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Saturday, September 15, 2012




It’s all so civilized.  We caught a train out of Bath on Wednesday morning and had a lovely ride across the south of England, arriving in Penzance, Cornwall.  This was the leg of our travel that Leslie was in charge of.  By selecting our B&B she has proved herself to be a woman of fine taste. Our host and hostess at the Camilla House greeted us warmly.  We were invited into the lounge for a cup of tea and Simon drew us a lovely map of all the best restaurants and pubs within walking distance. He made suggestions for day trips, guided tours and general walk-abouts.  Enough said!  Our bags were taken to our room and we set off to have a look at Penzance. 

Our first foray took us through the old churchyard, where we stopped to have a look at the old gravestones.  I love to read the stones. From there, we stopped in The Turk’s head for a pint before moving on to the Admiral Benbow for dinner.  
What an experience!  If anyone has watched the Doc Martin series, you will remember that the imaginary town of Port Wenn is populated with the most unusual characters, quirky and slightly off center.  Perhaps you thought that a writer with a very fertile imagination had invented the Doc Martin cast of zanies?  You would be wrong.  These are real people.  As we sat at our table in the Benbow, we were treated to the most incredible parade of locals.  In walked a fellow wearing nylon jogging shorts, sandals and a t-shirt, all topped by a navy blue sport coat.  The bar maid greeted him by saying “You’re looking particularly dapper this evening, Alan.”  Next was an elderly lady in flowing skirts, scarves, wraps, colored mid calf socks and sandals.  She wore her silver hair in a disheveled chignon, streaked with purple and green, which of course matched her socks. But, a word about the décor.  Please imagine a pirate hoarder.  The proprietor and his wife have traveled the world, attending auctions and swap meets so that they could continually add to their collections of cannon balls, mastheads, lanterns, riggings, steins, harness brass, etc.  All this is displayed in rooms that have been built with restored sections of old schooners and pirate ships.  Between the people and the various collections, our heads were on a constant swivel.

  And, the food?  OMG.  Leslie ordered a root vegetable soup that she swears tasted exactly like Thanksgiving dinner.  I choose the Seafood pasta.  The seafood had been in the sea just hours before it appeared on my plate, combining prawns, squid rings, scallops, mussels and chunks of various fish in a creamy rose sauce.  Magnificent!  

Simon had arranged a tour for us on Thursday morning.  Following breakfast, we were picked up at our door by our guide, Russ.  Russ is a local young man with a couple of degrees in marine biology and botany behind him.  He and his Brazilian wife operate guided walking tours and the van tour we were on.  Because we were the first pair to be picked up, Leslie grabbed the front seat, next to Russ and I staked out the center of the back seat. 

 We drove to St. Ives to pick up another couple, leaving them only the third seat.  We spent four hours with Russ, asking questions and hearing stories of dancing maidens turned to stone, ship wrecks, government schemes involving loose cows mowing the roadsides, and how to enjoy cream tea.

  One of Russ’s stories involved the stone circles we visited.  Russ told us that there were eight known remaining stone circles, but none were in England.  What?  We were standing in one of the stone circles and yet he tells us that there are NO remaining circles?  Leslie piped up “But, Russ, we’re in England”.  “AhHa” Russ answered.  “We are not in England, we are in Cornwall.”  Yes, there is some serious pride in being a Cornishman. It was thirty pounds spent for a hundred pounds of enjoyment.

Friday was a clear and calm weather day.  It was perfect for taking the two and a half boat trip on the Scillionian, out to the Isles if Scilly.
I’ll wager that very few of you have ever heard of the Scillys.Paradise.Positively paradiseIt’s the southernmost point in England and enjoys a very moderate microclimateThe Scillys are a group of five inhabited islands, incredible beaches, acres of daffodil production, artist’s cottages and B&Bs.  There are palm trees everywhere and gardens of succulents. 

  St Mary’s is the largest island, with a castle that has been turned into a hotel above the town of Hugh.It’s a lovely place to walk about and we took a one hour bus tour to give ourselves a proper overview of the island.In all, we enjoyed four hours on St. Mary’s before heading back to the docks to catch the Scillonian for our ride back to Penzance.  We walked about the boat, stopping to chat with wet dogs. Westies, springers, goldens, and jacks, they had all had a lovely day at the beach. Back in Penzance, we stopped off for a pint and reflected on our lovely day. We sat outside, sipping our Guinness and chatting with another fine dog.

In spite of a bit of misty rain Friday morning, we braved a three-mile walk along the promenade from Penzance to Marizion.  Our goal was to walk across the beach to the island of St. Michael’s Mount, crossing at low tide. 

 The castle on St. Michael’s Mount is the home of Lord and Lady St. Aubyn, who still live in an apartment in the former abbey. The castle is perched atop an outcropping of granite that sits just off shore from Marizion.   Wear sensible shoes if you plan to visit this castle!  The only way to the top is a dizzying rock footpath with little twists and turns and lay-bys where you can stop to catch your breath just before your knees lock up.  We managed. The walk was well worth it as the views are stunning.  But, of course, if you have walked up to the castle, you must walk down the same path when you are finished.  It is a bit easier though.  Once we reached ground level we took a walk through the gardens. 
I found that the charm of the gardens was in the way the flowers and succulents all nestled into the rocks.  You don’t feel that there are contrived beds, but rather rock beds and walls with natural plants falling into and out of them.  After the gardens, the tide was in and we had to queue up for a boat to get us off the island. 

The weather had now cleared and we had time to squeeze in another little side trip.  After our three-mile walk to the Mount, we were ready for a bus to get us to our next destination, Mousehole.  

Please, don’t say Mouse Hole.  It’s Mouze-ull.  This is a lovely little village that sits on the coast south of Penzance and Newlyn.  It looks a lot like the fictional Port Wenn from Doc Martin!  We had intended to get to Port Isaac, which is the actual site of the filming of the series, but time was running out.  So, Mousehole it was. 

 We took a little stroll through the streets, admiring the cottages with their pots of flowers at the door, and an occasional working artist.  

 Then, it was time for the bus back to Penzance and our final evening in Cornwall.  Time to pack up and head back to London.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


     After a nice breakfast, we set out to do some more very touristy things.  The first stop was to the Information Center to inquire about a tour out to Stonehenge.  We found a tour bus company that had seats available and signed up for the afternoon trip.  This gave us lots of time to take the two-hour guided walking tour through the city. The tour meets in the plaza beside Bath Abbey and the guides are armed with encyclopedic knowledge of the history and lore that is Bath.  They are able to explain the Georgian architecture, the history, and the daily lives of the long dead residents. Bath has two histories.  There were the Romans, and then there was life in the seventeen and eighteen hundreds when the most fashionable, wealthy and royal people enjoyed the healing waters. However, it was Sunday morning.  The church bells ring for close to an hour, commencing at exactly the same time as the start of the tour.  
But, we stuck with it, straining to hear the guide’s voice above the bells.  And, the city rises up from the river.  We climbed narrow cobbled streets, working our way up to the Royal Crescent. Then, we wound back through the Circus and the Queen’s Square, back to we had begun our morning. 

Lunch was next, stopping at a little café that was tucked into a courtyard, just below street level.  The city of Bath has done a wonderful job of encouraging the businesses and residents to take pride in the flower boxes and planters that are everywhere.  So, each little café, pub, lamppost and park bench is surrounded by riots of color tumbling about.  We caught our breath and went to find the queue for the Stonehenge bus.

Stonehenge is located exactly an hour away, to the east.  There isn’t much to see along the way, allowing the driver full license to drive REALLY fast from the city to the site.  Really fast.  Blink and you are passing through a little village with a thatched roof cottage on one side of the road.  Blink and there is a glimpse of the canal.  Blink and there is a chalk horse carving in the side of a distant hill. Because of the trees and shrubs along the road, you have little opportunity to get a good look.  Nonetheless, we arrive at Stonehenge in one piece and spend the next hour following the path all the way around, punching in the coordinates on our hand held info devices.  Because it was late in the afternoon and the weather was changing, you really felt the mystery and haunting past of this formation.  But then, it was back into the bus and a speedy drive back to Bath.

We took time for a quick change of clothes and then headed to a pub for dinner.  I couldn’t help myself and did order the bangers and mash, enjoying every rich and gravy soaked bite.  Just outside the pub was the spot for the start of the Bizarre Bath Comedy tour.  If you ever go to Bath, or hear of anyone else going, this is a DO NOT MISS happening.  We were greeted by a comedian/magician and treated to an hour and a half of laughs and adventure as we wound our way through the dark streets.  This man involved his audience, remembered your name and had a line for every possible turn of events.  At one point, a couple of young men walked by our group and we were all instructed to start singing The Lord Is My Shepherd until the lads walked away from us.  He took us to a bridge where he performed a magic trick that involved chaining up a stuffed, sixteen inch tall toy rabbit, stuffing him into a weighted mail sack and tossing him down into the river.  Magically, the rabbit escapes and floats to the top, where we leave him floating in the river.  Then, about a half hour later, when we are standing in the plaza outside the Abbey, the rabbit rides around the corner, strapped to a toy remote control car.  The best twelve pounds I ever spent!

Monday has been a day to explore on our own.  We began with a tour of the ancient Roman baths.  This is a self-directed tour, involving those clever audio devices.  You just wander about and key in the number on your keypad that corresponds with the sign that identifies what you are looking at and, voila, a voice explains it all to you.

After a little more of a walk about, window-shopping and retracing our route toward our B&B, we wondered into a little arcade, in search of a cup of tea.  The hostess was a lovely older lady, although perhaps a bit overdressed in her hat.  

And I think it was her grandson acting as host behind the counter.  He was a very jolly chap, but I think he might have had an eye for the ladies.

You can’t go into the actual Roman baths any longer, but the city has built a new facility that includes steam rooms and two pools for actual swimming and soaking in the mineral waters from the same hot spring.  In ancient times, the waters were said to cure leprosy, arthritis, gout and infertility.  I am going to cross my fingers that I don’t get pregnant when I return home.  However, I am fairly certain that my toenail fungus is cured.  We spent a bit of time in the indoor pool before trying out each of the four aromatherapy steam rooms, both agreeing that the eucalyptus mint was the best.  Then, we found the roof top pool!  Imagine a pool four stories up.  You climb the flights of circular stairs until you reach the top and go through a double set of glass doors.  Before you is a steaming horizon pool and the ancient city of bath is laid out before you.   It’s early evening and the sky is partly clear with streaks of steel grey clouds cutting through the sky.  There is an occasional misty rain followed by four minutes of setting sunlight, over and over again. The pool is not hot, but almost hot.  The air is cool, not quite chilly.  Everyone is rather subdued, either lost in the mood of the evening or floating about with his or her partner.  It is relaxing.  It could be romantic.  Everyone is happy to know that some personal ache or worry has disappeared into the healing waters.
We enjoyed one final, glorious dinner at a small gem of a restaurant named Tilly’s, just off a small side street around from the baths.  We were not our normal, glamourous self’s, arriving with damp hair and wrinkled fingers.  But, we shared a bottle of wine, a few tapas and a bowl of risotto, evoking no complaints from other diners.  By the end of the evening, following our bread and butter pudding, we had met a new couple from across the aisle and charmed them into looking for real estate in Florida.  We are such beautiful ambassadors for America. 

Monday, September 10, 2012


Buckle up, Leslie
Jody and Leslie’s excellent adventure began in the wine bar at Dulles Airport. We had a glass of wine to toast the start of our travels before boarding our flight to Heathrow, in London.  The flight was uneventful and we each managed to catch a few minutes of sleep.  After gathering our luggage and clearing customs, we found our transfer van for the ride to our hotel in London.  Apparently London was a bit busy with some event called the Olympics this past summer?  We thought we were being pretty smart by booking our trip for dates after the closing ceremonies and Labor Day, failing to take into account that we would overlap with the final two days of the Paralympics. 

We arrived at our hotel in Kensington and found our room to be slightly bigger than a breadbox, more closely approximating the dimensions of a Sears refrigerator box.  But, the neighborhood suited us and we knew we would be able to navigate the city fairly well. 
Leslie, Diana and Dodi
After a little nap to get our internal clocks reset, we did what any self-respecting American tourist would do on their first night in London.  We went to a pub for a pint and a bite to eat.  Then we headed to Harrods. And, what do you do the minute you get through the doors and past the Harrods security people?  Take the Egyptian escalator to the lower level and introduce Leslie to the Dodi and Diana memorial!  I think the proper English term is to say that Leslie was gob-smacked.

We shopped a bit, and then began our trek back to Kensington.  This was complicated a bit by the fact that for some unknown reason the Knightsbridge tube station was closed, forcing us to start walking toward the next station.  Now, here are some words to strike fear into anybody who travels with me.  If you ever hear me say “Follow me because I know the way”, don’t.  But, thanks to the Olympics and the friendly face that London has put forward, there are these clever tourist ambassadors in little stands all over the city.  Fortunately, I had only led us a few blocks off track and we did manage to adjust our route without too much bother.

Back in Kensington, we decided on a final pint before retiring for the night.  A block off High Street, we walked into the Britannia and parked ourselves on a couple of stools.  In no time at all, we were enjoying a lovely conversation with a couple that had lived across the street from the Britannia for 25 years.  They both  loved the neighborhood and gave us lots of little bits of info.  Allen asked if we liked jazz and would we be interested in a little jazz club he knew of when we returned to London the following week?  Yes, we do and we are hoping to meet Allen and Christine again next week!

Saturday morning we headed to the rail station and caught a train from London to Bath.  And, as I have so often written, rail service in Great Britain is pretty convenient, smooth, easy and dependable.  Our B&B is only a few short blocks from the train station and it is lovely!  Our room is charming and we have a fireplace in the bathroom.   That’s right.  In the bathroom.  After checking in, we headed right out and began to explore the city.  We bought Hop-On Hop-Off bus tickets and went for a ride all through the main parts of Bath.  The taped commentary gave us an overview of the architecture and history of this amazing city.  And, the weather was fabulous.  When we had made one full circle of the city, we wandered over to the Avon River to look for a place for lunch and to enjoy the gardens along the river bank.  

Luck was with us and we found the Riverside Café.  The menu is imaginative and everything seems to be made to order.  Our chicken caesar salads had fresh shaved parmeasian cheese and lovely slices of streaky bacon.  Just outside the café, we could catch glimpses into the sports stadium where the season opening rugby match was being played between Bath and London.  It must have been a very close match because every two minutes the 20,000 spectators were on their feet, roaring.

After lunch, we took a cruise up the river to the little town of Bathhampton, chatting with other passengers.  There wasn’t too much to see, but it was a nice way to relax.  When the cruise ended, we decided to get back on another Hop-On  bus for the second half of that tour, following the skyline drive into the hills around Bath.  

As this tour ended, we were very surprised to find the city positively awash in pedestrians, all wearing black and blue team jerseys.  They were all in a frenzy following the win by Bath over the London Wasps.  Well, what better way to show our enthusiasm for this beautiful city than to join the celebration in a pub.  We stepped into the entrance and were directed down a flight of stairs to the patio bar.  The entire lower level opened into a garden overlooking the river.   We carried our beer and took a look around the garden in search of an empty table where we could sip and watch all the celebrations.  We spotted a picnic table occupied by a young couple and asked if they would mind if we joined them.  Thus began one of the most fun evenings we could have ever hoped for.  Our tablemates had taken a train that morning from their home in Wales, traveling to Bath for a wee day trip.  By the end of the evening, John and his partner Charlie (short for Charlotte) and Leslie and I were all trading email address and promising to stay in touch.  The four of us laughed, mocked each other and ourselves, talked history, compared lives and life styles, swapped vocabulary words and pronunciations.  All this conversation, as wild celebrations were swirling about amongst the other patrons.  There were rabid Rugby fans everywhere and a huge stag party with men in matching shirts and very odd hats.  The place was really rocking.
Charlie, Jody, Leslie and John

John and Charlie left to catch their train home and Leslie and I went in search of a suitable dinner spot.  Two doors down and a half a flight of stairs up was the very same café where we had had such a lovely lunch.  I’m happy to report that dinner was just as wonderful.  We lingered over a glass of wine and chatted with other diners.  We expressed our appreciation to our adorable waiter, Joachin, and he introduced us to the owner.  Now, you probably think that this was the end of our evening, but no.  We left the café and began walking toward our B&B.  But, wait.  What do I spy with my little eye?  A man in a leather kilt?   I think we should check this out.  So, into the bar we go, stepping into what appeared to be another stag party.  And.  It’s true what they say about a man in a kilt not wearing underwear.  The chap in the kilt was standing at the bar and we were about six feet behind him.  One of his mates saw us and reached over, grabbed the bottom of the kilt and lifted it straight up.  Then, he looked at us and said, “So ladies, what do you think of this?”  Behold, a very hairy set of cheeks and no, I did not get a photo. We dissolved into puddles of laughter and had to turn and run for the safety of The Henry House and our beds.  Thus ended our first night in Bath.