One to Grow On

December 31, 2010

Kindness of Near Strangers

Filed under: animals, children, Great Britain, New Zealand, travel — midway2go @ 3:17 am

Those of you who have been following this blog since last November (or anyone awake and reading) must have noticed a drastically increased frequency of posts.  I mean,  I posted NOTHING for almost four months and now I’m writing something every couple of days?  Weird, huh?  Well, I’m suddenly in a hurry to get to the main event of our storyline.  In most ways our trip (and this story) starts and ends with Brandon’s leaving for Iraq and Brandon’s returning from Iraq.  Clearly, he’s home, and I’ve got photos, and stories, and I want to see this thing through in the same calendar year that it took place.  By tomorrow.  So, here goes.

When we last saw our heroes (that’s Rory and Nora and I) we were lounging around the home of the Pilbeam’s somewhere outside of Edinburgh.  Our time was short.  We knew Brandon was due home sometime in October, and we meant to be there, household established, waiting for him.  That gave us about three more weeks in Britain, then about three weeks at home, trying to settle in and get a house ready.  Out of our three travelling weeks we wanted to wring all the satisfaction and joy and  adventure and fellowship we could.  We wanted to make them count.  We wanted to spend our time with  friends.   And I absolutely, positively had to sell our car.

The Pilbeam’s pointed us toward the Holy Island of Lindisfarne on our way south to York.  Just like Mont St. Michel in France or Skellig Micheal in Ireland (both of which, due to lack of prior planning, we viewed from afar) Holy Island was a religious community separated from the secular world by thought and deed and the tide.  Now the ruins of an abbey, a National Trust property and some shops lure travellers over a wet road twice a day at low tides.   And, thanks to the Pilbeam’s, we got there just in time to roll in, stroll around, and leave again before the sea reached our rims.  Thanks, Ian!

We had also planned to go by Alnwick Castle, which was used as Hogwarts in some of the Harry Potter movies, but once there I calculated that it would cost us more than $70 to stroll the grounds and try to see exactly where Harry learned to play Quidditch.  Hmmm…  we backtracked to an overview, had a good look, and kept the money.  No regrets there. 

I have to admit, I have long wanted to see York.  The cathedral, the old town, the Viking museum:  I wanted to stay days and days and really take it all in.  We set up the tent by the loveliest little river imaginable a few miles outside town.  The plan was to stroll into town and take a bus back.  Well, we never once left the campsite once we settled in.  Those were our last few days in the Snug Bug, and that had a greater pull than York Minster.  

Here’s where the Near Strangers come in.  Long, long ago, early in the trip, we literally ran into another RTW family in a hostel in Queenstown, NZ.  That family, the Price’s, kept an excellent, timely (hpm-hpm) blog which I read every chance I had (as should you:  www.globalprices.wordpress.com)   After our meeting we stayed loosely in touch, and they invited us to come for a visit if our itineraries allowed.  So, strangers?  Not really.  Friends?  Well, they are now.   Tim and Kirsten and I stayed up late comparing notes and swapping  tales and discovering one freaky coincidence after another.  Ready?  In addition to the biggie ( finding ourselves with our children on the opposite side of the world in the same hostel on the same day at the same minute, obviously!), we both own really old houses on High Streets, we both had (or have, in our case) a cat named Phoebe, and there was one other one I forget.  It was quite late.  Anyway, it was fated.  I love those guys.  

One of the many kindnesses they showed us was helping me to get the car listed on eBay.   Kirsten gaped but held back the tears as the contents of our car were disgorged into her entryway.  She gamely helped me to sort, repack and donate our stuff.  And we are talking PILES of crap.  And Tim did such a top-notch job guiding me through the car listing that it sold in five days for more than I paid for it.   I’m still smiling about that. 

We loaded up (a much reduced load, mind) with a few days to go before we could burst into Lucy and Thomas’s lives again.   We had just enough time to zip down to Cornwall to visit a family we met while camping in New Zealand. 

Now, of all the omissions of this blog, and they are legion, I just did a quick search and nowhere have I mentioned these folks.  That is shocking.  Rory really made these friends for us.  We were in the very south of New Zealand, camping on Purakanui Bay at a Department of Conservation site (kind of like a National Park, but no park or facilities).   Rich and Fiona and their girls were on a five or six-week trip over from England, and we all, kids and grown-ups, and Rich, hit it off right away.  Our evening watching sea lions frolic while the kids danced in the sand for joy is one of our highlights of the whole year.  Not only that, but we showed up on their doorstep in April, and they showed us a fine time.  We drove across Cornwall to see the sun set over their favorite beach, and when we go home they opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate.  The best part?  Unbeknowgst to them it was my birthday  

You can see how we headed straight back for a repeat.  In the interim they had had the good sense and amazing fortune to move from town to their favorite beach, so we got to see them in a new setting.  Thanks, Rich and Fiona and Edie and Megan and Ruby.  You guys are super star.

Looks like I have my work cut out for me tomorrow…  stay tuned.

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December 28, 2010

Celtic Camping: I Can’t Recommend It

Filed under: children, food, Great Britain, Ireland, weather — midway2go @ 11:22 am

Two weeks in Ireland, a week each in Oban and the Isle of Skye in Scotland, followed by three sensible nights in an Inverness hostel and a visit to the Pilbeam family, themselves veteran world travellers (www.web.mac.com/familytrippers/Site/Blog/Blog.html) and fabulous hosts who live just outside Edinburgh.  Can I recommend camping in damp countries whose high temperatures in August nudge 67?     Heavens, no.  We nearly froze.  Camping with two children is nothing like experiencing the pubs of Ireland (the only place in that green land where it never rains) or the castle B&B’s of Scotland.  Still… 

We scared ourselves silly (okay, I scared myself) hiking the Cliffs of Moher.    At the National Heritage Living Museum (or some such thing) in Ireland Rory learned his name means “Red King,” and for days he would only come when so called.  We had hours of fun poking numb fingers into tidal pools where the Cuillins ease into the sea.   We were shocked by the violence and passion of “The Troubles” bubbling right on the surface  in Derry (and I was shocked to find I had booked us into a B&B just a few door down from a police station which had been bombed the previous week.  Oops).   Anne Pilbeam’s chocolate mousse cups are legend in our house, and Ian’s tales of Sammy the Seal turned out to be true (he looked like a giant aquatic dog).    We walked the moors of Culloden on the anniversary of the day Bonnie Prince Charlie landed in Glenfinnian to reclaim his father’s throne.   At the Scottish National Museum (one of the best we saw anywhere, by the way) we couldn’t tear ourselves away from the emigration stories.   An interactive display asked you to imagine you were leaving home, maybe forever, and we found that quite easy to do…  And we tell and retell every story Mr. Noel told us while we camped at the charming Alie River Hostel in Doolin.   So, cold?  Yep.  Heaps of lasting memories?   Well, the Red King hasn’t forgotten yet, and the requests for Irish Stew just keep coming.

April 25, 2010

The Cotwolds and Singapore: Strange Bedfellows

Filed under: animals, children, food, Food Allergies, Great Britain, Singapore, travel — midway2go @ 7:28 am
  
When I imagined, from the relative luxury of my kitchen in Georgia, what this blog would be like I thought I would keep up with it nightly. I would sit down at the end of a full day, the children happily asleep in some other room, and recount tales of great adventure and humorous anecdotes of Rory and Nora on Foreign Land. My stunning and insightful photos would effortlessly fit into the narrative of my tale; indeed, they would be knitted seamelssly together. Well, ha, bloody, ha, as some fictitious Brit would say. I don’t think there has been one time when I’ve sat down and recounted the day afresh. Most nights I’ve collapsed into bed with the kids, falling asleep before they do (well, at least before Rory does). Other nights I’ve bemoaned the lack of internet access, although like now I can write on WordPad and copy and paste to WordPress later, so that’s a weak excuse. Mostly, I think, I just don’t have enough left at the end of a day filled with parenting two kids, planning ahead for travel and coping with the demands of day-to-day life on the move to record the miracles and nightmares as they happen.

 

So, here I sit, in a bed and breakfast in the Cotswolds in England, trying to change all that. I’m in a folding chair, hunched over the keyboard in the dark with the netbook propped on the side of a small dresser to be nearer to the eletrical outlet. Why am I here and not downstairs at the large, well-lit table, now that the kids are asleep? Good question. Be right back.   Okay, here I am. Our B&B, Tall Trees, in Stow-on-the-Wold has turned out to be not only comfortable and convenient but an amazing value. We have the whole upstairs of an annex to ourselves, and, since we’re the only guests, we have full run of the living area, the kitchen, and both patios. Perfect. I love this place. The town, like the whole region, is too cute to be believed. Honey-stoned buildings line each narrow street. Tiny purple flowers cascade out of chinks in drystone fences. Clipped grass, so green you want to nibble it alongside the sheep, fills every hollow. It’s lambing season. Daffodils and hyanciths bloom. Need I say more about the cuteness? It’s almost too much.   

Today we went to Snowshill Manor, the home of a collection of objects of a man named Charled Paget Wade. I say the home of his collection: he never lived in the house. He lived in a small home adjacent to the manorhouse. He bought the manor for his things to live in. He wanted to create a series of rooms in which the 22,000 objects in his collection could settle. He wanted to create another world to delight and enthrall his friends. He began collecting at the age of seven (this makes an enormous impression on Rory, aged eight). His grandmother had this old red Chinese cabinent filled with little knicknacks and treasures. If he was a very good boy the whole week and did as he was told and ate all his porridge he was allowed after church on Sundays to open the cabinent and touch some of the wonders within. From this grew his love of things.    

Charles Wade collected anything form any place and any time, provided it met three criteria: excellence in craftmanship, excellence in color, and outstanding something else (maybe design?). The resulting house was incredible. I had read that the rooms were crammed full with all manner of stuff with no plan or design. Now, to me, that means toasters piled up to the ceiling beside plows and saints reliquaries. Total chaos. But the roms didn’t feel that way at all. Maybe they would to a museum’s curator, but to me they made wonderful sense. All the things that were wheeled or moved or transported were together. All the oldest hand-woven rugs and coats of arms and saints relics hung in a foyer. In another room Chinese snuff jars and Japanese picnic boxes stood around bejeweled dressers from Italy. I thought it was wonderful, even though we had to leave halfway through to get Rory to a toilet and Nora pitched a fit, crashing after eating half of a pink mouse made entirely of sugar, and yelled her way through the amazing gardens.    

For those of you still reading, not just skipping on to the photos (so, my husband and his mother- thank y’all) you may wonder how we got to be here in the Cotswolds from North Carolina? What came before? Ah, well, that may have to wait. I want to go back even further to Singapore, our destination when we left Perth and the clear, logical flow of this blog. We had planned to spend maybe three nights in Singapore, but we stayed eight. Our first three days we spent just getting used to the idea of being in Asia. Our hostel, the Betel Box, was perfect, and Rory and Nora met some of the nicest folks in the world there while I tried to catch up on the Australia blog. Isn’t that funny? A group of (and I am not making this up) students from Uraguay who are doing their undergraduate degrees in Taiwan were there on break from classes, and they played Wii with Rory and Nora for hours. A couple named Rey and Eva from the Philippines showed the two of them incredible kindness. Really, the people we have met on the road have been the best part.    

After three nights we moved on to central Singapore, trading fabulous friends and facilites for location, location, location (and our room was no longer available). At Backpackers Central Hostel we had no windows in our tiny room, but we were just up the street from the Raffles Hotel, home of the Singapore Sling, across the street from a very convienent shopping mall, and walking distance to lots of places, like more shopping malls. It was alarming and oddly seductive. We became regulars at the Starbucks across the street (with the money we were saving in accomadation) and ate so many meals at the yellow plastic tables around the corner that the woman rolled her eyes when she saw us coming.    

I’m just about to it. The thing we had to face at least three times a day was Food. Singapore, mind you, is a city desgined to eat out in. No one cooks. Food is abundant, cheap, and delicious. It is also not dairy nor gluten free. I printed off cards carefully translated into Mandarin, Cantonese, Thai and Vietnamese that explained what we could and could not eat. I would show them to a prospective waiter or waitress. Usually we were asked to leave. This poor woman with the yellow plastic chairs foolishly agreed to take us on like a project, and we haunted her door. Before our time was up in town, though, it was clear we were all reacting to something we’d eaten, but who could ever say what? We’d had yummy vegatables swimming in brown sauces, boiled eggs so runny we had to crack them into a bowl and drink them, and coconut rice with a dried fish head and chili sauce for breakfast. Rory and Nora are still sniggering at the fish ball soup. We spotted in the grocery store a selection of of other balls: pork, beef, or beef tendon. Beef tendon balls? Food there existed in it’s own sphere. We were tourists, wierd Americans whose tastes and fancies could not be reckoned with. Why would they change a perfectly good recipe, made for ages just like that, for us? One time I ordered the vegetarian soup off a lunch menu. It had rice noodles and no soy sauce, so that seemed fine. Well, when it came it was full of rice noodles and tofu, yes, but my vegetarian soup also boasted shrimp, fish and chicken. Eating was definately a challenge. We’d be eating something so yummy and good, Rory would say, “you just know this is going to make us sick.” And it did.    

Still, we loved Singapore. We’re still talking about our day at the zoo. And, for the record, when I snapped the picture of the baboons in front of Rory they were not doing THAT. I also cannot say enough good things about the weather. I LOVE that climate. My skin, so tempermental and fussy, was creamy and soft and happy. My hair was almost curly (well, that may be a stretch). The back of the hostel, where the toilets cubbies and shower stalls were, were open, walled only to the waist. No glass, no screens. It felt like the rainforest or like camping. We’d stand there at the end of a long day, fresh from a cool shower, and we’d brush our teeth with bottled water, leaning our elbows on the wall and looking out at this huge city, this nation-state given over to high-rises and shopping and lattes. The air would be full even then of the sounds of bugs and birds calling in the heavy wet air, over the sounds of horns and voices shouting down the alley, and I couldn’t what world I was in. First? Third? Who cared? We loved it.   

    

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