Gorgeous Yorkshire Countryside, Lovely Cottages, and a visit to Dalby Forest

This posting is out-of-sync with my travels and was originally scheduled to post on August 3rd. I have traded it with Norwich to add more variety into the mix. Thank you for reading!
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Some lovely cottages near Scarborough in Yorkshire.
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Notice the mailbox within the rock wall is from Victoria’s era.
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I love these little honour-system sales racks along the roads. Please put bills under a rock so they don’t blow away.
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Another honour-system display. This person is selling plants for 50p (75 cents).
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A lovely couple I met at the country hotel suggested I drive through Dalby forest rather than simply follow my Sat Nav to get to Castle Howard. What a fantastic suggestion that was, I really enjoy the gorgeous countryside on the way to Dalby Forest, and then the forest itself was also peaceful and handsome.
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Especially nice was there was very little traffic through here. I was able to pull-over whenever I liked to take a photo. That usually seems awkward or impossible when traffic is coming in both directions and cars are on your tail. This was a wonderful drive. On a Tuesday in June.
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The little specs are sheep.
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Look who I came across! Just kidding, that’s just me.
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Another honour-system cart, this one has lots of offerings from a small family farm. In addition to trusting passers-by with the items, they also trust them with cash. Money is provided so you can make your own change. I hope everyone is good at maths! (In the UK math is plural.)
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When you extend trust to people, they tend to honour that trust. People are more likely to steal when you suspect them of stealing. These honour-system set-ups remind me of a lovely English-style tea house North of Toronto in Kleinburg. There, customers help themselves to scones, cakes, tea, coffee, and pastries set-up individually-priced but buffet style. On exiting, the customer tells the cashier what they took. There is a nice feeling there, it feels like a step back in time. That’s how I feel here too. A time when strangers trusted each other. How lovely.
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If you visit Dalby forest, try to have some time to walk some trails or hire a bicycle. I was visiting Castle Howard later today so I didn’t have time to stop. The drive was lovely anyway, day ticket to pass through the forest was £7.
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Yorkshire has plenty of lovely countryside and perhaps many of the iconic type of cottages that North Americans imagine is England. In reality England is a modern country with mostly modern city dwellers living modern lives, so it is a treasure to come upon these picturesque towns, villages, and countryside that beacons to an earlier era. A must visit
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Thank you for visiting http://www.PersonalTravelStories.com ! I hope you will stay and look around a bit! Cheers! Darren

The next posting will be the seaside resort of Great Yarmouth in 4 days.

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Spending a Long Weekend in Leicester, UK

Leicester

I arrived to the Campanile Hotel in Leicester before noon on a Saturday. “Is it possible to check in?” I ask at the front desk. “No, check-in is at 2 o’clock, you’ll have to come back later.”

I knew check-in was not until 2, but most hotels allow early arrivals if they have any empty rooms. Or if they don’t, they at least pretend to. “Sorry, we don’t have any rooms available at the moment,” sits better with me than, “check-in is at 2.” But that is the rule and that is the reason presented.

I head into the streets towards downtown. In the very centre of town is a clock tower from-which emanate pedestrianised streets in every direction. My first impressions of Leicester are bleak. Driving in, the Sat Nav was not well able to navigate the mixed-up combination of twisting one-way streets combined with road construction and diversions. I did a few circles before deciding not to listen to Audi’s GPS system and actually making progress. I may set-up the Tom Tom before I leave this city, I am finding Audi’s Sat Nav to be quite poor indeed.

I chose the hotel because it looked very convenient, just outside the ring road of the downtown. But my area of downtown seems to be rather downtrodden, an industrial area now partially boarded-up. “Where have I taken myself now,” I wonder as I walk in the direction of the clock tower, taking some desolate photos on the way.

This is a bank holiday weekend and the shopping streets are packed. In fact, it’s incredible. For a smallish city of around 300 thousand, it seems like we could not conjure these kinds of numbers in a city of more than 10 times the population, I am thinking of my own city of Toronto. The crowds moving through the extensive pedestrian area make me feel like I am at a carnival, it’s like walking through the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition, an 18-day festival in Toronto).

My first impression of Leicester is of feeling claustrophobic. The buildings crowding the streets, the streets crowded with people. I wander in search of somewhere to linger as I explore, but I don’t feel comfortable.

At the Tourist Information centre I discover that I missed the once-weekly walking tour, it was this morning. The office is of no real use to me whatsoever as I ask what options I have for seeing this city. I pause here staring at the pamphlets for some time, I can’t seem to filter out the interesting from the banal today and nothing catches my attention. I’m feeling overwhelmed by my continuous travel this weekend, I wan’t the ladies hired to work here to tell me what is interesting but they don’t seem to have any opinions, they just try to answer specific questions. Well, they don’t really “try” but they do answer if they know. “Go the the Guild Hall,” one tells me, “they might know if any other walking tour exists.” Or, since this is an information centre and since knowing this kind of thing should be something you would want to know, perhaps you could call over there and find out. Eventually I make my way back to my hotel around dinnertime and I stay in my room until the next morning.

My room at the Campanile is small and basic. Just a bed and a corner table with a chair that pulls up, the table holds a tv and an electric kettle, so there is just enough room to do some writing there as well. So it is surprising to me that there are at least 6 Eastern Europeans in the room next door, how different could their room be? I assume they aren’t actually sharing the same room, they must be just visiting, they’ll separate in to their own rooms when it’s time for bed. Eventually. Clearly having a great time, at first just chatting and later watching some seriously comedic television programs after midnight. I watch Netflix in bed using my headphones so that I can hear, my speakers are not strong enough to compete with the noise emanating from my neighbours.

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Not a lovely view from the perspective of where I was staying. I would choose a different area for sure, there are lovely areas in Leicester, just not this one.

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Another view from near the Campenile hotel.

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You can see how my first impression was marred by the location where I arrived and stayed in Leicester. Walking towards the centre was not pretty, but then the city was actually quite nice.

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I guess this building may be on it’s way for demolition?

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There were a lot of people about on this bank holiday weekend. It’s probably much more pleasant any other time.

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The city centre seemed to emanate from this clock tower.

There is no fitness centre in the Campanile. It really is just a faceless but clean economy hotel, the most boring possible choice really. I had seen them other places before, but now I know to avoid them. I’m glad I’ve tried it for a 3-day stay rather than a week somewhere. It is fine if one does not want any character or sound-proofing.

I’ve not had proper exercise for several weeks, not since my first week in Birmingham, so I prefer to take the stairs over the elevator. I exit my room and enter the nearby stairwell, the door labelled, “Push Bar to Open”. A simple mechanism. If you can read, you probably do not need the aid of this sign to aid you. I open the door and bound down the stairs to the bottom. “Door is alarmed,” a sign on this door only, reads. Oh dear. I retreat. On my way up, I notice that the other doors do not have handles from the stair side. I stand at the door I entered from on the 2nd floor. No handle. The door is engaged from the handle on the other side, effectively locked from this side. Hmmm. I may be here a while. Fortunately there is a window into the hallway so I can see if someone walks by and bang for them to open the door for me. Except this stairwell is at the end of the hallway, there are only two rooms I could even see someone exiting from as it is alongside rather than at the very end.

I wander the stairwell down again and on the other side of one door I can hear the noise of dishes. I pound on the door and the clatter of dishes pauses then starts again. I pound again, the noise pauses again. After a third time the noise stops and I can hear someone fighting with deadbolts. It sounds like they are not often undone, someone is wiggling and jiggling making slow progress in sliding one that sounds to be at the top of the door. The door opens.

“Are you here for breakfast?” a curious little ball of an Indian woman asks me as I stand there with a stupid smile on my face. “I got locked in the hallway,” I admit. Would someone really try to come into the restaurant to get breakfast from the fire escape door?

She guides me through the kitchen to the dining area where I do not pause and finally I am out in the gorgeous air. Sunny and a high of 18 Celsius today, not a rain drop expected. This is a faultless day here in the UK. At home 28C feels like summer, but here 18C does. A beautiful, summery, sunshiny day. Honestly, I prefer these temperatures, comfortably warm rather than hot.

My second impression is better than my first. Not immediately, my hotel is still situated in the most ugly possible area of the city so I do walk through a mess of sad buildings before coming to the more picturesque area. I stop for breakfast at a patio-side cafe where a few minutes after ordering a mother lets her 5 year-old play a portable gaming device at what must be it’s highest volume. Very English, I say nothing but passive-aggressively look over disapprovingly. A family of two seniors and a younger couple arrives, with a 2 year old. This young one doesn’t like to eat and the rest of us have to suffer the battle that ensues. Thankfully the mother takes him for a little walk after he has completely lost his wits in a long screaming fit. It looked like such a peaceful place to sit when I came upon it on this little cobble stone pedestrian lane near the Cathedral and Guild hall.

After dining I happen in to the Guild Hall where there is a very popular exhibition. The remains of King Richard III were found and verified in Leicester just last year (2012) and this exhibition shows the excited public all about it. Well, there is too much public for me here today and I leave more quickly than I arrived. The visiting public completely fill the space as they progress from segment to segment, there is no room to move apart from with the general movement of cattle. The recreation of his head is by the exit, so I saw that. Most of the display seems to be written panels of explanation, it is quite a small room and I can see what’s here from the entry vantage point. I may come back, but probably I’ll just look at it online. Later I notice that I missed seeing the main hall of this 600 year-old building.

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I don’t think the door to the right was properly marked to suggest you are about to lock yourself in a stairwell and had better hope that there is someone in the kitchen to hear you pounding on their back door. At the Campenile in Leicester.

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A slightly different route walking into the centre on day 2.

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This little man’s sign said that he was raising money for cats.

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I really was surprised by how crowded the streets were.

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The Tudor Guild Hall.

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In looking for things to do here, I decide this might be a good place to while away some time having afternoon tea. One place in particular stands out online, the Belmont Hotel. I enjoy a nice walk to the hotel but once there I am informed that they do need 24 hours notice to book their afternoon tea. “I will go ask the chef if it’s possible today but you’ll probably need to come back tomorrow,” I am offered at reception. After some moments we determine that tomorrow it is. What could be so elaborate that it takes 24 hours notice to be able to serve afternoon tea? I’m anticipating tea, scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam, crustless sandwich wedges, and some sweets. This is a sizeable place, it has several drinking and dining venues sharing the kitchen. I will be most curious to discover what cannot be provided on an impromptu basis tomorrow at 3PM. I’ll treat it like a late lunch.

This is a very multicultural town, like Toronto, there is no majority race. Certainly white people make-up the largest demographic, but they are less than 50%. How does it happen, what makes someone in Somalia think, “I’m going to live the dream by moving to Leicester in England.” I think in this that Leicester may share in common with Winnipeg, Canada, the feature of being more affordable than most other cities. Easier to start a new life, easier to buy a first home, easier to get-by. End result? It’s probably a comfortable, mediocre town. Those with big dreams go to more competitive Birmingham or London. I should suggest Leicester and Winnipeg may wish to become twin cities.

My time in Leicester has been diminished by having a sinus cold. I wish I had chosen a more comfortable hotel, but I did not realise upon booking how much time I would end-up spending in it.

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I arrive 15 minutes early for my afternoon tea at the Belmont Hotel on the holiday Monday. I am shown to a dining room where I am the only occupant, although I can hear some young ladies chatting in the hall around the corner. A few minutes later and my food selection has arrived.

I am shocked that they could not have thrown this together yesterday. It was clearly made in advance, in that cold from the fridge just pulled off the cling wrap sort of way. But apart from the sandwich pieces, nothing else would have been prepared especially. A sandwich of four segments, each with different filling. A selection of 5 cakes, each basically a partial dessert piece, but here was the disappointing bit, 3 of the 5 are the very same lemon cake. A small apple tart (mostly crust with a touch of apple slime) and a chocolate browning complete the cakes. The chocolate brownie is wonderfully chocolatey, although I would prefer it wasn’t cold. On the top tier are four little French macaroons.

In all, the cakes all taste like they came from any coffee shop or supermarket. If their macaroons were house made I’d be embarrassed for them, or proud how they so accurately replicated store-bought. The tea is disappointingly the same PG bag (not loose tea) that comes with the free tea service in my hotel room and it’s in a generic metal teapot. The dishes are a motley assortment of white basic catering dishes, each of a different generic maker apart from the triple-level cake plates which are English, Dudson from Stoke-on-Trent. The side salad is meant as garnish only, I eat some for vitamins only to find dirt and wilted leaves.

Were I to ever happen through Leicester again I would probably look to stay in the Belmont Hotel, it is much more the kind of feel that I like in a hotel and I like it’s location, connected to the city centre by a 200 year-old walking path called “New Walk”. But I wouldn’t bother with the afternoon tea, there was nothing special about it whatsoever. For an afternoon snack perhaps the cream tea would be fine. That is tea with a large scone, served with clotted cream, butter, and jam. I didn’t have it here, but it couldn’t be that bad. Unless they serve the scone cold, it should be served warm. Come to think of it, I would ask that before I ordered here. One can’t assume. I would have assumed, but not after having cold cakes and sandwiches here for afternoon tea.

This is a good value afternoon tea, £12.95 ($20) for a lot of dessert, but I would happily have paid more to have better. Or received half the amount to have better. The only difference in the more expensive options were the addition of several price-points of Champagne.

I think Leicester may be a nicer city than I have experienced. I will not know what this city is like during it’s normal days, I was here during the three days of a bank holiday weekend. The city was probably filled with visitors from the surrounding towns and villages on Saturday and Sunday. The information centre was useless to pointing me towards interesting distractions, and I was not entirely well for the duration.

My final night at the Campanile, the hotel is nearly empty except for the room beside me. It’s 2:48 AM when my neighbours finally settle down for the night. I think they may actually work at the hotel too.

Off to Norwich tomorrow.

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Everything’s relative. New walk is 200 years old.

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The area New Walk passes through is lovely.

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More views on and from New Walk.

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The Belmont is in a lovely area, is near the train station, and you can walk to the centre via the lovely New Walk. Next time.

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This bit was disappointing though. They should charge a bit more and get some nice tea services, especially some pots so they can make tea the traditional way rather than using a tea bag.

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The tea room was lovely. Perhaps have a cappuccino here.

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Three of the 5 cakes were the same cake.

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Just some more views around Leicester.

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The building on the left curves with the street. It’s called the Curve and is an arts centre, part of rejuvenation of that area of the downtown.

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I always feel pangs of nostalgia when I encounter one of the remaining Coffee Republics. I was their 2nd ever manager of the first Coffee Republic location which was on South Molten Street in Mayfair, London. Soon after I left to move to Edinburgh, they opened their 2nd and 3rd locations and eventually had over a hundred across the UK. The original location has since closed, as have many others.

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I hope you enjoyed this posting and that you will read other postings on my blog. Thank you for visiting and I hope you’ll follow me, the follow button is on the bottom right of your screen. Cheers! Darren

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Passing through Peterborough, a Nice Day Out

Popping in to Peterborough

Driving down the open road after spending the May bank holiday weekend in Leicester I have something similar to the feeling of deja-vu. It’s not the feeling of having been here before or of having had this experience as a distant memory. It’s more like the feeling of living a destiny. I always knew I would someday wander through the English countryside, free to explore, free to stop and go and to take my time. Traveling solo with a car and a bicycle and a decent pair of feet. I pass by some villages that would be gorgeous were my views not muddled by the rain and dark skies. But I feel peaceful and content. Today, my life feels right.

I’m getting better at navigating the endless traffic circles that join roads to other roads throughout the UK. I now have learned that, “enter the traffic circle and turn right,” means to go into the lane furthest to the right when going left on the traffic circle because I will be going most of the way around the circle before exiting. No only learning to negotiate British roads and traffic, also learning how to interpret Audi’s Sat Nav. I will do a posting on British road signs in the future too as some of them were surprising to me.

My final destination today is Norwich, near England’s East coast, but en route I have entered the postal code for a car park near Peterborough’s famous cathedral. I pull into a multi-level parking garage and drive around and around and around until I find a tight little spot on the 8th floor. I am not driving a large car, to me it feels small but I guess it’s classed as mid-size (It’s an A5, which is also a paper size here in the UK.). Going up the ramps feels very precarious though, very little clearance. I find a space and manoeuvre into it. Nicely done, perfectly straight. Except I cannot squeeze out with the 6 inches allotted between me and the next vehicle. I pull-out and continue upwards, finding another tight space but this one alongside a pillar. As long as I can squeeze myself between the car and the pillar, the door opens into the little space created behind it.

I exit the car park through a pedestrian bridge that crosses over a thoroughfare and find myself inside a very large modern shopping centre where I decide to pause for lunch at John Lewis. Using my phone map, I figure out how to get to the cathedral, most of the way indoors thorough the surprisingly large centre.

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The enormous Shopping Centre in the centre of Peterborough.

Exiting the other end of the very modern centre, I am shocked by the contrast of the pedestrian street with it’s traditional architectures. Even the edge of this major shopping centre is lined with period buildings, camouflaging it.

I was not prepared to happen upon the magnificent Peterborough Cathedral (Church of St Peter, St Paul, and St Andrew). This grand cathedral was rebuilt in it’s present form between 1118 and 1238. The West Front is very imposing in Gothic style.

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As soon as you step outside the modern shopping complex you are greeted with traditional architecture and pedestrianised streets.

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Look at the truck to grasp the vastness of this structure.

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The incredible nave ceiling was likely completed around 1250 and was repainted in the 18th and 19th centuries. The first wife of Henry VIII was buried here after she died in 1536. She had long lost the luxuries of royalty after their divorce and the King did not attend her funeral.

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I thought this radiator was interesting.

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This “New Building” was added to the original just over 500 years ago. I suppose it will always be called the New Building unless the cathedral is added to further, which is unlikely.

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Mary Queen of Scots was originally buried here in 1587 but was later removed to Westminster Abbey in 1612 by order of her son, James I.

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I leave the the enormous edifice and wander about the central district briefly before resuming my journey to Norwich. Peterborough made for a nice day visit.

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The drive continuing to Norwich.

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Visiting Shakespeare’s Hometown, Stratford-upon-Avon

Stratford-Upon-Avon

I had taken a day trip from London using the National Express when I was 22 years old or so to the birthplace and death place of Shakespeare, Stratford-Upon-Avon. I remember feeling quite alone that day, wandering about the town by myself amongst throngs of tourists in groups and couples and families. There was also something quite thrilling about it too though, I had been working for a few months in London by this point and this was a Sunday, a day off at a time when I tended to work six days a week.

I had graduated University in June that year, and had jumped-on a plane to England before the ceremony had even transpired. They can mail me my diploma, I thought, I’m not going to delay my escape to England by 3 weeks for a piece of paper, the work was already done and I was ready to go.

I had started my stay in London at a hostel in Bayswater, where I shared a room with a man my same age from South Africa. I can still picture him, with his cropped hair and gangly body, but I can’t remember his name. We did London’s Hop-On-Hop-Off Tour together. We both had student working visas, a reciprocal agreement between various countries whereby young people can experience life in another country for a limited period of time, under a certain age, and on a once-in-a-lifetime basis. For me, I could stay and work in the UK for up to two years and provided I was under 26 years old.

I visited an office called BUNAC (British Universities North American Chapter) where employers seeking North American workers posted job openings. I made note of a handful of positions and set-out to find a position in Central London.

“Do you like working here?” I asked a New Zealander working at an espresso bar on South Molten Street. This was my third business to visit. I wasn’t just dropping off my CV (curriculum vitae aka resume) willy-nilly, I wanted a job that I would enjoy for an employer I would want to work for. “It’s good, yeah.” “What do like most about it?”

“I have a break coming-up, do you want to wait 5 minutes and then I can chat more?” Andrea was aware of the job posting and had guessed that my chit-chat while ordering a latte was regarding the opening and was not just friendly banter. The current manager, Tanya from Vancouver, had given her notice and would be moving on soon, her time in London was coming to an end.

“At the moment there’s just the one store,” Andrea tells me, “but the owners have plans to create a whole coffee chain, like the Starbucks of the UK. I think they went to school in Harvard and that’s where the inspiration came from.” Coffee was a newish trend here in the tea-sipping country of England. Long a pub culture when it comes to meeting with friends for a drink after work, coffee shops were not yet widespread. There were a few companies poised to lead this industry, Seattle, Costa, and the Coffee Republic.

I did end-up applying for and getting this job. My interview was at a private flat in Kensington with one of the two owners. I was hired as a barista from my experience with the Second Cup during my last year of university. Andrea hung about waiting to become manager after Tanya left but got tired of waiting and took a management job elsewhere. I had a degree in Business Administration and I was a rather expert barista so it was not long before I had been offered and accepted the position.

Stratford was my first day trip out of London. It was my first time to experience the English countryside, my first time to walk down cobbled lanes and see thatched roofs and feel like I could see the past with the present. Certainly London had some of these aspects, but it was all tied-up in a busy, modern, hectic centre and I was leading a busy, modern, hectic life working 60 hours over 6 days and having an hour commute each way every day.

It’s an odd feeling to find myself 17 years later parking my rented Audi at a car park, wandering to a nearby Costa Coffee and keying this into my iPad with a view of the clock through my window at the central intersection. Here I am again. Still the solo traveler after all these years.

Since last I was here I’ve lived in Scotland, Japan, Canada, China, and Canada again. In Canada I lived in Uxbridge, Thornhill, Toronto, Winnipeg, and Toronto again. And of course I have traveled quite a bit.

Last time I was here I remember meeting a nice young couple, honeymooners from Japan. I did not know then that I would later spend 2 years in Japan. I remember how polite and kind they seemed, sitting beside me at an open-air patio of a pub. I was a young, fit kid. I often cycled the 13km maze-like journey from Walthamstow to Mayfair rather than take the tube. It gave me back part of my day to cycle, there was nothing entertaining about taking the tube, tired silent faces crowded together. Just waiting for it to be over. I do remember how unchatty I found tube-goers to be. They needed to create their personal space in the crowds by not communicating with each other.

Finished my coffee and the rain having paused, I will wander out onto the street now. It’s Friday, and there is some kind of street market on Fridays and Saturdays.

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Sitting inside Costa Coffee writing about my first visit to Stratford and working in London some years ago.

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Having had some reflections after arriving to Stratford-upon-Avon, now I am ready to head out and explore this lovely town again.

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The cold, windy, rainy weather made this not the best of days for the market vendors.

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It is COLD today! A high of 10 Celsius at the end of May. The wind is harsh and cold rain pelts on and off, it is a day for gloves and hats and scarves, but I have brought none of that with me today. I suppose I should buy some gloves, there have been quite a few days where they would have made the day more comfortable. I do have hats and a scarf, but it was sunny when I left Warwick this morning. I make my way to Tudor World where I look at some displays of life during the Tudor era before making my way to the swan fountain for a two hour walking tour.

The town of Stratford-upon-Avon received it’s original town charter in 1196, making it more than 800 years old. Being the home of William Shakespeare this small town of around 26 thousand residents welcomes an astounding 3 million visitors every year, that is 116 visitors for ever resident. Or over 8200 visitors every day, if each visitor only spent one day, but many stay longer. In short, tourism is enormous here thanks to the Bard.

Life in the Tudor era is highlighted due to the predominance of that architecture around the town, the timber frames exposed. It has become the norm to see the timber coloured darkly and the filler in-between coloured white, beige, or ochre. But during that time, fashion was to colour the entire structure lightly so that the timber blended-in with the filler. That is quite a different look than what we are used to seeing with Tudor style buildings.

Life looks like it was quite difficult during that era. Standards of living and hygiene were not all they could be and the town suffered two separate plagues. Someone with a bit of knowledge regarding the outbreak could make a decent sum acting as a medic during those times. They wore masks that had large cavities over their nose so as to ave their air filtered through a mixture of herbs they thought were protective. Of course the herbs did nothing but the process of filtration would have had some effect no matter the filtering substance used. Wearing these masks the practitioners looked like birds and the term “quack” to describe mis-directed or false medical doctor was coined.

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A cute little mascot at the entrance of Tudor World.

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In the lane leading to the entrance of Tudor World.

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Here you can see the doctor’s mask that contained herbs within the beak to filter the air through. This was one of the displays at Tudor World, it had little scenarios with waxed figures and information panels.

You can visit the website of Tudor World as part of planning your day in Stratford or to learn more about it. http://www.falstaffexperience.co.uk/

I meet a walking guide at the modern metal swan fountain by the river Avon at the bottom of Sheep Street. It is single-digit cold, raining on and off, and the wind is quite blustery. “I won’t make you take just me if no one else shows,” I offer since a two hour walking tour in this misery of weather has me feeling undedicated to the lovely idea. Two Canadian women turn up, one from Windsor, the other from Kitchener, both cities quite near to my own in Ontario. A doctor from London shows up as we are about to commence, his wife is also a doctor and he decided to join her to Stratford, just overnight, while she attends a conference and he enjoys an interesting day out.

Our guide is very enthusiastic, passionate about history. We spend nearly an hour at Holy Trinity Church, which is lovely but the focus on minute details is too much for me, not being a religious historian. This would have been closer to my preferred version, the most interesting bits, “In this church, the oldest bits from 1210, here is Shakespeare, here’s his wife, look at the pretty windows and lets go!” Okay, to be fair I may have highlighted a few more interesting tidbits, but not near to an hour’s worth, no matter the weather.

Outside we pass the 400 year-old home of Shakespeare’s daughter, she married a doctor of good repute, he was a puritan and probably didn’t kill as many people as would be the norm with bloodletting. Admittedly it was a time when receiving medical attention reduced one’s chances of survival. Time was the main healer during this era, and if any medical intervention was applied for the most part if one recovered is was despite the medical treatment rather than because of it. Blood letting only served to weaken one’s already weakened state, and it was the most common practice carried out. Barbers often doubled as surgeons to carry out this practice, hence the traditional red and white spiral barber polls, these represented blood-letting not hair-cutting. But being one-in-the-same person it came to mean both.

The doctor in our group tells us how medical doctors and medical surgeons are still distinguished by title. Even though they are both doctors, physicians go by “Doctor” whereas surgeons go by, “Mister”. A woman surgeon goes by “Miss”, married or not. It’s a very strange use of title that seems to always in reconsideration.

We end the tour at the home Shakespeare grew-up in. His father was a glove maker. Seems like a rather large home for a glove maker. He married-up.

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Some lovely homes along the River Avon.

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Home of the RSC, Royal Shakespeare Company. Also along the River Avon.

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Holy Trinity Church, Shakespeare’s burial place.

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Shakespeare was not outside with these plots, he and his wife had a very prestigious location inside.
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Hall’s Croft, where Shakespeare’s daughter lived with husband Dr. John Hall.

If you visit Stratford I would recommend taking the guided walking tour. In nice weather you would spend more time outside, but even with our cold, icy, rain we were well entertained and I would do it again for sure.

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The home Shakespeare grew-up in. His father would have sold leather gloves directly from the home, probably through large windows open onto the street.

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Some more sights wandering around lovely Stratfore-upon-Avon.

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Finally I visit Sleaford after all this time!

Sleaford, it sounds like a sleepy name but it’s not a sleepy town.

I happened upon the lovely market town of Sleaford 19 miles South of Lincoln coming from Norwich. Distances can be very small in Great Britain, and when having to check-out by 10AM and check-in after 2PM, I often find myself needing to delay my arrival by a few hours. I could arrive to my city of destination early and park somewhere to wander about for a while before checking-in, but I always try to find an in-between town to visit enroute. I enjoyed visiting Peterborough enroute from Leicester to Norwich. Coventry between Birmingham and Warwick. Today I had not researched the possibilities but I just got lucky. Nice.

I somehow made my way to the very centre where I found pay and display parking. The first thing I notice wandering around this little town is the endless stream of cars in every direction. Very polite drivers though, they did stop to give way several times when I needed to cross without the aid of a zebra crossing. On this Saturday around noon, there was no break to be had in the streams of traffic.

I seem to be having a day of finesse as I happen into Navigation House, a handsome little structure that is also a visitors centre. It’s not exactly on the beaten path so I am rather surprised by the fortuitousness of my random happing upon it. A very friendly host welcomes me and shares some information about the town.

Navigation House was build in the 1830’s for the navigation offices the River Slea and demonstrates the prosperity it brought to Sleaford as a goods transportation hub since 1794. As you may have supposed, yes, it was named long ago from the fact that at this location there was a ford crossing over the river Slea. Sadly, when the railway came to town in the 1850s the end of this local industry became soon imminent.

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Some photos from the lovely drive from Norwich to Sleaford, on my way to Lincoln which is just a bit further.

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This very fancy camera trick was accomplished by holding the camera on an angle. I know. Brilliant.

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It was noon on Saturday, but I think that if I lived in Sleaford I would consider the amount of traffic congestion in the town centre to be of crisis level. I’m not kidding, it was truly endless.

“Where can I see the river?” “Oh, just go around that building,” she points, and then shows me on a map how it meanders the town. On viewing, I realise I had already taken photos of the waterway, I had not recognised it as a river.

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I grew-up alongside the Kennebecasis River in New Brunswick, Canada. I guess it’s probably about 500 m wide, possibly more. So I didn’t recognise the River Slea as being a river, which is quite narrow in places. Very lovely though. And lots of ducks and such.

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Wandering about the town, I happen by a handsome pub and inn that has food advertised outside that sounds appealing. I step in of the street and it is the strangest experience, there are about 20 people standing about the bar and they all look. And stare. The volume of their loud bantering lowers. I feel like an unwanted visitor at a private party, not like a stranger, more like someone loathed. It’s like how Rob Ford, current mayor of Toronto, should feel were he to happen into the home or party of anyone I know, except he has earned our contempt. I stand there for a moment feeling awkward, do I want to stand by this bar and wait to order lunch when it seems like the crowd is waiting for me to leave? Not really, event he bar keep is looking over and does not call a greeting, he just looks. Perhaps it’s the hat, I have not seen anyone in this town wearing a hat. Perhaps I look like Gatsby to them. Whatever the case, I turn on my heals and sadly I have lunch at tried and proven Costa Coffee, where I now write this blog entry. I like Costa, but it carries nothing of local flavour apart from the patrons.

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The Marquis of Granby looked more inviting from the outside than it was on the inside. I stayed for perhaps a minute.

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Not an interesting choice, but I knew I’d feel comfortable having lunch at a local Costa Coffee.

Otherwise, the people in this town seem extra friendly. At the Saturday Market I am warmly greeted by vendors as I pass by, a woman showing three model cars nearby gives a friendly hello. The drivers are certainly nice and I’ve had some friendly banter with other pedestrians. Perhaps it was actually a private party at the pub, but I don’t think so because it would have been easy enough to put-out a sign.

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I would assume that the church has long been holding this fair since it is using the original Olde English spelling.

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The Saturday Market with craft works as well as lovely breads, cheeses, meats, preserves, fancy oils, and more.

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When I told two locals I was really surprised that the traffic here is much worse than in Birmingham (England’s 2nd largest city), they laughed. But I wasn’t kidding. Not at all. I never saw a street in Birmingham that had this steady stream of traffic. Of course there is more traffic in Birmingham, but there is more capacity for the traffic. Sleaford cannot build more roads, but there must be something that could be done to encourage people not to drive through the centre if going from side to side.

Some more random facts about Sleaford:

Long a market town, in it’s early days, markets were often held on Sundays to take full advantage of the crowds of churchgoers.

Sleaford Castle was built in the 12th Century by the Bishop of Lincoln.

The tower of St.Deny’s Church was built around 1180.

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How cute is this tiny riverside buidling!

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I forgot to ask about this central windmill that has no sails. I parked near it in the “hub”.

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More countryside photos, these ones from between Sleaford and nearly Lincoln, my next destination.

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I would definitely recommend a visit to the town of Sleaford. Perhaps during the weekdays it could be described as peaceful when traffic is not at it’s peak. It was a nice little surprise finding another lovely English town, a bonus on my drive to Lincoln.

Warwick, More than just a Castle Town

Warwick

The beautiful town of Warwick contains a history dating from the 6th century, having been continually habitated since then. The main tourist draw, Warwick Castle, was built in 1068 and the Earldom of Warwick was created in 1088. Originally the town was ruled by the Earls and walls were built around the town, East Gate and West Gate survive today.

I enjoyed my stay at the Lord Leycester Hotel, located on Jury Street very near to East Gate, which I could see when leaning out my guest room window. I could also see the top of a turret of Warwick Castle from my window, which stands just one street away. The hotel does not provide newly refurbished rooms, but I enjoyed the quirkiness of what had been two Georgian townhouses combined in 1927 to make a hotel.

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View from my window looking towards the East Gate at the end of Jury Street.

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The front entry of the Lord Leycester Hotel.

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The original character remains of this Georgian Townhouse now part of the Lord Leycester Hotel.

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The little pub within the hotel is open 24/7 for residents.

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I don’t wish to mislead, my room here wasn’t “nice” but I really enjoyed staying here anyway.

Through the East Gate one happens upon Smith Street. This is one of the areas of Warwick that was not destroyed by the Great Fire of 1694. I enjoyed walking this little street many times as it was one of my favourite areas near to the hotel, and I chose to have my dinners at Roebucks Pub, which claims to be the oldest in Warwick. I like to have one place at each destination where I go everyday, to feel a bit at home. Usually it is a coffee shop, but in Warwick I chose Roebucks because it was one of the very rare places to eat that was quiet.

I often walk into restaurants and walk right out again because of the volume of the music or the acoustics being terrible creating too much noise of commotion. This pub had low ceilings and made for a peaceful setting. I would happen-in for an early dinner and spend much of my time writing there. The food was not great, the fish and chips were poor, their hamburger was very disappointing, but their steak w/chorizo was good. The service was mediocre, of the sort that they didn’t really anticipate tips and would assume me to be not a potential regular since I was clearly a traveler. I noticed a marked-improvement on my 4th visit, my first 3 visits did not even have a spec of recognition as a return customer despite it being a quiet place during my early meals. On my 4th visit the young man who served me actually seemed to care if everything was all right. My impression on other days was of a pub that employs casual students who don’t actually care about the pub, they just went through the motions of vending the items that were for sale with very little effort.
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Two British icons in front of East Gate.

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Looking through East Gate towards lovely tudor Smith Street.

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Typical tudor style as it is presented today. ( I learned that the timbers were not darkened during their era, or at least that it was not fashionable to do so up here.)

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This did not look look or taste like the wonderful fish that the Brits are famous for, the chips were good though.

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A very short walk the other way down Jury street (which becomes High Street) takes one to the West Gate, at which stands the Lord Leycester Hospital. This fun, wonky, tilting collection of 14th and 15th Century buildings was acquired by an Earl of Leycester in 1571 and made into a home for retired ex-servicemen and their wives, which it continues to be today.

Nowhere in it’s history did Lord Leycester Hospital house any kind of medical establishment. Perhaps the word hospital has had a transitional meaning over the years. I look it up and find that the latin word, hospes, referred to both guests and hosts around the 10th Century. We also get the word hospitality from this, and we do not associate that word with hospitals at all, although it would be good for a hospital to be hospitable, certainly. So this hospital was presumably a place where hosts and guests lived together and the title was perhaps given before the term hospital became widely used to refer to a place where medical treatment is given (by hosts to their guests).

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The wonderfully wonky Lord Leycester Hospital leaning against the West Gate of Warwick.

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I enjoy the lovely market area, part of it pedestrianised. It is a small area, Warwick has a population just over 30 thousand. Within this area is the Warwickshire Museum, where I learn a few interesting tidbits. Warwick was the only town in Warwickshire in 1066. The county prospered during the 13th Century and as many as 40 Castles had been built by the Normans here during the Middle Ages (C5th to C15th).

As many as 100 towns were reduced or abandoned during the 15th and 16th Centuries when many landowners changed from growing vegetables to keeping livestock. What had previously been rented farmer’s plots became more profitable grazing land.

During the Medieval times, there were three main groupings of society and belief of one’s standing was very strong. According to the museum, one of 15 people in Warwickshire were clergy during this time and the Church was England’s largest landowner, owning one fifth of all property. Aristocracy sat at the top of the hierarchy and comprised the smallest group, less than one percent. They made most of their income from renting out property.

The average person who worked for a living and was not generally a land owner, could be further divided into other classes such as merchants, famers and labourers. This, of course, is just a very brief summation.

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They just don’t make Tudor buildings like they used to during the Tudor times.

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I couldn’t wait to get out of this ugly town. KIDDING! It was surreal walking around this lovely town and having it as my base for 5 days.

I set out to visit Warwick Castle one weekday morning just as it was opening, as being a rather major destination I wanted to be able to spend some time there. One of England’s most impressive castles, it is truly a wondrous place inside and out. Within minutes I was overwhelmed by the hoards of school children well-entertained by the costumed performers and displays created by Tussauds Group. (Of Madame Tussauds, the wax museum people.) Amidst the screaming and shouting and general cacophony, I lasted less than 40 minutes before I fled the beautiful scene. For twenty of those minutes I had been trapped outside the main entrance of the Castle during a dramatic explanation of the Castle’s entry. It was interesting, I just had not expected to be standing in a group of several hundred young children while an actor had them making sounds on command. “EEEEEEWWWWW!” was the taught response for whenever he spoke “murder”, “OOOOOOHHHHHHH” the expected response for something else. Of course this participation was repeated and practiced to be as loud and as fervent as possible. The gate finally raised I ran past the crowds and quickly visited some of the living chambers but by the time I had done this the entire Castle was infiltrated and I made a hasty retreat out of the castle grounds to catch my breath in a nearby tea room.

I am not fond of crowds and of noise. Two fantastic years doing the JET programme in Japan where I taught alongside Japanese teachers in a Junior High School made me think that I could handle teaching. Not so, North Americans don’t sit quietly in little rows and wait for their honourable teacher to talk. Surprise. What was I thinking? (One of my later professional incarnations was as a Canadian high school teacher, I did my BED at OISE/University of Toronto nearly ten years ago. I taught casually for a short time in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I never got a contract, so I don’t really know how it would have gone. My partner and I had started a business and I stopped subbing when we started expanding and I didn’t have time to teach anymore anyway.)

“Did you have a nice day,” the staff member kind-of asks as I return my barely used audio guide. It had opened and she herself had furnished me with this MP3 player less than an hour ago and it was still morning, I basically ran in and ran out. Her question must be from auto-speak, who would pay an entry fee of nearly £20 ($30) and stay not even long enough to have walked the periphery, let alone looked at anything. Actually, if I was in a rush I suppose I would. I take it back. But I wasn’t in a rush until I was being chased. I am sure it’s lovely, just not for me, definitely not today. Perhaps on a weekend when there are families and holiday-makers in little groups rather than groups of several hundred excited screaming darlings swarming about.

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There is no denying that Warwick Castle is quite stunning.

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This view of Warwick Castle is not from inside the castle grounds, it’s from a nearby roadway where it crosses the River Avon.

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This actor entertained the children for a good 20 minutes while adults stood by.

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At this point I was trying to keep ahead of the progressing swarm of excited kids which I only accomplished for a few rooms before it was all over for me.

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Final views within the castle grounds.

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Cream tea, the original comfort food. Traditionally prepared tea (loose), fresh scone, clotted cream, butter, and jam. Cream tea refers to this set, not just the drink. Afternoon tea is more elaborate, I wrote about it in Leicester, a future posting.

Warwick is well situated to use as a base for several days. If you enjoy walking or cycling, make sure to visit the tourist information office on Jury Street to pick-up their pamphlet guides and check-out my posting of English Countryside from Warwick to Royal Leamington Spa. Warwick is situated on the lovely river Avon and also the Grand Union Canal. From Warwick I also took a day trip to the spa town of Cheltenham (also a separate posting) and Stratford-upon-Avon (another posting). Kenilworth Castle is a very short drive or is walkably-nearby, and Coventry is perhaps only 25 minutes by car. Warwick is a lovely town and a strategic sight-seeing location.

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Just some final shots wandering around Warwick.

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