Category Archives: Joie de vivre

Rolling Along

The days rolled along.  Lynn and I visited scenic places in the morning, worked in the afternoon, and watched movies or TV at night.  We went to Padstow, which has become a tourist draw due to the presence of celebrity chef Rick Stein.  He’s got at least three restaurants in this small town, ranging from a fish and chips shop to a white linen place.  Lynn and I had the fish and chips and agreed it wasn’t any better or different from fish and chips anywhere else.  But Padstein, as it has been nicknamed, was a lovely town.

We visited The Eden Project, an educational and scientific environmental enterprise.  The exhibits are housed in enormous geodesic domes.  Each dome features a different region of the world, from South American rain forest to Australian outback.  They had a great gift shop where, believe it or not, I bought some environmentally-friendly underwear so I would have at least one pair that wasn’t blue.

Once I was past the shock of having to shout over disco karaoke to make myself heard in a work Skype meeting, the remote work wasn’t so bad.  I would do things that required concentration, like editing, at the cottage.  With no internet, I was not tempted to check my email or distracted by pop ups.  Then I would walk over to the lodge and send emails or have Skype calls.

We ate breakfast and dinner at the lodge and became friendly with the cook and waitress.  We learned the resort had been struggling financially and had been sold to a new owner.  All the employees were holding their breath to find out if they would have jobs in a month, or scrambling to find new jobs.  The waitress told us that her passion was theater; she had just handed in her notice and would be gone soon to run her own theater nearby.

The cook reminded me of Vince, my son.  He had creative cooking aspirations in a place where people only wanted fish and chips.  Every morning he would offer us something new—the crayfish omelets were memorable.  We would enthusiastically accept and show appreciation for whatever he made, which seemed to make him happy.  He told us he was waiting to see which way the wind blew with the new owner.  He had a new menu up his sleeve with imaginative dishes and he was prepared to roll it out here or take it somewhere else.  Both he and the waitress had other jobs on the side.  It was a typical rural employment situation, where people were hustling to cobble together a living and also striving to do creative things to stave off boredom and keep from going crazy.

At the end of a week, we pulled out of the killer driveway for the last time and headed to Charmouth, which is near Lyme Regis, another town you’ve probably never heard of.  Both are in Dorset, the next county east of Cornwall.  Specifically, they are in west Dorset.  This became apparent when we moved on to Devon a few days later, because the local maps we’d acquired only included the western half of the county.  So we drove to the edge of the map and then had to switch to our atlas.

Anyway, we stayed at the Fern Hill Hotel for a few nights and this was our favorite place.  It was smallish (think Fawlty Towers) and family-run.  There was a sign on the desk stating that Robert Plant, front man for Led Zeppelin and rock god, had stayed there.  If it was good enough for him, it was good enough for me.   I couldn’t resist sending Vince a message that I might be sleeping in the same bed as Robert Plant.  I know, inappropriate, but he liked it.

The lovely woman at the front desk gave us minutely detailed instructions and maps for walking into town.  As per our usual routine, we found ourselves on a golf course and then a muddy cow pasture before winding up in Charmouth.  After we had a wander, Lynn figured out how to take a bus back to the hotel.  We celebrated this navigation victory with drinks on the patio.

Rock In It

I pored over the maps of southwest England so I would have something to say when Lynn asked, “Where do you want to go today?”

There were dozens of towns with fanciful, funny-sounding names: Gribben Head, Little Petherick, London Apprentice, Higher Porthpean, St. Blazey, Ready Money, and the unfortunately named Black Head—the names read like nothing anywhere else.  Of course that’s true of everywhere.

Then there were the saint names: St. Mawgal, St. Erney, St. Neot, St. Mabyn, St. Veep.  I had grown up with Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; Mary, Catherine, and Anne. I wondered where the name Neot originated, and what Saint Neot had done—what torture he or she had endured to warrant sainthood (Wikipedia tells us he was a midget and the patron saint of fish).

Lynn would say she isn’t the world’s greatest driver.  And why would she be?  She grew up in London and has worked all over the world, so she has used public transportation or hired drivers a lot more often than driving herself.

The roads in the southwest are famously narrow and winding, with tall hedgerows on either side so you can’t see oncoming traffic until it’s right on top of you.  But that doesn’t stop people from driving massive campers and speeding along at over 50 miles per hour.

First, we had to get out of the resort.  Backing up is not Lynn’s favorite activity; she worried out loud about the  decorative rocks on either side of the “narrow” driveway.

We heard a loud screeatch as one of the rocks tore open a piece of the Picasso’s siding.

Naturally I helped by taking a photo.

“Why do they put rocks everywhere!?” Lynn exclaimed.

“Well you’ve showed ‘em by moving one!” I said.

A grounds worker was passing by and Lynn called out to him, “Excuse me, excuse me!  Will you help us?  This rock was in the way and I seem to have moved it out of place with my car. Could you move it back?”

Luckily the guy was a giant.  Without a word he hoisted the rock and put it back in place.

“Thank you very much,” Lynn ingratiatingly.  “I suppose this happens all the time—these rocks everywhere, people must drag them out of place on a weekly basis!”

“No,” said the guy gruffly, and walked away.

I nudged the torn piece of the vehicle back into place so it wouldn’t flap as we drove.  “Maybe they won’t even notice it,” I suggested optimistically.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Lynn. “This is why I check ‘yes’ to all the insurance they offer, even though people say it’s a rip off.”

We managed to drive through the gauntlet of rocks and exit the resort.  The next step, which didn’t seem to get easier with repetition, was to guess which giant roundabout to take, and then which exit.  This involved driving around in circles, then making our best guess and plunging off an exit, hoping for the best.  The vehicle hadn’t come with a GPS so I was the co-pilot.  This was tricky because British signs mean nothing to me.  Here’s a sign for an upcoming roundabout:

As we drove, Lynn explained what A and B roads were, why some items in signs were in parentheses, what the little stub on the circle was, and more.  But often, the signs came up so fast we had only seconds to decide which way to turn.

The worst was when there was no sign, so we shot ahead, gradually coming to the conclusion that we were going the wrong way, and having to turn around.

Lynn got frustrated when we got lost.  I probably wasn’t helpful when I kept saying, “It’s an adventure!  We can’t really go wrong, everywhere we go, the scenery is so beautiful.”

Where the hedgerows opened up onto fields, the roads were lined with foxglove, and farther on we could often see the sea sparkling in the distance.

Here are some photos from Fowey, pronounced foyyyyyy.   I love British trees in general; they’re so much older than ours in Minnesota.  I was awed by these, in the car park, and it got better from there.

Painting Tintagel Blue

Possum continued to have pain from her kidney stones, although blunted by pain killers.

“The doctor described what kidney stones are like,” she said.  “They’re not like stones at all, they’re more like bits of coral—jagged and razor sharp—so they tear your kidneys from the inside as they’re moving through them.”

I felt nauseated listening to her describe what was going on inside of her, but she was chipper.  “It was really interesting!” she declared.

“But was the doctor good looking?” I asked.  “Lynn said he was well dressed and had nice hair.  But Lynn’s married so maybe she’s not as observant as you or I would be—both of us being single.”

“Oh yeah, he was well dressed.  He had a nice tweed jacket with a green tie and yes, his hair was thick and wavy and silver.  But his face was just okay.”

“Was he wearing a wedding ring?” I queried.

“I don’t know!  I didn’t notice.  I was a bit delirious.”

“I think you may need to have a relapse so he has to come back and I can get a look at him,” I jested.  This was met with a stern look.

It was the morning of our second or third day in Cornwall.  Lynn was sleeping and I Possum and I were chatting while I washed my clothes.  Foreign washing machines always throw me for a loop.  Here’s the one in the cottage; note it has at least 25 options:

How hot is 40C?  I have no idea.  What did the symbols on the right mean?  No clue.  I had shoved everything in and chosen “Fast Wash,” which took two hours and 20 minutes.  After an hour and a half, the machine seemed to stop so I forced the door to unlock by shutting off the power.

This was a combo washer-dryer, and I had inadvertently added the dryer option.  “Drying” did not mean tumble drying.  It meant heat was pumped into the unmoving canister so that after an hour you extracted a compact, crispy-on-the-outside and damp-on-the-inside wad of clothes.  I have never known any European or English person to actually use the dryer option—they all hang their washing on racks.  I think they would say they do that because it’s better for the environment.

I went upstairs with the drying rack to hang my clothes dry.  The American washer and dryer (separate appliances) in my condo are so huge I can do two weeks’ worth of laundry at one go.  The washer takes 20 minutes and the dryer half an hour, tops.  I would love to see an energy use comparison between my giant, “Get ‘er done!” US appliances and European ones.

I peeled open the crispy-damp wad and found an unpleasant surprise.  All my clothes were blue.  I like the color blue, but blue socks, underwear, bras, shirts, and pants?  How did this happen, I grumbled to myself, as I hung up my blue tie-dyed dress.  It would take me a month to register it had been this dress.

Too soon, it was time for Possum to drive back to Oxford, despite Lynn’s and my protests.  She sent us texts along the route to assure us she hadn’t fallen asleep at the wheel from the pain meds, and had arrived home safely.

Meanwhile, Lynn and I headed out in the Picasso to Tintagel Castle.

This was supposedly the home of the legendary King Arthur.  We took a quick spin through the interpretive center, where we learned that there may have been a Roman settlement here but there’s no proof of that.  Some time after the fall of the Roman Empire, the King of Dumnonia, as the region was then called, built the first castle.  In the 13th Century, Richard, First Earl of Cornwall, took over and built the structure whose remains are still visible.  And so on.

We scraped our way down an extremely steep, dusty road, then climbed up about three hundred stairs.  It was the hottest day of summer so far, so we stopped for breathers and to appreciate the stunning scenery.  There wasn’t much left of the castle but the climb was worth the effort.

  

Getting In, Getting Around

Looking back on my three months of working remotely from Europe, Ethiopia, and the UK, I can say I would love to do it permanently.  From what I can tell, there is no legal reason I couldn’t live in the UK without a work visa as long as I was working for a US employer.

According to the UK immigration website, as a US citizen I automatically get a six-month visa when I enter the country as a tourist, without even applying.

Paying rent could be a challenge.  I’m certain it would be impossible to open a UK bank account.  I would have to find a landlord who was willing and able to have rent paid electronically, probably from PayPal.

What stops me from seriously considering this plan?  Well, every time I enter the UK I get grilled by border control.  This happens to my UK friends when they enter the US, too.  I got grilled by Danish border control when I entered Denmark, so it’s not uncommon.

When I came to the UK from Ethiopia, I walked from the plane through halls festooned with welcoming slogans, “Welcome to the UK!” “See the English Countryside!”  “Visit Historic Palaces!”  In other words, they want people to visit and spend money in the UK.

I waited in line for a border agent.  Again, there were banners above the agents’ booths proclaiming the beauty of the English countryside, historic sites, museums, etc.

I stepped up to the booth and after looking over my passport, the Sikh border agent barked at me, “Why are you coming here?”

“Tourism,” I replied.

He looked skeptical, especially when I said I would be staying for two and a half months.  Would I be working in the UK?  No, I replied.  And this was true to the spirit of the question, I believe.  I would be working remotely for an American employer, not for a UK entity.  I would not be stealing a job from a UK citizen, or being paid by a UK employer and transferring my paycheck to an American bank.  I wouldn’t be collecting any public benefits.

I was afraid that if I tried to explain any of the above I would be whisked into an interview room.  Just in case they did that anyway, I also had a letter of employment and documentation of all my US assets including my condo in an envelope in case they wanted proof that I had reasons to return to America.

He asked for the addresses where I would be staying, the names of my friends, and the places we were planning to visit.  He asked to see my return plane ticket, which I had printed out and ready.

Finally, reluctantly, he stamped my passport and without even speaking to me, waved the next passenger forward.

Maybe I was overly concerned about being turned away since I had been refused a visit with my son in prison, and then banned for six months.

So I got in okay this time.  But—what if I cooked up a plan to stay in the UK for six months—the length of a tourist visa—and got turned away at border control?  How much more suspicious would they be of six months than two and a half months?  The uncertainty just wouldn’t be worth it.  There’s no information about this on the UK immigration website, and I don’t want to raise a red flag by asking about my personal case.  I can just imagine them flagging my record somehow to ban me from entering.  All because I love their beautiful country and want to spend my American paycheck there.

And it is a beautiful country.  You may be thinking, “America is beautiful too!” and you would be right.  I’ve seen the Grand Canyon, Florida beaches, Monument Valley, Lake Superior, and Highway 1 in California.  There’s plenty of beauty in both countries and I intend to see as much of it as I can.

From the Lost Gardens of Heligan, Possum drove us through tiny, twisting roads to Portmellon, where we walked on the beach and had a half pint in a pub called The Rising Sun.

Lost Connections, Lost Gardens

My cough-drop induced discomfort passed, and I turned my thoughts to catching up with work after being out of communications for a few days.  Possum was feeling better on the pain meds, so after obsessively rebooting the router half a dozen times we all walked over the lodge.

The cottage we were staying in was one of about 20 cottages surrounding a big central lodge with a dining room, pool, game room, and so on.  This was where the front desk was, and this was where Possum and I demanded action while Lynn sat at a discrete distance, cringing at our combined American and Australian demands for action.

We’ve all been there: promised something that doesn’t work, facing a customer service person who can’t or won’t help.  Different people approach it differently. In general, I think Americans and Australians believe we can fix anything! if only we demand action loudly enough and refuse to give up and go away.

After politely badgering a series of women at the desk, we came away with four theories ranging from sinister to silly: 1) the owner of our cottage hadn’t set up the router correctly, 2) the owner of our cottage had set up a router even though there was no Internet, then falsely lured people to the cottage with a promise of wifi, or 3), a storm had knocked out the Internet to that particular cottage three weeks ago and the owner hadn’t fixed it.

Bottom line, no Internet.  “It’s just not very good here in the best of times,” explained one young woman.  “We’re so remote.”

I had expected to have lousy Internet in Ethiopia, but in England?  But it made sense. If I go to northern Minnesota, to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area we share with Canada, there is no 3G or even cell phone service.  There are probably large swaths of the western states like North Dakota and Nebraska that don’t have Internet.

Bottom line, we were allowed to log on to the lodge’s account.  The catch: we could only get a connection in the lounge, where holidaymakers enjoyed their G&Ts, raucous hen parties took place, kids ran through in wet swim suits on their way from the pool, women in lycra workout gear strutted through to get to the yoga studio, and MTV blared on multiple big screens 24/7.

But before work came pleasure, and we had a wonderful first day.  The weather was fine and we went to one of the places on my bucket list, the Lost Gardens of Heligan, near Mevagissey.  Heligan was an 18th Century estate that fell into ruin after World War I and has been restored to its splendor.  There’s the stuff you expect in a botanical garden, like glass houses and lots of gorgeous flowers.

There were loving memorials to the servants who made Heligan tick in its heyday—supplying everything from pineapples to honey to beef to the household—and who were decimated by World War I.  This is the plum room, with a photo of its tender who died in the war.

There was even a memorial in the Thunder Box, which was an outdoor toilet for servants.

There are also extravagant sections like The Jungle, which is … well a jungle.  In Cornwall.

There are hidden confections like the lying lady and the shady lady.  I hope you can spot them.

We got back to the resort in time for an important call I had about the proposal to the UK.  I staked out a table in the far corner of the lounge and got ready to Skype.  Oh, no.  A DJ arrived, set up, and began projecting videos on the wall above my head.  It was Disco Karaoke Nite! The Pet Shop Boys’ “It’s a Sin” started throbbing at a deafening volume.  People around me were drinking and laughing and yelling BINGO! and having a great time.

This was the beginning of my remote work experience.  This was it; this was where I proved to my employer that I could show up for meetings on Skype, respond to emails in a timely manner, and produce proposals as usual, no excuses.

Things with Strings

When Ingrid and I hopped of the Hop On Hop Off bus back in Salzburg, we had a few hours to kill before our marionette performance.  We stumbled upon a very good Indian restaurant.  I ordered my go-to favorite that I boringly get every time I go to an Indian restaurant, palak paneer.  But you know what?  I really like palak paneer, and I don’t go to Indian restaurants that often, so sue me.

We walked around the big garden called the Mirabell.  A statue depicting the rape of Persephone attracted my eye because I had seen another one like it in Rome last fall.  Then I did a 180 degree turn and it appeared that all the statues depicted a rape scene.  It wasn’t my imagination: “In the heart of the garden, you will see a large fountain, with four statue groups around it: rape of Helena, Aeneas and Anchises, and finally Hercules and Antaeus. These statues were made by Ottavio Mosto in 1690.”  That was pretty unclear, but the point is, someone thought it was a great idea to design a garden full of statues about rape.  Yuck.

On a lighter note, there were also statues of my favorite animal:

Then we were off to the marionette theatre, where we spent some time in the lobby looking at the exhibits and reading the history of the place.  My favorite past performance was hands down The Little Prince.  I don’t know what the one with the geese was, and there were many more involving princes and princesses, fairies and witches, and animals both real and imaginary.

When our concierge booked the tickets for us, she said they were great seats.  We were in the second section in back, which made me question her judgement.  How would we be able to follow what was going on?  The marionettes were only about three feet tall.

As soon as the curtain rose and the show began, we realized it was ideal to be a little further back.  The marionettes’ mouths don’t actually move, so being just far enough back to not be distracted by that helps to suspend reality.

It was a performance of Mozart’s Magic Flute, and I have to say it was magical.  The sets, the costumes, the music—it was all spectacular.  Subtitles were projected on the walls on either side in German, English, Spanish, French, and Chinese.  But you could have enjoyed it just as much without them, since the plot was a typical opera involving unrequited love, a quest, and comical misunderstandings.  All operas either end with everyone dying or everyone living happily ever after, and thankfully this was the latter.

As we walked back to the hotel, we spied this on the wall of another hotel:

Rooms, camera?  No thanks, I like my hotel rooms without cameras.

We came across a building we could see from our hotel room window and which I had wondered about.

“What is it?” I asked Ingrid.  “At first I had thought it was an Indian waffle house.”

“Waffen means force, like luftwaffen” Ingrid replied.  Luftwaffen, the World War II German airforce.  “But I don’t know what Sodia means.”

“Ah, the third name, to the right in red, is a store with a location near my house,” I observed.  “I don’t know how to pronounce it, and they wanted $250 for a pair of hiking pants so I’ll never step foot in one again so it doesn’t matter.”

“Let’s go find out what it is,” Ingrid said in a hushed voice.

We rounded the corner of the building and realized it was a gun store.

“Do you want to go inside?” Ingrid asked.

“No!”

In real time, I am running off to meet my friend Heidi at Wimbledon.  I was going to work all day so I said no at first, then thought, “What am I thinking!?  When will I ever get a chance to go to Wimbledon again?”

I can always work tomorrow.

Holywatermeister

Ingrid and I were in the quiet resort town of Fuschlsee in the Austrian Alps.  “Quiet” is an understatement; it was completely dead.  We kept walking along the lakefront, hoping to find one place open where we could get a cappuccino.  We found one resort that was open but wasn’t serving anything.  They graciously let us use the bathroom, and gave us directions to another resort that they thought would be open.

We walked through the resort to get to where they had pointed us.  It was sprawling, with multiple restaurants and bars, a spa, gardens, and a game room for kids.  It reminded me of one of my travel dreams.  One of my favorite writers is Somerset Maugham, and he used to spend weeks at a time in resorts like this in the Swiss Alps.  He would sleep late, eat a big breakfast, take a long walk, read the paper, write for a few hours, take a nap, then proceed to happy hour, dinner with fellow sojourners, maybe a spin at the casino or a show, then early to bed—all done among beautiful lakes and mountains.

We walked up the foot of the mountain to the other resort and it was shut tight, so we gave up and walked back to the bus stop.  This taught me an important lesson: When a Hop On Hop Off ticket seller tells you to only hop off at certain stops, it’s for your own good.

The next stop was a scenic overlook where we could all hop off, take a photo, then hop back on and be whisked away to the next stop.  When I used to live in Oxford, it was common for tour buses to do this in front of some of the most famous sites, and I sneered at the practice.  But hey, in this case there really was nothing to do except take a photo since it was basically a cliff.

Here I am, overlooking Lake St. Wolfgangsee.

Yes, there was a St. Wolfgang, and yes they named a lake and a town after him.  The bus took us into the town, where the first thing was saw was gondolas.

“Do you want to ride one to the top of the mountain?” Ingrid asked.  I really didn’t but if she wanted to, I would.

“Let’s see how much it costs, and what’s up there,” I suggested, stalling.

“Twenty-two euros—that seems like a lot,” Ingrid commented as we looked at the prices.  “But I’ll do it, if you really want to.”

“No, I don’t!”

“Oh, good!” she responded, sounding relieved.  “I’ve done it with Chris and the kids, but I never need to do it again.”

“Me too—I did it in the Canadian Rockies once and that was enough.

We walked down to the lake.  The town and the lake were very pretty despite the dreary weather.

We found a restaurant called Papagano, which is the name of a character in the Magic Flute, which we would see performed by marionettes that evening.  I had ratatouille, and it was the best meal I had in Europe.

On to the next stop—Mondsee, or Moon Lake. This town was not nearly as pretty as the first two, but the wedding scene from The Sound of Music had been filmed in the basilica there.

First, we stopped for “a little cake” and the long-anticipated cappuccino—to give us energy.

The basilica was beautiful; I could see why they used it for the film.

I dropped a coin in the slot and lighted a taper for a friend who had just had surgery.

I also loaded up on some free bottles of holy water; these would make great little gifts for Catholic friends and family. But wait!  What did that say on the side?  Jagermeister?

How did that happen?  There were hundreds of these little bottles.  Did Jagermeister donate empty bottles?   Or was itholy water” (wink wink)?  Maybe the church paid the local teenagers to drink all the Jagermeister, then fill the bottles with holy water?  If so, I wondered if the maker of Jagermeister knew that their brand name was being used for purposes not originally intended?