Devon, Exmouth, United Kingdom/Ireland trip

Sunday, May 21: Exmouth

Sunday was supposed to be the day that we explored the Jurassic Coast UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was a major reason I chose Exmouth (which is at the southern end) and it would have fulfilled a quest to visit as many UNESCO sites as possible wherever we travel, as well as Sandy’s fondness for fossils and my love of sea cliffs and beach walks. However, it didn’t happen. We just couldn’t do it.

Our hosts, upon seeing how exhausted we were, suggested that we take a down day, sleep, do a load of laundry, and hang out in their beautiful back yard. Their children were there and they went out with them that morning and early afternoon. When they came back, they invited us to eat a mid-afternoon dinner with them and their family. It was a lovely restful day, and as you can guess from these photos, it was just my kind of place, made complete with Esme, the grumpy cat.

Late that afternoon (and it gets dark late in England, so we had a long evening) we walked down the beach and watched the kite surfers, collected pebbles, ate some ice cream, and enjoyed the sunset. We stopped at the Powder Monkey to eat a hot dog and I finally found a local brown ale, Hobgoblin, by Wychwood Brewery. On the way back I insisted on stopping at the Bicton Inn for one last delicious Titanic plum porter.

Yeah, I could see living here.

^^^The bar at the Bicton Inn

^^^Sunset from our bedroom window. That is the Exe river mouth just over the rooftops.

Devon, United Kingdom/Ireland trip

Saturday, May 20: Dartmoor National Park

^^^On the way uphill

I’m so glad that we went to Dartmoor National Park. It was the nature experience I needed, plus there were many ancient and medieval sites, although to be honest, driving on the roads there scared us enough that we didn’t explore it as deeply as I would have liked to do. It was a misty afternoon, appropriate weather for searching for stone circles.

This medieval bridge is called a clapper bridge.

Dartmoor is known for its wild ponies. I saw another small herd of ponies higher up that looked wilder than the two we passed here.

And just like Ireland, there were many sheep.

Maybe I have an ancestral memory that makes me long for the moors. Before I knew about my Cornish heritage my heart leapt at the isolated highland landscapes in Ireland.

We drove back to Exmouth and ate at a contemporary pub downtown called Spoken. I had a soup that combined an odd but tasty blend of flavors: cream of sweet potato and broccoli, and a very good stout from St. Austell Brewery: Mena Dhu Stout.

Devon, United Kingdom/Ireland trip

Saturday, May 20: Totnes

Our original plan for the day was to drive or take a train to Stonehenge. Our hosts suggested that a closer and more interesting option might be Totnes and Dartmoor National Park. So Stonehenge will have to wait for another trip.

We parked at the steam train station and walked up the hill to Totnes Castle, which looked over the town and the Devon countryside.

There was a street market happening on the high street in town, with food vendors, farm stands, clothing and antique/junk tables. I bought a British Monopoly card and token set without the board for 1 pound. Lots of politicking was going on, since the elections were coming up. It was obvious that this town was very liberal (and we like that). We ate pasties at a bakery/deli, checked out the old church, then found a cool shaded walkway at the bottom of the hill that took us back to our car. This was a town that I could imagine living in.

Devon, Exmouth, United Kingdom/Ireland trip

Friday, May 19: London to Exmouth

On Friday, we ate one last breakfast at Charlotte Guest House, loaded our packs, and took the Tube to Paddington Station, where we got on a train to Exeter. I wish I had taken a photo of the train station at Paddington, because it was different than others I’ve seen, but we got on the train so quickly that I didn’t get a chance. Here’s a tip – if you travel by train in England, the cheapest fares during the day are mid-day.

It took a couple of hours to get to Exeter. We couldn’t find seats together, but once someone noticed us talking down the aisle, she offered to switch seats. The scenery was beautiful and we both found a conversation between two older men beside us, one Irish and one English, interesting. They were strangers, struck up a friendship as we traveled, and we got to hear them discuss liberal politics. One said, “I realize that it is quite indiscreet to talk to a stranger on a train, but I’m very glad we had this conversation.” The other got up, bought them both a beer, and you could tell that they would probably get together again.

It reminded me of a conversation I had with an elderly Japanese woman on the train on the way to D.C. for the People’s Climate March. I generally like to be left alone on a plane or train, but by the time I got off Amtrak that day, I wished that I could ride with her all the way to her home in Maine. We could have been great friends – she was fascinating and we clicked right away. Maybe we should all give these random seatings on planes and trains a chance. It might save the world.

Anyway, once in Exeter, we took a bus to the airport and picked up our rental car. I had a reservation for a compact car, the cheapest one, because after our experience in Ireland five years ago I knew that small would be better. I was willing to pay extra for GPS, because having a map of those roundabouts is extremely helpful. However, the agent was excited about the upgrade he had for us. It was a small Nissan SUV, and it had all the bells and whistles: heated leather seats, GPS, sun roof, diesel. Candy apple red. Beautiful car, for the same price. We should have turned it down, but we didn’t.

^^^View from our bedroom window at our AirBNB rental.

After a couple of wrong turns we rode through the countryside south to Exmouth, the harbour town at the mouth of the Exe River on the English Channel. The AirBNB home we chose was perfect, the hosts were friendly and fun.

That evening we walked down through a gorgeous public garden and to the walk along the strand. There was a rainbow over the English Channel.

Dinner was at the Grove, where you ordered food at the bar and took a spoon with a number on it for your table. They found us upstairs, where Sandy had the beef stroganoff special and I think this is where I had salmon. Dessert was Cold Apple and Rhubarb Amaretti Crumble, Custard with Clotted Cream. Clotted cream is one of the regional foods around here, somewhat like cream cheese. We sat on the balcony for a while and watched the seagulls.

On the way back we stopped at a tiny local pub on a back street that the hosts recommended called the Bicton Inn, where I had the best porter, no, best any kind of porter or ale or beer or stout, I’ve ever tasted. (It gets better in my memory, I think.) And I have tasted a LOT of dark brews. You can’t get it here, of course, and it was the only place I saw it in England. Titanic Plum Porter. I’d go back to Exmouth just to drink it again.

London, United Kingdom/Ireland trip

Thursday, May 18: Shopping

^^^Back in Trafalgar Square

On Thursday we slept late and had a light breakfast at a local coffee shop, where we learned about the English condiment brown sauce. I think that the jury is still out on brown sauce.

Since we missed much of the National Gallery of Art, we went back just to see some highlights, such as this Van Gogh, this Cezanne and a room full of Rembrandts:

The rest of the day was for shopping. This was mainly for Sandy’s benefit, since there has never been a tourist trap that he could resist, but I can be just as bad about antique stores and craft galleries. I read in a local magazine that Portobello Road was an excellent street for antiques, so we went there.

^^^I really wish I had bought this hat for him now. He rocks it.

I bought us both coats in a Scottish clothing store there. You’ll see them in future photos. I was never cold in London, but I decided that I needed a raincoat. I came very close to buying a whole bunch of cabinet hardware in one shop.

^^^We ate lunch around 3 p.m. at Portobello Gold, where I finally ordered fish and chips. It started raining again so we relaxed there a while.

^^^We went to the Camden Market and Camden Locks. I didn’t take a photo of the market itself. However, if you could picture what a mild version of hell might be for me, it would probably look like Camden Market. We finally left after I went through shooting my entire repertoire of looks of dismay, warning, and finally desperation at Sandy. Not my favorite part of the trip. I looked forward to getting out of the city.

That night we packed for the next morning and walked around the neighborhood before settling on Bella Luna, an Italian restaurant, for a late dinner. They played Christmas music THE WHOLE TIME. At first it was a bit more classical, but when it changed to “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” the table just behind us was also chuckling about it. Sandy merrily called out some joke about it as I turned around laughing, and for the first time, we got the British shock treatment. We had butted into a conversation with strangers, and the reaction was freezing cold. This was not Ireland, ya know.

London, United Kingdom/Ireland trip

Wednesday, May 17: Museum Day

It poured rain on Wednesday. We ate breakfast with a young Australian couple who lived in the Outback. They said that it cost more for them to travel to a city with an airport in Australia than the plane ticket from there to the UK cost. And I thought that I grew up in the sticks.

On the way to the British Museum, we stopped in a beautiful old art supply store where I replenished my supply of Pitt pens. It carried lots of pigments, and there were hand marbled papers in the window.

^^^First we saw the Rosetta Stone, which had such a crowd around it that I was afraid that I’d have a panic attack. Fortunately, the crowd thinned considerably as we moved away from it.

^^^I especially liked this frieze panel with Amazon warriors in battle.

^^^Back to the British Isles

There was a bog man, and mummies. Lots of mummies. It was crowded. We had a bite to eat in one of the museum cafes, hit the gift shop and left.

Sandy wanted to go to the Imperial War Museum, so we got on the Tube and crossed the Thames. It was a nice walk, not so wet by that time. Sandy looked at the exhibits but I went straight to the museum cafe and caught up on my email, Facebook, etc. since I could get wifi there.

We took a break at the hotel, then went back downtown to Piccadilly Circus and just walked around in the rain. Most of the stores were closed. We found ourselves in the theater district, around Soho and Covent Garden, then walked back along the Strand to Charing Cross Station.

^^^One gallery had a couple of paintings by Bob Dylan in the window. I took this photo especially for Susanne.

We stopped for pints of delicious Whitstable Bay Black Oyster Stout at Mr. Fogg’s Tavern, sat in the window and watched the rainy street scene across from the Noel Coward Theater.

We went back to West Hampstead to eat dinner at Toomai. Very good Thai food.

I was so surprised that I didn’t see any antique bookstores. Turns out that there was a little street with several of them right around the corner from the pub where we stopped when I looked at Google maps while writing this post. Oh well, I didn’t need the temptation to load anything else in my baggage. Another place for me to go back to one day.

art, fiber art, London, tapestry, United Kingdom/Ireland trip, weaving

Tuesday, May 16: National Gallery

^^^Trafalgar Square from the steps of the National Gallery.

I was eager to see this contemporary tapestry exhibition at the National Gallery of Art. The tapestry, “The Caged Bird,” was designed by Chris Ofili, and woven by weavers at the Dovecot Tapestry Studio in Scotland. Loosely based on the book “And I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou, the exhibition showed the artist’s process and studies and explained the symbolism in the tapestry. Some I would not have seen or understood if I had not looked at the rest of the exhibit. There was a film, and when I looked at the triptych tapestry again it came even more to life for me.

As a tapestry weaver, I know that the weaving process is a linear art of units of two threads crossing at right angles, so I was impressed by the interpretation of the watercolor paintings by the weavers of Dovecot. Separating the three panels and then viewing them again as a whole made me appreciate it more as well. The rest of the room was painted with figures so it was a 3-D experience, in a way.

Guess what: you can watch the film on YouTube!

We decided to come back to the National Gallery the next day, went back to our hotel for a nap, then out to a local pub called the Railyard. I insisted on going to pubs since I am all about craft beers and logging new ones on Untappd, and even though Sandy is not a beer fan and has cut down on his alcohol a lot for health reasons, I appreciate that he obliged me in this. Here I was disappointed that the only non-hoppy brew that they had on tap was Guinness stout. I’d find out that the UK is as crazy about hops as the US is. I rarely saw a brown ale on tap. However, they did have a bottled Guinness porter that was excellent.

London, United Kingdom/Ireland trip

Tuesday, May 16: Tower of London

After breakfast at our guest house, we decide to hit the Tower of London first. It was a sunny, breezy day, perfect temperature to stroll around the ramparts of an ancient fortification beside the Thames. As you can see, the Tower of London is not just one tower.

^^^See that guard in the background? We found out how serious they are when a toddler ran out on the grass and he yelled and pointed his rifle at her. An older woman was trying to get her to come back and finally had to step out there and grab her as the guard yelled at them. I was shocked. I wonder what he was guarding? The crown jewels are on the other side (the only place in the complex we didn’t go, since we don’t have much interest in sparkly stuff), guarded by this guy. vvv

^^^I was trying to take a photo of the gargoyles and a plane flew over at just the right moment.

There was a dragon sculpture made from objects such as pieces of armor and dueling pistols inside the White Tower. There were fun activities for kids, and we did those too. Re-enactors led groups of children through the complex and had them laughing and shouting in various little interactive scenes.

At the Royal Fusilier Museum, we found out how wimpy we were being about our backpacks when we both tried to lift a backpack only one quarter of the weight that each Royal Fusilier soldier carries. I could only lift it about two inches.

Tower of London: well worth the money, I think.

London, United Kingdom/Ireland trip

Monday, May 15 in London

The rest of Monday was a bit of a wash. We spent a long time reading in Dublin airport, with me fiddling with my phone obsessing over wifi connection and it not working for calls and texts despite having my phone company turn on international calling. At Heathrow I tried to buy a sim card and found that my phone was locked. I considered buying a new phone there with a wifi hotspot. My phone did not connect with the wifi at Charlotte Guest House, and nobody could figure out why. The wifi at most pubs and restaurants required you to sign up for a wifi account that asked for a UK postal code. I was extremely frustrated. This obsession would last another couple of days until I let it go. It was a relief to let it go. We got by. It was fine.

Anyway, all faith in my sense of direction was lost after we got off the Tube near our hotel and I steered us in the opposite direction. With our heavy backpacks on, down a hill, of course. Later I figured out that there were three different train stations near our hotel – the Underground, the Overground, and the National Rail. I was relying on a map in my head, but setting out from the wrong station on that mental map.

The nearby Tesco (one of the big grocery chains there) greeted us with a display of the treat that originated about 30 miles from our North Carolina home, which proves that every place in the world is starting to look alike.

For a inexpensive hotel, Charlotte Guest House was in a good neighborhood. Lots of restaurants and shops, and easy access to the Tube which got us anywhere we wanted to go in London within 30 minutes. The hotel was in a group of five renovated Victorian era townhouses. The beds were comfortable, the bathroom new and clean, the complimentary breakfast was good. It had a dining room in a sunny back room and patio. The staff were helpful and friendly. I found it too warm, and I did not sleep well, but I don’t know how much of that could be attributed to the room. Sandy and I aren’t used to sleeping together. He snores like a grizzly bear, louder than anyone I have ever heard, and his sleep apnea freaks me out. I toss and turn all night, snore sometimes, and on this vacation, I found out that I hum in my sleep. Anyway, I would stay there again, unless I absolutely needed wifi.

We had an excellent meal of lamb curry and went a little naan crazy at Guglee. We both considered it one of the best meals that we had on the whole trip. Then we crashed.

Okay, this was a boring post, and there weren’t many photos, but there will be no more complaining about wifi or snoring. I covered that. It will get better, and there will be MANY photos after this day. I’m really writing this for me, anyway, so I can remember the trip clearly after my memory fades.

Cliff walks, Howth, Ireland, United Kingdom/Ireland trip

Stopover in Howth, Ireland – a rather mundane travel tale, with photos at the end

Sandy and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary by going to England, with a stopover in Dublin for one night on the way there and one night on the way back. When we got a good deal on airfare from Hopper, it included a 7 hour layover at Dublin Airport, which was of course was too short to do anything fun, so I booked a B&B in Howth, Dublin, not too far from the airport, and we flew to London the following day for about as much as it would have been anyway. Besides, you know how we love Ireland, how could we resist?

That part is a bit interesting because when we got to Raleigh Durham airport around 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 13, the people at the Jet Blue counter informed us that our flight had been delayed from JFK, and that was a common occurrence in the late afternoon at JFK, and that we probably wouldn’t have made our connection anyway. So they rerouted our flight through Boston and London, giving us the option of getting off in London where we were headed in the first place. But it was too late to cancel the room in Howth, and it didn’t take long to make the decision that even though it would be a longer flight, we wanted to go to Ireland first. The Jet Blue staff put us in upgraded seats and I have now officially become a fan of Jet Blue and may switch my points card over to them from Southwest once I get my travel done for this year. The other takeaway was to avoid JFK like the plague if at all possible.

We knew that we would be exhausted on the first day. Sitting for more than an hour causes me a lot of pain and I couldn’t sleep. The British Airways flight from Boston to London was okay. We were served a meal around 11 p.m. with wine and I recall that the food wasn’t bad, although even I knew that the wine was shite. We got to Dublin around noon on Sunday, May 14, where we took a long meandering bus ride to Sutton, got on the DART train to Howth, and found ourselves in a crowded seaside town with no phone service or wifi, and relying on my memory of the map and address of the B&B. The tourist information kiosk was no help. No one we asked knew where Kilrock Road was, or maybe they didn’t understand our accents. There was a jolly man who was driving a little tourist “train” up and down the main drag who gave us a ride as far in that direction as he went for free, and I bless him for that.

And here’s where we learned that the backpack idea was not a good one. The map in my head did not indicate altitude. The street we walked up, although very picturesque along the edge of the sea, was extremely steep. We found Kilrock Rd. but I did not have an address other than a postal code. We faced another uphill street, we were soaked with sweat, and I got worried about Sandy. He sat at the bottom of the street with our bags while I set out to find the B&B, which turned out to be one block away at the top of the street. Sandy said, “Well, I know now that if my heart survived that, it will survive anything.”

It was about 3 p.m., the B&B was locked, and I sat down on my backpack and wept. Fortunately Sean had just stepped out quickly, and he turned out to be one of the nicest, most helpful people on our journey. He got us into a very comfortable room where we both crashed for about 3-4 hours. Then Sean drove us down the street to the Abbey Tavern for dinner, where I had “fisherman’s pie” and an Irish red ale. We walked past the abbey ruins back down to the harbour at sunset, where the weekend crowd had gone home. We took a cab back up the hill for the short ride to the B&B – it turned out that there was a shorter, less strenuous ascent, but we were still too whupped to do it.

The next morning, Sean served the guests an insanely delicious full breakfast and we chatted with a German couple about our plans and our favorite travels so far. We asked Sean about a cab to the airport and he offered to drive us! Then, when I got ready to pay him for our night’s stay, it turned out that he didn’t take credit cards and I didn’t have the cash. We offered to go to an ATM, but he insisted that we seemed like honest sorts and that he’d get the payment from us on our way back through in two weeks.

I decided to take a misty walk up the Howth Cliff Path until Sean was ready, part of which we had walked on our first journey into town.

May is an excellent time for wildflowers in the British Isles.