Sunday, October 30, 2005

England, Part Trwah (trois!)

I know, I know - I'm slow. But a lot has been happening and NOBODY has been beating down the door saying, "what next, Lynn?!~ what happened next?!!!"

Weelllll - since you ask (!!), I got up early Saturday morning, check the computer for flight arrivals and learn Ellie's flight is about 20 minutes early but Michael's is more than an hour late, creating about a hundred minute spread. The clear blue sky has clouded over and started pouring down - I wait for a little break in the weather and load up the car w/Colin's help, clutching his directions to motorway to my chest and then hug and kiss C&M goodbye and drive down their little lane, still reminding myself with some frequency on WHICH side of the road I'm driving, in case I meet anybody in the lane (I do, in fact, and it's fine).

I couldn't have driven in England the first few times I visited - I had a hard enough time sitting in the front passenger seat, feeling around for non-existent pedals and wishing for a steering wheel. But I started driving over there 15 years ago or so - there are times when having a car just gets you to places you can't otherwise go and, if there are two or more of you, it may not be any more expensive than public transport (which I am a fan of, at least much of the time). Still, I couldn't POSSIBLY drive in the UK (or any left-side-of-the-road nation, e.g. Australia or Japan) in a left-hand-drive car - so the fact that my friend Trevor actually drives his British automobile over to Europe just impresses me no end (of course, makes it VERY exciting to try to pass that slow lorry up ahead on a two-lane road!!!). Thus most of the work is done for me, sitting down in the right hand side of the car and finding myself behind the steering wheel. THIS trip I even got the mirrors down within the first day - amazing! There was one trip, 6 yeras ago or so, when I didn't EVER get used to the mirror placement and I'd be looking in the middle of the car down on the dashboard and out the right hand window up at roof level - NOT helpful!

But this Saturday the only problem is not yet being familiar with the operation of the Vauxhall Vectra - like, where the heck are the windscreen wipers?! Little things like that. I had to almost continually trigger the "intermittent double swipe" to get me through the heavy rain on the hour-plus drive up to Gatwick (and that's the CLOSER airport!). And, of course, getting used to the size of the car versus the size of the parking spaces... gulp! There's a moment, as I'm driving through the parking garage, when I wonder if I'll be able to park what suddenly seems like a behemoth. But I drive up to the 4th level and park as far from the elevators as possible, where I've got a little extra room simply because I'm not crowding into a single vacant space but have room to park a little more easily (yeah, American parking spaces are a lot bigger - even the "compact car" spaces!).

So I wander in and find Ellie waiting (her flight was early, after all) and she's doing great - nothing like a self-sufficient traveler! She's bought a coffee and discovered Michael's late-arriving flight, has been checking its progress, etc., knew full well I'd show up SOME time (!!). She goes off in search of a "Time Out" (London activities weekly magazine) but it's the wrong time of week & they're all gone (besides, we're about to drive to Cornwall, not London) and I stay at the arrivals gate. Eventually his plane lands and eventually he makes it through passport control and customs and comes wandering out, looking about as funky as I've ever seen him (Michael is a very attractive man-- nice of his wife Sue to loan him to us for the week! Actually, we love Sue and her presence would've added greatly to the trip, but she was teaching a college class that wouldn't end until the day before the Birmingham conference began). I buy us both a cup of decent coffee and we head off to the pay machines to buy an exit token to get out of the garage. We stop by a car rental satellite and add both Ellie and Michael to the contract so they can legally drive and then load up the car.

NOW is the time we appreciate the size of the Vectra - we need every bit of that trunk and we've still got stuff loaded on the unoccupied portion of the back seat. A smaller car while in Cornwall would have been great - but a smaller car GETTING to Cornwall would have been a pain...

Nearly all of Saturday is spent driving... driving... stopping for traffic... driving... slowing down... gawking at the accident along with everybody else... driving some more... Yeah, you get the picture. We wave at Stonehenge and Michael (the photographer as well as University English Professor!) drools at the thought of shooting there in a week when we return. I'm learning how these guys are as navigators (Ellie's better than Michael but neither are as good as I am... not to brag, but I am a VERY good navigator - give me a map and we're there. I've navigated Paris on the fly with an aggressive driver, and that takes some doing - it was fun!). Pity was that neither of them were as comfortable driving as I was, so I did 90% of that, too. I did force Michael to take the wheel for awhile that day, just to give my poor cramping foot and leg a rest (I hadn't yet figured out all the 97 different things I could do to adjust the seat better to the steering wheel, etc. - it was better, later). Stopped for some nondescript sandwiches in a pub (just missed their open kitchen) and continued the long drive. I've never had to drive during school holidays before - something I will continue to avoid, in future! Roads get busy...

Eventually we got to Bodmin and left the motorway, stopping at the ASDA for assorted stuff (food for supper, breakfast, WINE, etc.) and then meandered our way down toward the coast, ending up with about 3 miles of hedgerow-lined lane just before the manor (right by Castle Dore! An old mound from an earlier castle - don't know if that falls into the "barrow" definition or not... hmmm). By the end of the week, I'd recognize that THIS was a nice wide lane and that you could pass another car just about anywhere along that 3-mile stretch - but for NOW, it was harrowing!

We pulled in to find the manor proper quite busy (a wedding - they had loads of weddings scheduled that week) but we waited at reception and they gave us our lodge keys and a map telling us where to go and where to park. It was a nice timeshare in many ways but it was considerably smaller than I'd been led to anticipate (they said they could sleep SIX!!! yikes! felt plenty crowded with the 3 of us). Having paid 3/4 of the fee, I took the master bedroom, Ellie took the smaller bedroom, and Michael encamped in the living room (which worked out fine - it meant that only I walked through the living room on the way to the loo, as Ellie's room was across the hall.

I made a nice chicken curry and rice dinner, we drank a bottle of wine (just right for 3 people), and we crashed pretty early - it had been a long day of driving, especially for me.

Michael is hairy-chested and gets warm at night and I was continually amused to see that he sleeps like an effigy of a dead king - flat on his back, straight as a board, hands clasped upon his chest - I really did want a fake sword so I could take a "King Arthur in Repose" photograph! I should've taken one anyway, but somehow at the time it felt *intrusive* ("Look, Sue! It's your husband sleeping!!!").

Sunday we went through 2 carafes of coffee before leaving the lodge (!! - Michael and Ellie both drink a lot of coffee; I think I only had 2 cups) and then we wandered down to Fowey (pronounced "Foy"), a lovely small harbor town not far away. As we drove through, I could see that parking was up a steep hill and the town was down, down, down - and, not liking the thought of walking back UP the hill after roaming through the town for hours, I decided to go in search of closer parking. The signs indicated there was limited parking down in the town, but we decided to risk it.

Within moments I knew I'd made a terrible mistake - we were in a one-way system winding down extremely narrow streets, fighting for room with meandering tourists and I was not yet confident about the dimensions of the car (should've driven up on the edges of the hedgerows to *hear* where that left side really is!). We didn't move any faster than 5 miles per hour, I'm sure, and it took a good 15 minutes to wind our way down to the bottom, often stopping for an especially narrow bit of road to clear before navigating it. There was one point, thankfully didn't last more than 20 yards or so, when I had Ellie and Michael keeping an eye on their side of the car while I drove by keeping my wing mirror about 3 inches from my side of the car (!!) - they were saying, "You're close! close!" but it wasn't until later that I asked, "Just how close was I?" and they both agreed it was less than an inch on that side - yikes! Probably best that I didn't know it, at the time! (actually, I could've folded in both wing mirrors and gained about 6 inches total). There was no parking in the town proper but as we drove out there was a small lot with a few spaces in it, down at sea level, so we gratefully grabbed one of those (I was already much more confident parking The Behemoth) and walked into town.

Lovely quaint place with a rich Daphne Du Maurier history (in fact, a lovely little museum shop in her honor - I never realized she was such a hottie as a young woman! wow!) - we all took lots of photos and eventually stopped for a cream tea as Michael had never had clotted cream before (well! We must break you in!) - I found a charming hotel with a restaurant and two balconies overlooking the water offering a reasonable cream tea and in we went. Michael was hooked, of course, and we had a good time sitting in the sun and scarfing down scones and clotted cream and strawberry preserves. I had coffee and they both had tea, but there you go - they'd had a lot more coffee earlier in the day!

We eventually wandered back to the car before the "pay and display" ticket expired (and the gate would be locked and closed), wandered back out another way and stopped again at another lot on the other side of town, much closer to the harbor mouth. Now the sky was threatening a bit (it had been sunny and glorious all the midday) but we took some fun pictures at a castle outpost and considered hiking up the ruined trail to the castle proper (decided against it and I'm glad - probably would've been risky for me, large with wonky ankles, and it started raining shortly). On the drive home we passed the Tristan Stone and got out to take pictures (yes! we are tourists! that's why we're here, bringing you our money and investing in your economy! appreciate us!!!) and then went off looking for a pub meal, forgetting it's SUNDAY and they close up earlier than usual.

We finally found someplace with an open kitchen and had a wonderful dinner; Ellie and Michael were tickled it was a free pub and they had a wonderful array of ales and beers and they tasted their was through several pints respectively while I stuck with cider (I love English hard cider, especially the more primitive stuff - scrumpy, even! But I'll settle for Strongbow). Ellie and I split an order of pate (sorry, missing the accent circonflex and grave - or is it aigue?) for a starter and hardly touched it, so we asked if we could take it home. Much to our surprise, they wrapped the whole thing, little stoneware ramekin and all, in aluminum foil and we happily carted it away to enjoy another day. We managed to find our way back to our digs (yay! Lynn starting to build the map in her head) and crashed shortly after getting in.

Michael snores. I turn up my white-noise surf-sound generator and am a happy camper myself.