Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Latest Informal Class - England, the North Country

I'm catching up on my blogging this morning.  It's such a lovely, quiet day!

Maybe you think that with all this traveling to the Ozarks, I'd forgotten about England.  LOL Oh ye of little faith!

No, I'm diligently gearing things up for my trip in May.  I have the structure around what I want to do, but not too many details.  I'm doing my best to keep things as open as possible to allowing me to spontaneously visit places, hike, visit friends, or whatever!

But, that doesn't mean I don't *think* about the UK.  A lot.  Yes, the grass may always be greener, but when you live in a place where one-legged men stand in front of the convenience store dropping their trousers or sirens wail every fifteen minutes... you honestly need something to daydream about.

My mom thinks I can find prettier sights here in the US and doesn't know why I want to travel so far to see what I see and do what I do.  All I can respond is that ... I have the bug.

And, one of my greatest joys is to share that bug with others!  I have lived and traveled in the UK a lot over the years.  Thanks to my friend Sharon Williams , I finally overcame my fear and pushed myself to sign on with University of Texas Informal Classes.  October 27th was my third class on the North of England.

Mom came along (thanks for schlepping some of the course material, mom!) and we spent a good three hours talking with the few folks who showed up on a Saturday morning for the course.

My classes are a mixture of history, cultural anomalies, travel destinations and tips, logistics, and a breathtaking look at the North of England through David Dimbeby's "A Picture of Britain" BBC tv series as well as a personal compilation video from some of my trips.

The best part of the class, to me, is to hear what the attendees have to say.  The questions they ask, or the tips they give me that I may not have thought of before!

I mentioned to this class that no one knows all there is to know about Austin.  How much less can I know about Great Britain?  What I *can* tell you is that I lived there, I travel there as frequently as possible, and that I will research and respond to any questions they might have.

There was a person in one class who wanted to know how big the Lake District National Park was!  I didn't have that on the tip of my tongue. I now know it's 900 square miles and the largest national park in England and Wales.  See?

Another student told me that the Venn diagram I was using wasn't correct and that India was not a commonwealth nation.  Someone in the class pointed out that India *was* in the Commonwealth of Nations.  Just not the Commonwealth Realm.

So, yes, I learn as I go.  And maybe someday, I'll know *everything* there is to know about 1 square foot of England... but that, my friends, will take me a lifetime!

To the Ozarks... and Beyond

I just returned from a whirlwind vacation to Eureka Springs, Arkansas.  And what a lovely visit it was!  I thought I’d share it here so you can get an idea of what’s available to you if you take the (relatively) short sprint up to Arkansas’ Northwest corner.

Friday, October 12 – My birthday!

I got up fairly early (even for me!) and was on the road by 5:30 A.M.  The plan was to drop the pups off at their kennel and then hit the open road.  Covered Wagon Kennels is located in Hutto, TX.  I’ve been recommending them for years and they’re, really, the only folks I trust with my dogs.  The kennels are large and are indoor/outdoor, and the Repass’ are some of the best folks I ever met!

Anyway, with doggies dropped off, I headed north on I-35.

I’ve only been this route once before and that was about four years ago, so I was seeing things again for the first time!

I stopped at the Czech stop in West, Texas to pick up world-famous kolaches for Crystal (who has never heard of kolaches!).

The biggest thrill was arriving at the Oklahoma border and being overwhelmed with everything Native American.  Though… it looks like the Native Americans have a pretty healthy gambling habit!

The rest of the drive through the state was pretty uneventful (read that as boring).  No interesting scenery to speak of.  No cool stuff visible from the road (other than the huge lake at Eufaula). 

Crossing into Arkansas was not much better.  The drive on 40E to Fort Smith is pretty much a snoozer.  It’s when you arrive at I540 and begin heading north of Fort Smith that you begin to realize what a beautiful state this really is.

The road is magnificent – especially the closer you get to Fayetteville and Bentonville.  Bentonville, as you may know, is the headquarters of Wal-Mart.  But, to me, that’s not the high point of the area.  It’s the rolling hills, the beautiful foliage… and the fresh produce stands!

At Rogers (just outside Bentonville), you take a right at Highway 62 and on to Eureka Springs!  I was very lucky to have some good friends who live just outside of town and spent my weekend in a lovely guest house that overlooks the White River.

I arrived around 4:30 pm and was greeted by my friends Doc and Crystal and their sweet puppies, Foxy and Wolfie.  

After a lovely meal that couldn’t be beat… as well as a homemade German Chocolate birthday cake a’ la Crystal…I hit the bed and fell into a coma.

Saturday, October 13

Today was Diane’s birthday, so I called her and sang the birthday song.  Yes, with flourishes and many sour notes – but my heart was in it. J

Crystal had made homemade pumpkin pancakes and fresh fruit for breakfast (which was yummy beyond belief).  We then headed out for a local scenic spot known as the Blue Spring Heritage Center.  The good news was that the spring was still there.  The bad news was that all the lovely garden flowers had mostly gone over (it was the end of the season).  They also had a problem with the water feeding the spring, and were in the process of digging up much of the area.  It was muddy (that’s the gist of it).

But, the highlight was the beautiful leaf show and the gift shop.  Avoid the money grubbing coke machine at all costs!

Let’s go home for lunch! Oh yes… J  Crystal always cooks fresh and good.  We had some fresh tomato and cheese sandwiches with fresh fruit. 

And then… let the shopping begin! 

Downtown Eureka Springs is very quaint.  The town is built on some steep hills.  Old buildings dot the streets and the Amphitheater marks the center of town where musicians, card readers, and artists gather to play, sell, and create some of the magic that IS Eureka Springs. 

We shopped at all the stores.  Jewelry stores, clothing stores, candy stores… you name it, we were there!  Eureka Springs is known for its local artists.  I must say, I rarely spend money on jewelry, but I got two very beautiful unique sets of earrings that were only about $30 apiece!

There were sock stores and quilt stores… and restaurants all over the place!

I was smitten by the onslaught of creativity and genius and changing leaves.  And a little bit by the insidious idea that somewhere, there were autistic twins playing banjo and laying in wait.

After our long day in town, we returned home to rest up for dinner.  I was taking us out to a place called Local Flavor which had a nice array of fresh foods and a table located (after a brief talk with the hostess) in a nice corner at one side of the establishment.

Food and service were good, and I was very happy to have come so far to see old friends and enjoy new surroundings.

October 14, Sunday

Woke up early, but Doc and Crystal were nowhere to be seen.  Foxy was howling in the garage, so I rapped on the front door and got everyone stirring.  Poor Foxy was just ready to get fed and roam! 

I made some eggs and toast (my regular breakfast) before heading to Pea Ridge Military History museum.  Doc and Crystal weren’t very keen on going, so I popped into the car and headed on my way.

Pea Ridge was one of the first battles of the civil war.  It seems each side had a vested interest in wanting to take Missouri for their side. This was the decisive battle.  The south outnumbered the north by quite a bit, and should have won.  But, they had a brash young leader who (and I can’t believe ANY commander would do this)… sent his men behind company lines with no supplies and no backup ammo.

You can guess the rest.

At various points, the different sides took over the Elk Horn tavern (the only building in the area) to use as a base and makeshift medical hospital.  

There was also a little memorial area with three statues.  It seemed pretty southern-oriented in its memorialization, but I found the statues very interesting.

The museum itself was very well done.  Bits and bobs from the war.  A wonderful 30-minute movie introduction.  Nice gift shop.  But, what I really enjoyed most was the driving tour.  The tour takes you along part of the Cherokee Trail of Tears, through important battle sites, and through some of the most beautiful scenery I’d seen to date.

I was sorry Doc and Crystal hadn’t come, but glad I got to experience this awesome site and highly recommend it to area visitors.

Returning home, we had some lunch before Crystal and I made it into town once again. 

I had decided I wanted to get my cards read by the person with a table at the town’s amphitheater.  Now, there are some readers who are very good and insightful.  I know one in Austin.  A good reader is more of a good counselor than anything else… someone intuitive and someone who (many times) will give you more of a straight answer than a professional counselor.  But then, there are the others.  This was one of those…

His name was Robert and he wreaked of alcohol.  I had to ask him to put out the cigarette he was smoking before we started (I had TONS of misgivings at this point).  Five minutes into the reading, I just wanted to leave.  He boasted about being a “pagan priest”… and then began using a book to help him read the cards.  He rambled as if I had the entire day to spend with him, and I finally had to cut him off and tell him I had to go.  He got very upset with me… but that’s ok.  He got 15 dollars and I learned not to get my cards read in Eureka Springs!

Eureka Springs, like Austin, is full of characters and charm.

Crystal and I shopped at several great stores and enjoyed another lovely afternoon of doing nothing in particular. J  I got a Lilliputian sized "pot belly" Henry VIII at one store (to go with the one I had of Elizabeth I).

 Picked up some fudge for my co-workers (who are extremely chocolate obsessed) from "The Two Dumb Dames" fudge store, and then we made our way back home to dinner and one last slice of German Chocolate birthday cake!

I told Luis and Crystal I’d be leaving very early the next morning, so we said our goodbyes and went to bed.

October 15, Monday

5:30 AM, I got up and swept through the house – packing, cleaning and picking up, loading the car… I had a long day’s drive, and I wanted plenty of lead time.

I picked up an egg biscuit from McDonald’s in Rogers (since I couldn’t find the taco place Crystal and Doc had mentioned), and onward I went.  Unfortunately for me, I passed through the most scenic areas before sunrise.  I had hoped to get some fabulous pictures like I’d done the past trip I’d made there.  But, so it goes.  I pushed onward toward Durant, OK where I was supposed to have lunch with an old high school band mate, Rita Rains.  On the way, I stopped at an Amish shoppe which featured homemade Amish jams, jellies, and (of course) fudge!  I picked some up for Rita and a little for myself.

What a lovely time Rita and I had catching up on things.  We share a deep love of dogs and, I think, a love of life and people.  It’s been a hard life, but good and the lunch was so much fun.  Rita is friends with many of my old friends from high school like Lyle Tompkins, Glenda Pittman, and others.  You know, I never really ran with any crowds (other than the band crowds) in high school, but I always enjoy seeing the people from back then and learning how their lives have turned out.  Rita works for her brother (a doctor) in the area.  I missed meeting her babies because one of them is a bit picky about meeting new people and we didn’t have time to acclimate me with her.  But, maybe next time. J

I headed out and planned to stop by the Peanut Shoppe before crossing the Texas border.  I loved the shop last time I’d stopped by on my trip, and this time I did as well.  Peanuts, pecans, and other nuts prepared about any way you’d like them (and I always like them in the most fattening ways!).  I picked up a bag of toffee peanuts and had to throw out the last of it before I ate myself into a peanut-induced stupor!

The rest of the trip was uneventful with one stop on the way to change into cooler clothes (it was heating up FAST!).  Picked up the pups from Geri and Jim’s kennels, and headed home.

All-in-all, for a quick trip – you can’t beat the Ozarks in the Fall.  There’s a lot more to do than I did, and I’d hoped to do more hiking (it rained much of the time I was there).  But, then, there’s ALWAYS next time. J

Friday, October 5, 2012

Creating a Travel Hub

Travel Hubs… what are they and why would you want one?

It occurred to me as I looked over brochures for group tours to London and Paris, Bulgaria and Switzerland… that it was a LOT of work for relatively few touring options.  Pull up stakes every night.  Bus trips of long duration.  Not being able to separate from a tour if it *wasn’t* what I wanted to do… etc.

I’m normally an independent traveler, and even as such, I hadn’t really scoped out the power of “hubbing.”  Typically, I would land in London, then take a train or car to each of the following travel destinations on my itinerary… changing lodging each time.  Again, a lot of time and energy wasted on useless things like packing, switching hotels, and driving to each B&B along the way.

I started thinking of all the day tours available from London to Stonehenge, Bath, the Cotswolds, etc.  And I wondered… couldn’t you apply the “hub” concept to a custom-tailored vacation just for you?  I mean… who said I had to be stuck with city to city vacations?  Really?

So, I’m about to step out on a limb here and apply this concept to a vacation you might want to take.  Perhaps structuring one will make more sense.

Choose the Trip Highlights First

First, without considering a location or a specific date, are there some things you might like to do?

Determine Things You Want to Do

  • Hike
  • See some sheepdog trials
  •  Go to some country fairs
  • Shop – especially in market towns
  • Check out a few cathedrals, castles, or other historical sites
  • Eat really good food
  • Visit friends

Settle on Travel Dates

Ask yourself:
  1. Which of these travel highlights are tied to certain dates?
     2.  Is that a good month weather-wise to go see and do these things?
     3.  Do the dates fit into a travel schedule that is doable?
  • It would be a stretch:  May 2 – May 19

Determine Cities/Towns You Want to Visit

  • Keswick
  • Otley
  • Leyburn
  • Ripon
  • Kilburn
  • Sleaford
  • London
  • Leicester
  • Norwich

Pinpoint Your Hub(s)

Map out the Highlight Locations

Use Google Maps (or another map program) to map out your destinations.

Now, typically, you would look at this map and find the center of the dots to see where your hub should be.  In this map, you see the potential for a North and South hub.

Deciding Factors

Is there an area or particular location you want to consider?

Perhaps you want to spend a good amount of time in the Lake District.

The north hub could be Keswick  (location C).  From Keswick, Leyburn (B) , Otley (A), Kilburn (D), and Ripon (E) are reachable in a day.

Are there other factors?  Opportunities? 

For the southern hub, you have a friend who lives in Leicester (G) … so you could go to London (F), Sleaford (I), and Norwich (H) as day trips from there and enjoy an extended visit with your friend.


  •  Do your research – because back roads can cause a lot of issues when you’re traveling in the UK.  A one-hour trip can easily become three hours.  If the towns you are visiting are easily reachable by train or bus… consider those.
Trains are usually faster than cars, but won’t get you in and out as easily.
  • Pick your hub B&B or lodging.  There are numerous resources for this including the local visitor’s centre.


To summarize, a travel hub does not have to be a large city.  You can create your own travel hub and make your vacation work for YOU and not the other the other way around.

The advantages of staying in one place are:
  • Saving time and money. Many B&B's offer a discount for an extended stay. Less time packing and unpacking - more time for sightseeing!
  • Flexible.  If you decide you don’t want to do a day trip one day… you don’t have to.  You haven’t already planned and tied yourself to a B&B for the next day. 
  • You can scope out your hub town in a lot more detail.
  • You can leverage opportunities to visit friends - using their town as a hub and possibly saving money by staying with them.  

Saturday, September 29, 2012

May 2013 - the new "Go" Date

Dear Readers,

As I mentioned in the last post, I’ve just gone through a season of loss this summer.  Probably the worst summer in my life.   

I would occasionally think maybe I should begin planning another trip.  You know, take my mind off things.  After grieving the loss of my friends and father and the loss of my last trip, though, I wasn't sure I could bring myself to purchase another UK ticket again.

But, then all these photographer friends of mine keep posting their gorgeous pictures. Almost ALL my co-workers have traveled to the UK this year (the latest even went to Keswick). I started daydreaming.

Trafalgar offered me 25% off the trip I missed out on last summer.

I am not sure if I was convinced I should go or not… it was very mechanical, pushing that “Go” button.  I hope I did the right thing. 

The trip is planned for May.  I will be sure to let you know how things go.  I plan on a week in the Lake District, a day and a half in London, and the rest on the Trafalgar tour.

In the meantime, I’m signed up to teach another England class at UT Informal classes.  I’m doing a one-day class this time on Saturday October 27th.  I thought I’d see how it would be to consolidate everything into one longer course.  I like the timeframe better.

I’m actually booked to travel quite a bit this year.  I don’t really know how that happened.  By accident, most likely.

I’ll be traveling to see friends in Eureka Springs, Arkansas in October for my birthday.  The day after I get back, mom is coming to stay with me for a week and a half. The dogs and I will be happy to see her!

In November, comes a trip to Maryland to see Sweet Sue (my friend from Jr. High).  I’ll be there for a week of sightseeing and catching up.

In April, I travel with my friend, Brenda, to bury her husband’s ashes at Arlington National Cemetery.  We plan to drive up and see some sights along the way.

And then, two weeks later – I’m in the UK!

I’m so hesitant this year.  I hope I can overcome it.  A week in the Lake District should be enough to cure anyone!

My friend who went to Keswick for the first time this year said it was her favorite part of the trip for her.  I had given a couple of UK classes at work, and she had learned about the Lake District there.  I’m so glad she enjoyed herself.

What will I do with myself for a week there? 

I’ve been considering a long day trip to Yorkshire.  Stops would include the Teesdale Gallery to see one of my photographer friends.  From there, I plan a stop at Fountains Abbey and on to Ripon.

I would like to do a short hike to the last place I remember well from having lived there.

This hiking map: Ripon Ramble at #4 shows where I will be.  It will be a sad/happy time for me.  I will remember being a young newlywed and all the traumas and happiness of uprooting myself for the unknown and coming to know what it is like to be in a long-term partnership with someone.  I was unsure what that even meant in the beginning!

On from Ripon, I will go back to Thirsk.  I have a penchant for retracing my steps to places I love.  I want to go back to the World of James Herriot again now that I’ve seen most of the “All Creatures Great and Small” series.

And, following that, to Kilburn.  Once again, I’ll climb the White Horse cliff and visit the Robert Thompson/Mouseman woodcarver.  However, I want to do something different, so I’ll also visit the nearby North Yorkshire Dales National Park/Sutton Bank Visitor's Centre.  A short walk (depending on time) would be in order.

That should complete one ambitious day! 

If other thoughts of days out come to me, I’ll post them here.  Travel is healing, I think.  As one friend of mine put it: “No one ever said on their deathbed, ‘I wish I hadn’t traveled so much!’”

Leaving you with a clip from All Creatures Great and Small.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

And There it Is

I haven't blogged in awhile, dear readers.  I had hoped that by now you would have been regaled with stories of England - new friends I'd met along the way and old friends I'd gotten the chance to see again.

But such was not the case.

I was supposed to leave for the UK on June 13.  On June 12, my father called to tell me he was going into the hospital to try some new medications they wanted to put him on.  He didn't sound good... so I left immediately for Houston.

Dad seemed ok as I checked in on him.  So, my plans were still in place.

The next morning was scary.  Dad looked worse than I'd ever seen him.  I was fearful of leaving, but dad and the rest of the family said I should leave, and the doctors and nurses weren't giving me any clues as to how urgent the need for me to stay was.

Well, I boarded the plane with misgivings, and cried most of the way to London.  I knew as we were passing over NYC that I was going to have to return immediately.  It's a good thing, too, because waiting for me in the UK were messages from my family urging me to return.

I spent exactly one hour in the duty free hall collecting souvenirs, but never left the airport until my flight home was called.

Dad was released home to hospice care.  He looked really bad, and my heart sank as I watched him try to breathe and to just do what he had to to survive.  But, miracle of miracles... he got better daily!  I'm convinced that hospitals kill people.

I was able to come home to Austin feeling that dad was at least stable.

On July 11, I got a call at 5 am from my brother that dad wasn't breathing well.  30 minutes later I got the other call that dad had passed away.

The arrangements and funeral and such were all a blur.

Two weeks later on July 27th, one of my best friends passed away from cancer.  Again, I was involved in the post-passing frenzy of plans, parties (she didn't want a memorial), and mourning.

In addition, my friend Brenda's husband, Mitch, passed away in June and two other best friends have moved/are moving very far away from Austin.

I've been trying to work up the passion for another trip - just to keep from going totally under, but thoughts of England are so tied with my dad's illness that it may take awhile.  I've considered going other places, but nothing has spoken to me yet.

Anyway, didn't want you thinking I'd forgotten about you.  It's just been a really tough summer.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Turbulent Tribulation

It's past midnight on the Saturday before my trip.  I'm not sure why I get all wack about trips just before they happen.  I feel like I'm on the edge of a precipice... about to take a step into the unknown.

Well, that's very dramatic.  Usually, I'm ok by the time I actually get on the plane.

I guess, that is, unless it's a plane dealing with turbulence.

Remember that plane that went down a few years ago just off the coast of Brazil?  They thought turbulence had caused it to go down.

Now, I've been flying since I was five.  At five years of age, I flew from California to Pennsylvania to stay with my grandparents.  I never blinked.  Never had an issue.  Never had anxiety.

My dad few small airplanes.  I was his flying buddy, and even though he would scare me to death sometimes with his aerial acrobatics, it never stopped me from flying.

But several years back, I had the flight of my life.  Frequent fliers probably all have their stories of planes on the tarmac or planes with engine troubles.  My story started on a trip from London back to Houston.

I was in an aisle seat, but in the middle section.  Next to me sat a rather spiffy looking gentleman who drank a lot and on the other side of him, an engineer going on a business trip.  Who would've thought that I would end up having deep transatlantic discussions with the two of them the entire time!  It was wonderful, really, though I got NO sleep at all.

Well, we were about halfway across the Atlantic when it hit.  The turbulence to end all turbulence. Kinda like that scene from Flash Gordon (roll forward to about the 3:54 mark)...

The new friends I just made were trying to console me, but it was as if someone had reached a hand out and grabbed our plane - shaking it up and down.  Bins few open, people screamed.  Or... maybe it was just me screaming!  Anyway, if it happens again, I won't be flying anymore.  Scary stuff.

See what goes through my mind just before a trip!  LOL... ok, off to work on my packing list.

Take care all!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Insomnia - Just another way to beat jet lag???

Ok, well... yes, it's 3 am and yes, I'm up again.  The only thing to do is listen to music and write at this hour!

I've spoken recently with my friend Sharon,the Lady Nomad travel mentor extraordinaire.  She's coming over this week sometime to go over packing options.

I know some folks will say that so much attention to packing detail seems silly.  But, if you ask a backpacker that question, they'll tell you the entire trip is centered around how you pack.  To me, it's much the same with regular travel.

I talk with folks all the time who gasp when I tell them I live out of an overhead bag for two weeks.  They tell me they could never do that!  But, honestly?  It would take you about an hour of hauling gigantic American luggage uphill to a B&B that's on the third floor of a walk-up with narrow staircases to tell you...

Packing IS important!

Especially if you aren't overly athletic!

So, I've asked Sharon to come look at three options with me.  The Rick Steves bag, my old overhead, and the new Samsonite overhead.

I typically would've gone with my new luggage, but realized (too late) that even though I saved a bundle on the price tag - it's fairly hefty, and I'm not sure it offers all the space that my previous bag did.  I'm still not convinced about the Rick Steves half suitcase/half backpack... but perhaps she can change my mind.  She typically travels that way.

I finally got a request for a travel gift! I love it when people have something specific they want.  This year, I'll be on a quest to find a lucet for a friend that weaves and spins.  I've already located a shop that sells them in  Edinburgh, though getting there will definitely be the biggest part of the adventure!  I may also be getting a request for a tartan for a co-worker's baby girl.  That would be fun (and much easier!).

Anyway, as always, I'm up for travel talk if you have any questions or discussion points.  Feel free to post here!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Travel, Love, Friends, and Rollercoasters

Hidey Ho, Neighbors!

I've been writing a few lines about my upcoming trip lately, so I don't know if you want to know or not... but things have been scary in my private life.

First, I had my very BEST travel buddy friend Sharon W. almost kick the bucket on me (don't DO that again, Sharon!!!).  Luckily, she's back and fighting.  What a trooper!  My friends Sandy and Kathy have not been so lucky.  They've both been given the news that their time here is limited.  All my emotions around THAT have been everything from humorous to dark and lonely.  Other acquaintances and family are going through a litany of things.  Dad's circulatory/diabetes/and other associated problems.  Sharon B's ongoing fight with Crone's Disease, Angela's difficulties with arthritis and other medical issues, and so on.

Sometimes you wonder if anyone is healthy anymore!  Also, it is teaching me that this moment in my life when I feel so healthy is a gift.  A true and awesome gift!  Many folks my age are valiantly fighting the good fight while my biggest problems seem to be which airline to take.

To all those out there courageously duking it out with disaster, I am totally humbled by you.  I've pretty much determined that if I was facing the same things, I'd just end up in a puddle of woe.  I'm not one of those strong folks.

Anyway, you know what?  Something in me just now clicked that I'll do this next trip for my friends who can't. For those folks that would LOVE to hop on a plane and travel to Scotland and can't.  For those who can't get out of bed or who are tied to doctor's appointments.  Maybe God gives me legs for those who can't walk.

That seems a bit pretentious, reading back, but it wasn't meant that way.  All I can say is that I love all my friends and that I carry each of them in my heart when I travel.  Many folks don't understand why I love to bring gifts back from my visits... I've talked about this a little before.  And, I think the majority of it is to share what I feel as the ultimate joy and adventure and spiritual upfliftment in my life with them.

So, take those kitchen magnets with a little bit of Joy loves you.  That's the way it's meant.

Now, off to the Llama farm to see the Brambletts.  Until next time!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

28 Days, 18 Hours, 55 Minutes

But who's counting?

I am having dreams of losing paperwork and credit cards and ending up penniless in Paris. Thank goodness I'm going to Scotland!

After all the careful planning I did, my computer died. The hard drive doesn't work. I can't get my trip data off no matter how hard I plead and whine and cry over the darn thing.

All I can say is, "Thank GOD I printed that hardcopy!" Yes, I actually had every important document printed and filed in my trip notebook. I then turned all the hardcopy into a .pdf and uploaded it to Google docs! No darn hard drive is gonna ruin my holiday!

But, here I sit in my lonely little room with my cute little dogs and the fear sits just at the back of my mind. It happens on some trips... where I begin to be just a little scared of hurling myself into the void. Tossing myself to the four winds and to an unknown adventure.

I just tell myself to breathe. Just breathe. I'm drawn to adventure, but the very thing I'm drawn to causes so much anxiety. International travel can be like that sometimes. Mind you, I've never once regretted a trip. Not even the last horrible trip to Paris. It taught me something... never take trips to Paris. :) It was an adventure that was tried and failed, but at least tried.

I hear the voice of Max von Sydow ominously echoing from the past...

"Pathetic earthlings. Hurling your bodies out into the void, without the slightest inkling of who or what is out here. If you had known anything about the true nature of the universe, anything at all, you would've hidden from it in terror." (Flash Gordon, the movie)

Pathetic earthlings

And I am shaking, but I am moving forward.
The day of the trip, I imagine will go something like this... I pack up the dogs and the luggage. I look pensively at the home I'm leaving for two weeks. I wonder if everything will be ok. I look at the dogs I'll be leaving. My babies. They will miss me, but not as much as I'll miss them. And my new friend, Priscilla. I'll miss her too.

With a huge gulp, I know I'll enter the airport in Houston. I'll calm myself by writing in my journal and having a drink at the bar. I'll magically push everything - all the sadness and the dread and the anxiety - into the background. My mind will open and the awe and expectancy of a new adventure will fill me. I'll step on the plane.

And go... go baby. GO!

28 days. 18 hours. 45 minutes.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Advanced World Travel

I went to a great class last night at REI. Enjoyed it so much, I'm posting my notes for you here.

Hope they help!

Notes from the 5/1 Class at REI
“Advanced World Travel”
Aaron Bell Presiding

Important Points

• Pack Light
• Bring Less Stuff and More Money
• Use credit cards with no foreign conversion fees
• Don’t carry cash (well, carry as little as possible)
• Make copies of your passport and hide it in your luggage
• Take pictures of your bags if you check them (you can show these pictures in places where they don’t speak English)
• Use your camera as short term memory. Take a pic of the street your B&B is on. can track your journey


Vagabonding by Rolf Potts


• Identify the season you want to travel in. Traveling in warmer weather means taking less-bulky clothing. • Budget
• Examine your hobbies
• Don’t dismiss a destination
• Rarely are expectations accurate
• There’s always a bonus

Make Money

• Change your lifestyle
• Sell your junk
• Spend to save
• Look for loopholes
• Peer to peer economy - Peer-to-peer (P2P) eCommerce communities are often established dynamically with peers that are unrelated and unknown to each other.
• Challenge yourself to make money. $1000 a month in extra cash goes a long way!

Peer to Peer– become a tour guide – rent a spare bedroom – connects people who want to teach anything

Cheaper Flights

• Orbitz – shows cheapest place to land in a country
• Check nearby airports
• Be flexible

What to Pack

• Less is best
• All-in-one like an Iphone/smartphone that does lots of things (check your data plans! These can be very expensive overseas).
• USB – large one to download your pictures to
• Multiplug if going to several countries. Don’t forget the converter!
• Visa/Mastercard – remember no conversion fee cards
• Passport – use a ziplock bag to keep it dry
• Clothes that mix and match
• Quality equipment
• Light shoes
• Packing dividers

Tip: Get shorts with lots of zippers rather than a money belt.


Foreign places (mostly not Europe):

• Ask your hotel about local scams
• Be skeptical

Taxi Service

• Choose – don’t be chosen (don’t let taxi drivers pick you up – don’t let them pick up other people)
• Taxi Tip for England: The typical black cabs are costly. Look in the phone book or ask your hotel for a local privately owned cab service – they’re a lot cheaper. Better yet, take the bus/underground.
• Never put your bag in the trunk. That takes control out of your hands.

Advice from other travelers

• Study the currency
• Learn a few phrases
• Buy a 1-way ticket
• Go with the flow
• Get travel insurance
• Slowing down saves money. (Stay in one place – don’t move around so much)
• Be nice – it pays off
• Keep a positive attitude
• Remember, this is your last life!

For more on Aaron, see:

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


You know it's getting closer and closer to travel time when you catch yourself in the middle of town hall meetings at work imagining...

I'm getting up from a refreshed sleep in my comfy bed in room #6 at Goodwin House in Keswick. I'm showering, having a lovely full English breakfast, and putting on my daypack - excited that today maybe I'll break some personal walking record. (Mind you, that's not really hard to do!)

Unlike most days in England, it's crisp, clear, and perfect walking weather. I've borrowed Dawn's hiking dog, Kimmi. Got my GPS, my hiking stick, water, and a sense of adventure on. I'm heading out the door.

Walking to the shoreline, I catch a ferry to a spot on the opposite shore. I've always wanted to do that.

"And now we'll hear from project manager "X" on how to funnel widgets through square holes."

I try to stifle out the widget talk, with a glance up the mountain. I head through the trees on the shoreline and up the incline. Kimmi already knows the way, so it's pretty easy to just follow along behind her. She's got a bright green tennis ball in her face. I'm assuming at some point, I shall become the defacto dog entertainment center.

But, until that point, I'm heading uphill through the verdent forest. I can smell fresh foliage and wet earth. Kimmi is smiling and panting. We get to the top of the ridge and I can see...

"Now, we're going to hear from project manager "Y" on how to funnel widgets from square holes back onto the assembly line."

forever, it seems. The sky is so blue, and Derwentwater spreads below like a cool reminder of pure water lapping against the shore, lake fish, and the unmatchable peace of nature.

I turn my face upward, and like my elderly friend Margaret, I murmer out loud..."I love the sun."

I take a lot of photos which will some day end up on the cover of National Geographic. Perhaps the one of me tossing a slobber-soaked tennis ball to Kimmi. The one of me in my element... in England... in the forest... by the lakes.

But, for now,








Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Two months? Really?

Two a.m. and the garbage trucks over at the strip mall behind my complex are keeping me awake dumping dumpsters at ungodly hours. There should be a law, yanno?

Anyway, I just realized I hadn't posted in eons. It's four days til I leave for a long weekend in Galveston and two months until I leave for my beloved UK. I always say that each trip has its own vibe or theme. The last trip was a quiet finding myself, spiritual exercise. The one before had been about meeting new people. This trip, however, doesn't seem to click on either of those cycles.

I'm just a happy camper because I get to plan fabulous things and wonderful things and happy things. By the time the day of flight arrives, I'm usually just able to go on autopilot and open myself for new adventures. So, what's planned for this year???

Well, I mentioned the Trafalgar tour, and the trip to Lindisfarne. But there are other adventures in store.

The first will be actually getting to my B&B in Edinburgh! You see, the airport in Edinburgh is quite a distance from the city centre. Taxis are expensive. My bag and baggage will have to find ourselves a bus from the airport to the Royal mile. Mind you, this is after: driving from Austin to Houston, going through checkin, flying for 10 hours, going through customs, being held for a four hour layover at Heathrow, and flying to Edinburgh. I imagine I will shower and crash that first day.

Then, it's an early morning trip to Lindisfarne for the day. Somehow I'll have to find my way to the place where the bus departs... another adventure!

I have one more free day before the guided tour takes off. I'll either head to Stirling Castle or chill in Edinburgh. Then, Sunday, the Trafalgar Tour starts.

I have a whole lotta mixed emotions around this guided tour thing. It's an adventure because I typically don't do guided tours. I also don't typically like being tied to someone else's timetable. For instance, I'd rather spend my time touring the Talisker distillery in Skye than hanging out at the 18th hole of St. Andrews golf course. But, who knows? I've sometimes found the most beautiful days are the ones that happen serendipitously in places I never thought beautiful things would happen.

Perhaps on the 18th hole, I'll meet Richard Branson! He'll ask me if I want a job for Virgin Atlantic visiting hotels and sights in Great Britain for the airline partners program... you know, seeing if they're up to snuff and such like. And I will say, "let me think about that ok yes." :)

The wonder of travel for me is just to keep my eyes and heart open and my mouth shut. I have seen some glorious things on my trips.

I'll be hopping a train in Glasgow at the end of the tour to head for the Lakes in England. What a wonderful wonderful thing that will be. First, I am so happy that I'll get to see Neil and Sarn! You may recall from past trips that we've had some pretty fun adventures together. Neil will never live down the whole cow pie episode. And I *still* laugh when I think about the hike we did to Castlehead. Me, huffing and puffing up hill, climbing a sheer mountain face (ok, it was a small hill, but I have an imagination!), hauling myself over the edge and succumbing to exhaustion...

only to be awakened by the twitters of the little old ladies sipping their tea on a rock nearby! Americans are way more outta shape than Europeans on the whole, I'd say. Too much office job, too little hauling butts over sheer rock walls. ;)

Anywho, it is by the kindness of Neil and Sarn that I will have a ride to and from Penrith. I'm hoping to get a chance to meet Dawn this time. I have several virtual friends who are hikers in the Lake District. They do things that I only get to imagine... hiking daily, taking gorgeous pictures of beautiful places. In my mind I'm all decked out in my hiking gear with my hiking dogs and my GPS and galavanting on 20-mile treks on a daily basis.

The three-day hike on the dog-walk this week seems to fade in comparison somehow! But, in another life, I'm sure I hiked quite a bit.

From the Lakes, I'll go to London with precious little time left to spend. Greg and Kim are meeting me there, and we are heading to a musical called Matilda - written by a musician the three of us like (Tim Minchin). Kim, who is always and forever one of the kindest people I've met has set up a high tea for us at Hotel Russell.

I really won't have time to do much more than that! Leaving at 9:30 in the morning on Wednesday for home. I really should have taken an extra week.

However, stay tuned! If I can save enough, there may be a repeat of the whirlwind War of the Worlds Dublin tour that I did in Dublin 2009. There is a new War of the Worlds cast starring Liam Neeson... and I want more time in Ireland. My only gripe is that it will be in WINTER. What were they thinking?

Ireland in summer was barely tolerable weather-wise. Ah well, the people make it a much warmer place. I had a great time there.

So, see you next time on "Where in the World is Joy Now?"