sale to restaurants. Covid shut everything down before he could capitalize. The birds escaped and now there's so many that the local hunters don't enjoy hunting them. "There's no sport in it," the gent says, "I can walk right up to them and they'll lay their heads on the muzzle." Our evening meal is at the hotel. CK ordered Sunday Roast Beef yesterday. Sadly it had been taken to the edge of cremation and walked back an inch. She goes for the burger selection today. Good call. I help with the chips. I'm not that hungry so just a couple of small plates will do. The fun part was learning some history from Hailey, our server: Author Beatrix Potter (Peter Rabbit, Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail) used some of her considerable fortune to buy available farm property in Langdale. She then sold it to the National Trust in the early 20th century. This is the prime reason how this area is preserved against development. There are a few islands of private property in Langdale but as a result of being surrounded by National Trust protected property, they are restricted in how they may build. So, we can thank Mz Potter and P. Rabbit for this, the beauty spot of the UK.

Tomorrow we light out on foot to Borrowdale.

Sheepskin coats in Ambleside

Langdale to Borrowdale (8 miles) - April 25

New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel

This is quite a jumble of geography. It is the confluence of three valleys and host to a lake called Derwentwater. Nothing seems flat here except the lake. There are hamlets dotting the landscape: Watendlath, Stonethwaite, Grange, and Rosthwaite, remnants of an earlier era when this valley was thumping with industrial activity, iron smelting, and mining. Now it's just a few struggling farmers and tourists hunting photos and a pub lunch.

We’re already over the hill, so to speak, but that’s not enough. Today we’re going over the hill again. The climb will top out at 1,590 feet on Stake Pass. This isn’t the highest point on the Cumbria Way but it is the highest for us on this route.

"There's no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing." Alfred Wainwright (1907-1991) – local curmudgeon and author of 7 Pictoral Guides to the Lakeland Fells. So, if that's the way it's done, we have a "suitable clothing" day. It really is perfect walking weather. Bright, clear, cool air, dry, no excuses. The guide book warns us that the top of this fell is quite exposed. In bad weather it can be brutal up there. In fog it could be disorienting with no clear landmarks. Good to know but such is not our fate.

The path from New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel is easy and clear for about 1 1/4 miles. Then we begin the ascent to Stake Pass. This is where the path becomes stony and remains so the rest of the way to Borrowdale. By stony I mean there's no such thing as a flat, predictable foot placement. On the steepest part many large stones are carefully placed and buried firmly in the soil. This makes for steady footwork if one is careful. But this only lasts so long.

The path flattens into a high meadow ahead of the crest of the pass. This is where we begin to encounter loose stones underfoot. These stones range from the size of grapes to the size of one's head. They are mostly loose and treacherous, each one threatening to turn an ankle or dump us on our kiesters. Falling would not be an option. The landing would be onto another jagged collection of rock and most certainly result in a broken arm, rib, or worse. We are not wearing helmets. CK and Barbara are very aware of this. They are mincing their steps at a pace of 1 mile per hour or less.

Mickleden Valley