See You Next Year

I woke up just before my alarm went off at 5:00. Had a shower and made a nice cup of tea before packing up. I was already pretty organized and it didn’t take long – I have another bag of stuff I won’t need at home – Colin’s going to take it back to Italy with him.
After a bit to eat and a final check we were on our way as planned at 7:00 – we took the BMW rather than the mini so that Mo could come – she’s not allowed in the mini. We left way earlier than we needed to but I’d rather be early and wait than be rushing about at the last minute.
It rained off and on but traffic wasn’t too bad – a couple of spots where it bogged down for a bit, but all in all a decent drive. Colin parked in the parkade so he could come in with me – said goodbye to Mo in the car.

I took my stuff up to an agent to make sure the large bag was ok – it’s just the same as when I came over but you never know. I had to take it to ‘excess baggage’ to check but she gave me a sticker for it and both of my boarding passes so it was all good.
After that all I had to do was go through security so Colin and I had to say goodbye as he’s not allowed through. There was so much to say but rather than get all red eyed and blotchy faced crying we just had a nice good hug and said ‘see you next year’.

Security was a bit fun – something I had on made the machine beep so I got the whole pat down routine – that’s never happened before but eventually she realized I didn’t have an AR47 down my pant leg.
I was way early for my flight so sat in the lounge area reading. The walk to my departure gate took a few minutes, then we boarded almost on time. The first flight was pretty good – all the way from Heathrow to Calgary, and it wasn’t full so there was an empty seat between my (at the window) and another lady in the aisle seat.

I watched a couple of movies and some tv shows, and ate the chicken dinner they served – it wasn’t terrible. We passed over both Iceland and Greenland along the way, although it was cloudy a good part of the time so visibility was spotty.
We landed a bit ahead of schedule in Calgary – clearing customs was easy. We each had to fill out a one-page info sheet and scanned it and our passports into a little machine. You then answer a few questions and as long as you’re not stupid answering the last one you get waved through. I was laughing as I left and one of the security guards asked why – I pointed out that the final question was ‘are you bringing any cannabis or cannabis products into Canada’. I thought that was quite funny – they don’t care about harmless little things like guns or anything – just the dreaded cannabis.

The second flight was short and on time, and Dominic picked me up and took me home to the babies. Once again Sly played the shy guy and fled out the window, but Merlin was a bit braver. Walking around with the comb in my hand helped, and Merlin was leading me on his ‘tour’ in no time. Sly took a bit longer, but was purring and cuddling by bed-time.

Another fantastic, awesome trip – can’t wait to sort through all of the photos. Colin, Mo and I travel so well together – we make a great team. My adventures would be considerably different if I’d never met them. We’re already planning our next trip, which will start in early March in Italy, then on to….

Return to Pickleberry’s and Frome

FF827F36-0E41-4A61-BE1F-D38C76BB8B08Got started on our way south at around 8:30 – took the motorway part of the way, then on to quieter roads to the village of Bratton. We stopped in at Pickleberry Coffee and Gift Shop, which is where Colin’s cycling friends gather for a cup of tea on their regular Tuesday morning rides. We’d done the same thing last year as well.
They were all very pleased to see Colin and we had a nice sit down visit with his good friend Mick. Several others came by to chat, then they all left within a few minutes of each other and rode away – there must have been about 30 of them in all.
The area is so beautiful, especially at this time of year with the changing colours. There’s a large poppy on the hill above the field that we parked in, and most of the villages we drove through had displays of one kind or another.
Next we headed further south to the town of Frome, where Colin grew up – we visited it last year when we were here. Along the way we glimpsed the White Horse on the hill to the left near the town of Westbury.
We walked around Frome a bit and looked for a place to grab a quick lunch. The first cafe we went into shooed us right back out – no dogs allowed, which kind of surprised us we’ve become so used to it being ok. As we left a couple of women going in told us that the place at the end of the block would suit us.
They welcomed Mo in and we each got a sandwich – well Colin and I got a sandwich and Mo got hand fed tidbits. The place is in a very old building and the waiters and waitresses have to go up and down very narrow steep stairs to and from the kitchen.

As we left we passed an older lady sitting at one of the outside tables and she asked if she could pat Mo, which she did. As Colin continued on I stopped to take a photo of a pub across the road and the lady piped up that it was the oldest pub in the town.
I told her that Colin grew up here and she started asking questions. Colin strolled back to us and they chatted for quite a while – they went to the same school, although a few years apart. Pat B was at one time the UK women’s champion javelin thrower, and apparently also played a mean game of table tennis (don’t call it ping pong!!).
After Frome we drove up to Melksham for another visit with Mick and his wife Sandra – we went to their house last year as well. We had a cup of tea and Colin got them all caught up on our travels. It was a really nice visit and we were on our way home around 4:30 or so.

It gets dark really early so part of the drive back was in the dark – it had been a lovely day but was nice to get home. Got a slightly earlier night for once.

The Snake That Ate The Goat – #2

9DB993CF-0254-4943-A31D-FBF68508BB13Sunday morning we went out around 10:00 to go see Joseph and Olivia at their gymnastics class – Neil’s mom nanny-Ann was there and I also met his wife Louise for the first time.

The kids really seemed to enjoy the class – it was a large gym with 8 or 10 groups of between 4 and 7 kids each. They had pretty good equipment and lots of ‘coaches’ who were all teenage girls. The equipment was pretty good and they seemed to be learning the basics of all of the various apparatuses. The main criticism I might make was the number of times I saw kids that arched their heads and/or backs rather than tucking them under and rolling.
After the class Colin and I popped by the store for groceries then went home for a short while before going out for lunch. We went to the Bull Inn for their Sunday roast – Colin got the lamb and I chose the pork. We each got a plate with a pile of tender and delicious meat swimming in gravy with a scoop of stuffing, yorkshire pudding, and roasted potatoes, and a side dish of potatoes with cheese, and another with broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and cabbage. We both ate until we felt like the ‘snake that ate the goat’ – I really wanted to finish it all but just couldn’t – it was enough food for three or four hungry people.

After rolling ourselves out to the car and getting home all we could do was sit down and digest.
Monday was pretty quiet – we took Mo for a nice walk to the orchard and around on the trails to the pub, and went home for a nice roast chicken and potato dinner.
For the sixth night in a row we heard fireworks – every night from Halloween to Guy Fawkes Day – Mo tried to out-bark them.

Neighbours Lyn and Philip came over for a nice visit and to get caught up on our travels, etc. They’re such nice people and Colin is very fortunate to have them next door.

There are lots of shows on right now about the 100th anniversary of the end of the first world war – the ‘war to end all wars’ – if only! Those that forget the past are doomed to repeat it.

Once again I stayed up way too late.

Back on the Canal, Bacon on a Bun

Friday morning was sunny and beautiful so we decided to go for a ride. I didn’t bring my own bike over so I’m using Colin’s white mountain bike as I did last year when I was here.
We started out on the trails that led north to the canal, then turned right and went as far as Offerton Lane. Unfortunately Colin doesn’t like riding on the paths and canal as much as I do and wanted to go onto the road instead. The road was small and quiet so I didn’t mind. We followed it around and back across the canal at Tibberton, where we stopped at the Bridge Inn for a drink.
When we left to go home Colin chose to go by the road but I made the return trip by canal and paths instead.
We got take-out fish and chips from the Bull Inn for dinner – they were as good as I remembered. Stayed up way too late watching sappy Christmas movies – I think I watched three of them back to back.

Saturday wasn’t quite so nice out – ‘young Neil’ brought both of his kids over for bacon bunwiches. I’d met little Joseph a couple of times before but it’s the first time meeting Olivia. They’re both adorable – polite, intelligent and – most importantly – well behaved.
In the afternoon we took Mo for a nice walk to the orchard – the shopping cart and large pop bottles that were there the other day had been removed, and several of the trees had pumpkins at their bases – there must have an event of some kind yesterday. We continued on to the grange field and past the larger pond – the half-submerged shopping cart and floating pop bottles had not been removed – no event held here, I guess.

On to the Grange Pub for a drink – watched the last bit of a football game on the big screen. Man U won – Mo was suitably attired in her stylish red and black jacket.

Day Trip to Wales

Got up early – before 7:00! – to a gray looking day but we had a road-trip planned and didn’t care. We left just after 9:00 and headed south on quiet smaller roads, passing through Tewkesbury after about an hour.
We turned west at Gloucester and continued further south, through Lydney and on to Chepstow in Wales.
The Severn River gradually widened into the Severn Estuary, and apparently the tides are high enough at times that you can surf on them. As we headed further south the sky started to clear and ended up beautiful and sunny, although still very chilly.
We stopped in Chepstow for a walk around and refreshment. In the old part of the town the sidewalks have short sayings carved into them and coloured blue, as well as groups of large coin impressions.
In front of some of the buildings there’s a plaque sunk into the sidewalk telling the story and history of the building or area.

In the centre of the area there’s a memorial to the wars, and there are poppies imbedded in the stairs, and sculptures in the walls.

Leaving Chepstow we continued south to Newport, where we stopped at the velodrome, which has been renamed in honour of Geraint Thomas, the Welshman who won this year’s Tour de France.
They let us inside to watch the practice but I wasn’t allowed to take photos. I’ve watched a bit of track cycling on tv but have never been inside a course before. It was very interesting – there were several groups of riders in the inside of the track at the far end warming up and getting instructions from coaches, while three or four at a time did their training on the track. The track itself is steeply sloped at each end up to 42 degrees, and I had thought that the straight stretches were flat, but they’re also slanted, although not nearly so sharply.
After watching for a bit we made our way out – the facility has a bunch of other things happening – a full gym as well as indoor and outdoor courts for tennis and ping-pong, etc. The bright blue sky was getting a bit cloudy again, but the rain was holding off.
We left Newport and went north, stopping for a walkabout at Goytre Wharf, which is a tying up place for canal boats.
The canal is 35 miles long and was originally opened in the early 1800’s to carry coal, and it runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park.
We then went on to Abergavenny, where we once again stopped and walked around a bit looking for a place to get a bite to eat. We found a nice little cafe where we ordered cheeseburgers, and ended up chatting with the owner. We asked him about the mural on the wall of Puglia, Italy and it turns out that he’s Italian so we had lots to talk about.
There was also a mural on the side of the building across the road – it showed the local area as it is now, with a panel overlaid on one side that showed it as it was in 1665 and another panel showing it in 1100, all with Sugar Loaf mountain in the background.
There was an older lady waiting for a sandwich to take out and she was very talkative – her name was Jean and she must be a regular customer. When she got her sandwich she went over to a side counter to make use of some sauces and ended up making a bit of a mess that she wiped up with a handful of napkins, leaving a big greasy smear on the chair she’d used as a table.
Homeward bound after eating, the GPS took us through Hereford, which wasn’t really the route we’d wanted but we decided to follow it anyway. It was almost a huge mistake – the traffic was starting to slow and we could see that the other direction wasn’t moving at all. Luckily there was more than one lane and we were able to bypass the worst of it fairly quickly. The news on the radio mentioned the stalled traffic in that area, and I read later that there’d been an accident between a motorcycle and a car.

The last hour or so of the drive home was in the dark but at least it wasn’t raining. Neither of us was hungry after the delicious burgers we’d had so a light snack sufficed for dinner.

Taking it Easy in Worcester

4F7523FE-AC69-4DB0-9963-C522D88DF599Yesterday and today followed a similar pattern – up at a decent time, nice cup of tea followed by breakfast. Around 11:00 taking Mo for a walk, and stopping off at the Pub on the way home.
They let me take Mo inside as long as I kept to the area that doesn’t have carpet, which was fine with us. I got a glimpse of Chips, the pub cat, who still looks healthy and well-fed, although since I had Mo with me I didn’t try to get near her.
Colin took the mini in for the MOT so he’ll be able to drive it in a day or two with proper insurance. The new bike he’d ordered arrived so he spent a little time setting it up and getting it ready to ride.
One night we had lovely lamb chops with roasted potatoes for dinner, and the next night we got fish and chips from the Bull pub in Fernhill Heath. We always eat so well!

Goodbye Mainland, Hello UK

I did not have a very good sleep – I woke up in the middle of the night with a coughing fit – it felt at first like I was drowning. I think a drop of water had gone down the wrong way and I just couldn’t seem to cough it up. I finally went back to a fitful sleep and was glad enough when it was time to get up.

Breakfast was a bit different than yesterday – first thing was they wouldn’t let Mo in – we had to put her out in the car by herself in the cold (wrapped in a blankie) while we were warm inside eating.

The tea wasn’t great – the water came out of a machine and wasn’t boiling – you can’t make a decent cup of tea that way, although there was organic honey to sweeten it with. The baguette was pretty good, though, and I went back and got a cappuccino to replace the crappy cup of tea. The yogurt was good.
It was still very cold out, but no snow and while it was overcast most of the way it didn’t really rain. We left a little before 8:00 but didn’t get very far on our journey before we ran into road troubles – only about 15 minutes along there was either an accident or major road works.

We left the main highway we were on and went on a fairly circuitous route before we could get back on. Everywhere we went there were more roadworks happening – all the towns were trying to get their repairs and projects done before winter hits for good.

We went straight north to start with, skirting just south of Luxembourg, then northwest into Belgium past Brussels, Ghent and Bruges. As we got closer to Calais we could see that the truck stops all had high fencing topped with barbed wire to try to stop the migrants from trying to hop on (or under) a truck and get over to the UK.
We got to the Tunnel terminal nice and early, despite our hour-long delay in traffic, and the first place we went was to get Mo’s passport approved and stamped. The British fellow in front of us was fairly upset – he had his dog’s passport but had neglected to take it to the vet for its worm tablet. His only choices were to take it to a vet in Calais and wait 24 hours to catch the tunnel train tomorrow, or take the dog to a kennel after getting the tablet and come back over and retrieve it within 5 days. Although the staff guy was sympathetic to the fellow’s plight he couldn’t be budged about the rule – luckily Colin knew all about it and had been prepared.

I guess Mo was a little excited about all the other dogs there and left a deposit in the middle of the floor – luckily Colin was prepared for that as well as he almost always carries ‘Mo bags’.

Getting through customs for us went just as smoothly – the French side just waved us through – didn’t even have to stop and show them passports or anything. The British customs about 100 metres further were more thorough. The first thing he told me was that I wasn’t allowed to take photos of them so I deleted the one I’d just taken, even though all it showed was a sign ‘welcome to UK passport control’ and not any people.

We gave him both of our passports and he had a few questions for each of us but we had no problem and were let through in only a couple of minutes.

As we had a couple of hours to wait for our train we went into the terminal but there was no bar and the food places were all outrageously expensive – almost worse than an airport, if that’s possible. I picked up a bottle of wine at the duty-free shop and we went back to the car to have a snack from the food we already had. I did take advantage of the free wi-fi however.
Our train was a little behind schedule, and we didn’t board until around 4:25. We were on the upper deck, and drove almost to the front of the train. There are four vehicles in each compartment and although you can get out and walk around if you wish most folks stayed in their cars. It’s not like a ferry with all sorts of amenities, although they do have toilets.

We started moving at 4:40 and arrived on the other side around 5:15. As we pulled in we could see another train to our left that had only semi-trucks on it – they’re on an open deck so I assume they always have their own trains. I can see why they might prefer the tunnel to a ferry as you cross in about ⅓ or ¼ of the time. There was a galloping white horse on the hillside to the left to welcome us.
We still had a fairly long way to go – the GPS took us north to the London ring road – it took around 2 hours to circle around the south and west of the city until we hit the M40 to the Midlands.

We stopped at the store before going to the house as we didn’t have much food with us and the house had nothing fresh – I was the last one to stay there and that was back in July.

We finally got home after 14 hours of traveling, only to find that Colin didn’t have the right key to get in the house. Thank goodness for Lyn next door – she and Philip were very glad to see us and we took the extra key that she has.

Was it ever nice to sit down and relax – the last few hours of driving had been in darkness, but at least it hadn’t rained. They’re doing lots of road work over here too, but the motorway the whole way was between 2 and 4 lanes so it was just the volume around London that made that part so slow.