Friday, 28 May 2010

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

Greg reminded Lurene that 20 different train companies service the railroad. She joined us for a three-day train outing through the England, Wales and Scotland. We took 6 trains from five different lines in one day, leading us from London to the Lake District: Great Western, Arriva, Heart of Wales, First Trans Pennine Express and North Western. 

Wyona’s pinpoint scheduling was so finely executed that at one point, we stepped off of one train, pulled our suitcases in a circle to the other side of the platform and stepped on the next train less than one minute before it was leaving.

Not all of the trains have a first class service, as we are now well aware. The first class service has a yellow bar along the top of the coach to differentiate it from the standard class. At times we were just lucky to get on the train at all. 

When we had put many miles behind us and we now moving toward Wales there was a small gap of time on the plastform and I asked the train guard, “Could you please tell me what platform the Heart of Wales Train is leaving from, and whether the first class coach will be at the back or the front of the train.” How organized is that?

With a large gesture of his arm he pointed to the right and said, “Madam, there is your train, one coach and only slightly better than going by horse.” 

This was the best train of all. Once aboard I discovered that at the same time a train can lurch from side to side and front to back as well as give a gentle body massage from the shimmer of the seat if you are so lucky as to have one. 

I settled in to enjoy the noise of the engine and the sound of the clicking of the wheels on the rails. 

The driver blew his whistle as every curve. 

“I think he does that to scare the sheep,” I said to Lurene for the sound would make the newborn lambs who were looking at us through the fences skittle back to the centre of the fields. 

The train doors didn’t close tightly. There was no air conditioning. A strong breeze was sweeping in through the gaps in the doors. I put a blanket on the right side of my leg to keep my body temperature regulated.

Lurene and I were at different windows, using our cameras as though we might never be able to take another picture. On the sports mode of the camera, 3.5 shots can be taken every second. Between the clicking of her shutter button and mine, the locals on the train were looking around to see what could be so interesting. 

After about ten minute of that, the conductor came to us and said, “The only really interesting point on this line is a Roman aqueduct up ahead.. You can only see from the back coach. Come back after the third stop and I will let you take a picture from my station.”

Back there he said to Lurene, “Only a place for one in the room I am going to show you. You must promise not touch the one white knob on the panel or we are all in trouble.” 

He went on. 

“Count ten seconds after we come out of the next tunnel, then snap away for you will only have a brief glimpse of the viaduct. Be quick.”

On my way back to my seat, I tried to walk down the aisle without falling into the laps of the other passengers. Using all of the tai chi balance techniques I could muster, I was still grabbing the chartreuse handles at the backs of the seats to steady my weaving and swaying.

While we were gone, Wyona had enticed the little Welsh boy who was sitting in the seat to come and sit up on her bench. 

Wyona and Lurene played with him for the rest of the trip, at first barely getting eye contact from him, then having him colour on her post-it-notes, and finally giving him a pair of scissors.

“You aren’t going to give a little boy that age scissors,” blurted out Lurene. “And aren’t you going to ask his mother.”

“Of course I am going to give him scissors. How else is he going to develop small muscles control?” Wyona responded. “He is going to be fine. I am helping him.”

The three of them had chatted happily across the isle from me. 

Lurene later reported, “I didn’t understand a word he was saying. The first words I got out of his Gaelic accent were, “Are these boy’s or girl’s scissors.”

“Girls,” said Wyona, watching for his reaction.

“No, they are sharing scissors,” Lurene said correcting Wyona.

When we left the train the conductor told us that the platform is so short that everyone has to exit by the same door, for both doors won’t fit on the platform at once.

I got off the train to get a picture of the shortest platform on the line, the one that won't take a whole coach.

Lurene got off to photograph the name of the stop, since that is our new practise -- take a picture of where we are so we can remember when we get back and start looking at our picutres. 

The Lake District.

A place I never dreamed I would visit.

Lurene says that the first action a person should tke when going to their lodgings is to unpack their suitcase: make the room their own. 

We spread everything out in our room and then took a trail up the hill to get a few evening shots of Bowness-on-Windemere.

We investigated a broken rock wall for a while. Then we followed a footpath down to the lake, looking at the rowboats for hire, at the sailing boats taking tourists for a spin to see the views of the hills from the water, at the gulls in the air and the swans on the lake.

Two old men came walking along with a bag. 

The bag was a paper bag. 

Out of it they pulled two loaves of bread and some buns. 

Gulls began descending from the skies and swooping around them. 

Other gulls were on the beach, as well as mallards. 

The swans started swimming to shore and their feet aren’t made for shore travel and they lumbered along, joining in on the fun so awkwardly.

“I notice that as we ride along in the train that Wyona loves watching the animals in the fields, the cows and especially the flocks of rams, sheep and new-born lambs. 

She sat down and on a bench and enjoyed the bird show. 

Part of the time her mind was on how to creep up on them and see how close she could get to them before they would scatter.

We got this day-old bread at the market, tonight”, said one of the old men. “Best two pounds I have spent today.”

And writing this note has been the best two hours I have taken today.



Lurene and I spend a lot of time at the train window.

This would be a typical pose for both of us, for most of the day.

Between snapping and deleting pictures, we barely have time to look at the scenery.

God's Providence is Mine Inheritance. 

That is what is written at the bottom of this window on this half-timbered house, a style of housing that is common in Ghent and beautifully illustrated along its main square.

I also enjoyed look at the wooden sculptural decoration on the windows.

I try to image what I will put beside my windows to imitate this kind of decoration.

Ghent has the most famous clock in England, outside of Big Ben, in London, that is.

Wyona, Lurene and I broke up our group travel at this point. I wanted to take more pictures of the clock. Wyona wanted to buy some food at Marks and Spencers. Lurene needed a rest break. We agreed to meet at the bus stop at 2:15 to take the express back to the train station.

I didn't like Wyona carrying both suitcases and a big bag so I hurried to catch her at the grocery store.

Lurene didn't like the same thing either, and she hurried to catch Wyona at the grocery store.

Though we found each other, we could not find Wyona.

After 2 runs through 2 different Marks and Spencers, looking for her, and not beiong able to fiond her, we finally stationed each other as sentinels on different street corners where we could scan 
the crowds for her.

She arrived, 30 seconds ahead of time, in time to catch the but, but that we too much anxiety for Lurene and me. We have decided to never let a woman dragging a 2 suitcases and a bag get out of our sight so that she can fill another huge bag with grociers for her loved ones.


Monday, 24 May 2010

Durham Cathedral

I could not get any good pictures today. Perhaps it was the clouds. As well I remember now, reading in the guide book, that this part of the country is not like the tidy lanes and well-trimmed hedges of other parts of the land. 
No careful stone fences that separate the fields here. 

There is still a wildness here in north eastern England. 

The pictures do show at least that.

“I regret not being able to come with you tomorrow morning,” said Wyona last night.
I am going to see the famous Norman Romanesque architecture of the Durham Cathedral, today, and I am travelling on my own. Oh, I am not really on my own, for I have Wyona’s shadow beside me and am now trying to do all of the planning she does for me, on my own.

“How do you read the train schedule to tell which platform I should take the train to Oxford,” I said to the woman to the left of me at King’s Cross Station. All I could see on the whole board was dashes.

“When the dash you can see on the electronic board turns to a numeral, you will know that is the platform number where you should go,” she responded.

I waited watching the commuters come off of other trains. Then I idly admired the hair-do of the woman to the other side of me. When the change came to the board both women both turned to me and said, “Now that is your platform – number 5. Hurry. Follow the others.”
“Oh no,” I said. “I was only practising reading the schedule. I am so excited to go on my trip that I got to King’s Cross Railroad Station early. My train doesn’t leave for an hour.”
Now on the train, I see the other passengers on the train have their computers in front of them, and are multi-tasking by taking conferences calls on their phones, as well as conversing with the business companies to the side of them. I heard the four-note musical sound that signals computers going on all over the coach as people settled in. 
I am new to this. 

I ordered the complimentary orange juice and Sweet Fruit and Nut Soft Cookie. I didn’t know what to choose in the way of cookies since I couldn’t understand the accent, the English accent of all things, of the choices before me. 

I watched while the man next to me ordered toast, scrambled eggs, bacon and a sausage, trying to get a handle on the sound of the words. 

“That will be £12 pounds,” she said.  A traditional English breakfast. 

I am going to have Greg show me how to open the Harrogate Spa Sparkling Spring Water when I get home. I opened Wyona’s on the last train and was sprayed all over. Now the same thing happened to me this morning.

I am reading Tonia’s Lonely Planet Great Britain as the scenery roles by me, so that I will know what to look at in Durham Castle. A 12th century wall painting of St Cuthbert. 

I had no idea where to go today. I told Wyona that I was going to get on the posh East Coast Rail and ride north as far as I could for 6 hours and then ride back, forgetting that I get to go hear Shakespeare in the Regent’s Park Outdoor Theatre tonight. So I changed the timing of the ride so that I could go north and be back in time for Arthur Miller's The Crucible

Since I had that extra hour at the train station this morning I practised changing the timing of the reservation of my ticket, giving myself another hour in the cathedral before I come home.

“Yes,” you can do it, “said the ticket agent, “but it will be expensive. Give me your ticket.”
I handed over the Britrail pass.

“No charge,” he said.

Wyona and Glen are the ones who were looking for train travel originally, trying to figure out if it is more expensive to rent a car or go by train. They saw an option for the Britrail pass that has to be purchased when you are in Canada. That choice fell through for them, but Wyona and I decided to order our passes. I was absolutely disappointed when the tickets came. There was no large map, no literature, no schedule – just a ticket for 16 days of consecutive travel through England, Scotland and Wales. 

At night, Wyona goes to the British railroad url and creates a schedule that connect trains for us, so far to the south west and then the east of England. 

I am less skilled today. I am taking a train, riding it one way north and then riding it back, south. 

In fact today, I must do a little research in a few minutes or I am not going to know when to get off of this train. The book I purchased said to ask the train guard any question and you will probably an answer to your question plus a 40 minute lecture on the history of the area you are in.

Greg informed me that 20 companies run the trains in Britain and that you have to make connections between the companies at some point, if you really want to get to a destination that is serviced by connecting companies.

I couldn’t be having a better holiday. I am in a train. I have a travel book by my side. My laptop is on the table in front of me. My camera is by my side. I can snap pictures out the window with the camera from my retirement. Even better, I am now moving from being an beginner with that camera to the intermediate level. Well, I should put a rider on that. When I went to the National Portrait Gallery and I visited their photography bookshop. At that moment I decided that there is no use taking another picture – that they have all been taken in some shape and form and publish. And further I had that wash of fear of how hard it is going to be to get really good at anything when I am a beginner at it.

Be that as it may, today someone is serving me complimentary orange juice and biscuits and I am about to go into Durham Cathedral. 

How cool is that! 

The day before we were to begin this trip, Wyona asked me if we just shouldn’t cancel our trip before it began and getting 80% of our money back.

That would have been a mistake for we would have just spent it on scarves.


Sunday, 23 May 2010

Sheringham, East England

Wyona and I left for the east coast of England this morning, not a trip most people would choose.

Lurene is coming for three days and we are saving Hadrian's Wall and Wales so wse can do those trips with her.

But few people who have only a week or so to spend in England want to go as far east as is possible and dip their toes in the North Sea.

That is what was intriguing Wyona about moving east -- not getting her feet wet, but going where others might not go. 

The ticket seller at Cambridge said that she would recommend us ending up in Sheringham, a quaint English seaside town.

And that is where we headed after we had gone down to see King's College, Cambridge as well as Trinity College.

On the bus Wyona asked for directions on how to get to the college, and that is how we picked up our guide, John. 

He was an 81 year old man who said he would show her a sight few people have seen before -- a new gold clock install on the university campus, purportedly costing one million pounds.

When Wyona asked for directions, she thought she was asking an old couple who were sitting together on the bus, but the old woman seemed to be deaf and soon got up and left without the old man, which is when she surmised they were not together.

At any rate, John raced us through the streets of the campus, and took us back to the bus, and didn't leave until he had seen us safely on our way.

Wyona and I were the last people off of the train at the resort.

I wanted to see the sea.

She said we should follow the crowd who had also got off the train, as they walked up the hill. 

We were too far behind them, soon, and a man caught up to us, happily chatting to us, telling us about coming to the resort to meet his old friends from Birmingham for the day.

"Where are you going," he asked us.

"To the sea," said Wyona.

"Well," said he, "if you continue to walk that way, you are going to have to go all of the way to Wales on the west coast. The sea is always downhill and you are walking uphill.

That is why I took this picture for you. To show you that Wyona and I can change directions and find the sea, with a little coaching from the English.

I had a little more energy than she did by the time we got to the coast.

She sat in the square and watched the families having picnics and enjoying their children.

I set out with my camera to see if I could capture what it is people love about this seaside resort.

I went out of control today, taking pictures of people, since they were around us in their infinite variety.

I started when I saw a man in fabulous dreadlocks saying good bye to his girl friend at a country train station. 

We have stopped at many towns, picking up one or two passengers on a platform. 

This couple were outside my window, less than one yard away and before I knew it, I had my camera in my hand.

I didn't want to miss that image, for I would have expected it in the city, but not on the platform in a rural eastern district of London.

When the girl friend got on the train Wyona was poking me for another picture.

She had a lovely string of Japanese orgami birds, tied together as though they were on a kite string and they hung from the back of her dress and gently flew behind her.

I didn't catch her in that pose, but here she is later talking to someone and you can see the birds, now hanging down from the front of her dress.

By this time she was tired and had her shoes off, but you can still see the string of birds hanging down from her waist.

I hadn't walked more than a block down the streets of small coastal town of Shearingham, but I saw an older lady walking along the street.

I watch older ladies carefully, knowing that some day I will be one of them.

This one had on a heavy winter coat and hat, even though it was a sweltering in the 80's and everyone else had on a shorts and t-shirts, were lining up at the ice cream shops to cool themselves down with a cone or were sitting on the grass having picnics together.

She was alone.

She sat on a park bench and the heat must have been getting to her as well, for she gently peeled away on layer of her coat to give herself a chance to cool off with a little of the North Seat breeze that was whispering by us on the streets.

I caught some English folk dancers who were doing a round dance with a pipe and a drum as accompaniment.

I loved the hat this man was wearing, as well as the bells on his shoes, and the sticks in his hands that had ribbons flying from the ends of them.

"Oh, the English in the Midlands love this kind of dancing," Greg said when I was trying to explain to him what I had seen.

I told Wyona that by mid afternoon we were looking so tired, that I was not taking any pictures of us. Too cruel, I thought, to get us when we are at our tiredest. 

Wyona had just rearranged our luggage. 

But even after a long day on multiple trains and taking care of me every step of the way, she still looks good. 

I brought along my computer today, since yesterday we were on trains where everyone had their laptops plugged in.

Today the trains were downscaled and instead of riding first class, we rode with those who got cheaper tickets. If you buy a ticket but don't sit down, you get a cheaper rate.

As well, there was no air conditioning in the coaches, no complimentary snacks, and the train was only 2 coaches long. The windows were wide open to give us some breeze. The 2 seater sides were filled with families where there were 2 and 3 children on the laps of the parents, all in a festive mood, for the weather was beautiful and they were going down to the sea-side to enjoy the afternoon.

I liked this picture of the church. The service must have ended by the time I got there, for most of the town was at the Antique Motor Car and Bicycle Show down at the boardwalk.

I think it was the crayoned sign inviting people to church that I liked about the image: "The Fire of the Holy Spirit at Pentacost", done in crayon on the bottom right hand side of the picture.

Another lovely day on the train in Britain.


Saturday, 22 May 2010

Riding to Penzance

“Wyona is the great planner and executer of plans.

All day she has been aware of the buses we should take, and the train connections between the First Great Western and the South Western Lines that would us deliver us all the way to Penzance and back today.

Eyebrows would rise when conductors would ask her where she was going and she would say, “From London to Penzance and back again.

“Not the ideal way to have a leisurely trip,” one of our fellow passengers said.

I have always understood that the joy is in the process and not in the destination.

However when we were standing on the platform at Penzance, knowing that we couldn’t even get into town, but that we had to take the very train we had just come off of, back to London, in order to get home by midnight, I had a small moment when I thought we might just stay over the night, since the wind coming off of the bay was so beautiful, and the sun was shining so brightly.

You are brought us our first good day,” the man who checks the tickets said, and that is why the trains are so full today. Everyone has poured out of their houses and is going to the seaside after so many grey, misty weeks.

The first flaw crept into our perfect plan when a homeless person call out to us this morning, “The 205 is not in service”, as the bus speed by us.

We were content to take the next bus but he suggested we use the Tube to King’s Cross.

“Only one stop away,” he said.

I had wondered how he knew where we were going, but of course, he had seen us try to flag the bus down, and he and his fellow street sleepers were awake for the night.

“This is his front room,” I remembered, “and he knows who comes and goes on this street, for it is the street where he lives.

His suggestion of taking the tube might have worked if we had picked up the right underground line to King’s Cross.

Of course, along the way, Wyona helped two other people find their way on the tube, and also lost me since she was running down flights of stairs with the luggage, faster than I could follow her.

At one point I was at a four way junction, where stairs were going downwards east, west, north and south and I was calling in the empty halls, “Wyona, where are you?”
So we missed out first connection.

“This is only an experiment,” I said to Wyona, and she said back, “No, this is the real thing today. We are using our passes.”

Today was a hard day for me – I had to choose whether to write as we rode the trains, whether to take pictures or whether to just sit on the train and drink in the beautiful scenery and read from the guide book as we went along.

Southwest England, the District of Cornwall is where we have been today – Wyona planned a circular route so that we took the trains that follow the major highways to the end of the coast, and then we changed routes to take a small milk run back to London.

I took 600 pictures, not counting the ones I deleted.

This post has contained some of them.

Now we have to go to bed so that we can get up and be on the 7:20 am train for Ipswich tomorrow.

In fact, she told me if I don't go to bed our trip is off for tomorrow.

So, I just have one more thing to say.

Don't worry about us starving to death as you can see from the one suitcase that contained only our picnic lunch.

We took too much food today -- enough for 3 days, for four people, actually: radishes, red peppers, dill pickles, chocolates, 2 kinds of biscuits, a mixed of nuts and fruit that we never broke into, chicken salad sandwiches -- if we got trapped in a train station we would have been good for about a week.

As well, the first class passes include complimentary juices, tea, coffee, sweet biscuits, chips and yogurt covered pressed fruits and nuts.