Thank you for your SERVICE!

Today is Memorial Day in the U.S.A. Vice President Kamala Harris sent out a Tweet on Friday and people went ballistic. I suppose given her station/title/position within the U.S. system, she should have thought twice about the post but regardless, this is a holiday to celebrate, and maybe more poignantly, remember that many have died and are currently serving or have served in the Armed Forces to help further the belief that people have certain freedoms, or what on the U.S. Constitution are “inalienable rights”.

I am a child of the 80’s and remember when I couldn’t travel to “Eastern Europe” or “Russia” because they didn’t want to allow it and their citizens were not allowed to travel outside the “Bloc”. That luckily ended in 1989 when the Berlin wall fell. I have since only been to a couple of former Eastern Bloc countries and I can tell you, those that remember the restrictions are not fond of that time when Communism ruled their lives.

What do I want to say about this? First, 2 of my 3 my brothers and cousins served in the U.S. Armed forces. One of my brothers went to the Air Force, one to the Navy and both of my cousins served in the Army. One of them made the 82nd Airborne and nearly made Ranger status. What did I think when I was young and saw this? I was one of those “elitist” that thought you went to the military because you didn’t have other options. I was wrong and that elitist idea is still around today. I suppose as you grow older and rely on your own wits and try to succeed, you realize that the world does not revolve around you and that you need to consider other points of view.

Our family is white, Cuban immigrants and although my aunt had a good job in the U.S., she was fluent in English, albeit with a heavy accent which she has and is proud of to this day; my immediate family grew up on welfare. We were a one parent household, my mother did not speak English, I had the tickets at school for lunch, we didn’t have a car and I didn’t have one until I was 26 since I just didn’t have the money for a car and my priorities were to go to college and travel in the summer. Towards the end of my high school it was just my mom, my grandmother and myself since all of my brothers and cousins were gone. They were all serving during the whole Muammar Gaddafi Mediterranean “conflict”.

So, in a round about way, I want to thank my brothers, cousins and my “brothers and cousins” in the military that serve and give me the luxury of the life I’ve led and continue to lead. Thank you for your service!

West Cornwall, Southwest England – Part 2

My drive from Tavistock to Penzance went so well that I decided to keep driving the extra 9 miles to Lands End.  Lands End is the most Western part of the England.  Without planning it, I had gone to the most Northern part of the UK when I went to John O’Groats in Scotland and now I was at it’s most Western point.  They have marketed the hell out of Lands End where John O’Groats seemed just a blip in comparison.  But, Lands End scenery is much more dramatic than O’Groats.  I had to pay 5 pounds to park the car so I took advantage of the trail that runs from a mile along the cliffs from Lands End to the coastal cove town of Sennen.  I also had a surprisingly really good fresh, not fried, piece of fish at the restaurant at Lands End.  As I was driving in to Penzance, I turned in the car just before they closed at 6pm.  I rented with Enterprise and as is their practice in the US, here they also give you a ride to and/or from your car rental.  My hotel in Penzance was only about 2 miles from the car rental and I checked in and was able to have a drink before dinner.  This hotel in Penzance was really nice.  It had a nice restaurant, nice sitting rooms and library, free coffee and tea anytime, a nice bar and, even a swimming pool!  Well, I didn’t have a bathing suit but found an “Old Navy” style store the next day and town and got one.  The summer has been quite hot and I was going to take advantage of having a pool.  Breakfast both here and at my Tavistock hotel were really nice.  I had salmon eggs Benedict more than once.  The salmon in the UK is mostly from Scotland and just tastes so fresh.  

My hotel in Penzance

My first day without the car, I took the bus to a little cove village called Mousehole.  And, as the name implies, it’s a little place but very nice with a beautiful position.  I had lunch at a little place with a nice garden courtyard which would have cost twice the price if they had a coastal view.  I have a lovely crab salad – fresh crab and a nice glass of sauvignon blanc from South Africa.  From the service to the atmosphere to the food, this was really nice.  Only 15 minutes by bus outside of Penzance train station, it’s a little escape.  There was a market fair at the church and I bought a 4X6 size photo from a photographer.  She had some really interesting close up shots of boats and coves in and around Mousehole.  It was a hot day so I took advantage and went back to the hotel about 4pm and sat by the pool a couple of hours and with 2 for 1 drinks at happy hour – just 5-6pm – I had a couple of martinis.  Whew!  Like I said, Cornwall was a vacation from my vacation.  
Mousehole before and after the tide

The next day without a car saw me going to, what I call, the Baby Mont Saint Michel, in England it’s known as St. Michael’s Mount.  I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed walking the causeway, exploring the castle, church and this little slice of island.  It’s what I had hoped the Mont in France would be.  Don’t get me wrong, the Mont was a dream fulfilled but St. Michael’s was just not as commercial.  It felt real and the history came through.  The extent of the commercialism was 1 shop and 1 cafe.  The castle and castle gardens, which have separate entry fees or you can buy the combo ticket, which I recommend because the gardens are just as glorious as the castle.  The castle is still inhabited as is the island.  I think they told us there’s about 40 people that inhabit the island and the island is closed on Saturdays for this reason.  The docent’s in the castle are really eager to let you know any info, if they have the answers and even if the don’t.  

St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall – Low Tide
Hight Tide – St Michael’s Mount

My last tourist day in Cornwall I took the bus from Penzance to yet, another cove town, St. Ives.  The bus ride here was about 25 minutes or so through some very nice countryside.  I’m so glad I did not drive here.  The roads are absolutely minuscule and I witnessed about 5 cars having to back up a few hundred yards to let our bus through.  This was a full size bus, mind you, double decker!  Anyway, we arrived unscathed and about 15 minutes after I arrived, a downpour also arrived.  Luckily, I always travel with my umbrella and it was finally needed, for about 20 minutes.  Then, the sun shone again and it was quite warm.  It’s a much bigger town than Mousehole with a bit of a beach, when the tide is out.  I arrived around 11a, explored a while, stopped and had a drink on a second story bar terrace and then later had lunch on the cove at Alfresco.  I have a beautiful small dish of scallops and pork belly.  The scallops were lined up on one side and the pork belly on the other.  Lovely lunch looking out onto the cove.  I walked around some more and before I left, had another drink in a hotel bar with a commanding view of St. Ives, just below the bus station!  St. Ives has several art galleries, cute shops and really good sea food.  They also have a brach of the modern art museum, Tate.

St. Ives – Low Tide

LUNCH!

High Tide


Cornwall is an area I would love to come back to and that the British are quite aware of but foreign tourists are not so aware of.  I will be back!

Complete photos here: Cornwall Part 2 Photos

Cornwall, Southwest England – Part 1

CORNWALL – North Coast – SOUTHWEST ENGLAND – My stay in Penrith was done on Saturday the 19th of July.  I left Penrith for Manchester Airport.  There was supposed to be a direct train and it’s only supposed to take 2 hours but the train line had other ideas.  The train was late and we had to switch trains at Manchester Piccadilly but I still arrived Manchester Airport in about 3 hours, maybe a little less but when something interferes with your plans it can seem like it takes a really long time.  I stayed overnight by the airport to catch a flight from Manchester to Exeter.  Things went pretty smooth for me here and my arrival in Exeter.  Now, speaking of cars, I did pick one up at the Exeter airport (Hyundai i30) and drove to Tavistock.  The hotel I picked there, The Bedford Hotel, has free parking for it’s guests and looking at the Traveline info and the places I wanted to visit, a car for a few days was the right choice.  
The drive to Tavistock from Exeter was a little over an hour and had a mix of, what we call, highways and what I consider tiny roads.  After a bit of time trying to find the A30 out of Exeter, I didn’t have any problems finding the hotel in Tavistock.  The Bedford is a very nice hotel.  Some of the furnishings are starting to look a bit worn in the rooms but the bathroom I had was very new and the rest of the hotel very nice.  The food served here is very good.  The breakfasts have been wonderful and are included in the price of the room.  I paid 55 pounds per night here.  I think that’s about $95.  But, I had eggs Benedict with salmon this morning with coffee and grapefruit juice and it was very fresh and yummy.   Even back home that breakfast out would be about $20.  You can also order what you’d like and today I had 2 poached eggs on brown bread.  They are very conscious of dietary needs here in the UK and both this place and the Foundry up in Penrith have gluten free and vegetarian options.  They also have a variety of herbal teas and decaf items if you need that.  I did splurge for dinner here when I arrived Sunday night and I had a lovely beef and oxtail pie covered in mashed potatoes which make the “crust”. It was accompanied by some very fresh veggies, asparagus, green beens, baby carrots and broccoli.  I had it with a nice glass of Syrah from Chile.  I haven’t written much about food since I mostly try to stay in apartments and cook for myself.  Here in the UK, it’s not been about the food, it’s been about where I am and where I’m going.  
This is a very luxurious hotel and I picked it both for the price and the location.  I’m on the border between Counties Cornwall and Devon.  I’m trying to be an hours drive or so from where I want to be and with this in mind, I knew I wanted to go up to Tintagel and Port Isaac which are an hour north of here on the North Cornwall coast.  That’s where I went yesterday.  Without getting lost, I did get to Tintagel in a little over an hour.  Tintagel’s story is that it was home to King Arthur.  There is a castle ruin on a dramatic coastline with tons of trails and views of the coast.  There is the mythical Merlin’s Cave – which can only be reached at low tide.  I wasn’t there for that but it was fun roaming around the site and hearing the tie to Arthur.  I only paid for 2 hours worth of parking – dumb so I thought, let me go to Port Isaac.  Port Isaac is now famous because the show “Doc Martin” films here.  Back in the US it’s on PBS and here in the UK it’s on  ITV.  Well, on my way to Port Isaac from Tintagel, I did get lost but it was a glorious wrong turn.  I ended up about 10 miles East of Tintagel, when I meant to go West, in a different more secluded cove/harbor town of Boscastle.  The parking here was easy to find and again I paid for 2 hours worth.  This town had a few trails that sprung out one on each side of the port to stunning views of the cove and cliffs beyond.  It has a Witchcraft museum, which I did NOT go in to but seemed to be decently popular.  I stopped for a drink in a riverside pub and with that it was time to go.  I was determined to get to Port Isaac and this time I did not miss my turn when I got back to Tintagel and in about 40 minutes arrived into Port Isaac.  Luckily the parking area was at the top of town before you come in because the couple of roads you can take your car through are crazy small.  As I was going to pay for parking, an older could came up and said they had gotten an all day ticket that was valid till midnight and did I want it.  Score!  It’s about 1/2 mile to the harbor from the parking lot but it’s clearly marked.  It’s a quaint place and I had some battered shrimp and a drink before I left.  I was really craving some fresh fish or mussels, but I arrived at 4pm and lunch service was over and dinner service didn’t start until 6pm.  We get so spoilt in the US.  Most places open around 11a and run continuously until 9p or so.  That is not the case here or in Europe.  Most places do lunch 12 – 3p and then close and reopen 6 or 7p to about 9p or 10p unless they are takeaway (take out) places.  Anyway, I enjoyed Boscastle more than Port Isaac and I’m glad I spent more time there.  As the poets Public Enemy would say, “Don’t believe the hype”.

So, today I am touring the World Heritage site town of Tavistock, catching up on the blog and photos and planning the rest of my week in Cornwall.  I will be going further West and staying in the town of Penzance for a few days.  I leave Tavistock tomorrow afternoon and will stop near Plymouth before heading West.  I will probably turn in the car the day after tomorrow as what I want to see from Penzance is all easily reached by public transport.  I then will head back to London completing my circle journey of the UK.

Here’s some pics and if you want to see more, go here:

North Cornwall Coast Photos

Tintagel


 Boscastle

Port Isaac

Tavistock and the Bedford Hotel


Lake District England

I went to the Lake District in Northwest England from the 13th to the 20th of July.  Again it was a Sunday when I left Inverness and headed down to Penrith.  My train took me via Edinburgh and just past Carlisle in England before you arrive in Penrith.  My 6 night stay in Penrith was at The Foundry.  Apparently, they were on some Gordon Ramsey show here in the UK and I have to confess that their breakfasts were fantastic.  Even the vegetarian breakfast was great, which I did try one morning.  My room was small but had everything I needed including plenty of storage space, great wifi service, a very nice shower room and a fan!  It has been warm and muggy most of my time in the UK.  It has been quite sunny but just recently I’ve had a couple of rainy days.  But, despite the rain, it’s been high temps and high humidity.  I tried to look for some tours here in the Lake District but I wasn’t in the right departure town for them.  Things still went well as I was able to go where I wanted on my own schedule.  I picked up a car on Monday, as most services are not open on Sunday, and drove to the Bowes Museum about 60 miles East of Penrith in County Durham.  Penrith is in County Cumbria.  I am having great luck finding fabulous museums that are small by the standards of the famous museums but I just love these smaller ones that are not overcrowded because of their fame.  This was a fairly rainy day so I happily spent a couple of hours touring the museum and a bit of time taking in some lunch.
The Lake District is beautiful.  I drove from Penrith to Windermere, the largest of these lake towns that sits on the largest lake in the area.  It was a great day to take the boat cruise and I did a lakeside walk that was close to 5 miles long.  Beautiful views at every turn.  The clouds rolling in and out, the green and multicolored hills from the different wildflowers growing on them and the waterside setting made it a great place.  As I discovered here, transport was quite good in this Lake District area and so, I turned in my car early the next day before heading out to Grasmere to Dove Cottage which was home to William Wordsworth when he wrote most of his famous poems.  It’s a good thing I did not drive today.  It was pissing down rain all day and the roads around here are tiny and winding.  You share them with tour busses, public busses and sometimes large trucks.  They are the only roads that go from town to town so goods and services have to use them.  Well, if the public transport is good, I’ll ditch the car.  Also, when I’m driving, I don’t have a chance to take in the scenery.  The public busses are mostly double decker and you get a great view.  Of course this day when it was raining, you couldn’t see much out of the windows.  But Dove Cottage is worth a visit even if you are not that familiar with Wordsworth’s work, as I am not.  Grasmere village is also nice to stroll, even when it is raining. 
I was amazed sometimes when there were bus stops in, what appeared to be, the middle of nowhere, but there were some B&B’s not far from the main road and there are several walking trails that will dump you near a main road where you can then catch public transport.  Although you need to be careful not to do this on a Sunday unless it’s August.  In August there are special busses that run even on Sundays. 

After Grasmere, the next day I went to the town of Keswick and it’s Lake Derwentwater.  This day was glorious again and luckily I had listened to the weather for the week because I had planned my lake days on when they said the weather was going to be nice and, luckily, the weather was as predicted.  Derwentwater is much smaller than Windermere but it is also less crowded.  The boats are a lot smaller and to circle the lake via boat with all the 7 stops included is only about a 50 minute ride.  I did this, walked along the lake shore a few miles and had a really nice Thai lunch while I was there.  The bus ride from Penrith to Keswick is about 45 minutes each way but that’s only about 10 minutes more than a car ride.  Plus, parking in small towns is a hassle.  Sure there are parking lots but the parking machines only take coins, unless you download a phone app to pay by credit card.  Parking wasn’t hard to find but when I factored in cost of the car per day, gas (petrol) and parking, renting a car on your own can get quite expensive.  I turned in the car early and only had it about 2 days and it was about $100 dollars for the rental from Enterprise.  Then, I put in about 20 pounds or about $35 which was about 1.39 pounds per LITER.  You need 4 liters (approximately) to get a gallon and so that’s about 5.50 pounds per gallon at an exchange rate of about $1.70 per pound and I spent $35 for about 4 gallons of gas.  Then, I spent about 15 pounds for parking the 2 days I had the car.  This was vs. the 3 day bus pass I bought for 24 pounds (about $40) that lasted me from Wednesday through Friday all fees included.  So, my advice to solo travelers is take the bus!  Had I done a bit more research on the transport in this area, I would have not rented the car and maybe not gone to the Bowes Museum in County Durham, but I would have saved quite a bit of money.  I was originally going on info that I had read in a Rick Steves book and he prefers to rent a car in this area.  He also tells you to skip Windermere and I totally disagree.  Maybe it’s hell in August when there are tons of families in the area when the UK kids are out of school but I found it very agreeable.  So, goes to show you to not follow guidebooks blindly.  If you have time, do more research and try to find local websites with information about the area to get a complete picture of what is available to you.  For transport info in the UK, I recommend thetraveline.co.uk. It gives you bus, ferry, train, tram, etc., info from any spot in the UK.  If you are coming over, use it.

Pictures from the Lake District – follow my link below: