After the New Year: Back South to Wales, London, and Home

From Conwy, we traveled back to Coventry for the New Year, which was spent with old friends. We also made time for a (muddy) walk along a canal.

I love how the water reflects the bridge (below)!

We passed a narrow boat, and I peeked inside to see a woman working in the kitchen, snug and comfy.

On 2 January, we drove south to Swansea (Wales), taking the scenic route through the Brecon Beacons, and stopping for a hike. Uphill … again — they are a mountain range, after all!

Stopping for a breather, I noticed this tree (below).

This is another one where I couldn’t decide which angle I liked best. A photographer friend of mine says the first (above), but I think it depends on whether you want to focus on the tree or the view. I took the pictures because of the tree, so I lean toward the second (below). What do you think?

I’m quite slow going uphill — plodding my way to the top, gasping the whole way, and having to stop to catch my breath even when I remember to use my inhaler before starting. I get there eventually, and when the reward is a view like this, well, it’s worth it, wouldn’t you say?

We went to south Wales to have lunch with The Engineer’s cousin and elderly aunt. She is nearly the age of my mom, and when we parted, she clasped my hand and said, “I probably won’t see you again, but you’ll remember me, won’t you?”

It’s hard to say goodbye, isn’t it? I feel we are in that process with Mom, and Aunt’s words made me sad because they reminded me of what we are going through. I wish I could help Mom be easy in her mind, rather than having her feel lost (like she has since her hip fracture and resulting surgery). As adults, I think we become accustomed to dealing with problems by changing the situation to make things better. It’s difficult when we can’t, especially when it affects someone we love.

But I digress. Back in Wales, we spent a wet night in Cardiff, venturing out only to find dinner. On the way, we saw this creature hanging out near a waterway.

The picture isn’t much, taken as it was at night in the rain, but it was unusual to get so close without the bird squawking off.

With the end of our travels near, it was time to drive back to the “Big Smoke,” and even this went smoothly. We checked in our hotel, dropped off our bags, returned the car, and convinced the shuttle driver to drop us at the hotel rather than the airport.

Our plans included two nights in London to allow a day to explore some of the sights we hadn’t seen on previous trips.

First, we decided it would be prudent to first do a dry run of the morning of departure when our flight would leave at 8:55 am. Allowing for the three hours the airline asks for for check-in and security meant we’d need to be there by 6:00 am.

To do so would require getting from our hotel (attached via tunnel to Terminal 4) to Terminal 3 from which our flight would leave.

“No problem,” we thought. All airports have transport between terminals, right?


At Heathrow, the answer to that question is “Sort of. It depends on when you need to be there.”

After following the signs for the train to Terminal 3, we asked the airport employee what time the next one left.

“In a half hour.”

It was at this point the traveler in front of us began to panic.

“A half hour?!!!” he asked incredulously. “Is there a faster way?”

“Taxi. Or Uber,” the employee responded, looking for all the world like he didn’t care how many people missed their connections due to the limited train service. And to be fair, he’s not in charge of the schedule and probably gets asked that question hundreds of times a week.

We were very glad we’d decided to explore our route ahead of time.

And I was even more glad I thought to ask the next question.

“Do the trains run 24 hours?”

“No,” he answered, “they start at 7:30.”

“What if you have an early flight?”

“You have to get a taxi. Or Uber,” he said, adding as an afterthought, “Or you can take the hotel shuttle.”

In the end, we took the shuttle. It came on time, got us there on time where we breezed through check-in and security, and had two hours to wait for our flight.

Moral of the story: When traveling, always verify every detail, especially when there is a time constraint.

Having sorted our plans for departure day, we retired to the hotel where we enjoyed a meal at the restaurant and planned our day in London.

A few months ago, we watched a documentary on the Elizabeth Line, the first new tube line in decades. Part of it focused on the Canary Wharf stop, with its Crossrail Place Roof Garden. When we learned about the Museum of London Docklands nearby, we decided that would be our destination for the day.

The garden was a small oasis in the hustle and bustle of the city. We ate our packed lunch there.
Below is the tunnel to other lines and the Docklands Light Railway, which I thought very pretty in a 70s kind of way.

The ducks are very large in the Docklands!

And you can rent a hot tub or barbecue boat. Unusual combination, I thought, but when we walked back this way, there were two men getting ready to get into the tub. No idea whether they planned to enjoy barbecue as well.

We took a Thames Clipper back toward town. This is a great way to get a riverside view of many London sights, but it’s not a tour, so if you’ve not been there before, you might want to brush up on what you’ll be seeing.

I absorbed the view from the inside, so the pictures that follow are The Engineer’s.

We went under the Tower Bridge.

The Engineer caught the iconic sight below … a double-decker bus on The Tower Bridge.

Passing the London Eye.

We watch a lot of BBC crime shows, so seeing the New Scotland Yard was a bit of a thrill.

Here are the Houses of Parliament, where much drama unfolds!

We arrived at Battersea Power Station, now a posh new mall decked out for the holidays.

You can still explore one of the control rooms.
It’s in a bar.
We got a lot of funny looks from the cocktail-enjoying customers as we wandered through, me trailing behind The Engineer as he explored the dials and gauges.

After a last pub dinner, we took the tube back to the hotel, watched the telly, and took a brief nap before getting up at 4:30 am to catch the 5:20 shuttle to the airport. By looking upon it as a nap, I discovered I slept much better for those few hours than I normally do the night before a long flight.

As mentioned above, our departure was smooth, and our incredible luck continued with us arriving safely home without any major delays or problems.

I can’t say I was ready to go home; I never am, except from Oshkosh when I start to long for my own bed and a bath, but I’m certainly ready to start planning our next adventure.

As we re-oriented to normal life, I checked my datebook and remembered I had arranged to go to “Van Gogh in America” at the Detroit Institute of Art with a friend of mine that week. Still a bit tired from the trip, I briefly questioned my decision to arrange to drive two and a half hours each way to see some paintings.

Friends, I am so glad I went! It was brilliant! My friend drove, we arrived in time to lunch before our scheduled viewing, and the exhibit was breathtaking.

I’m lucky enough to have seen many Van Gogh paintings. The wonderful Cleveland Museum of Art owns several and has had several Van Gogh exhibits which I’ve attended, and about six years ago, The Engineer and I went to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. I even went to the Van Gogh “Immersive Experience,” even though I’ve long held the belief that attractions with “experience” in the name are usually a rip-off.

For the record, I could see why some people believed that to be true of the Van Gogh one, but I liked it.

The Detroit exhibit was in a completely different league. There were several paintings I’d never seen and several I believed I’d seen, but hadn’t except perhaps in a book. I know this is true because they looked completely different than I remembered, while the ones I had actually seen felt like old friends.

And although I took a lot of photos, I’ll leave you with this one, so breathtaking I can only wish you the chance to someday see it too.

Driving North for Mountains, More Churches, and Football

On Boxing day, we drove to Hathersage, a village in the Peak District. (And can I just say here I think Hathersage is one of the prettiest place names ever?) We’d planned to visit an old friend who lives there, but she went to Scotland for Christmas, and by the time we learned of the conflict, we had other engagements we couldn’t change.

Because Hathersage is a pretty village and the Peak District is beyond pretty, we decided to go anyway to hike one of the trails.

On our way, we stopped in Chesterfield to check out St. Mary and All Saints, the church with a leaning spire. Someone once told me it’s looking for a virgin, and it must not have found one yet because it’s still leaning. Apparently there are many fanciful stories about why it leans. The reality, of course, is it was built with unseasoned wood which twisted as it dried. That was back in the 13th and 14th centuries, and it’s still standing, so maybe a leaning, twisted steeple isn’t such a big deal.

Continuing on, we came to Hathersage, and when I call the Peaks “beyond pretty,” here’s what I mean. Below are photos from our hike up Stanage Edge, as featured in the Keira Knightley version of “Pride and Prejudice.”

Stanage Edge

After this hike, we felt a lot of sympathy for the camera people on “Pride and Prejudice!”

We could see for miles.

I’m not sure which version of these views I prefer so I’m sharing both.

You can probably tell we are up fairly high, and I have a fear of heights so I stayed further back from the edge than the other three. And there’s no way I’d go over it like this climber, especially since it was quite a windy day!

Also, his rope looked mighty thin!

As the sun began to set, it became time to leave.

After our hike/climb, we were ravenous and ready for a wonderful meal at The Scotsman’s Pack where The Engineer and I were treated in honor of our 30th anniversary by Darling Daughter and Darling Daughter’s Partner. Thanks to them for a delicious dinner!

The next morning, we walked up the steep hill to St. Michael and All Angels. Naturally, in a place with a name like the “Peak District,” you’re pretty much always either going up a hill or down one.

Here’s the view from the top.

Inside the church.

On the way back down the hill, we came across an elderly woman with a walker heading in the same direction, a scary prospect. We were so worried she would lose control and go tumbling that we escorted her down, but I do wonder what she does when there’s no one around to help.

Once she was safely on level ground, we found the car and pointed to Manchester where DD and DDP were catching a train to Edinburgh. The Engineer and I continued to Burnley where we watched a football game in the pissing down rain.

It was great to be at a game instead of watching it on the telly, especially since our seats were sheltered from the rain.

I do have to say however, they had the worst excuses for mascots I’ve ever seen.

I guess they are supposed to be bees, but the costumes were sort of a football uniform with a bee head. They didn’t generate any excitement either; one of them spent most of his time laying on the ground on his side, and all I could think of was how wet he was probably getting.

Next, we went to Liverpool to tour Anfield, home of “my” football team. It’s almost impossible to get tickets to a game, but this was the next best thing.

Even without the Beatles connection, Liverpool is quite a city, with lots of free museums and an attractive dockland area.

Below is a Liver Bird, symbol of the city.

And I have no idea what these buildings were; I just liked the way one was reflected in the other.

The following day, we were welcomed to Wrexham where we stayed in an AirBnB old coach house — tiny but cozy!

We went there solely to see the Wrexham FC football club and buy an Aviation Gin Wrexham FC shirt, but enjoyed a delightful stay at the Coach House and also had a delicious Indian meal. Being there also gave us the chance to see the Pontcysyllte Aquaduct, built in 1805 and still in use. I’d learned about the aquaduct from Atlas Obscura and knew The Engineer would like it.

Of course I didn’t walk across it — way too high — but he did.

The aquaduct was designed to also be used for recreation, with room for narrow boats to cross. To our delight, one did so while we were there.

Later, a friend of ours, an avid kayaker and stand up paddleboarder, told us people also paddleboard across. Yikes!

We continued to Conwy, getting a little lost on the way, and arriving in time to see the castle, have some delicious fish and chips, and head back to Wrexham for our second night.

Icons of Britain that aren’t so common anymorer — Red phone box and post box

Conwy street with castle at the end.

Look for our saga to continue soon!

England: Drag Queens, Cathedrals, Churches, and Castles – A Photo-blog

We had a busy end to the year as we prepared to visit the UK for the holidays. We’ve not been there for Christmas for several years, with our last visit being only a few days before heading to France in 2019.

It was a good trip, especially since Darling Daughter and Darling Daughter’s Partner (DDP) overlapped with us for over Christmas.

Also — and I find this hard to believe — we had no travel mayhem at all. Our flights were pretty much on time, we got through immigration, customs and security without waiting in long lines, and we didn’t get (very) lost while driving around the countryside.

This was all the more miraculous because it seemed like everyone was on strike — staff at passport control, the railroad workers, nurses, ambulance drivers, and more.

Darling Daughter and DDP’s sleeper train back to London from Edinburgh was cancelled, but that was due to weather, rather than the strikes.

It’s interesting to note here that strikes in the UK are different from those in the US in that they are scheduled and held for a just few days at a time. This is kind of brilliant because it’s enough to make life uncomfortable by slowing down official processes, but not enough to cause major emergencies (at least as far as I can tell).

Our trip begain with four nights in Kenilworth, and in the course of the sixteen day trip, we slept in nine places. This should have been awful, but somehow it wasn’t.

On our first full day, we went to a pantomime in Royal Leamington Spa. This holiday entertainment, complete with much audience interaction, is traditionally geared to children, but you often see six or eight adults escorting a single child. Indeed, our group had no one under twenty.

The plays are loosely based on fairy tales and always feature the female lead being played by a man (read more about the tradition here).

Between the laughs, I thought how different this is from the US, where there has been a huge uproar and accusations of “grooming” about the somewhat new practice of holding drag storytimes.

Meanwhile in the UK, we shouting with laughter over the antics of the Dame in Cinderella.

You’ll have to pardon the quality of the photos; they were taken in a darkened theatre from the balcony, but they’ll at least give you an idea of what our Dame and her creative costuming looked like.

Of course, we loved her beehive!

Later, while reviewing our adventures, we all agreed the panto was a, if not the, high point!

There were several charity shops on the same street as our hotel, and the next morning, Darling Daughter and I made time to go thrifting.

I was quite taken with these books.

They’re a bit of a parody on the classic Ladybird Books, marketed and sold as “Ladybird Books for Grown-Ups,” and you really should check out the other titles.

One shop also had paper stars hung up as Christmas decorations. They reminded me of quilts, and I took a picture to remind myself to learn how to make them for next year. I’ve given you the link so you can make them too. 🙂

The Engineer’s family used to live in a village near Coventry, so the city is one we’ve explored many times. Still, it wouldn’t be a trip to England without seeing the Cathedral, and we headed there next.

I’m certain I’ve written about it before, but Coventry was almost obliterated by Luftwaffe bombing in November 1940, with the Cathedral being destroyed on 14 November. Instead of trying to rebuild, the church chose to leave the ruins and create a new Cathedral beside them.

The new stained glass is breathtaking, but I prefer windows like the one below. The Cathedral calls this type a “Medley,” made from the shards of the old Cathedral.

On Christmas morning, we went for a ramble around Kenilworth, taking in the sights and exploring the castle’s exterior.

One of the reasons I like to visit England in the winter is because it’s not generally as cold as at home, so the landscape is still green. You may even see a few late (early?) daffodils!

There were beehives along our route, their boxes slightly different from the Langstroth ones commonly used in the US. I’m not sure which type they are.

Another thing common to the UK, but less often seen in the United States is the practice of having an allotment, although this kind of home garden located in a community space. We passed this one on our walk, and seeing it made me happy the practice is beginning to catch on at home.

Along the route, we also poked our head in a church (St. Nicholas) to admire the beautiful woodwork and windows.

Such ancient churches like this are all over the country, and many are quite lovely. What I like most is the homey touches (which I unfortunately didn’t photograph) — nooks with toys to keep children occupied during the long services, a box set out for people to give and receive Christmas cards, a lost glove or mitten left near the entrance for its owner to find on their next visit — reminders that these historical buildings are still used for the purpose for which they were built.

That’s enough for now. Tune in next time when we head north to Derbyshire and Wales!