July 7, 2007 (aka 07-07-07)
We left Wrexham this morning about 8 on our way to Ironbridge, the place where the English Industrial Revolution got underway. The town is named for the iron bridge that crosses the Severn River (which, our guide said, was higher than she had ever seen it) there, built in 1779. (The Severn is also the River we crossed last Sunday going from England into Wales to spend the night at Cardiff.)
The town is small and kind of cute, and the bridge and river are quite scenic. As you might be able to tell from the photo, we actually had sunlight and blue skies. (And this astonishing partly sunny condition continued pretty much throughout the day, though we also drove through a shower later in the afternoon, making this is 9th or 10th straight day with rain.) We stopped here only long enough for tea, photos and pit stop.
From Ironbridge we had a longer drive to Stratford-on-Avon and had to take an alternate route because of thick traffic. Stratford is Shakespeare's birthplace, and so it's quite a touristy spot. Since we arrived on a Saturday during the summer, it was plenty crowded. Before going into Stratford proper, we stopped at the Anne Hathaway Cottage to take photos (and to have our tour group photo taken). Anne Hathaway was Shakespeare's wife, an older woman, 26 to his 18 when they married.
In Stratford itself we were set free for almost an hour and forty-five minutes, to find our own lunch and roam a bit before getting back on the bus. Susan and I picnicked, sitting on the low wall outside a small storefront for rent. The sun was shining as we ate. There's a main pedestrian street, right in the center of town, where the Shakespeare Birthplace House is, but it's not really his birthplace. His real birthplace burned down in the 17th century, and this is a replacement--still pretty old! Interesting little shops and restaurants share the street with the House (and its gift shop). The "birthplace" was very crowded, and a bit pricey, and a replica to boot, and we didn't have much time, so we didn't go in. We actually browsed a used bookstore on another street (where I found a couple of tempting books, but resisted temptation), but mostly just strolled and looked through the windows. There was also a shop that sold prints and maps which Susan persed, while I looked at the Shakespeare bookstore. We also stumbled across the Garrick Inn, named for the famous 18th century actor, which is kind of an attractive building, so I took a photo of it.
Directly next to the Garrick Inn was another Tudor-styled building which was flying an American flag. That piqued my curiosity, so I took a closer look. It's called the Harvard House. It was the home of the mother of John Harvard, founder of Harvard University. I took a photo, but the wind was down and the flag was just hanging, so the photo doesn't look like much.
We climbed back on the bus a little before 2 and headed for London. By this time, the tour director (or the driver?) had gotten information that traffic coming into London from our direction was horrendous, so we took an alternate route part of the way and seemed to do okay, though I slept part of the time. We got back to the Kensington Close about four, for our final night as part of the Cosmos Tour (though of course our tour director and driver are no longer with us and we are no longer on the bus). Susan got her arrangements set for transport to the airport in the morning, and I got some assistance from the concierge guys about catching my train to Chester tomorrow. One of the guys actually let me use the hotel phone for free to try to get a real person on the phone with the train line to find out about getting a seat reservation at a specific time (which my BritRail pass doesn't guarantee me). When that failed, one of the other guys asked me where I was going and when. When I told him Chester, around noon or maybe 11, he said I wouldn't need a reservation--just go to the station tomorrow morning. So I'm crossing my fingers!
Susan and I walked over into Kensington Park and walked around two sides of Kensington Palace, which we hadn't explored before. At one of the entry gates, people had attached cards to the railings of the fence, addressed to Princess Diana, for her 46th birthday This is one of them:
Of course it was last weekend that her sons held their concert for her birthday.
As we walked on, we came up against part of the route for the English section of the Tour de France. Apparently the Tour was using "The Ring" (a road which seems to be the dividing line between Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens) and a section of Kensington Road itself. As far as I know we didn't see anybody who should have been famous (though, since it was after 6, the famous folks may have already been done for the day), but here's a photo of part of a series of dividing screens which enclosed a parking area for bicycles.
We went to Starbuck's for a little while. I got a three-fer Travel Log section posted, with photos, and took care of a little bit of emailing, but that backlog will have to wait a while longer. Maybe tomorrow, after I get to Chester, I can spend a couple of hours online and make a dent in it. If any of you are awaiting emails from me, just hang in there. The long bus tour wasn't at all convenient for such activity!
Leaving London for Chester
July 8, 2007
Susan and I got up early this morning (she got up earlier than I did), so she could be downstairs by 7:30 to catch her shuttle to the airport. Her flight doesn't leave until noon, but the early shuttle was when space was available for the connection. We went downstairs, and it wasn't long before the shuttle came to collect her. So we said goodbye, got her loaded into the minibus, and off she went.
I went and had some breakfast in the dining room (Susan didn't want to eat until she got settled and waiting at the airport), and then got things together to leave. After checking out, I went up the street a couple of blocks to catch the bus to the train station, but that bus stop didn't have a ticket machine. So I had to go into Kensington High Street station to get a ticket. I didn't spot a bus machine, went to a ticket window, and got a ticket for the Underground instead. The train for Chester leaves from Euston station, a bit north of central London, instead of Victoria station, which is toward the south of central London.
Once at the station, I checked in with "station reception" to find out how to put my BritRail pass to use. The woman there stamped and validated the pass, told me the 9:02 train to Lancaster (the train I have to take to get on the way to Chester) had just left, and that I'd have to wait for the 10:01. Since I had a bit of time on my hands, I went to the line for "Future ticket sales" and got the information I'll need for getting from Chester to Hereford on Thursday and from Hereford back to London next Sunday. The man there told me 1] it was too late to get a reservation for the London-Chester run, and 2]I wouldn't need a reservation for a seat for the Chester-Hereford run. And 3] he also made a reservation for me for the Hereford-London train for next Sunday.
After taking care of that business, I went and got some fresh eyedrops, and then a croissant (my breakfast was wearing off), and before too long, the Lancaster train started loading. Now I am on the train somewhere northwest (I guess) of London. There are several laptop seats on the train, so I got mine out and worked for a while on some of the photos I'd taken at the British Museum two weeks ago and not yet edited and exported. And now I'm filling you in on the day so far. It's partly sunny outside, mostly high puffy clouds as much as I can tell through the window, and let's hope it stays this way!
Well, it's now 5:35, and I'm checked into the hostel. The sun didn't last. The train ran through a shower before we got to Crewe, where I had to change trains, and into another shower between Crewe and Chester. When I got into Chester, it was clear that it had been raining, though it wasn't at the moment.
I had a sinking feeling when I got to the hostel. It's in quite an old building, which isn't necessarily bad, but when I walked into the main (very small) room, where the TV is, it was full of young folks (of course!). My room is nice enough, with its own bathroom and tea making equipment, but it's got bunk beds (I'm having to pay for a room for two), no TV (remember that I like a little worthless background sound in the evenings), and is pretty small. I even told the guy who checked me in that I might be too old and tired to stay there; I asked him what he thought. He said that if I wanted to move somewhere else (to a hotel, I mean) tomorrow, they would refund the nights I don't use. Then a bit later I met the owner, and she said they had older people than me who stayed there and that I really ought to be all right. She said it shouldn't be noisy upstairs where I am. She also told me they have wifi in the building (because I asked her how to find Starbuck's), but I haven't been able to find a spot yet where I can get a signal, so I may have to use Starbuck's anyway. We'll see. I can use the kitchen to fix food whenever I want, and I can wash clothes (wash, dry and use their soap) for only four pounds. So maybe it'll be all right. If I could easily connect to their wifi, which would simplify getting the blog done and getting caught up on email, that might cinch the deal. Sigh.
Anyway, I left things in the room and went into the city centre, to Tesco's to get some food. I even bought a litre (British spelling, you know) of V8, because I can refrigerate things here. It's the first time I've had any form of tomato juice since leaving Malta. I simply can't find small containers of it here. So I had most of an apple, some chicken breast, some V8, and some chips for my lunper (part lunch, part supper) about 3 p.m. (I had had a can of tuna while waiting for the Chester train at the Crewe train station.) While I was eating, it showered again!
But then, not long later, when I put away my food leavings, and went out to go into town (just to get out and stretch my legs and see things), the sun came out! It was partly sunny for the next hour or so, an hour and a half maybe--it was really nice to see. By now it's cloudy again, but the 90 minutes or so helped.
While wandering in town, I spent a little money--15 pounds on the new 2-CD set of recordings by Nico from 1968-1970. The CDs contain the songs from her two LPs, The Marble Index and desertshore, along with alternate versions of the recordings and at least a song or two that didn't make the final cut for the records. So that will be interesting to listen to, once I get the CDs transfered to the computer and from there to the iPods. I passed some interesting sites, but had headed into town without my camera, so maybe I'll have some Chester photos for you by Tuesday or Wednesday. Since it looks like I won't be able to post this until Monday, and since I'm supposed to meet with Alan Garner and his wife on Tuesday, it may be Wednesday before Monday and Tuesday's adventures can get online. Hopefully it will be no later: I'm getting stressed about elimae submissions piling up in my email inbox unanswered! (I just talked with the onwer again, and she was baffled by my inability to get a wifi signal here. She said she had been connected upstairs just a few minutes ago: maybe this wifi is PC-only.)
I'm tired, I'm a little despondent, and it's raining again as I write. A few of you have very kindly suggested that maybe I'm wearing myself out trying to see too much and be the perfect tourist. I do appreciate the concern, but actually it probably helps me to get out and see the interesting things there are to see, so that I don't just sit down somewhere, get exhausted and start sucking my thumb. The bus tour (coach tour, they say here) was almost debilitating--great sights to see, but too much of a rush and no time to sit, think, and catch up on email with you folks. But when I am sort of able to set up my own schedule, see one museum in a day (or maybe two at the most), and then just get out walking, or sitting at Starbuck's doing email and the Travel Log, then I feel better and more rested: able to sleep when I want to, able to feel "connected" to you all through cyberspace, and not too estranged by being somewhere where everyone is, in fact, a stranger and every sight is a new sight.
Thanks for your concern. Now, I think, I will get a shower, and then restart the computer and see if that jogs up an Internet connection, and if it doesn't, maybe work on Nico the hard way, and have a little oatmeal for a sort of second supper. Too nasty at the moment to get out, though the rain may not continue this hard for long. Good night.