My Journey Has Begun…And Then Some

Personal note to my readers: I apologize for being late getting this posted–spotty internet connections are to be expected when traveling…especially when using hostels. It’s been a pleasant change of pace to be so “disconnected”, but on the other hand, I do have commitments that I should be keeping, so I’m sorry for that. Now, onward to my post:

IT”S ALREADY A BLUR…BUT I’M having fun–still! With internet being very spotty in the countryside (at least the places I’ve been staying), I’ve been working on the blog as best as I can offline…then planned to post when I had a steady connection, which I finally do have (yay), now that I’m back to the ‘civilized’ world of Crawley (West Sussex, south of London).

I’ve had plenty of adventures…and misadventures (that’s what makes it so fun–all the surprises that pop up, right?)

Let’s see…without my blog handy, I’m not sure where I left off. I’ve posted bits on the business Facebook page (in addition to my personal page), so I’m getting confused. I’ll save the Celtic Invasion Vacation (CIV) tour of Wales for another post. Let’s just say there was a lot of vertical walking involved to see some of the most spectacular sights. I’m tired, but glad–so very glad that I took the time and effort. Snowdon Mountains are magnificent.

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On left: within Snowdonia Nat’l Park in Wales…it is amazingly beautiful. On right: breathtaking view in Snowdonia Park.

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Ending week three: I ‘left’ most of the CIVers the night before as they all left for their flights early in the morning. I had breakfast with the remaining three, then one was off for a little adventure in Cardiff (to the Dr. Who Experience) before returning the next day for his flight. The remaining  couple and I hopped the train for downtown Manchester. We said our goodbyes then they went their way and I headed to the O2 store to sort out my personal wifi. Well, I did get it working, but, it still has it’s issues–apparently, it’s not that good…or the service in the area is not that good. I haven’t been able to use it much. I do look forward to getting back to Ireland, where I know the connection is far more reliable.

So, my first week away from the CIVers has been quiet. No internet at the hostel, but I don’t mind it much, since the beauty and serenity that surrounds Leominster is fabulous. It was the getting there that was a bit sketchy. No wifi (yeah…that personal wifi I bought for the UK? Not much good), and the satellite was in and out, so I just gave up on using Gabby (my GPS–satnav for those that live over here), too. I’ve had quite a few walks, exploring all the nooks and crannies that make up Leominster (pronounced Lemster). I watched a cricket practice, took quite a few pictures–there are some beautiful churches in and around Leominster. Some are on my iPhone, some on my other two cameras (setting are for higher resolution shots). I’ll make sure to add some to this blog.

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The Priory Church of St Peter and St Paul in Leominster, still has active services.

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On right: Some of the beautiful stained glass windows as seen from the inside of the Priory

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Here’s another church (didn’t see what the denomination or name was) in downtown Leominster.

I did have a wee bit of a misadventure on Tuesday. It was the best day this week, weather-wise, for a trip out and about. There were threats of rain that didn’t appear until I was almost back home. That was good. But, my plan was to go into Cardiff to see if I could sneek a visit to the Dr. Who Experience. Without wifi or GPS, it was fun trying to find my way, but I managed it just fine with the basic map (available on both GPS and iPhone–no secondary streets available), and with the aid of a wonderful server at Y Mochyn Du, a pub in Cardiff (wonderful selection of food, lovely atmosphere!), where I stopped for my lunch. He was very helpful, but even with that, I did a bit of bumbling around. I eventually found it…I had a very nice long walk, wandering around, looking at the city as I searched (I often laugh at people that get flustered when they can’t find what they’re looking for, missing out on the cool things around them in the process)…

Did I mention it was Tuesday? I proudly walked up to the entry…and…saw a sign saying it was closed on Tuesdays. All I could do was laugh out loud. People waiting at the bus stop nearby turned and stared, but I didn’t care.  I just shook my head, pulled out my camera and changed my plans. If I’d been able to get on line proper-like, I’d have found out it was closed Tuesdays (and remembered that one of the CIVer’s probably mentioned that fact). Oh, well. I spent the next several hours snapping shots of interesting things: The Millenium Centre, the BBC Wales complex, the exterior of the Dr. Who Experience, wharfs, new and old buildings…it was fun. And tiring.

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Did I mention it was Tuesday? The “closed” sign that glared in my face through the window…sigh.

Directional signs in Cardiff

On right: So many things to see and do…as long as it’s the right day (wink)…

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Millenium Centre from across the bay in Cardiff.

One of the Cardiff Sightseeing Tour buses (you’ll find one or two of these business in nearly every big city over in the UK, Ireland and Europe) pulled up into the lot just ahead of me and I dashed to catch it. These sightseeing buses are great (I should have grabbed one right off, right?) for checking out the sights, identifying the areas you want to focus on and getting a little bit of history of the city you happen to be in.

I didn’t have enough cash on me and he didn’t take credit cards, so he said he’d wait till I could pop into the ATM across the way–so sweet of him (I have not run into anyone that hasn’t been overly helpful with me–courtesy abounds in my travels)…I dashed off to acquire money and returned. After plunking my money down, I climbed the stairs to the open top and settled in. A beautiful afternoon, a huge city to explore by bus and I was able to sneak in a rest, on top of it. Good deal. After a while, I was too tired to even take photos, so I just sat back and listened as the tour lady talked about the different aspects of the city’s history. To think, as a kid I hated history. There is so much to learn about our world, both past and present.

The drive home took longer than planned. I was still tired and looking forward to crashing in my room. I think the 1.5 hour drive took closer to two plus hours…it was rush hour, both in the city and in the country. I think things finally settled down once out of Herefordshire (that’s about 2/3 the way back). Crazy traffic.

Have I mentioned the craziness with the speed limits? First I’m cruising at 60, then suddenly, I need to be all the way down at 30 to go through a town…then back up to 60 (or maybe 50…depending on the area). It’s fun trying to keep track. At least my GPS was able to recognize the posted speeds, so I was able to stay at the correct speed. You need to realize I’m talking about two lane roads (not dual carriageways or highways, as we know them)–the ones we’d label as secondary or even, at times, tertiary roads. HIgh hedges, no shoulder…an occasional turn out, in case you come across a large bus or truck and need to squeeze by…interesting.

Originally, when I came to Leominster, it was a place to lay my head, to use as a place to come back to after a day of driving out and about. My car only left the car park once for a day out (and you know how that ended)… I think I want to come back to Leominster and the surrounding areas again (but I’ll stay in a B&B next time–not that I didn’t enjoy my stay…it’s just that a few more amenities would be nice)–there’s lots to see here: steeped in history, gardens & arboretum, entire towns of brick, walking paths, biking paths (wish I had a bicycle!)…so, so much to see! Now that I’ve discovered it is a destination in itself, there’s no way I can see it all in the few days I have left.

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Narrow passage way for foot traffic only with great little shops.

Tomorrow is my last full day. On Friday, I must pack up and check out to head to Sussex for four days before I visit with friends in Colchester. It’s a 3.5+ hour drive, so I’m hoping to get out by 10-11am…

My last full day is Thursday. I am excited. I’m hoping to get a first-hand experience with bell ringers as they practice in The Priory Church next door. I keep getting little tastes of what they’ll be doing every once in a while. It’s lovely, really. Kayleah, the receptionist is tired of hearing it every. single. week…it’s sad, really. Just not her thing, I guess…I’m very excited…

As it turned out after I heard them practice, I was just about to leave, when they asked if I wanted to hear the final four bells–they were saving those for last, I guess. Of course, I said yes. It was amazing to hear the higher note (treble) bells, but the deeper (tenor) bells were brilliant. The resonating happening was beautiful.

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A little lesson about the ringing of bells.

Bell Ringing 101The gentleman in blue (subbing for the actual leader, who was unavoidably late) syncs the ringers, telling them which bell is to ring before or after another. Really, kind of fascinating. He will also scold, especially if one of the newer ringers is doing something wrong…too slow or too fast in following a fellow ringer, standing incorrectly, twisting as he pulls the rope, etc. But he’s an equal opportunity guy–he’ll scold the more seasoned ringers, too. It all makes a difference.

Bells Pealing… This is what I heard as I left the church. Before I left, at the end, they did ask if I wanted to ring the bells. I desperately wanted to say yes, but knowing my shoulders, if I did something wrong, I’d be paying for weeks, so I reluctantly declined. They then told me a previous guest had done it and didn’t listen to the instructions and ended up on the floor. So wish I’d given it a try and proved a non-ringer could manage it without looking like a fool.

Hopefully the two above links to the short bits of bell ringing work (never posted a video before). Unfortunately, I am limited to 50mb–the better ones are 80-150mb…I’ll have to figure out where I can load them and post a link later for those of you interested.

So, there you go. That sorta catches you up to just before I left Leominster.

Traveling Alone In A Car…

TRAVELING ALONE DEFINITELY HAS it’s drawbacks, but overall, it’s still a lovely experience. Traveling alone in a country you don’t know can be daunting, if you let it–especially in a car, driving on the “wrong” side of the road.

In 2007, when I came over with my then 19-year-old daughter, I ‘d been driving a manual transmission vehicle back home, so the transition from driving on the right side of the road to the left was a bit more complex. Not only was I groping for the seat belt over the wrong shoulder, but I kept searching for the shift mechanism and mirrors with the wrong hand. It took a day of constant reminders to make my right and left turns correctly, in addition to the ‘nagivator’s’ (my endearment for my navigator) warnings that I headed to the wrong side of the road–no near misses, thankfully.

Since about 2010, I’ve been driving an automatic, and I think that has made the transition much easier. About two weeks or so prior to departure, I began a mantra in my head every time I turned: “Left near, right far”. It seems to have worked. I have had no problems with turns, nor with locations of anything. Except an occasional lapse with the seat belt. I can deal with that.

My reason for having a car for this trip was so I could go where ever I wanted, whenever I pleased. So far, this has worked beautifully. But being alone means I’m the driver all of the time. No time in the passenger seat, admiring the scenery. My attention is always split between the view and the business of driving. And, fantastic photo ops come up…and pass me by because there is no place to pull off–there are very few shoulders to pull off into in the country (or the city, for that matter!) and by the time you find something, there’s no way to make your way back by foot. Walking along the road can be a very hazardous venture. Now I know why those that do wear the bright vests you see on workers stateside.

This week, I am on a quest: to find a specific type of scene that I might use as a cover for my third book. I need rubble from the ruins (plenty of those) with trees growing up and around them (plenty of those, too)–just need to find them together, in a spot I can actually get to.

I have yet to find that specific view…but I have definitely experienced some very interesting times on the road–because my GPS is not been working (worked beautifully up until the day I needed to get down into the southern part of Dublin to catch the ferry over to Wales). It wouldn’t zero in on anything–showing me driving ‘off-road’, as it were…so, seat of the pants driving, lots of errors in turns and a cool head (as cool as possible after a zillion wrong turns) finally got me to the Hertz office to turn the car in, unload my stuff and hail a taxi to get to the ferry. I left with a huge (we’re talking hours) window…and ended up with only a half hour before passengers were to load. Well, I made it. I was able to relax on the 2.75 hr ride to Wales…spending some of the time trying to figure out why it failed. I’ve given up–tried all the obvious (turned it off and on, removed the sim card, replaced it, removed it again, wiped it down, replaced it…). I really don’t know why it’s not working. I’m not going to worry about it.

Then again, here in the UK. Still no GPS and no verbal or written directions on the iPhone. Just basic map. It’s been interesting driving without electronic guidance, but it’s been doable–people did it for so long before wifi and GPS…I figured, certainly I could do it. A few chats with locals, paying attention to sighs…and everything was good.

And, remember the comment about photo ops? Well, I’ve been excited with all of the beautiful things I’ve seen–and captured digitally. There are other things, like the bridge I saw out of the corner of my eye, that haven’t been captured–yet. It was one of those “I-wanna-stop-right-here-in-the-middle-of-the-road” moments to gaze upon this gorgeous bridge off in the distance in lower Wales, just north of Holyhead, parallel with the Britannia Bridge (that’s the one I was driving on). I will have to check it out on my drive back. This is when I wish I had been the passenger and was able to snap a few shots. But now, I will go on a mini-quest to find it and get some really nice shots.

It’s getting awfully late and I have an early rise tomorrow, so I’ll leave you with this blog to mull over until next time. I will post some photos later, too!

Good night all. Enjoy.