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First Day Back in London

Italian Pavilion in Hyde Park
After a very pleasant nine hour flight from Vancouver, over Hudson Bay, I spent two hours getting through immigration. In spite of that, parts of London are working on being customer friendly, at least when an AC flight arrives. The LHR worker pointing travelers to the correct line: UK, EU, and non-EU (Brexit hasn't happened yet!), was passing out maps of Central London. After waiting patiently, I finally made it through immigration and customs, a mile walk in all, to the Paddington Express for a very short, but pleasant, fifteen minute ride to Paddington Station, which was two short blocks from my hotel, that I'd picked because of the short walk to Paddington. The ride was a welcome chance to sit down in quiet. And I must add: Kudos to Paddington Express workers for their outstanding customer service.

The walk to my hotel was as I 'd expected having been in and around Paddington Station many times. The weather was picture perfect: 70s (20s), bright and sunny. But glad to have left my backyard at home!

After a two hour nap in my small, but pleasant room, I set out for a walk in Hyde Park. It was a short distance away. The Lancaster Gate Hotel, the first place I stayed in London, was 'on the corner', across from a gate into the park near the Italian Pavilion. It is a lovely reflection pond with fountains, a few typical London birds: pigeons, coots, magpies, mallards, etc., and a GBH in the lake beyond, all with a peaceful view. People milled, children played, tourists rode Boris bikes, right over No Cycling signs, and everyone generally enjoyed the warm sunny autumn day. That included yours truly. A lovely lady from Chile asked me in her limited English about the GBH. Unfortunately, my Spanish suddenly became very limited, as had my German back in the airport, where a lady from Berlin and I tried to talk about their hiking around Jasper. Oh well, at least the smiles got through.

After having achieved my personally imposed daily five mile minimum, and some exercise in the sun to switch my body clock, I wandered back through the neighborhood looking for a likely place for supper: was it quiet, would the food be good, i.e., fresh and nutritious, and would it be reasonable. Lots to choose from: pubs, fast food, and most appealing: Indian, Greek, Chinese, Persian, etc. i finally settled on Kotell's, a little Greek place -- what a treat. The proprietor was welcoming, and even offered me a table in the front window, not back by the kitchen, where parties of one are frequently shown. He served a small antipasto plate of olives, carrots, a pepper, and sauces with pita. The main was delicious Kofta along with a fresh green salad, ripe tomatoes, and roasted potatoes. And the finish, just offered, not ordered nor charged, was a bowl of delicious fresh fruit: raspberries, strawberries, grapes, and a couple gooseberries ... all for 17 GBP including an Hellenic lager.

From supper, I walked half a block to my hotel, told the receptionist about my delicious dinner, and retired to my room to text Tom and crash for the night. All in all, it was a lovely first day back in London and Merry Old England, as I reflect while writing this in the middle of the night here.

Wandering the City

Cafe in the Crypt at Christ Church Spitalfields
Fourth day: the weekend was over, so I looked forward to wandering on a week day through the City of London. Today I enjoyed a lunchtime concert, late lunch at Christ Church Spitalfields, a quick trip up and down Brick Lane, and through Spitalfields Market. This was my last day in London on this end of my trip, so I tried to make the most of it.

The City churches offer lunchtime concerts of high quality classical music. Sohyun Park played several piano selections in St. Lawrence Jewry, one of my favorites, a Christopher Wren church next to the Guild Hall. The audience of fifty or so retirees and business people taking a mid-day break were all appreciative of her brilliant offerings. It was also nice to learn she has several You Tube pieces.

Britannic House on Finsbury Circus
From there I wandered through The City until time to return to my hotel. It's probably my favorite past-time in London, because I worked in Britannic House in Finsbury Circus, and enjoy the architecture, new and old, spectacular and exciting. Plus, the City has a vitality which I suppose is because pedestrians are mostly business people on a mission. Being in the Liverpool area, I wandered on over to Christ Church Spitalfieds, where I enjoyed a tasty, late lunch in the relatively new Cafe in the Croft; on to Brick Lane, which is full of delicious Indian restaurants, mostly run by Bangladeshis; and then back to wander through Spitalfields Market, which used to be the flower market, but is now a space for many artsy boutiques.

From there I quickened my pace back to Liverpool Tube stop, so I could get changed for dinner with Linda and David. We celebrated our meeting with a couple pints and tasty Fish and Chips at the Sawyer Inn Pub on London Street near Paddington and our hotel. We finally called it a night as I had to rise early in the a.m. to depart in Ireland.

The four days in London were a delight, as usual, and certainly not long enough. But after my month in Ireland, I plan to return in November. So, stay tuned for reports of my Irish expeditions.

From Paddington to St. Paul's

St. Paul's from the Churchyard
My second day was filled with another wander from Paddington, this time to St. Paul's with many stops along the way to chat with passersby or just enjoy the view.

A few highlights included: another walk through Hyde Park, where I met several supporters of the women swimming a mile in the first annual benefit swim in the Serpentine; stops along Oxford Street, the Bond Streets, Picadilly, Charing Cross, a stop at St. Martin in the Field; up along Shaftsbury with a stop for some Wonton soup in Chinatown; back onto Ludgate to St. Paul's and The City Information Center.

St Pauls churchyard sculpture
After a quiet sit in St.Paul's garden, it was time for Choral Evensong, always a delight with the brilliant choir and organ. That all left time for a pub crawl with London Walks. This one was about the filming sites for Dr. Who. So, I hustled along Victoria's Embankment to the Westminster Tube stop to meet the group. It was a fun one and jelled nicely enough that several of us stayed after to enjoy a pint at George's, London's oldest pub, near Borough Market and Southwark Cathedral.

Since midnight was coming, I finally succumbed to the Tube at London Bridge to expedite the journey back to my room, only to stop for a delightful fish and chips dinner at the corner. As I confidently changed from the Jubilee to Central line, I reflected on how nice it is to finally know my way around without the ever-present map. Another delightful day of wandering in London came to an end. Tomorrow is another day!

Back in the Old Neighborhood

Kensignton Gardens
Day three started with a solid breakfast; sorry I slept past it yesterday.

Breakfast companions, Linda and David from Syracuse, and I chatted through breakfast again. The conversations were still unfinished so we're having dinner tomorrow night, the night before I leave for Ireland. It's so easy to meet nice people when traveling alone.

I wandered again today through Kensington Gardens: destination St. Paul's Chelsea, in our old neighborhood. St. Paul's choir makes Evensong an item on the London calendar. But it was switched today, so I was lucky to find choir practice at Holy Trinity, an Arts and Crafts church, just off Sloane Square. On the way, I stopped by No. 1 Guthrie Street, our townhouse in Chelsea. It looks good! As I wandered through the neighborhood, I found my favorite Indian restaurant, Khyber Pass, gone, but my favorite florist, Gilded Lilly, still right outside the South Ken Tube stop. One of my favorite memories of our year in London was buying an armload of tulips, fifty in all, on the way home on Fridays, so we could have tulips in every room.

Next stop was V&A for a few minutes to see the Turkish display -- I love the angles and curves and colors.

Finally having tired feet, I hopped the Circle Line to Paddington, and enjoyed a nice vegetarian thali at the Taj Mahal before calling it quits for the day.

Monday is clean up, pack again, and be ready to depart early Tuesday.

On to Ireland ... Bantry in West Cork

Bantry at Low Tide

Box of Frogs
Bantry in County Cork, West Cork to be specific, in Southwest Ireland was next. What a delightful place for the next month ... a lovely home in the country off a quiet, winding road and near Bantry Bay with Brandy, a prince of a Brittany, and lots of family around. Enjoy the pictures.

Mizen Head Meets Wild Atlantic

Mizen Head Meets the Atlantic from the Signal Station
On the Beach
We took an afternoon ride along the peninsula leading to Mizen Head, the farthest southwest point in Ireland. To describe the Atlantic as wild is an understatement, but it is beautiful, especially on the sunny day we had.

Along the way we stopped at Barley Cove to walk the beach. This protected cove is popular for surfing and windsurfing.

Sheep's Head Peninsula

Sheeps Head

Brandy
Brandy and I took a spectacular 90 km drive down the peninsula to Sheep's Head, one of Ireland's three southwestern popular peninsulas. We enjoyed another warm sunny autumn day as we drove through the rural peace of the headgerow fenced farms overlooking Dunmanus Bay on the east side and Bantry Bay on the west side.

The peninsula is simply breathtaking, especially for anyone wanting to walk or cycle trails through the unspoiled beauty. My words won't do it justice, so check please thesheepsheadway.ie.

Quiet Day at Home

Go Moll The Gardens Great Tit
Today was a quiet, slow day, as the Go Mall sign (slow in Irish or Gaelic) at the head of Goats Path pleads. Yes, I'm relearning how to drive on the left again.

After a short shopping trip to Bantry, I stayed around the house to enjoy its peace and quiet with Brandy; the lovely gardens, which are abloom with autumn flowers; the pretty birds, especially the Great Tit and other tits, Chaffinches, et al that frequent the feeder; and a good book, "White Goats & Black Bees" by Donald Grant, who with his wife, both American journalists, gave up a posh life in a Manhattan penthouse and wrote about their new rural life on a farm nearby in Sheep's Head.

Faite Boulteenagh Walk

Ireland is filled with wonderful walking paths. Every step brings new views.

Today I walked up to Faite Boulteenagh, (220 m) between Bantry and Durrus, that's part of the Sheep's Head Walkway. The day was beautiful in the high teens (C), high sixties (F) with barely a breeze. All the locals I met remarked how pretty it was.

Hedgerows along the way are always interesting, especially when the seasons are changing.

Bantry Bay from FB Road
Reds, beyond the walls of wild Fushia, are increasing as some early change offers striking contrasts. Blackberries ripening make a tasty treat along the way. Yes, berries are among a few plants I enjoy on the trail. Many ferns are turning brown, but Fiddleheads were unfolding. I'd love to collect some, but no one here seems to. Perhaps they're not good or have been sprayed. The array of yellow flowers intrigues: many are similar to those at home, but frequently with different common names.

The prize view from the walk was Bantry Bay with all the sheep and cattle pastures in the foreground. It was a quiet day with only a couple cars passing on the one lane, two way road, and a couple boats floating in the Bay, perhaps fishing, perhaps enjoying the playful dolphins.

The most activity was two rams that approached the gate as I walked by their pasture. The young one enjoyed butting his mates, who mostly ignored him.

Later in the day, friends and their children invited me to join them exploring the rock pools along the shore. The tide was out so the pools offered easy access to several sea creatures: lots of Periwinkles and Limpets, starfish, sea urchins, small fish, seaweed, et al. What a fitting end to a lovely Sunday in West Cork.

Bantry House & Garden

Bantry House
Wandering the gardens around Bantry House made for a pleasant afternoon, another sunny autumn day in Bantry. Bantry House and Garden is a Bantry landmark, that overlooks Bantry Bay, and is still lived in. The prize garden is the parterre on the back of the house. Others are more informal, and some are being restored by the family who has occupied the house for over 250 years. Lots of work!

Saturday Morning Walk

The day was cool and crisp with bright sun. The hedgerows glistened from the overnight rain. It was a beautiful day for a walk with Brandy. Our road is on diversion because road construction is underway beyond our driveway. That means even less traffic -- how nice!

So, Brandy and I set out to quietly explore some nearby farm lanes. He found new smells and I found new plants as we both perused thehedgerows. It was very peaceful, like one farmer told me it would be. The only sounds were the many birds enjoying the day. Oh, where are my binoculars.

Walking the one lane ways between hedgerows reminded me of some peaceful cycling through the tunnels of corn in Iowa. Speaking of corn, I haven't seen any growing here. The cattle and sheep are all grazing in the fields, fenced mostly by hedgerows, and often with views of nearby rolling hills or Bantry Bay.

As we were ending out walk, the skies started to drip. As I opened the door, they opened up for five minutes, but we watched from inside.

Glengarriff Woods Nature Reserve

Bantry Bay from Nature Reserve
This reserve is a major nature destination in Ireland a few kilometers southwest of Bantry at the head of the Beara Peninsula. The 300+ hectare site is owned by the Irish National Parks and Wildlife Service, which has managed it since the 1950s for its forestry value and since the 1990s for its conservation potential. It was given to the state by the White family, headed by Lord Bantry, who has owned the land and Bantry House and Garden for over two centuries. That was the garden I visited yesterday.

This nature reserve is a Naturalist's delight. The site offers a good look at Ireland's native vegetation, and some not so native. Efforts to restore it to its original state have been underway. Non-native, invasive, plants are being removed, and native plants planted. It was interesting to learn that Rhododendrons are 'invasive' here, thus being removed. Invasive flora and fauna are those that introduced to a new area, typically by new residents who like the familiar of what they knew from the past. However, many introduced flora and fauna like the new habitat, so grow and propagate quickly at the expense of native plants, native wildlife, and local resources, such as water. English Ivy is a good example in many places I've traveled; Scotch Broom is such a plant in Washington and British Columbia along coastal areas; Buckthorn is an example in the Chicago area.

The nature reserve hosts several habitats. The Sessile Oak forest is prized for its important example in Ireland. While many trees were harvested,that practice has stopped, and many seedlings along the trails demonstrate the effort to return the oak to its primacy. It hosts Hiberno-lusitanian species, those that occur in south-west Ireland and northern Spain and Portugal, as a result of an earlier land bridge. Notable among them is the Strawberry tree, also known as Arbutus or Madrona on the west coast of North America.

The reserve offers hikes through these forests as well as the meadows and riverbanks in the site, which occasionally lead to interesting vistas of nearby Bantry Bay and Caha Mountains. For more information, check the Reserve's website.

Whiddy Island

A bit of rural Ireland
A trip to Whiddy Island was today's adventure. It was a ten minute ferry ride from Bantry with Timothy O'Leary, the worldly, rotund skipper with curly red hair and beard.

The island is known for its oil storage tank farm which holds Ireland's strategic oil reserve. But agriculture and tourism are what make it tick. The island, near the head of Bantry Bay, is roughly 3.5 by 1.5 miles. Sheep's Head trail signs designate a new loop route for walkers to enjoy the island along roads and through pastures.

Today, however, I just followed farm roads, the one lane kind, past pastures with cattle or sheep, a few dogs, cats and chickens, and lots of hedgerows. I passed Jim's barn where roosters scurried away from me, and past his upside up down yield sign: "Slow Do Not Run Over Jimmy's Cock". In a pasture farther down were several bulls, who watched me closely, so I turned around only to pass other pastures with more cows intent on watching me walk by.

My last treat, as I looked over the hedgerow from where I was helping myself to the ripe blackberries, was a delightful brown horse with a white mane. He watched me to the edge of his pasture.

On my way back, he was eating a plate full of apple scraps. An elderly Irish lady had just made an Apple Tart; so he was enjoying the bits. Was he her horse? No, it was her son's.

As my walk ended, all five or so miles of it, I stopped in the 'Bank' near the ferry dock. That was the island pub. As luck would have it, the friendly couple from Waterford, with whom I'd chatted earlier on the walk, was chatting with Tim, the bartender and ferry captain. And yes, wouldn't you know it, Tim was the son of the lady feeding the horse! We all chatted over pints for an hour solving the world's problems. Then we boarded the ferry back to Bantry.

It was a lovely Irish day, and a reason I like to travel alone. I feel like a tourist, a guest, and a sitter, all in one!        

Searching for Kilnaruane Pillar Stone

Road Sign for Pillar Stone Occupants of Stone's Field Another Occupant And Another
Many stone circles have been found in Ireland. The Kilnaruane Pillar Stone is a few kilometers away in a pasture, so I walked over to see it. However, I was greeted by a couple dozen steers, so decided to watch them for a minute, and visit again when they will likely be in another pasture.

The pillar is reputedly an 8C or 9C Christian relic with clear carvings. It sounds interesting enough to try again. Stay tuned.

"Feel Good Festival"

The West Cork Feel Good Festival in Bantry started off the two day fete with a "Live Life and Sing" concert Friday evening.

The singing priest, Liam Lawton, and two local choruses treated the young and old audience to new and old Irish songs, including the ever favourite, "Danny Boy".

Kilnaruane Pillar Stone and Circle, Again

Pillar Stone Interp Sign Marie in Bantry House Garden Kilnaruane Pillar Stone and Circel St. Brendan the Navigator Historic Sign
As promised, I went back today, with a local friend. As expected the steers weren't there. Their grassy pastures can only stand so much of their grazing and stomping around, even in Ireland.

The pillar is considered one of the most important stones in Ireland. Its history is fascinating, as you can see on the interp sign (expand it), or just Google it.

Following our walk to the pillar, we continued in the wind and rain to the back entrance of Bantry House Garden and enjoyed another walk of this lovely garden, a different path than I'd taken earlier.

Our walk ended a quiet Sunday, which had started with a visit to St. Brendan's Church of Ireland. The Church of Ireland is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. St. Brendan the Navigator is the patron saint of all travelers.

Quiet Monday

Monday Sunrise
The bright sun awakened us and asked to be photographed before chores around the house beckoned.

Brandy and I took a break for our daily walk. The nearby construction causes traffic to reroute. So, we quietly explored nearby lanes again. Rarely do we walk that we don't stop to talk with someone. West Cork is a very friendly place. Today a farmer told me about his family in America. Yesterday a new resident from the other side of the Beara Peninsula told me about the beauties of his side of the peninsula, and soon we discovered we had worked for competitors. The day before two farmers happily told me about the best lanes to walk, how far they went, and how peaceful they would be.

Japanese Knotweed
Fiddlehead Fern
Blackberries
Rose Hips
English Holly
Walking the quiet lanes has been an opportunity to study the hedgerows. Each step is different, but soon many appear the same. Most plants are similar, or the same, as those I've seen in North America, albeit some with different common names. Some have been introduced there; some have been introduced here from there. But one plant has come from farther away: Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica) is from East Asia. It has become an invasive, crowding out local vegetation, strong enough to grow up through concrete. Llocals are trying to find a way to safely eradicate it. Fiddlehead ferns grow out of the hedgerows, but I haven't found any one here who saute's them. Blackberries ripen in various stages, which makes for tasty snacks along the way. Rose hips always want attention, as does English Holly with its bright red berries. Other berries are ripening, too, as well as some mushrooms, but those are best left for wildlife in my opinion.

More Walks and Gardens

Sessile Oak
It's been a few days since my last post. West Cork has no end of interesting things to do. The weather continues to please everyone as it's mostly sunny and mild, which make for good times outdoors.

Brandy and I visited Glengarriff Woods again, this time to walk the Big Meadow trail. The large grass meadow has not been managed for decades. It is an open area edged by trees and shrubs. The most spectacular tree was a Sessile Oak (Quercus petraea) that has grown freely and reached its full natural beauty.

Amanita
Fungi always interest me; a few interesting mushrooms and a lichen attracted me today, especially this partly chewed Amanita. While enjoying identifying many species in the natural world, I leave identification in this Kingdom to the professionals, never taste them in the wild, nor pick them, so others can also enjoy them.

Italian Garden
After Brandy and I did the Big Meadow Walk at Glengarriff Woods, I visited Ilnacullin, or Garinish Island, a short ferry ride from Glengarriff. Its gardens were designed by Harold Peto, a well-known English architect and garden designer. The Italian Garden and Walled Garden are particular favorites.

Brandy and I continue to enjoy the Beicin Walk, especially the beach walk, when the tide is out. The neighborhood lanes beckon, too. As with every past walk, we continue to meet new people, mostly local people, who always enjoy talking about what a warm and friendly place this is to live, and how many more things we can enjoy.

Pub Warning
Sunset over Bantry Bay
Every Friday is Market Day in Bantry, so I checked it out again. The vendors have everything from garage sale items to farmers' market foods for sale, and an occasional humorous sign, like this one outside a pub. I bought some Basil Hummus, which I wish were be more widely available. While wandering through the market, I also took in sites of the Bantry Historic Trail including a couple old churches and an historic cemetery. Later a friend and I walked the Rooska Loop through the rural lanes and along the coast. In the end we were treated to another spectacular setting sun.

You may wonder about all the walking I'm doing. West Cork has many, many marked walks: one way, loops, etc. along roads and beaches, and through woods and pastures. The views are always pretty, pretty enough to make walking at pace difficult. The area has been recognized as a European Destination of Excellence, which is a tribute to its sustainable tourism practices.

Killarney National Park

MacGillicuddy's Reeks
What a wonderful national park! It's in southwestern Ireland in County Kerry, next to County Cork, where I'm staying. The UNESCO designated Biosphere Reserve is 26,000 acres of rugged terrain and unique habitats. Ireland's highest mountain peak, MacGillicuddy's Reeks, world famous Killarney lakes, spectacular native oak and yew woodlands, bogs and moors, and waterfalls provide habitat for Ireland's native Red Deer herd and lots of hikers. Add to that a lovely garden surrounding the nineteenth century Muckross country house all made the hike entertaining and memorable.

We hiked a loop trail up along the Torc waterfall that seemed non-stop, on through woodlands with a unique variety of plants -- a naturalist's delight, and back to the shore of Lough Leane for a picnic lunch, including hot tea and coffee! After lunch we walked a kilometer or so over to Muckross House and Gardens past a herd of Red Deer with does and a 10 point stag resting among them. The icing on the cake was the weather was sunny and crisp; it couldn't have treated us better.

On top of the delightful day of hiking and enjoying nature, we drove N71 through Kenmare to Killarney, and back to Bantry along N72 and local roads. Both routes were a treat to see more of the spectacular natural scenery of West Cork and County Kerry. It was a delightful day all around!
killarneynationalpark.ie

Killarney National Park Trails
Torc Waterfalls
Lichen
Ten Point Red Deer Stag
Big Tree
Muckross Lake with Sessile Oaks
Muckross Rock Garden

Birding at Donemark

Sandpiper
A chance to do some birding beyond the feeder!

The tide was out, so gulls and shore birds feasted on the mudflats. Flocks of Dunlin performed their acrobatic, artistic twists and turns for us. Crows were busy dropping small shellfish in hopes of breaking them to get at their food offerings. But the Curlew was the object of my watch.They're apparently fairly common here, but I only heard a few. Next time I'll bring my binocs. Many birds here are new to me.

Besides the birds, many different bivalve shells littered the mudflats: mussels, scallops, clams, and oysters versus the Periwinkles and Limpets living on the rocks along the tide line.

Shaggy Mane
Donemark Waterfall
A lovely waterfall gushing volumes of water and an aging Shaggy Mane holding a child's gift of holly berries were the entertainment on the way home.

Good-bye to Ireland

Rooska Loop Chaperone
Yes, my time in Ireland has come to an end for now. The visit has been a fairy tale. My last days have been full of walks, visits with friends and neighbors, and moving on errands.

On one of my walks, a local farmer had just finished relocating his cows to a fresh pasture. That's done fairly frequently here to allow grazing pastures to regenerate. When I asked him what kind of cows he had, he replied they are a Jersey-Friesan cross versus the more common Holstein-Friesan cross. The Jersey mix better tolerates the climate here, meaning it is healthier and produces more milk, according to him.

Robin on Back Gate from the Kitchen Window
Most conversations are local and daily, but some cover history, local and distant. Many are interested in what's going on in America, and all have an opinion. Always interesting.

Bantry Bay from Sheep's Head Walk
We saved the best walk for last though! On Sunday afternoon several of us, adults and children, walked five plus miles of Sheep's Head Walk near Rooska. The first half was mostly uphill along roads past farms, but the second half was cross-country through moors and pastures, with a faint trail over endless rocks through mud and underbrush. Along the way were spectacular views of Dunmanus and Bantry Bays and well beyond. The day was overcast, but the spirits were high. It was amazing to see six and seven year olds traverse the land with non-stop vigor and agility. Their enthusiasm continued as we capped off the afternoon with tea and sweet at a lovely house at the end of the walk.

Stay tuned for my next update in another week or so. Until then I will continue wandering.

On from Ireland

It's been nearly three weeks since I left Ireland after a glorious time. Since I've traveled to London, Oxford, Hamburg (Lamstedt specifically), and back.

London has been a favorite destination since I discovered it. It has no end of interest from music and history, to new and old architecture, lots of walking, and old friends long with new friends. Lunchtime recitals in the City churches top my list of favourites. But London Walks and wandering on my own, especially in the City, are a close second. Architecture from the Gherkin to the Cheesegrater to the Walkie-talkie contrast with Christ Church Spitalfields, and other Queen Anne churches, and the Bevis Marks Synagogue. Yesterday I had the tastiest Indian meal ever at the Dosa World on Hanbury Street just off Brick Lane. Then I started exploring some new neighborhoods: Shoreditch, Towers Hamlet, Hackney and others in East London. As always, time is always too short in London.

Oxford is always fun, but mainly because of fitting in with friends. Wandering in and around the University, as with any university, is always exciting.

Visiting friends in Lamstedt was a highlight, too. especially to fit into their daily life in a little bit of semi-rural Germany. The Christmas Market in xxx was delightful with many interesting arts and crafts, including the bird feeders with roof gardens! My hostess teaches yoga, so I had my first Ying Yoga lesson, a style I will try more, because it is deliberate and beneficial for me. And of course, there was the usual good German cuisine, but with more seafood than I recall.

I have a couple weeks left in London, and intend to make the most of it visiting friends, enjoying the music, and wandering all over. Pictures to follow.

Oxford, Home of an Old Friend, and Oxford University

Thames Path longboat and lock
My Oxford visits are always a change of pace. Fitting into my friend's daily life meant never feeling like a tourist, even though we did check out some popular sites. Favorites included Christ Church Cathedral for Choral Evensong, the Bodleian Library for a little history, and the Thames Path for long walks through the English countryside.

Morton's sandwich shop
Covered Market shop
We also visited my late friend's grave site in Summertown to plant some crocuses on his grave. Walks through the Oxford campus were just part of getting anywhere, as were stops for tea at Morton's, a delicious sandwich shop near campus, and the Covered Market, a specialty market for good food, drink, and gifts.

The Great Barn circa 1300
A friend with a car took us to Faringdon in Southwest Oxfordshire for their Remembrance Day celebration and into the nearby countryside to hike up to the Uffington White Horse and over to Wayland's Smithy wikipedia Vale of White Horse. The Great Barn was an interesting last stop on the way back to Oxford.

Lamsted, Germany in November to Visit Friends

In the middle of my Oxford visit, I took a quick trip to London to catch up with an old colleague, who'd just popped into town with her family.

Katinka
Then I departed for Hamburg to visit an old colleague and his wife. They live near Lamsted about 80 kilometers west via Deutsche Bahn, the German rail service. Again, it was fun just to fit into daily life with them and their two delightful Hovawarts, Aimee and Yolinda, and Katinka the cat. They were all a pleasure to get to know in the house and on our long walks through the countryside. Aimee and I really bonded, not unlike Brandy in Ireland.

Christkindlmarkt (Christmas market)
The Chistmas market in Cadenberge was a delight with lots of interesting German arts and crafts, including bird feeders complete with roof gardens, and tasty bratwurst to keep us going for more shopping!

The highlight of my visit was a Ying Yoga lesson that my hostess taught. The style, which is a more deliberate version of Hatha yoga, was new to me, but one I'd like to work on.

My visit was too short, but we agreed it would be longer next time, and I will have worked on my German again. My having forgotten the little I'd learned was my only regret about the visit. Languages make travel much more fun, regardless of ones capability. So, we said "Auf Wiedersehen, bis bald!" in the snow, much like the last time we were in Germany in early winter.

Back to London for the Music and Friends

I returned to Oxford for another week, which I described below. From there London was my home for the next three weeks, the remainder of my trip.

London has always been one of my favorite cities, and this time was no exception. Old and new friends, music, architecture, and walks filled my time there.

An Airbnb, my first, in South Ken, our old neighborhood, hosted by a lovely young Spanish woman, was my first stop for a week. It was a success and I'll stay in more. Her place was convenient to the Tube, my transportation of choice except when walking. Yes, you can see more by taking a bus, and I did take some, but London traffic is frightfully congested, and I was usually going to the City or beyond.

After South Ken, I opted to go back to Bayswater, where we had stayed before. Plus, the Lancaster Gate Tube stop was the first I used many years ago, and it's on the Central Line, so convenient to the City.

My first stop in London now is usually the City Information Center across from St. Paul's Cathedral. They offer the monthly "City Events: The Friends of the City Churches" listing, as well as lots of other good information about events in the City. The listing contains the recitals and concerts in the churches in The City, which have become a big reason I go to London. High quality music in pleasant venues is always enjoyable. My favorite recitals are Catherine Ennis' organ recitals at St. Lawrence Jewry next to Guild Hall.

In addition to the City churches, I also went to a few concerts at St. Martin in the Fields, and the Barbican and South Bank concert halls, as well as services at Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's Cathedral.

Pictures may follow.

Architecture in the City

The City from Canary Wharf: St. Paul's, Gherkin, Cheesegrater, Walkie Talkie
Walkie Talkie Sky Garden
Canary Wharf Tube Station
With any spare time around the music, I checked out new and old architecture in the City. Some older buildings offer tours or operate museums like the Bank of England or retail space like the Royal Exchange.

Unfortunately, few new buildings permit visits inside, but lobby guards are always happy to answer a few questions about the architects. A couple do allow visiting, by appointment. The new Walkie Talkie building has three floors of very pleasant space complete with restaurants, gardens, and a viewing deck to scan the London skyline. The Shard offers a view, too, by reservation, but for a price. And only a few stories high, the deck at One New Change offers some limited viewing, and on a nice day, is a pleasant place to relax.

My favorite new building is still the Gherkin, and I usually visit the Canary Wharf Tube station, both designed by Sir Norman Foster, a renowned British architect.

Exploring Beyond The City

Columbia Road Flower Market
Aldgate and Whitechapel, north and east of the City, in the Borough of Tower Hamlets were new neighborhoods to me. It's another changing area where many young professionals, artists, and new immigrants have moved in. A tourist draw is the Columbia Road flower market on Sunday mornings.

Even in the rain, it was a happening, as it is apparently London's largest flower market. I found out about it while walking the length of Brick Lane and stopped in a bicycle shop, where a kind young woman working in the store was happy to tell me about it and other interesting spots in the neighborhood. Other helpful shops were E1 Cycles on Commercial Street and the Starbucks on Whitechapel High Street.

Street Art on Hanbury Street
Brick Lane, also part of Tower Hamlets, is home to many Indian and Bangladeshi restaurants, and is always on my itinerary. This time I found a South Indian restaurant, Dosa World on Hanbury Street, which served delicious Dosa. The friendly owner and his staff were all from Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and nice to chat with over lunch.

Borough Market
Across the river, over London Bridge, I explored more of South Bank in the Borough of Southwark. Those neighborhoods are changing, too. Beyond just checking out the neighborhoods, Borough Market is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike for some quality food purveyors. I usually pick up some good cheese and bread for a quiet lunch along the river, and once even has a street Dosa. The market is next to Southwark Cathedral, which has an occasional concert, too.

Speaking of cycle shops, bicycling in London is more and more popular for workers, well beyond the couriers, and tourists. Lots of folding bicycles, as well as the Santander rentals, are seen regardless of the weather.

I continue to be reminded of the sight of a horde, or at least a lot, of cyclists -- couriers, commuters, tourists -- stopped at a traffic light, establishing their lane during a rainy evening rush hour, when it was already dark, with their front lights shining or pulsing, waiting to beat the traffic in their turn from Commercial Street onto Whitechapel High Street in Aldgate. What an adrenaline rush!

A fun book I'm reading is Jon Day's Cyclogeography: Journeys of a London Bicycle Courier. Little would I have guessed that some of the couriers ride fixed-gear bikes. Having ridden one on a track once, all can say is "Wow, that's life in the fast lane!"

London Walks

The London Walks "Brunel's London" went from the Embankment Tube Stop to the Isle of Dogs and neighborhoods in between, sometimes via river boat, sometimes by Tube or DLR, and sometimes by foot. It was particularly interesting in light of the construction of the CrossRail project now underway across London. That walk, along with the "Old Jewish Quarter" walk and a couple pub crawls added to the variety of neighborhoods and conversations with people from all over. The walks are usually a good way to learn more about specific areas of interest in London and beyond and to meet others with similar interests.

Notting Hill North

The last neighborhood I explored was Notting Hill North along Westbourne Grove and beyond, where the No. 23 bus goes from the City.

I'd been invited to a 5x15 lecture (5x15.com) at the Tabernacle. 5x15 is a short lecture series, and this one offered interesting talks by several known Brits who each chatted for fifteen minutes about their expertise. Ed Balls, a former Shadow Chancellor, may have been the best known the night I attended, but others included a restaurateur, a wine expert, a therapist, and an artist.

Since the lecture was in the evening, I'd scouted the area during the day before and discovered several interesting restaurants and shops along Westbourne Grove. Lokkanta, a Turkish restaurant, proved tasty and welcoming enough to go back a second time. The food was delicious, and the staff very friendly. Most of the other patrons were Turks, which, for me, always speaks to the authenticity of the cuisine.

I even learned to say thank you in Turkish. It's Teşekkür ederim or Tae-shack-cure eddie-rim. You're right, it's not as simple as in some other languages.

South of there is the more well-known Notting Hill Gate and Portobello Market.

Winding Down

On my last day I enjoyed another organ recital at the Temple Church just off Fetter Lane, and then met an old friend to walk to the National Gallery and through V&A, and to meet her husband for dinner out in Richmond.

It was a wonderful trip, all ten weeks of it, that ended all too soon, but with a delightful Air Canada flight to Vancouver and on home from there.

Back Home

Since I left Ireland, I visited friends in Oxford, Hamburg, and London, where I revisited old neighborhoods and explored new neighborhoods. So, the entries above have been written in retrospect. I hope you enjoy them, too.  

A Few Last Thoughts

One nice thing about all my visits with friends was the long, energetic walks. Not only were the walks good exercise, but we had time for lengthy conversations.

October and November 2016 were a great time to be visiting in the UK, Ireland and Germany. The Brexit referendum was in June; the US election was in the middle of my visit; and several elections on the Continent would be soon, so everyone wanted to compare notes, even those from Asia and South America. Some were curious, some were concerned, some were emotive, but non-stop conversations with people from all over the world were the order of every day as I stood in lines, sat alone, never long, in restaurants or parks or on the Tube, etc.

Eating on the go happened often. My restaurant of choice for those times was Pret A Manger, lovingly call Pret, where good, fresh salads and sandwiches could be bought for eat in or carry out for very reasonable prices. Itsu offered a Zen Bento box, that was tasty. Otherwise, some of groceries' food halls: M&S, Waitrose, Sainsbury, etc. offered decent, reasonably priced, prepared food for carry out.

Public transit is London is reasonable, and a great way to get around, but used by many. Most TfL workers were more than happy to help and answer questions. When in doubt I asked. I was also impressed with the number of young men, and occasionally young women, who offered me their seat. In spite of its density, London is still very civil. The No. 11 bus is one which passes many points of interest from Fulham to Liverpool Station. No. 8 does also, and I added No. 23 to my list of good sightseeing bus routes.

Thank you for following my travels. Since my blog is really devoted to travel, I'll probably not add any more for a while. Enjoy your holidays!

The Total Eclipse of The Sun ... Quietly

We had an abrupt change of plans for our day. No worries: something else will always arise. Today, plans or not, I was determined to watch the eclipse. So I quickly got two pieces of paper, put a pin-hole in one to let the sun could shine through the top one onto the lower second one. It worked amazing well for watching the Moon move across the Sun. Plus, having done it myself was quite satisfying.

The time came and went quickly as I stood in the front yard fiddling with my paper and pin-hole. About two minutes before max, which for us was about 89% at 10:20 am, nearly twenty Bushtits descended onto the tree branch over my head, seemingly surprised I was there. They disappeared as quickly. Then for a few more minutes, I enjoyed the darkening of the world around me and its eerie quiet. How peaceful!

Since our plans had included a trip to Gabriola Passage to see the max flood current, I knew today's low tide was a Spring tide. That's the lowest of the low, when the Sun and Moon and Earth are in alignment during the New Moon. So, we took off for Rathtrevor Provincial Park to see the extended beach created by the low tide. As I walked out farther than ever before, and stood in the surf's edge, three little Semi-palmated Sandpipers played jauntily nearby as if no one were around. Then we went up to French Creek, where low tide is always a treat. There we found a small flock of more semi-palmateds and two larger shorebirds: Greater Yellow-leg Sandpipers, all lunching in the shallow waters of the returning tide.

It was a special day. We hope you enjoyed it, too, wherever in the world you are!

PS: If you're so inclined, enjoy "Total Eclipse of the Heart", here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9M3njkjzxy0