Category Archives: Travel

Two Exhibits and a Hotel Surprise

Ah, the holidays are over and I can finally finish writing about our fall trip (late October/early November), which we wrap up with a few days in London and Paris.

One day, as we stroll through the Marais in Paris, we stumble upon a weird but surprisingly entertaining museum with both permanent and temporary exhibits dedicated to hunting and nature.  It certainly makes a change from the Louvre, D’Orsay etc. even if you’re not into taxidermy (which I’m decidedly not).img-0789

More my style is the wonderful Atelier des Lumières installation, an immersive experience quite unlike looking at art hanging on a wall.img-0829Still photographs cannot do justice to these huge projections of paintings by Gustave Klimt and more, set to music to create an intensely dramatic adventure which surrounds you with ever-changing sound and images. Do check out this website if you can’t get there in person!img-0817img-0810img-0816img-0827img-0822We’ve bookended our short trip to Paris with some time in London, arriving October 31. Highlights include a tapas dinner with friends at Ibèrica on Great Portland Street (who roll their eyes at our having chosen Devon rather than, say, Cornwall), lots of walking, and the new production of Sondheim’s musical Company at the Gielgud Theatre. Highly recommend you see this show if you can.

We return from Paris on my birthday and our hotel has a nice surprise: They’ve upgraded us to the ridiculously huge Governor’s Suite — essentially the size of a nice London flat, with kitchen, dining room, two bedrooms, two baths and a generous sitting room. img-0844img-0839My favorite find is the enormous copper bathtub, perfect for indulging before the long flight back to the US the following morning. img-0837First week November, 2018.

It’s True: Copenhagen IS Wonderful

Can’t resist the cliché pic of all time! And despite the corny Danny Kaye song, we did indeed find it completely engaging.

Copenhagen is Scandinavia’s largest city, dating back to the 11th century. The reigning monarch Queen Margrethe II can trace her ancestry back to the Viking Age, making Denmark the world’s oldest kingdom. Cobbled squares, charming narrow streets, many parks and lovely old buildings provide a beautiful backdrop to a lively, modern city famed for its excellent restaurants and air of welcome.

IMG-0695It also has the dubious distinction of being one of the world’s most expensive cities, as we soon discover. It’s extra confusing to figure out what things cost, since 1 DKK is equal to about 15 cents US, a calculation I cannot do in my head.

IMG-0694Having booked this side trip rather unexpectedly, DH and I are woefully underdressed for the frigid, wet weather.  On the plus side, the city isn’t very crowded, but it’s easy to see why anyone who actually planned ahead would likely choose a different time of year to visit.IMG-0697We only have about 3.5 days, so we cram in a lot of walking, sightseeing and eating out, plus two nights at the opera (a fabulous production of Il Trovatore and a less-fabulous La Boheme). Definitely a highlight of our month away.

Day One: We check into our excellent hotel, 71 Nyhavn, which overlooks the harbor. IMG-0726We walk around to get oriented, taking a long trek to see the famous Little Mermaid, which is both smaller and closer to shore than I’d expected. Even in this freezing weather, she draws a crowd.

IMG-0701Dinner at Hummer restaurant, a short walk from the hotel, is delicious. They make an oatmeal-crusted whole wheat bread I need to replicate.

 

Day Two:  It’s Sunday and not much is open, plus the opera is a matinée, so we hit the Thorvaldsen, National Museum,  and Jewish Museum before our 3 pm curtain. We walk over to the opera house (OMG is it COLD!) and take the ferry back, which is much faster. Apparently you can’t pay on the boat, but the ticket taker takes pity on our ignorance and lets us ride for free. Good thing because I do NOT want to swim back to Nyhavn.

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Ugly costumes in lobby, but building is quite beautiful.

Dinner at Havfruen, featuring seafood (the name means “mermaid”) and an odd playlist of 1960s American rock music, is again near the hotel (hey, it’s too damn cold to be very adventurous).

IMG-0724IMG-0730Day Three: We do a little shopping, explore the Round Tower (very cool) and the botanical gardens to kill some time before our late lunch reservation. IMG-0737

Street view from the Round Tower

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Schonnemann’s is a landmark restaurant known for its traditional specialties, open-faced sandwiches and many kinds of schnapps. It’s been recommended by two different friends and is not my favorite type of food but turns out to be quite good and, although a tourist destination, it’s also popular with the locals.

 

Tonight it’s back to the opera house. We’ve now figured out the app for booking the ferry so getting there is a lot more pleasant. Too bad the production kind of sucks — it’s REALLY hard to screw up La Boheme.

Day Four:

Today we visit the Rosenborg Palace which is so dark inside that you can barely tell what you’re looking at, The National Art Museum, and — because we’re unlikely to come back here and should “check the box” — Tivoli Gardens amusement park.

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The sky has brightened by the time we get to Tivoli. It IS kind of amusing to watch the little kids squealing while slamming their bumper cars into each other, and it’s less tacky than most of these sorts of places. Anyway, it’s a good distance from the hotel so it provides an excuse for our last long walk.

 

We’re actually tired of seafood so we opt for a nearby Italian place called La Sirène.

IMG-0769.jpgIt’s dark, quiet and quirky, and the most fun part of dinner comes towards the end, when somehow we end up chatting with the group at the table next to us. They live up near Oslo, are about our age, one couple has a daughter who lives in Dallas, and all are opera lovers, so we find a lot to talk about.

A delightful conclusion to a very delightful getaway.

Last week of October, 2018

 

Westward Ho! and Beyond

Happy holidays, everyone! Time for a quick blog….

We return from Wales to our cramped and clammy cottage.  Neither of us wants to be the first to state the obvious: Devon is not all it was cracked up to be. (Or maybe it is and we just weren’t listening.) In any event, we don’t want to spend another full week here.

IMG-0338What to do? After briefly considering other UK options, we decide: What the hell, let’s go somewhere neither of us have visited and probably won’t otherwise.  Brainwave: Copenhagen! We’ll drop off the rental car early at Heathrow, zip over for a few days, and fly back on the day we were supposed to arrive in London.

Much happier now, with travel plans set, we use our next few days for final explorations of the countryside, including nearby Westward Ho! and the beautiful Lanhydrock estate.

First up, Westward Ho! (yes, that is its actual punctuation).

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Creepy haunted-looking house at Westward Ho! parking lot is decorated for Halloween.

Westward Ho! is a beach town whose most notable resident was writer Rudyard Kipling. He attended United Services College here in 1878 and the first verse of “If” is inscribed on the promenade.IMG-0608.JPG

The town features a large sandy beach and beautifully-painted beach huts.

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Eat your heart out, Bermuda!

Another day, we tour Lanhydrock, a magnificent late Victorian property.

IMG-0649 (1)It’s well worth seeing for the stunning kitchens alone: individual rooms for cheese, game, cleanup etc.  Very Downton Abbey. I covet the copper pans — and of course a room dedicated to making bread and pastry.

The house encompasses many other rooms…

…and extensive grounds.

IMG-0670Best part: lawn care is provided by free-grazing cows and sheep!

IMG-0647A plate provides a useful recipe tip:

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And back to reality: our own little National Trust cottage.

IMG-0678Lanhydrock is so much more my speed. Maybe in another life….

3rd week of October, 2018.

Lechyd Da!

First stop of the day: Cilgerran Castle, a 13th-century ruined castle located in Cilgerran, Pembrokeshire, Wales, near Cardigan. According to Wikipedia, the first castle on the site was thought to be built by Gerald of Windsor around 1110–1115, and it changed hands several times over the following century between English and Welsh forces.

No one’s here today so we roam at leisure, wondering if there are any ghosts.

Croeso! Welcome to Aberystwyth!IMG-0529

Before we explore, we check in to our hotel.

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The Conrah Hotel (originally named Ffosrhydgaled, aka “ditch”!) is a beautiful Edwardian mansion, constructed circa 1850 on the site of a farmstead, stables, outhouses and watermill.

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Following a devastating fire in 1911, it is reported that the owner, a Mr. Davies, spent considerable time arguing with his insurance company over where the new house should be built. Davies wished to demolish what was left of the house and re-erect the property in a more elevated position to improve his view, whereas the insurance company refused to allow this due to the increased cost of re-siting the property. Needless to say, the insurers won and the property was rebuilt on the same site.

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I’d kill for this stained glass.

It remained a private home until 1967, when new owners Constance and Ronald Alfred Hughes converted it to a hotel. The couple had made their money locally, manufacturing ‘Conrah’ vases, table settings and similar items from pressed metals (“Co” for Constance + Ronald’s initials RAH), hence the name change.

Gardens and public assembly rooms first attracted wealthy travelers, and in 1800 a new bathhouse provided “respectable visitors” the opportunity to bathe in heated seawater.  Within a few years, bathing machines offered the chance to venture into the sea itself, and guesthouses sprang up to cater to an increasing number of tourists.
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This shop could be owned by one of my husband’s many Welsh relatives of the same name.

The pier was built in 1865 and by the early 1900’s Aberystwyth boasted a large pavilion, railway, theatres, cinemas and concert halls.  By the 1950’s, it was well established as a seaside holiday destination.
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Dinner tonight is with DH’s cousins, who are warm and welcoming. The husband is an ardent Welsh nationalist, so we keep the Brexit discussion short. (Luckily, we don’t have a dog in this fight.)
We learn that a popular toast is “Lechyd da” (Le-chid-ya), which is easier for me to remember than “lloniannau”, or “cheers”.  The pronunciation is close to the Hebrew toast “L’chaim” (“to life”), which supports a theory that the lost tribes of Israel wound up in Wales.
The following morning, we head off to Bath.  I love this bridge — very Hermès, non?!
IMG-0552 (1)Arriving in Bath, our 17th century hotel (Paradise House) looks unimpressive from the outside, and parking in its tiny driveway is precarious, but it’s quite lovely inside. We’re treated to a delicious tea while the room is readied. Would definitely stay here again!
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The town center is an easy walk from the Paradise.  Bath is known for its natural hot springs and 18th-century Georgian architecture. Many of the buildings feature local honey-gold stone, including Bath Abbey, famed for its large stained-glass windows, fan-vaulting, and tower.
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The museum at the site of the original Roman-era Baths includes The Great Bath, statues (a later addition) and a temple.
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There’s a lot to see but we have only one day, so we concentrate on the Baths, a long walk to get a sense of the town, and the Jane Austen museum.

The Baths are well worth the trip, with wonderful depictions of Roman life “back in the day” and many artifacts.

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The Austen museum, however, is kind of a bust — costumed guides tell you about her family history (Austen didn’t spend a lot of time in Bath, as it turns out) but this is best visited by the true enthusiast.

Our stroll takes us to the Royal Crescent, very glamorous.

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And I loved this wonderful old-timey chemist’s shop.

IMG-0591 (1).JPGWe wrap up the day with an excellent meal at Clayton’s Kitchen. Linguine with crab is fresh and delicious.

Tomorrow it’s back to Devon, where we’ll make a major decision….

Mid-October, 2018.

On to Wales, Land of Few Vowels

Scenes from Week Two of our monthlong saga. We’re still in Devon…

IMG-0421 (2)But on the agenda: a visit to DH’s cousins in Aberystwyth (with an indulgent hotel stay en route), and a stopover in Bath on the return trip.

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Friendly cows welcome us to Molleston.

Early in the week, we explore Lynmouth’s picturesque harbor, more villages, and Exmoor National Park.

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IMG-0419.JPGWe stop in Ilfracombe, notable for its controversial Damien Hirst “Verity” statue which depicts both her pregnant exterior and interior. Erected in 2012, the statue looms over the harbor and is on loan to the town for 20 years. Many residents are counting the days until it’s removed. Are you a fan?

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Our drive back to Peppercombe takes us through more villages — one where a thatched roof is being repaired.

And of course we see mehhhnnnny sheep!

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(They never fail to amuse.)

Mid-week, it’s off to Wales. You know you’ve arrived when highway signs are in both English and Welsh and towns have romantic-sounding names such as  Dyffryn Arth and Llansantffraed.

Useful phrases: ARAF (Slow), CYFLEUSTERAU CYHOEDDUS (public conveniences) and CERDDWYR EDRYCHWCH I R CHWITH (pedestrians look right).

The first night, we stay at The Grove-Narberth, which is nothing short of fabulous. Beautiful setting and a wonderful restaurant.

IMG-0505.JPGNaturally, they grow their own herbs and veggies.

Dinner is delish, beginning with amuse-bouches in the bar while we wait for our table.

Desserts are pretty, too.

We stagger to our charming room, complete with fireplace, and nod off. Oh, it is SO nice to be in a hotel!

Early-mid October, 2018.

A Month Abroad, Part 1

It was a great plan.  And, as with so many great plans, things didn’t go exactly as expected.

This all started a year ago, when DH and I decided to explore spending an extended vacation in the UK, Brexit notwithstanding. We’d rent a place with a kitchen so we wouldn’t be dependent on restaurant meals; we’d see friends in London; we’d have a home base from which to explore; and best of all, we’d have direct flights between Austin and London.

We choose Devon, as it’s one part of England neither of us has fully explored, and make our bookings.

Not having a crystal ball, we don’t know that we’ll actually be in Oregon come October since the new house we’re building in Austin won’t be ready until January.  This means we now have to fly to Austin in order to catch our “direct” flight, and of course do the same upon returning. Not to mention the additional cost of hotels, etc.

No matter. We’ve rented a cute little National Trust cottage in Devon (Coastal Cottage #3, which sounds picturesque), described as “cozy” (which turns out to be code for “minuscule”); we have a car with GPS; what can go wrong?

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DAY 1

First clue: the three cottages are at the end of a literal long and winding road: rutted, unpaved, narrow, rocky, passable by only one vehicle at a time and our rental car pretty much takes up the entire width of it. If someone is coming in when you’re going out, one of you has to back up a quarter mile. This will get old pretty damn quickly. As will unlocking the entry gate’s padlock in pouring rain.

Pros: The cottage is nicely equipped with pots and pans, washer-dryer, and a reasonably comfy bed.

Cons: The TV doesn’t work.  There is no Internet. There is no mobile connection so cell phones don’t work either. There is, however, a phone box outside that you can unlock with a key. But let’s say you break your leg falling down the treacherous winding stairs connecting the bedroom and sitting room, and you cannot crawl outside to get to the phone?!? This place is really remote. It is also cold and clammy and there is a fireplace, but we’ll soon discover that when it is warm enough downstairs, it is boiling hot in the bedroom — and not in a good way.

The sun is shining so we head off to explore Peppercombe Beach, which is a short hike.

IMG_0292Beautiful, but the beach is all rocks.

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Pro: We can get Internet service at the closest pub. A pint was never so tempting!

A FEW HIGHLIGHTS OF WEEK ONE

We are intrepid! We are undaunted! We can’t wait to get out of the cottage! We gamely set out to explore Devon and Cornwall — rain and shine.  Some favorite places:

PORT ISAAC (The”Port Wenn” of Doc Martin) is very pretty, despite heavy rain and wind that’s blowing my umbrella inside out. That’s why there are so few photos. Watch the show to see it at its best!

On the way home, we discover Camel Valley vineyard (Cornwall’s largest vineyard), where the tasting room manager is very hospitable and gives us generous pours since we’re the only people to stop by on this rather dreary day.

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THE EDEN PROJECT

One word: incredible.

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The Eden Project, an educational charity, is designed to raise awareness of changes in our environment.

The visitor site in Cornwall, nestled in a huge crater, features a group of massive Biomes, stunningly planted to replicate select environments along with natural inhabitants such as native birds. It houses the largest rainforest in “captivity” and serves as a backdrop to striking contemporary gardens, concerts and year-round events.

CLOVELLY 

Worth a visit if you’re in the area, the village is privately owned and no cars are allowed, owing to its extremely steep cliffside location.  Supplies are delivered on pallets dragged up and down the hill — or on donkeys!

ARLINGTON COURT

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A beautiful stately home built in the 1820s, Arlington Court features carriages, extensive grounds to explore, fancy furniture, and typical crap that rich Victorians used to collect, such as vast quantities of ordinary-looking shells, all lovingly displayed on velvet trays.

I’m particularly fond of the grand staircase…

and the estate’s sheep.

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OUR LOCAL.  It’s not the closest pub, but it’s very welcoming, has good food, and we can sit for an hour checking e-mail with free WiFi and nobody giving us the stinkeye.

IMG_0693Cheers!

First week of October, 2018.

The 4 C’s of Travel… And an F

We all know about the 4 C’s for diamonds, but what about your vacation– possibly a diamond in the rough; hopefully, not a lump of coal!

Some factors we should consider are Cost, Climate, Compatibility (not just you and your companion; also you and your itinerary) and Comfortable Shoes.

Add to these, the F factor: flexibility.

As I wrote last week, DH and I found ourselves in a bit of a bind. We’d committed (and pre-paid, thank-you-very-much) to 3 weeks in a small cottage in North Devon. Which might have been lovely, except:

  1.  Cottage was too remote, with no phone service or Internet
  2. Cottage was eternally damp, due to being in a microclimate
  3. Cottage was not near ANYthing, necessitating lengthy drives along perilously narrow roads with locals who knew where they were going careening towards us at breakneck speed. DH was not amused.

We came back to the cottage one day last week (when once again the TV was on the blink) and had a heart-to-heart. The upshot: “We’re miserable, let’s get the hell out of here.”

First idea, since we’re due in London on the 31st: Pick somewhere else, e.g., Somerset or Salisbury, and go there. But then, a brainstorm: Why limit ourselves, if we’re leaving early anyway?? Where haven’t we been that would be a short flight away? And voila (sorry; can’t find accent marks in my iPad!), a new plan: tomorrow we’ll head to Copenhagen for 3.5 days, somewhere neither of us has been before and it’s been on our bucket list.

So. We’ve booked the hotel, gotten opera tickets (a shared passion), and done next to no research. BUT! It can’t be worse than sitting in that dreary cottage!  Right?!?

Flexibilty! Never feel you have to stick with a hotel, destination etc. if there’s any way you can afford to make  a change.

We may still want to kill each other after a month of togetherness, but at least it will be in a new setting.

Have  lovely week! Xx, Alisa