Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Eternal Traveler

The Tank and I

I flew into CGD airport in Paris using only part of my Miami/New Delhi ticket so I could go over to England to do some on site research for my new novel, BANISTER.  I have been coming to England for the last thirty years but had never ventured north of the Warwick/ Stratford areas.  It was time to get some insight on Northern England and while researching, also see some dear friends.  Little did I know they would be so instrumental in improving my knowledge of the area I was writing about. 

After two days in London, one spent at the V&A (Victoria & Albert Museum) to see the extraordinary Thomas Heatherwick Studio exhibit – this is the studio that designed the 2012 Olympic cones carried by members of each participating country and later taken home to their countries; these were the cones connected to the massive torches for the Olympic flame.  The second day I just wandered.  I had not been in London since 2006 and I wanted to check out my old haunts, and take a long leisurely evening walk across Kensington Gardens. 

The next morning I was up and out to catch a nine a.m., train to York, in northern England.  New territory.  The guesthouse in London had called a taxi, but it didn’t arrive.  So I went out on the street and hailed one down, and good I did.  It seems that if you order a taxi, they can charge any amount they wish; I was quoted 22 pounds 50 (around $36).  If you hail a cab on the street, the cost is almost half the price ($19). Also the drivers who drive throughout the London streets picking up fares have to pass a test about the history of London, so they not only become your driver but also excellent tour guides as well. 

  Upon arriving in York, I went to Foss Bank Guest house conveniently situated just outside the York City walls, then after a casual overview walk of York headed back to the train station to meet my dear friend Carol who arrived on a five o’clock train.  Carol is one of the more remarkable people I know.  She has bought a house in the highest part of England in Cumbria, and as the location is not on a rail line, she bicycled twenty-five miles to get the train – in the rain.  Carol has been cycling around the world since age seventeen; biking across Iran, Afghanistan, much of India, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and parts of Europe.  Now she is knocking out walls and rebuilding her new home into a haven when she is not traveling.  Her friends used to call her the Road Queen but now she referred to as Cement Carol.  Although I think she will soon be reverting back to her former nickname, as her next Asian cycling adventure is to bicycle across the ‘Stans,’ Uzbekistan, Turkistan, etc., from Asia to Europe and home.  

Meanwhile, Carol stopped all her projects to come to York and spend a day and a half with me.  What fun. She spent the night in a campsite six miles outside York, and cycled in to meet me the next day.  After garden walks, museums and shopping (she’s and incredible shopper), we had a leisurely dinner at the Viceroy (great Indian food) discussing our passed and future adventures.  It’s nice to spend time with someone who also has a roaming spirit.   

After Carol left, I spent two more days playing tourist in York.   One evening, I attended The Mystery Plays.   For some unearthly reason, I had no idea that Mystery Plays were actually the long biblical story from Adam and Eve to the Easter story, and the hanging of Christ on the Cross (and they did).  It was horrifying, one of the most frightening events I have ever experienced.  Why I did not realize the story line I have no idea, but I assure you, if I had of been an individual living during the 13th century I would have been scared half to death into becoming a believer ‘in the one true religion,’ if I were not already.  Attending The Mystery Plays once in a lifetime is enough for me, and I will never go again.  Although the other is not a religious event, I will also never attend another bullfight.   Nor do I have to break my arm again to know there is pain. 
One really lovely event I attended was the Evensong service at The Minister, the largest and one of the oldest (built in the 11th century) Norman Cathedrals in England and Europe.  One doesn’t have to be religious to attend this service of music and prayer, which absolutely embellishes the grander of this great cathedral and makes one thoroughly aware of the fervor at which the medieval society believed in their God and the majesty and power of the Catholic (now an Anglican) Church. 

The Botanical Gardens are delightful and the York walls fun to walk.  York’s medieval architecture is a festival to the eye and the local York Museum does a great job putting it all in historic prospective from the Vikings to modern times.  I enjoyed the light fare at Lucky Days, a luncheon place where if you threw a six on the dice, you received one pound off the price of your lunch. After two more great dinners at The Viceroy  – I really like Indian food (The Viceroy’s chef is Pakistani which gives an interesting twist the flavor of the food); it was time to move on. 

On my last morning, I walked over to the train station to pick up the car I had pre-rented for a week to drive from York to Heathrow.   Drive in England you question?  But they drive on the left side of the road.  No problem. After all, the steering wheels are on the left side of the cars, so why not.  I had requested the compact size.  Then I saw the car.  It was a TANK.  A four door Nissan Juke.  Didn’t these Brits trust me?  Did they look at my age and say, ‘lets cover our bets the best we can?’   Tank it was; in which one sat high in the air with both a GPS and a rear-backing camera.  They also offered me extra insurance over and above what I had already purchased.  These people weren’t taking any chances.  I ask for a smaller car.  They balked.  I ask for a map.  They said no maps because no one ever returned them.  I thought how quaint.  Actually I had an obsolete map, but I didn’t tell them. Then I had the young man set the GPS for my day’s destination and off I went white knuckled all the way. 

I was headed south to Baslow, a typical English village in The Peaks district, where I was invited to stay with my friend James Bettney for three nights.  The distance to Baslow from York is 53 miles.  But with numerous errors of missing traffic signs and making wrong turns, my whole trip extended to 83 miles.  Keeping in mind that I did see some lovely countryside, I must admit the GPS was up to my every foible. 

James and I left the ‘tank’ in Baslow and for the next three days he drove, showing me the Peaks area countryside, the villages of Baslow and it’s charming village church, Bakewell, and Pilsey, the location of the main Chatsworth farm shop.  We checked the Matlock area for a hospital or nursing home, and searched Sheffield for dealers in antique Sheffield Silver, and the Derwent River (necessary knowledge for my latest novel).  
In the middle of a Chatsworth field with rare red deer in the background

Then we went to Chatsworth a palatial manor house, the ancestral home of the Duke of Devonshire and his family. The house is massive with the grounds covering 50,000 acres, including all or parts of many of the little country towns and villages in the area.  Although this is still the Duke’s family home, the house is opened all year around with International Horse Trials in the spring, Theatre performances in the summer and Christmas themes during the winter.  The house has 126 rooms, 100 0f them for family use only.  But the rooms that are open certainly give a realistic idea of how this family lived, and of their antecedents.  James and I also visited another country house, which had been turned into a lovely little country hotel.

James Bettney is a young fellow to watch, only 24 and a graduate of the Glasgow School of Art, with a degree in Photography and Visual Arts. His work entitled, Written in their Karma, is currently being displayed at the Scottish Parliament Building in Glasgow.  His work and the others from that presentation will be moved to the V& A in London for a month’s showing.  His subject matter is a series of portraits of widows in Nepal.  When a husband dies, the widows and their children are tossed out of the Nepali family enclave like so much garbage, to fend for themselves and their children.  An almost impossible plight. 
                                                   Check out     MUTU
James with the help of a local Nepali women’s organization has started a charity/ foundation, MUTU, to help the widows help themselves by buying sewing machines, training them to sew, and how to make certain items which will appeal to other women in markets around the world.  He’s also working for an international Photography firm with contracts in Europe and the US.  Pretty well done, I’d say.
Monica and James

After three wonderful days with James and his soul mate Monica, I left Yorkshire and headed down to Derbyshire.  Nottingham was my destination, there to see out Mark, my old New Zealand traveling companion, and his partner, Sarah.  While driving through Nottingham, I heard a terrible crash.  Had I being driving too close to the parked bus?  Had I sideswiped it as I passed?  I was petrified!  Did I stop?  You bet your life I didn’t.  I didn’t even think of the consequences of leaving the scene of an accident.  I panicked and just drove on.  How could I?  Then I looked out the rider’s side window and realized I had no outside view mirror.  Had I hit the bus so hard the mirror had fallen out?  I was scared witless, and drove to Mark’s and Sarah’s as quickly as I could, not stopping to calculate the damage I had caused – I just high tailed it out of the area and didn’t stop till I pulled into their driveway.  Then I got out of the car and checked for damage.  There was none.  Not a scratch.  Obviously, I had hit nothing.  The mirror was obviously not secure and just fell out of it’s own volition.  What kind of rental car-company was this, that allows mirrors to be so poorly installed (rented from Hertz through Euro Car)?  But what to do now?  If I took it to the rental car office, I assumed  they would probably  charge me for the price of replacing the mirror, which would probably cost a fortune, and probably used up my whole 650 pound deductible – a little over 1040 dollars. Even though I had nothing to do with the event.  (What would you have done, readers? Some opinions here, please.)  Mark saved the day.  He called the Nissan dealer service center, and they ordered a new window sent over night for about 74 US.  Once it was fixed, we went to the rental office and I paid an extra eighteen US a day for two days to insure Mark, so he could drive the ‘tank’ while we continued my Peaks area research.  I was much like the glass, too shattered to be of any use in the driver’s seat for a while.
Mark and Sarah in Mr. Straw's garden
We then had a wonderful day visiting an old Industrial Revolution cotton spinning mill, and Mr. Straw’s House.

We also visited Hardwick Hall a classic Elizabethan manor house built in the late 16th century, and Haddon Hall an ancient manor probably built around 1150.  The villages of Haddon were first mentioned in the Doomsday Book in 1086 (a real estate record began by William Duke of Normandy after he conquered England in 1066).  But Haddon Hall and it’s chapel were not mention until 1180.
Hardwick hall

Hardwick Hall orginally owned by the Duke of Devonshire's family, was handed over to Her Majasty's Treasury in 1958 for death duties and transfered to  the Nation Trust in 1959. By giving up Hardwick Hall in leiu of other family assets, the family were was able to keep Chatsworth, their major residence and it's 50,000 acres in tack.  Today Hardwick is opened to the public, and recently exterior shots were use it the movies, Harry Potter and the Deathly Harrows, I & II to depict Malford Manor.  Whereas Haddon Hall, which at one time had much the same amount of acrage as Chatsworth, did not have any other manor houses to give up, after death duties it now has only 2000 acres still owned with the manor house (Check out the internet to read more about this) .  

Haddon Hall
Haddon Hall is a most fascinating historic castle and is available for general public viewing.  Much like many other of these manor houses, it has it’s own special list of yearly activities; Folk Music evenings, Easter Egg Hunts, Tudor Cooking classes, Tudor Weddings, and Halloween and Christmas events to list a few.  Yet, because it has never been modernized, that makes it really authentic, and I found it a wonderful place to visit for it’s unique historic value.

Sarah, my friend Marks partner has just turned 49.  In honor of her birthday, she has made a to do list of 50 things she has never done before, to be finished by the time she becomes fifty.  One item on the list was to visit Mr. Straw’s House, “…the Straw family moved here in the 1920s.  For 60 years the Straws threw little away and chose to live without many of the modern comforts we take for granted today. [A] Time capsule [of another age].”  So off we went.  I prefer castles, but Sarah was enthralled and it was nice for Mark and I to see her enjoy the visit so much and be able to ‘tick’ one more thing off her fifties list.  We had lunch in an authentic pub and Sarah had a real ploughman’s lunch – pork pie with all the trimmings.  Lovely day.                      

Mark is also one of those special individuals who put his life on hold to travel throughout the world for three years.  He spent months on Bedford truck safaries in both Africa and South America; saw much of Asia and the US.  While in Asia he suffered a terrible bus accident between India and Nepal.  Here is a man who faced the harrowing knowledge that because of the carelessness of an Indian bus (Indian bus companies are notorious for their horrible accidents) company, that he might lose part of a lime caused by an infection when the bus toppled over a thankfully low cliff.  After three surgeries in Kathmandu and two months of healing he finally recovered. I met him in Kathmadu and later we traveled together on the South Island of New Zealand. Then he went on to North and South America to finish his remarkable three years of travel.   

church used in Downton Manor scenes
The next day, after our day out in the Peaks, we went to Mark’s mother and father’s for lunch, in Stratford on Avon.  It was nice to be in such a loving family setting, but after lunch I was off to drive through the Cotswolds to the village of Burford; the set of the most current funeral scenes in the BBC (PBS) Downtown Manor stories. 

Early the next morning I drove to Heathrow, went to my hotel ( the Ibis, nothing to brag about) and then turned in the ‘tank.”

The flight the next day was a breeze, and upon arriving rode the free airport shuttle to a really nice little hotel, the, Companile Roissy Le Mesmil Amelot, in the little village of Amelot very near the CDG airport.   Soon my dear friends, Hilda and Chris Bamford’s, seasoned travelers who live in Paris, arrived and we had one of memorable evenings of good food, good wine and good friends. 
Meant to take a picture - Darn't!  

Tomaz, sitting on my terrace at Teba House Ubud

We must all thank my good friend, Tomaz Krakowiak for riding on his Motor bike from Dempasar, Bali to Ubud, where I am staying, to show me how to insert pictures.  Thank you, Tomaz.