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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Walking around the lovely city of York, Part One

Walking Tours of York

I joined my first walking tour of York the morning after I arrived. A very relieved Doris, originally from Scarborough she moved here in 1982, was happy to see me. A woman of about 70 years, it wasn’t me in particular she was happy to see. It was just if I had not arrived she would have made the effort to come into the centre of York for no purpose. The walking tours have a minimum 2-person policy. This is not for the financial aspect primarily but because situations have the potential to become awkward when it’s one-on-one. “I wouldn’t trust Doris alone either!” I laugh as she turns red and gives me a gentle elbow with a big smile.

I have enjoyed the few walking tours I have encountered over the past 7 weeks travelling in England so when I saw the elaborate collection of tours available here in York I was quite excited. Some tours are run more than others so I have strategically chosen one or two walks for each day I am here. It could be that I end-up with other plans, but I am happy to have these starting out.

Our tour, “Mansion, Cellar, and Priest Hole,” starts with a location that is only appropriate for a handful of walkers at best, probably four would be the most that could attend this one as a group. Our guide unlocks a gate, followed by a door, followed a small stair and then by another door at the back of The Parish Church of All Saints North Street. This is not something I could have stumbled upon on my own, I don’t have keys to this section of the church.

Up the stairs we stand in a small storage room with boxes, spare candelabras, a monitor, and active WIFI hub. It has lovely windows matching the church although this is a later addition. A small square trap door of perhaps just over a square foot opens into the church on it’s rear wall high above the floor.

Until the 1960’s, this church had resident hermits living here. The hermit could enjoy the services and comings and goings of the church without having to actually move amongst the people. Imagine, until so recently. Our guide, Warwick, describes Hermits as being religious recluses. Some hermits had a tendency to prophetic words so in some cases it was beneficial to have the services of a resident hermit to predict the death of kings or the overthrow of churches and such. He tells us that there are 6 such dwellings attached to churches within the city of York. But it is a bit rare to see inside one, he has not taken guests here in some months. Our group size dictated this inclusion on our tour.

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We don’t just visit this church, our guide has the keys to allow us entrance to the private areas attached.
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This odd little attachment to the church does not block any window while creating a living space for a hermit who can view church activities through a spy hole. (Called “Priest Hole”)
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Today, the hermit quarters is used for storage and such. However, this was a living quarter into the 1960’s!
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Also interesting in this photo is the pulley system to lift the elaborate font cover for when the font is needed for baptisms. Notice the dark square towards the top left of the window where the rope also meets the wall; that is the shuttered door into the hermits quarter from which the hermit could spy on the activity below.
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Main areas of the church.
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Here is another pulley system. This one lowers these ropes to within reach to ring the system of bells.
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A placard informs us that spectacles are very rare to be seen in medieval glass.
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Our tour continues in to a tudor building with the name place “Jacob’s Well”. This building had a varied history that Warwick explains to us and shows us by drawing diagrams as we sit inside sipping a coffee. In the Bible there is a story where Jacob went to a well where he met his future wife Rachel. In one of this building’s carnations it was a pub. The name of Jacob’s Well suggested that it was a place for gentleman to come for drinks and to find wives. Except not wives, in this case they also added some bedrooms upstairs to facilitate those meetings.

At some periods this building was used as church rooms, it has experienced various renovations throughout the years to become what it is today.

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“Jacob’s Well”
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This lovely front door was constructed in 1905, perhaps from reclaimed materials. A kitchen now stands on the other side of the original entry door.
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Here you can see the original exterior wall and exterior door which now leads to the kitchen at the side.
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This emblem and number place was originally on the exterior of the house. This was to show that the owners had paid for fire insurance. In case of a fire, a private brigade of that company would come to the rescue. If they couldn’t find the emblem they would pass on by.
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The original certificate that ties to the fire insurance remains.
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We have time for one more sight on this 90-minute walk. We now happen to the Mansion. Over the main entrance is the sign “ace York”. Warwick points out features from the street that could be easily overlooked. Slight non-symmetry of the windows. Holes where a second gas lamp would have been suspended. A cut-out in the iron work where coal could be poured down a chute.

Today this is a boutique hostel. He is known to reception and they are happy to let us take a look about. One could never happen off the street, be allowed to poke around and know all the odd little corners and hallways and doors he takes us through. Our guide shows us evidence here and there of this having been two homes combined to make one larger one. This was the city home of a family who had their estate in the country. They would have stayed here for a month or two at a time during their city stays.

We wander up the staircases to see the attic rooms where house-staff would have housed and wander through the now-finished basement that originally contained a kitchen of the smaller of the two joined homes, as well as storage rooms, wine cellar, and such.
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The front of this gentry pied a terre that was originally two smaller homes.
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Originally the dining room, now this is the dining hall.
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Who’s that? Oh, it’s me!
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The gorgeous main staircase with three variations of palisades.
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Wonderful ceiling details at the top of the main staircase.
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This view from one of the upper floors showcases the lovely York Train Station. *CORRECTION: I was misinformed, Dorris had told me and our guide agreed but they were mistaken. It is so easy to have these mistakes happen because how do you know someone is wrong with their information. Anyway, it is a nearby hotel, Cedar Court Grand Hotel and Spa. I walked past it the next day. When you see any such mistakes in my postings, please do point them out in the comments so I can fix them. It’s impossible not to have some mistakes when presenting information about different places all the time, it’s not like I am an expert on one specific place that I talk about over and over so that a mistake would be shocking. ((Sorry, I had several really rude correction notes from Indian residents who said I was lying about some facts (I was accused of lying about place names and some names of buildings. Not sure why I’d do that.) rather than accepting that I made a few mix-ups.))
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At the conclusion of our walk Doris walks me to the centre near to where we started and helpfully points me towards the information centre. I stop for lunch at Browns, sitting in an open central square where I key in this account before attending my next walking tour at 2:15. I hope I meet Doris again this week, she is keen to explore her city of 31 years. She too had not been to the three locations we visited today.
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This gentleman played the violin near my table where I had lunch in the square. Sadly, I had no coin left and my smallest bill was a £10 ($15) which was a bit too much to show my appreciation.
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After dining, I took this photo of the area as I left.
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Afternoon Tour

I joined a tour called “Snickelways” in the afternoon of my first day in York. The word Snickelways was coined in 1982 as a combination of three words that refer to the tiny little pedestrian alleys that exist here and there throughout the city of York. In Edinburgh they were called Closes.

We had a very dramatic tour guide who was passionate about history and historic details. In fact, he was so dedicated to showing us the wonderful attributes of this city that our tour went over by nearly an hour.
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This tour was far too long and too details to possibly remember all the things we saw. 90 minutes would have been a better stopping point.
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A bit of York University. This coat of arms currently being refurbished.
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An entrance into what was the walled city.
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Here is our first Snickelway!
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One comes upon the very imposing York Minister when wandering the narrow streets.
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According to our guide, this is one of two cathedrals in the world with it’s own police force. The other is the Vatican.
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What! Who’s that!
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I am sure he said something interesting here, but then there was fully two more hours of him presenting us facts and figures and my brain dumped much of what he said.
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That’s my excuse and I am sticking to it.
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Some shots around York as we wandered about.
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Most interesting to me about this medieval room is the fire area in the middle of the floor, fire places with chimneys were only invented in the 1500’s!
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Another snickelway.
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This lane was originally called “Groppe Cunte”. Yes, they did mean what it sounded like, it was a street of brothels and they highlighted that in the street name. Don’t blame me for being crass, I am just the middleman. (Later, another guide said that Grape was more simply changed from Grope and that there are Grape Streets all over Great Britain that have been changed from their initial spelling which was to help travellers find the local lanes of “women of negotiable affections”.)
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The reason he included this church wasn’t for the church but for what was in it’s front garden.
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No, not this, silly. This is just the back garden where they put the dead people. Who, according to our guide, number more than 1.5 million in York. That’s a lot of fertilizer.
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Oh my goodness, birds of prey on leashes. That little guy to the right behind the sign is a real owl!
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I was really surprised how calm these owls were to be approached and held.
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We are told that when walls sit on top of the floor boards overhanging the wall below, it creates a stress on the boards that keeps the floors within straighter and in need of less floor joists.
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At one point the many priests of York Minster lived separately. It became known that some of them were leading secular lives of playing cards and visiting ladies and such. At some point it was ordered for them all to live together here so they could keep an eye on each other. We are told that 50 or so priests had quarters here.
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The inner courtyard.
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Dutch House is entirely build with bricks from the Netherlands. Dutch traders used bricks as ballast in their ships coming from Holland to return home with quarried rock. Do you see the cute window detail, here because of the name of the street?
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Here it is, a little owl! Seems to be a theme today!
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York is no longer completely walled due to some removal to improve roadways a century ago or so. But most of the walls remain.
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Thank you for visiting http://www.Personal Travel Stories.com.

I hope you will visit some more of my postings, as of August, 2013, mostly of India, Great Britain, Manhattan, and a little Los Angeles.

I hope you will also follow my blog by clicking on “follow” at the bottom right of your screen. I try to share my current adventures every 4 days. No worries, you can unfollow with just a click if you change your mind.

Cheers!
Darren

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Wandering about one of England’s Finest Homes, Castle Howard

Castle Howard is a continued residence of the Howard family who have opened their home to the public for 300 years. Located about 20 minutes north-east of York, it was the perfect stop for my short journey to York coming from near Scarborough.

From the Castle’s Website:

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You can visit the website for more information. Click here:
www.castlehoward.co.uk

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According to my Sat Nav (GPS) the distance from the initial property gate to the next property gate was about a mile. “Follow the road for one mile,” she told me. “It’s not a road,” I explained to her, “it’s a driveway.” Easy to confuse, long as it was.
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After entering the second gate, there was still a large area of ground within.
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This large oblesque stands in the centre of the Howard’s traffic circle. For the main home, take the third exit. (Turn right.) I expect the other directions lead to further property access, but I did not travel them.
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I started my visit to Castle Howard with a delicious lunch at their Courtyard Cafe which you can see in this photo ahead to the right. Of course the cafe has an interior dining area for in-climate days. There is also another dining option in the Castle itself with both indoor and outdoor seating.
Do plan to lunch here if you visit.
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The front of this sizable home faces a lovely sculptured garden.

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Perhaps just as deep as it is wide.
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This would be considered the front yard. (Front garden if you’re British.)
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This fountain in the middle of the front garden.
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The back door entry where visitors are welcomed. Seems nicer than a servant’s entry though.
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Some of the hallways open to visitors.
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I like the fun variety of different types of 4-poster beds.
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View into the central area between the front and two side wings. This “courtyard” is open to the lovely country view with lake.
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View from the back of house.
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Perhaps because I come from a family of engineers who operate in heating and cooling industries, I always seem to find different radiators to be interesting.
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This and the next few images are of the main central hall.
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The Howards became friends with William Morris when they hired his firm to do much of their wallpapering and window glasses. Here is a display of various Morris wallpapers used throughout the house.
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Here you can better see some Morris designs. I have always liked these myself.
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The front garden hedging used to be more elaborate than today.
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But the fountain is still lovely.
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The Black Country town of Walsall

Visiting Walsall, near Birmingham, May 2013

When traveling, especially for as long as I am, it is a gift when a local extends their friendship with a personal invitation to see their town. So it was I ended-up visiting the unlikely destination of Walsall, essentially a suburb of Birmingham now but born in the days when such an idea was not conceivable.

Situated 35 minutes by train from New Street Station in Birmingham, the town of Walsall is a destination in it’s own right. “I was wondering if you might like to meet me in Walsall to visit the Art Gallery and Arboretum,” I received as a text from a sweet woman I have met at meet-ups twice before.

“It’s disgustin'” “It’s alright, cud be worse.” “There’s just nothing there.” Similar commendations from Brummies who have never been to Walsall as I heard from Southerners who have never been to Birmingham. “Have you been there?” “No.” Well then, your opinion must be very accurate I’m sure.

I take a photo of the approaching train comparing the sight with the trains that approached me in India. India has left such a strong impression on me, I still think of her often. (I think most Indians consider India a “she”.) The gleaming structure approaches the platform VERY slowly, leaving me holding my camera up to my face for much longer than I would have expected. So slow that it could easily stop very short if someone were to do something stupid, incredibly safe approach. “Quite a contrast to Indian trains,” I share with the girl beside me, “the ones I rode were not able to close their doors and people hung outside.” “That does sound quite different.” “People were jumping off the train before it even came to a stop,” I added.

From Nottingham, this girl with long, curly cranberry-blonde hair moved to Birmingham to do her PHD. I sit closely enough on the train as to be able to chat with her from across the aisle, I had hoped we could continue our discourse and she was happy to do so. Two other gentlemen join in the conversation. A student of the Birmingham Conservatoire is going to Walsall to try-out the pipe organ at Walsall’s Town Hall before being part of a group performance there tomorrow. He has never been to Walsall. Another gentleman sitting behind me overhears me explain how it is that I come to be where I am today, on a train from Birmingham to Walsall. Sometime after becoming single I sold my business and my home and now completely untied I am traveling the world. “I’m trying to start a development business,” he starts, “oh no, this is my stop.” “Look-up Launch48,” I tell him, “It could be useful to you, it’s a weekend conference where people form groups to brainstorm and set-up businesses in the course of 48 hours. It could be a really good start for you. . . .” and he is away.

The lovely PHD student exits where the University of Birmingham has a suburban campus and the young organist and I chat until the end. “What are you playing tomorrow?” “Something nasty, I really don’t like it.” He tells me what it’s called but I don’t recognise it. I guess something modern. For a pipe organ. One doesn’t really think of modern and pipe organ together, but I suppose why not. “How did you choose it?” “Oh, I had no choice, they told me what I have to play.”

We exited the station onto the high street 20 minutes early. After he gets directions to the Town Hall from a friendly local we part ways. There is more than one exit and we did not decide where to meet because texting makes one lazy that way. “Where are u?” “I’m at . . .” “Okay, walk to your left see you in a minute.” That’s what usually happens.

“I’m here, where should we meet?”
“Unable to send.”
“Unable to send.”
“Unable to send.”

I enter the Carphone Warehouse located right at the exit where I am standing. I don’t have any signal but I know I have credit on this pay-as-you-go phone that I got from ee. “Do you work with T-Mobile?” I ask. “We can top-up T-Mobile.” “My phone isn’t working, can you take a look?” An Indian woman accepts my phone, “You have no connection.” She then goes through the very highly-technical process of removing the battery and SIM card, replacing, and repowering the phone. “It’s back now, I don’t know why it disappeared. Do you want me to check your balance?” “Sure.” She presses some buttons and an automated voice tells us, “You – have – 8 – pounds – 68 – pence. For – more – information – press – 1. To – hang – up – press – 2” or something like that.

“I might as well top-up, can you add £20?” “Certainly, Sir.” “You should take your phone to ee if you continue to have problems, they are just down the high street, just turn right after you go out.”

“Thanks very much.” “You’re very welcome, Sir.”

Outside I run into Clare who is climbing the steps towards the entrance of the Shopping Arcade in which the station is located. “Hi Ya!”

Well that was good, I guess I must have come to the most obvious spot. “Shall we go right to the gallery?” she asks. “Absolutely.”

I really like pedestrian high streets in Great Britain. People walking and lingering and meeting-up on lovely cobbled spaces without the noise and intrusion of vehicular traffic. I cannot understand why these areas are so rare in North America, would it kill traffic to close off one central street to cars? Imagine the feeling in Toronto if Yonge Street was a long pedestrian park, still lined with the streets and shops, but closed to vehicles. Places to walk and sit and relax, all on lovely paving stones with the occasional sculpture, statue, and arrangements of flower gardens and shrubbery. Of course, there would need to be infrastructure on either side of the street to allow it, and at some intersections traffic would need to cross as it does here. It may be impossible for most of our cities as they are now, but imagine the warm and pleasant feeling it would create and does create throughout many cities of Europe and many places in the world. Birmingham has a great pedestrian zone. And so does Walsall.

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The rain was really coming down as we walked along Walsall’s pedestrianized high street, but it was still a lovely time.

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The New Art Gallery Walsall.

We enter the New Art Gallery Walsall which sits at the top end of high street. A tall, modern structure it stands proudly in front of of a canal pool. Completed in 1999, the gallery was designed via an international competition and has become the largest building in the UK that was designed by a British architect under 40.

“What a pretty puppy!” Clare exclaims when I remove my scarf. I’m wearing one of those horrendous but fun and cheerful t-shirts that have life-like oversized animal faces on them. It’s hard to be looked at too seriously when wearing one of those. I feel like I must look approachable with such a silly shirt, will people judge me as someone who doesn’t take himself too seriously, or will they just assume poor taste? I find that I get both reactions.

“Is it a girl or a boy puppy?” I hadn’t thought of this. Spot decision, “He’s a boy!” “What’s his name?” I look down to my chest in consideration. “He needs a name,” she informs me. His eyes, enormous from the enlarged reproduction, look very bright. “Sparkles,” I suggest. “Sparkle Pop!” Clare corrects. “Ahhh, cute little Sparkle Pop! Are you ready to see some pretty pictures?” she asks as we exit the lift to start the exhibition from the top, 4th floor.

David Rowan’s display of photographs will be shown here until July 21st, 2013. Although I would not call his collection, Pacha Kuti Ten, pretty, they are intriguing and I relate to them. I would want to take these kinds of photos myself were I a photographer. He is showing us the bowels of Birmingham. The underground facilities that are rarely seen by the public. I find this kind of thing fascinating. Below this lovely paving stone walkway with trees and flowers, beyond your view, is this dark sewer tunnel system. Is this former coal mine. Is this underground vault. Is this hidden canal.

The Tenth Pacha Kuti is an Inca prediction of apocalypse and translates as being when the world turns upside down. In this collection, Rowan shows us the subterranean world that lurks below us, just out of view as we go about our lives in Birmingham. To me, the message feels sort of like: your world does exist, but at the same time this also exists.

You can see a few of these images by clicking on the following link.

http://www.davidrowan.org/work/pacha-kuti-ten/

One level down we are greeted by a sculpture by Patricia Piccinini. This looks like a deformed animal made out of chicken flesh wearing a hat and training hair. “It’s not pretty!” Clare screams. It is very, very not pretty. Clearly it is not supposed to be. You really must click on this link to see the sculpture I’m referring to.

https://www.google.ca/search?q=patricia+piccinini&client=safari&hl=en&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=XeyUUY_nCcXChAfL-oD4Bw&ved=0CDgQsAQ&biw=1024&bih=672#biv=i%7C46%3Bd%7C5PHAhK6oH8-UEM%3A

Her other sculpture present is of a “sphinx”, also looks like a chicken-flesh blob. Her work is unique, interesting. I would recommend clicking on this link to see some more of it, I have never seen anything like it myself. (If the link doesn’t work, just Google Patricia Piccinini, this is a link to the Google Images.)

https://www.google.ca/search?q=patricia+piccinini&client=safari&hl=en&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=XeyUUY_nCcXChAfL-oD4Bw&ved=0CDgQsAQ&biw=1024&bih=672

Hanging on the wall in the same gallery are life-sized paintings of bulls by Mark Fairington.

http://www.markfairnington.com/page26.htm

These are part of the exhibition, “Nature of the Beast” which is on until June 30, 2013.

An installation piece by Tessa Farmer, a Birmingham-born artist who now resides in London, involves mostly insect taxidermy. Ants of various sizes on the open floor consuming a dead snake. Very creepy. A food chain of shell fish to insects. Hundreds of flying wasps, very unsettling to stand at, all dangling from invisible thread within reaching distance. Her piece de resistance, she has made little people using insect body parts.

Definitely worth a look by clicking on this link. If the link doesn’t work, just Google Tessa Farmer and you will see lots of images.

https://www.google.ca/search?q=tessa+farmer&client=safari&hl=en&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=efCUUYyDPIeK7Ab6-YDgAQ&ved=0CDcQsAQ&biw=1024&bih=672

Polly Morgan creates very disturbing works with her taxidermy. But I like it. “It’s creepy! I want to touch it!” says a distressed Clare, who now realises that she has not brought me to Walsall to see some pretty art. It is all fantastically interesting though. Pretty pictures can only capture my attention for so long.

A small fox intertangled and pierced by octopus tentacles, a tentacle goes in one ear and out the other, a tentacle protrudes from an eye socket. Some taxidermed birds are involved as well.

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View more of Polly Morgan’s work by Googling her name.

This very cool video shows the amount of work that it takes to put-up such an exhibit. Less than 2 minutes, take a look, it’s interesting in a general museum way.

http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=Nonk2-KWkkQ&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DNonk2-KWkkQ

Perhaps the main exhibit was anatomy works by Damien Hirst. A photo of him when he was 16 provides a good introduction. At that time he used to visit the anatomy department at Leeds University where he worked on anatomical drawings. This photo is of a happy, young, smiling Damien with his face posed nearly touching the severed head of a cadaver that sits on a table. It is astonishing to behold. I don’t want to violate copyright, so again here is a link to the photo rather than the actual image:

http://www.damienhirst.com/with-dead-head

Overall I was very impressed with the New Art Gallery Walsall. If you live in Birmingham or somewhere nearby, it is definitely worth a visit.

http://www.thenewartgallerywalsall.org.uk/

Following our artistic appreciation we stop for lunch at the Costa location within the gallery. It’s a nice open space with windows onto the canal pool.

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A view looking out the window of the Art Gallery.

Outside we walk down the high street and past a statue of Dorothy Wyndlow Pattison who was a hard-working and highly respected nurse in Walsall. When she died in 1878 she became the first woman in the country to have a statue commemorating her who wasn’t a member of the Royal Family.

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Near Pattison’s statue stands a more modern sculpture of a Hippo (See photo of me riding it.) and another of a head with tools of the trade in his/her very ample hair, or falling towards them, I’m not sure. This is not one of my favourite statues.

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Continuing our tour of Walsall we walk past the lovely Town Hall, a library and another museum, as we make our way to the Walsall Arboretum. We enter the park through the gates of a lovely brick structure that sits across from the school where Clare attended with all girls. She had earlier recognised her former uniform on a group of grade 7 girls who were drafting some of the sights in the animal exhibits in the museum as we wandered about.

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Walsall’s Town Hall.

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The entry gate to Walsall’s Arboretum.

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Fortunately, today’s rains had completely abated by the time we were walking about. Colours really come out just after rain too.

The arboretum is a gorgeous park surrounding a boating lake. Occupying 80 acres, it includes more than 200 species of tree and shrub. It also has a play grounds, a bowling green, a playhouse, and a children’s park. We enjoyed walking the circumference where we chatted and met some friendly dogs. And dog owners.

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When one thinks of Walsall, one thinks of the lovely central boating lake surrounded by trees, flowers, and fields where one can take a country walk very near to downtown.

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Okay, perhaps one doesn’t, but I do.

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It’s a perfect picnic spot also.

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This is not a headless swan, he/she was grooming and each time his/her head came up I missed it.

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“Ma-ma, are you able to have guests?” Clare asks into her mobile phone. “You could make us a nice cup of tea?” Clare’s parents live nearby the arboretum. Wandering in their direction we meet a wonderful pit bull. Snoopy has a limp. Turns out that 3 years ago he was running full-throttle with a stick in his mouth. He’s a very heavy dog and when the stick suddenly caught on the ground it went right into him through the back of this mouth. Sounds like it was touch-and-go with some major surgeries and they needed to borrow a leg muscle as part of the reconstruction. Poor little guy. He’s as happy as could possibly be now though, he loves his cuddles!

We greet a welcoming retired school teacher upon entering Clare’s home. Clare’s Mum taught young ones, primary school, before keeping herself active with various different activities. Today she had been shopping in Birmingham, bought some clothes. “Don’t tell Father,” she jokes, kind-of, to Clare. She seems young for her age, the high activity of being in the classroom every day has done her well. Running around with children must be better than sitting behind a computer all day when it comes to one’s well-being. “One had to be high energy,” she offers as way of explanation. So true.

Clare’s Dad returns from playing snooker and after some friendly banter retires somewhere to listen to organ music. “He usually plays it much louder, ” Clare tells me. “Guess what Darren’s new name is,” Clare tells them, “Blossom.” Yes, she has decided this to be my appropriate nickname while we were sauntering through the park where there were lots of apple and cherry blossoms. Mostly it was in response to me telling her that in Scotland some of the girls at the office called me “Petal”. The guys called me “Daz” or “Dazzer” (pronounced da-zah).

Our teas long gone Clare walks me back to the station to catch my train back to Birmingham. A lovely day.

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The Grumpy Brummie Awards, Because the World Isn’t Perfect

Good and bad experiences happen everywhere. Overall, I have found the people of Birmingham (Brummies) to be exceedingly friendly and polite. But, bad apples are found in every bushel and I decided to separate the few bad apples from the many good. So, here are some stories about rotten apples in Birmingham. To be fair, the main cause of any discontent I experienced in Birmingham came from someone who grew up in a family of another culture that is not necessarily known for it’s warmness.

NOTE: Scroll Down to read about my experience with UK Car Rentals
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The full address was Teensy Street 99, Globe, Birmingham. A black cab pulled-up to my hotel and I loaded my considerable luggage, nearly doubled by traveling with a folding bicycle. The driver knows Teensy Street, as do I. Quite nearby, I only take a taxi for the carriage of my belongings.

The taxi metre is still just at £4 as we make our way along Teensy Street. The numbers on the left of the street ascend and contain both odd and even numbers. The numbers on the right descend. We get to the end of the street and have not found a 99. It’s a one-way street so we reverse, this time focused on the numbers on our right. Still, there is no 99.

“You must have the address wrong,” my driver, a small man in his 40s with a very long beard, suggests. I pull out my iPad to look at the address exactly as given rather than looking at my written-down version. No, it really is number 99. I show the driver. “Globe must mean something,” he comments, “Globe is the key to finding this address. Ask the landlord if it is supposed to be Teensy Street North or Teensy Street South rather than Teensy Street.”

I text the flat owner to ask for clarification.

My text: “Hi, taxi can’t find 99, is it teensy st n or s?” (11:40)

Reply: “It’s apt 99 3 Teensy street and entrance is on Britain street” (11:44)

Well the entrance not being on Teensy seems like a detail that should have been shared before. Why would I have assumed the entry was not on Teensy Street, and if it wasn’t, how would I know where it was? I get out to find the entry on foot, easier than having the driver manoeuvre his cab. Around the corner on Britain, there is no obvious entrance. I pass a beauty salon and see a door, but it doesn’t look like apartments. The driver has also come out of the taxi to look about.

“Is it marked 15?” I text, looking at the only possible door. (11:46)

“No it’s 3” (11:47)

The two of us continue to look about.

“It’s not marked anything I’m confused as to where you are. Taxi takes you to Britain street and the entrance is there where you input the code cheers” (11:50)

With this I continue walking down Britain. Nearly at the corner of the next street there is a large car gate with no markings, beside it is a gate door with two different keypads. I call the flat owner after it doesn’t accept the code. I had followed the instructions written above the pad which tell me to press “b” followed by the number. “Use the keypad on the right, and key in the code exactly as I told you. hash – etc.” Okay, now I understand, the number sign is part of the code. She had texted the code as #1234 (except different numbers). I key in the number pressing “#” first and the door opens so the driver goes back to bring the taxi over. By this time the metre has risen to £10.

Inside the gate there is a car park surrounded by structures with various different entrances. I leave my things in a heap to wander about, the signs are small and I need to approach each door to be able to read which flats it leads to. I find my grouping and enter with my belongings. In the elevator I hit the 9 button.

The doors open onto a worksite, builders renovating the hallway. “Is number 99 on this floor?” “No mate, I don’t know where number 99 is. Is it it this building?”

I press the 8. Nope, but the numbers are high enough that now I can guess what floor it might be on. I find the door that is marked 99. Thank goodness.

“Hi did you get in all ok?” (12:18)
(Note: I of course did change the address details so don’t bother to look for it!)
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I set-out to visit the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter only to discover that it is closed on Sundays and Mondays. Instead, I decide to go for coffee at what has become my daily haunt, Costa on New Street. It is a different walk getting there now and I enjoy taking photos on the way. I am getting used to ignoring the intermittent rain, life must go on.

Approaching the coffee shop it becomes readily apparent that it is undergoing major renovations. A construction crew use power tools in what was the front seating area. I’m disappointed, this was the one place I kept constant and intentionally visited at some point every day. I end-up at my last resort, Starbucks. There I meet a friendly gentleman who is on business from Germany. He is stunned that I have chosen the UK as a travel destination, it is his first time. He’s not interested in sight-seeing, but he does want to visit the Chinatown because he likes Chinese food. He doesn’t catch my love for the UK during our brief discourse. Mostly we chat about cars, I had been researching my car hire possibilities before he sat beside me in the window overlooking New Street. He wouldn’t try to drive on that side of the road, he can’t imagine it. For me it’s only odd for the first day. Traffic is also on the left in Japan, where I spent two years, so I have an accumulated 4 years of interacting with left-driving traffic.

After coffee I head out in search of getting my hair done, it’s getting long and there is too much white showing. “We don’t dye hair,” a large American woman tells me at a nearby drop-in hair salon. “Try Snow Hill.” (Snow Hill is a Station and probably also describes the area of the station’s surrounds.) In the end, I do not get my hair coloured or cut. Another day.

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I was sad to find that the one place I visited everyday, Costa on New Street, was suddenly closed for refurbishment.

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I was even more surprised when only 48 hours later it was completely finished and open for business again!
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First impressions are often correct, often not. After experiencing what felt like a lack of consideration, it seemed like if she cared at all about making my arrival smooth she would have provided adequate information. Of course perhaps she did in her mind, she provided the mailing address, but since that address does not provide useful information for entry and she knew I would not be arriving by post, she should have provided the required information instead. The apartment does look out onto Teensy Street, but that street should not be mentioned since one does actually step foot on Teensy to access the flat. Given this direction, not long but containing the needed information, I would have had no problem at all finding the flat, “North side of Britain road, second entry from Hacker Street.” It’s not the mailing address, but it is the location of the entry. That kind of thought seems so obvious to me, I fear my new host is perhaps not too very thoughtful

I meet Helbi when she returns from work around 6:30. I had invited her to join me to a group dinner but she never replied. Brief hellos and she turns on the tele and props herself in front. I attempt to make some conversation, I hope to be friends with someone I will be sharing a space with for the week, but she is not interested. Her eyes on the tv, it doesn’t seem to be on anything in particular, she occasionally looks my way. That’s fine, she wants some space after work. I get that, but I also think one should make an effort for a few minutes when meeting someone who you have rented your spare bedroom to.

It’s awkward so I decide to depart early for my meet-up at a nearby restaurant. Too early to go in, I go across to a pub to while-away my spare 30 minutes.

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I know one girl at the meet-up from bowling on Saturday. I sit at the end of a table with her on my left and a boorish man on my right. “Can I see the wine that comes with the steak deal?” he asks our server. Everyone at the table had started with red wine as a pre-drink and the server returns momentarily with a bottle of red wine to show what will come free with every two steaks. “Is there not white wine as well?” he asks the server. “Yes, would you like to see that too?” “Yes please.” She returns to the bar and comes back with a bottle of white. “We’ll all have the red,” he informs without bothering to look at the bottle.

“Did you make her get the white wine for no reason?” the girl to my left asks. “Yes, we’re all having steak, aren’t we.”

What a twat, I think. My impression of him strengthens throughout the meal. This is not a high-end steakhouse by any stretch of the imagination but he acts so incredibly pretentiously. “Do you have the cote du boeuf tonight?” No, sorry Sir, that is not one of our specials today. “Can you ask the kitchen anyway?” “Yes, Sir.” She returns with the same answer, which she already knew. “Can you try again?” He is such an idiot, I want to slap him. “Is Tony here tonight?” “No, Sir, he’s off today.” He goes on to tell us that he has eaten here twice before and that Tony is very good. Playing the regular at a run-of-the-mill restaurant after two visits. Such a full life he must have.

The meal completed, I move to the other end of the table just to meet the people when someone goes to the loo. “Could I please have my seat back!” an indignant woman gripes on her return. She is one of the organisers. Apart from thinking that after the meal perhaps she wouldn’t mind chatting to the other end of the table for a moment as well, I am taken aback by her harsh tone. I go back to my seat and give the woman from bowling too much money for my share so that I can just leave. I do not want to speak with that bore a minute longer and now I also also feel embarrassed by how I was just spoken to. In my haste to put the group behind me I leave my fleece behind. I hope the group leaves it there for me to pick-up later.

Back at the flat I talk a few moments to a still unconversant Helbi before going online to un-join that particular meet-up group. I see that the woman who was protective of her seat is the person in charge. An automatic form asks why I am leaving the group. “I’m sure I don’t need to explain why I’m leaving the group,” I key in and press send.

I email the lady that I had known from a previous meet-up. She’s quite nice. “I left my black fleece jacket behind, do you happen to know if it was left there for me to pick-up or if someone took it?” Three days later she has not made the effort to reply. I go to the restaurant. Yes, they remember my group. No, the group did not leave anything behind, someone must have taken it for me. How thoughtful. Too bad they didn’t go the next step and actually let me know who had it. I hate shopping to replace things that were just right already.

Perhaps it’s good I’ve had an off day. No where can be perfect and now my experience in Birmingham has more balance. Lots of great, warm people and a few cold ones. It’s a real place after all. Downside is, I have rented this flat-share for 7 days and it wasn’t cheap. It’s a decent flat and costs about the same to share as a hotel room. Not finding the host to be friendly is not reason enough to cancel for a refund either, although it could be reason enough to walk away from it. We’ll see how it goes. Maybe she just gives poor first impressions. I need to allow myself to have a change of mind.
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The Flapper is a low-end student bar that sits on the lovely Cambrian Wharf. It has nice outdoor seating areas and the view of the quiet canal where domestic barges are moored is pleasant to behold.

“Cocktails £3.50, two for £5,” listed on a chalkboard with Mojitos on offer. I love Mojitos, rum, sugar water, lemon, and lots of muddled mint. The cheapness of the drink has me assume the portion may be lacking. “Can I get a double mojito for £5 rather than two?” I’ve noticed that most people take the offer and carry two cocktails with them to drink one and then the other. “No.” “You can’t just make me a special Mojito and I’ll pay for two?” “You’re better off having both of them, mate. You’re just throwing a drink away.” “Never mind, I’ll just have one then.”

“What do you have for food?” “Pizza.” For a self-appointed “gastro-pub” that is not a lot of gastro on offer at 7PM on a Thursday. I planned to eat before coming, but since I am hungry and will be here from some time joining a group for a pub quiz, I will eat whatever they have. “Okay, I’ll have one of those, please.” “What kind?” “I don’t know, what kind do you have?” He is not pleased with this question, such an annoying customer I am, I should inherently know what they have on offer even though he doesn’t know himself. “Just a minute,” he complains with a sigh, “I’ll go check.” He returns with a list of what he probably scanned the freezer for. When it does arrive it is clear that it was some sort of brand-less frozen cardboardy food-like item for £5.

I watch in dismay as he prepares my cocktail. He puts some ice in a glass into which he dumps a pre-made UHF packet of mojito. It’s coloured a light yellow-green.

I take a sip when I return to our picnic table outside. It tastes like lemon-flavoured toothpaste. The chemical alternative for mint tastes more like spearmint. It is acidic and too sweet and gross. I wish he had explained why he was unable to make a special mojito rather than just being defensive about it, I would have had a pint.

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Cambrian Wharf is lovely to behold. Just make sure you keep walking and save yourself the trouble of visiting The Flapper, pub. There are countless pleasant pubs to visit instead.
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UK CAR RENTALS – UK CAR HIRE – UK CAR RENTALS – UK CAR HIRE
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I spent considerable amount of time researching how to best organise my rental car. I am well-aware of the insurance scams and I don’t want to be gouged when hiring a car for such a long duration.

I research the idea of buying my own insurance coverage, separate from the car. All I could find was excess insurance. (In North America we call this deductible. This insurance reduces your deductible.) Perhaps it was poorly worded, maybe the deductible covers the value of the car? If your deductible is $35,000 it would cover that? I don’t think it does, anyway this was not presented as a product that would do what I wanted it to. Additionally, not all companies accept this insurance, so check with the company.

I found an insurance website through which one can purchase insured rental cars. The cars come from 3rd parties but include this company’s insurance. Now that I have ascertained that it is not easy for me to travel through Central England without, I’m looking to rent a car for 7 weeks. I’m not a backpacker so it’s awkward to transfer from place to place by train or coach. I can’t sling my bicycle, suitcase, and carry-on onto my back and walk away. Additionally, there seem to be many day trips that are easily accessible by car. Castles, towns, villages, museums located outside of the city centres where public transport is plentiful. Trains and buses mostly go where people live and work.

The initial search using this insurance site looks promising. Cars start at less than £800 ($1200). However, most cars here are manual. I’ve not driven a manual since about age 20 when I occasionally borrowed Shanon’s car at uni, and I am not about to relearn driving on the other side, shifting with my left hand, with all the different road signs and rules and roundabouts on unfamiliar roads. When I click on the filter for automatic, the prices double. Ouch. Automatic cars do cost more but they certainly don’t cost double, so this is clearly how they maintain the ability to gouge the North American who most commonly drives with automatic transmission. I find an economy car and click through to rent it from Argus Car Hire. Reading the fine print, they need an international drivers licence. I call the number to verify. Easy to get, you just take your licence into an issuer and they issue you one, when you’re in Canada. It’s purpose is for countries like Russia and China, when people travel their licences are not readable. I didn’t need it last year when I rented a car in Dover. Regardless, this path to getting a car is over. They do require me to have an English translation of my English-language drivers licence which I don’t, I only have the original.

I continue my search and eventually choose Hertz via Hotwire. This rental is only about £900 ($1431) for a mid-size car and includes insurance. Seems like a great deal, even if I do end-up deciding I need more insurance when I get it, it couldn’t be that bad.

Yes it could.

The only location I can visit to get this deal is at the airport. I’m not sure why the Hertz location downtown cannot do the same, but that is what it says. I make my way to the airport for 10AM on a Friday morning.

“You’re insurance only covers 3rd party, Sir. If anything happens to this vehicle at all, you are fully responsible.”

“So if the car was stolen, I would have to pay the purchase price to Hertz.”

“That’s correct Sir. You can buy theft insurance for £10 ($15) per day, that comes to £490 ($750) but that only covers theft.

“Is theft very likely here?”

“Not really, Sir.”

“So how much is damage insurance then? If I had an accident, what would cover repairs?”

“That is Collision Damage Waiver, it’s a flat rate of about £20 ($30) per day sir. Actually, a bit more than that, for 49 days you would be looking at £1293.60 ($2600).

“Does that insurance also cover the theft?”

“No Sir, you would need the theft insurance separately, Sir. That’s £1783.60 for the insurance.”

OMG. How did I let this happen! I read about it, I researched it, and now I’m falling into it! I can’t believe it, I am just in shock. Rental $1400, Insurance $3500. Total, $4900. It is unbelievable. It doesn’t create such a shock when renting for one week, but renting for 7 this would be $100 per day which is beyond ridiculous.

“Could you tell me those numbers again.” I am writing down the details so I can write about it. He has noticed me taking notes already. “Writing your memoirs are you, Sir?” he says, flippantly. “No, I’m a travel writer.” “For a magazine?” “Yes, I do have a magazine, as well as a blog and I’m working on a book.” “Oh, good for you, Sir.” “Let me just see what I can do, Sir.”

I have never used this card at a hotel or a restaurant, but now I’m going to tell this story anyway so I might as well try to save some money. As it stands, I am ready to walk away without a car and lose my deposit. In fact, all I want to know at this point is how much I am going to lose by having made the reservation because I have no intention of spending that much on a car. For that much, I could probably just take taxis everywhere I go.

When you pay for Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) you are not actually buying insurance in any real sense. What you are doing is buying the car rental company’s agreement that they will not come to you to pay for damage after a certain amount of excess (deductible). So it is not any real cost to the rental company, it is paying them to assume the risk. There are 3rd party insurers for rental insurance, but CDW is not that.

“You’ll have to go to the office at the car bays, love, I’ll be a while at this,” he says to new customers who approach the Hertz desk. I don’t know what he does but it takes a long time and he finally comes back with a new answer.

“I can give you a free upgrade to an Audi A5 with Collision Damage Waiver for a total of £1873. ($3700) Seven weeks. Just more than double the cost of the car I have sitting at home seems almost reasonable, this one being a rental. I never should have leased a car in Canada. But looking back things are often 20/20.

It seems like if he had told me this figure in the beginning, I would probably have walked away then. Insurance cost the same as or equal to the rental cost when it appeared to be included in the price already? It could truly be the same technique used by unscrupulous shop keepers who start ridiculous high and come down to what would already have been high but in the process making the price suddenly seem reasonable compared to the amount they were initially trying to cheat.

I’ve also made much of an effort coming out to the Birmingham International Airport, so I have much invested in leaving with a vehicle. I would have been more likely to leave without a car had I walked to their downtown branch. I don’t know who would do better anyway, nowhere in my research was I able to uncover an honest and fair car hire company in the UK, I was only able to uncover the countless horror stories and bell whistles.

“So what is the excess with this CDW? How much would I have to pay in the event of an accident?”

“You would still have to pay the entire amount of the repair, Sir. Hertz would only pay you back if the insurance claim is later approved. Then they would pay you back everything except £900 ($1400) which is your excess amount.” So even after paying the steep waiver fees, according to him but I’m not sure he’s correct in his understanding of this procedure, they will still try to not approve the paid-for waiver. “And who does this kind of appraisal?” “Hertz does, Sir.” Well, that shouldn’t be legal. Just saying.

I decide to accept his offer, I don’t want to repeat this process again at another company and I do not have reason to believe that it would be any different. UK Car Hire agencies are known for this.

“Do you need to add a Sat Nav (GPS), Sir.”

“Nope.” I had bought one since the charge for renting theirs exceeded the cost of purchase.

In my car I realise that there is a built in Sat Nav anyway, it is present whether or not I pay the rental fee for it. I wasn’t sure if Audi UK would have these as standard. I spend a few minutes learning the buttons before setting my destination and pulling out of the parking lot, turning the wrong way onto the wrong street when the voice guiding me calls the traffic circle a square. “Turn right onto the square,” would have not turned out well, what was she thinking? She should have told me to enter the roundabout and take the 3rd exit. With telling me to turn right I instead enter the roundabout and take the first exit which leads me to a secured personnel zone. My mind didn’t jump fast enough to translate the circle into a square and go round it as if turning right from my starting position, which in fact involves a left turn after coming around.

Oh, this is going to be fun.

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Staying with Helbi has turned out to be not only emotionally voiding but also very expensive. She is pleasant, but it is painfully obvious that she wishes I were not there. I’m a sensitive guy and I am not good at ignoring that kind of thing. Also, in addition to not wanting to share her space, she often works from home. The first two evenings I eat healthy salads from the supermarket in the living room, but after my initial groceries are depleted I never do again. My room only has a bed and I’m not going to sit on my bed and eat. I was happy to bring healthy food back to my hotel room last week, but here I feel the need to avoid going home. It’s a bad feeling.

I sometimes find myself not wanting to go out, but I also don’t want to stay in feeling like I’m crowding Helbi. The unwanted house guest who paid to be there. Not ideal. I go in search of quiet places and find none. I use my ear plugs often. Days of $20 and $30 spent on food have become days of $60 and $80 when I add extra time working in coffee shops rather than being home for occasional breaks during the day. Being at her house is too awkward so I try to leave in the morning and return after dinner at night. This situation has nearly put me off trying another flat-share in the upcoming weeks. I certainly won’t for a bit, and when I do I will first verify their character a bit by emailing back and forth before just sending my rental request. She’s just not normal in her refusal to converse.

She was deceptive on her listing in saying that she works a lot and even on weekends too. That gives the impression that she is often not at home, not that she will be using the computer and talking on the phone in the one and only open-concept living area where you will feel completely in the way when she is working and also when she is on the sofa watching tv.

“I hate Birmingham,” she has told me, “except for where I live.” This in response to, “What other areas of the city do you think I should explore?”

“I don’t recycle, to be honest. I put all my trash with the recycle bins.” If you don’t recycle with all the damage we are doing to our planet, I do not want to know about it. Seriously.

“I haven’t been to New Street in 5 years.” This in response to me asking her if she had a favourite place to eat or drink downtown. A 10 minute walk to the lovely downtown, how has she managed not to go there for so long?

“I hate pubs, you know how people dress. Why can’t you go to a proper bar or restaurant? And at an Irish pub people might start singing. I hate it,” in response to her mother asking her to join something at a pub.

“I don’t meet people, ” in response to me telling her about meet-up groups.

After a week or awkward exchanges, I have to consider the possibility that she may actually have a mental disorder or two. Her disinterest in the world and in interacting makes me wonder if she might be suffering depression. Her blankness and lack of communication skills has me consider ASD. Whatever the case, she does not make an ideal host or flat mate

For this and more, Birmingham-born Helbi receives my Grumpy Brummie Award. Hands Down.

Runner-Up: Hertz Car Rentals UK. Actually UK Car Rental Agencies in general for having methods and procedures that gouge the non-UK resident, customers they must figure are unlikely to be regular anyway so they might as well try to get all they can anyway they can.

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Here are some more photos around Birmingham’s lovely Jewellery District.

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