60 Days in Europe: Travel Lessons

You can get all the travel advice you need from books and websites. That’s what we did. But I thought I would pass along some of the things we learned as first-timers. We had never planned or experienced a trip like the one we took to Europe in 2014. We knew we were bound to make mistakes and that some things wouldn’t turn out as we planned. And as it turned out, we learned a few lessons that will help us the next time we plan an international trip, long or short.

So here are some of the things worth passing along to others that might be in that situation of planning a trip to Europe without a lot of prior (or any) experience. Much of it will only apply if you want to travel in a mode similar to ours: Long, light, and cheap.

If you really want to travel, you can do it. It has become increasingly cheaper and safer, and is not as much the luxury as many still consider it. If you can save, you can afford to travel, especially if you are willing to travel like we did: light, in hostels, and keeping shopping and expensive meals to a minimum.  Buy a used car instead of a new one. Pocket your eating-out money for a year or two. One way of looking at it is to learn how cheap a round trip ticket can be, and that after that, every $100 you can save will pay for the lodging, food and admissions for an average day. Of course, if you can’t afford to save, you are going without many things other than travel.

Our planning fell into two major divisions: itinerary and arrangements, by which I mean tickets, passes, reservations and rentals – at least the ones that you can and should arrange ahead of time.  In our case, we split the two between us. I created the itinerary and Laura made the arrangements. They were both large tasks, and we began a full year before our trip. Sometimes it is wise or necessary to confirm reservations on the phone, especially with independent hostels.

We both made considerable use of Rick Steves’ guides. In one or two instances his information was not spot-on (for example, the difficulty and duration of the Schlern hike), but he is mostly very reliable and makes good recommendations. In a few instances, there are places worth visiting  that are not found among his recommendations. In England, the whole last leg of our trip was in the southeast – Dover, Canterbury, and Battle – which he does not include in any of his itineraries. I added it, as I did with many stops, because of my own history-geek (or art/architecture/scenery) interests.

How did we travel on the cheap?

First, by planning ahead. Making it up as you go is expensive, and you miss things you’d wish you hadn’t. Finding the deals takes research, and research takes time. If you want to save money, you have to invest time well ahead of your trip.

Second, we traveled light. Everything we brought fit in our backpacks. They could easily be stowed for the day at out hostel or in a locker somewhere. It meant we could grab a train, bus, Metro, cab, or even walk to a destination, as needed. Things we collected along the way we shipped home when we were in Spain.

Third, we mostly ate cheaply, and only shelled out for a few more expensive meals. If you are a big foodie, you must budget a considerable amount of money and time for eating. We shopped in stores or open-air markets for food we could fix at our hostels, or take on the road with us. We ate at a lot of kebab joints, the fast food of Europe.

Fourth, we stayed in hostels. If you have some tolerance for lack of privacy, discomfort and unpredictability, hostels will save you money. You meet people from all over the world, and by world I mean the US and Russia. Yes, if you come late you may end up on the top of a three-tier bunk bed. Yes, the food is not always the best (but sometimes it’s great). Yes, there are co-ed dorms, bathrooms and even shower rooms in some of these places, but we never had any problems. They are safe and usually clean. Some of the hostels turned out to actually be hotels. (They were registered as hostels for tax purposes, we think.) Some of them were in old castles, monasteries, mansions, or villas. Sometimes we had our own room. And $30-$60 a night can’t be beat. We also used Airbnb in Paris and in Edinburgh.

In Italy we traveled mostly by train and a few times by bus. I would not have wanted to drive in Italy: banditi, crazy city drivers and riders, the fact that we were in and out of cities the whole time, and that we covered many hundreds of miles over three weeks there.

In Spain, from Barcelona we drove a rental car until we flew out of Madrid about ten days later. For us, this was absolutely the the thing to do. It was not terribly expensive. They drive on the correct side of the road. And it gave us the freedom to stay or leave when we wanted, and to pull over to take a picture, eat, or explore unexpected discoveries. As we drove toward Seville, we spotted a castle that rose out of vast sunflower fields, and were able to pull over and check it out. Can’t do that on a bus or a train. Another thing you can’t do on a bus or a train is take pictures. That’s why I don’t have many good pictures of Tuscan landscapes.

In the south of France and in Paris, it was back to trains and buses, because our stays were A) in the city, and/or B) very short.

In England, again, after London we drove the rest of the way through England, Scotland and then England again. Yes, they do drive on the wrong side of the road. Yes, it was terrifying at first, for the first few hours. But we were in the country, with light traffic, and we got the hang of it. I would not have done it any other way. Being able to explore and stop when we pleased was absolutely the only way for us.

One of the biggest mistakes we made was to not get a GPS with our car in Spain. We spent probably 6-8 hours lost, driving through Barcelona, Alicante, Seville, and Toledo because hostels and hotels refused to give us directions, and would only give us their GPS codes. On many streets you cannot see the street names, and they change as you go. Get the GPS!

We did not make that mistake in England, and the voice of Hugh Grant guided us faithfully to our destinations, most of the time. Get the GPS.

Another mistake was shorting ourselves of time in a few places that that were worthy of more. Mainly I’m thinking of Florence and Paris and the Prado. Don’t do it.

People often ask us what our favorite place or places were. Just about everywhere we went was worth the trouble and expense of visiting. But I can put my finger on some cities I would recommend to anyone going to these countries. In Italy, Florence. In Spain, Granada (here and here). In France, Paris – of course (here and here). In the UK, our favorite city was probably Edinburgh (here and here).

We also loved the countryside we traveled to, and the places that we had to go out of our way to visit.The Dolomites and Ravenna in Italy; Central Spain, including Cordoba and Toledo; Carcassonne in France; The Cotwolds and the Lake District in England (here and here and here); and Oban and the Inner Hebrides in Scotland –  all the rural driving there was gorgeous.

I leave the best travel surprise for last. I marveled at how seldom places were very crowded or overrun with tourists: the obvious ones, like the Roman Forum, the Vatican, the Alhambra. We couldn’t believe how many places we had virtually to ourselves, or shared with just a few other quiet and respectful visitors. It was a constant source of wonder at the height of the tourist season.

Happy travels!

 

60 Days in Europe: Day 60 / July 28

July 28, 2014 – Canterbury – Dover – Battle  – West Drayton (London).

From my journal:
Our last day!

Morning in Canterbury. Packed up after breakfast at the hostel.

Emma and I walked to the Cathedral, and along the way I talked about three things that make Canterbury a big deal. One, it’s where Augustine came in 597 to evangelize the English. Two, the archdiocese became the head of the English church. Three, I told Emma the story of Henry II and Thomas á Becket, how his martyrdom in the Cathedral, subsequent burial there, and sainthood made it the most important tomb and pilgrimage destination in England.

She seemed interested, okay?

The Cathedral is fantastic. Besides Thomas’ tomb, and the site of his martyrdom, I was also glad to find the tombs of Anselm and Lanfranc. One of the staff was kind enough to first to verify that Anselm is buried in his chapel along with Lanfranc, but to also give me a photocopy of a couple of pages from Anselm’s biography, covering his burial.

Why did I care about that? I don’t remember.

After the Cathedral it was 11:00 and we decided to walk the center until meeting L & E rather than try to rush over to the Abbey. I got a postcard and some stamps. We met up with them in a store. They shopped while I sat, wrote a card, stamped it and one I already had, and dropped them in a mailbox.

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I got a mocha at SB and we all walked to the car.

We drove to the white cliffs of Dover. Climbed a hill for a view of Dover Castle, then hiked over to some views of the cliffs.

Dover Pano 3 (Custom)

Dover Castle

Dover Pano 4 (Custom)

The White Cliffs of Dover.

Then we drove to Battle.

– Site of the Battle of Hastings on October 14, 1066, and the Abbey William built to commemorate his victory.

Elyse, Emma, and I walked the long trail around the battlefield to and through the Abbey, to the first  location of the High Altar – which marks the place where Harold Godwinson fell.

Last, I walked through the gatehouse museum.

Senlac Pano 2 (Custom)

Hastings Battlefield: Senlac Hill.

Then we left and drove to our hotel in West Drayton near Heathrow. After checking into rooms, we walked up the street and ate at a pub.

Saw one of the most splendid residential gardens along the way. I snapped some photos of it the next morning, but I don’t think they will have captured the magic.

 

Days 61 & 62 / July 29-30, 2014 – West Drayton – Heathrow – Home.

From my journal:
In the morning Laura drove the car to the agency  to return it. We caught a free shuttle to the airport and met Laura  there 20 minutes later.  Bought food for the flight.

We left Heathrow about 20 minutes late. In Philadelphia, the better part of our 2-hour layover was spent in Immigration and Customs lines, but we had just enough time to eat (10 pm London time) before boarding – 5:30 eastern time.

The plane left over an hour late because a new federal regulation requiring the balancing of cargo necessitated returning to the gate after we were already out on the runway. Even so, the pilot seems to have made up most of the time.

The most scenic descent I’ve ever seen: just after sundown, orange and blue layers of hills, Mts Adams, Jefferson, St Helens, and the forested hills and the Columbia beneath the wings. Beautiful!

My home town, Portland. TD 9:17, deboarded at 9:30.

Our awesome trip is over; we’ll be home soon. Thank you , Lord!

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60 Days in Europe: Day 59 / July 27

July 27, 2014 – Durham – Canterbury.

From my journal:
After we ate breakfast, I went over to the Cathedral. Since it was Sunday, only the rear of the building was accessible and I couldn’t see the rest. Even so, wow. What an awesome church. Romanesque, with Norman vaulting and Gothic additions.

We packed up, and walked to the car with our packs. Laura suggested we check a different route, a street opposite Dun Cow (which leads to the cathedral entrance.) It lead to a cool looking bridge, but it didn’t appear it would come out anywhere close to Claypath where the car was parked. Walking back to our known route, I spotted a credit card lying in the street and picked it up. It was Chinese, and had the name ‘Ms Chen Jia Ning,’ but no phone number. We asked a couple (who seemed they might be Chinese) and they said No. Then we saw two Chinese young women and asked if it was one of them (no), and then if they could find a phone number on it (no). We said we would dispose of it, and one them said no, it could be used by someone. Then the other said, “Wait! This is my classmate! I know her.”

A few minutes later we walked past the two in a group with other Chinese students standing and talking. We turned and waved and a third young woman came came running up to us thanking us for finding and returning her card.🙂

We drove from about 10:00 to 4:15, when we got to the the train station in Canterbury to fetch the girls, who had come from Bath.

Elyse and I hung out at the hostel while Emma and Laura went out for some dinner. They couldn’t find a store open, so they brought back Chinese take-out. After dinner I stayed while the three of them went for some sweets.

Elyse watched a movie with other guests in the common room. Laura and I planned our itinerary for the next day.

60 Days in Europe: Day 58 / July 26

July 26, 2014 – Durham – Hadrian’s Wall – Hexham.

From my journal:
Good breakfast at hostel.

Drove to Andrew Kinghorn’s house in Great Lumley, a suburb of Durham. Met Andrew’s mum, Virginia. We drove to Housesteads on Hadrian’s Wall. Watched “A Soldier’s Story,” a living history monologue.

You can’t turn around in England without bumping into a Shakespearean actor.

Walked the wall, toward the west, I believe.

Had a really great time talking with Andrew. Theology, nature, animals, archeology. He is a serious birder and nature lover. A sweet, interesting guy and a great conversationalist.

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The Rabbit Whisperer.

We drove on to Hexham to eat, at about 3:00. Virginia called to invite us to ‘tea,’ which in this case meant dinner, or evening meal. We ate around 8:00 and had a lovely visit. We left about 10:00.

Virginia put out a wonderful, enormous spread. It was only our second time in someone’s home on our trip (the other was in Spain).

60 Days in Europe: Day 57 / July 25

July 25, 2014 – Edinburgh – Lindisfarne – Alnwick Castle – Durham.

From my journal:
Drove Elyse & Emma to the train station and left Edinburgh from there.

Drove to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. It was a fairly brief visit. First we went to the Abbey; went through the museum, then the the ruins.

At Lindisfarne, you can only drive to the Island at low tide; at high tide the sea covers the causeway. Given the time limit with safe crossing, we decided not to rush to the castle.

Drove to Alnwick, which is certainly one of the best if not the best castle we’ve seen. The staterooms were splendid, with better art and furnishings than we’ve seen elsewhere. The Italian chests were fantastic. I even liked their china collection, which not really my thing. There were performers. A couple of small museums. Really great.

Also, I finally scored a postcard for Scarlett, as the interior and exterior of Alnwick was used for Hogwarts in the movies.

We drove on to Durham, where it turned out we had our own room at the hostel. We walked around the town center and ate at an Indian restaurant again.

60 Days in Europe: Day 56 / July 24

July 24, 2014 – Edinburgh.

From my journal:
Laura, Emma and I took a bus out to Craigmillar Castle, while Elyse stayed in the apartment and took it easy.

We returned and made an evening plan. We walked to the Meadows Park, and returned to get ready for the evening.

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Edinburgh: The Meadows Park

Walked to George IV Bridge (an elevated street) and visited the Elephant Cafe: “The Birthplace of Harry Potter,” where Rowling wrote the first of the series, and I hoped to find the elusive HP postcard for Scarlett Hayes. No postcard, but did decide to eat there.

Walked over to the Royal Oak.

This place is smaller than your living room.

Squeezed in to hear the last few songs of the act that was playing until 9. It was too small and crowded. We got a Gig Guide and looked for another music spot. We walked to Grassmarket as night and fog were falling over the city.

We stayed and listened to a singer/guitarist at the famous White Hart Inn (Est. 1516). A great time. Left about 10:30 and walked back to the apartment about 11:00.

60 Days in Europe Day 55 / July 23

July 23, 2104 – Edinburgh.

From my journal:
Slow morning at the apartment. Laura was gone quite a while moving the car to free street parking and walking home.

We took the bus up to the Castle. Long line, but we had fun visiting. Took the half-hour tour that started at 12:25. Then we walked in the buildings that interested us: St. Margaret’s Chapel (the oldest extant building in the city), the residence with the crown jewels and the royal apartments, the Great Hall, the War Memorial, the War Prison.

Walked the Royal Mile. Along the way I made a quick tour of the Writer’s Museum (Robert Lewis Stevenson, Robert Burns, and Sir Walter Scott, with the girls coming in to the see the RLS exhibit, and Laura and Emma saw The People’s Story Museum. Ended (for the WC) at the Queen’s Gallery (at Holyrood Palace, a royal residence). Walked over to the cemetery (The Old Calton Burial Ground) before catching the bus home.

Laura fixed spaghetti and salad for dinner. At 9:00 we all watched the The Dawn of the Planet of the Apes at the Cameo Cinema – a one-hundred-year-old movie house.

60 Days in Europe: Day 54 / July 22

July 22, 2014 – Oban – Glencoe – Bannockburn – Edinburgh.

From my journal:
Got gas and ice for our food and set to drive coast to coast. We went via Glencoe Valley. It was glorious. Sun with clouds. Of course, it took longer than we guessed, which in turn was longer than Google guessed.

I wanted to visit and possibly tour Stirling Castle, and visit Bannockburn battlefield. The girls were arriving (in Edinburgh) around 3:30, and we realized we couldn’t do both. We told them we’d be late, and made a short stop at Bannockburn, where I spent about 15 minutes. Walked the field, viewed the monuments and statue.

We got to Edinburgh about 4:15, but had trouble locating the girls. Finally did, and got to the apartment (Air BnB) about 5:30.

Laura dropped me and Elyse off at the Festival Theater for the 7:30 VAN MORRISON concert. It was terrific. Not as many songs from the first 5 or 6 albums as I would have liked  – or expected – but he was at the top of his game, and the band was second to none. Shana, who warmed up the crowd with two solos and stood as back-up vocalist, is an amazing singer and blew the house away. Loved hearing Ballerina, No Teacher, Into the Mystic, Philosopher’s Stone. Great, great set.

So grateful for all the blessings we are receiving!

 

60 Days in Europe: Day 53 / July 21

July 21, 2014 – Oban – Inner Hebrides Islands: Mull – Iona.

From my journal:
Laura’s birthday!
At about 6:00, according to my watch, we noticed all our other devices were saying it was 7:00.

7:00. The time of our ferry’s departure to Mull. We drove down, parked, and RAN to the dock. It was away.

We ended up paying for a tour to Iona, as it was the only way we could get there.

We went and had some breakfast.

9:50 Ferry to Craignure on Mull.

In the Sound there were dozens of huge jellyfish. The smaller were about a foot wide, the larger about the size of a manhole cover.

Bus to Fionnphort (about 90 minutes), where we took a ten-minute ferry ride to to Iona, arriving about 12:45. Laura told one of the ferry crewmen it was her 50th birthday, and asked f she could “drive the boat.” He asked when she was returning, and when he walked away, we thought he was ignoring the request.

It was a beautiful day, sunny and about 70°.

We wanted to avoid the crowds, so we walked all the way to the white sands of the North Beach . Laura got her feet wet. We gathered some rocks. I read some Celtic prayers, including this form St Columba, who came here in 563:

Lord, you are my island; in your bosom I rest
You are the calm of the sea; in that place I stay.
You are the deep waves of the shining ocean.
With their eternal sound I sing.
You are the song of the birds; in that tune is my joy.
You are the smooth white strand of the shore; in You is no gloom.
You are the breaking waves on the rock; Your praise is echoed in the swell.
You are the Lord of my life.

We agreed that could have been written on the very place we were sitting.

We walked back south, visiting the abbey, St Oran’s, along the way.

 

When we got on the ferry, the crewman took us directly to the bridge and handed Laura the helm! She piloted most of the way across to Fionnphort, and we had a blast with the men on the bridge.

“Once it goes, it’ll go.”

Slept a little on the bus. Waited for the Oban ferry at Craignure – it was an hour late. We walked to the grocery store there and got food for dinner and the next day.

Back at the hostel we fixed and ate dinner.

Disappointment at the Skipinnish Ceilidh House when the show was cancelled. (Counting us, about six people showed up.) It was going to be Laura’s birthday outing.

We walked around Oban looking  for a place with desserts or music or both, but couldn’t find anything. Went back to the hostel and ate the desserts we got at the store. Before sleeping we talked with our roomies, one from Boston and the other from Abilene, TX.

Oban Pano (Custom)

 

 

60 days in Europe: Day 52 / July 20

July 20, 2014 – Borrowdale – Invarary – Oban.

From my journal:
Left hostel at 10:00 and began our long drive to Oban. Early on Laura got behind the wheel and drove a few hours.

We stopped for some beautiful views-

One of them is a place called Rest and Be Thankful. That’s really the name of it.

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– including a stop at Loch Lomond to eat – but we never found a good place to go down to the shore.

Laura requested that we stop and tour Invarary Castle, which belongs to the Duke of Argyll (Campbells). An excellent place to visit.

And, for Downton Abbey fans, it was used for the Season Three finale, as the 18th century Highlands castle belonging to Lord Grantham’s cousin, Shrimpie.

Drove on to Oban. Went to the ferry dock so we’d know where it was and how far it was from the hostel. Checked into the hostel and walked back the dock to see how long it would take to walk it. But we learned of parking near the dock and decided to we’d drive and park there in the morning.

We had some very good fish without chips (so tired of fried potatoes) and onion rings. Seagull got one of Laura’s as we sat harborside and ate. Most of the shops are closed.

We also took a walk through the heights on the north side of Oban, where we got these high views of the harbor near day’s end.

Back at the hostel we showered and got ready for early departure to catch the 7:00 ferry to Mull.

60 Days in Europe: Day 51 / July 19

July 19, 2014 – The Lake District: Borrowdale – Grasmere – Hawkshead – Ambleside – Keswick.

From my journal:
Rainy day. We decided to make it a “Literary Tour” day.

First, down to Grasmere in the South Lakes to visit Dove Cottage, the home of Wordsworth and family during his happiest and most productive period. There I found my “keepsake volume,” a book preferably small and hardback, to remember our grand tour by. I picked a little anthology of Wordsworth poems. Very fitting, to my thinking, as he was of the Lakes and loved them, and he writes of the places here. And now I love the Lakes as well.

Second we drove down to Hawkshead, to Hilltop, the holiday home of Beatrix Potter. It was fun to see the rooms, furniture, views and other features found there, alongside the illustrations in which they appear.

Little Peter Rabbit and his friends were playing in the yard.

Drove back north, stopping in Ambleside to eat lunch. In Keswick we bought food for dinner and for our drive to Scotland tomorrow.

At the hostel we made cheeseburgers and a really delicious salad. After dinner, trip planning.

60 days in Europe: Day 50 / July 18

July 18, 2014 – The Lake District: Borrowdale – Buttermere Lake – Crummock Water – Newlands Valley – Keskwick – Derwent Water.

From my journal:
Breakfast at the hostel. Beautiful weather, starting cloudy and getting sunnier later on.

Drove to Gategarth Farm car park. (Stopped off at Honister Pass Slate Mine.) Hiked all around Buttermere Lake. Stopped at the village and had coffee and scones (it was our lunch), then hiked the rest of the way around the lake to the Farm.

Drove up to see Crummock Water, then back to Keswick through Newlands Valley – so beautiful!

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On our way back down to Borrowdale we parked at the bottom of the hill beneath Ashness Bridge. Walked up to the bridge, and from there, up the hill. We either went up to Walla Crag, or about halfway up (depending on whether the Crag is the summit). Beautiful views up and down the vale and of the Lake (Derwent Water).

 

Back down to the car and the hostel. On the way, we stopped again at Ashness Bridge and I found love rocks in the stream for Susan and Tom❤ . (Tom is from the Lake District.)

Had our dinner from the staff, with a stroll up the road between the Main and the Pudding. Both of us very tired. Read until almost ten then up to our rooms.

60 Days in Europe: Day 49 / July 17

July 17, 2014 – York – Keswick – Borrowdale (North Lakes District).

From my journal:
In the morning we walked back to the Minster and toured the whole building (except the tower), including the Crypt and the Undercroft Museum. Splendid Gothic.

I continue to be moved by the war memorials, of which the Minster had several. Also, a remembrance of Wm. Wilberforce. Magnificent windows. The Great Window is out for restoration, but they had some restored panels to view.

The astronomical clock and the Chapter House (completed 1280s) where Parliament met under Edward I (1297) were also highlights.

We walked back, hitting Starbucks (1st time overseas) and several 2nd-hand bookstores along the way.

 

Next: The Lake District…

We fetched the car and drove about 2 and a half hours to Keswick. Parked and walked the small end of Fitz Park, across the river and through town, buying food to fix for dinner along the way.

Drove to the hostel in Borrowdale. This country is absolutely fantastic! I can’t say enough about its beauty and charm.

At the hostel we fixed ourselves tortellini and sauce with mushrooms and bell peppers thrown in.

This is where our hostel was situated:

 

60 Days in Europe: Day 48 / July 16

July 16, 2014 – Hartington – York.

Had cappuccino and tea at the hostel, then checked out.

Walked down into the town and ate in cafe that housed the post office. Laura had me fetch the car while our food was being cooked, as our cards and stamps were in the car. Mailed birthday cards to Mick and Hannah, and a Hartington postcard to Ian.

Drove on to York. Got to hostel about 1:30. Parked the car, checked in, walked into town.

Went first to the Yorkshire Museum.

When we got to the Minster (York’s cathedral), it was about to re-open, but without the undercroft, which would be open tomorrow at 10am. We decided to come back.

Walked around in the rain. Assembly Rooms (now a restaurant). The Shambles. The Guildhall (from the outside). Ate at an Indian restaurant next to the hostel.

 

Walked in the next block where we spotted a Baptist church.

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Across the street there was a church (in what looked like a theater or music hall) called the Rock., with a notice for a Wed. night meeting at 7:30 – in 20 minutes. We washed up and changed at the hostel and returned.

Here I left two pages blank in my journal, because I wanted to write more about the church meeting, but I never did. They did a variety of things from week to week. One of them was to watch a movie, and then discuss it the following week. They used this as a springboard for a freewheeling discussion of spiritual subjects. The previous week they had watched “Leap of Faith,” with Steve martin. The talk ranged from faith to hypocrisy, charlatans, and different views of the miraculous. I was impressed that they made a safe place for the mostly young people to talk about their questions, doubts, and experiences. It was very lively, and fostered transparency, acceptance and honesty. Also, they made us feel very welcome.

60 Days in Europe: Day 47 / July 15

July 15, 2014 – Stow – Chipping Campden – Broad Campden – Stratford-upon-Avon.

From my journal:
Elyse & Emma (Our daughter and her friend) are departing the US today!

We ate at the hostel and checked out. We drove to Chipping Campden. After a false start we got a map and started walking to Broad Campden. Got lost, of course! A young man walking his dog set us in the right direction. Walked back to Chipping and left about 3:00.

 

We arrived in Stratford too late, it turned out, to do all we planned. It was 4:00 and sites started closing at 5:00. Had to scratch Anne Hathaway’s house and Mary Arden’s farm. Got to see in order:

New Place and Nash House, Shakespeare’s birthplace, Trinity Church with his grave. They had an excellent presentation, explaining the significance of each of the milestones marked at the church: his baptism, wedding, funeral and burial, as well as his religious education, church attendance and knowledge of the Bible.

By the time we got back on the streets, the town was shutting down, much to our surprise and disappointment. We got kebab to go and ate by the Jester.

Then drove on to Hartington Hall, which was a country mansion turned into a hostel. The first part was built in 1350. Amazing.

The Peak District in Derbyshire.

We were also told it was the first hostel in England, and since I understand the modern hosteling movement began here, that would also make it the first hostel anywhere.

60 Days in Europe: Day 46 / July 14

 

July 14, 2014 – Stow – Moreton-in-Marsh – Blenheim Palace – Oxford.

From my journal:
We shopped in Stow. We found sweaters (in case they’re needed in Scotland), and a volume of Dickens for a friend. With winter clothes half-price, we spent only £6.50! ($11.)

Drove to Moreton-in-Marsh, and after a momentary look around, drove a mile and a half out to the Falconry Center. Picked up some gifts in the shop, but did not go in, as the tariff was £10 ($17) each.

Drove on to Blenheim, which was something to see, but not £22.50 ($38.25) each worth of something. (The total for the outing was about $90.) The Churchill exhibit was good, and I was glad to see it as I had missed the one at the War Rooms in London. Especially liked seeing his paintings.

 

Drove to a car park outside Oxford, thanks to one of the best tips anyone has given us – form a lady in one of the Stow shops – that there is no parking in Oxford. Took shuttle in to the Centre and walked the Inklings tour. Ended around 6:15 at the Eagle & Child, by happy accident in time for dinner. We ate (but didn’t drink) where the Inklings did. Shared an enormous order of fish & chips, which is the third (?) and the best I’ve had here. Think I’ll make it my last.

I didn’t.

Walked to the bus stop, took the shuttle back to the car and drove back to Stow. I sat the living room at the hostel and read Wiki on CS Lewis while other quests chatted about news items on the telly.

 

60 Days in Europe: Day 45 / July 13

July 13, 2014 – Stow – Sudeley Castle – Bradgate Park.

From my journal:
We spent the morning in the hostel, while our laundry was going. I spent a good while uploading Schlern photos to Dropbox and then emailing the link to Karin, a Swedish freelance writer we met up there a month ago.

We drove up to Sudeley Castle, where there was a food festival outside the grounds. Walked around, ate lunch. Meat pie, check. Sausage roll, check.

Drove up to Bradgate Park to see the play.

An outdoor performance of “Much Ado About Nothing.”

It was performed in front of the ruins of Bradgate House, the birthplace and childhood home of Lady Jane Grey, who was Queen of England for nine days in 1553.

It was a very good performance. Unfortunately, Laura’s ears are so blocked she’s practically deaf.

Ate a picnic dinner on the green. Most of the way home (Stow) before dark.

60 days in Europe: Day 44 / July 12

July 12, 2014 – Bath – Stow-on-the-Wold.

From my journal:
Wonderful day in Bath.
Laura, not feeling well, sent me off to tour the Roman baths by myself. I was going to come out in time to start the free walking tour of the town at 10:30, and she was going to meet me there if she felt well enough.

I got a cappuccino, and…enjoyed the the drink and the sunny, quiet, almost empty square in front of the Abbey.

 

Video: The Square about 10:30 when it was pretty quiet, then an hour later as people came to see the Roman baths, and queue up for tours of the city.

Then I went back to urge Laura to join me on the tour. She did.

We took a great walk around the Georgian town, form 10:30 to 12:50. here’s the lowdown.

This town was built up in the 18th century by brilliant, ambitious, visionary people. And interesting, too. And no one seems to have written the definitive history of this era in Bath. Really?

I asked the tour guide, and she said she had pieced her history together from disparate sources, none of them apparently worth a recommendation. (I asked her if she had a favorite book on the era and people.) Same with the town’s bookseller, who has a whole section on Bath, and presumably would know.

Chief cast of characters:

  • John Wood the elder – visionary designer and architect.
  • Ralph Allen – self-made business tycoon, who worked with Wood to realize his vision.
  • “Beau” Nash – the Master of Ceremonies, the man who made everything happen socially in Bath. Held the post for over 50 years.
  • Lady Anne Hastings — had the idea for the hospital. Got Wood and Allen to build it. 

    After the tour I had my first pasty – for lunch. Awesome.

    We walked across one bridge, along the other side of the river and across the Pultney Bridge, past the Gardens.

 

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Our hostel in Stow-on-the-Wold.

Got our stuff and drove to Stow-on-the-Wold. In Stow we checked in at 5:00, got settled,  ordered some dinner from the hostel for 6:15, and went for a short walk around town.

Saw a poster for a concert at the Methodist church at 7:30 – by the Chipping Norton Amateur Operatic Singers – singing show tunes! So after dinner we went – and it was a blast! (Yes, there’s video.)

 

Video: The Chipping Norton Amateur Operatic Singers offer up “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” from Carousel, and “Do You Hear the People Sing,” from Les Miserables.

 

60 Days in Europe: Day 43 / July 11

July 11, 2014 – London – Swanage – Wimbourne Minster – Bath.

I don’t know why I recorded our dull hostel meals, and hardly any others.

From my journal:
Breakfast in the pub again. Our coffee and cream, banana, and protein bars.

Tube to Heathrow. Shuttle to car rental.

Terror: me behind the wheel of a British car. Several near-misses, wrong lanes, jumped curbs and one nervous Nelly in the passenger seat. The first few hours were rough.

We drove to Swanage, stopping at a nearby beach for ice creams and a stroll along the promenade, learning about “beach houses” along the way from an owner.

First look at the Channel. Warm, a little sun.

We drove up to Wimbourne Minster a charming Dorset town, and had a cheap dinner there.

 

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Wimborne Minster to Bath.

The countryside from there on was just gorgeous, Thomas Hardy country. Huge trees made tunnels over the roads. These are Constable’s giants, that dwarf the human figures who tread on faint, soft paths underneath. Then the evening sun pierced leaves and scattered gold and green stars across our canopy. We came out into open fields aglow in the sinking sun. Absolutely brilliant. A beautiful dream.

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We arrived in Bath at twilight, able to glimpse the beauty of the town.

60 Days in Europe: Day 42 / July 10

July 10, 2014 – London.

From my journal:
Rose a little before 8:00 and walked down the street to the other side of Vincent Square to retrieve our laundry. £3 to dry. Showered under a single trickle of water. Laura, too, as she ducked into the same stall, but I didn’t see her to warn her.

Most hostels have shared bath and showers; a few are co-ed. That’s not as scary as it may sound to some. There is plenty of privacy.

Coffee and cereal again in the pub.

Sometimes that is as scary as it sounds.

We took the tube to Westminster and toured the Churchill War Rooms – terrific. Walked to Trafalgar Square, where the striking unions were demonstrating. Then to Leicester, then into Chinatown, where we ate lunch, a buffet of standard fare. Then through Soho, which didn’t offer much beside crowded streets.

Warning: Extreme geekiness follows.

We took the tube to the British Library and viewed the Library Treasures.
Highlights:

  • The handwritten lyrics by Lennon & McCartney. “Help!,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Ticket to Ride,” “Yesterday,” and “Michelle.” Yeah!
  • Notebooks by DaVinci
  • A sketch and a letter from Michelangelo
  • Shakespeare’s First Folio – which I snapped a picture of before the guardian told me, No photos.

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  • The oldest MSS of “Beowulf,” and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
  • A royal grant document dated 679 – the oldest existing document in Anglo-Saxon (Old English)!
  • A Gutenberg Bible,  Wycliffe Bible, and some marvelous illuminated Gospels, Bibles, and other texts.
  • The Magna Carta
  • And the Codex Sinaiticus – the oldest complete NT MS in Greek – 4th century.

After the Library we tubed back to Oxford Circus, where we walked west through Mayfair to Hyde park. We walked down Upper Brook St and crossed through Grosvenor Square, seeing a moving Sept. 11 memorial, and statues of FDR and Eisenhower.

We came to Hyde Park at the Speaker’s Corner (Nothing today. Only Sundays.), and I got a cappuccino. We saw some Aston Martins across the way – one was a 1970 used in a one-season show with Tony Curtis & Roger Moore – a beauty. (The Persuaders)

Tube over to the East Side, Liverpool Street, where we walked around Spitalsfield. Ate at a restaurant in the New Spitalsfield Market.

Walked up Bishopsgate to Bushfield which took us to Christ Church. We walked around the Gardens and left just as a “Jack the Ripper” tour came in. There were at least three on the block at the same time.

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Went up to Commercial and took Lamb back Bishopsgate, then to the tube. Back home via Pimlico stop. Showers. Bed.

Last day in London.