Monday, May 25, 2009

Saturday – Fairytales & Stonehenge

Another glorious morning. We must have brought some of the Arizona sun!

We sleep in a little, then Cookie must fix a flat he got last night while coming up the path to the campground. A strange thing about flat tires. I have had only one in the entire time I have had my bike, over a year. Cookie had seven last year during his trip, and has had several in Flagstaff. I had just remarked to him that he had not had any since we arrived, and of course, he had to get one. All in the course of owning and riding a bike.

We breakfast at the King's Head (do you see a recurring theme here? - See pic). They have good food and the Internet is free. This morning, I am off to see a fairytale at the festival. The Sun Dragon is described as an “intergalactic fairytale”. Presented at The Salisbury Arts Center, an old converted church by a troupe from Cambridge. Parents and their children begin filling the seats. At the curtained entrance, an usher seems confused that I am alone and queries, “no children?” “I am the child.” Would you have expected anything less from me?

Bleacher-type seating looks down upon the stage which is strewn with props and paraphernalia. A keyboardist plays softly to one side of the stage. As the performance begins, I know I have chosen wisely. A troupe of five performers begins a combination of narrative, character acting, puppetry, and use of props and lights to create a truly magical experience. It is reminiscent of the Muppets and the Lion King, with a little bit of Harry Potter thrown in. And just five players and one musician! How marvelous they are. Oh yes, the other children love it too.

I may steel some of their puppetry and gimmicks for my storytelling. I come away filled with smiles. In the back of my mind, I believe that this troupe might be a good fit for the Jonesborough Storytelling Festival. I think too that my friend Susan Southard's Playback Theater Group would fit well here in Salisbury.

Cookie and I meet back up and decide to take the tour bus to Stonehenge. A 15-20 minute ride brings us to the site of this ancient stone circle that's true purpose has eluded both scholars and scientists alike. It is strange to see this historic structure in the center of a field, surrounded by twenty-first century highways, a tourist shop and food vendor. An Ipod like device guides one around the structure with recorded explanations in fifteen different languages. You cannot get closer than 30 feet, as it is roped off to the public.
There is only one day each year when it is accessible up close, the day of the summer solstice. There are so many people on that day, though, that unless you are one of the first 200 to enter, you become just one of the crowd. There are many theories and myths surrounding Stonehenge, yet no one can say with any real clarity, why it is there. Perhaps I will craft a story about it's origins.

We return to town, head to the train station to check schedules as I must head to Crawley tomorrow in preparation for my flight on Monday. The week has gone by quickly.
We then ride through the park along the Avon river. The day is still sunny. People are walking the paths, sitting on benches, picnicking with their families. Near one of the pubs, dogs and children play in the shallow river just below a small waterfall, with a view of Salisbury Cathedral in the distance. An idyllic English weekend setting.

After several tries for a dinner venue, we end up at The Mill Pub (across from the King's Head). Cookie has bangers and mash (sausage and mashed potatoes) and I partake of Hunter's Chicken, chicken breast with Canadian bacon, barbecue sauce, and cheese (and of course, the requisite order of peas – served with almost every meal). The dinner is “spot on” as the Brits say.

A perfect ending to a perfect day!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Friday – Festival Time!

I awake at 7:00 am. I go back to sleep till 8:30. Ah, the joys of sleeping in.
Then reality sets in and we must break camp and move on. We dismantle our tents and pack, then make breakfast before setting out. This morning I make blueberry pancakes. Mmmm. Just add water, thank you, Krusteaz. Yes, I did bring a small bottle of syrup. What would pancakes be without syrup? Some luxuries cannot be left out, even when camping halfway 'round the world.

We're back on the canal. We know this will take us all the way to Trowbridge (about 7 miles) where we can catch a train back to Salisbury. Along the way, we stop to chat with a fellow working on his boat. He is a helicopter mechanic who is out of work. It seems the bad economy has touched everyone.

By the way, these Brits are a friendly and chatty sort! Rarely does a person pass by without a “Mornin,” “Afternoon,” or “Cheers.” almost always followed by some sort of questions and various responses: Biking about are you? You've got quite a bit of gear there, don't you! Where are you from? On holiday are you? How long will you be staying? I've got a cousin lives in Virginia. I suppose that's not very close to Arizona. I've never been there, but I've seen pictures of the Grand Canyon. That is in Arizona isn't it? So what do you think of your new president, this Obama fellow? Bit of a mess the economy's in right now, eh?

At least one can say that the art of conversation is not lost in merry old England!

It's actually good that they are this way, as we often need to ask for directions. We do so in Trowbridge to get to the railway station. One woman says she is headed that direction and actually helps us pull our bikes up some steps! I doubt that would happen in the states, or if so, it would be rare. We take the train back to Salisbury as we squeeze our bikes with paniers onto the end of the bike car. The train is quite full as the weekend is approaching.

Back in Salisbury we head for another campground, this one accessible by a very nice bike and foot path, about a 5-10 minute ride from the center of town. The hosts remember Carl (“The chap from Arizona who was backpacking last year, you remember dear.”)

We set up camp, have some fruit and cheese, and then head into town. We stop for a “cream tea” with scones, clotted cream and jam.

Then it's off to the King's Head Inn pub for some blog posting with free Internet. There must be something about Carl and me (or at least one of us) as there is one drunk in the pub who glams on to us. “Using the Internet are you? I use the computer to play chess. Sorry to bother you, I won't disturb you again.” Five minutes later, “I'm sorry to disturb you, I use the computer for chess. Do you play chess? OK, sorry for the interruption.” Three more times. Do we have signs on our backs?

The Salisbury Art & Music Festival is quite famous, and tonight it begins. We head to the Market Square where the festivities begin. The crowd is milling about waiting for the main event to begin. Meanwhile, street performers are doing magic, juggling, balloon sculptures, and other interesting acts. There is a couple with a pram (baby carriage) that has large vegetables in it, all with little plastic eyes and facial pieces, and all dressed as babies. Their act consists of giving a vegetable baby to a small child, and then having the child “feed” the baby using a baby bottle filled with some sort of green juice. Inventive these Brits!

A juggler does a very nice “mute” act and shows the children that they can hold a spinning ball.

The Vice mayor (on the left) and Mayor of Salisbury.

Now comes the main event. A troupe of French performers and drummers begin to march to cadence among the crowd. They march in circles around small gatherings of people as they continue to drum and shout.

Often, they will form a line, shoulder to shoulder and march forward, forcing the crowd to retreat!

This goes on for some time until they all reach their destination: a large crane with a mobile-like contraption that has a space at the top for a trapeze artist and then seven other perches for the drummers. The crane takes them high into the sky as they drum and perform. It is an amazing performance that almost defies description.

An incredible opening to the two-week festival. We ride back to the campground and turn in.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Thursday – The Canal

Looks like a little rain. Just a few drops, nothing of consequence.

We head off and Cookie wonders if I can ride the canal. We stand on the bridge overlooking a very narrow canal (about 25 feet wide maybe) with a very narrow “tow path” to one side. From here, it does not look difficult. But wait, there's more.
I decide to go for it... I should have remembered my hasty decision about that hamburger in the pub.

The tow path is VERY narrow (3-4 feet), and Cookie informs me to always get off the bike on the bank side, and not to step in the rushes, as they are really part of the water. The further we go, the more grass under our bikes we encounter. Grass is extremely difficult to peddle on and maneuver, especially with 50 pounds of gear. Our average speed going up and down the hills was 5 MPH. Here, we are going 2 MPH. A few times, I scare myself and get too close to the canal. Fortunately, I keep one hand on the brake. There are several abrupt stops, a little disconcerting, but better than ending up in the drink!

There are many barges on the canal. They are similar to motor homes in that many are owned by folks who take them out for the weekend, or on vacation. Some are rented out to vacationers too. They cost about $1200 a week.

We stop where there is a bench along the side and cook our breakfasts. Each time I stop, I have three feelings: “Thank goodness we are stopping;” “I don't think I can walk;” and “I don't think I can get on the bike again.” We push on,.. and on... and on. The canal seems to go on forever. There is no place to get back on solid road until we get to the next town. On and on and on.

We pass two geese and thier babies!
Finally, we arrive in Divises, a quaint little town. I think we are staying here. Carl says, “we'll have to talk about that.” There is a campground showing on the map, but last year, Carl could not find it. There is some discussion regarding our options. We go to the Information Center to get some information (ha). Indeed, there is a campground just a few miles down the canal. Uh, well, um, I don't think I can do anymore of that canal. Happily, I am informed that the tow path is a wider stretch of compressed gravel, very easy to navigate. YEA!

We head back down the canal and start to pass a series of locks. There are 30 or so and each one is hand operated by the riders of each boat. I takes about 3-4 hours to get through all of them. I am ecstatic that the path is now ALL DOWNHILL. Mostly coasting.

Eventually we get to the campground. This is part of a network of campgrounds for campers and caravanners (mobile homes) and is very well groomed – showers and real toilets!. The “hosts” are quite friendly. I make some jokes and they think I am funny. Ha! We pitch our tents and walk to a nearby pub, The Three Magpies.

The “roast chicken” is OK, but not quite what I expected. It was more like boiled chicken, no seasoning, just white, bland skin. Oh yes, there are a few feathers still on the wing! I seem to remember when Mother and I were visiting in Devon many years ago, Mother made roast chicken for our friends Ken and Marcia and their children. They were quite impressed! Let us just say that English and American palates are somewhat different.

We return to our tents and although it is early, I have no energy to write. I am done in for the day.

Wednesday – On the Road Again.

As I thought, today I am hurting.

A long day ensues as we head north to Wilcot, about 26 miles from Salisbury. Once again, downhill and up (did I mention the up part?)

Well, let me also tell you that the bike handles a lot differently when it is loaded down with paniers (bike bags... Heidi take note). Together, they weigh close to 50 pounds. Oi vey, I have got to cut back! After only 3 minutes, I take a tumble. Some shopkeepers rush out and ask if I am hurt?, “Only my pride,” says I. The woman smiles and understands as she goes back inside.

There are several other spills during the day. The slightest bit of being off-balance sets me on the pavement. We have to stay as close to the left edge of the road (remember I said they were narrow) and at very slow speeds (the granny gear) it is more difficult to steer the bike. Several times I over correct and find myself on the road bank in the reeds. Other times I take the easier (not easy) route and walk up the hill.

We stop in Amesbury at the bike shop and I get a tune up as the gears need adjustment. Then it's back on the road, twisty, turney, narrow and steep.

The countryside is beautiful, looks a bit like Pennsylvania or Virginia. Rolling hills (did I mention the hills?). Cows and sheep abound. The cows are quite large. I have never seen ones so big. Some horses too. Two black beauties come to the fence to say hello.

It's still hard to get used to riding on the left side of the road. Turning is quite dangerous as one forgets which way to look. So I try to wait until there is no traffic from either direction. I looked the wrong way once, and a woman came from the other direction with a quite disturbed look on her face. I am sure she was thinking, “Bloody American Cyclist.” I think she actually gave me the Betty look. For the uninformed, this is a look that is “world famous” and carries with it anger, disdain, and the unspoken message, “Don't you EVER do that again!”

After five hours of biking, and an hour and a half of stops, a few tumbles, lots of walks, and a total elevation climb of 1200 feet, we arrive at our destination; a small 150 year-old wayside pub and restaurant with a field in back for campers. The Golden Swan is an extremely pleasant place to stop. Carl knows this as he has been here before. We pitch our tents and go to the pub for a proper dinner. The menu boasts a “Barnsley Chop.” I inquire of Peter, the owner, and am informed that is is a cut of lamb. Done, says I... but add that I would like it medium rare.

Me behind the bar.

Peter, the owner

We meet Sandra, her daughter and grandson. The daughter owns a dairy farm with her husband in New Zealand. Sandra was on holiday there to visit, and now the daughter has flown back to be on holiday here. An eighteen hour flight with a 16 month-old. Hmmm.

The meal comes and is wonderful. Medium rare was just right! I noticed earlier that Sandra's hamburger was like mine at the King's Head, DEAD. How do these Brits tolerate their well done meat? Shall we have desert? We are on holiday, why not? There are several “puddings” listed on a blackboard. Sandra suggest the Treacle, “It's quite sweet, if you like sweet things.” I do. Shall I have it with cream or custard? How about both? Mmmmmm. I finish off the whole meal with a large pot of tea as we begin to write our blogs.

My body is hurting and I am fading, so it's off to sleep. We have pitched our tents in the field behind the pub, but there are also cars parked nearby. I only hope that as patrons leave to drive home, they will not take my tent along with them!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tuesday - Salisbury Cathedral & Ride Upon Avon

We awake at 7. The stay at the Hostel includes a “proper English breakfast: Scrambled eggs, sausages, potato cakes, Canadian bacon, grilled tomatoes and baked beans. I partake of all save the beans.

With our bikes ready to go, we set out for Halfords, a small store nearby to gather more chotchkis. Then a ride through a park area that ends up at Salisbury Cathedral.

An incredible structure, even without considering that it was built on the ground without a foundation. It was built in 1250 and its spire is the tallest in all of England.

The inside is truly magnificent, with engraved stones in the floor, hand carved stone and wood everywhere, painted ceilings, stained glass windows, and an organ with pipes on either side of the church. It is the second oldest organ in England.

Salisbury was one of the areas that was designated to have one of the copies of the Magna Carta made for all to see across the English country, Hence, there is a museum for it with many writings and translations of the document. One of those original documents is on display (no photos please). It is quite awesome to be able to see an actual part of history from 750 years ago.

After visiting the cathedral, it's off to the dollar store for more chotchkis ands supplies. They call it “Pound Land” and everything is one English pound, about $1.50 American. For some time now, both Cookie and I have been looking at small, lightweight, portable, three-legged camping stools. REI has some, but they have always seemed a bit expensive. Pound Land had them in the outdoor & garden section. We each bought one!

Lunch at the Kings Head Inn, a local pub/restaurant that has free Internet. Cookie has a veggie-burger, I try the English beef berger. I guess I should have asked for it rare. I didn't, and it was quite dead, so I really can't tell you how English Beef tastes.
After lunch, we ride!

Cookie takes me on a 15 mile trek, halfway to Amesbury and back, along the Avon river for about two hours. Two excruciating hours of downhill and up. It seemed to me that for each downhill run there were two or three uphill! And up... and up... and up! Good thing I have a granny gear on my bike... designed just for that, allowing grannies (and me) to peddle uphill. I am peddling and going so slow, that it is difficult to keep the bike straight. I push through the pain and get to the top of the hills, all of them. I fear tomorrow my body will be hurting!

The group of school children are still here and would love to hear another story before they pop off to bed. I tell them of Zephir's Heroic Vacation, one of the Babar stories. I loved them as I was growing up, and this one was my favorite. Interestingly enough, many of the children are familiar with Babar, and Linda, the teacher-in-charge read them as she was growing up too. Once again, they listen attentively. There is small boy with curly hair that is a dead ringer for The Little Prince. Quite adorable.

I tell them that my mate and I are leaving tomorrow to bike north of here and do some camping. A disappointed, “Ohhhh...” comes from the group. It is a heartwarming sound to me.

Well, it's off to Morpheus for myself too as the day has been somewhat long and the ride arduous. I am hoping to get my “land legs” back soon!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Monday - Orientation Day

We arrived at London-Gatwick on Monday morning, 7am local time.

A snake line at customs to check our passports moves well and we are through the process in about twelve minutes from the time we get in line. I still get nervous with any authority figure. I guess it's the fear that someone will feel you are being just a little too flip, or too happy, or too sad, or showing no emotion, and will want to take you into the back room and grille you till you crack! When the agent asks, “What's the nature of your visit?”, I freeze for a moment. “I'm on vacation,” I say. Feeling like he is about to give me the third degree with another 40 questions. “Have a nice holiday,” he says (they call vacations being on holiday). I am safe from the dungeons of the the Tower of London!

Two trains and two hours later we find ourselves in Salisbury.

This is the town Carl has used as his staging site for three years. Once again, as in the past,

Carl's bike is still there, amazingly, locked in a rack at the train station! We load it up with our bags and walk for thirty minutes to the Youth Hostel.

After checking in and getting the lay of the land, we set out into town for a bite of lunch, and the search for a bike for me. The roads are quite narrow, hardly enough room for one, let alone two cars. The sidewalks are the same.

The fish and chips we ordered from a small shop was quite greasy, and not very satisfying. Wanting to sample the local fare doesn't guarantee it will live up to our expectations.
We look in two bicycle shops in town. The selection of lower-priced bikes is not appealing, so we board a double-decker bus for the town of Amesbury. This is the site of Stonehenge, and the place where Carl bought his bike three years ago.

A short note about these buses. Carl took me to the top deck-- the first two seats. Let me just say that on these very narrow country roads... it was very much like Mr. Toads Wild Ride! Enough said.

To my delight, the shop in Amesbury has a great selection and the shopkeeper is quite friendly and helpful. But if I buy a bike here, how will I get it back to Salisbury? I saw the hills we came down. No way could I make it back up. But there is a bike that I like. Darin, the owner, with an, “ow about this mate?”, offers that if we go off to have a “cream tea,” he will configure the bike for me in about forty-five minutes, load it into his van and then drive us all back to Salisbury. SOLD!

The bike is actually much nicer (lighter in weight) than my bike in Phoenix! I am very happy with it. Cookie cleans up his bike after having sat for a year at the station while I attach all the gizmos and chotchkis I have brought from home.

Fairly exhausted, we head for the Hostel dining room (note the capital “H”). The roasted tomato and red pepper soup was just right. Cookie is ready to turn in, but I want to finish my blog thoughts and post them so as not to get behind, and also not forget any pieces I wanted to recount.

I am in the “common” room typing away as fast as my little hunt and peck fingers will allow me. Suddenly, the room is filled with 35 seven to eleven year-olds. They are all school mates and are on a kind of extended field trip, with approximately six teacher/chaperons. By the way, did I mention that the children were all in their pajamas and/or robes? Quite a site!

One teacher has what appear to be two paperback books. She announces to the group that they have two choices of stories and proceeds to delineate both. Without a moment's hesitation, I add, “Or, there might be a third choice.” I explain that I am a “storyteller” and wonder if they would like to hear the story of The Magic Pomegranate. The paperbacks never had a chance.

There were 35 pairs of wide eyes listening intently as the story unfolded from, “Once upon a time," all the way through, “They lived happily ever after.” They thanked me en masse in their high pitched British accents. Off to bed they went. Well, off to making a bit more noise in their dorm rooms as only adolescents can.

I finish this writing with a great sense of contentment and joy.

My story for today now ends.

Tomorrow we bike!

England - Flight Legs

The flight from Phoenix to Atlanta was uneventful, except for the one hour delay due to weather in Atlanta. We arrived safely in constant rain, transferred to a new terminal, had Panda Express at the food court (big mistake), and eventually boarded the flight to London-Gatwick.

Cookie and I were across the aisle from each other. He was next to a cute girl in the window seat. That didn't last long as she was in the wrong row. She was replaced by a “much older” man who proclaimed to Cookie that he had been on a flight from South American and had some sort of trouble and lost his hearing. That was their last conversation for eight and a half hours.

The only real life saver on this flight was the fact that they had movies-on-demand. This helped greatly to pass the time. I was only able to catch a few winks early on in the flight, then I was wired after that. Cookie was on his laptop and also watching (really just listening) to a movie. When we were over the Atlantic, he heard one of the characters say, “We'll be making our descent into Los Angeles.” He looked up and wondered, “Where are we????” He soon realized the hilarity in the situation.

One final note about the flight: We are all aware that there are many scented, soaps, lotions, etc. in the world. However, I must admit that I have never heard of the soap they had in the washroom on the plane; lemon grass and wasabi. The concept escaped me.

Tomorrow morning... England!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

England - Pro Log

My friend Carl Cooke (I call him Cookie) has been to England three times now. He goes in the summer for about 6 weeks. He rides his bike, camps out, and generally comes and goes when he pleases. He's been trying to get me to go with him each year. There was always some reason I couldn't go: time, money, no one to take care of my dog, etc. I would always say to him, “It's not a good time.” We say that at work a lot too. There is always a project, conference, meeting, etc. I realized, there never really is a good time. So, with some assistance from Cookie, I decided to go this year, for a week.

The decision was simple, the preparation seemed daunting. Apply for (and get in time) a passport, make sure I have all the equipment I need. Get work projects in order before I leave. Ask Betty (my friend) to take care of Ginger (my dog). Stop worrying about all of the above.

The passport was easier than I thought. I paid the extra for expedition, I had it in less that two weeks! The rest of the stuff got worked out (except for the worrying) as Cookie and I talked and strategized almost every day for 4 weeks. I decided to buy or rent a bike there, shipping is far to expensive. Then there was more worrying: How much can I afford? Will I find one that fits me? What will I do with it when I go home? Lock it up as Cookie does with his? Store it somewhere? Worry, worry, worry. Hmmm... I am seeing a pattern here that I need to change.

Well, it's finally here: the day we leave for England! The duffle I bought is just a bit smaller than I thought. It is bulging, but I got everything in. Two paniers (bike bags), one small bag that sits on top of the back rack, clothes, tent, sleeping bag, cooking stuff, a small assortment of dehydrated food, and various bike attachments and 'chotchkis'. (That's a Yiddish word that translates as “little nick-nacks” and like most Yiddish words, it has about 6 different spelling variations.)

It is early, 4:30 am. Cab to the airport to find a long line at the check-in counter, but it does move quickly. Another long/quick line at security. Computer, belt, shoes, watch, through the radar, then everything back on again. Some coffee for Cookie, a danish for me. A short wait and we board the plane.

Three hours to Atlanta, a three hour layover, then 8 hours across the ocean.

The adventure is about to begin. Or has it already?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Almost a year!

Wow, I cant believe it has been almost a year since my last post. I had made a pact with myself that I would do more writing... Hmmm.

My latest adventure has been Storytelling. I have been telling stories since I can remember. Mostly jokes or humorous (I hope) stories. Then I came across a Storytelling class at South Mountain College here in Phoenix. I believe the only college that offers a full "certificate" in Storytelling. I am not sure what the certificate signifies, other than one has gone through the entire program. I am not taking it for the grade (I have never been interested in grades).

I wanted to see what an actual class in the Art of Story Telling would be like. Who would I meet? What might I learn? What might I learn about myself?

Well, a lot!

One important piece I had not expected. I have learned to appreciate other tellers and their styles. I still procrastinate about homework and assignments (duh). But the end result? I AM LOVING IT!

My instructor was great. Doug Bland is a wonderful storyteller and a great teacher He provided a very safe place for everyone to learn and experience storytelling.

I have renewed energy as I have returned to my roots as a performer. In storytelling, I have found an outlet for not only sharing personal stories and experiences, but a new way to entertain and teach; two of my greatest loves.

More stories are on the way...

Thanks for visiting.