Walking around Shrewsbury, Darwin’s Fine English Town

Shrewsbury is a beautiful medieval market town located near the Border of Wales in Shropshire, England. This “Town of Flowers” makes for a lovely weekend away from the nearby large cities of Birmingham or Liverpool.

I met a friendly local who kindly showed me some of the finer aspects of his handsome hometown. I did not concoct any stories in this birthplace of Charles Darwin as my visit was smooth and amicable. The closest I came to having any excitement was when I discovered that I had left my car window open for two days in a large open public car park and it rained.

Here are some pics from my visit to Shrewsbury in the summer of 2013.

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Located within a loop of the River Severn, Shrewsbury boasts lovely riverside walks and a fun boat tour on the Sabrina.

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It doesn’t get better than this. I love the cute and cozy architecture, it just feels so warm and welcoming. Of course, I was being welcomed by a local for my visit (a rare experience for me) so that didn’t hurt!

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Some of the award-winning flowers in this incredible central park.

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Shrewsbury Castle.

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This photo and any others I am in, was taken by Neil, a friendly Shrewsbury local who showed me the sights.

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From filming here.

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A serene view of the Severn.

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Carved into a bridge.

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I don’t always find a story everywhere I go, but I hope you enjoyed learning a bit about this lovely town anyway. Thanks for visiting http://www.PersonalTravelStories.com!

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Sharings from my Edinburgh Journal of 1997

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I have been trying to write some stories from my latest visit to Edinburgh. I did write thousands of words while I was visiting this past June, nearly all reminiscing about the life I had when I lived there at age 23/24. But there is too much, it is too long. It is not the type of writing that I currently espouse either; it is more rambling than should be a collection of stories about my life in Edinburgh. It’s reads like a memoir, but I don’t want to write a memoir. Not yet. The topic a bit too large for me to yet breech, yesterday I dug out my Journal from the time and started reading. I have no stories yet finished to share with you but I think that sharing some pages from my 1997 Journal might be interesting. (Even though it is like a memoir.)

Pages from my 1997 Journal.

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Before this entry I had Graduated University with a degree in Business Administration. I had organised a 2-year working holiday visa for the UK and spent some months working in London. Then I backpacked a bit through Europe and went home for xmas. While home I decided to upgrade my computer software skills before returning to Europe to try it all again in Edinburgh.

Meeting that man in the tube as I passed through London who gave me that advice (highlighted) proved instrumental in creating my new life in Edinburgh.

I arrived to Edinburgh that Wednesday night, and Friday I accepted a 2-month office contract at a recruitment agency on George Street starting Monday.

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Later that Friday, I found my first flat share in Edinburgh. (Was not March 1st, was Feb 28th.)

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1997 Photo showing windows to the flat, three of which were in my room. (Middle Right)

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Photo taken in 2013 from the corner of the Royal Mile and South Bridge better showing the location of the building, behind the Bank Bar.

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My landlord in London had let me store all my possessions accumulated from my life in London into a locked closet in his building. After I had my flat in Edinburgh I went down to London to retrieve my things to discover that they had been looted. I would later discover that it was looted by my landlord, who tried to give me back my things after the police were involved, but he had very little remaining and nothing left of any worth. TV, VCR, clothes washer, some chairs, framed pictures, lamps, CDs, various decor items, dishes, cutlery, cooking utensils – all the basics were probably easily pawned. My landlord also owned the local taxi company and was known to the driver who I was telling my story to as he drove me back to Victoria Station to return to Edinburgh. I don’t know if my landlord was from Pakistan, I thought he was from India actually.

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I had accepted that I was choosing a noisy flat when I rented in such a lively, central area. But when a friend visited from London, she caused quite a stir and nearly got me kicked out, as remembered in the next two images from my journal.

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One of the things I loved most about living in Europe was the proliferation of the classical arts. In Edinburgh I enjoyed strolling by theatres on a free evening to see if they had rush tickets. As a young person, I could see most performances for only £10 in 1997/1998. My memory poor, I didn’t remember ever seeing Faust until I read this entry. I’m good with some details, but names of plays, music, movies, artists, even things I listen to often – I’m terrible.

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In addition to working in an office, I took a part time evening job at a cafe. It filled my time before I had the pleasure of making friends and also allowed me to save more money for future travels. I enjoyed spending time with my co-workers. In the next entry I mention Karen inviting me and Katie (from South Africa) to visit her family home at Lock Lomond. “Where people shake hands firmly and wonder who you are.”

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Looking down to Katie at Cafe Florentine in the Lyceum Theatre.

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There’s me at 23. Wow was I a bad waiter! Well-intentioned though. That will be a story. But I had a great attitude, which was enough I guess.

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Here it is in 2013, I had lunch there on the patio and enjoyed seeing the office where I worked too, which was just across Lothian Road.

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Kitted with Scottish gear from Karen’s parents to go explore nature and collect some drift wood. Left to Right, Katie, Me, Karen. Sadly, I lost touch with both Karen and Katie. That happened much more in the days before Social Media.

I stopped working at the cafe when it no longer served me (at the office I’d miss our new opportunity of overtime to go work at the cafe, and that meant earning 3 times less). When I left it was just before the Edinburgh Fringe too, and I also didn’t want to entirely miss the Fringe festival to earn less money working more hours. I could add two hours to my regular office day of 7 (35 hrs was full time in Scotland, probably still is), and earn more than working an additional 6 hours at the cafe, which would take my entire evening. It was a no-brainer, although not everyone was pleased.

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Another reason I quit the cafe. I no longer had free evening time I wanted to fill!

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“I sit in a room of familiar strangers.” I quite like this phrase. I guess because we were a new team all starting our first day, we were very familiar with each other anxious to make new friends and start-off on the right foot. This was day one of my second contract with Standard Life. When my first 2-month contract lapsed, I didn’t renew and returned to the personnel agency where I started a new 6-month contract in a different department with a completely different job and in a different building. The change was great and with overtime often available the pay was much-improved too.

I did not remember that I was starting to have arm trouble already by the day I was starting my second position. I also mention having trouble handling the dishes and cleaning (at the cafe) too, which became much worse very quickly. My new physical limitations would have had me leave the cafe very soon had I not already left. Eventually, I even had to buy plastic dishes to handle at home. My arm disability became instrumental in my decision making with the limitations they caused. I would not find out until 1999 that the cause was spinal damage. The condition became completely manageable after learning that.

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Some views from my 1997 photo album.

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Bumbling about the Handsome City of Chester

Bumbling About the Medieval Walled City of Chester by Darren Elliott

Chester is one of those places where I arrived in disbelief. It wasn’t like some outpost in Northern China where I wondered what I had done so wrong to deserve to end up there. It wasn’t shocking in the way that getting-out at the wrong subway station can be in some US cities. It didn’t remind me of my time in Winnipeg or of growing-up in the Kennebecasis Valley. Of being a visible minority in a suburb of London or the only Western person in a school in Japan.

The disbelief came from wondering why I had never heard of this place before. Chester is one of England’s best-preserved walled cities with nearly 3 km of Grade 1 listed walls. First established as somewhere in 79 (that’s 0079, not 1979) by the Romans and having received city status in 1541, this is not some new place for me to have not yet heard about. This is an incredible, handsome city full of character. Chester should long have been on my radar of places to visit, and yet it was only by recent suggestion during my UK travels that it came to be on my hit list.

I had heard of lovely Chester years ago but it didn’t register. My most senior employee when I was a co-owner of a retail business in Winnipeg was from Chester.

Margaret is one of those people with the gift of charm and we were lucky that she wanted to work for us. Friendly and outgoing, interesting and interested, Margaret could while away the hours chatting with customers and neighbours while selling any manner of merchandise. Always impeccably dressed and ready to work, Margaret came from that era when people felt their time at work belonged to their employer. None of the texting, doing homework, mobile phone-using, watching videos or playing games on tablets that younger people might hope to achieve during their employment hours. Between sales Margaret was dusting, sweeping, glass cleaning, watching. We had other excellent staff too, but they weren’t from Chester.

Margaret’s charm was bolstered by her jovial English accent which I had thought was from Manchester. I had known that she had danced with John Lennon, he was in a band called the Quarrymen that performed at a pub in her hometown. (The band later became the Beatles.) That Margaret’s hometown was Chester, a smallish city today of 120,000 people South West of Liverpool near the Welsh border, had never quite connected to my obviously-weak brain tissues. I did not realise I was visiting Margaret’s hometown when I was in Chester, she told me that later, on my blog.

I did come to know that Chester was Paul’s hometown before my visit. Paul was someone who taught for the same board of education as I did, in Matsuyama, Japan. As handsome and impressive as his hometown is, I can see that it may not have had the plethora of career choices he may have wanted since sadly Chester is no longer needed as a base from which to attack Wales. So pros and cons about that. “Let’s attack Wales just for jolly fun!” I am tempted to suggest remembering my very long week in Cardiff this past winter. “Jolly” isn’t even in my vernacular, that’s how enthusiastic I feel just thinking about it. “But Wales is part of Great Britain.” “But is it, really?” “Yes, it is.” “Is it though?” “Yes.” But they were mean to me when I was trying to order sandwiches and stuff. Everywhere I went. All week. Oh never mind, it was just an idea. I bet it would be good for the economy though.

So between knowing Margaret and Paul, I figure I’m practically a son of Chester. Most of the places I’ve visited on my UK adventure I’ve had no connection to whatsoever. Did you know that Princess Diana was also the Countess of Chester? I would have put that above my Princess of Wales title if I were her, but that’s just me holding a grudge. I suppose she had no choice in the matter really. And for some reason when I hear “Countess of Chester” my mind pictures “Court Jester” because of the slight rhyme. So I suppose Princess of Wales has a nicer ring to it, it doesn’t make me giggle.

When my favourite writer, Bill Bryson, passed through Chester, he just passed through. I guess he was saving it for others to write about, he mentions only that he changed trains here. In this beautiful town of medieval buildings, many restored during the Victorian era and still absolutely picturesque. How could he have passed this lovely town and not felt compelled to capture it in his entertaining way for time immemorial. He can’t have been well. Under the weather. Temporarily blinded. I’m not complaining, his act would have been very hard to follow.

Chester is perhaps most famous for it’s Rows. These are very interesting and unique structures. All in medieval style, basically there must have been some type of agreement between the landowners that each independent building in a row would have a built-in walkway. These are within the structure linking building-to-building on the level above ground. This was a very early form of multi-story shopping where one would promenade along one row of shops and dwellings on the ground level, and another row of shops and dwellings on the level above. The walkways are not uniform and are obviously of separate construction. As one passes from one building to the next there are changes in height, dimension, and building styles; it’s a very interesting arrangement.

Pondering Bryson’s surprising exclusion I find a place to wait for the little antique double-decker bus that has a narrated tour by costumed guides. I have seen this little contraption here-and-there putting about the city. It is quaint and cute and I want a turn. It has arrived to the departure point but I am told to wait. If others do not come, there will be no more tours today. Sitting there, a mother and her grown daughter swoop in beside me. “BHS is British Home Stores and I’m sure they’ll have it. Just wait here and I’ll be back for you,” says the daughter as she merrily wanders off down the high street. “I’ll be here with Mondrian,” her mother replies, referring to my socks. Pretty ones I got in NYC. Having fun socks is enough for this woman to decide that I must be a decent sort of fellow.

Now I might have used the term “swoop” loosely. I meant it in more of a trudging, painfully-slow, dragging-ones-limbs, laborious sort-of-way. The mother, who looks to be shy of 60, is, how can I put this delicately, mammoth. A very large woman who has become nearly immobile and steps with the aid of a large walker. Very friendly and amicable, we start chatting before her ample weight has even met the bench. (No, it didn’t break. How rude of you to think that. You’ve gotten me completely off topic. Again. Bad reader.)

“Are you here with the cruise ship?” I ask. I had just completed a walking-tour with a group of Albertans who came off a large ship docked today in nearby Liverpool. The entire town seems to be abuzz with the sudden influx of hundreds of visitors who arrived all at once and soon will be departing in a flash mob to return to port before curfew. In a matter of minutes half the people wandering the streets will have suddenly vanished. “We are, are you too?” “No, I’ve been here for a couple of days. I’m touring around by car.” “By yourself?” “Sure.” “I’ve never done that, I always bring one of my daughters with me. I’ve run-out of friends to invite, I travel as much as I can afford to. It’s always been my thing, my friends and family think I’m nuts! I used to travel with my husband until he passed a few years ago.”

“So, do you mostly take cruises?” “No, I prefer rock climbing and adventure travel. Last year my other daughter and I hiked the Inca trail to Machu Picchu.” “Oh, I’ve been there too!” “I was kidding.” “Oh, yes. Ha, ha.”

“I LOVE cruises,” she continues, “I’ve been all over the world on cruise ships. I get all sorts of perks now, with the cruise company I’m with this time I have their top status, that’s for having more than 150 days of cruising with them.” “Wow! That’s a lot of days!” “Sure is,” she acknowledges proudly. “My husband, rest his soul, was a large man. One of the cruise companies didn’t treat him well with his mobility issues, so I don’t use that company anymore.” We continue talking about cruising as I have only travelled on one so far and I am happy to learn more from this veteran of the seas.

The conversation comes around to my travels and I tell her that I am planning on taking a road trip around her country soon. “You must visit my beautiful valley, it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world.” Well, she would know. “I live in the Shenandoah Valley of West Virginia.” “Like the song?” “That’s the one!” I had thought the song came from Ireland’s longest river, the River Shannon. And that “doah” was a word for “river” like “loch” was for “lake”. Turns out I was completely mistaken in this assumption. But then I only ever knew the first two lines of the song. Every time I sang those lines, as an actor, I thought my character was pining for his homeland across the ocean. I never got to the end of the verse and I never actually heard the song apart from what I sang.

One summer during university I had a summer job in Fredericton as a park performer. I was a member of a troop called the “Calithumpians”, we wrote and performed some historical plays for tourists in a downtown park. In one show there was a brief mention of Ireland and in lament I suddenly burst into song, “Oh Shenandoah, I long to see you, away you rolling river . . . ” before being pulled-back to the action by another actor. The song itself seems to have been made popular by the Irish Tenors too, so I am surprised today in researching it online to find that yes, in all it’s variations of lyrics it is indeed from the Shenandoah Valley of West Virginia. This well-travelled woman’s homeland.

Click on the video below to hear me sing the first two lines of Shenandoah. (If you received this story be email it should open it in a browser.)

We must have chatted for at least twenty minutes before the coach tour was cancelled and I took my leave. “It’s been great chatting with you!” I said as I stood up. Walking away I added, “I hope that I’m you in thirty years!” Now, I am in my fortieth year and I look that or more. If she paid attention to my comment and added 30 years to my appearance, she might have thought about that for a long time. Another kind and thoughtful remark put out into the universe by yours truly. I don’t know how I said that! I was trying to leave with a complement, I had very much enjoyed chatting with this friendly, interesting American woman while she waited for her daughter. The two of us were from small towns and were both enthralled with seeing as much of the world as we could. Of course she would realise that I had meant that I hoped to be her with regards to the extent of her travels, which exceeded my own, and not with regards to her being a young widowed grandmother or for her substantial girth which weighed her down so that cruising was really her only option for travel. “That Canadian guy must have thought I looked like I’m in my seventies! Do I really look that old? We seemed like such kindred spirits, he and I. Why would he say that?”

Kicking myself, I circle back thinking to somehow mend my departing comment but I am too late. Coaches are already filling to take everyone back to port. I see her from afar, as do two older local woman standing near me. “Bless ‘er, she’s as big as a bus,” one of them says, her hand over her face. “Oh my word, don’t look now, she’s trying to get in one,” gasps her friend.

A deep thinker and a student of life, I often look back on experiences to try and find the deeper meaning, the life lesson that the universe is trying to teach me. Perhaps even the real reason that I find myself in Chester today. After only a few minutes I have my “ah-ha” moment.

Next time I happen upon Mondrian socks I really should buy a few more pair because they really do go with just about everything.

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I stayed at a B&B called the Chester Townhouse on this lane. I enjoyed staying there, pleasant hosts and a warm environment.

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Here you can see the unique feature of the Rows. What looks like open balconies are openings on to the above-ground common walkway.

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Another view showing the Rows.

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Walking along the above-ground walkway.

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Click on the image below to see some kind of exercise commercial that was being filmed in from of the town hall.

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A view from walking along the city walls.

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School trips were here and there being led by costumed guides.

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One of the things I miss most when I leave the UK are the pedestrian zones. Every city should have one.

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Another photo looking down from the city walls.

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The antique bus tour I missed from waiting until my last afternoon to take it. I guess I’ll have to go back another time.

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Mondrian Sock.

Click on the image below to play a video of someone practicing piano inside St John’s Church.

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Resting back at the Chester Town House.

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Leeds, A City for Shopping and Architecture

Leeds 2013

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I long remember name of the city of Leeds from a play in University in which I played a ridiculous Welsh director of a small Operatic Society, Dafydd Ap Llewelyn. I think it was my lead male auditionee who I continually interrupted, every time the piano played his introduction to start I just couldn’t help but to jump-in myself with a lovely little Welsh translation of “All Through the Night”. My auditionee was from Leeds, I read it out from his application with a strong sense of disapproval. The way I said “Leeeeeds” with my nose wrinkled and voice lowered always got a laugh. I don’t remember being directed to turn my nose up at Leeds but it seemed obvious by the writing that my character might consider it to be somewhere that was below his standards. The play was “A Chorus of Disapproval” by Alan Ayckbourn.

I never heard anything of Leeds reputation throughout the years. The week before my visit my Aunt Jenny told me on Facebook that she was born and spent her first years there. I didn’t know that about my Aunt who was married to my Dad’s late brother Harold all of my life until Uncle Harold was taken from us by a heart attack a few years ago. I knew her English mother too a bit as I was friends with Aunt Jenny’s niece, Joanna. Granny Franny lived in a grandmother’s suite in Jo’s family home. In fact, Joanna was in the above-mentioned play with me; it was put-on by the Drama Department of the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. I was a student of Business Administration, but I took my electives in English, Psychology, and Drama. This meant I had no major, but I did fine in business without a major anyway. A major would make one more employable though, the most lucrative choice after accounting at the time was the very new industry of IT. “No, I think I’ll take Drama and Creative Writing instead,” I remember telling my guidance counsellor that year. She didn’t think that the best choice, but I figured since I was studying business when I’d rather be studying arts at least I could have a little bit of arts and I still get the business degree even if devalued by having no major. (I ended-up just shy of having enough credits for a Bachelor of Business Administration with a minor in Drama, but I’m not sure they make those anyway.)

I arrived this afternoon in Leeds after spending the day in the beautiful spa townn of Harrogate. An unfortunate contrast, Harrogate attracts a formal senior crowd who enjoy the many tea rooms, promenades, and lovely English gardens. I may just be an old woman trapped in a 39-year-old man’s body so that was rather my scene. I am quite happy for the excitement in my day to be having room for dessert at Betty’s Tea Room, a locally-famous Yorkshire Chain that originated in Harrogate. Sadly I am not kidding, visiting the original Betty’s was high on my list of things to do when visiting the lovely spa town of Harrogate.

I arrive to my hotel in Leeds and park what to me seems like a small car but what in the UK is a very wide car. £14 ($20) per night my hotel charges for the privilege of using their car park and normal cars don’t even fit. The receptionist talks me closer and closer until my car is a hand-width from the car next to me. I don’t know how the last person who parks is going to get out of his car, nor how I will enter mine if there are cars parked on both sides when I need to get in. The hotel is in an industrial building but refurbished quite modern and to very nice effect.

I make my way to the tourist information centre where they are not at all helpful. This feels a contrast to the warm and friendly service I have come to expect in central England. In this city of nearly 4 times the population of York, they can not refer me to a bus tour or a walking tour or any kind of tour whatsoever that I can join tomorrow or anytime. Must sees? Well that depends what you’re interested in. There’s lots of shopping. This seems not to be a tourist destination. They don’t even know a direction where they should point a tourist to. I leave with some maps but no real idea of what there might be to do or see other than shopping.

My first impression on the streets is of being in a rougher place. I notice more guys, always guys, sat on the sidewalk asking for my spare change. They seem to think that they deserve my custom, when I ignore them they seem to think I have simply not heard their request for funds. I give to one fellow who then walks alongside me. I know he is bad news and I try to get away. He asks for £10 to buy a week bus pass. No, sorry. I just gave him £2 ($3), can’t he just thank me and let me go? He doesn’t want to relent. Finally I circumnavigate a bench where two girls are sitting, I am trying to get away from this guy. It ends poorly, me yelling at him to leave me alone, that he should be embarrassed to harass a visitor to his city and give such a poor impression. He walks away and the girls throw me dirty looks. I feel badly for being so harsh, but it was what I was thinking and how I was feeling. He and others have now soiled my first minutes walking around this city. My first impression makes me want to retreat to my nice hotel but I don’t.

The shopping here is incredible. Who is buying these luxury goods? Not the people I see around me late on a Monday afternoon certainly. These shoppers are heading straight to Poundland and McDonalds. Perhaps Leeds is a shopping destination for visitors. Very near to York, I bet people from York probably come here to shop. I was surprised to hear that the receptionist who helped me park has never taken the 20-minute train ride to visit York. I cannot even imagine. I took a much longer route going through Harrogate from York to Leeds, but it was still a very short journey. It’s so close that people might live in one and work in the other.

Perhaps the shoppers of these goods are weekend shoppers, that would make sense. Nine-to-fivers. Professionals and business people. I suppose I won’t seem them about during my brief two-night stay so I am destined to get a continued dim view of this former industrial town. I am much impressed by the architecture though, Leeds has lots of beautiful architecture stock in what is now a very large shopping district. A stately town hall. Gorgeous rows of buildings strewn everywhere.

I have dinner at GBK. “Have you eaten at GBK before?” My brain scans through memories, I know I have, where was that, I can see the empty pedestrian shopping street in the evening, wide and modern, it was another shopping district that seemed out of place for the locals. . . . .”I have, in Cardiff in January!” Well done, brain. Well done.

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If someone parks in the last parking spot, which is on my other side, I don’t know how I’ll get in. “Can you get it a little closer?” No.
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The Ellington Hotel seemed to be inside an old warehouse, but was modern and comfortable.
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A patio with doors that fully open to the fresh air!
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As in Birmingham, I enjoy the new and old contrasting each other.
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In this and the following photos you can see some of the beautifully restored Victorian shopping arcades.
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I don’t mean to be rude, but where are the shoppers for these high-end stores? I don’t see anyone who looks like they shop at these stores, including myself.
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The Newest “Trinity” Shopping Centre
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“The Light”, mostly cinema and restaurants.
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Some shoppers enjoy a wee break.
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Yummy, the Wellington, and angus burger with portobello mushroom and horseradish sauce. Burger restaurants that serve wine deserve awards, I think it’s harder to get liquor licenses in Canada because I do not remember this happiness at Hero or the like. I could be mistaken. I’m sure in Quebec you could though. Canada is very odd with different restrictions province-to-province.
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Back at my hotel I am told that the shopping district in Leeds is second only to London and that yes, people do come here specifically for shopping trips from all over the UK. Much cheaper than visiting London, if you come here you can use most of your cash for the shopping. Makes sense. It’s not like in Yorkville, a shopping area in Toronto where the people are wandering about wearing the couture you see for sale alongside. No one here looks like they shop in any of these stores. There’s nothing wrong with that, I don’t either, it’s just incongruous.

Later I read, “Join footballer’s wives on shopping sprees in the high-end arcades of. . .” Ah, the notorious footballer’s wives. The British are crazy for football, the sport North Americans know as soccer. Like all sports that has fanatical fans, the players are ridiculously paid. Taking shopping trips to Leeds to try to burn-off some of that cash could be a full-time job, even when touting £3000 handbags and filling shopping bags with £200 t-shirts. And they could avoid all that annoying culture and sophistication of London. I can see the appeal, Leeds has all the shopping with none of the pretension.

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I have a first-time experience here in Leeds. Walking through busy crowds, a grown man, seemingly able-bodied, looks to be on his way back to work. Near to 50, wearing a trench coat, appropriate for the on-again off-again rain. Here’s what happens. He coughs a great, chesty, wet cough right in to my face. I am covered by his spray. I am too shocked to react but I stop in my tracks. He bumps into me as he continues past.

I am absolutely disgusted. Maybe his arms don’t work? Perhaps he’s actually very mentally challenged but hides it well? I did meet someone at Castle Howard who was a regally-dressed woman and when she opened her mouth she sounded like a 5-year old. “I really like your shirt because yellow is my favourite colour,” she had run over to tell me. Very sweet. She had the posture of a cave-girl and had a handler with her who was of average appearance. Perhaps years of nobility in-breeding, I thought. The gene pool too narrowed. She had looked like she stepped out of a film set, so lovely was her sun dress, hair, and bag.

But today near the train station in Leeds, I cannot imagine what ignorance would cause someone to seemingly intentionally discharge directly into someone’s face. Square-on. At close proximity. I can remember when my own arms didn’t work, I wrote about this briefly in one of my Edinburgh postings because I was living there when it happened. I would have at minimum pulled out of the crowd to cough into nothing and if possible (ie. were I able to stop a moment in a moving crowd) I would have bent over to cough into my lap. He must be a sociopath. He’s sick and he wants to make others sick. I’m really going to hate this place if I get sick now.

The closest experience this reminds me of happened in Harbin, a city of about 3 million in Northern China, about a decade ago. I was walking down the street on my way to work when a huge ball of garlicky phlegm splat on my face. It was an enormous, warm goober. It was so big that after hitting my face it trailed all the way down my clothes before settling on my shoe. I am gagging now as I write about it. But this was possibly far more innocent. Completely thoughtless and careless, but less intentional than this face-to-face assault. Someone had spit out their window over the busy sidewalk. It may have been in malice too, but at that time people were spitting all the time in Harbin. Even inside trains and buses, shopping arcades, public buildings. It certainly was not limited to the outdoors.

How can people spit so much? I wondered that because I never spit myself, except at the dentist when he tells me to, or at the end of brushing my teeth. But that’s mostly water and dental stuff, not great gobs of secreted slime. I never have occasion to spit, it’s not as though I use my willpower to stop myself from spitting, the thought doesn’t pass through my head, “Wouldn’t it be nice to spit now.” Additionally, it seemed to be a (mostly) male condition. So I looked for causes of this behaviour. For one, around the world women tend to be more polite and conscientious than men anyway, so that explains the high male to female ratio of spitters adequately for me. Women tend to have stronger empathy, they can see themselves more as the other than can an average man. I think that is why we so often use that low “stupid voice” when quoting men. Even men sometimes use the “stupid voice” when quoting other men.

One main cause for the great amount of spitting was the chewing of tobacco, but that kind of spit is apparent. It’s brownish. This also supports the sex ratio, since I have only on occasion seen women chewing tobacco. Those who do also have the look of having generally given-up on life and any possibility of having a feminine demeanour. But brownish spit seems to account for well-less than half of all spit I encounter in Harbin.

I found my second answer in a type of pickle-relish that the Northern Chinese eat with many meals. It also explains the garlic stink-slime that covered my face that unforgettable morning. I made the discovery when I forced myself to eat this harsh-tasting pickle (chutney-like concoction) with my breakfast. I was being polite, my host was saying, “Try it, it’s so delicious! No, take more!”. Perhaps deep-down he was punishing me. Anyway, when I ate this pickle-relish it made me barely able to swallow. It gummed-up my saliva for an hour or more and I was constantly clearing my throat and feeling the need to spit. I nearly felt like I was choking on my own thick, disgusting saliva. I never accepted eating that pickle again, I would just poke at it and pretend to have some.

I know that Chinese government tightened it’s reins on spitting before hosting the Beijing Olympics. It must be lovely to stroll down the streets today, not a care in the world with no fear of being slimed anonymously from above. I should go back again.

There were education campaigns and spitting police giving fines to violators as they tried to stamp-out this bad habit. It could have been fun making the slogans. “See that rubbish that you just dropped in the street? Now, don’t also spit on the street.” One thing at a time. I was always shocked when doing things with well-educated Chinese when they’d have a chocolate bar and just drop the wrapper wherever they were. Or have a bottled drink and truly just toss the bottle to the side as they continued walking. The same happened a lot in India. Walking down the street with University students I met I am carrying an empty bottle to put into a bin should I ever encounter one. “Just drop it, that’s what everyone does.” “I know they do, but I just can’t” Then the same people blame the government for there being rubbish all over the streets. It’s probably a bit difficult to pick-up after more than a billion people, true for both India and China.

It’s unfortunate, I will probably always remember Leeds as the city where a professional-looking man hacked right into my face and left me stood there in shock. In 2013, I might add. NOT 1713 before germs were invented.*

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The handsome Post Office building stands off a square near the Train Station in Leeds.20130625-173813.jpg
There is no shortage of handsome listed buildings in Leeds. I read that the number of listed buildings is 2nd only to London. I also read this “fact” in Birmingham so I’m not sure. Let’s just say that they both have lots of fantastic architecture.

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I go through a list in the “This is Leeds” book provided in my hotel room. “Ten Reasons to Love this City.” It seems like they had a hard time coming up with the ten things, but here is my abbreviated interpretation.

1. Lots of shopping.
2. Some nice restaurants.
3. Some good bars.
4. A concert that took place here performed by The Who in 1970 was made into an album. (Really? This is a reason to love Leeds today? Sounds more like a piece of trivia than anything.)
5. Yorkshire Dales are not too far. (Yes they are lovely, but they are not in Leeds, so that’s a bit of a stretch.)
6. A good Art Gallery
7. Leeds Carnival in August. (Doesn’t help me in June.)
8. Leeds International Concert Season, September-May. (See comment for number 7.)
9. The Carling Festival is near Leeds in August. (That’s lovely, but it’s not in Leeds and also – See comment for number 7, which now also applies to 8 & 9)
10. One of UK’s largest rep theatres.

Basically, when you come here to shop, you will be able to enjoy a good meal and possibly find some entertainment. Unless you come in June.

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Someone did not do a great job on that list. I would certainly have, “Lots of fabulous architecture” high on the list.

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I don’t know what Pleasure Time was but it sounds naughty.

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Like “Pleasure Time” this Horse and Carriage Repository seems to have become redundant.

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Sadly, I think the converse might also be true. I imagine my visit to the information centre from the point-of-view of the workers. “There’s lots of great shops,” they had informed me when I first inquired what one should see in Leeds. “I don’t really want to do any more shopping, ” I had replied.

If the tourist worker had cared, I could see this playing-out like a skit on Little Britain. I imagine the tourist worker calling head office with this conundrum. “I have a gentleman here from Canada who says that he doesn’t want to shop. What should I tell him?”

“Yes, he seems to know that he has come to Leeds. Yes, intentionally. No, I don’t think he’s lost, I think he came specifically here to look around the city. He seems surprised that there are no tours whatsoever that he can join, not a bus tour, not a walking tour, nothing. Yes. Yes. I know. Right, there is that occasional walking tour so I gave him the number for that guy rather than call myself to have that information here. I doubt he’d be doing anything on a weekday anyway, he didn’t before. Yeah, I only have the information for up to last week. I can’t be bothered really, I mean if people come here not to shop I don’t know what they expect. No, he doesn’t seem mentally unwell, not that I can tell. Hmmm? Right. No, I haven’t asked him if he’s a football fan yet. He’s shaking his head, he doesn’t want to see our (soccer) stadium. He’s not interested in the art museum either, he wants to see some local flavour rather than a world collection of works, apparently he travels a lot and has seen a few museums already. Yes, I have told him that this is an excellent centre for the performance arts between September and May. Since there’s nothing on this month he’s not that interested. Yup. He is, definitely. One of those American-types who expects us to help them plan their time in Leeds, as if I have nothing better to do than to hand out maps and give out sight-seeing advice. Yeah, yeah, I know that’s my job description, I’m just sayin’. I know, I know, well I would suggest maybe he’s come to the wrong place but he only just arrived today. There must be something we can suggest because he just won’t give-up already. No, I don’t think he’s fat enough to try out one of the private medical facilities advertising in our tourist information book by having lipo. Well, now that I take a better look. . . . just a second, I’ll just ask him . . . . he’s shaking his head no, oh he’s leaving now. Excellent, thanks for your help! Bye-bye!”

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I found the Market Stalls at Leeds City Kirkgate Market interesting, more so than all the chain stores certainly.

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Inside the Leeds City Kirkgate Markets. This is where Marks & Spencer’s started, as a stall!

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Behind the City Markets is an Outdoor Market.
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If I had visited Leeds directly from Canada I would have been impressed with the architecture and found the local culture an interesting change from what I’m used to. As it is however, arriving after 8 weeks of visiting towns, cities, and villages throughout the UK I am more comparing this apple to other apples and it really does come-up short. If you love shopping, this may be the best place in Great Britain for that, much cheaper than London but with many of it’s stores. Apart from that, I would not plan to return myself.

It’s not a bad place, it’s just not for me. I don’t know how many times I was asked for change and stopped by people with clip boards. Mostly I ignored them or tried to, but sometimes they saw an easy target in my slow wander as I tried to take in the sights. Also being alone makes an even easier target, and perhaps here I look well heeled. But when you spend most of the day wandering about zig-zagging through all the streets, you encounter a lot of this here. Far too much, in fact. The last one asked me a dozen questions about travelling between English cities before it was all voided with the question, “How long have you lived in Leeds?” “Well why didn’t you say so! This is a local survey!” I didn’t know why she had charged across the pedestrian street to block my way and interrupt me with a survey, probably for a budget airline or coach service, but I didn’t find out. And anyway, did I really look and sound like a local? Were there no hints, possible indicators in my manner of speech that might have given her pause to ask before unnecessarily detaining me?

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Along the River Aire in Leeds.

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It isn’t possible to go very far along the river, it’s not been redone in the way it has in Birmingham.

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The handsome Town Hall.

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Just some random lovely architecture throughout the city centre.

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Wow. Look at those windows! I’m not a traditionalist, but my goodness aren’t they an interesting choice.

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Oh my, I seem to have stepped out of the zone.

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I tend to notice things that locals have never seen before. Look at these interesting smoke stacks, or something?

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Picked-up this hat today because I didn’t think to wear one and my goodness, the sun was out ALL DAY!

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Big Building – Little Building – New Building – Old Building.

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I got some odd looks when taking this photo, but it’s a great natural composition.

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*Yes, I know germs were discovered and not invented. I was being silly.
**UPDATE: Three days later and I am sick. My throat is killing me and I can hardly swallow. I hope it doesn’t last too long.

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Beautiful English Countryside of the North York Moors from staying in a Country Hotel

This is a very short posting. I may change my posts to become weekly from now as to have more time to work on each story and improve the quality overall. Expect some more interesting stories coming soon!

I stayed in a beautiful country hotel near to Scarborough in the North York Moors. Sadly, I would not recommend this hotel no matter it’s lovely surrounds due to the extreme incompetence of it’s staff unless you are looking for a Faulty Towers type of experience. I did write a piece during my stay there but it seems to have completely disappeared.

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View of the country hotel from the car park.

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A lovely view from the grounds of the hotel.

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The lovely dining room where I had breakfast the first day. I didn’t bother to have the included breakfast on my second day though.

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WIFI was available in the well-appointed bar. This was a place where we were off the grid, no cellular signal here so WIFI was the only communication available with the outside world.

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This was a lovely place to sit and work. Less so in memory if you later lose your work, as in my case.

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Despite being advertised, lunch was not available. The ducks asked me to share my veggie snacks that I had brought with me but then spit them out. Click on the next image to view a short video.

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Hiking on little trails around the property.

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A hotel guest fishing for mackerel.

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Another view of the hotel.

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The charming green lounge off the main hall near reception.

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Looking across the pond.

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So beautiful, but I do warn that the staff were very untrained as of my visit in June, 2013. It was as if none of them had ever been to an inn or hotel before. Or the people in charge had gone to get some eggs and never returned. Some years previous.

Thank you for reading my blog! I hope you will look around and click on “Follow” at the bottom right of your screen so you don’t miss an adventure! One easy click to unfollow so it’s no risk. Cheers! Darren

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The Waterfront of the Handsome City of Liverpool – Liverpool Part 2

I am still unwell on the day I have allocated to visit Liverpool’s impressive waterfront so this is just a few pics and explanations. I am staying very nearby, just around the corner from the stately Royal Liver Building and the Cunard Building so I have no distance at all to make my way over from Castle Street.

Liverpool’s waterfront stands on the River Mersey and faces the city of Merseyside opposite. There are tunnels under the water rather than bridges over, as well as ferries that cross the river. It’s a shame that my energy is low, there is so much to do here. There are lots of interesting and entertaining options but I will partake of very little this visit.

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(Even my hair looks sickly! I feel horrid today!)
Behind me to the left is the Cunard building and to the right is the Port of Liverpool Building. (The Cunard Line today is a British-American enterprise but was originally founded by a Canadian, Samuel Cunard of Nova Scotia, in 1839. Throughout it’s history of transition, the Cunard family mostly owned the line throughout various it’s incarnations until 1998 when it was purchased by Carnival. ) Some distance behind but appearing to the right of that is the red brick building that is the White Star Building. The White Star Line head office, it was from this building that a very famous announcement was made to the media below.

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A closer side-view to the White Star Building from which the world officially learned that the Titanic had sunk.
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A better picture of these waterside buildings, from left to right: the Royal Liver Building which holds the LARGEST clock face in Great Britain (yes bigger than the one on in London paired with the bell of Big Ben), the Cunard Building, and the Port of Liverpool Building.

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A great view through a window of the Tate gives better perspective of these buildings. Closer to us are some of Liverpool’s many museums and galleries, the one on the left is the Museum of Liverpool. Notice the maintenance crew on the black building furthers to the right, there are two tiny people in the basket at the top of the mechanical arm that show the scope of the building.
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More views of the Museum of Liverpool.
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And closer of these galleries.
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Colourful sculptures alongside the Museum of Liverpool.
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A view of Albert Dock, the largest collections of Grade 1 listed buildings in the UK. Surrounding 2.75 hectares of water, this is also a World Heritage Sight.
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The enormous orange columns are actually cast-iron.20130701-183038.jpg20130701-183121.jpg20130701-183142.jpg20130701-183210.jpg
I have my lunch waterside at Revolution, a cafe named after the Beatles.
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I am dragging myself about, such a shame to be unwell during travels but it’s bound to happen sometimes. As I mentioned already, there are lots of interesting places to visit. The only one I end-up actually visiting is the Tate Liverpool. I choose to do this because it is having the first exhibition in 15 years of Marc Chagall. When I was 22 and backpacking alone through Europe I stayed a few days at a hotel in Nice in the South of France where one of the highlights for me was visiting the Chagall museum there.
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Visiting the exhibit on the 4th floor also had the added benefit of providing some great views. The photos from a higher vantage point in this posting were taken through windows of the Tate Liverpool.20130701-184126.jpg
Looking down at the mud at the waters edge from Albert Dock.
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Looking across the river to Merseyside.

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There are numerous souvenir shops along the dock and I am able to find some gifts for family at home. This artistic creation at a sweets shop is made of jelly beans.

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More views around Albert Dock.

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After a short day of sight seeing I collapse on my bed back at 62 Castle. I did not visit The Beatles Story as planned, I did not take a bus tour or a walking tour, the only gallery I visited I only viewed one specific exhibition. I was not able to go out and socialise to meet any Scousers or Liverpudlians who are famous for being warm, friendly, and hospitable so I don't have any fun personal stories from here. In a note, I need to visit Liverpool again if I am to really experience this handsome city.


Click on the image above to enjoy some street busking.