Opatija, Croatia / Panorama

May 6, 2014

Want to take a holiday that glitters?

IMG_2256 CropChris got the idea that we should all go down to the Adriatic coast for the morning. I had been there before but never unhappy to go again. The scenery, tranquility and above all, the ice cream are spectacular. It’s about an hour and half drive so we left at about seven returning by 1:30. One of the Kiwi’s(Don) made the trip while Tony, who has never quite recovered from jet lag, stayed in his bed for the day.  I really got to know Don on this short venture and it just amazes me how much two people can have so much in common when they have almost nothing in common. He is the flip side version of me and my journey and I his. This shouldn’t be surprising since he is down-under.

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Oxford is normally a lovely city

Jeanne expressing her feelings

We sweat our way to Oxford hoping the tire (tyre) would hold out until we made our way to the very center of the city where the Avis garage sat behind the central rail station.  We did arrive okay and showed our problem to the attendant, who suggested we could save money (avoid the standard charge) and time if we went to the garage about three blocks away and bought a tire out of pocket (wink, wink).  That’s what we attempted to do.

We left the car off and went across to a tea room for lunch after being advised that it would all take about an hour. We came back over at the appointed time to learn that first, they didn’t have the correct size of tire and secondly, they could not find the “lug nut lock” or something like that required to replace a tire.  This created a day-long phone conversation with Avis at Gatwick Airport who finally, after trying every expert to no avail, suggested that they would send someone for us, drive us to Heathrow (two hours away) where they would get a car to match our contract. To us, this seemed insane since we had only one more rental day and needed to drive another three hours south to get to our booked hotel. This, they assured us, was the only option. It was now 4:30 and the shop was on the verge of closing up and putting us and the car out on the street. Fortunately, just in time, Avis did locate a VW Passat stationwagon in Oxford and told us to come right over to make the trade. We were greatly relieved when the gentleman at the desk wrote “no charge” on the bill because of our inconvenience.

Happy to finally have a car of manageable size, we drove toward our hotel in the country near Farnham. It would be our final night on our 12 day whirlwind trip around England before heading back to Crawley to connect with the band arriving from Canada. It had been a frustrating day in a lot of ways, but God had faithfully provided what we needed just in time!

Trip to Cotswold gets cut short

On the way to Burford

The next morning, after another “Full English Breakfast” in Banbury, Jeanne and I packed for an exciting trip in to the Peaks District and Cotswold Country,  a region with old English, Beatrix Potter charm.  For a time, for a few hours in the morning, this was what we enjoyed.  We went by lovely private estates lined by thatched roofed, immaculately tailored, beige stone homes. Once we came to the village of Burford, near other towns with names like Chipping Norton and Shipston on Stour, we got out to take in the picture-book beauty.

The Cotswold Arms

We enjoyed a cup of tea and sweet rolls, then Jeanne went to the car while I took about half an hour to snap a few pictures. This is when the bad news came. A fellow came walking down the hill, looked suspiciously at our car, and then gained Jeanne’s attention to tell her that it appeared that we had a bubble on our tire, a potential for a blow-out. He gravely suggested that we should have it looked at, since a member of his own family had recently suffered a blow out on the highway from the same thing. When I returned to the car, Jeanne relayed the message. I shrugged my shoulders, nonchalantly pulled on out to go to the next village, and then I began to think that it would be best to have this attended to in a more populated area.  I coasted into a safe spot at an intersection along a narrow road and took a look for myself. “Yep, I have a problem,” I decided, so I called Avis. This was where the real problem began. The plans for this day had to be shelved while we attended to this automotive distraction. After a rather annoying series of  calls to the Avis Roadside Assistance Team, I was told that if they came to help I would be charged about two-hundred thirty pounds or more than $350. So I decided to drive to the Avis location in Oxford, some thirty minutes to the southeast, and hopefully visit Cotswold on some other day.

The Pride and Prejudice Chatsworth House

With little time to spare and lots of distance to cover, we  were in a spin. I had no idea where to get off of the A/(M)-1, so at some point I just left the highway with the hope of finding some road that would overpass the M-1 and take us west. As I committed myself to this task it wasn’t but minutes before I realized we could drive hours in a south-easterly direction without ever finding a way to head west. We were sunk more, especially because we began seeing signs for Doncaster and Lincoln cities I knew to be in the exact opposite direction.

Finally, I just grasped the first road that went the opposite way and eventually we put the M-1 under us. Though we were still on small, unmarked roads with little villages (Wellow would have been worth a stop) we did occasionally see the name Chesterfield, which provided some encouragement to ignore the speed limits.

After quite a few necessary miles, eventually, we did pick our way into the almost picture- book grounds of Chatsworth, which went on for about five miles through herds of fat Shorthorn cattle and Oxford or Hampshire flocks of sheep. Every tree and shrub seemed tailored to perfection. If one has ever visited Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina and were awed by the wealth and decadence, “you ain’t seen nuthun yet.” I’m fairly certain that only Versaille in France could top this decadent, over-the-top, opulence. A real Duke and Duchess still live there.

We reached the parking lot with less than an hour to spare. In the drizzle Jeanne got out to get our tickets while I parked and rushed back to meet her. In we went. Whew!

I will just show you rather than tell you. Here are some of the photos we took of the university-sized house and grounds.

Dark was encroaching as we went on to our hard-to-find room in Banbury. This was the first occasion when I came close to killing us with a head on collision. In my hurry to turn around and get back to our B & B, I turned the corner on the right and into the path of a oncoming vehicle. Its driver did not mind blaring his horn.  All the time he was doing this, I was saying aloud, “Sorry, I’m a foreigner, I’m a foreigner.”  We did get our room where, once the windows were opened, we got to listen to trucks, cars and motorcycles all the night long.

Note: In this town I had my first inedible food item when I ordered a pizza at Pizza Express. They advertise themselves as authentic Italian pizza put used what came very close to barbecue sauce or ketchup for their base. I could actually feel the sugar granular between my teeth. For those who don’t know better, it would be the closest they will ever come to Italy.

Ambleside, Grasmere to James Herriott’s Thirsk

Windemere

Ambleside

Perhaps we should have spent more time roaming the villages of the Lake District, but after a few they all seemed very much alike. After breakfast, we did do a “walk about” around Windemere before going to Ambleside.

Ambleside

One of the reasons to visit Ambleside is to see the stone work. For the most part, the town is constructed of neatly cut slate taken from the nearby hills.  Jeanne did a bit of shopping and then we drove on to the nearby village of Grasmere, where a number of other people had the same idea at the same time. Again, we walked around and then headed out of the Lake District toward York, hoping to be there in the morning on Sunday.

Thirsk

Thirsk

Ambleside

On the way, Jeanne had circled the town of Thirsk and we arrived on Saturday afternoon to a town square set up for market day. There is really nothing

Harriott Society

special about Thirsk except for it being the home of James Herriott. The only thing of note besides this was that the town had a rather authentic English feel about it. There was really nothing touristy, just people going about their business. For this reason we liked it.

We stopped in at a tea room and had a nice sandwich, tea, chips and carrot cake and then drove toward York with the idea of finding a B and B before nightfall. It turns out that we had no such luck. Most places had signs in the window, “No Vacancy'” so when we did see an opening we took a look, but being disappointed with it, we went  back the way we had come trying to find something more suitable in a rural setting. Perhaps I have said this already in one way or another.

Note: Next time, and this is my advice to you, just find a place to stay for three nights and make day trips, England is not all that big compared to America and one could make day trips in various directions and not have to set up accommodation or haul tyour bags from place to place.

York

The Manor House

We began to panic as it grew darker and darker and we weren’t finding any “rooms to let.” We drove through a number of small towns in the direction of Thirsk and would only occasionally see a room over a pub. I finally got off of the roads that made sense and decided that I would follow my instincts back toward York. Don’t do this. Roads almost never go the way you think they should. We finally came through a little village in the middle of farmers’ fields called “Liston-on-Ouse.” Just as we were about to leave the edge of town (this took all of thirty seconds), on our right was a lovely home  called The Manor House, Mann Farm Bed and Breakfast. Though there was no sign, I pulled around to ask. They were quick to say they were filled and gave me rough directions toward York. I must have looked like Joseph because as I talked to them they seemed to soften and finally said, “We do have a room but I’m afraid it’s not made up yet.” I could tell by the tone of her voice that she was about ready to make a bed. I said, “How long would something like that take? We need supper, we could go to the pub. Would you have it ready in, let’s say an hour?” We got the deal and had a perfect room at a reasonable price staying with some very nice people. We heartily recommend it but do call for a reservation. It is situated about thirty minutes from York and well in the country side.

Kendal (sort of) and Kirkby-Lonsdale in The Lake District

Ruskin’s most beautiful view. What do you think?

After driving into Kendal and then driving out again, I wanted to show Jeanne something a little more quaint. About seven or eight years ago I came up this way  and friends drove me around to the prettiest villages. I remember one little hamlet with a beautiful, wide stream, a small castle turret and gate on the other side with this old stone arching bridge surrounded by massive trees on both sides. This is what I had hoped to find.

The authentic Lonsdale Bakery

We back-tracked and eventually wound up at lovely Kirkby Lonsdale. Though it was spitting rain and threatening more to come, we took a long walk first around the village. We were told by S. that we needed to see and experience several things. The first, he said, you must have lunch at the Lonsdale Bakery and he was right. Then, he advised us to take a walk through the St. Mary’s church yard and behind the church on a pathway, you will overlook what Ruskin called “The most beautiful view in all of England.” No doubt about it, it’s a good one but, in our opinion, there are many contenders for this title. I took the picture above pictures so I’ll let you decide.

The Ellerwaite

At about four, we drove on to Windermere  where we took a room at the Ellerwaite Lodge. The truth is, we didn’t shop very hard. Being off-season, if we would have just driven a little farther we would have found plenty of vacancies closer to the lake. We advise the reader to do this. Stopping at almost the first hotel that came into view, we looked at the room (perhaps one of the three nicest we had) and took it.

Jeanne likes our room

Unfortunately, in so doing we had somehow landed on another planet. The hostess was the oddest person we have ever encountered. Most of the service people working in the UK are from India or eastern Europe, but here was an authentic English or Scottish person with the strangest demeanor in the world. First, she began with, “May I please have your passport?” This always happens in Italy but never once in the UK, so I inquired, “Why would you want my passport?  It’s in the car, no one else has asked for it.” She countered with a stern, “It is the law. It is the law in England that I must see your passport.” Well, I have nothing to hide so with my eyebrows raised and eyeballs rolling, I went out to the car and got my suitcase and dug out my passport. So I gave it to her. She seemed satisfied for the moment, that is, until we stepped toward the door. That was when she said in rather wooden diction, “Most people want to know.” I turned to ask, “Most people want to know what?” She responded with a steely eyed, “Most people want to know what time breakfast will be served.” I was relieved that it wasn’t something more threatening. “Oh, what time is breakfast served?” I asked and once we had the answer, we were out of the door, shaking our collective heads and looking at one another in disbelief.

In spite of this journey into the middle kingdom of Never-Never Land, the room turned out to be a good one, though more flights up than I would have liked.

Jeanne took a bath and relaxed while I walked the streets, going into a pub to experience the village life.

Trekking through Snowdonia National Park of Wales

Out of our window

I wanted to get on the road, thinking that it might take more time than it did to reach Wales. We briskly swung up the M4, around and then across the Bristol Channel. Turning up the A449 we went off for the night at Ragland and found the Beaufort Inn. Jeanne loved the room with a nice view of a church out the window. After settling in we went downstairs to the dining room for supper.

The night that followed proved to be interesting. The lovely room turned out to be a challenge. Somehow the room tilted from foot to head. So, what looked like a good night’s sleep left us feeling like drunken sailors. In the morning we both awoke with the same complaint, “Didn’t you feel like you were sleeping upside down?” As we investigated we found that repairs had been made to the floor but it did slant at the foot. When we asked about it, we were given an explanation that this was a historical building and there were certain things they were not allowed to change when they remodeled the hotel. One of those things was the curvature of the floor. The floor curves.

It just isn’t so anymore!

A BREAK(fast) from the standard fare

There was a time when one would be hard pressed to find a decent meal from any kitchen in England, but that isn’t at all true anymore. Though good food might be more costly than in the United States, one can have some of the grandest meals they’ve ever eaten when they visit in the UK. At least this is my opinion. I am not talking about Fish ‘n Chips, Bangers and Mash, Shepherd’s or Kidney Pie. We sat down in the dining room at the Beaufort next to a couple just about our ages. It was her birthday and they had come back to where they had grown up and met to celebrate. In fact, the fellow told us that he had worked in this very hotel as a lad in the days when it was rundown. He never thought to see the day when the hotel would be restored to its original style. They recommended several dishes, and we ordered up. He promised we wouldn’t be disappointed and we weren’t.

In the morning we joined them for breakfast (which is always included in the room price) and for the first time, there was something beyond the “Full English Breakfast”! After four in a row, Jeanne leapt on the yogurt, fresh fruit, and berries. I took her lead and gave it a try as well.

After packing we drove out and made our way across the southern half of Snowdonia, taking pictures of the  beautiful countryside and stopping at the occasional tea room in a small village here or there. I say it in this way because there were many marvelous photo ops we passed up  simply due to the fact there was no safe place to pull off the road. In fact, it was along one of these narrow roads that I entered a bridge at the same time as a semi trailer truck, going at about sixty miles per hour. I had no choice but to drive onto the sidewalk at my left. He didn’t so much as bat an eye.

Enjoy the picture that we did manage to get.