in celebration of the ten year anniversary of our epic “40 Hikes Because We Are Turning 40” we bring to you yet another history in the making expedition…….”Hennacornoelidays 50 Nifty Naps.”
That was forty.
And this is 50.
So this summer we head off to some of favorite spots (Grand Tetons, Iceland and Paris) in order to highlight the best places to take a snooze. Sure, you can walk your way up to the Basilica in Montmartre. But wouldn’t you rather just kick back for an afternoon nap on the banks of the Seine? OK, this is still very much a work in progress. But one thing is for sure. We are back to bring you yet another installment of Hennacornoelidays – Summer Edition.
The first trip we blogged about began with a wedding. Henna was the flower girl. Smart phones weren’t really a thing yet and everything was written up on a netbook. More than once we asked someone if they had WiFi then had to explain to them what WiFi was. Not only had Henna not yet graduated high school, she had not even started Kindergarten.
In a few weeks Henna will be starting a new adventure in St. Paul, Minneapolis. Cannot begin to say how proud Corey and I are of Henna. We are also very happy with her choice of Macalester College (lots of famous alumni to boast about but none cooler than the samurai of the Walking Dead, Danai Gurira). We are not as excited though about our return drive home from the Twin Cities. Plan on packing a lot of Kleenex.
This past summer Euro fling won’t be our last road trip together. And I certainly plan on continuing to write about our journeys. It might though be under a different handle. Either way, it has been our incredible pleasure letting others into our travel world. To all our friends out there, both virtual and in the flesh, safe travels.
We spent the final few days of our trip in Dublin. Beautiful city filled with beautiful people. Many a time someone approached us thinking we were lost. And once on the DART an older gentleman gestured for us to join him for a bit of a conversation. And no matter how thick our brogue, no one made fun of our accent. Cannot think of a better place to end our trip. We ain’t home yet. Still got one more travel day to go. But the next train ride will likely be on the Blue line.
Our last few days in the U.K. featured quite a bit of “old fashioned weather” meaning there was lots of rain, gloom and a subtle chill that slowly worked it’s way to the bone. I got “old fashioned weather” by the way from this great booklet given to us in Blaenea Ffestinog (“Culture Amidst Industry”). Other great Welsh sayings from that book include “face like a month of fives” (a long face) and “my name is scratched with a rusty nail.”
At Betws-Y-Coed (a beautiful little town a few stops north of where we stayed) tourists picnicked and swam in rivers seemingly oblivious to the near constant rain. They also enjoyed spending time with their dogs. There were in fact so many well mannered and regal looking dogs out and about that Corey wondered if maybe there was a dog show in town. There wasn’t. The British just really love their dogs.
Today was our last day in the U.K. Good timing on our part as there are several big transit strikes scheduled toward the end of this week. We will greatly miss our time on this island. The locals, whether they be from London or Edinburgh or the Highlands or Liverpool or Wales have all been top notch. Have also had a cracker of a time and would say even more lovely things but am running out of British sayings. Cheerio!
Spelled like your dad cheating at Scrabble (stole that one from Henna), Blaenau Ffestinog is a former mining town just south of Snowdonia National Park. Takes three trains to get from Liverpool to Blaenau. The last one was the best; again it was just two cars on a single track with the last ten minutes a tight and completely pitch back squeeze through a mountain.
The trip from Liverpool to Blaenau Ffestinog was uncrowded and on-time. Somewhere along the way we crossed into Wales. And by the time we reached our new home most overheard conversations where in Welsh.
Blaenau Ffestinog is the end of the line for the south spur that interrupts Holyhead to Chester. For us to go just a tad bit further south took a bus trip. Conversations onboard remained in Welsh but were easily understood. Like the elderly woman who gave several warm goodbyes before exiting the bus. The last was to the bus driver and lasted almost a minute. Then she was on the side of the road with a final wave and a smile for the departing bus. Shortly afterwards the bus driver pulled over to use a restroom. The bus idled without him for at least five minutes.
Besides riding the bus we also visited the Portmeirion Resort. One of are all time favorite shows, The Prisoner, was partially filmed there and it was fun walking the grounds. There we mingled a bit, possibly the only Americans on their grounds. It all felt so good, so natural. I miss home but am already mapping out our return.
The summer Scottish sky is never completely dark. Sometime before five the sun escapes and your room is then bathed in light. It is at that moment when I wake but try my best to fall back asleep. Key to doing so is not looking at my phone.
This morning temptation won and I learned that much of National Rail was off grid. Should we stay or should we go? Stay and we avoid a rough travel day (but lose the mega Marriott points needed to book our Liverpool hotel). Also no guarantee the next day will be any easier. So we decided to go.
Four trains and over six hours later we made our way from Stirling to Liverpool. A big shout out to the hardworking National Rail workers who made our trip possible. Besides fixing wires, filling in for sick co-workers and otherwise keeping the system rolling, they also patiently answered a whole bunch of questions from nervous American tourists from Chicago. They are simply awesome.
Liverpool right now is in the low sixties. Yesterday it was in the mid to high nineties. For the friendly clerk who checked us in, someone who knows heat from the year she once spent in Texas, it meant not be able to cool down her eighteen month old child. She said that she had a fan but all it did was blow the hot air around. No one she knows has air conditioning and she was scared for the health of her child.
There is so much to do in Liverpool. We won’t do any of it. And that is what it is to be in the twilight of an epic trip. Tomorrow we ride the rails again to enter a new country in a familiar kingdom.
Airbnbing across Europe has put a bit of a damper on meeting people. Seven years ago we mostly camped and in doing so met a lot of wonderful people. But we have still had a few interesting conversations.
On the train from Inverness to Stirling I talked to a thirty something year old from Glasgow. An immigrant from Poland, he has never been to London partly due to his belief that they are not as welcoming to people like himself as they are in Scotland.
I was surprised by that sentiment as we found London to be incredibly diverse and without a noticeable edge. For example, while taking the Tube we saw many field trips. These field trips almost always involved a diverse collection of kids (a typical group involved twenty or more kids in matching jacket and ties marshaled about by a few very clearly stressed out adults). It is of course possible we misjudged the climate, but it also seems that piling on London is a bit of a past time up north.
Our time in the UK overlapped with a historic heat wave. For northern Scotland this meant highs in the mid 70s with lots of sun before cooling off at night; a welcome relief to their usual overcast and cool Summer days. That at least was the sentiment of one Inverness small business owner. When asked about places like London where residents faced over one hundred degree temperatures without air conditioning he replied, “That is what they get for living in London.”
The next day here was a bit more uncomfortable. Upper eighties with some humidity. Stirling was quiet and the uphill walks to the castle were daunting. Meanwhile London endured a second day of plus one hundred degree weather. It must have been incredibly miserable there. Among other calamities suffered by this heat wave was damage to the rail line which may or may not severely impact today’s scheduled run to Liverpool. Will keep you posted.
Inverness is a small city/big town surrounded by amazing Highlander scenery and sites. Inverness also is where Macbeth once ruled. It is, however, best known for its historic battle against the Loch Ness Monster. A little over thirty years ago some 3,000 brave Invernessians lost their lives in combat against that monster from hell. While Nessie has not been heard from since, many fear his return is a question of when, not if. They play the bagpipes here with one ear to the Loch.
One of the quirks of ScotRail are the request stops. They operate kind of like secret menu options at In-N-Out. Care to get off at Achanalt? Then you better speak up a stop or two ahead of time otherwise you will be getting off at Lochluichart instead. And trust me, no one wants to be in Lochluichart.
Just kidding Lochluichart. I’m sure it is lovely there. The next few days though for us are a series of request stops. We were going to head south via a ferry and a different train line to a town called Hellensburgh. But then Tiger Woods, but, a couple hundred years of unchecked industrialization, ongoing labor strife and Covid conspired against those plans. So now we are making our way towards Glasgow via Inverness which means a return trip on the same line that brought us to the Isle of Skye.
The same train we took on Thursday again chug-chugs it’s way across a single track. This time though the car is nearly empty. Corey sleeps, Henna listens to the Mountain Goats and I stare out the window relieved not to be driving. There are worse things to do again.
Kyle of Lochalsh, our jumping off point to the Isle of Skye, is pronounced with a hard khhh sound that would fit right in with the blessing of the candles for Hannukah. Hagis is basically kishke (and like kishke is now usually wrapped in wax instead of intestine). So swap out the bagpipes with a klezmer band and you got yourself a destination Bar Mitzvah.
The train to Kyle of Lochalsh offers stunning views. Just two train cars, it runs mostly on a very narrow single track with tree branches frequently scratching across the windows. At certain set junctures either the east or west bound train will pull off the track to allow the other to pass. These passings are negotiated in real time by each train’s respective conductor and driver.
A similar feat is performed when driving the Isle of Skye. Pretty much anything off the main route is a single track road. You immediately brake whenever you see another car coming at you from the opposite direction. At least that is what I did with appreciative locals then beeping their horns in approval. Or yelling at you in Gaelic in what I assumed could only be words of encouragement.
You also drive here on the left side of the road. That’s true even if your an American. And everywhere you drive includes a family of sheep hanging out by the side of the road. Sometimes you see a sheep taking a nap with one hoof dangling ever so slightly onto the road. Or they walk along side of you at a pace only slightly slower than the crawl of your car.
Mostly on the Isle of Skye though you look out to the grass, the mountains and the sky and wish everyone could experience a few days in the Highlands. Then a local yells at you and you resume your drive along the winding, beautiful and way too thin road.