- African elephants, Chad
- Channel Island foxes, California
- Beavers, Scotland
- Mountain gorillas, Rwanda/Uganda
- West Indian manatees, Florida
- Blue iguanas, Cayman Islands
- Asiatic lions, India
(All images, Pixabay)
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).
More my style is the wonderful Atelier des Lumières installation, an immersive experience quite unlike looking at art hanging on a wall.Still 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!We’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. My favorite find is the enormous copper bathtub, perfect for indulging before the long flight back to the US the following morning. First week November, 2018.
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.
It 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.
Having 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.We 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. We 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.
Dinner 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.
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).
Day 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.
Street view from the Round Tower
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.
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.
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.
It’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
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.
What 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).
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.
The town features a large sandy beach and beautifully-painted beach huts.
Another day, we tour Lanhydrock, a magnificent late Victorian property.
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.
Best part: lawn care is provided by free-grazing cows and sheep!
A plate provides a useful recipe tip:
And back to reality: our own little National Trust cottage.
Lanhydrock is so much more my speed. Maybe in another life….
3rd week of October, 2018.
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!
Before we explore, we check in to our hotel.
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.
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.
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.
The Baths are well worth the trip, with wonderful depictions of Roman life “back in the day” and many artifacts.
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.
And I loved this wonderful old-timey chemist’s shop.
We 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….
Scenes from Week Two of our monthlong saga. We’re still in Devon…
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.
Early in the week, we explore Lynmouth’s picturesque harbor, more villages, and Exmoor National Park.
We 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?
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!
(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.
Naturally, 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.
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?
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.
Beautiful, but the beach is all rocks.
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.
THE EDEN PROJECT
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.
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!
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.
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.
First week of October, 2018.