Thursday, June 30, 2016

England 2016 - Yorkshire and the Peak District

May 31 – Tuesday

The alarm went off at 4 am.  Groggily, I pulled myself out of bed and into the shower.  We had a 6 am train to catch at Kings Cross and the taxi would be here at 5:30.  Somehow, we both needed to wake up, shower, dress, finish packing, and get to the station on time.

No worries, though, because my Type A personality wouldn’t let me miss a deadline of any sort! Sharon was excited because today she would be meeting her friend (Gayle) for tea in York.  How fun!

We were well in time to meet the taxi.

Tip: Don’t call a black cab.  Take a minicab for a much better rate.

Thing is, we got to Kings Cross station well in advance of our train!  But, that gave Sharon some time to take pictures and me some time to grab a breakfast.

Sharon and I both love trains, and the train to York actually cost us about what a cab to the station had! 

Tip: You can find great train deals at TrainLine.

Sharon slept, but there was no way I was going to miss seeing all of the countryside and taking in every stop along the way.  We arrived in York at about 8:45 am and hustled over to the left luggage shop.

Tip: If you want to make a day trip of York without staying the night, you can leave your luggage within a short walk of the train station.

We noticed the attendee had a “Leave” badge on his shirt indicating his voting preference for leaving the EU as the referendum had yet to happen.  Sharon and I were both interested in this very intriguing vote, and he was happy to give us his point of view.

It was very cold in York, and Sharon hadn’t brought a jacket, so we got directions to a local shop and went to find something for her.  Afterward, it was on to the York Minster (probably my favorite cathedral in England).  We ran into an extremely interesting docent along the way (John Carpenter) who gave us tons of insight into the Minster’s history.

Rose Window - York Minster

King's Screen - York Minster
Sharon was tired and took a quick nap on a bench while I toured around and went to the gift shop.  Sharon joined me shortly thereafter and we made our way to Betty’s tea room to meet Gayle. 

Luckily, we got a super seat right by the window.  But, when Gayle failed to show, we became worried.  We finally figured out that we had gone to the wrong Betty’s! So, we hurriedly made our way to the next one and there was Gayle! 

Gayle is one sweet and very funny gal!  We had so much fun talking and having tea and just chilling with a good friend.  Sharon had known Gayle when she’d worked in Washington DC, and I felt as if I’d known her all my life!

Joy, Gayle, and Sharon at Bett y's
Our time was too short, but Gayle had to meet up with a travel partner and Sharon and I had some more sightseeing to do, so we went our separate ways. 

The main thing I wanted to show Sharon was the Shambles (a very historic street in York) and the Roman wall.  I think Sharon enjoyed the ramble, and we stopped by to get her a SIM card along the way.

The Shambles

The Roman Wall at York
It was back to Left Luggage to pick up our things (and chat again with the “Leave” man).  Then, to catch our train to Knaresborough. 

Knaresborough is one of the quaintest market towns in North Yorkshire.  With its castle, expansive viaduct, a petrifying well and the cave of a well-known witch to its name – there’s a lot of bang for your buck in Knaresborough.

I hadn’t taken the train to Knaresborough since the early 80s, and I’d forgotten that to get to the town centre, you had to go up a steep hill.  We almost lost Sharon along it as the grade was exceptionally difficult.  Luckily, a family of Goths stopped and assisted so that she was able to get to our B&B just at the top.  Thank you, Goth family! 

We stayed at the Kirkgate B&B and couldn’t have been more pleased with our host, Karen.  She was a lively, vivacious lady who was very helpful with all the ins and outs of our room, the keys, and the town in general.  Our room was a comfortable affair complete with chandelier and en-suite bathroom overlooking a very sweet garden.  We were also just around the corner from the town centre which made shopping and eating out very convenient.

Karen, our hostess at Kirkgate House

June 1 – Wednesday

The next morning, we had a lovely breakfast and went to wait for our car which Enterprise was to deliver to us at 9 am.  It never showed up.  After calling, we found we had never been in their system for a pickup!  Again, we found ourselves in transportation hell which you can read more about HERE.

Finding ourselves without transportation at this point, we decided to make the best of it and explore Knaresborough.  First thing was the local market which happened to be on Wednesday.  It was quite small, though, so while Sharon continued to look around, I found my way to a pub.

Knaresborough Market
 It was at the pub that I met some of the funniest and warmhearted Yorkshiremen!  Having ordered a pear cider, I moved down the bar to sit next to an older gent who was by himself.  This was Bob (aka Bob “the gob”).

Bob the Gob
Translation: Gob = mouth in Yorkshire.  He regaled us with warnings not to drink the Scrumpy in Cornwall (you could save millions of dollars in rocket fuel research by just using Scrumpy, it seems), and explaining that we should be aware of the pixies whilst there as well.  In the meantime, Roy from Scotton came in (claiming to be Bob’s son) and tried to make a stand for his home county of Durham which sort of withered and died under the vocal hilarity of Bob, who was a dyed in the wool Dalesman.  Later on, the two were joined by Mick who kept making lewd comments to our lovely barmaid, Adele.  It was all in fun… Roy the freeloader (who evidently owed Mick for past beers) and Mick the dirty old man.  All three were much better than any Monty Python skit I’ve ever seen!  I had been so depressed about the car from Enterprise, and now I hurt, I was laughing so hard!  We chatted for over an hour (I got some of the conversation recorded).  It was just lovely to hear such a deep Yorkshire dialect again on top of meeting new friends.

Sharon had joined us about halfway through the conversation and was able to snap one picture of Bob.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get one of the other two fellows.

We grabbed a bit of lunch and headed back to our room for a rest.

That afternoon, we walked over to the castle grounds for the wonderful view of the viaduct and River Nidd.
Knaresborough Viaduct

Walking down a steep flight of steps, you come to the river’s edge and, further down, you can cross to get to Mother Shipton’s Cave. They’d Disneyfied it a bit since I’d last been there in the 80s.  Now there were goblins taking your admission and families eating snow cones while faeries met us along the way.

Mother Shipton's Cave
There are several parts to this tour:  Mother Shipton’s cave (where she was supposedly born).  The Petrifying Well (leave an ordinary object hanging from the well wall and it will be petrified in a matter of weeks), and the wishing well.  Sharon and I both made wishes and then headed out of the park to meet the Enterprise gentleman who was bringing us a new rental car.

Having parked the new car, Sharon and I headed out for some fish and chips.  We met an elderly couple who were so sweet.  The man had spent some time in Austin coaching soccer a few decades back.  In fact, I don’t think we met anyone who wasn’t lovely our whole trip!

That was it for Wednesday.

June 2 – Thursday

This was a day I’d been waiting for!  We took off early in the morning to drive to Kimberworth and hang out with my friends Linda and Chris for the day.  We had no trouble at all finding their place and traffic was light the whole way.

I met Linda through Facebook.  She is the cousin of a cousin of my mother’s… which makes us family of some sort, I think?  I had seen her posting and knew she was a Texan who had moved to England after marrying Chris, an Englishman.  We’d met once before, but this was the first time I’d seen her new house in South Yorkshire!


It is a lovely little place near the Peak District.  We all clambered into Chris’ car to head for the small town of Hathersage and Cintra’s, a very quaint little tea room.  While Chris enjoyed a traditional Full English breakfast, the rest of us had a lovely lunch before heading out into the town.

Full English
It seemed that Sharon had met her photography soul mate as she and Chris took off to take pictures of microscopic bits of leaves and grass.  Linda and I just enjoyed the walk.  Hathersage has a cute little church, and Linda and I parted as I wanted to walk the trail up to the church where we would meet later.
Footpath Near Hathersage Church

Churchyard View
It was a lovely day, the grass was green, the skies were blue, and all was right with the world.  I entered the churchyard and could see for miles along the rolling hills.  The church, itself, was quite interesting as Little John (of Robin Hood fame) is supposedly buried there!

Little John's Grave
Interesting Ivy Head

Hathersage, itself, was so small that we decided to take in the nearby town of Castleton as well.

Castleton is best known for its extraordinary scenery, its castle ruins, and a quarried stone called “Blue John” (which is in the Opal family).  I bought my mom some jewelry there and just enjoyed the peacefulness of the town.  I could definitely live here!

Blue John Mecca!

Beautiful Castleton
Peveril Castle Ruins - Castleton
Sadly, our tour came to a close, and we returned to Kimberworth to say goodbye to Chris and Linda and to head back to Knaresborough for the evening.

We had very much enjoyed our time in Yorkshire and were looking forward to spending the next few days heading northward and then west to Cumbria!


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

England 2016 - London

May 27

It seemed that all the best laid plans were coming to fruition!  I was completely packed, the animals were safely ensconced at the pet sitter’s place, and Pat had picked me up at my house at the appointed time.

The issue of weather was still looming, as storms gathered over Houston where I had a layover before leaving for the UK.  But, for now, things were rolling smoothly.  Sharon was supposed to meet me at the airport as her flight on American Airlines was leaving the same time mine did on United.

I had plenty of time, so I got a massage from Hector at “Knot Anymore” (which I do on most trips).  It just helps me to relax and gets the trip off to a nice start.

Having met Sharon, we got some breakfast at a local snack counter and waited for our airlines.  Unfortunately, Sharon’s was delayed and I worried that she wouldn’t get to London in time for our planned trip to Parliament.  But, off I flew on United toward Houston – on time and on schedule.

At Houston, I noticed the clouds gathering (not a good sign), but our flight boarded on time (which *was* a good sign).  And, with the boarding of everyone on the flight… we were ready to take off!

But, alas, such was not to be.  The thunderstorms hit and our aircraft was grounded until the lightning, thunder, and rain subsided.  With the jetway open, passengers were allowed to come and go as they pleased.  That meant that when a weather opening availed itself, we couldn’t leave as some passengers were not on the plane.  Four hours later, they told us our flight was canceled.

For the full story of what happened both going and coming back from the UK, see The gist of it is, I was five hours late getting to London and missed the Parliament tour and tea.

Sharon, in the meantime, had departed Austin late, but was able to leave from Dallas reasonably on time and was only a little late getting to the UK.  She was able to make the tea at Parliament (if not the tour). 

May 28

I landed at Heathrow around 1:30 pm GMT (you always land a day later than you took off from the U.S.). There was no real trouble getting through the lines at customs or immigration, so I headed down to the Underground to get my Oyster card and set out for the Tower of London near our hotel.  As the (underground) crow flies, our hotel was about an hourish from the airport with one change in between to the District/Central line.  I was able to get to my hotel by around 3:30, dropped my bags, and then rushed to the SIM card shop before they closed. 

It’s always longer than you think to get anywhere you want to go in London.  After being up 24 hours, I was doing the Zombie walk for about 30 minutes trying to locate the shop I’d been directed to.  However, they set me up with a new SIM, and I headed back to the hotel.

It was about that time that I realized I was super hungry, and I knew the nearby pub had awesome fish n chips.  I thought about showering first, but since the pub was on the way back, I just dropped in for a pear cider and a bite to eat.  And what a lovely bite it was too!

I went back to the hotel to shower and rest and Sharon came in to tell me of the lovely tea she’d had at Parliament!  We both crashed, pretty much, after that!

Tip: Hotels in England typically have the following ranges of rooms:
  • Double (one double bed)
  • Twin (two twin beds for two people to share a room)
  • Family room (any number of beds to accommodate families)
  • Single (usually one twin bed for one person in a room)
At our hotel, they only had doubles, but I found that if you asked for an “accessible” room, the room came with two beds.  You may have to try that if you are traveling with a partner.

Always ask for an “en-suite” (room with bathroom).  Typically, the bathrooms don’t have a tub – just a shower.

May 29 - Sunday

It seems that Sharon sleeps later than I do, but that was fine.  I got up and made my way to Petticoat Lane to just get the feel of London again.  I’d not been to this market, and it was only a few blocks from our hotel, so it was a great way to start the trip.  Turns out that Petticoat Lane is a clothing market.  Cheap clothing at that.  There were tons and tons of stalls with everything from handbags to saris.  It was quite a large market as well!  But, I didn’t have much time to explore as Sharon and I were supposed to get some breakfast at the hotel before striking out on our initial sightseeing foray!

Tip: The breakfast at the hotel wasn’t worth what we paid.  Get a full English from the Minories pub just outside your door.

The first stop was Piccadilly Circus and the Sports Direct shop to pick up cricket and rugby souvenirs for some of my friends.  Highly recommend this shop if that’s what you’re in the market for.  I wanted to go to Fortnum and Mason for some tea, but got turned around a bit.  We were both thirsty and stopped by a little café for something to drink.  It turned out to be a VERY POSH little café and we ordered what looked like a gold brick (but was actually a “Ferraro Rocher meringue”).  The lads sitting next to us had been eating one and we were intrigued.  In fact, it turns out that one of the guys was from Austin and this was his graduation trip after graduating from the University of Texas!

We were able to locate Fortnum and Mason and got the much awaited tea (I like their strawberry blend).  Sharon wanted to see Harrods, so we headed that direction (Harrods is always a zoo).  We weren’t there long before we left and tried to find the Harley shop to get my stepson a t-shirt.

It was at that point, the trail went cold.  We traveled by underground another 30 minutes or so and found out that the line was closed to where we wanted to end up.  With a heavy sigh, we turned around and went back to the hotel.

After dropping off our things, we rushed to get to the Sky Garden to make our appointment time.  We were a tad late, but that didn’t seem to be a problem (there is an hour window).  You get in line, hand the nice lady your admission voucher, then get in another line for a security check.  You are then whisked away to the 31st floor and an AMAZING view of London.  We would have enjoyed spending more time that day, but had plans for meeting some friends of mine.

Tip: Go to the Sky Garden rather than the London Eye for views of London… it’s FREE and the wait isn’t typically as long.

The plan that evening was to meet up with Rose Mary Griffith, a travel blogger I’d met online, and her “seester” Jackie.  They nearly called it off due to extreme exhaustion (they had both been in the UK a couple of weeks hiking and were about to leave for home the next day).  Luckily, they had just enough juice to have us up for wine and sweets at their hotel near Green Park. (By the way, they didn’t recommend the hotel.)

Jackie and Rose Mary
We had a wonderful visit before leaving these two lovely ladies for some dinner.  Rose Mary had recommended Henry’s café just down the road.  Off we went in search!  This is a great restaurant with wonderful food and some of the best service in London.  We really enjoyed our meal!

By this time, we were both travel weary, so we headed to our hotel for some rest.

May 30 – Monday

This was the day set aside for Sharon to do the hop on hop off bus and for me to just do “whatever”.  We made a date to meet at Covent Garden for some lunch at the Battersea Pie Company at around noon.  I made my way to Green Park because I wanted to buy souvenirs at the Queen’s Gallery shop.  On the way, I ran into about a billion marathon runners about to take off from Green Park!  I was overwhelmed by the number of people and felt very much like a salmon swimming upstream.

Finally, I got to the front of Buckingham Palace when, to my amazement, out of billions of London tourists, I ran into Sharon!  Talk about hilarious!  We both went to the Queen’s Gallery and got some lovely gifts.  Afterward, Sharon got back onto the hop on hop off bus and I headed to Piccadilly to see if I could find a Wimbledon shirt for mom.  Realizing that it was taking me much longer to get where I was going than I thought it would, I ended up just foregoing Piccadilly and heading straight to Covent Garden.  It was nearly noon and I was starving, so I got a bite to eat while waiting for Sharon.  She didn’t yet have a British SIM card so we couldn’t really keep in touch.  Our paths didn’t cross that time (I waited, but evidently she was 45 minutes late and I’d left by then).

Tip: The vegetarian pie at Battersea Pie Company was just awful.  Their sticky toffee pudding, however, is luscious!

I did some shopping in the markets in and around Covent Garden before heading back to the hotel.  It was wonderful just to have the afternoon to rest up as we were going to be at the Ritz for dinner that night!

I didn’t think Sharon was going to make it as she arrived very late from having traveled all the way to the RAF Museum in North London for souvenirs.  This is one of those things you really need to plan a day trip for, methinks, as it is quite a bit out of the way.

Anyway, we both dolled up and headed back to Green Park and the Ritz Hotel!  What a lovely evening that was.  We had champagne, and unpronounceable food (that was quite tasty!) as well as very attentive customer service by the staff.

It was a splendid way to end our time in London, for tomorrow… we set off for the wilds of Yorkshire!


Thursday, June 16, 2016

Surviving the Ride

I am normally a pretty stoic traveler. Hiccups and bumps in transportation are highly likely and prone to a variety of things such as weather, maintenance calls, crew assembly, and even ramp availability!

You just can’t let yourself get down over those little things. But, as stoic as I am, this year’s travel was highly difficult and could have been very stressful. I hope this article might help you get through your next bout with transportation woes. The first thing I’ll say is that I must’ve had the grace of God with me for not getting upset over things. There were so many reasons to!

Here are the scenarios I faced:
  1. My airline flew me from Austin to Houston with no trouble. I boarded in Houston with no trouble… until the thunderstorms hit. We were on the tarmac for four hours before they finally cancelled our flight. 
  2.  I rented a car overseas. I drove it off the lot and within a mile, something went terribly wrong. With only two miles on the car, the agency told me it had been my fault and not the car’s. I was given another car with very little fuel in it.
  3. My airline flew me from London with no trouble, but nearing Houston, the weather was bad again. We diverted to New Orleans for two hours to refuel before making it into Houston. By then, Houston was a zoo of planes landing and connections missed. 

Scenario I  

I deplaned with the other travelers into a mad house of agent lines, customer service lines, and people who had just given up and sat stunned trying to dial an agent on the phone. I stood in a line for a little while and tried dialing an agent on the phone, but the phones were backlogged for ages.

I held for 30 minutes and gave up. I then had the brilliant idea of traveling over to the line for the next ride I might be able to catch to the UK and getting my reservation changed there, but the lines were extreme. I was just about to give up when I saw the desk next to the UK line where they were boarding for Washington International. Thinking to myself, “I can surely get there from Washington”… I got in the much shorter line.

In line, I was talking with a traveler about my experience. By coincidence, he had been given a priority phone number where the agent would answer the call within three minutes. By the way, that number for United is: 888-253-1295. Memorize it! I was able to get through, surely enough, within three minutes. I was immediately booked on a flight going out which left at 9:33 pm (the original flight I had been booked on was at 3:15 pm). We arrived in London around 1:00 pm (too late for me to make an event I’d ticketed). I got to the hotel around 3:00 pm.

The Fix:
  1. Just grace. Keeping calm. Not devolving into a crying, screaming mess (I saw much of this).
  2. Luck. Being next to a man in the line who had the United phone number I really needed (repeat: 888-253-1295). 
  3. Go to the next available flight out to your destination as soon as you hit the ground. Don’t stop by Customer Service.

Scenario 2 

I had booked Enterprise because they pick you up at your hotel and take you to sign the paperwork. We waited and waited, but no car showed. When I called, they said they had no idea where I was staying or that I would need a pickup. They had no information in their system though I’d filled it in online and had called Enterprise over the phone prior to our trip. They finally did pick us up. They also assured me when I got there that my drop off at Exeter would go without a hitch. “Just show up,” I was told.

I got the basic Enterprise rental car insurance which has about a $1500 deductible. When I got into the car, I noticed it wasn’t shifting easily into first gear. I thought I’d go a little further to see if anything changed, but within about a mile we were hit with an acrid smell and knew something was really wrong. We immediately drove the car back to the dealership, but just as we did that, something popped and the car rattled to a halt. We were told that I had blown the clutch.

There are two things about this: One, I am a very experienced driver in the UK and learned on and have driven standard transmission cars all my life. Two, I’m not sure that two miles on a car would lead to a total breakdown. I think this was a lemon I was given and that they saw the American coming.

I was told an automatic car would be shipped to my hotel later that day. It was, but I was charged for that day and given a car with little gas (we didn’t know that at the time).

The next day, we were on the motorway and a red light came on that gas was low. We were scared and praying because gas stations are sometimes very few and far between on the motorways. We found a station just in time and said a few halleluiahs.

The car was just fine for the rest of our trip until it came to the day before I had to drop it off. I called the South Exeter office to confirm our arrival and transportation to the train station. I was told that they had nothing on me, no paperwork, no reservation to drive to the train station. I wasn’t surprised, but I was pretty upset with the original Enterprise office I visited.

Luckily, the south Exeter office worked out the details for my transportation. Then, I got my bill…

I had the entire $1500 deductible taken out from my credit card! Though I’d never heard a peep about any mechanical determinations on the car and, in fact, they probably hadn’t even been done yet. “Standard protocol,” I was told. I had to sign off to get out of the office and to make our scheduled train.

I was given a tracking number and a contact email address (which I definitely wrote with all I have just said to you here). I anticipate they will come back with filing against me.

The Fix: I have had issues with Enterprise in the past, and the only thing that really worked was to write the highest level of management. Don’t be afraid to do this… it seems to work. See this link. You might also have a peek at this link. My issue is currently unresolved. My next step is to write the managing director.

Scenario 3 

The day I was supposed to leave London was uneventful. The plane boarded and got off the ground early! What a treat! We were going to arrive almost 1.5 hours early to Houston. That was the good part. The bad part was that we got an old aircraft with only about half the movie monitors working. I was forced to move three times before I got a seat with a working monitor.

Closer to Houston, we were told that due to weather (of course!) we were going to have to go into a holding pattern. This went on for a while before we were forced to land for refueling in New Orleans. This took a couple of hours. This meant that connecting flights were missed (mine was actually cancelled). So, when we did finally land, it was the same mess I had faced on my outward bound flight. People screaming and crying… flights missed. People sleeping in the airport.

The Fix: Fortunately, I had my magical United phone number (remember 888-253-1295). However, by the time I was on the ground everyone else had taken up all the connecting flights to Austin. It was a fluke that during my call, one of the seats on the latest flight was released! I was leaving Houston at 11 pm.

Well, that was only 3 hours from now, so I decided I’d go to the VIP room, which I have a pass to. This is the only time I got a bit rattled because they wouldn’t allow me to enter even though I had a pass and I was a credit card holder as well as a MileagePlus member. United has already heard from me about this.

To recover, I decided to get a bite to eat and just chill. I was getting by on my sense of humor and no sleep.

I asked a young man driving a cart where the Pappadeaux restaurant was, and he offered to whisk me there. Yippeeeee! What fun! I was turning this thing around, by damn! J And the oysters at Pappadeaux were wonderful. About that time, I was due back at my gate, so I made my way there. That’s when things sort of devolved. Here is the list of the messages still on my phone:

Your 11:15 pm United flight is delayed due to awaiting aircraft. It now departs at 11:54 pm. Next message: Now departs at 12:26. Next message: Now departs at 1:10 am. Next message: now departs at 1:15 am. We arrived at around 2:10 am and I was home around 3 am.

It took longer to get to Austin from Houston than from London to Houston!

One thing I didn’t mention is that a family showed up late to the gate for my plane to Austin and were told their seats had been given away. If you arrive after a certain time, they release your seats even though you’ve reserved them… no matter how hard you’ve tried to reach the gate or that it wasn’t your fault. Be prepared!

Also, I was reticketed on both the outbound and inbound flights this trip. Each time they rebooked me, they forgot to add that I was a Group 2 traveler (priority boarding). Make friends with the agents behind the desk. Yelling at them isn’t going to make them help you. Both times, the agents were kind enough to let me board even when my tickets didn’t say I could.


  1. Don’t lose your cool. It won’t help and may hurt your situation. It’s also useless and energy draining. Save up your energy for fighting any battles until after you’re home if possible. 
  2. Use any contact methods you can to bump your cause up the chain of command. If one doesn’t work, go the next step up. Don’t be afraid to request what you want (full refund, dismissal of charges, frequent flyer miles, etc.). Research the net to find phone numbers of CEOs, Managing Directors, etc. until you find the person who will help you. 
  3. Get into your happy place. Find that place of calm within the storm and use that to get you through. Laugh and joke with your fellow travelers. Don’t get into the blaming and anger that could really sap you. 
  4. Find things to entertain you. Get dinner at a nice restaurant at the airport. Find a cart driver to whisk you around. Treat yourself to a taxi ride after you finally arrive at your destination. Whatever it takes to pamper yourself, DO it! Make yourself as comfortable as possible. 
The Crowds in Houston