Wanderlust

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I spent a whole lot of years keeping my nose the the grindstone of life. I had two children by the time I was twenty five years old and I devoted most of my days and nights to them. I did teaching jobs of one sort or another for over forty years. Over time I taught every age group from pre-school to high school and subjects ranging from religion to Algebra II. I was as devoted to my students as I was to my two daughters and I sometimes worry that they may have felt in competition with them. My mom struggled with mental illness whose symptoms began to display themselves fifty years ago about the time that mankind first landed on the moon. All in all I never felt comfortable taking too much time away from my duties. There always seemed to be someone who needed me to be around.

My husband was as devoted to taking care of the family and other people as I was. I can count on one hand the number of days that he took off from work, and he often let vacation time lapse because he felt so responsible for happenings at his places of business. Even during the  days when we were newly weds he labored in double shifts at NASA pulling electrical cable under the floor of the Mission Control building to insure that the historic moon landing went off without a hitch. Later he would become a banker and the type of person who spent long days attempting to be of service to his bosses and his customers.

Over the years we found that we had very little time to take trips, and often not enough money to make them extravagant. We eventually purchased a canvas tent and tossed it in the back of our various vehicles to travel across the United States in two week increments. We tended to enjoy vacations in cooler climates since we were depending on Mother Nature to keep us comfortable as we slept at night. We have fond memories of laughing and telling stories inside our humble traveling abode. We always felt safe and happy and blessed to be together enjoying the wonders of our country which we discovered are indeed many.

We created a number of rather corny traditions that still make us smile. We generally began each journey by playing Willie Nelson’s On the Road Again. We’d eat sandwiches for lunch and cook on our propane gas stove for dinner. Somehow the food always tasted better on those adventures than it did at home. We learned how to “rough it” in great style and on those long drives we read a ton of books that we often shared with one another when they turned out to be especially good.

Once our daughters were grown and gone we had a bit more time and money to expend on our explorations even as we spent years paying off the students loans that we had contracted for their college educations. We became a bit more willing to be extravagant on our vacations, flying instead of driving and staying in hotels rather than a tent. Our new found freedom and income spoiled us just enough that we one day found ourselves complaining about sleeping in a tent. It felt as though no matter where we chose to travel it was either too hot or too cold. Besides it became increasingly less comfortable to sleep on the floor and then arise in the morning ready to overcome multiple aches and pains.

We set aside our old camping gear and opted for a trailer instead. It’s not huge, but rather just right for our needs. We’ve taken it all around Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas and even all the way out to San Diego with two of our grandchildren. It’s nice to have an actual bed for sleeping and a real bathroom for taking care of all of our hygiene needs. We’ve had just as much fun in our Sonic as we ever did inside our tent without all of the nuisances that we endured when we were young and hardy.

Now that I am retired I get a case of Wanderlust quite often. I feel compelled to travel as much as I can while I can. While there are exotic places I like to see I find that short and simple trips have their own magic. I’ve discovered the beauty of east Texas and its people. It is a kind of hidden jewel that I had never before thought of as a great destination. I have learned that it is filled with green forests, rolling hills and breathtaking vistas that appear from out of nowhere. The little towns out there hold treasures like the Buttercup Cafe in Gladewater where a young woman and her family make the best hamburgers and coconut cream pie that I have ever tasted. I’ve visited a boutique winery in Mineola filled with amazingly interesting characters and elegantly tasting wines. I’ve wandered around an old home in Tyler that was filled with stories and objects from the past and I’ve sat of an evening in Tyler State Park marveling at the splendor.

I still long to travel across the Atlantic to see Paris and Rome and Vienna. I’d like to visit the towns where my Slovakian grandparents were born. I love New York City and think it would be grand to return there regularly. I’m longing to spend more time in Canada which I consider to be a kind of cousin to my own country. I have yet to visit Alaska or Hawaii and I’ve heard such wonderful things about both of those places.

The clock is ticking. I am going to be seventy one on my birthday this year. Many of my peers have already left this earth and some have been slowed down by illnesses. I want to keep going as long as I can. I have fewer responsibilities now than ever before. I have the time and the wherewithal for traveling, so I plan to take advantage of every opportunity to explore the world around me.

If my travels have taught me anything it is that we humans are even more amazing than the environments in which we live and the things that we have created. People are good everywhere. I’m looking forward to meeting ever more of them.

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An Exceptional Plan

Great planning results in a great trip. Our recent foray into Great Britain was a success in part because we embarked on a great deal of research long before we departed for our journey across the pond. It began with a copy of Rick Steve’s book outlining the wonders of London that was gifted to us by our good friends Eric and Jenny Brunsell on the occasion of our fiftieth anniversary. Known as “Jeneric” on their travel blog the two have coursed across the globe on week long junkets. They encouraged us to do our homework and then create a master plan.

Once we had a general idea of what we hoped to accomplish on the trip we met with another good friend, Gerald Warren, who travels to London and environs at least once each year and has become quite comfortable leading tours to that great city. We sat down with him over dinner and he shared the nuts and bolts of where to stay, how to get there and the best sights. His insights were incredibly useful from noting that we would get a lower rate on fights from Austin rather than Houston, to helping us find a hotel where we would feel comfortable.

From Gerald we learned that the Holiday Inn Bloomsbury is both a bargain and a great place to stay. It is located in one of the safer areas of London while still being only a block away from the Russell Square underground station. The staff is exceedingly helpful. The food, especially the breakfast, is excellent. The rooms are clean. All in all staying there eliminated any worries that we may have had about where to sleep at night.

Gerald also alerted us as to the best way of getting from the airport to our hotel. We learned that the easiest and least costly route was to take the Heathrow Express train to Paddington Station and then get a black cab from there. His suggestion that we buy a round trip ticket saved us from a great deal of stress on our return trip home. We also spent far less money than we might have if we had simply jumped into a cab to journey to the hotel.

It was also Gerald who urged us to purchase an Oyster card at the underground station. There is a six dollar a day cap to charges on the card so all we had to do is calculate how many days we would be traveling around London and then put that amount on our cards. After that we simply used the card to go from one place to another without any problems. Once we had completed the trip we were able to get a refund on any remaining funds by filling out a form. The instructions for doing so were clearly posted in each station.

My husband Mike and sister-in-law Becky were both project managers in their working days and their skill in designing plans for our sightseeing were invaluable. We met at Becky’s home several months in advance of the trip to determine what we wanted to see and when we would do so. Becky kept careful records that included the cost of each event and the distance between venues. We borrowed from ideas in the Rick Steves book and from suggestions made by Gerald at our dinner meeting. Mike had the idea of using a London city map, also a gift from Eric and Jenny, to note where each place was located and then visit those venues in the same area on the same days. I reserved tickets at a number of places and found hotels or flats for our travel outside of London. Whenever I made purchases for the entire group Becky made note on a spreadsheet that she meticulously kept current so that we would be able to share all of the expenses equally.

Having different points of view led us to do things that we might otherwise never have considered. We ended up in Brighton because my sister-in-law Allison wanted to see a beach. While the area was not quite what we expected we nonetheless encountered situations that serendipitously made our trip even better. My brother Pat wanted to take the Jack the Ripper tour and that too ended up being a grand way to spend an evening. Allison also introduced us to the idea of spending some of our evenings playing games inside a local pub that in many ways was one of the highlights of the vacation. Our unique personalities created a nice balance for the trip and allowed us to experience many different kinds of places and events. 

Since my husband Mike had a stroke during a July 4th trip two years ago I was a bit leery of traveling to a place outside of the United States even though his health has been quite good for many months. Having a small group of people with us gave me far more confidence than I otherwise would have had. We looked after one another and I knew that if anything happened to anyone we would be able to work together to make things go well. My brother Pat and his wife Allison have both driven ambulances and cared for people as first responders. They know how to stay calm in an emergency and that alone eliminated any fears that I might otherwise have had.

Pat not only operated an ambulance but in his multi-faceted work life he drove a mail truck with the steering wheel on the right side, an eighteen wheeler delivery truck, and a fire engine. He was a natural choice for driving around the countryside and he did a yeoman’s job. Nobody else in our group would have been able to chauffeur us around as safely as he did. We instead would have had to take trains and as a result might have missed so many of the sights that we saw from our car.

My brother Mike was our Zen master. He is always so calm and flexible that he kept us all working together. He was our model of patience. He enjoyed himself regardless of the circumstances, never complaining or creating controversy. I often found myself looking to him to keep my anxieties at bay. Sometimes a quiet person who appears to just be following is in fact a kind of silent leader.

I can’t imagine having a more perfect trip than the one that we enjoyed. We used the suggestions and talents of many individuals and then just went into auto pilot once we landed in London. Ours was a memorable trip that none of us will ever forget. I’m hoping that we might be able to come together once again to perhaps travel to Vienna and from there to the birthplace of our grandparents in Slovakia. I know that I am more than ready to begin to planning.

A Roman Treasure

Bath

We often forget that the Romans had outposts in Britain long before the nation had become organized enough to have kings and its own government. There is evidence of the Roman era in great walls around cities like York, and in the magnificent edifices in the city now known as Bath. We journeyed to that ancient area not certain what we would see as we looked farther back into the history of England than even the medieval cathedrals and towns had been able to take us.

The Romans found the natural hot springs of the area and created magnificent spas and temples around them. At the time of their conquest it was a thriving region where Roman citizens came to worship their gods and goddesses and to bathe and relax. The discovery of the remains of the magnificent structures that once stood there must have been quite exciting to those who accidentally found them, and thankfully they understood the importance of unearthing and preserving the ruins.

Walking through the site is a profound experience. There is something quite humbling about seeing the engineering and architecture of people who walked the earth so long ago. The sheer beauty of their creations is breathtaking, but the idea of witnessing how their way of life must have been is even more exciting. They were unbelievably advanced in their knowledge of how to move and drain water and how to build great structures. It is fascinating to think of them traveling to this distant place from Rome and putting their lasting mark on its landscape. We spent hours inside the complex where all of the ruins are housed, mesmerized by the ingenuity of its creators.

The city of Bath is a treasure not just for the contributions of the Romans but also for the magnificent buildings that were created in later eras. It is a place of elaborate churches and beautiful apartment buildings. There is something exceptionally creative about the place that attracts singers, painters, and artists of all sorts. 

We listened to the singing of a woman with a wonderful soprano voice, and jigged in place when a trio of musicians played English folk tunes. We’ve witnessed a number of exceptional street performers in many cities, but we agreed that the artists in Bath were some of the very best. With the pleasantly cool weather and the preponderance of seating we might have tarried all day in the main plaza of Bath had our tour of the Roman baths not taken so long, and we had another appointment that we wanted to keep. We were hoping to get a glance of Highclere Castle where the television hit Downton Abbey is filmed, so we needed to leave by mid afternoon.

We reluctantly said our goodbyes to Bath and were off again in the hopes of taking some selfies in front of the well known castle. First we paused for some lunch at a rest area and perhaps took a bit longer than we should have. When we finally entered the road to the famed estate we were stopped by a sign announcing that no tourists would be allowed after four in the afternoon. Since it was well past five we knew that we had missed our opportunity to explore the grounds. We had been led to believe that we could walk around the area until seven each day, but soon learned that the late hours do not start until the summer. We were profoundly disappointed because we had gone well out of our way to get there, and besides we might have spent more time in Bath had we known that our trip was to be fruitless.

It was time to head back to London and our old familiar haunts. Soon enough we were back at our hotel and planning to meet up in our favorite pub for some dinner and perhaps a game of Jokers and Marbles at the big table that had in some ways become ours. We had a great time recounting our adventures and looking on the positive side of even our disappointments. I enjoyed a lovely bowl of soup with some delicious bread and we women kept our winning record with the game intact. We also had some laughs with the regulars who seemed to come to the pub each evening and made our plans for our final day in London.

We planned a shopping day in some of the most famous mercantile areas of the city for our last hurrah. We agreed to allow ourselves a bit more sleep time and then we would be off to Harrods, Oxford Street, and Selfridge’s to see what wonders were inside these famous places of which we had only heard stories in the past. There was something quite exciting about the prospect of dressing up and mingling with the in crowd along with a horde of tourists like ourselves. I love to shop whether it is in thrift shops or elegant department stores. The thrill of the hunt has always fascinated me. I only wished that my mother was with us to enjoy the moment as well. I know that she too would have been extremely excited about perusing the wares of London’s most exclusive merchants. I seemed almost like the night before Christmas to me.

The Cotswolds

 

The Cotswolds are perhaps one of the most delightful areas of England. Filled with rolling green vistas, grazing sheep, fields of lavender, and quaint farmhouses the area is picture postcard delightful. We left the highway and journeyed down narrow lanes that were often devoid of traffic save for ourselves. We traveled slowly and almost aimlessly, enjoying whatever came our way, and stopping often to soak in the beauty.

The landscape was awash with wild flowers of every sort that captured our fancy and our interest. We seemed to stop every few miles to take more photos of what we saw. Along the way we encountered a trio of horses who immediately came over to greet my sister-in-law Allison when she called them to the fence that kept them corralled. They we beautiful animals and quite friendly as well. They enjoyed a snack of apples from the bag of fruit that we had brought along. It was such a delightful moment that we might have tarried much longer but we wanted to see as much of this lovely area as possible before the sun set.

Soon enough we came upon a little town called Stow on the Wold. It was a sheep shearing day but we never quite found the place where that was being done. Instead we wandered into the little town where we came upon a sweet antique shop that was filled with quite remarkable items. I found yet another piece of Willow Ware for my collection, a large platter for serving perhaps a Sunday roast. There were also some sweet framed sets of embroidered birds. My sister-in-law Becky and I liked them so much that I purchased four and she bought the remaining four along with a gorgeous antique tea set. I also found a child’s teapot for my niece, a trinket box for my granddaughter and a small dish for my daughter. Our men folk were rolling their eyes and wondering how we were going  to get all of the things into our suitcases and onto the plane for our return trip, but I already had a plan.

We had searched high and low for a tea towel or other such memento of baby Archie’s birth all to no avail when suddenly we found exactly what we wanted inside a toy shop that featured some of the most unique items that I had seen anywhere. I was also drawn to a little black sheep ornament that I decided to buy for the travel tree that I decorate each Christmas. It reminded me of the peacefulness of this part of England, but also of the hilarity of our conversations inside the car as we laughed our way down impossibly narrow roadways.

Sooner that we might have liked we left Stow on the Wold and continued our drive toward Chipping Campden, a small market town in the Gloustershire district of the Cotswolds. We were quite taken by the cottages with thatched roofs that seemed to be everywhere. Sweet English gardens stood in front of them making them seem to be right out of a fairytale. We wondered who the folks were who were lucky enough to enjoy living in such a picturesque place. It felt as though each new scene was more breathtaking than the next.

Before leaving the back roads we purchased some lavender products and walked through another quaint town but all too soon we were back on the main highway heading toward the hotel where we planned to stay the night in Cheltenham. We were quite excited to find that the Malmaison was a boutique inn that had fused old architecture with modern decor. It was far more lovely than we had imagined when we had made our reservations months before.

For some reason we were all craving Chinese food and we found a five star Cantonese restaurant not far from where we were staying. It featured a lovely setting that felt more like a perfect spot for a high tea with its chintz chairs, starched white table clothes, and delicate English china. Happily the food was scrumptious and the service was even better. We left quite satisfied and drove around town for a bit just to see what it was like.

We were quite tired from the day’s journey so we retired and slept peacefully in our beautifully appointed rooms. We rose early and ate breakfast at the hotel. We enjoyed eggs benedict, hot tea, and an assortment of rolls and jams. It was all quite yummy which ended up being fortunate because it would be many hours before we ate again. We were off and running toward Bath where we hoped to see the Roman structures built around the natural hot springs of the city.

Somehow we all agreed that we really wanted to spend more time in the Cotswolds just hiking and maybe even sitting on a porch taking in the views. It seemed too soon to be leaving such a spectacular area and somehow we secretly pledged ourselves that we might one day return until then we would have to be satisfied with our photographs and the sweet memories that filled our heads.

A Road Less Travelled

Robin Hood's Bay

We had planned our trip to England so that we might make the most of every minute of every day. After all, we might never be able to return again, so we did not want to waste time. Nonetheless we had left some leeway with our road trip to York, so when two different people from the area insisted that we travel to Robin Hood’s Bay before returning to the big city we thought it would be a nice diversion. We had little idea how impressive and memorable our little side trip would be.

Robin Hood’s Bay is an old fishing town and historically the site of smugglers and who knows what sort of mischief. It is just a bit more than an hour northeast of London sitting on waters that lead into the North Sea. These days it is a sleepy little place filled with tourists, retired folk, and those who have opted for a quieter way of living. Every inch of the town was filled with flowers and interesting buildings on the day that we visited. The people were open and enthusiastic about welcoming us to their little town so we felt right at home from the start.

We easily found a public car park and began a stroll through a different and lovely way of life. We first encountered a group of older folk playing a game of bowls on a lovely village green. We weren’t quite sure of the rules of the game, but it was fun to watch for a time. Because the lure of adventure was calling we soon continued with our exploration, walking leisurely past beautifully manicured homes and sweet inns were people sat enjoying the glory of a perfectly beautiful day.

Soon we reached a point where the shoreline was surrounded by imposing cliffs and the view appeared to stretch all the way to Norway which we learned was about five hundred miles away as the crow flies. It was quiet and breathtaking there, and we felt compelled to just stand in awe of the striking landscape. Of course we took multiple photos while we contemplated the grandeur of the spot and as we stood frozen in awe my own mind raced to thoughts of the people who had come ashore from places far away as well as those who may have launched their boats in search of fish or some grand excitement. I felt as though I might be willing to stay in that place for the remainder of my days simply enjoying the bounty of nature and the largess of the people in a quiet yet exhilarating respite from the craziness of the world.

We continued our exploration on a pathway that led to inviting little shops and eateries. One place in particular caught our attention. It was a store called Bertie’s that featured unique woolen clothing. The items for sale were quite different from anything we had seen and they were both stunning and reasonably priced. We learned from the proprietor that the styles were all based on the nautical history of the town. The sweaters featured a knit pattern created specifically for the area. In olden times when sailors were lost at sea it was often difficult to identify them after they had been in the water for a time. Their bodies would become bloated and unrecognizable. To be certain that they would be respectfully returned home the women began creating different weaves for different places. The clothing would immediately identify from whence a lost soul had originally come. Then it was a fairly easy matter to determine who the person was.

My sister-in-law Becky and I were particularly taken by the sweaters made of British wool and we decided to each purchase one. She chose an olive green and I wanted one done in burgundy. It had grown quite chilly outside so we decided to wear our lovely new garments while we continued to walk through the town. With her tiny figure and her long dark hair and sunglasses she was exceptionally stunning. 

We strolled all the way to the end of a pathway that meandered through the village where once again met up with the water. What had been a comfortable downhill journey became a bit more difficult when we trudged back up the hill as the day began to draw to a close. At the top of the rise we saw a little eatery boasting that it served the best fish and chips served anywhere. We were unable to resist the delicious aroma wafting in the air and we were famished, so we each procured an order and sat at a picnic table overlooking the enchanting views. The food was indeed as good as advertised and we wolfed it down through animated conversation and lots of laughs. 

We finished our visit by speaking with a resident who had come to Robin Hood’s Bay to live with his son. He was quite an interesting man and we might have tarried longer to hear his story but it was growing late and we knew that our return trip to London would take us almost five hours. It was time to say goodbye to Robin Hood’s Bay even though we hated to leave.

As we rode in the dark we spoke of a dream of one day returning to one of the inns and securing a seaside view. It sounded quite delightful to simply sit for a week or so relaxing and enjoying the landscape. We each carried the image in our minds and reveled in the joy that we had shared on our serendipitous side trip. Our road less travelled had been one of the highlights of the trip and we knew that we would never surely never forget how wonderful it had been.