27 March 2012

uk train trip -- Wales

I changed train a few times on the five hour journey south; all the while reading the entire book I'd bought from a group of very persistant young sellers of a second hand stall in Leeds. I was a little chuffed about reading a whole book in one day, albeit a teen read. It wasn't till I had almost arrived, when night had already fallen, that I thought that I probably should have prepared a little more for my arrival in Cardiff than this: ha ha

I did however manage to find my way to my hotel wandering along the dark streets. After settling in I came down stairs and further confirmed that I should have prepared a bit more for this leg of my journey. With only one full day in Cardiff, I had arrived too late to actually be able to book a day tour that would allow me to see the countryside. An indian girl asked me to wander the city with her which I did. That was an experience. She was a very driven, full on type of person.

On the Thursday, after getting over the disappointment of not being able to see the countryside of Wales fairly quickly, I decided to just go with what I had and do holidaying stuff rather than sightseeing. I did however go to Cardiff Castle and take a look.
It's not the most interesting castle I've seen here. It has been changed many times over the years and then restored so it has so many different mismatched layers etc. I wandered around the grounds in the cold listening to the history. It was fascinating to see a lifesize trebuchet up close after playing so many games of Age of Empires. The house that you can see in the background just left of the trebuchet had some pretty elaborate rooms too.
After spending the morning at Cardiff Castle I wandered the shops happily browsing slowly and indecisively. I did buy a thing or two and then found a Starbucks--not hard to do these days--where I sat and ate coffee and cake and cheerily used my new phone to access the free wi-fi. It was here I decided I would go see a movie. So after checking times and location I made my way over to the cinema and sat down (happy feet) for two hours of being entertained by This Means War. On the way home from the movies I stopped by the supermarket and grabbed some welsh cakes for a simple tea. I had also amused myself during the day by looking at the signs and such that had welsh on them. It's a strange looking language and yet another that seems odd to try and read.

The next morning I decided to head off reasonably early and go straight to Swansea where my next B&B was booked. I had been unable to book three nights in Cardiff, the Friday night seemingly booked out everywhere. I quickly assumed there must be something on which didn't surprise me. Most of my trips here I've managed to catch some event without intention. And I was right. A rugby match in Cardiff, Wales vs France. So I'd booked a night in Swansea, the second biggest city in Wales that is on the south coast. When I arrived and made my way into town I decided to hire a car and drive around the Gower Penninsular which is supposed to be quite spectacular. Honestly, I failed to see it. Because I literally had trouble seeing it. Pfft. Silly uk roads. Most are like you see below. Hedged in laneways practically. Keeps you from actually seeing the scenery. Therefore the destinations were where you had to sightsee only I didn't really know where I was going and I found it difficult to actually find the spots you could stop at the destinations. I had lunch in a little shack of a fish and chip shop on some beach--I can't remember which. I strolled on the beach for all of 10mins but with no sun and the cold wind I quickly gave up on the Gower Penninsula.
I managed to find my B&B which was nice and with a few hours of daylight left decided to head inland and search out some waterfalls. The first one I stopped at was with some kind of shop...tinsmith I think. But it was already closed so I continued on to find Melincourt Waterfalls. That I found, enjoyed the walk along the wooded, creekside path and savoured the site of the falls. I hung out there until the light began to drop and headed back into Swansea, hoping the satnav wouldn't take me through one of the dreaded roundabouts. Most I've come across here are large complicated ones. While I enjoyed driving around, the one massive roundabout I had to venture into had me a little stressed. Multiple lanes, multiple exits, stop lights, hoards of vehicles and needing to be in the right lane to get out at the right spot. Urg. I don't like them. But I survived. :)

I spent the evening playing with my phone (and the free wi-fi) and watching movies on tv and eating yummy snacks. The following day, after a leisurely start, I checked out with the owner expressing interest in my surname. He mentioned an old tale that most welsh children were told of Beth Gellert and dog or some such thing. I've vaguely heard of it before. I returned the car and wandered along the streets, getting a little distracted by the shops. I bought a wales labled item for my collection and stopped somewhere for lunch and waited for my train. I spent the entire three hour train journey back to London reading an ebook on my phone that had me sucked in and entertained the whole way. And happy that I still had quite a lot of battery left when I arrived.

The Wales segment wasn't what I anticipated. I'd hoped to see more of the mountains and scenery which I've heard is quite beautiful. But I did still enjoy it. Just in a different way. It was nice to have a whole week of roaming and doing relaxing enjoyable things just because I could.

22 March 2012

uk train trip -- Lake District

On the Monday morning I caught the train--with a few changes--to Windermere in the Lakes District. I decided to come up to this area as I've heard it mentioned numerous times that it's a beautiful area. The town was certainly a welcoming sight with it's delightful stone buildings and age old architecture. A pokey little village that reminded me with ease that I'm in England. I spent most of my daytime hours wandering about the area, feeling a cold until I'd been on the move for a while. I spent the evenings cosied up in my freely upgraded room at the Ravensworth with yummy snacks and movies I borrowed from the lounge downstairs.

It was only a short walk from my B&B to Lake Windermere but the path was utterly delightful. Winter stripped trees, loads of rock walls and moss creeping over everything as I snaked along inbetween pretty stone-built houses and wooden gates in the stone walls that have that air of leading to secret gardens. The chilly air and overcast weather made it mysteriously mystical. I felt potential stories lingering in every view. The rush and roll of the creek and my feet crunching over the dirt and pebbles were almost all the sound that accompanied me. Apart from one afternoon when I was walking around listening to Steph Geremia play her irish flute on my ipod. That was a bouncily happy afternoon. Parts of that walk were danced. I also climbed a hill for a view over Lake Windermere. This lake is the biggest that England has.

The day I arrived, after settling in to my room, I set about finding a day tour to book for the next day. I went to find Mountain Goats as that's the one that was recommended but the tour I'd hoped to do was booked. The lady said if there were maybe five people interested they could get another bus together. I said I'd visit the tourist information centre or call by the end of the day and see if they were getting another bus together. As I was talking to staff at the tourist information centre and looking over a brochure from another company a phone call came through to the centre to see if I was there still and that four others were interested. So I ended up being able to book the tour I'd originally wanted to do. In the meantime, while all that was being clarified and booked, I bought myself some sock from the tourist information centre purely because of the brand name. It was a mini thrill to find a selection of 'Gelert' products.
The day tour was...interesting. We had one girl throw up on the bus at the beginning of the day. Thankfully it wasn't too stinky. We also lost a couple in Keswick as they never returned from lunch and after waiting as long as we could we left without them. They made their way back to where we started and our driver later met them with their luggage which finished the tour with us. As for the scenery, the reports are true. It is quite beautiful in the Lakes District and I bet it's even nicer on clear sunny day. I think we saw 10 different lakes in all, lots and lots of drywall fences, loads of paddocks and a sprinkling of sheep all over the place.
The farm above is apparently where Beatrix Potter went when she gave up scrawling her children's tales. I think she was quite successful with farming too. Sheep farming of course. We also went on a boat ride around Lake Derwent. It was a little ferry-like vessel. I sat on the outside to better view the lake and surroundings where it was cold and was bored well before the 50 min round trip was made. Honestly, the Lakes District IS nice but I think I like the land part best. As for water, I think it's most beautiful in streams and rivers. After the boat ride we went into Keswick for lunch.
Towards the end of our day we visited Castlerigg. Yet another stone circle. There's certainly more of these than I realised. We also drove over Ashness Bridge which they say is the most photographed bridge in Cumbria. I don't know about the other bridges but this was pretty little bridge. And then there was a bunch more of the typical, beautiful scenery that makes up the Lakes District.

After wandering around Windermere on my last day there, I sat by the train station and ate a late lunch before making the longest of my train rides on this holiday.

Note: Double click a picutre to view them all more closely.

18 March 2012

uk train trip -- Leeds

The family I work for went to the snow for the week with others leaving me with a free week since there were extra family members around to help with the boy. Since I've recently been to Iceland and I'm heading to Italy for Easter, I decided I'd take this opportunity to see some of the UK...and keep the costs down. From an email telling my of super cheap fares if I book early, I got train tickets for this past week a while ago. I also booked accommodation and then got distracted with other things. So this was going to be an interesting holiday with only those things booked and nothing else thought about. (I usually put more planning effort in.)

So on Saturday 10th March I rose early and dragged my luggage to Kings Cross Station to make the first stretch of my journey to Leeds. My new phone (fake iphone so it has lots of apps and gadgets and stuff) happily arrived a couple days before I left when I wasn't expecting it until after I got back. That gave me plenty of distraction, not that I mind travelling. I could plug it into the wall and fiddle away with my new toy. And thankfully I've mostly got my head around how it works now.

In Leeds I'd arranged to couchsurf with a local family and I caught the bus they suggested and met me at the stop they said to get off at. They were very friendly and chatty and welcoming. The mum is a crafter; an art class teacher in fact. We spent that afternoon pulling out supplies and crafting away. I had another go at felting. I haven't done much before. Just a little before I left Australia. She had a variety of greens so I did a basic swatch with the top layer being carefully placed as to resemble layers of grass. Then roll, roll, roll, roll, roll...for what seems like ages. I'm pretty happy with the outcome though. I think I'm going make it into a zip purse. Sometime...

I hung out with them all day and they ordered in Thai for tea. Yummo. After their little girl was in bed was sat and chatted and she helped me make a list of things I could see and do in Leeds the next morning.

Sunday morning I caught the bus into Leeds city centre and wandered down to Clarence Dock. There went to the Royal Armouries Museum to amuse myself a while until the shops opened. I only looked through the tournament section but it was fascinating. Jousting intrigues me. It's such a strange entertainment. And all the armour and things they wore and did as a part of it all. Some of the armour was funny too like the mo helmet below. They also displayed and explained the art on the armour and how it was done. I found that particularly interesting.

I then left the armoury and made my way back into the town visiting the Corn Exchange which is an interesting building to look at. Then I went along some arcades and streets which were really quite pretty. I just wandered around, eventually stopping in at a bagel shop for lunch. Then slowly made my way around and back to the bus and back to my hosts in the early afternoon.

That afternoon, with the sun gorgeously shining, my host and child took us to a nearby nature reserve for a walk in the woods. Followed by a late afternoon tea at a cafe.
The next morning I left early to catch my train to my next destination.

Leeds was not anything spectacular though I had a nice weekend there. Nothing amazing or noteable to visit. Though I did spend a lot of my time there hanging out with the host family who were lovely. Perhaps I'm just used to be overwhelmed by the fascination of being in other countries and seeing 'icons' I've only ever previously heard about. I tend to be having exploring holidays rather than relaxing ones over here. On to my next destination, where I intended to do more of the exploring holiday format...