Odds and Ends When Traveling Europe

There are many odds and ends when traveling Europe. This is what makes travel interesting. There is a joy in leaving the mundane, in discovering new perspectives, and finding there are other ways of doing what you were always used to doing.

Shrewsbury, England

World’s First Skyscraper

I have left my Oswestry house sit and gone down the road 18 miles to the town of Shrewsbury. This is an old town, the county seat of Shropshire, and the chief market town in the area. The city center lies on a peninsula jutting into the River Severn. The layout of streets created in about 700 AD still remain as they were.

If you’ve ever read any of Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael mystery books, you will be familiar with her Abbey setting. This is the Shrewsbury Abbey. Another notable fact of this city is that was the birth place of Charles Darwin. The town’s indoor Market Hall has been voted Britain’s favorite.

I am in Shrewsbury for only four nights leaving me little time to explore, given that I’m here to take care of a dog. Therefore, my wanderings will have to be on the Internet, but I’ll spare you those. Instead, let me share (in no particular order) some of the odds and ends when traveling Europe that I’ve experienced.

English Trains

By far, the best way to get about, as the English would say, is by trains. England’s trains are probably best known for their punctuality. The station platforms all have reader boards giving the exact time the train will arrive. If the train is going to be late by one or two minutes, an announcement lets you know. I’m amused that a delay of one or two minutes is announced. Surely this can’t be a major consequence to one’s ravel tplans.

The trains, old but mostly new, are a pleasure to ride. The seats are comfortable with plenty of leg room. The newer trains all provide an occasional table either side of two seats for working while traveling. There are internet and blue tooth connections at every seat. Many of the seats can be reserved in advance. This is a great feature for those trains which are busy with many passengers.

Why fly when you can so easily hop on a train and enjoy a peaceful ride? Another reason for me to ride the English trains is, that as an older person, I automatically get one-third off the price of the ticket. Everything happens electronically. England has embraced the future.

The German trains were not the equal of England’s. They are often late, are difficult providing this fact, and aren’t as helpful to get you on the right platform. I don’t recall if they offer electronic connections, as my trips were short enough that I didn’t seek to discover this feature.

Getting About

I made use of other ways to get about, using Uber and taxis. It’s a privilege, except in Wales, to be able to use credit/debit cards to pay for your passage. In fact, England is predominantly a credit card country. I have somehow gathered a bunch of coins and am having difficulty using them; most of my purchases are more than my number of coins.

It is also possible to travel by bicycle. England has some bike lanes, but they are little used. Bicycling in England has not really caught on. The Germans win the use of bicycles hands down. Germany has extensive bike lanes and they are used by many riders. I wish this were true for more countries.

Duvets and Door Handles

An odd little fact that annoys me is that every hotel, hostel, and home that I have visited uses a duvet (comforter) on their beds. Certainly, it’s an easy way to make a bed: just throw the duvet over the sheet. I’m annoyed because these duvets are usually too heavy and I get over-heated at night. Sure, I can throw it off, but they I have no covering over me. I would much prefer to have a blanket or two to adjust my comfort.

Door handles. How can these be so different from American door handles? Well, they are. I found these in both Germany and the UK. Are they everywhere? Once I got the hang of them, they are great. You force the handle up which puts the lock in place. Then turn the key for added security. Leave the key in the lock at all times, which also prevents entry from the outside. Then, turn the key back and force the handle down and the door opens. I don’t know why I’m so taken with these handles, but I am.

English Christmas Markets

Bath Cathedral Christmas Market

A really big feature in England during November-December is the Christmas Market. There are more than 15 major markets, often clustered around a cathedral. Other locations may be parks. Stalls are set up for vendors to sell the wares. There’s always plenty of food to savor, gifts to buy, maybe even a skating rink. Some cities have more than one of these markets (think London).  I witnessed over 117 of these stalls when I was at Exeter Cathedral ahead of the season. Bath Cathedral has about 150 stalls.

Christmas Markets are also plentiful throughout Europe. The biggest of them all is Vienna. Some of the English markets are designed to imitate a German or Austrian market. Germany leads Europe in the proliferation of these markets, but the English markets are worth visiting. My current house-sitting assignment is a result of the hosts leaving for one of the markets.

Unfortunately, I will not be in a location to experience an English Christmas Market. There are many more odds and ends when traveling Europe, but space limits me today.

Fact: Just outside Shrewsbury stands the world’s first skyscraper with a whopping 5 stories, built in 1797
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A Day in Wales

I headed north from Exeter to spend a day in Wales. My intent was simply to add another country to my list of countries visited. I was only there for some 40 hours. My next house sit might have accomplished the same thing, but I wanted to make sure I was exposed to the Welsh countryside.

Newport Wales

I chose to visit Newport, Wales’ third largest city straddling the river Usk. At full tide, this is a rather wide river, spanned by numerous bridges. At the western side of the river, city center descends onto a contemporary pedestrian bridge which I crossed numerous times.

Newport city center has been modernized, resembling those of many other English cities. A difference is that this center area is spread over two levels, as Newport is built on a slope up from the river. It’s a very attractive remodel of new and old buildings. The old High Street is now called the Friars’ Walk, named for the 14th Century friars who built a hospital in Newport to care for those with infectious diseases.

City Center Newport

It was a pleasure to walk the area but, like most of the other English city centers, the commercial venues leave a lot to be desired. Much of the area is populated with the standard fast-food restaurants found in any city, along with little local shops which are crying out for customers. I could not find a local-style restaurant. I was amazed, however, by the number of grocery stores. Given that this is a walking-only center, I assumed that these stores served only a very local clientele who purchased only small amounts.

If I were to spend a day in Wales in the future, I would probably choose Cardiff, the country’s largest city. I chose Newport as it was any easy train ride to my next house sit in Oswestry, England, an old town surrounded on three sides by Wales. Making up for the bad accommodations I had in Newport, this home in Oswestry is truly a delight.

Oswestry England

Oswestry, England – Oswestry.com
Archie and Harry

My Oswestry hosts have left me with a beautiful house to keep secure along with two absolutely charming dogs – a 5-year-old Cavapoo and a 7-year-old Cavachon. They are inseparable brothers, very well trained, and gentle to handle indoors; not so easy outdoors. They and I are getting along very well. We walk twice a day for around 2-1/2 to 3 hours or 1200+ steps. They’re very energetic and their constant pulling hurts my back. I have to keep up my back exercises.

Worshipping in Oswestry

I attended my first Sunday worship service since leaving Ecuador. I walked a mile down the street to Holy Trinity (Church of England) not knowing what I would find. English churches have the reputation of being dead: large buildings with a handful of people in attendance. Holy Trinity was one of those buildings – a large gray stone Gothic building. Despite my speculations, this church was jam packed with people, sitting cheek by jowl. The congregation was made up of all ages, with a huge number of young children. They must be doing something right.

What they were doing I would have to describe as Anglo-Evangelical. There were the typical instruments with drums, “Christian” songs flashed on a screen, and an order of service which made no sense to me. It was a Confirmation Sunday with a Bishop officiating. There was an old, lead pipe organ in the room; I was told it was used every other week to play 3 songs. I did have a wonderful conversation with a parishioner, which brightened the day. For me, I was a fish out of water, uncomfortable with this form of worship. Hopefully, I will have opportunities to worship in cathedrals again, soon.

My next sit is maybe 30 miles inland, still in the Welsh-influenced part of England. I will be there only four days before heading to north of London. I’ll keep you informed.

Fact: The lowest temperature in Great Britain and Wales was recorded near Newport at −15.0 °F (−26.1 °C). They’d never survive the US  Upper Midwest
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A Day at Exeter Cathedral

I was very fortunate to spend a day at Exeter Cathedral. It was unlike any other day at the Cathedral. The day was 12 November, Remembrance Sunday (Veterans’ Day in the U.S.). The day was filled with worship and honoring those who lost their lives to benefit the world.

House-sitting on the South Coast

First, however, I headed south to the Atlantic Ocean and spent a week on the coast in the town of Paignton. There I was house sitting and taking care of a very energetic dog. We walked at least twice a day around the neighborhood or to a nearby large field. One day, we went down to waters’ edge where a rogue wave soaked my feet.

The train trip down was filled with ocean views and seaside towns. For some distance, the train was so close to the water, you had to look down to see it. The ocean spray nearly reached the train windows. The week was otherwise unexciting though enjoyable.

Exeter Cathedral

Exeter Cathedral exterior – Pixabay.com

I followed this with an hours’ trip north to the university town of Exeter and spent a day at Exeter Cathedral of St. Peter. The morning Eucharist was sung by the girls’ and men’s choir (had I not know these were girls, I would have thought they were women – I was amazed that these girls had such large voices). I didn’t know a single hymn that we sang, though I limped along. There were no prayer books or hymnals, everything being printed in a multi-page bulletin. The organ was placed on the rood screen, which seems to be the norm with British churches. A rood screen is an open barrier separating the nave from the chancel. These organs have fronts and backs to separately serve the nave and the chancel.

Exeter Cathedral nave

Remembrance Sunday

Following the service, a huge crowd (larger than had attended the Eucharist) gathered outside around a war memorial obelisk for a laying of wreaths. This was an actual service Rememaccompanied by a solemn brass band, military, the clergy, and the temporary Bishop. Throughout the afternoon, there were military and religious processions throughout city center. This honoring of the fallen was a series of very somber events in Exeter.

That was just the start of a day at Exeter Cathedral. Later in the afternoon, I attended sung Evensong, always a moving experience. This was also sung by the girls and men of their Cathedral. Following this, I attended a conversation with a University of Exeter PhD student (a congregational minister) and a woman whose name and biographical information I don’t know. This was followed by a short Compline worship (service of quietness and reflection at the end of the day).

Such was a Day at Exeter Catedral

I was very fortunate to have a day at Exeter Cathedral for this solemn weekend instead of in the hinterlands. This will be a Sunday I will remember for some time.

Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery

I also scored big finding a case for my phone, which I had been seeking for a couple of years. The phone is a few years old and current cases cover up the camera lens. I found a wallet case which allows for the camera to slide up and stay in place for using the camera and then slides back. I’m sorry to mention such a trivial matter, but it has been haunting me these last few years.

Also, I have what may prove to be an even more exciting Cathedral experience coming up next month. Stay tuned.

Fact: About 70% of Exeter’s Roman Walls are still standing
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Far from the Madding Crowd

Leaving Manchester and far from the madding crowd (thanks, Thomas Hardy), I ventured into the remote. I was surprised to find myself in the woods, high on a hill, and absent from any human contact. A big change from the bustling city.

Visiting the Cotswolds

Typical Cotswold Wall

For years, I have wanted to visit the Cotswolds. This area, spread over five counties, is a collection of the quintessential English hamlets. Each village is different, but all share the same golden stone buildings and walls, the rolling hills, and a preponderance of sheep. Think Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. There are tiny villages, market towns, country houses, and castles.

Variety among similarity. Wold is a piece of high, open, uncultivated land. I like to also think of it as a corruption of wool, given all the sheep grazing on these hills.

I booked a hut outside Broadway, sometimes called the Jewel of the Cotswolds, a larger town at the northern edge of the Cotswolds. I could reach it by bus from a train. There are some limited busses traversing the Cotswolds; one route from a town to the next would take eight days! A car or a tour are really the only way to see the Cotswolds. I, therefore, was limited to seeing only one town.

The bus from the train did not materialize. I had to walk into Evesham and find a taxi. Nobody I asked knew where I was headed, so out came the Google maps and a taxi driver offered me a ride to Broadway and then into the hinter lands. I arrived at this self-catering hut (possibly a shipping crate with rounded roof) with nothing else nearby. The taxi driver took pity on me and drove me back to Broadway and a grocery store. He then returned me to the hut. All in all, this cost me about 50£

All Alone

I really was far from the madding crowd, no Internet and nothing to do but write blog posts. I had thought to purchase phone service while I was in Manchester, so at least I had the phone to use. My hut sat within a large farm; I had sheep and wild turkeys to keep me company.

The Broadway Tower

The only diversion available to me was up a rock-strewn, gutted road, paved further on, to the Broadway Tower. This beacon was completed in 1798, built for the sending of long-distance lighted beacons as warning signals. Such a communication was sent in May 1588 warning of the approaching Spanish Armada. The Tower stands on the first or second highest point in the Cotswolds (there seems to be some disagreement about this). Climb to the top and you will find breath-taking views spanning 16 counties and 62 miles in each direction. Today, the tower really has no purpose, but the locals check their weather conditions by looking from afar to see if the tower is visible or fog encased.

The Broadway Tower

The Broadway Tower is very popular with tourists. It is a privately-owned attraction, perched on 200 acres, offering two cafes and shops. The grounds include a memorial to the crew who lost their lives in a training bomber crash during World War 2. Also nearby is a nuclear bunker built to collect evidence of such an explosion. It has been restored and is open as a museum.

I left the shepherd’s hut with a ride down the hill by the cleaning lady. She even gave me a tour of Broadway, since I had been unable to get down to the town and then drove me back to Evesham to catch a train. I am really indebted to her.

Oxford, England

Radcliffe Camera

That train took me to the fabulous city of Oxford. This was my most favorite city to date. I was no longer far from the madding crowd. Just walking about the city center could have been enough in itself, but I tried to make the most of my short stay in this city of education and culture. I stumbled upon several locales used in the filming of the mystery series Inspector Morse and later his sidekick Lewis. It was a strange feeling to walk those very scenes, especially around the Radcliffe Camera, that round building a part of the Bodleian Library which appears in many of these videos.

Ashmolean Museum

I also visited the Ashmolean Museum and found the French Impressionist gallery and beheld some of my favorite works by Camille Pissarro. I could have wandered this museum for hours.

Two Prominent Oxford Churches

Getting a bit more personal, I attended a noon eucharist at the University Church of St. Mary Magdalen. This is the church where John Henry Newman preached before transitioning to the Roman Catholic Church. That was the beginning of the Oxford Movement, an attempt to return the Church to its origins. I have long been interested in this Movement, still evidenced today in high church Anglicanism. The service was very intimate, as there were only two of us in attendance.

Entrance to Christ Church Cathedral

Later that night, I attended a sung evensong service at Christ Church Cathedral. This service attracted many of us who were able to sit in the chancel. This large edifice is the only cathedral in the world which serves both a diocese and a university.

I could also not pass by several of the many bookstores in Oxford. In this digital age, books still have a place in education and the University members take full advantage of this. If only I had space to carry some such treasures.

From city to far from the madding crowd and back to city was not so schizophrenic as it seemed. It was actually the best of both worlds and I enjoyed both very much.

Fact: Oxford University is the second oldest university in the world
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