Monday, July 30, 2007

A question for readers

The question is a simple one: now that I'm back in the U.S. and--for the moment--just sort of hanging out and resting, should I continue the Travel Log or let it lie in abeyance until I'm on the road again, whether in Europe or the States?

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Four for the Price of One

Flying; or, The Great Roundabout, Part One

July 17, 2007

Believe it or not, at about 7:10 a.m. the sun was shining through the trees right into my eyes as I lay in bed at the Springfield Hotel. Yep, that's right--actual sunlight in London, England. It was like a pleasant spring day in Texas, coolish, partly to mostly sunny, not raining.

I left the Springfield Hotel about 9:45 and headed for the bus to Victoria Station. Did it rain on the way to Victoria Station? Well, of course, it did. At Victoria, I caught the train to Gatwick Airport. Flying where? You guessed it--DFW Airport. Yep, I got so worn out traveling I figured I'd better get back to the U.S. and rest a while.

Once I got checked in at the airport, I had a good bit of time to waste before getting on the plane. I roamed around looking for food I could probably eat (I ended up buying a croissant); I spent a minute or two in HMV (music) and WHSmith (books); I walked forever down long empty corridors to a gate with a Starbuck's, thinking they might have TMobile Wifi as well, allowing me to post July 16th's post and do some email. They didn't, but I got a cup of tea and a chocolate chip shortbread cookie. Then I sat and read a while; drank tea; nibbled on the shortbread. Then I finally went toward the gate for my flight, and there was a TMobile Wifi Hotspot, right outside my gate, after I'd already blown most of my "spare" time. So I connected, posted July 16th, and answered a good bit, but not all, of my email.

I boarded the 777 in "group 6", about 1:45 or so. It was a little after 3 before we actually took off. The plane was full, or very nearly so. 10-hour nonstop and nowhere to spread out and relax.

I read; I snoozed; I listened to Nico. I even, toward the end of the flight, talked to the woman next to me, a doctor. It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be to stay almost stationary for 10 hours, though I fidgeted around, stretched my legs out under the seat in front of me, arched my back, and so forth. It wasn't exactly delightful either, to be sure.

One of the books I started reading was Parménides by César Aira of Argentina. I read about half of it on the flight--it's fairly short. It's based on the idea that the "philosopher" Parmenides of ancient Greece wasn't actually a philosopher at all and that he hired a poet to help him write a book about what life had taught him. The poet wrote a quasi-philosophical poem, much of it as a joke, which has survived into the present and is taken seriously. Kind of a fun idea, I think.

I also read a couple of Yeats's short plays. The Shadowy Waters is beautiful (in language), but quite silly in concept; sort of hyper-Romantic. The Green Helmet seems to be based out of the legend (or perhaps an Irish version of the legend) of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and is labeled "An Heroic Farce." Interesting but hardly as good as Yeats's poetry.

At one point on the flight I'm pretty sure I was seeing Greenland out the window--and it looked very white and icy. I hope so. That was just about all the land I saw (except for a cut of England as we ascended) because the wing was mostly in the way.

Long trip; but smooth and arriving on time, about 6:15 p.m. (midnight to my Anglicized body). The bus trip was smooth; the train trip was smooth; the flight was smooth. Getting home from DFW Airport was not smooth. From the time I walked out the door to "Ground Transportation" and told Super Shuttle I'd like a ride home to the time Super Shuttle actually got me home was about 95 minutes, and it cost me $47. I was pretty hacked. Three other customers who got picked up after I did got delivered before I did because I was farthest. I was pretty hacked. I don't recommend Super Shuttle if you're going to or from DFW from one of the outlying suburbs like Duncanville. They're cheap and quick if you're going to a downtown hotel; if you're not, you pay through the nose for terrible service. Lesson learned.

Boy, was I tired. My mom and my sister Teresa greeted me when I came in the door, and we visited for a couple of hours before I figured I needed to crash. It was fun to see them again, and it'll be fun to see you too, when I do. Good night.


July 18, 2007

Well, I got up about 7 a.m., even though yesterday was a 30-hour day, and had some trouble staying asleep past 5 a.m. But remember that for my London-adjusted body, 7 a.m. was 1 p.m. So I may zonk entirely tonight. We'll see.

After breakfast and a short walk, some chin-ups and pushups, and a shower, my sister Teresa and I went to Target and did grocery shopping. I like grocery shopping at SuperTarget! I bought pound cake. Wouldn't you think the English would have pound cake everywhere? They don't.

While we shopped, I kept telling Teresa, "When we get back to the house, you know what I'm going to do? I'm going to have lunch." I'd already had a good-sized bowl of oatmeal and two big pieces of toast for breakfast, and I was drinking tea and eating a Starbuck's croissant while we shopped. My metabolism hasn't slowed down yet.

After lunch I spent a bunch of time on the phone with credit card companies, letting them know I was back in the U.S., or activating new cards sent while I was gone, or tracking down what, if anything, might have been wrong with one card. Mostly time spent on hold. I also spent a bit of time with what used to be the teachers' credit union getting pre-approved for an auto loan. I may be car shopping tomorrow.

I've worked on some email, worked on yesterday's and today's Travel Log posts, and mowed my mom's yard. Pretty exciting, no?

What were the highlights of the Great European Adventure?

1. 5 and a half days at open sea between Ft Lauderdale and the Azores. Talk about relaxation. I definitely recommend a transatlantic crossing. (Or go from L.A. to Hawai'i if you prefer.)

2. Seeing the Hypogeum in Malta. Maybe the thing itself isn't that impressive in some ways. But knowing what the thing is, and how old the thing is, and how primitive most of the world was when the thing was built--that's impressive.

3. The British Museum! Gudea; the Ram in the Thicket; the gargantuan heads of Amenhotep III.

4. Meeting Alan and Griselda Garner.

What did I "learn"?

1. That I have a lower tolerance for traveling on my own and facing the strange every single day than I thought.

2. That my tolerance for rain and cloud cover is higher than I would have thought, but that I do not even want to think about being anywhere in the British Isles again any earlier than August 1 or any later than September 15.

3. That it's fun having company! I was probably way too tired and grumpy by the time Susan arrived, but I think we managed to have fun and see some cool sights anyway.

4. That I miss friends and family when I can't see them easily. (But I already knew that.)

So what do you say, folks? Shouldn't we plan a group trip for next summer? Rent a big house somewhere in Spain or Italy or France so we can all have our own space, do what we want during the day, but meet together over supper and share our adventures?


July 19, 2007

Today's main activity was spending money, in particular, buying a car. I went to John Eagle Honda, one of the dealers recommended by the credit union, and met with a salesman. They had only two 2008 Honda Element LXs on the lot, one black, one silver, and I put the money down to buy the silver one. Subsequent activity included getting car insurance again, which I have not had since the beginning of May (since I have not had a car), and getting the loan information to the credit union about how much money they have to finance for me for the Element.

The folks at my insurance agency told me I was a guinea pig--they had not previously dealt with my exact situation, someone who canceled insurance because it was unnecessary and now needed reinstating at the old preferred rates. It took a while to get the computer system squared away to adding me back in, rather than creating me as a new customer with higher rates, and to get the computer to recognize a 2008, rather than 2007, automobile. After we got this taken care of, I headed for the credit union to show them my proof of insurance for the vehicle.

After all of this running around, my sister and I went out to Cedar Hill State Park at Joe Pool Lake to check out RV slots for our niece, who is coming with her kids and my California sister in a couple of weeks for a visit.

Then the evening's soiree was the Vacation Bible School talent show, in which my nephew and two of my great-nieces performed, followed by ice cream at Braum's.

Now it's time to be tired.


July 20, 2007

There it is--kind of cute, isn't it? My sister Teresa took me back to the dealer today to pick up the Element. This is the first time since 1990 that my vehicle hasn't been a pickup! The salesman Johnny Kebi greeted us at the door, took a photo of my proof of insurance, then took us to the Element, waiting in a bay and ready to go. My first passenger was my nephew Maddison. My first destination was Dallas's West Village where there is a T-Mobile store. My sister followed in her CR-V.

We spent some time at the store, getting me set up with a phone and wifi, and (as with my insurance yesterday) T-Mobile opted not to treat me as a new customer, but rather as a returning or continuing customer. This seemed to require the T-Mobile lady to run through some rigamarole before getting my phone and number set up. While we were there, my sister also got some information on switching phone service from Florida and so forth, and they transfered my phone numbers from my old phone to the new phone as well.

Back at the house, we had lunch and rested a bit. Then we watched it rain. Then we headed back out to Cedar Hill State Park to do some more investigating (such as, Are the showers/baths decently clean? Is the marina nice?) for my niece. Unfortunately, since Friday is considered weekend, the rangers wouldn't let us in for 30 free minutes to investigate, so we told them we would return on Monday. And since it had recently rained, my delightfully new Element now has already lost its newly washed freshness and looks mucky like everyone else's vehicle. Sigh.

Tomorrow morning I hope to get to Starbuck's to check out my new wifi agreement and make sure it works! If so, then I will be able to post this "four-for-the-price-of-one" entry--with only one photo.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Tate Modern & An Encounter with the Mage

July 16, 2007

Today I may have made my longest walking day of all; certainly the distance from the hotel to my original destination--the Tate Modern Gallery--is greater than any previous jaunt. I was in no hurry, since nothing opens early and I left the hotel about 9:15. The two obvious routes from the Springfield to the gallery are: 1] the route east-north-east on Bayswater/Oxford Street/New Oxford Street/High Holborn, then cutting south, and 2] the route east-south-east toward Westminster Bridge, then heading north and east along the river, past the London Eye and the Aquarium. I chose route 2, cutting through Hyde Park and snapping this photo, toward the southeastern corner of the park. It's in memory of the cavalrymen who died in the two world wars and, as you can see, takes the form of St. George triumphing over the dragon:

I moseyed on past Buckingham Palace, fairly quiet this morning, and down to the Westminster Abbey snack kiosk for a cup of tea. Then I crossed the Westminster Bridge and headed up the Jubilee Walkway, either created or named in 1977 for Queen Elizabeth II's 25th anniversary on the throne. Along about here it started to sprinkle a bit, and I had to bring out the umbrella: those of you who wear glasses will sympathize with the need to keep those lenses dry! I got my best look yet at the London Eye, the enormous "Ferris wheel" on the bank of the Thames. The "cars" are quite large--each holding up to a dozen people, I'd guess, maybe more; and there must be 20 of them or so. I'm not sure I actually saw the thing move while I was walking toward it, though.

Not too much farther on, I came to this gentleman: at first glance, I thought he was a statue, then I saw that he was barely moving. I dropped some coins into his hat and then prepared to take a photo. He held out his staff, to bless me, I suppose: I don't know if he actually intended to tap me on the head or not, but I managed to avoid the "blow" if so. As I snapped this picture, he was making some kind of gesture, as you can see. It was also while I was here, reaching into my bag for my camera, I think, that I managed to knock my cup of tea over with my umbrella, thus losing what remained of it. The magus may have thought he needed to bless my klutziness out of me:

Then I moved on to the Tate. Those of you who have been reading the Log will recall the Tate Britain Gallery, which features artists specifically from Britain. The Tate Modern features work from all over the world from the last 100 years. Picasso paintings are here; so is work by Monet, Mondrian, Magritte, Braque, de Chirico, Rothko, Rodin and zillions of folks I've never heard of. One is, needless to say, not allowed to take photos here, so all I can do is talk about it. Rodin's The Kiss is here (but it's also elsewhere--apparently there are 3 "real" copies of it); today I actually read enough of the descriptive placard to learn (or relearn?) that the two lovers kissing are supposed to be a couple from Dante's Inferno. One work I particularly enjoyed seeing, by an artist I'd never heard of (Richard Phillips, maybe?) was a portrait of George Harrison. The work is done in charcoal and pencil or chalk, but looks like a photograph of a three-dimensional face done in shaped paper. It's a representation of the long-haired George Harrison of the late '60s and early '70s and is called My Sweet Lord. Another work in the same room, by another artist I'd never heard of (and whose name--maybe Germanic--I cannot now recall) was a very dark work done of black paper. The scene looks like a couple of old-fashioned-looking men--silhouettes, really--taking a walk on a very dark night. It's quite a striking work.

One of Monet's paintings of lilies is here--it's quite a large work, and its size surprised me.

Donald Judd's work in metal is represented here too. Some of you have probably visited the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, where Judd's work is on permanent display, along with the work of other artists, on the grounds of a de-commissioned military base which he bought a number of years ago. Another sculpture here reminded me of Judd's work in aluminum cubes, but this was by another artist: it was a grouping of cubes made of mirrors, so that the look of the sculpture changes as people move in and around it.

After wandering around, and dodging several groups of students on field trip, I had a lunch of French fries and gunpowder green tea in the gallery cafe.

Not far from the Gallery is the replica of the Globe Theatre of Shakespeare's day. Here is a photo of one side of it:

The Globe is also on the south bank of the Thames. Going north across the river right near the Tate Modern is a pedestrian bridge, which looks like it might be made of aluminum, and which heads one straight at St Paul's Cathedral. I stopped midway and looked east to take this photo of the "real" London Bridge. The close, low bridge is the Southwark Bridge, I think; the London Bridge is the two joined towers, farther off.

After I finished crossing the bridge and continued on toward the cathedral, I noticed that the temporary appearance of the sun was casting a fairly sharp shadow, so I snapped this, your silly photo of the day, as I walked:

I first took a photo of the cathedral from a good distance out, but this one was taken when I was fairly close.

I didn't go inside, however; I've seen plenty of cathedrals on this trip and need some things left to see for the first time if I return to London, with company, in the future. Don't I?

What else have I not seen? The Tower of London. The London Bridge, close-up. Sir John Soames's Museum (which Lou Ann likes, and which I tried to spot on my walk today, though somehow I missed it). Southward Cathedral (another recommendation of Lou Ann). Sir Francis Drake's The Golden Hinde, if it's still here. I haven't seen a play. I haven't been inside Parliament. So there's plenty of reason to return to London, if one of you wants to come along!

I returned to the hotel fairly early in the afternoon, between three and three-thirty, after short visits to Foyle's Book Store and HMV Music Store (I bought nothing--don't worry!) and a trip into Marks & Spencer for a Devon scone (which I ate walking back), a bagel (for part of my supper), and a M&S cola (because they don't sell Coca-Cola). Then I went to Starbuck's and worked on email and the Travel Log for Saturday and Sunday. After going back to the hotel again to put up the laptop and get my "light supper" items (can of tuna, bagel, cola), I went into Kensington Gardens and had my picnic. Then I strolled for a while, including a walk past the "In Memory of Speke" obelisk I mentioned in yesterday's posting. I memorized the subtitle on the base--"Victoria Nyanza and the Nile 1864"--and also noticed what I had not noticed yesterday: a metal plaque mounted on the ground explaining about Speke and the monument. Speke and Richard Burton (the 19th century writer and explorer, not the Welsh actor) discovered Lake Victoria in 1858, and then Speke--along with another explorer (named Grant, maybe?)--"confirmed", whatever exactly that means in this context, that Lake Victoria was the source of the Nile in 1862. He died two years later of a self-inflicted accidental gunshot.

Despite the appearance of the "enhanced" photo of London Bridge and my shadow photo, the day was not mostly sunny, though this evening has been better. We have been mostly gray, with flashes of sunlight from time to time, and with longer periods when you could see where the sun was, but with clouds still obscuring it. Still, it wasn't cold like Chester, though it had gotten just a bit nippy by 5:30 or so; and it didn't rain much at all, like Wales and Chester and Ireland and. . . So it wasn't a bad day weather-wise at all. And I knew you'd be disappointed if I didn't say something at least about the weather.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Another Two-Fer from Hay-on-Wye and points southeast

Make Hay While the Sun Shines

July 14, 2007

Yep, sunshine. Actual sunshine. Sun rays one could see and feel upon the skin. Amazing. Not all day, mind you; not entirely sunny, mind you; but it was quite possibly partly sunny for a longer time today than any day I have been in the British Isles. Certainly for a longer time than any point in the past two weeks. Sunshine is lovely.

When I left Aldemiro (the very nice B&B I've been staying at) this morning about 9:15 or so for the short walk into town, it was a bit nippier than yesterday; the sky was probably 99% cloud cover; and it was windy. But it was not raining. What a marvel not raining is.

I spent at least an hour and a half in the Hay Cinema Bookshop, browsing and searching first one thing and then another, and--from time to time--finding a window to look out to see if there was sunshine. Sometimes there was. Finally I bought Plays (1922 edition) by W.B. Yeats and headed out for some food. It was about 11:20, and it was partly sunny. Now most of you live in parts of the world where it is mostly to completely sunny on many occasions throughout the year. But you don't live in Britain, where mostly sunny is as rare as the return of the monarch butterflies and completely sunny is a phrase that occurs only in novels of other worlds. Partly sunny is marvelous, and--to tell the truth--even though gray clouds blew across from time to time and the temperature dropped 5 degrees every time they covered the sun, it is quite possibly mostly sunny right now, at 7:20 p.m., if you don't count high haze as cloud. What if it were to be mostly sunny tomorrow? Oh my, oh my. I hope it is mostly sunny in London. London has been the warmest place I have been while in the British Isles, but this afternoon I was actually able to take the windbreaker off and actually wander about wearing only two short-sleeve shirts. At about 5 p.m., back at Aldemiro, I sat out in the garden with a cup of tea and read. Yes, outside; yes, in short-sleeves. For a while. Marvelous.

And earlier in the day I had my lunch outside, in the sunlight, not far from the banks of the Wye River. I stumbled across a little park-ish kind of place where one leaves the road and walks down to the walking path next to the river. So I sat there in the sunlight, with my ham, apple, chips and Coca-Cola, and enjoyed myself. This, by the way, is a photo of the Wye River.

Now granted that I don't know what the Wye River normally looks like, but this looks like a mighty full river. The water runs right up to the grass and--though you probably can't see it in this photo--on the other side of the bridge from which I shot this, the water was going up under the trees on the bank in a way that looked like a river out of its normal banks to me.

Later in the day I walked out to the north (I think) of town, trying to find a bookstore that is a little way out of town. (I didn't find it--I quit walking when I reached the end of the sidewalk: I'm not about to trust these drivers enough to walk on the road itself when there's a hedge and no shoulder.) The road crossed a small creek, and just a bit downstream was another bridge (apparently a footbridge) with a huge amount of ivy hanging down toward the water. Rather lovely, no?

This creek runs on into the Wye, I presume.

Well, anyway, on the book front, Plays was the only book I bought today. At 5 pounds, it's the most expensive book I've bought in Hay-on-Wye. It's a nice edition, with nice flexible, non-browning paper, and should be fun to read. Hmmm, not much return for two and a half days in the "book town", you're thinking. I have to tell you that I'm kind of disappointed in the book-searching here. I didn't find anything that absolutely knocked me off my feet, within the range I could afford, anyway. It was grand to see the 90-year-old first Irish printing of Yeats's Responsibilities, but I couldn't buy it. It was fun to see some early Byron editions, but those are findable even in the U.S. (and in London), meaning that I didn't have to snatch any one of them up for fear of never seeing it again.

But other than the Poetry Bookshop, which has a great many books--though perhaps not many more than Larry McMurtry's Booked Up in Archer City, Texas--many of the stores were disappointing, not obviously better than many used bookstores in the U.S. To be sure, their stock has a lot more British authors--so that, for example, a fan of W.H. Auden can find a lot of his books in early editions--but I wasn't as wowed as I hoped to be. Maybe living in a down-sized mode has gotten too much to me!

As I headed back toward the Aldemiro for my evening, I snapped this shot looking up toward the hills just south (?) of the parking lot near the visitor center.

The photo doesn't really give a sense for the feeling one gets in person, of looking toward a fairly rounded curve as the hill goes up. The parking lot is also on the side of a hill, so that if one stands at the top of it, and looks toward this hill, there is definitely a feeling of looking at a sort of natural bowl. But it doesn't show up in photos, unfortunately. Still you can see how green and lovely the fields are. Yours truly, of course, can't even think about paying for a view like this by living in almost continual cloud cover, humidity and rain; or by learning to call 70 degrees a warm summer day. Yikes.

The music festival continues, by the way, and for a while this afternoon the band was so loud that even ear-plugs and a distance of half a mile or more couldn't shut it out. Right now I'm not hearing any such thunder, so maybe a folk singer is performing.


Insult to Injury

July 15, 2007

What a peculiar day! It was already raining when I woke and pretty much continued all morning though there was a lull into very light drizzle for a while. Ken from Aldemiro B&B took me to the bus station at 11:30; several more people came to join my wait; and we waited. The bus was 15 or so minutes late, just about cutting in half the time we expected to have between arriving at the train station and leaving on the train for London. Whether the driver was trying to make up for lost time, or whether he always drive like a lunatic, I do not know--one way or another he drove like a lunatic. The roads are always narrow and winding; today they were also wet, with standing water in some places. In the worst of those places, we entered the standing water about the same time as a car from the other direction, and the entire front of the bus was splashed with water. The driver kept going. It was, to put it calmly, an interesting drive.

But we weren't in a terrible collision, and we made it to the train station in time to get on our train, and except for the continuing icky weather, things seemed okay. Sure, it was a slow train ride, with a lot of stops, but we were headed toward our goal. Until we got to Oxford. Then the announcer came over the train's PA system and told us we would all have to get off. He said he didn't know exactly why--that he was just being told the train was being pulled out of service. As we stood on the platform, we heard an announcement that there would be a train going to Reading and no further, but that if we didn't have to get to London, we shouldn't try. Fortunately, some of the rail employees were more helpful than the official announcements--which were no help at all and which made no attempt to be helpful. Put a big black X in your tour book next to First Great Western (or was it Northern?) train lines of Britain.

One of the people who had gotten on the bus with me at Hay, a recent college graduate from San Francisco, and I were hanging out together to try to find out what to do, because he was heading to the same section of London I was. First we were told by a train employee that we would have to wait an hour to catch a train back-tracking to Banbury, from which we could change trains again and get into London on another train line. Then the SF guy noticed the announcement screen showing that the very next train coming in made a stop at Banbury. Then a local who was hearing our discussions said that yes, indeed, that train would take us to Banbury, that he was himself getting on that train, though he was heading on north. We were joined by a Japanese couple with very little English. The train man was trying to tell them how to get to Paddington station in London, but they weren't really understanding it. So I said they should just follow me and the other guy.

So they did.

Of course a lot of other people on our train were trying to get to London the same circuitous way. Once we got to Banbury, there were quite a few of us waiting on the platform for the London train. The SF guy said he thought he would just wait for the second London train, coming in 12 minutes after the first, and let the crowd go in the first one. I said I wanted to check the first one and see if there were seats, and if there were, then get on. I didn't want any more delays. So there I parted company with him and the Japanese couple: they decided to wait with him for a less crowded train. The first train, which I found a seat on, was crowded as we got nearer London, but I think the three of them could have gotten seats too if they had looked.

(We heard two explanations, by the way, of the train problem: 1] that someone had cut the lines near a town/stop called Slough and the rail lines' "traffic lights" were all on red; or 2] there was a power outage. Who knows?)

It was 6 p.m., instead of 4:45 when I arrived in London, and I was at Marylebone Station and not Paddington, but I just walked to the hotel anyway. It was farther, but not hugely farther. Now get this: even though we had ridden through more rain on the way to London, London was not having rain at the moment. Now get this: walking from the train station to the hotel, I actually sweated! Of course you shouldn't get too excited by this tidbit and think that London has gone tropical or anything. Keep in mind I was carrying about 35 pounds worth of luggage and I was wearing two shirts and a windbreaker (which I needed in Hay).

I checked into the Springfield where I spent 9 days in June. I'm in a tiny one-person room on the top floor with a window looking out into treetops, and somewhere down below is Sussex Gardens Road. It's actually a bit warm in the room. I wasn't sure it was possible any more to be a bit warm in the British Isles. I changed out of my Malta pants and into my shorts, and I shucked the windbreaker, and I headed off to look for supper at Sainsbury's grocery. And it was perfectly pleasant outside. Yes, indeed. I got some chicken, chips and a soda; I went down past the Italian Gardens just a little way and sat on a bench to eat and watch what was going on. In addition to the usual birds and squirrels, there were a couple of perky field mice--at least I assume they were field mice. They looked to be four or five inches long.

Then I strolled the Gardens some more, looking at the obelisk "In Memory of Speke" (a reference I don't get at all, though it has something to do with the Nile and 1864, according to the short inscription) and the bronze statue of "Physical Energy," and sitting again to read a bit more of Rites of Passage, and then getting asked by two American tourists if I knew where the Diana fountain was. A nice ordinary sort of evening in which one could actually be outside.

London had apparently had a good bit of rain earlier in the day--there was standing water on Bayswater Road--but it wasn't raining now. And apparently London is a good bit drier than Chester and Wales anyway, so I'm glad to be out of that part of the Isles. Tomorrow, I think, I will--given dry weather--take a long walk to the Tate Modern Gallery and maybe the Tower of London. If it's wet, I might ride the Tube or the bus. We'll see.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Two-Fer from Hay-on-Wye

To Hay-on-Wye

July 12, 2007

This morning I set off early, about 8 a.m., to the train station in Chester, just down the street from the Stafford Hotel. (When you're next in Chester, stay at the Stafford on City Road. It's a nice place, with friendly employees, breakfast, and free wifi.) My train was bound for Hereford (pronounced HEIR-uh-furd, not HER-furd, as in Texas), whence I had to catch a bus to Hay-on-Wye. The train arrived in Hereford a bit after 10, after stopping at such Housmanian places as Shrewsbury and Ludlow. I got directions to the bus station, just a couple of blocks away; got the information about which stand to catch the bus at; then went into Wetherspoon's for a "pee and tea" break. Back out at the bus stand, I ate a can of tuna, drank my tea, and read Las puertas templarias, a sort of DaVinci Code-ish kind of book (which preceded DVC by two or three years) by Javier Sierra of Spain. (His La cena secreta was published in English as The Secret Supper several months ago.)

It was a gloomy morning, though there were moments of brightness on the train ride when the clouds between me and the sun thinned for a moment or two. A light sprinkling started up about the time the bus arrived, and there was light rain during the drive to Hay-on-Wye, but since I wasn't out in it, this has now become the third day in a row that I haven't used the umbrella. And later in the afternoon, as in Chester yesterday, the clouds actually broke up to a great extent, and we got a nice amount of sunlight. It may be following me, since someone told me that Hay was gloomy all day yesterday, even though Chester got sun. It is surely nice to see sunlight, though who knows if we'll get any tomorrow?

I was one of several people getting off at Hay, and Ken from Aldemiro Bed & Breakfast was there to meet me. He and his wife Gill have only 3 rooms for rent, I think, though there are only two in use tonight. I have heard the other guest--as he was preparing to go out--but haven't seen him. I gather that he has stayed here before and is a cyclist.

In case you don't know, Hay-on-Wye (the Wye is a river) is England's book town. It has, as I understand it, less than 2000 permanent residents, but has 30 used bookstores (according to the 2006-2007 brochure), plus three companies that do auctions or bookbinding. Lots of tourists/booklovers come here, so the town has lots of other stores--clothing stores, and so forth--that you would never expect to find in a town of this size. (For those of you familiar with Dallas, imagine a place half the size of Cockrell Hill.) In late May and early June there is an international book festival here, which draws something like 50,000 people, including authors, and I gather that there are now other kinds of activities here as well, like a music festival.

I visited several of the Hay-on-Wye bookstores this afternoon, after having a lunch of ham, apple, chips and a Coca-Cola. Since I only had the afternoon here, clearly I didn't spend a great deal of time in any of the stores. The Poetry Bookshop is one of several I will visit again; today I only nibbled at the edges. They have a couple of different editions of plays by W.B. Yeats, one of which I may buy tomorrow or Saturday. There are some other books there which interest me, to be sure, but I have to weigh how much I want to carry and how much I, as a pensioner, want to spend. One book I clearly can not afford to even think about is the first Irish (limited) edition of Yeats's books of poems Responsibilities, which is priced at 750 pounds--$1500 roughly. Other relatively pricey items include a signed copy of Geoffrey Hill's Mercian Hymns, David Jones's In Parenthesis, and early poetry collections by Mervyn Peake. They have quite a few early editions of Lord Byron's work as well, which are not terribly expensive because so many of them were printed--Byron was a bestseller (as was, later, Tennyson).

At the Sensible Book Shop, they have a lot of titles on sale for only one pound a piece--an entire basement full, in fact--as well as very reasonably priced books on the ground level too. They have an interesting assortment of Shakespeare's plays too, from two different multi-volume editions which someone at some time or another separated. So the plays are cut out of (or fell out of?) their bindings and are pages only, still sewn together, but with no fronts or backs. What makes these interesting to me is that they all come from two different sets printed in the 18th century--a small set from the 1740s, about 4 inches high, with print too small for me; and a larger set, about the size of a normal hardcover book nowadays, from the 1770s. Except for a couple which are, I guess, more collectible, they're priced at 3 pounds each. What's nice about books of this age, even without covers, is the way the paper feels--it's made of cotton and not wood pulp and is almost as soft as a T-shirt, even after more than 200 years. So I may buy one of those as well.

I also went into Booth Books, which was sort of icky. Oddly, this is a store owned by the man who got Hay-on-Wye going as a book town back in the 1960s, but the store is kind of a mess: books lie on their sides, or tilted at weird angles, on some of the shelves, as if there is either a lot of turnover or a lack of care on Booth's part to keep the shelves straight. There are a lot of books here, but the mess puts me off. Still I may return, if only to look more carefully at several shelves of "pocket" hardbacks: early printings of books from Everyman's Library, and small editions in the Oxford World Classics series, and so forth. Booth's other store is in Hay Castle, part of which is in ruins. I will try to get a picture or two of it tomorrow. It's rather scenic. Today I wasn't carrying my camera. This store specializes in visual-related materials: art, photography, cinema: and a few other subjects.

Now I know that you don't want to have an entry without a photograph, if at all possible, so I thought I'd better give you a photo-update on the ankle. It's been three and a half weeks since I twisted it in Valletta, Malta, and it's still about 50 percent bigger than the left ankle. It hurts a bit, especially if I move it certain ways, but doesn't object to walking. And today, you'll be glad to know, I barely avoided another tumble off of a pavement which sort of turned into a long series of steps. Another inch or so the wrong direction, and I might have going flying again! So here's the photo:

Maybe I'll just be Fat Ankle for the rest of my life!


Friday the 13th

July 13, 2007

Definitely Friday the 13th--today's weather ranks with my first Sunday in London for most consistently icky weather for an entire day. Or, as the proprietor at the Poetry Bookshop said, "abysmal" (although he may have been talking about the whole summer.) It began to rain right as I left the B&B, after 9:15 or so, and continued until about 3, when it pretty well quit for a couple of hours before starting up again. Since then it's tapered off again, but it's been a gloomy Friday. Fortunately it hasn't been nearly as cold as Wednesday morning in Chester.

I think 13 may be an unlucky number after all. On May 13, a Sunday, Nancy H and I spent a couple of hours trying to find each other in Livorno, and on June 13, a Wednesday, I went to Gozo. If you've been reading the Travel Log, you know what that means. And then today. . .

My goal had been not to buy any books until tomorrow, after doing a lot of browsing and seeing what the various stores have, but I fudged and bought two books today, neither of them expensive or collectible. One is a collection of poems, with a fairly lengthy introductory essay by the translators, by the Greek poet C.P. Cavafy. It's a hardcover, but it's an ex-library book, so it only cost 4 pounds. The other is a paperback novel by William Golding, Rites of Passage, a sea story. It cost 1 pound 95 pence. I also found yet another edition of plays by W.B. Yeats, both less expensive and more inclusive than the ones I was thinking of from the Poetry Bookshop, so I may buy it tomorrow. I spent a good bit of time in the Poetry Bookshop today, trying to do a fairly decent scan of the main poetry shelves, just to see what's there and to see if something I wouldn't have thought of would surprise me. The verdict may be no, though if I weren't having to carry these things with me I might decide differently.

It's been interesting to compare, not just in Hay but in whatever bookstore I've visited in the British Isles, the different authors who receive attention here, as compared to the U.S. One example is John Betjeman, whose name barely registers in the U.S., but who is quite a presence on bookstore shelves in the U.K. He was, to be sure, the poet laureate at one time, but that's been a while. I think last year was the centenary of his birth, so that may be a part of the reason for his current prominence. Despite the fact that the U.S. and the U.K. share a language, and despite the fact that Harry Potter is adored in both countries, there are still a lot of differences in what we read.

I also visited Murder & Mayhem, which specializes in crime and horror fiction. It's owned by the same people who own Addyman Books and the Addyman Annexe, which have a much wider range of books for sales, so among the three of them, they must get a fair amount of the Hay book business. The Hay Cinema Bookshop, which I avoided yesterday, being fooled by the name, is not simply a bookstore for books about movies and actors--it's a bookstore built in an old movie-house! I did my first book-looking there this morning because it was open (some of the stores don't open till 10 or even 11 a.m.), because I had learned that it carried all sorts of books, and because I could get in out of the rain there. It's where I found the other edition of Yeats's plays. It's quite a large store, especially in comparison with some of the others, which may be two stories, but are still only two stories of a small old house.

After a while, of course, it's sort of hard to focus. One's eyes want to be looking at something other than the spines of books. It's also true for me at least, that being faced with an enormous number of used books from at least a couple of centuries, I sometimes forget things I would like to look for! I should keep a list of course, but I'm often not that organized. I had at least three breaks today--an early lunch; a tea break; and a brief time standing under a tree and my umbrella eating a packet of sandwich ham after my lunch had worn off. One thing Hay really needs is an area of covered tables where book-browsers can have an outdoor meal, rain or no rain.

This is a photo of Hay Castle, part of which, as you can see, is in ruins.

The photo at the head of this entry is also of the castle. Part of the castle isn't in ruins, and the Castle Bookshop which I visited yesterday is in there. There is a music festival going on there this weekend, and apparently it's started, because I keep hearing bass rumbling coming from somewhere, and I presume it's the music festival rather than a garage band practicing in the neighborhood (although, to tell the truth, it does almost sound like the same song over and over. I guess the bass sections of most bands are not very inventive. Oddly, though, at least some of what is featured at the festival is supposed to be folk, jazz, and reggae.)

The Granary (a cafe in town) actually has free wifi for customers, and if it had ever completely dried up outside today, I might have gotten the laptop and gone there to post the Travel Log and check email while drinking tea. (I had tea there anyway.) So maybe tomorrow I'll get the chance to log in, and now I'll have two days' worth of information for you, instead of only one.

I hope you are all getting more sunshine than I am, and I hope you are not complaining too loudly about the heat. As much as I have enjoyed so many things in England, I can't wait to be somewhere warm again. For me, July and Today's high will be 66 are words that don't belong together.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A History Walk in Arctic Weather

July 11, 2007

If anyone tells you that England in July is pleasant, don't believe him. It can be pleasant, for a few hours at a time, but one mustn't expect it. Take a look, for example, at this duck:

He was huddled in upon himself, head tucked into his back, standing on one foot on the edge of the canal that runs through Chester. It was quite raw this morning in Chester. I could bet you that Chester was as cold as Canada's Northwest Territory, and I'd probably win. Remember: even the tundra thaws out in July! I took a "history hunters" walking tour, which was quite interesting, but some of the time I was absolutely freezing. (And I got a bit of drizzle at a couple of times, but I didn't have to use the umbrella for the second day in a row.)

I think the man who leads this tour is sitting in the catbird seat. He's retired and does this, I suppose, just to supplement his pension. At four to five pounds a head (depending on age), he can make anywhere from 20 to 60 pounds for a tour that lasts 90 minutes or so. Not a bad supplement at all! Do you think I could get something similar going in Marfa? Probably not. According to what I read, Chester gets about 2 million visitors a year.

One of the most interesting facts we learned on the tour was what "The Rows" are. For several blocks in the center of historic Chester, a few blocks running east-west and a few running north-south, there is what constitutes something like the earliest mall in the country. In The Rows there are shops at both street level and at the first floor aboveground level, and the shops aboveground are all connected by aboveground walkways. What's unusual about this is that The Rows go back several hundred years. On the upper floors, closest to the street, there are railings and sloped display areas called stallboards. Behind the stallboards are the walkways, and then the fronts of the stores. This photo shows what is, our guide said, the oldest storefront in England.

Behind and at the base of the arches are the stallboards, then the walkway, then the enclosed building. The Three Arches are on the north-south section of The Rows where the ceilings are lower (probably older), and the walkways more shadowy. On the east-west axis, the roofs are higher (I think he said they were redone in later times), making the walkways and stallboards brighter and more airy. Along the same street where the Three Arches are (and pretty close to them, I think) was this historical marker, mostly of interest to librarians:

On the other side of the north-south axis and at ground level is the cafe called SpudULike, which I think I mentioned a couple of days ago. I had lunch there again today and went down into their basement (which I didn't know to do on Monday). SpudULike sits on top of a Roman hypocaust--or heating system. A couple of days ago I ran a photo of a reconstructed hypocaust in the Roman Gardens. This is the real thing, in its original location. A fire would have been built somewhere down here, beyond these columns, then the heat from the fire would have come into the space created by these columns, thus heating the floor above.

On the east-west axis of The Rows we went into what is now a sofa shop which occupies both street level and aboveground level at its location. It also contains this windowpane, which dates back to the 18th century and contains a graffito written by English author Samuel Johnson, scratched into the glass itself. Maybe one of you has the digital skills to find to enhance the writing and figure out what it says. As well as I can tell, there are three lines, sloping upwards, one towards the top of the photo, one almost in the center, and the third near the bottom. I tried to decipher it, but couldn't--and the guide wouldn't tell us what it said, so it must be a little bit naughty!

The guide mentioned that there would have been perhaps three days a year when Chester would have had a sort of "open" fair, allowing people from the countryside, who were not guild members, to come into the city and display their wares--which might be cheeses!--on the stallboards, offering them for sale. Otherwise, trade was strictly regulated, and one had to be a guild member to produce items for sale. I asked him when the guild system finally faded away--since, I suppose, most of us associate it with the Middle Ages--and he said that wouldn't have happened until some time after the English Civil War of the 1640s.

After my lunch at SpudULike, I went back to the hotel for a little while to warm up. I changed out of my shorts into long pants (although my legs weren't that cold--it was my upper body) and put my second windbreaker into my pack, so that if I needed to I could add it to the t-shirt, polo shirt and windbreaker I was already wearing. Fortunately, the clouds finally began to break about 2:30. I took a tour of the Chester Cathedral during this time. You have probably seen enough photos of cathedrals by this time, but I will show you one more. This is one of the oldest parts of the cathedral, dating back to about 1100, not long after William the Conqueror and around the time Henry I came to the throne. Most of the cathedral follows the Gothic (isn't that right?) form, with peaked arches coming to a point, but this 900-year-old bit has the old rounded arches format.

The cathedral is made of red sandstone, which you might be able to tell in this photo, and was first a Benedictine monastery.

By the time I left the cathedral, the sky was actually more blue than not (though the wind still blew and the temperature probably wasn't more than 65). I got a "take away" cup of tea and a newspaper from Starbuck's and went down to the Roman Gardens for a little while to sit in the sun and read. With my back to the sun, and light falling on my dark blue windbreaker, it was actually possible to begin to feel warm. After a while I even took the windbreaker off: it was practically as warm as a nice February afternoon in El Paso! Then I got some food from Marks & Spencer and headed back to the hotel. I did a little yoga, for only about the second or third time while in the British Isles, then showered and washed clothes.

Now it's 7 p.m., the sun is still shining most of the time, and I think I am just about ready to head down to the hotel lobby and connect to the wifi. Don't forget that tomorrow I get on the train and bus for Hay-on-Wye where I don't expect to find wifi. (If I do, that'll be great.) So if you don't see another posting, or get an answer to email, until Sunday night or even Monday (it will probably be almost 5 p.m. before I get back to London on Sunday), don't be surprised.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Meeting Alan and Griselda Garner

July 10, 2007

Today I had the pleasure to meet and visit with Alan and Griselda Garner. Griselda, like yours truly, is a retired librarian. Alan, as many of you know, is the noted author of such books as The Owl Service (which won the Carnegie Medal for 1967), The Stone Book Quartet, and Strandloper. I first encountered Alan's books as a teenager, when his books to date were all classified as children's or teenagers' books. Over the past several years I've reread those novels as well as reading his more recent books for adults and have been amazed at the power of his language and his enormous skill. He is not at all well-known in the U.S., though his books have been published and re-published here, and he is, I feel sure, one of the authors people will still be reading and studying in a century or more, when our "bestsellers" are long forgotten.

I left Chester about 9:20 on the train to Crewe, and from Crewe took another train over to Goostrey in (or near?) which the Garners live. Alan met me at the station, and we headed off to their home, a bit of which you can see in the photo above. They live in a quite a remarkable place, where they have found the evidence--weapon points, pottery sherds, seals--for habitation going back thousands of years. Both Alan and Griselda, whom I met when we got to the house, are fascinated with archaeology, know a great deal, and are involved in activities in their neck of the woods to make sure that the evidence of the past gets preserved and understood. Over the past few years, they have been going through all the hurdles to get their house and land bequeathed to the public, more or less, as an English heritage site. They have lived here for 50 years, since before Alan's first book, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, was published. (I learned today that Brisingamen is pronounced briSINGamen--I've been mispronouncing it for decades!) Alderley Edge, where Alan grew up and which figures in Weirdstone and its sequel The Moon of Gomrath, is only 6 miles away.

Here's a photo of the kitchen, with Griselda barely visible on the right side.

This part of their house is something like 600 years old and was once a manor house. The ceilings are low and the beams are large. The house can't be precisely dated, but one of the newer beams which replaced an earlier beam has been dated back to the 16th century! If you look carefully in the photo, a bit above and to the right of the center, you will see a platter hanging on the wall--that is a plate from a dinner service, the floral pattern of which can be rearranged to form an owl. The Owl Service. Here is a close-up.

The book of that title is set in Wales and, in a certain sense, re-enacts an episode of Welsh mythology but in the present time. It's a powerful and beautifully written work which moves forward almost completely through the conversation of the characters. It is arguably Alan's first masterpiece, published when he was only 32 or 33.

We sat here in the kitchen, had tea and cookies, and visited. Though Griselda is retired, she and Alan are both involved in educational activities with local school children, teaching them about the past through the remains which have been found right there on their land. Then, while Griselda went upstairs to get some work done, Alan gave me a tour of the house. He showed me, in his study, the chair in which he sat while writing each of his books. His study is full of books, of course, but so are other rooms of the house.

The second part of the house, the "new" section, dates back "only" to the early Tudor period, almost 500 years ago. This part of the house was slated to be destroyed, several miles away, for a road expansion. Working with a young architect, the Garners were able to get this house taken apart, bit by bit, brought to their property and re-assembled. It is joined to the earlier house by a new section featuring a wall that is almost entirely windows, overlooking a small garden with recirculating water. The picture of them at the head of this entry shows them against one outer wall of this section of the house, perpendicular to the window wall. In this photo, they are standing at the same point, but I didn't zoom in, so that you can see almost to the peak of the roof behind them.

This part of the house includes, in between two large rooms, a sort of heater room, where a fire could have been made on the floor in the past, or in a large metal basin nowadays, to heat the rooms to both side. The chimney which zooms up above this heating area to a height of 27 feet, narrowing as it goes up.

They also have an "educational" are in this part of the house, where students can examine pottery sherds going back about 500 years, found on the grounds, and occasionally even discover that one piece matches the style of another, already dated. Alan also has here his grandfather's smithy tools, which figure in The Stone Book Quartet. And here is a photo of the actual stone book, a piece of stone shaped to look like a book, with spine and decorated cover, from which an inset cross has been lost.

We left the house and went to Alderley Edge, owned by the National Trust. This area contains place after place which Alan used in his first two books--Goldenstone, the Iron Gates, Saddlebole, the hollow way where the wizard met the farmer whose horse he needed. We went up to a site which archaeologists from Manchester University are examining at the moment. Today an archaeologist from Cambridge, a friend of Alan and Griselda, was also there to look at what is being done. He is an expert in ancient mining, and this is an area where both quarrying and mining have been done over the centuries. At one crack in the rock bedding, Alan pointed out the opening into the mines which he used in Weirdstone for the svarts' entrance and exit. The last time Alan and Griselda were there, she found a piece of a flint weapon point which rain had exposed. While wandering here at Alderley Edge, we had our picnic lunch on Goldenstone.

About 3:30 we headed back to the house for another bit of tea and a cookie, before it was time to get me to the train station for the 4:36 train back to Crewe. Alan and Griselda were also expecting the Cambridge archaeologist to come by for a bit of food, before his five hour drive back to Cambridge. This photo shows the Garners in front of another wall of the Tudor part of the house, around the corner from the earlier photos.

Then Alan and I set off, back to the train station, while Griselda stayed behind in case their friend showed up early. Alan and I chatted at the station until the train stopped briefly to pick me and one or two others up. And then I was off with Arriva, and he was off to home. I hope they enjoyed the day as much as I did, and I do indeed hope they know how much I appreciate their taking the time to let this American interrupt their normal schedule.

Monday, July 9, 2007

The Chester Walls (and "Moving House in Chester")

July 9, 2007

I began the day (after having breakfast and getting dressed, that is) in a fairly unusual way: I went looking for a hotel to move to so that I wouldn't have to stay at the hostel. Don't get me wrong: the hostel was nice enough, and the folks running it were nice, and it's got a very high rating from folks who rate hostels. But maybe I'm just too old for bunk beds, and a chilly room in summer, and no breakfast (which hoteling in Europe gets one used to), and so forth. After a little scouting, I found a pretty nice place, one given the thumbs up by the reception desk at the Best Western (which had no openings at one location and only openings at 70 pounds a night at the other location). So I went back to the hostel where the owner told me she couldn't refund tonight's bill, since I hadn't given 24 hours notice, but that she would refund Tuesday and Wednesday nights. So she gave me a credit card refund, and I went upstairs to pack up. Then I moved into the Stafford Hotel, not far at all from the train station. Same price as the hostel (since there I was paying for a room for two)! 40 pounds a night. I get breakfast; I have a spacious room; I have an electric heater if I want to use it (and I very well may); I have a (small) TV; and I have multiple towels and (quite a rarity in Europe) a washcloth! I'm pleased.

This hotel has wifi too, which I was able to connect to this morning, which you might have figured out since I made a posting this morning and actually answered some email. (Not that I still don't have a bunch to catch up on, especially elimae submissions.) The connection in the lobby is much faster than in my room (which I couldn't get to connect at all a few minutes ago), so I may spend some time tonight in the lobby, catching up on elimae work. It was great, though, this morning to do some of my email, get a two-fer Travel Log post done, and work on some elimae work which I had already accepted. After working for a while, I shut the computer down and left the hotel for lunch. I went to a place (which I'd spotted yesterday afternoon) called SpudULike, which has baked potatoes with a choice of stuffings. My stuffing was--butter! I also had a cup of tea. This morning's sunlight had given way to clouds coming and going and rain coming and going and, sometimes, sun coming and going. So even though it was quite wet at one point, there has also been some sun to cheer my spirits.

After lunch, I went to the visitor centre to get some information on walking the city walls. I got a brochure (free) and a "Walk Around Chester Walls" brochure (99 pence) and set off. The Walls brochure, besides given a numbered series of highlights to look for along with explanatory paragraphs also provides a pretty good overview of the main streets within Chester's walls, so maybe I won't get lost so easily here! The free brochure also has a less detailed map, but one which also shows some of the city outside the walls, which is also helpful. My hotel and the train station are outside the walls.

On my way from the tourist centre to the Eastgate, one of several places to walk up to the top of the walls, I took several photos of the Chester Cathedral. It's a massive-looking thing, built of what looks like red sandstone, and quite weathered. This photo, looking at the Cathedral from the back, gives a good sense, I think, of the square tower at the top, as well as of the way the perpendicular walls come in toward each other. In the foreground is a garden, which is quite a lovely spot:

Chester has the most complete set of medieval city walls in Britain. They almost entirely circle the city. (As well as I could tell, there is only one short section where you are just walking down a sidewalk.) There are also places where Roman walls are still visible at the bottom of the medieval walls, which is a pretty cool thing. At the corner where you turn from the eastern walls onto the northern walls is the King Charles Tower, which--the brochure and a plaque at the site explain--is the tower from which King Charles I saw his cavalry defeated at the battle of Rowton Moor.

Chester was a "royalist" city, loyal to the king against the "parliamentarians," and was besieged for 3 or 4 years before surrendering in 1646. King Charles himself was beheaded in 1649, after which Oliver Cromwell took over the country. (I believe he was called the Protector.) One comes before too long to the North Gate, which is the highest ground in Chester and from which you can see into Wales, which is pretty close.

Continuing on around the walls, I came to the Roodee Racecourse, which has races from May to September. Along the outside of the walls there are also ruins of a Roman quay, for docking along the river (though the river has shifted course since then, and though I'm not sure I saw what I was supposed to see). Farther along is Chester Castle. The original timber fortress there was built under William the Conqueror, and what remains of the stone building dates to the 12th and 13th centuries. Apparently a lot of it was torn down in the 18th century, but what remains is still pretty big and impressive, from the high point it sits upon. Not too far from here is the Old Dee Bridge, built more than 600 years ago and crossing the Dee River. Just upstream from it is the Chester Weir, more than 900 years old. We would probably call it a spillway: a low dam, designed for the water to flow over it and create water pressure to run water wheels for mills. You can see part of the weir and the bridge in this photo:

Around about here I ran into a tour group, German, I think. I keep dropping back behind them as I read my brochure, and then catching them again as they stopped to listen to the information of their tour guide. It was raining again by this time, and I couldn't help thinking how depressed I would be if I had to return to my chilly room in the hostel in such gloomy weather.

Outside the walls as you end the southern stretch and head back up toward the East Gate are the Roman Gardens. They aren't gardens that date back to the Romans, but rather a modern creation featuring Roman remains and the reconstruction of a Roman underground heating system, by which the Romans could heat rooms from beneath, especially at the public baths. Also outside the walls is the Roman amphitheatre. It is only "halfway excavated", though it looks like work has resumed on it now. Here is a photo:

It was big enough to hold several thousand folks, they say, though the ruins as they are now don't look like so much, do they?

After I finished the circuit of the walls, I visited Grosvenor Museum, which has more Roman remains, a tour of what a middle-class home would have looked like in centuries past, a natural history exhibition, a silver exhibition, and also a collection of Chester-related art. Several of the paintings dealt with a St John church which has fallen apart. I got directions for how to get to it and visited it as well. This is a photo of part of it:

There is also a newer church, also called St John the Baptist, just to the west (I think) of the ruins.

Oh, and I visited 3 used bookstores today and finally, at the third of them, bought a nice little edition of Thomas Hardy's Under the Greenwood Tree, which I've already read, but which I thought I would enjoy reading again. I finished my English book on Saturday and have had only Spanish to read since then, so I thought, "Why not?" It was only 4 pounds 50 pence, cheap in these parts!

(PS: I am sitting in the Stafford Hotel lobby working on email and the Travel Log. Isn't that marvelous? I don't have to leave the hotel; I don't have to sit at Starbuck's; I don't have to try to find a little Internet cafe somewhere. I'm right here in the hotel.)

Another Two-Fer


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.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Three For the Price of One

Three-Fer: Beautiful Scenery (Lousy Weather), Ireland's Two Hours of Summer, & Return to Wales

July 4, 2007

Today--the US's independence day--is also the birthday of an Irish hero named Daniel O'Connell, born in 1775, one year before the Declaration of Independence was published. O'Connell fought for the legal rights of Roman Catholics, which included most of the Irish. Those rights had been taken away by the English government in the wake of the Protestant Reformation and the creation of the Church of England. O'Connell's fight was different from so many others because he insisted always on pacifism and non-violence, making me wonder if he was an inspiration for Thoreau, who was an inspiration for Gandhi, who was an inspiration for Rev. King. Our guide didn't mention, though, whether O'Connell was an initial link in this chain. There is a Catholic church in one of the towns we passed through today, though I don't remember which one, named for O'Connell. Our guide said it is the only one in the world named for a lay person, rather than a saint (or divinity, of course), and many people objected at the time of its founding in 1875, but the local bishop was adamant that the church should be named for him. In Limerick, Ireland, where we are staying tonight, one of the main streets is also named for him. Interestingly, the rural house that O'Connell was born in, while graced with a marker on the road, is in ruins--the house is on private land, and its owner, for whatever reason, won't allow it to be restored.

This tree will serve as your weather report for July 4, 2007, in Ireland. Note how far to one side the branches are being thrown by the wind:

The wind blew 20-40 mph a great deal of the day; the rain came repeatedly; and the temperatures felt like they were 60 at best. More of the same for tomorrow.

Nonetheless, we saw some beautiful scenery and some interesting sites on this, another day spent greatly on the bus--a total probably of 6 hours between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. We drove the scenic route called the Ring of Kerry. Kerry is one of the Irish counties, and the Ring is a drive that takes you through some small villages, some rural areas, near the ocean and through some valleys at the bottom of low, but rugged, mountains. Except for the vivid green, some of the scenery recalls the Big Bend area of Texas and even the very rugged southwestern edge of Texas's hill country, near such tiny towns as Leakey, Vanderpool, Camp Wood, and Utopia: steep sloping hill- or mountainsides, exposed rock, narrow winding roads.

One of the first places we stopped was at a little restaurant and store called Thatch Cottage. Here is a photo of just a bit of the outside of the place, showing a chunk of the thatched roof, and the thickness of the "eaves".

This was our morning coffee break and pit stop. Some of the folks did some shopping as well: scarves, woolen clothing, jewelry, etc. After about 30 minutes off the bus, we climbed back in and headed on. At various spots we stopped for scenic overlooks and photo stops, and I can't remember where most of them were. I would've needed a map and a marker to keep all the place names straight. This is my shot looking down from one of those overlooks toward the sea:

Along the way, our guide talked about the Potato Famine years and about how prior to that time there were a lot of very small villages, called bog villages, in this part of the country. Now they are only ruins, unless they have been restored (probably for commercial purposes!) She told us that Ireland is 1/7th peat bog, which is a strong indication of how very very wet the country is as a rule. At one place, we got to stop and see a pile of peat cuttings up close. Most people don't use it for heating any more, but some do. This is what it looks like, close up, after it's been cut out of the ground:

They cut the peat one layer at a time, moving across the surface of a bog rather than cutting down into the bog. The reason for this, Tricia said, is because if you go down, you get too much into the water that saturates the bog and you can't get back out. You try to climb out, and you just slip back down into it. That peat may be too wet still to be useful as well. So they slice across the top. From the looks of a cutting line we could see from where we stopped, they cut maybe a foot or two down as they go across. There's a very interesting book about the bodies found back in the '50s in peat bogs in Denmark called The Bog People (the author's name is Glob). These bodies were mostly entirely?) ritual sacrifices made as long as 2000 years ago, but the bodies were so preserved by the acids in the peat water that officials first thought they were finding recently murdered or accidentally drowned persons. Bodies have been found in the Irish bogs as well.

We stopped for lunch at another remote spot called Avoca. Avoca was first a famed brand of woolen clothing, which wears and lasts very well, but at some point they opened a cafe as well, with specialty desserts as well as lunch items varying from day to day. (Needless to say, there was virtually nothing I could eat!) One of their specialties was, if I heard right, "rhubarb crumble". Yikes. (I had a madeira muffin--basically just plain white or yellow cake in cupcake form--and a can of tuna I brought in from the bus.) But you all would have loved the desserts and the lunch items--salads, quiche, stuffed baked potatoes, and so forth. This is a photo of water running off the hillside right outside the building.

You can see how rugged and steep the land is here, as well as how much water was spilling out of the hills. That this is not a terribly unusual occurrence (despite all the protests to the contrary) was revealed by the culverting (not showing in the photo) at the bottom of this run-off, which would have been unnecessary unless such rains were fairly common.

Somewhere along the way we also passed this rather lovely (and apparently fairly recent) marker to St Brendan. According to Irish lore (backed up by some evidence, I gather), St Brendan and some companions sailed west in a small boat (a coracle) and eventually discovered America, though of course it wasn't America at the time. This is supposed to have happened even earlier than Leif Erickson's trip, I believe. St Brendan is the figure farthest to the right in the photo.

Fortunately by the time we reached Limerick about 4, the rain had tapered off once again, and between 4 and 6 I was able to do a fair amount of strolling the city centre of Limerick. Susan came with me just for a bit, and we went just a few blocks from the hotel, following the guide's directions, to South's Bar. This is, she said, the bar that Frank McCourt's father wasted most of the family money in, as recorded by McCourt several years ago in the book Angela's Ashes. Susan got a couple of photos, then we strolled a few more minutes, then she headed back to the hotel to join a group of the tourers who headed out to a 15th century castle somewhere near here for one of those medieval dinner-entertainment kinds of things. (Since I can never eat anything at such festivities, I rarely have any desire to go!) I walked on, spending a few minutes in a cemetery next to one of the churches, browsing an HMV music store for a few minutes, and buying some supper items for my "picnic" in the hotel room. Mostly I just walked and ran off energy after being pent up in the bus for most of the day. Fortunately during this time the rain actually mostly held off, though it has rained again this evening.

Tomorrow we head off for Dublin and, hopefully, more time on the ground. I will avoid this kind of trip in the future--too much time confined, looking out windows. I'd rather see things afoot.


Ireland's Two-Hours of Summer

July 5, 2007

After we boarded the bus this morning, we made a brief swing past some of the historical sites of Limerick and made a photo stop. Back in the late 12th century, King Henry II of England, who had become King of Ireland as well some time earlier, sort of turned Ireland over to his younger son Prince John, who later became King John (one of England's least-beloved monarchs--there has never been a King John II). This is the castle Prince John had built, and they call it King John's Castle although he didn't use it after he became king. It's on the banks of the River Shannon, and unfortunately (as you can see in the photo) there is a modern building directly next to (or behind) it.

This is the same King John who was forced to sign the Magna Carta, a copy of which is in Salisbury Cathedral's Chapter House (which we saw last Sunday).

Right across the river from King John's Castle is this small monument, the Treaty Stone.

The stone itself is from the bridge that existed at that time (1691) where the treaty was signed. The treaty was between the Irish, who had mostly backed the deposed King James II of England against his replacements King William (of Orange) and Mary (James's daughter), and King William. William agreed to give the Irish rights to practice their Roman Catholicism, but Parliament (which had installed William and Mary) demanded that he break the treaty because James II's Catholicism was a main (the main?) reason they wanted him deposed. According to our guide, many of the Irish still remember this betrayal sharply.

We left Limerick for the longish drive to Dublin, Ireland's capital. Our "tea and pee break" was at the National Stud Farm, which is exactly what it sounds like, but also has a cafeteria and gift shop. When we arrived in Dublin, we had a short driving tour around part of central Dublin before being released to roam! Trinity College is right in the heart of Dublin, a bit to the south of the River Liffey. Once it was a Protestant college and Catholics were not allowed to attend. Now it's open to anyone who can meet the entrance requirements and pay the bill. It owns the famous illuminated manuscript called The Book of Kells which is about 1500 years old.

Dublin was also the home of playwright, novelist and poet Oscar Wilde when he was a young man. Susan and I stumbled across this historical marker when we were trying to find 1) the National Gallery and 2) a statue of Wilde which the guide had told us was in a park on the same street with the Gallery.

At the point we saw this marker, which is nowadays on a building used by the American University in Dublin, we had passed the National Gallery without realizing it and were right across the street from the park where the statue is. Our map didn't have all the streets marked, and Dublin--like every other city (except Valletta) I have encountered on this trip--impossible to navigate simply by looking at a map. I'm guessing that this must be the same house in which Wilde's parents had their evening parties that were mentioned in the Bram Stoker biography I read earlier on this trip. And it was either on this same block or just around the corner where there is also a house that the poet and dramatist William Butler Yeats once lived in, but we didn't know that at the time, so I didn't get to stroll by there and get a photo.

Anyway, in that park across the street, which is quite a beautiful park, is the Wilde statue. It seems to capture something of Wilde's casual attitude to things.

Across the walkway from the statue are two smaller statues (one is of a pregnant woman, the other is just a torso), and the high pedestals that support these statues have Wilde quotations on them, looking almost like graffiti chalked onto a wall.

At the National Gallery we saw another Caravaggio painting (the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, which includes a self-portrait of Caravaggio as a lantern bearer) and a very nice Van Gogh, which I don't recall ever having seen a photograph of. It's a small painting, a cityscape of Paris in fairly dark and muted colors under a cloudy, but not dark, sky. There was also a Picasso which, oddly, I remember the year of (1924), but not really the subject, except that I think there was a musician in it. You can see that it impressed me deeply. There were a lot of portraits in the Gallery and quite a few paintings from Dutch and German artists of the 17th century. The "Yeats Museum", which I'm thinking might be dedicated to Yeats's father and brother, both artists, rather than to the poet, was closed, so we couldn't find out what or whom it was really about.

We spent some time in a local bookstore called Hodges and Figgis, which was quite a nice store. Susan made a purchase, but I was good and restrained myself. Not surprisingly, the store separates out Irish writers from all other writers, so that, for example, poets like Yeats and Wilde and Seamus Heaney are not found in the "poetry" section, but in the "Irish poetry" section. Even writers like Bram Stoker, which one doesn't normally closely associate with Ireland, are in the Ireland section.

After we met the bus and got checked into the hotel, Susan and I took another walk. I wanted to find the Abbey Theatre, which Yeats was associated with and which was located on the little map the guide had given us. Not surprisingly, where we found the Abbey was not exactly the map placed it, and the Abbey itself has a modern facade which wouldn't have been there in the early 20th century, making me wonder if the current Abbey is not located where the historical Abbey was located. If so, we didn't find any sign marking the old Abbey. Here's a slightly close-up shot of the facade as it stands now:

Now look carefully at the reflective surfaces near the top of the photo. Notice that there is actual blue sky reflected in some of the panels. Yes, blue sky. About 5:45 this afternoon, the clouds broke. Now, notice also that I didn't say the sky cleared. The sky didn't clear, but the clouds broke, so that, for a while, there was about an equal mix of cloud and blue sky. And, amazingly, for a good part of that time, the sun actually managed to shine through those non-cloudy spots. One could actually feel one's skin trying to make up for Vitamin D deficiency. As astonishing as it may sound, we were actually in Dublin at the time of its annual two hours of summer. By the time of this writing, of course, the clouds seem to have closed in again, as well as I can tell through the hotel room window, though the rain hasn't started again yet. But just imagine our luck: Ireland only gets two hours of summer a year, and we were actually here for it! I can only presume that tomorrow morning we will return to what we have experienced for almost all of the rest of this trip--an exact duplicate of what we would consider, in Texas, a fairly miserable day in November. But still! The Irish will have to wait another year for sunlight and a temperature near 70: most of the rest of us on the tour will be able to go back to our homes and experience summer again in 2007. Amazing.


July 6, 2007

We began this morning by loading up in Dublin and heading for the dock and the ferry to North Wales. Most of us, I suspect, slept a good deal of the time from Dublin to Anglesey (the name of which makes me think of the Cat Stevens song "Angelsea") on the ferry--certainly I did. Toward the end of the 4-hour ride, Susan and I had an early lunch with an Australian couple, both of whom are in management with Woolworth's (which is, in Australia, a grocery chain) and are in the midst of about 3 months of travel and vacation time. He has family in Holland, and they have visited there already, as well as visiting Scotland.

After leaving the ferry, we drove to the town which has, according to the claim, the longest place name in the world--57 letters. Here is a photo of Susan in front of one of the signs of the name--this one gives the phonetic approximation of the Welsh pronunciation. (But be warned--the ll doesn't sound like an l: it's sort of like an l with a clicked th inside it, if that makes any sense.)

After having a pit stop and tea stop here we moved on into Snowdonia National Park, passing first by this tiny fishing village which more or less covers the entire island in the middle of the river.

The guide explained that the 6 national parks in the UK are not owned by the government, but rather by the National Trust (which sounds kind of like the Nature Conservancy). The National Trust preserves these parks for the future. Farms and towns are within the boundaries. The farmers (I'm not sure about the townies) lease their properties from the Trust, and their families are allowed to keep the leases from generation to generation as long as they are maintaining and using the land in a conserving sort of way. Mount Snowdon is in the park and is the highest peak in Wales--but only about 3000 feet. Because we were moving in and out of rain, and occasional sunlight, and low-flying clouds, we couldn't necessarily see everything the guide hoped we would. This hillside photo shows sheep, steep slopes, and a cloud lying on top of the hill.

In some ways this land too reminds me of the Big Bend area of Texas, though with a lot more greenery. Because of the rainfall, there were waterfalls splashing down the slopes in many areas. Here is one of them:

Many of us also slept for parts of this drive! Part of the reason we sleep so much on the bus and on the ferry rides is because they get us up so early in the morning to leave the hotels. After we left the park, we stopped in another smallish town called (I think) Llangollin. We had an hour here to roam around, get a snack, take photos, wander in and out of shops. I saw an interesting book, which I may buy at some point, called Some Recollections which contains a 35- or 40-page memoir by Thomas Hardy's first wife of the early years of her life, up to her marriage to Hardy. Here I actually bought something touristy: a polo shirt with the Welsh dragon and the words Wales and Cymru (the Welsh name for Wales) on the left breast. Maybe you'll see me wear it sometime!

We got to Wrexham, Wales, a little before 5 p.m. Our hotel here is a Ramada Plaza, which is very nice. Susan and I walked into town and roamed around a while. I found some deli-style chicken and chips to eat for my supper (we were being served a buffet at the hotel, and I was afraid I wouldn't be able to eat anything), and we also roamed into a churchyard nearby. The church has a cemetery on the grounds and many of the stones are lying flat, like the stones in St John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta, Malta. There were also a number of graves that looked almost like sarcophagi, as if the coffins were enclosed on top of, instead of in, the ground. (And maybe they are!) This is the verse that is on the side of one of them:

When Susan went down to the buffet, I showered and washed clothes, then went down to see if I could join Susan and the others and eat a dessert. I couldn't, but I had a couple of cups of tea, as well as a tiny bit of steamed broccoli and some plain white rice. We sat for a while after the others had left, talking with a couple from Arizona who are in education, in one way or another: she is a counselor, after retiring as a principal, and he is a lobbyist for the biggest community college district in Arizona. Nice and interesting people.

And now it's almost ten o'clock in the evening and the sky is not yet dark!

Oh, and we had rain today, of course, but also some sunshine. So we may have caught Wales's two hours of summer as well. It was lovely to be almost warm outside.