Saturday, 19 June 2010

Paris - Three Seconds or Less

To make the most of our Paris Autobus Tour, Wyona suggested that we get off the bus, take a quick tube ride to the end of the line, and pick up one of the variations of the tour that would take us to see the Bercy District again.

I had a bag in one hand and my underground ticket in the other hand.

We approached the doors of the brand new line underground, remembering that Greg had said of the station,"Stunning. New. Modern." 

The train arruved and we stepped up to the glass doors. Two people, much younger than I pushed ahead of us to be first into the train. When the doors opened they entered the train first and stood toe to toe slower than one normally enters the doors and then they didn’t go for the seats but stood right in front of us, blocking our way to the seats they didn't seem to want.

At the same time, people behind us were pushing me to get in, pushing Wyona as well, but I was being blocked on one side by Wyona and on the other side by a younger woman. 

I was also grabbing for the centre pole since I like to get my feet shoulder length apart and have one hand on a stable structure when the train accelerates out of the station. 

My bag was in one hand and my ticket in the other hand was interfering with me getting a strong grip on the pole.

The jostling in front of me and behind me reminded me of the London tubes in the evening rush hours when people are travelling home and I have to keep close to Wyona or the doors will separate us. I was concentrating on getting a stable standing position.

I looked down at my hand holding my bag just as the girl who had been pushing me from behind slipped back out of the train, now deciding not to push past me to take the ride to the next station. 

As she left, I saw her hand slid out of my purse that is strapped over my shoulder and rides on the front of my body .

“Wyona? That girl’s hand was right inside of my purse,” I said in quiet surprise.

“My purse. My purse is open too,” Wyona said, digging down into her bag. “I will bet she got my wallet.”

Wyona was right. 

The wallet was gone.

She calculated her losses. At $2 a scarf, she could have bought 80 scarves for the money the pickpockets had lifted from her.

My money was fine. I keep it in an old envelope so that I don't have to carry the weight of a wallet -- a tip Wyona gave to me.

I calculated our gains. 

No broken arms. No broken bones. No concealed weapons used to attack us. Both of us still standing. 

That is not to say we weren't bewildered and angry at ourselves for being both pushed, blocked and having no inkling we should be resisting the pushing.

The above happened in 3 seconds or less, a much shorter time than it has taken to type this.

Arta

The Pearl Fishers

Greg, Wyona and I went to Camden today, not for shopping, but for one last meal at the fast food fish and chip spot that overlooks the street where we think we see a slice of life of the real London we love. People walk by with their baby strollers, their hair spiked in spokes circumnavigating their head, their lugging their packages from shopping, and workers carrying their sandwich boards that advertize restaurants or body piercings.

We sat there making tributes to the times we have had in London with everyone at that restaurant, toasting those times with our soft drinks.

Bizet’s Pearl Fishers was on at the Coliseum tonight, so Wyona and I hopped the tube for Charing Cross to get in the line-up for concession tickets. We noticed at the door that one of the leads would not be doing his part tonight. An actor would be playing his part and a singer would be singing from the side of the stage. As well, the prima donna would not be there. But we are saying good-bye to London and didn’t need a perfect performance, but only a near perfect one.

And we did have a perfect second act.

On the way to the performance, Greg looked at our tickets and informed Wyona that the opera started at 6:30 pm and not at 7:30 pm, the timeline we were on. We arrived at the theatre doors just in time for the intermission, so we stood at the bar and watched the costuming of the theatre goers as they came out of the auditorium to enjoy their interval drinks.

“Oh, it looks like you got here for the second act,” said the theatre patrons to the left of my seat who had parked their purses and coats where I was to sit. “Do you know the bad news? The very bad news.”

“Yes, I heard about the substitutions for tonight’s performance,” I replied.

“Very bad news,” he said again.

How bad can the news be?”, I thought. 

I looked at the box seats full of people eating their crustless cucumber sandwiches and drinking their wine. 

Out of a niche near the top of the ceiling I looked at the 3 golden lions pulling a chariot and that seemed to be leaping through the wall and into the auditorium. The orchestra was warming up and I could hear the drum being tuned and an oboe doing scales going up and then coming down.

Greg and Wyona burst into laughter in the rotunda as he had opened a bottle of sparkling water for her. Sparkling means the liquid bubbles come out of the bottle as though a cork had been popped on champagne on every occasion that he opens one of those bottles for us. They were both wet.

The "bad news" of being at the opera wasn't feeling all that bad to me.

If you pay half price for your tickets, but you only see half of the opera, no loss.

We stopped at Waitrose for some fig boursin, some caprice de dieu, some gouda, some brie and ate in in Parisian style when we got home. 

A lovely second to the last day in London.

To be really truthful, a few things have gone wrong. I took a picture of my new fushia hat, my camera sizzled, the flash did not go off and I could smell burning. Neither of the toilets work in the apartment. One is being fixed professionally, which in London means that it takes men from 3 or 4 unions to coordinate getting all of the parts and then doing the service on it. The other toilet needs a full time service agent to flush it 10 times between each use. So ... missing the first half of the opera doesn't seem like all that much going wrong. 

Wyona says that we can dissolve our troubles by getting some money out of the bank and going to shop at Petticoat Lane tomorrow.

Arta

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

BritRail - On the Train With Greg

Greg has had to listen to nightly summations from our train rides. There has never been a night when we haven't said, "Oh, I wouldn't have missed this day for anything." Or perhaps we have said, "The best day ever!"  Or alternately, "What were we thinking of the day we decided we should cancel our trip and get our money back?"

Once on the train that map I described, the one made of 8 sheets of paper and that is two feet high and one foot wide, the map that shows the places that the 20 different railroads travel -- that is the map that was spread out on the table. Time to show Greg where the day was going to take us, which was along the perimeter of the bottom coast of England, all the way to Penzance.

Wyona thought the sixteen day trip should end as it began, with home-made chicken salad sandwiches, pickles, cheese, grapes, oranges, apples -- all packed in her picnic box and ready for the day's adventure. What could be sweeter? A good lunch, wonderful scenery rolling by the windows, guidebooks in hand to tell us what we were seeing.

All of that fun and then Wyona and Greg had to throw in a little hand holding as well.

This was the day that we had 888 images on the camera, Wyona taking the major part of them so her hands could not always have been holding his.

Oh, when Greg fell asleep we did take some pictures of him on his holiday, each time with a scene that was passing by the window, something he was missing -- ie, the sheep, the bridges, the sea coast, the castle ruins. We got them all, with his face tucked into a pillow, lying against the window.

We only made one mistake with the camera. 

The window of the train was so dirty. We knew we were not getting really good pictures.

We grabbed the wipes that we use to clean up the tables so that we can eat on them, and ran out to give the window panes a good cleaning before the train left the station.

When I was out there, scrubbing alone, the conductor walked by and paused. He paused too long, watching me. I thought about union rules and wondered if I were taking away someone else's job. 

I turned to him and said, "I will bet you have never seen this before."

"No, I haven't," he agreed, and walked on.

Wyona joined me and we scrubbed the window together (there was a lot of dirt on it).

She said, "You know, I think it might not have been a good idea to have left the camera in the train with Greg while we are out cleaning the train windows."

"We are going to be O.K.", I replied. "He hasn't shown one bit of interest in the camera today."

Here I am, pausing for a minute along the sea side boardwalk in Penzance.

I have been trying to get to the bottom of the question, "Are you having as much fun as it seems you are?"

You be the judge.

Love,

Arta

Britrail - Greg Joins the Fun

On the telephone Glen asked us if we are really having as much fun as it appears we are having.  

I didn't know the answer to that question, so I went to look at some of the photographs and do a little research. 

Afterall, would a picture lie? 

Even a picture that was staged? 

Wyona had called Greg from Carlisle asking if he wanted to join us on our last day of the BritRail Pass. He signed on with us.

Here we are at 8 am, standing by the statue of Brunel the architect who designed Paddington Station. 

Actually we are here 40 minutes early for we don't want anything to go wrong.

Greg's ticket is "term certain" for want of a better phrase. 

He has to get on the 8 am train for Penzance. He has to be on the 5:20 pm train returning from Penzance. 

Wyona and I can catch earlier trains, catch later trains, miss trains, and change our itineraries at will. But it is worth having a plan and working the plan to have Greg along with us. 

I looked at the ceiling in Paddington Station that day and remembered that there is one train station we didn't leave from. I love the Paddington Roof. I will have to take a look at Charing Cross another day.
















All of the boards that post the platform information look essentially the same, yellow on black, and we are quick to read them and then dart for the right platform. 

But this day there was no need to run, for we now know how to book a seat reservation so that the thrill of the run was not part of our last day's exercise.

They sit on one side of the train and I sit on the other. At least that is how we start the journey. By the end of the day, the three of us were sitting on the two-seater side of the coach, squeezed together, looking at the picture Wyona had taken out of the train window. 

To prevent the reflection of the window glass on the images taken through the window, Wyona discovered she could go to the back of the coach, open the window to the door, and take picture that way. "The only downside is that you can't see what is coming up to photograph unless you hang your head out of the window, a sure formula for an ear ache if done long enough", she said.

When the train manager passed through an otherwise empty coach and saw three of us side by side on a two-seater bench he said, "Please don't let management see that you can put 3 passengers in the space for two, or they will start crowding these coaches 3 on a seat instead of 2."

Love,

Arta

London - The Fantasticks


Wyona and I went to Wicked Monday night. Everything went wrong. Wyona attempted, but didn’t get a nap before we left for the show. She put her umbrella on the seat of bus and didn’t pick it up when we transferred. She wanted to see the new lead for Fiorello in the show, but the understudy was playing the part.

Still, we agreed, -- a good show even though so much had gone wrong. Neither of us have tired of seeing the costumes, hearing the lyrics, watching the dancing or figuring out the nuances of the plots. And Wyona reminded me today that the new Elphaba is absolutely the best ever. Electrifying. When she is on stage and Glinda plays off of her character, we are seeing a heightened "blonde" in action -- two brilliant actors / singers / dancers at work. I don't know how to describe this except to say that when they are on stage together my own body feels paralyzed by the action, as though I can hardly breathe and I don't dare try to move a muscle.

The Fantasticks.

I am the one who wanted to see this show, even though it is still in previews. They haven’t had their press night, yet. I wanted to see musical theatre that originally ran in an off-Broadway production for 42 years. That was the same reason I wanted to see Hair – to take a look at what was happen in those years when musical theatre was not available in my community.

There were 10 cheaper seats in the show, only £20, but that patrons sits right on the stage and play the part of the audience during. When the lady in the seat next to us told us that, I turned I told her that we paid senior’s prices: £25 and that I was very happy to pay the extra five to have a seat on the floor of the theatre rather than sit in a spot where everyone could see me for the duration of the show.

She agreed. Concessions was good for us.

I was surprised to hear the lyrics of the first song:
Try to remember the kind of SeptemberF
When life was slow and oh, so mellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
When grass was green and grain was yellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
When you were a tender and callow fellow.
Try to remember, and if you remember,
Then follow.
That tune was familiar to me.

The singer, El Greco / narrator / black-caped bandit played with the vowels of every word, elongating them at every chance The pauses between words, the lingering between lines – all of that so beautiful in the first few minutes after the curtain went up.

Funny how some of the stage lyrics became songs I know, though I have never seen original productions.

I went to the play cold – no reading on the internet. Right from the get-go the dramatic apparatus that charms theatre goers was up front. Who wouldn’t love a play that had a little bit of Pyramus and Thisbee, a little bit of Romeo and Juliet, a little bit of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and a little bit of Donizetti's L’Elisir d'Amore, running through it. In the past two months, some of those plays have been refreshed for me.

So what fun was that to see threads of them running through that musical written back in the 1960's.

There was even a little bit of Waiting for Godot, between two old classical actors, helping to fake an abduction. On reflection, Waiting for Godot was hard to see – it reminded me that age is descending or at the very least winding its way out on a wonderfully interesting path for me. Last night troubles that come with old age were comic, campy and outlandish. Wyona and I giggled with equal glee.

The man next to me was grumbling when the first act was over -- wondering what it was that gave this show any charm. His grumbling gave me a clue as to why he was there alone, instead of with a partner. To tell you the truth, I couldn’t figure out how he had missed all of that fun going on for us.

One good thing about the day the day for us – we didn’t loose any more umbrella, we weren’t disappointed in about not seeing the actors we had come to see, and we were rested enough to enjoy the matinee.

Three cheers for the Fantasticks.

This morning Wyona said she is going to find the score for the song, “Plant a Radish”. The lyrics point out how a radish seed becomes a radish, how a turnip seed becomes a turnip, but that it is hard to know about planting children.
But if your issue
Doesn't kiss you,
Then I wish you luck.
For once you've planted children,
You're absolutely stuck!
Every turnip green!
Every kidney bean!
Every plant grows according to the plot!
While with progeny,
It's hodge-podgenee.
For as soon as you think you know what kind you've got,
It's what they're not!
No question why two sisters who have 15 children between them would have been enjoying the lyrics from The Fantasticks.

Love to the hodg-podgenee,

Arta

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

London – Carmen in Trafalgar Square


“I am so excited, I can hardly stand it,” said the woman who sat next to be on the double deck bus that was bringing Wyona and me back to Trafalgar square this afternoon. “My friend has an extra ticket to Carmen at Covent Garden and those tickets are over £100 each. I was going to watch it free in Trafalgar Square tonight and now I get to go to the real thing."

What!

Just then Wyona whacked me on the shoulder, which means we are headed off of the bus. We crossed the street, I said to her, ``Let`s just see if the Square is set up for an opera tonight.``

I was close to trembling I was so happy when I saw the big screen and people beginning to gather on the benches and steps.

"I am not going to stay. I have too much to do at home,`" said Wyona, packing an umbrella, 2 extra scarves, her black jacket, 2 bottles of water, a zip-lock back full of treacle toffees and 2 bananas into her purple treat bag for me. Then she offered to go home and bring me back a blanket and a stool.

"I am going to be fine," I said.

"If Tonia were here, she would be staying," said Wyona as she left.

Gareth Malone was doing some crowd warm-up. "There are 7,000 people here and we are going to be the nation`s largest instant choir, dong a Summer Big Screen Carmen Sing-Along." he said, doing body warm-ups, vocal warm-ups and teaching the crowd the lyrics and even working on their diction and stage presence. 
Toreador, make ready. Toreador. Toreador.
And think on her, on her, who all can see
On a dark-eyed lady,
And that love waits for thee, Toreador,
Love waits, love waits for thee.
I was laughing so hard, for he had thousands of people whipping imaginary capes over their heads to the first line, and having their hands make the curves that illustrate a beautiful lady with the third line.

The screen was at the base of Nelson`s statue. I looked at the curve of architecture of Canada house, the same curve in the Canadian Pacific Building. I watched the foreign flags floating in the breeze, flags from all of the embassies at the Square: U.S.A., Canada, Rwanda, Uganda, South Africa, and the Netherlands.

TV cameras were zooming in and out over the square, focusing on the mermaids and dolphins who are usually in the middle of spraying water. Those cameras were not to be outdone by pigeons making equally swooping motions, just clearing the heads of the spectators in front of me as the birds rose from the floor of the square to lift themselves to the top of the National Gallery.

I was in the second row of seats. A group of five in front of me had brought their evening meal and were sharing chicken legs, and mini-jam tarts, as well as shortbread and lemon zingers, passing along napkins and Tupperware containers.

The usual noises were around the square: the clock from St. Martin`s-in-the-Fields ringing on the hour and on the half hour, the sound of the sirens of ambulances and the two-toned daa-hee of police cars, at one point even the sound of a 3 gun salute going off somewhere near the Thames. All of those sounded mixed in with the big sound of the opera being broadcast through the square.

As the night began to fall, the pinks and the reds of the sunset were reflected in the clouds to the south. Soon the pale blues and greys of the sky began to deepen into deep night. As the darkness fell, the street lights from the Strand became brighter, their glow casting a long reflections on the still water of the pools at the bases of the statues in the square. The face of the clock in the tower was bright now, the black Roman numerals marking how the time was passing by. 

At the beginning of the second act, when the scene opens with the smugglers surrounding the ship in the water, I could feel the night moisture of the Thames reaching Trafalgar Square. The wind was blowing my hair and I looked around me at the neck scarves rippling in the breeze. People, who had turned their collars up as protection against the wind, now donned their fedoras or baseball caps to keep the chill of the wind from their necks and heads.

"I am not clapping anymore. The performers can`t hear it," intoned the woman who had brought the big lunch. The rest of the crowd did not hold her opinion. They clapped and cheered as loudly as those who were sitting in the Covent Garden Opera House, a few blocks away, where the curtain went down.

Fourteen squares and piazzas across England, Scotland and Wales had participated in this initiative for free ballet and opera, live from the Royal Opera House to the big screens around the UK.

I had a choice when the party was over – take the bus to New Cavendish or walked back up around Piccadilly Circus, enjoy the laughter of the late night revellers along Regent Street and then slip home. The walk was a good time to think on today’s thrill – my second time hearing Carmen this year.

Love,

Arta

Saturday, 5 June 2010

BritRail - Cumbria and the North West Coast

BritRail - Cumbria and the North West Coast

Tonight I asked Greg about two structures I keep seeing from the train windows. One is a large round flat cement wall that seems to be covered with the spokes of a wheel – the diameter of the area is about the size of a house. He told me what I am seeing is a city’s anaerobic water treatment plant. I need to have him along on our trips for such answers.

Then I see often see long, slender cement columns with concave sides, about as high as a grain elevator. He told me he thinks those might be nuclear generating plants. Wyona added that smoke seems to be belting out of them. “Perhaps, steam,” said Greg.

Northwest England, Cumbria and the Lakes. That is where we were going today. Wyona had a printout of the stopping pattern of the train from Lancaster to Barrow in Furnss: Lancaster, Carnforth, Silverdale, Arnside, Grange Ovr Sands, Kents Bank, Cark & Cartmel, Ulverston, Dalton Cumbria, Roose, Barow In Furnss, Askam, Kirkby In Furn, Foxfeld, Green Road, Miliom, Silecroft, Bottle (Cumbria), Ravenglass, Drigg, Seascale, Seilafield, St. Bees, Corkickle, Whitehaven,Barton, Harrington, Workington, Workington North, Flimby, Maryport, Aspatria, Wigton, Daiston Cumbria, and Carlisle.

The railroad followed the sea alongt the northwest coast and the train stopped every 3 to 6 minutes for people to alight or step down. That is why I had to write down the names of all of those towns. We actually stopped that many times in 3 hours.

“Where are you going?”, asked the conductor when he saw our open ended ticket.

“To Carlisle,” replied Wyona.

“You are on the wrong train. The train you just got off of will get you there in one hour.”

“We choose this route to see your beautiful, scenic, small towns along the coast,” Wyona replied.

“Just so you know,” said the conductor.

A few stops further down the line, when another family left and we took their four seater table to look at the seaside through their windows, the older gentleman said Wyona, “I have taken the trip you are going on. It is beautiful. You will enjoy it.”

Wyona spends her evenings trying to figure out which trains we can catch to maximize our time on the trains instead of on the station platforms.
She printed out a large coloured map in four different parts and then did a cut and paste on all of the pages until she has a large map of England that both covers a whole talbe and shows the rail lines on it.

I have been thinking about the itineraries she has printed out for the last 15 days, and then the back-up itineraries in case we miss this or that connection. I suggested she drive a staple through all of these papers, hole punched them, and call it her memoirs. “Yes, I am always trying to organize my environment,” said Wyona.

What I have learned from going 24 hours a day for 15 days with her is that it is better for one of us to do the high level organizing and the other (me) to be organized. Oh, I haven’t turned my brain off. On occasion I can still yell, “Wyona, platform 4”, and we leap on a train just in time.

We have never been left on the platform, seeing the train pull out without us. But it may be a usual occurrence for a conductor to see us running and call out, “The train is leaving in 30 seconds. Hop on at this door and find a seat in transit.”

Timing has to be just perfect on leaving a train when the journey is through. Too soon and I am paralyzed, caught in the river of other commuters, streaming to the exit doors.

Too late leaving the train and I get trapped by the cleaning staff going through the coaches -- like a whirl wind lifting debris and garbage from floors and chairs. Alternately, I get trapped in the coach by the new commuters pouring down the isles to find their seats if I am not quick enough getting to the departure doors.

I have developed at least a middle-skill level at picking up two carry-on’s and carting them up or down stairs to different train platforms. One in each hand gives me good balance on the stairs --so good, that I hardly get anyone offering to help me carry my bags anymore.

As well, I find that my left foot does an automatic kick on the suitcase to swing it down to a 45 degree angle so that I can run along with the other commuters and their baggage. I might even do the kick to a phantom suitcase should Wyona be in charge of the carry-on’s at that point.

I should concentrate on relaxing on this part of my trip, but there is a certain amount of tension involved in getting off trains at the right stops, or making sure that I am reading the departure and not the arrival screen in a train station.

Yesterday Wyona made an amazing save for a woman who had turned the corner of the escalator and was heading down for the underground. The woman made the corner, but her luggage did not, and got caught on its corner. She was a few steps down the escalator when she realized her luggage was weaving at the top, but not following her. The woman ran back up the stairs which continued to move downward and at the same time Wyona righted the suitcase and put it in her hands.

All in a day’s travel.

“I am going to miss my little lambs,” said Wyona as another field full of them passed by our view, today.

I am going to miss the scenery. I have been wondering if I have been hallucinating when I look at the fields, for the crops seem to be growing before my eyes as I travel.

Knowing today was our second last day of travel seemed to make the hours bitter-sweet.

It is not the Shrewsburry fruit and nut cookies, nor the orange and chocolate chip biscuits, nor the Walkers shortbread (with double cream) that we will be missing.

Nor is it the mistakes we are making that creates this nostalgia. The mistakes are natural ones. I can be sure that if I take along a winter coat and gloves for a trip to Mt. Snowden, that I will come home sunburned.

If Wyona and I pack a big lunch, that is the day that the train staff feed us breakfast, lunch, supper and 2 mid-day snacks.

If I drag my computer along on the trip, that is the day that the trains have no internet connections in their coaches. I won’t miss any of the surprises connected with the above events.

What I am already missing is the hours of scenery passing before me.

I am not as enamoured of the destinations of our trips, as I am of the hours of the exquisite beauty of England, Scotland and Wales passing before my eyes.

So ... Wyona saw a deal today – a weekend special.

“Hello, Greg,” she said on the cell phone. “I am in Carlisle.”

“In Scotland,” he confirmed.

“Is that where Carlise is?” she laughed. “I am booking your to come along with us tomorrow for our last day – 6 ½ hours out to Penzance and 6 ½ hours back. The bonus is having 3 hours in Penzance.”

“I am in,” said he.

On our travels, we have only left behind 2 pillows, one coat and one scarf, each of which we will probably buy ten times over if we can just squeeze in a market or two on our travels.

While Charise was here, I heard her ask Wyona numerous times to write her own memoirs so that Charise can read them. I thought, instead, Wyona should staple together her maps and her print-outs of where we have gone for the last 2 weeks and call those her memoirs.

Wyona does so much of the organizing.

At the same time, I am reading Great Britain, a guidebook to get a general picture of the country we will be seeing.

Today, I read that “the northwest was Britain’s industrial heartland...What is really impressive is that the industrial revolution was born here and raised here into the overwhelming force of capitalism; that the world’s first industrial city grew up around Manchester’s burgeoning mills; and that the endless possibilities of the Age of Reason, that unquestionable optimism that continues to spur contemporary society to greater heights of optimism and advancement, were put through their original paces here. Ancient Rome would have been impressed by the achievement.”

Those three sentences shaped what I was seeing today. The sky was grey. The light was dull. I knew I was not going to get good pictures with my camera. Instead, I kept my eyes glued to the window as I always do. By the end of the day, I had this overwhelming feeling that should I ever take History 200 again, I would have no trouble passing the exam, one that I failed when I was 19 and had to spend all summer studying for a re-write. Tonight, I felt as though I could have written the textbook for the course.

I didn’t reach for the camera until half way through the day.

For fun, I was studying the patterns of the sand in the tidal rivers, looking at the factories that still dot the land, watching the working class people who were boarding the trains with their families for a few hours in the sun and the wind of the beach before going back to their factories. A young father who truly loved his children sat with them on the train, playing with the baby and entertaining the curly red-headed 3 year old girl on his knee.

Wyona and I moved over to let a young mother with her 2 children join our table, for the train was crowded. She talked to her brother who was with her, and nursed the baby on and off at the same time as she was speaking to him. She plumped the baby in its plastic diaper down on top of the table to play among all of us.
There was an earthy warmness to the day. Because we ride with first class tickets, doesn’t mean that the trains we ride have quiet elegance of first class accommodation in any of the coaches.

Today, luggage lunch bags spilled over into the middle of the isles. Conversations between passengers with different English dialects went on. Some families were playing games and I could hear the clicking of die. The noise at the back end of the train was so loud I thought 8 or 10 middle school boys had got their gang together at that back train door. Kids were singing a rousing “taunting song” like one that might be heard at a rugby match.

“No,” said Wyona on investigating. “All of that noise is coming from just 2 rambunctious teen-age girls.”

On the same train a young man asked us if it would bother us if he practised his guitar, so he strummed and sang in the seat next to us.

“When did it change?”, I asked Wyona. “There was a time when you would have to beg a man to sing falsetto, and now kids this age think nothing of doing it in the middle of a train.”

“Lucky them. It gives them a range of 2 ½ octaves,” she said.

Wyona and I had Glen’s road atlas out at our table, the one he purchased for his road trip through England. We kept one finger on the railroad line, even tracking when we would go over an inlet on a bridge.

The tide had taken the water out to sea.

Motor boats and sail boats looked marooned there – inside of what appeared to be a house foundation to me. Does anyone know what this is that I have taken a picture of?

The railroad coach jostled its passengers along the perimeter of England’s west coast and they got off with their nap sacks on their backs, pushing their children in strollers to the sea, the sun on their faces and the wind blowing the tails of their shirts far behind them.

This week has been spring break. All of the students are out of school and at home. In every city we have seen so many families out enjoying each other on the streets, balloons in their hands, amusement parks operating on the beaches, and we even saw one town getting ready to have a parade of some kind today.

I was too slow with my camera to get a picture of today’s sighting of fishermen. Men were sitting on the sides of a bank or on plastic white chairs, evenly spaced out along a body of water, as though they had rented a trailer space, but they were each holding fishing rods in their hands. The body of water (2 long ditches, really) was so narrow that they could easily have had a conversation with another fisherman on the other side of the pond, without even raising their voice.

“I don’t think that body of water is any wider than the Elbow River,” Wyona said to me.

Tonight we tried to follow the train manager’s suggestion to everyone.

“Be sure to take your personal belongings with you, and ... mind the gap as you leave the train.”

Arta

Friday, 4 June 2010

Britrail - To the Summit with Snowdon Moutain Railroad

Today’s plan was to be in Chester by 9 am, in Bangor, Wales by 10 and in Mount Snowdonia National Park in the afternoon. 

Wyona and I have lightened the luggage. 

I can lift the carry-on luggage with one finger now. 

For the last three days we have been packing 2 carry-on’s, 2 bags, 2 purses and one camera case. 

Each day we bring along a couple of 2 litre bottles of ginger ale in case I get sick – which is better than bringing along a whole medicine kit, but dragging that around all day in our luggage as a preventative measure is only increasing the muscle strength of the person who is dragging the suitcase.

Don’t follow us when it comes to moving through our train itinerary. 

We took the Virgin Train Line today, an early morning ride. 

We have been travelling the Britrail choices now for 14 days and today we discovered this line serves a beautiful warm breakfast and salad and sandwiches for lunch. I told Wyona that clinches it. Our final day will be all Virgin Railroad trips – I don’t care where the train is going now. I only care that we go in style all day.

“You won’t get there any faster than by going with me.” 

That is what the bus driver of the Red Rover told Wyona when she asked for directions on how to get to the railroad. 

For the price of £4.80 to him, the two of us could go from the train station in Bangor to Llanoberis, home of the Snowdon Mountain Railroad line. 

He was comfortable driving at break-neck speeds around tight corners and comfortable with putting his feet on the gas and on the brake with equal speed, though it was hard to tell how the rhythm of that punctuation between fast and slow would be created.

Wyona was moving the luggage into a secure place in front of our seats when he hit the brakes, and she shot down the isle, one hand remaining on the bar of the cage she was moving the luggage to, but the rest of her body jolting in the isle. 

She stabilized herself with one arm and when she quit swinging I said to her, “One more place on your body that hurts.”

“My only solution is to take more pain killers,” she said.

At the Llanberis ticket office was a sign rolling along their electronic marquee: “All trains sold for the day.”

“All trains fully booked” was the text written on the sandwich board beside the ticket wicket as well.

“Any possible chance of a ticket for today,” said Wyona.

“No,” was the reply.

“Then how about tomorrow,” she said. “We have come from Canada to go on this railroad and we have two more possible days. “

“I can give you tomorrow at 12:30 pm,” the ticket master said.

“Fine,” she said. “We can make it back here from London at that time. We did it today. See, it is 12:27, so we can make it."

He picked up the phone and spoke with someone using his Welsh dialect. “Here,” he continued to her. “How many tickets to you need. I can give you two for today at 2:30 pm.

“Are they good seats?” she said.

“The very best. Guard seats.”

So we sat in the front cab with the man who checks that the timing of the train is just right, that it is on the right track and his third job is to keep the loud speaker going that gives the description of what is happening around every corner.

My favourite line? 

“You are going to see five kingdoms when you get to the top of the mountain: the Kingdom of Wales, the Kingdom of England, the Kingdom of Scotland, the Kingdom of Ireland and the fifth? The Kingdom of Heaven.”

The train slowed down to a stop when a new lamb whose mother was at its side, only hustled down the track, instead of hustling off of the track.

"They get shorn in July," said that guard who was with us.

The gulls swooped and soared at the top of the mountain.

The gorges were deep, the cliffs high, the valley’s miles, beneath us

One hundred and fifty thousand people take this train ride every year.

“I walked it one year,” said the female conductor. 

“I couldn’t walk for one week afterward,” she continued.

I walked it also, said a man – in the winter and we took along a guide dog to help preserve our lives.

Wyona and I had read our guidebooks, the ones that told us to dress for the cold weather. So we had seaters, scarves, gloves, our black all weather jackets and our umbrellas. All of that was a mistake. The weather was lovely and warm. 

We peeled off the layering of clothing. 

I got a sunburn.

We call the seats we had in the carriage, the royal seating for our view was the view from the cab.

How lucky was that.

Love,

Arta