On the train trip to York, Les managed to photograph the Falkirk Wheel. This engineering marvel lifts boats from one canal to another.
We spent three days in York. It's a historic town founded by the Romans, with many attractions. We should have liked it, but somehow it didn't grab us. The main reason we went was for the National Railway Museum; it was huge and had excellent displays, the kind of thing Les usually loves, but the British trains didn't evoke childhood memories the way Canadian and U.S. trains do, so even that was a bit of a disappointment.
It probably didn't help that we were staying in a dubious hotel. We were forewarned by the reviews: some of them said it was a good value for the money, while others warned "If you're thinking of staying here—don't!" It was the Ryanair version of a hotel, cheap with a lot of extras you pay for. Want a towel? You can have that for a price. You can either make your bed and unmake it at the end, and sweep the room, or you can pay us to do that for you. It was far from the train station and the old town, so we did a lot of walking. As in other cities, we also walked many miles in the residential neighborhoods that most tourists never see. (CityMaps2Go shows pedestrian paths that don't usually appear on regular maps.)
Our luck seemed to turn sour in York. The laundromat we went to was crowded and seedy. When I used my umbrella that Les had fixed with dental floss (the umbrella that broke in the wind at Luss), it broke again. From so much tightening in the winds of Scotland, the backband of Les' cap broke, so we bought a tiny sewing kit, but the thick fabric immediately broke the needle! Several efforts at getting cash from ATMs didn't work, for various reasons. I stepped off a curb to get around a car poking out too far in a driveway, and got the finger from a motorist who had to swerve a bit around me. My hand brushed against some bushes encroaching on the sidewalk, and it must have been something akin to stinging nettle, because my knuckle hurt for an hour. You get the idea—no catastrophes, just many annoyances in York.
|The Leeds librarian helped me find old maps showing where my relatives lived.|
|A plaque in the Leeds City Museum describes the situation for my grandmother's family.|
|A stall in the Kirkgate Market in Leeds, the largest covered market in Europe; Marks and Spencer started here|
|Les shot a crossbow at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds.|
|OK, call me unsophisticated—this was my favorite exhibit at the Armouries.|
I hadn't done my research well, so we were thrown by the first town we explored: Huddersfield. I expected a small village, but it was much larger, with lots of confusing traffic. We got lost, but serendipitously ended up in the area where Les' great-greats had lived, and then got out of town as quickly as we could. The next day we ventured for an explore of Meltham, which turned out better. We saw the neighborhoods where Les' grandparents had lived, and the town is still small and unspoiled by progress. The scenery in this area is terrific: high hillsides filled with neatly organized fields of all shades of green, separated by stone walls, with the occasional town that seems to be suspended in time.
|Cars trying to pass on the main street of Heptonstall|
|Big Ben struck the hour of 8 as we walked by on our first day in London.|
The second day we went by boat to Greenwich, which had been our only sightseeing goal. It felt like a pilgrimage to Les, and I enjoyed the village. Les had fun turning on his GPS and photographing the displayed longitude of 0°0'. Getting off the boat back at Westminster, we found ourselves in the middle of an anti-government demonstration. There were about 25,000 protesters, and 7,000 police officers. The next day we went to the Tower of London and the British Museum, and walked about six miles. We accidentally came upon a parade in honor of the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. (The Royal Armouries had had a good exhibit on the battle.) More and more we're discovering that what we really like to do in cities is just walk around in the quieter areas, away from the crowds.
|An anti-government protest|
A new experience this week was mailing a package home. In the interests of weight, we've disposed of most papers we get at conferences and such, but some items we want to keep. Buying a sturdy envelope for the one pound of stuff and sending it by surface mail came to about $10. Another new experience was more important, because it was something we'd been anxious about: haircutting. We've cut each other's hair for more than 40 years, and I hate the idea of anybody besides Les doing mine. And yet we couldn't bring our scissors (security issue) or our clippers (weight issue). So we did haircuts with the pair of children's scissors we purchased our first week, plus the trimmer feature of Les' shaver. Amazingly, we're both very happy with our haircuts.
Oh, and that reminds me that I discovered a new way of cooking. My digestive system needs lots of vegetables; a slice of tomato and piece of lettuce on a sandwich just doesn't do it. (I miss the green smoothies I often made in Seattle.) So I buy packages of precut vegetables (carrots, broccoli, string beans, etc.) Problem is that I'm not fond of raw vegetables. I came up with a solution when I realized that every hotel in the UK (yes, even our "Ryanair" hotel in York) provides an electric kettle. I use the paring knife we bought early in the trip to cut up the veggies into ½ inch pieces, put them into a ceramic cup, add boiling water, and cover the cups. Sometimes I add a vegetable bouillon cube. After ten minutes we eat our "soup", with the al dente vegetables.
One advantage of our relatively swank hotel is that for the first time we have high-quality loudspeakers at our disposal, which means that we can hear music from the playlist on our computer. We've both missed having our favorite music playing in the background. (Earbuds or headphones just don't cut it.)
When we were initially planning our trip, Les really wanted to have a central location for several months, and do all our traveling from there. That wasn't really practical, with the conferences in such far-flung areas, so we adopted the method we're using. Les has discovered, to his surprise, that he actually likes being on the go all the time and living out of a backpack. We're just past the one third point of our trip. Tomorrow we head to continental Europe.