Sunday, June 25, 2017

UK Day 3–In Which There are Baths, Biggus Dickus Appears, There are Very Large Buns, and We Stop by Jane Austen’s Place.

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It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a large empire in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of more land. And so it was that that from 43–410 AD, the Romans (no, no, ‘Wo-mans’) occupied what they called Brittaniae and what we call Britain. Archeological evidence of their occupation is all over the country in the form of Roman roadways, bits of old walls, fantastic mosaic floors of ancient villas, and hoards of Roman artifacts found in farmer’s fields across the country. One of the most spectacular sites can be found in the city of Bath, where the Romans took full advantage of three natural hot springs that bubble up to the surface, by building a huge spa, complete with various pools and a complex system of pumps, piping and drains.

The pools were built in 50-60 AD under the emperor Claudius and were named Aquae Sulis after the Goddess of dark damp places. They fell into disrepair after the Romans buggered off in 400AD and were gradually buried over the centuries by whatever it is that buries Very Old Buildings until being rediscovered sometime in the 1800’s. Today it is possible to see the original Roman structures, including original lead pipes that are still functioning (come for a swim, get lead poisoning too!), and a lot of what I like to call Very Old Stones. It’s impressive enough on its own but in true British fashion, an elaborate museum experience has been created around the pools, replete with an annoying audio tour system that aims to be as complicated as possible. Still, it’s interesting stuff, and one never ceases to be amazed by what the Romans have done. If you need more detail, you should watch this: https://youtu.be/uvPbj9NX0zc

Anyway, in an attempt to help us all feel like we were actually in a Roman bath, there are a series of hilarious video scenes of Roman life projected on the walls. I say hilarious even though I don’t think they were meant to be hilarious, which of course makes them even funnier. At one point during what appears to be a discussion between what looks like Mother Theresa in sandals and bare legs, and a friend, the friend leaves and a man shows up wearing what can only be described as a large phallic symbol on his head. I kid you not:

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We can’t hear the discussion but I imagine it went something like this:

Mother Theresa: This is the fifth day in a row that you’ve worn that hat, Biggus.

Biggus: What hat?

Mother Theresa: Think of the children, Biggus, think of the children. And their mothers. You’ll upset their mothers.

Biggus: They seem to like it when…

Mother Theresa (interrupting): I don’t want to hear it, Biggus, just get a new hat. And fast.

Biggus: I think it’s quite fetching. And beside, I have a wife you know.

Mother Theresa: Yes yes, Incontinentia, I was just speaking with her. She doesn’t like it either. Asked me to speak to you about it.

Biggus: Well that’s part of the problem. I find that when I wear the hat…

Mother Theresa (interrupting): Biggus, I don’t want to hear about it, I told you. Now, why don’t you go for a swim or something. And take off the hat, for goodness sakes.

Biggus: How about a massage?

Mother Theresa: Fine! Just take off the hat!

We later come across Biggus and his friends getting a rub down by three men wearing what look like terry towel loin cloths. Thankfully, Biggus has taken off his phallic hat for the time being. That’s him in the middle.

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I’m not sure what they were thinking when they made all these silly movies, but I suspect it has something to do with lead exposure. It is very damp everywhere and a bit mungy and the water, all 1170000 litres/day, comes out of the earth at 46C (which is a very hot hot tub). All that moisture makes things a bit slippery. No one is allowed in the water due to high concentrations of lead, and the presence of bacteria. Plus, it’s green. Green plus swimming pools equals not good. Still you are allowed to sit right beside the pools as long as you obey the signs, like this one:

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  1. Do not dip your hands in to the spaghetti
  2. Do not climb the walls
  3. No feet in the spaghetti either
  4. Ice creams, French fries and sugary drinks are bad for you
  5. You are permitted to fall backwards on to the uneven ground, but only if you are careful

After all the museuming, we sat by the pool just long enough to avoid inhaling any odd amoeba or flakes of lead that were floating by.

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It was time to leave and obviously, time for a giant bun. Fortunately, Bath is home to Sally Lunn’s Bunn Shoppe, which has been in existence in Bath since the 1680’s. The house is even older: 1482 to be exact, but it’s been a bunn shoppe and specifically Sally Lunn’s Bunn Shoppe since 1680. A Sally Lunn bunn is slightly Brioche-like and slightly Giant-Hamburger-Bun-like and is served toasted and slathered in basically whatever you want: jam, lemon curd, smoked salmon etc. I highly recommend them.

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There was a bit of a line at first so we went downstairs to the museum which was equal parts creepy and awesome:

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They don’t make the bunns down there anymore, I hope, but you can buy a bunn in a box, which of course we did.

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When we got back upstairs, the line was gone (pro tip: just wait it out – it’s fast moving) and so we sat down and enjoyed bunns and tea, while looking out the window and making Zombie faces at the people down below:

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After disrupting everyone else’s tea, it was time for me to drag everyone to see Jane Austen’s house. If you didn’t know, 2017 is the 200th anniversary of her untimely death at the age of 41. Jane and her family spent 4 years in Bath. Her house, at #4 Sydney Place, is nondescript and is now, I think, a vacation rental, but I loved the idea of walking the streets that she walked and knew so well. As it turns out, Ms. Austen was also a regular customer at Sally Lunn’s.  I will admit to having a giggle at the thought of Jane Austen enjoying Sally Lunn’s Bunns. Or something like that.

I digress.

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Bath is a beautiful city and very easy to walk around. Unless you can’t read a map, like, it would seem, all four of us. And so it was a circuitous route that we took back across town, taking in the sights along the way including the Cathedral, which is gorgeous:

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and this random old abandoned abbey which just happened to be in the middle of town:

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There is great shopping in this town (Pro tip – check out Southgate where there are outside sitting areas with lawn chairs and beer stands for those of us who prefer to people-watch instead of shop) and the Georgian architecture is really stunning.

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I also spotted the Queen having a bit of a read and a cup of tea in the window of her flat.

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On the drive home I spotted another dead badger and so it’s Jane 3- Travis 0 for the dead badger game, but Terra is out in front on the pub legs game (first to spot a pub where the name indicates a certain number of legs ie: The Two Goats would get you 8 points) with Zoe in second place and Travis quickly moving up the ranks (although that’s not going to help if he keeps being the first to see pubs like The Slug and Lettuce, like he did yesterday). We had dinner at the local pub which was delicious if slow and was complete with appearances by the local villagers out in all their finest for a Friday night at the pub. They are all caricatures of themselves without knowing it and make for excellent people-watching. The highlight of the meal was an excellent sticky toffee pudding for dessert, which I think contributed to another night of blissful sleep in the deep dark countryside.

Thanks for reading and come back tomorrow for donkeys and fossils.

Cheers,

Jane

Friday, June 23, 2017

UK Day 2– in which there are Charming Villages, an 800yr old book, and Travis Arrives.

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Our neighbours across the street. road. lane. path.

Today was our first proper day out, or Great Day Out, I should say. Here in the UK, you are only allowed to have Great Days Out; Awful Days Out, which do exist, are not to be mentioned or spoken of, and must remain a secret. Ghastly Days Out were removed from the lexicon several decades ago and I shall probably receive some sort of warning for even bringing them up, even if it is still possible to experience one, especially if one spends any length of time in or near a traffic queue, or finds oneself stuck on a train with a bunch of chavs, or if, God forbid, one must visit the town of Watford Junction which, I am sure, has a redeeming quality, even if that quality is buried under 12 feet of concrete.

Luckily for us, today was a Great Day Out spent in the charming town of Devizes (where we were left to our own) and the village of Lacock, known as a filming location for Pride and Prejudice, Wolf Hall, and Harry Potter, among many others.

But first, a word about the milkman. The lane on which our cottage can be found is ridiculously narrow and so I was surprised this morning to see a large milk van coming up behind us. I was even more surprised to see an ancient, Einstein-like figure, in a rumpled old suit, and a shock of white hair, delivering bottles of milk to our neighbours. I tried to take a picture of him but it was too blurry, and then again as he drove by us but I was too busy worrying that he was going to take out the car. As it was I only got the back of his van. It is a mission of mine, should I choose to accept it, to get a picture of him before I leave.

I digress.

We started our day with lunch in Devizes. My last proper meal (lemon drizzle cake doesn’t count) being the Pasta Dots in a Blood Sauce with Ironed Lettuce, I was ravenous. We found a little cafe where I was pleased to see that convenient personal sized portions of Marmite were available. Yes that’s right, I like Marmite. Let’s all move on from that shocking fact, shall we?

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Unfortunately, two families were vying for the “Who Can Ignore their Screaming Children the Most” award in the back room at the same time so there was that. We were too hungry to care though.

We wandered the town for a bit before heading to Lacock. This entire village is owned by the National Trust and is so picturesque as to be bordering on ridiculous. Roses tumbled down over honey-coloured stone houses, birds nested in eaves and tiny fish swam amongst lilies in clear streams. If Squirrel Nutkin and Mrs. Tiggywinkle themselves had appeared walking down the street with baskets over their arms I would hardly have noticed.

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Our goal was Lacock Abbey where scenes from Harry Potter where filmed in the cloisters. The Abbey is ancient: founded in 1232 and in existence as monastery until the Dissolution of 1536 by your favourite monarch and mine, Henry VIII, at which time all monasteries, convents etc were disbanded and sold off to families. Fortunately the family that bought Lacock Abbey preserved the old monastery and much of it is intact today. Harry Potter looked into the Mirror of Erised here, and these corridors stood in for Hogwarts on more than one occasion.


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The original kitchen is still in place, as is an ancient brewery:

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The best bit was an 800 yr old manuscript of a Dictionary of Latin Phrases, hand-written by the monks, and kept safe all these hundreds of years. The last remaining member of the family that lived here sold it to the National Trust several years ago for 500K Pounds and it is available for viewing at the abbey.

It is remarkable to think that this was done without the aid of good lighting, or without glasses or magnifying lens. These manuscripts survive partly because they are printed on vellum, which is actually animal skin, which doesn't break down as quickly as paper.

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You’re all probably bored to tears now so I’ll leave it at that. We made our way home via a stop at Sainsbury’s for some groceries where Zoe insisted on using the self-checkout option. Never do this is my advice to you. No less than 15 times did we have to ask for assistance. By the end of it, the woman was just standing there staring at us like we were complete idiots, which we were.

We made it home and actually made dinner and went for a walk through the fields before driving to Westbury to meet Travis. On the way, we saw the Westbury White Horse which is one of eight such horses just in this county of Wiltshire. I thought they were all really old and was going on about them being prehistoric etc when I learned that actually most of them are not more than a couple of hundred years old.

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The big question here is, of course, why. Without answering this, we carried on to the station where we encountered a few louts up on the platform swilling beers and generally being asshats.

There was also this inexplicable sign. How much is a chilled chocolate bar going to hurt your teeth? And would anyone like a frozen snack biscuit? No? I didn’t think so.

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It was great to see Travis arrive off the train and, with only a couple of hair-raising moments in the dark on the Indy track home, one involving a lorry (truck) on one side and a couple of deer and a steep embankment on the other side, all was well.

Now that our group is complete, we can get down to the business of exploring this region. Check in tomorrow as I regale you with tales of our adventures in Bath, including our visit to the Roman Baths, an 800 yr old tea shoppe, and a few other things.

Thanks for reading,

Cheers,

Jane

Thursday, June 22, 2017

UK Day 1– Notes Made to Self During 24 hour Travel Day from Hell:


  • Air Canada is still serving Pasta Dots in a blood sauce and the flight attendants still insist on personally ironing each piece of lettuce before serving it.

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  • Not all English couples of a certain age are called June and Tony. Some, as seen below,  are called Alfie and Marge, and the rest are Keith and Barbara.

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  • It is not necessary to eat all the Lemon Drizzle Cake in one sitting.
  • Remember it is a packet of crisps, not a bag of chips. If asking for bag of chips, do not make face when presented with a newspaper triangle of french fries.
  • Do not make rude face of disgust when asked if would like mushy peas with food. Remember some people actually like them.
  • Remember not to laugh openly at English village names. The residents of Snidford, Beanacre, and Cludsworth like their village names, thank you very much.
  • Add ‘Trevor’ to list of silly dog names.
  • If can’t understand accent of man at market, just smile politely, put cauliflower back down, and stick to generalized comment like “Yes, I expect it will” or “ Next Tuesday” or “No,  I haven't but I hope to soon’”. Turn slowly, then run away,
  • Consider buying clothing in a colour other than black. There are other colours available.
  • Try not to annoy Sat Nav lady in rental car by ignoring her. If she says to go back and forth over a bridge while singing If You Wanna Be My Lover by the Spice Girls before getting out of car and doing a fox dance backwards besides a small stream and then lighting your shoe laces on fire, you must do all of these things or risk being purposefully sent to the middle of a field where your car will be surrounded by a family of angry badgers to whom you will be forced to explain your position on Brexit.
  • Do not comment to dog owners that this sign seems to suggest that owners must crouch-walk after their dog while using a spray bottle of  cleaner on what appears to be their dog’s bum as they will likely not see the humour in  this. (The owners, not the dogs. I’m sure the dogs love it…)

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  • Be grateful for cozy cottage in middle of nowhere even if it did take 24hours to get there.

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  • Be especially grateful for welcome basket of crisps, lemon drizzle cake, cookies, frozen pizza and half-baked rolls, left by lovely host, as that’s what we had for dinner. (The food, not the host…)

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  • Sleep the sleep of the dead, until woken by chickens practicing Extreme Clucking and pigeons practicing Extreme Cooing at 5am. Briefly consider going outside in pjs and taping all their beaks shut until at least 7am. Find ear plugs instead and go back to sleep…

Stay tuned for more tomorrow (whenever that is – I don’t even know when tomorrow is anymore I’m that tired. Sorry, knackered. That’s British for tired) including our visit to several Very Old Buildings and the much-anticipated arrival of Travis.

Thanks for reading,

Cheers,

Jane



Saturday, January 7, 2017

Top 10 List for Baja California Sur

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A week isn’t very long to get to know a place and so, as per usual, we were just warming up to the place when it was time to leave. If I had to summarize my thoughts, it would be that Cabo is a destination favoured by Americans who haven’t really heard of Canada, and by Canadians who are trying to find somewhere, anywhere, to escape the cold. The fact that they are in another country is really just an annoyance to some travellers, especially those who consume fountains of beer and tequila before roaming the streets in packs, trying to outdo each other in the ‘obnoxious’ department and demanding their change in their own currency. However, there were pockets of loveliness and we did our best to find them.

10.Tacos. Even if you don’t like tacos, you will after a week here. Our group has likely consumed hundreds of them and may have caused a shortage.

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Seth after a session with his beloved/hated ‘the orange sauce’ at Taco Guss.

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9. Drinks by the pool: A necessary evil that someone has to do so it may as well be us:

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8. Deciding to have a bracelet custom made for your friend, thinking you’re so funny for your ingenuity, adding your request to the vendor’s list of names and then learning that you’re not the funniest person on the beach after all.

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7. Marvelling at exactly how tacky Cabo San Lucas can be:

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6. Drooling over all the awesome VW Beetles that still roam the streets…

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5. Lighting and sending off lanterns at New Year’s Eve on the beach

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4. Getting tired of what a circus Cabo San Lucas is and then being thrilled to discover charming San Jose Del Cabo:

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Even if the Baby Jesus in the local nativity scene is weirdly huge…

3. Being even happier to discover the beaches and amazing Baja landscape north of La Paz, even if you did have your camera on the ‘1972’ setting when you took most of the pictures

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2. Having one of the members of your party asked by a street hustler if he was the guy from Just for Men, deciding that is hysterically funny, and then hatching an evil plan to run with it and see if we could pass Kent off as a minor celebrity at dinner one night.

I then found this photo, which, if you know Kent, made this task much easier:

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In short order we managed to convince the waiter at dinner the next night that Kent was indeed very famous. The conversation went something like this:

Seth (to waiter): You know my friend here is very famous. (Holds up picture above for waiter to see)

Waiter (looking back and forth from picture to Kent, who is unaware of our evil plot): Si? Hee ees de same mayn?

Seth: Yes. He’s very famous. Muy muy famous. Just thought you should know.

Waiter: Hee ees from Yust for Mayn? Ok ok. Wow! I see that. Gracias, amigo.

Seth: Yeah no problem, De nada.

At which point the first waiter ran over to the second and started yammering away in Spanish, rubbing his face and pointing at Kent. Second waiter looked suitably impressed.

Then this happened:

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Kent is now down one very nice shirt purchased for him in Paris, and up one very purple shirt that used to belong to our waiter, but actually looks surprisingly good on him (Kent, not the waiter, although it looked good on him too…).

Things got even funnier as we observed the wait staff moving around the restaurant informing the other tables of customers that they were in the presence of greatness in the form of the ‘guy from Just for Men’. Each time they would tell a new table, we could see the waiter rub his face to indicate a beard, and point over at Kent. It seems that perhaps it was a bigger deal to the waiters here in Mexico than it was to the customers although there were quite a few stares and curious looks. We tried our best to hold it together, and the evening ended in fine form as Kent was blessed by the grandmother who owned the joint. I’m pretty sure she was on to him but went along with it anyway.

Everyone gets their fifteen minutes of fame, folks, and this was Kent’s second fifteen. He is well on his way to making a career out of impersonating other people in Mexico as this performance of “The Guy from Just for Men” rivaled an earlier performance two years ago in Sayulita where he played a Mexican beach hawker selling cervesas to our friend Pepi, who was unaware that we were in Mexico. You can watch that video here http://whats-the-plan.blogspot.mx/2015/01/in-which-zoe-faints-pepi-is-very-very.html

Yes, it was all very silly and we felt only slightly bad about fooling them all. I’m sure the last joke was on us though as really, what kind of a big deal is it to be “The Guy from Just for Men” anyway?  And definitely even less of a deal to be his entourage…

And finally..

1. Visiting the town of Todos Santos, home, in legend anyway, to the iconic Hotel California of Eagles fame. There is some question as to whether or not it was actually the inspiration for the song but after driving down a dark desert highway, with cool wind in my hair, the warm smell of colitas rising up through the air, ahead in the distance, I saw the shimmering lights. My head was heavy and my sights were dimmed so we stopped for a bite.

Then I saw the mission bell and drove up right beside Hotel California.

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Such a lovely place. Really.

The dinner was excellent and the town beautiful and I would like to have stayed longer. Next time.

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I should note that the members of my group would probably complain that I have left off a visit to the Fox Canyon Waterfall from this list. This was done only because I didn’t actually go there with the rest of them but they regaled me with stories of crystal clear pools, beautiful rock formations, fearless youth jumping from dizzying heights (my two kids among them), etc etc. It’s just north of San Jose Del Cabo and you should probably go there.

Adios, amigos, and hasta luego.

Jane