A Travellerspoint blog

The Festival's closing act

Queen for a day (or two!)

It's now 10 days since I arrived home and I think there's time for one final chapter in this saga.

After so long wandering unfamiliar paths, it's odd to be back in a place where I don't have to think twice about how to do the ordinary things. I can go straight to the correct aisle in my local supermarket. I don't have to struggle with sentence construction. I don't have to be on alert for punches in the yellow car game (thanks Chris and Steven!). I am driving familiar streets and hearing familiar birdsong outside my windows. Of course all this familiarity comes with the risk of the mundane and the feel of the ordinary. I am both glad and sad to be back home.

One of the things I've invariably been asked is about my experiences of flying both Business and First Class. I can honestly say that if I were choosing between the two and I was paying full whack for my ticket, I'd stick with Business Class. Don't get me wrong, it was out of this world to be a 'have' for a day and experience the luxury and just the right level of being fawned over that being a First Class passenger brings. It's just that I can't really see the justification for the extra expense. Sure, it was nice to have a complimentary massage before leaving London. It was great to be driven to the departure gate. And don't get me started on being the only passenger in FC between Singapore and Melbourne. That brought its own special brand of joy. The flight attendant (one of 3 looking after me) said I could have the lighting and air conditioning adjusted to my specifications, as I was the Queen for this flight! The real joy on that sector was having my own toilet! The reality is though, that I found little difference in the actual space available to me, and found the food in FC a tad too rich for my tastes.

I've been asked numerous times since I returned home to name a highlight in this trip of a lifetime. I can't possibly choose just one. I know I will forget something important, but here, in no particular order, are the festival highlights:
Living in a Parisian apartment and pretending to be a local.
Sharing so much of my journey with my fellow travellers: Debbie, Ken, Rod, Vic, Erin, Barbara, and Chris.
Spending time with (and being so well looked after by) the Weltons from the other side of the world.
Feeling at home in the Lot cottage from the very beginning.
Seeing the extraordinary display of poppies at the Tower of London.
Visiting my great-uncle's grave at Trois Arbres.
Seeing the Gherkin in real life.
Persisting with language classes and feeling like I actually learnt something.
Laughing with my niece in 8 different countries.
Experiencing the luxury of First and Business classes, including that delicious 64 kg baggage allowance!

I feel so privileged to have been able to spend the last 3 months doing as I pleased. I have achieved what had felt almost impossible for a long time, and have emerged on the other side so much richer for the experience.


For a long time it seemed to me that the impulse to travel had gone away, banished by the many anxieties and inquietudes of my life. I am glad to find it restored, a hopeful symptom indeed.

Until next time...

Posted by apostrophewoman 23:20 Comments (5)

Leaving Ireland and heading homewards

After another couple of days driving the beautiful Antrim coast of Northern Ireland, we headed to Belfast as our last Irish stop before catching the ferry to Scotland. We had taken a less than orthodox approach to choosing our Belfast accommodation, selecting it on the basis of its name : The Gregory. Ok, so I then had to check out the reviews to make sure it wasn't a hovel. I'm not completely crazy! In any event, it is pretty close to the top of our ranking of places we've stayed, a standing not hindered by our room upgrade, which saw us score the biggest bed Erin said she'd ever seen! 76005D58DD63A635C8DE526CBB0B2E61.jpgSadly it was my turn to take the single bed!

Of course, it takes more than an upgrade to make it to the top of a list constructed according to our very exacting standards. We have been ranking our varied accommodation according to 4 distinct criteria: bed, breakfast, shower, and Wifi. Generally there will have been one area where the establishment lets itself down, but all in all we've done pretty well. Those places with weird bathroom arrangements mentioned in previous posts did themselves a disservice as they would otherwise have been higher up the list!

We boarded the ferry, crossing everything in hopes of a smooth journey. The weather gods smiled and we made it through vomit-free. Disembarking at Cairnryan, I took my first breath of Scottish air and felt like I was home. It's been too long! On the drive to Glasgow the wildlife count wasn't going too well, with dead pheasants far outnumbering the live ones.

After a week of only staying one night in each place in Northern Ireland, it was a relief to know we were in Glasgow for two. After doing some washing and generally regrouping, we headed to a part of Scotland I hadn't visited, to a cottage more remote than the Lot in France. This was one of the parts of the trip I'd not planned ahead of time, so we were looking for some last minute accommodation and I perhaps didn't look quite as closely at the specifics as I normally would. It would be a bit difficult to rate the shower and wifi as neither of them were present! There was a bath which was a bit like a reverse Tardis - it looked bigger than it actually was! There was a tv but no signal, and you could get mobile reception if you put your phone on the windowsill of the second bedroom. It was truly a place to get away from it all, and the wildlife was plentiful and the scenery magnificent. Innumerable pheasants (alive), breathtaking autumn tones, one deer, countless tiny and not so tiny waterfalls just alongside the road, highland cows, and a pub 15 minutes away with good food, comfy seats, and the atmosphere of a much loved local purveyor of restorative beverages. Our AirBnb host had made us an apple pie and left provisions for a hearty breakfast which Erin kindly cooked up.


On our way we'd stopped to visit The Kelpies. I told Erin I'd wanted to see these horse sculptures - hmm, that sounds exciting! I don't think either of us were prepared for something on quite so grand a scale. They tower over the motorway, a tribute to the horse drawn barges that used to work the canals. At night they're lit up from within. I think they're a great example of public art installations.


Heading on to Edinburgh, we decided to orient ourselves with a hop on, hop off bus tour. We hopped on at the start and hopped off at the end! It was lovely to be back in this beautiful city. Our tour guide Neil thought he was a very funny man. Us, not so much. We did, however, learn a lot about Edinburgh and got a great view from the top of the bus.


There was a bit of an incident shortly after checking in to our hotel. Those of you familiar with British bathrooms will be aware of the need to flick a switch or pull a cord to activate the hot water immersion heater. I'd been confronted with the need to do this in many of the places we'd stayed, so when I walked into the hotel bathroom and saw a long cord hanging from the ceiling, I assumed it was the heater cord. Almost immediately after I'd pulled it the phone rang. It was reception checking everything was ok as I'd pulled the emergency alarm cord! Erin reassured them all was fine, and I recovered from my embarrassment quickly, thinking what a good idea such an alarm was, and how there should be more of them. It wasn't until a couple of days later that I noticed a very large red alarm light on the ceiling, which might have been a clue as to the cord's proper function.


I caught up with Fiona, a friend from home who has been living here since 1996. I was her first visitor all those years ago! It was great to chat about times old and new for a few hours. I was also able to visit Sylvia, who I'd met on Iona that same year. We had lost touch until a few years ago when I was in Box Hill Safeway after work and noticed someone in the fruit and vegie section looking at me. It was Sylvia, mid way through a round the world trip, who'd been unable to track me down before arriving in Australia. What are the chances?! We've stayed in touch, and I drove out to her place for lunch. She lives on the coast in Fife, a lovely part of the world.

And so I find myself back in Knowle, preparing to pack my bags for home. The hire car has been returned and the last few days are flying by. There's probably time for one more post...Stay tuned!

Posted by apostrophewoman 14:58 Comments (0)

Potatoes, Thomas Cook, and the perils of sharing a room.

Okay. Let's get the room sharing issue out of the way first. When Erin was younger, we would often share a room together. It would be fair to say that at times she made noises not unlike a possum, which could be quite unsettling in the middle of the night. I hereby put my hands up and say that apparently the shoe is now on the other foot! She tells me the issue is not so much one of snoring, but of repeated loud groaning noises. I'd have to say this appears to be a relatively recent phenomenon, and one I suspect is related to my diaphragm issues (thank you Dr Google!).

I unreservedly apologise for any distress and lack of sleep caused by this condition. I know Erin is VERY much looking forward to our stays in Glasgow and Edinburgh, where we each have a room!

We made it to Holyhead just as the tv show 'Four in a bed' was airing. Our host at Blackthorn Farm hurried to turn on the tv as he explained that they were featured in the episode that night. For those of you who are not familiar with it, it involves 4 sets of B&B owners visiting each others' establishments and paying what they think the room is worth. He was very circumspect and didn't let on who had won, probably because it wasn't him! It was a very nice place to stay, but we did wonder about the quality of some previous guests, given this notice in our bathroom!


We made it to the ferry with plenty of time to spare. We'd been anxiously checking the weather forecasts, hoping for a smooth crossing. It was a tad windy, and the boat was pitching a bit which made it difficult to walk in a straight line. Things settled down though, and we probably would have both escaped the journey unscathed had it not been for a child near us who decided her Swedish meatballs were better out than in.

Our B&B just outside of Enniskillen provided us with one of the highlights on the "who in the world would ever think this was a good idea" scale. As a B&B host, you obviously need to wash your guests' used towels after they leave. That's a given, right? If you're already washing towels, surely you could wash a bathmat? Why on earth would you find it necessary to replace a perfectly good towelling bathmat with a PAPER one? 90_6E166742EB4ABE776335031C21E5AF28.jpg

Weird paper bathmat aside, our stay at Sharon's was fine. The view certainly gave us many of the reputed forty shades of green of Ireland. 90_6E173B80E18138A56D9868885DC1A6B5.jpg

Shades of green of a different kind were to be found at our stop for the night in Londonderry/Derry. The hosts took the idea of colour co-ordination into a whole new stratosphere. 6E189EF8E0FA52C1E19F5021C359719D.jpg

I think we both felt a sense of unease in Derry. For a start, it's difficult to know what to call it. On a number of signposts the 'London' part has been crossed out, indicating that there are doubtless still those who are unhappy with British rule. As the site of Bloody Sunday, it's steeped in a heritage of unrest and bloodshed.

Leaving Derry meant the official start of the Game of Thrones tour we had planned. Our host in Derry gave us a map to help us find The Dark Hedges. This avenue of beech trees was planted in the 18th century and was featured as the King's Road in episode 1 of Series 2. We were both very, very excited to be there.


It's an extraordinary place. 6E1A1462DBA9CFF64F3F8B5BFB81F67A.jpg

On a completely different note, we come to the potato portion of our story. Now, I like a potato as much as the next person. However, I am usually only in possession of one variety on my plate. We stopped for lunch at a lovely cafe in Cushenden, where they were offering a Sunday roast dinner. I counted three different potato treats on my plate: roast, mashed, and new. I though for a while there may have been a fourth, but that turned out to be turnip!


Let me leave you with what appears to be an anti-Thomas Cook campaign spread across a wide part of Northern Ireland. I saw a handwritten sign near Enniskillen which said "Don't trust Thomas Cook. They're crooks and will steal your bags". Quite some distance away in Derry there was another - this time the story was worse. " Don't trust Thomas Cook. Will steal your bags and not fly you home ". Imagine our surprise when we were driving in a completely different part of Northern Ireland and the tale of horror continued to unfold : "Thomas Cook won't fly you home and will abandon you to die"! That's one mightily disgruntled customer, Thomas Cook. You might want to see what you can do.

Posted by apostrophewoman 13:22 Comments (4)

Midlands, magic, and muggles

We made our way to London Marylebone and caught the train to Dorridge, where Liz was waiting to continue the tradition of well and truly spoiling any Antipodean relatives who might happen this way. Cynthia and Vincent joined us for dinner, where we encountered one of the stranger sounds of our trip so far. Imagine a kind of squawking noise emanating from behind our table. The sort of sound a peacock might make, if a peacock were to be found in a West Midlands hotel on a Wednesday evening. A very unhappy peacock, who wanted everyone to know it. Funnily enough, it wasn't said peacock, but rather a child of indeterminate gender who was possessed of the uncanny ability to mimic the gaudy bird. What amazed us even more than the noise itself was the seeming indifference of the child's parents to the extraordinary noise their offspring was able to conjure.

One of the big ticket items for this part of the trip was a visit to the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour. Located about an hour and a half drive from Knowle, we decided to try to extend our car hire by a day to enable us to fit it in before the weekend arrived. As we already had a car booked for 20 days, surely adding an extra day shouldn't have been too difficult or expensive. Wrong! I was quoted $224 to make it a 21 day rental, something to do with the fact I'd got the original hire on sale. It looked like our plans would be foiled, until I decided to search for a one day rental. £15 later, I had secured a car for the day, and we were on our way!

Chris suggested we leave at 11.00, to allow for the vagaries of motorway traffic and still have plenty of time to reach the studio before our allotted 1.30 timeslot. We pulled into the carpark at 1.28 - phew!

There were so many highlights to this visit, from the Great Hall to the Gryffindor Common Room; from the amazing creatures to the intricate model of Hogwarts.


Leaving the Ministry of Magic behind, we headed off with oodles of time to make it back in time to return the car. Perhaps not oodles enough, as it turned out. Roadworks and a fuel spill on the motorway meant our hour and a half trip took 3 hours!

On Sunday we headed to Coventry to stay with Cynthia and Vincent for a couple of nights. Yet again we were wonderfully looked after! We were driven to Stratford for the races, and had a great afternoon despite the threatening rain.


Tuesday morning we set off for Holyhead, and the Irish part of our adventure.

Posted by apostrophewoman 14:09 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (4)

When a woman is tired of London...

...she is tired of life!

Having left Paris behind and travelled on the Eurostar to St Pancras, we made our way to our home for the next three days, the Bedford Hotel in Bloomsbury. Here was a hotel determined that we would not inadvertently leave with their room key in a pocket!

I rested up in our room while Erin explored a bit of London for the first time. We decided not to venture too far for dinner, and headed downstairs to the hotel restaurant. Main course was ok, but the greatest surprise arrived in the form of my apple crumble, which appeared to have been swallowed up in the Great London Custard Flood of 2014. It's safe to say it was more Apple Soggy than Apple Crumble. It could in fact have been anything lurking underneath that yellow tidal wave.

Monday saw a visit to Kensington Palace on my agenda. Despite having spent a fair bit of time in London over the years, this was one place I had yet to visit. On Maryanne's recommendation I made my way there, and was really pleased I'd made the effort. I was particularly interested in the displays of royal fashion through the years, including frocks belonging to the Queen and to Diana.


I can't imagine how the ladies of a bygone era managed to make their way through a door while wearing this get-up! ]

It was interesting to see this wallpaper hung in one small section of the palace.

There was a sense of humour about the toilet signs!

Monday night saw us visit Burger and Shake. I wonder if you can guess what was on the menu? It was no Kermonds' Burger, but pretty fine nonetheless. I swapped my usual milkshake of choice (sadly, Blue Heaven wasn't on the menu), for a Salted Caramel version.


Tuesday saw us meet up with Rod and Vic who had arrived in London the night before. This was the day to tick off the 3 big ticket items on my to-do list for this trip to London. First up was a visit to 30 St Mary Axe, fondly known as the Gherkin. A few of us have a tradition of exclaiming "Gherkin!" whenever this iconic building pops into view in a film or TV shot in London. For this reason, a visit to see it in person was always on the cards, especially when we realized we'd be in London at the same time.


Just outside the building itself is a mini Gherkin, made out of Lego. Selfie stick, please! 180_A68741BFB1823926D76F68A5065235EE.jpg


Having visited the nearby Slug and Lettuce for a fortifying cuppa, we moved on to the next item on the list; the display of ceramic poppies at the Tower of London. I'd read about this remarkable sight before leaving home, and it was truly astonishing. By November 11 there will be in excess of 800,000 of these poppies installed, one for each British soldier killed in the First World War.


By this stage my foot was beginning to complain, so we caught a taxi to Regent St to visit the last item on the list. The ride was reminiscent of some of our Parisian traffic experiences, so it was great to arrive at Liberty in one piece! 4 floors of loveliness awaited us, and there may have been a purchase or three, if I'm honest.

We farewelled Rod and Vic, and while Erin continued to explore the delights of Oxford Street shopping, I headed back to the hotel to get ready for our departure the next day. Look out, English Weltons - now there are two of us!

Posted by apostrophewoman 03:26 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (2)

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